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Posts from the Central Freeway Category

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SFPD Tickets Bike Commuters Trying to Get By Car Queue on Page Street

Here’s today’s edition of egregious waste of SFPD resources used to harass people on bikes.

SFPD officers were posted at the bottom of the hill on Page Street at Octavia Boulevard this morning ticketing bike commuters who squeezed to the left of stopped cars. Freeway-bound drivers routinely queue up to turn right, occupying several blocks of Page’s only eastbound traffic lane.

Tickets were issued to people headed downtown who are essentially given no safe, legal, or practical alternative to use this official bike route. It’s one more sign that the department has no plans to stop targeting innocuous, common-sense behaviors by people on bikes while violations that hurt people remain under-enforced.

“It’s adding insult to injury,” said Jason Henderson, a board member of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association and author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.”

“Bicyclists don’t want to be doing that,” Henderson said. “It’s because the city has shirked its moral responsibility and left bicyclists to fend for themselves at that intersection.”

Squeezing to the left on Page, where the oncoming westbound traffic lane is mostly empty, has been normal for years and hasn’t been known to cause any crashes. The SFMTA has actually proposed a partial center-running bike lane on Page to legitimize the behavior as part of street improvements on and around Octavia.

A typical queue of cars on Page Street at Octavia Boulevard. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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SFMTA Proposes Short-Term Safety Upgrades for Octavia Boulevard

SFMTA proposals in the works include sidewalk expansions and lane removals on and around Octavia. Image: SFMTA

Ten years after Octavia Boulevard opened in the footprint of the former Central Freeway, the SFMTA has proposed a package of short-term safety fixes for people walking and biking, especially along the cross streets.

The upgrades could be implemented by the end of 2016. Proposals in the works include a bike lane on eastbound Page Street, a fix for the poorly-designed bike “chute” at Octavia and Market Street, “shared street” treatments in the frontage lanes on Octavia, and even a memorial to the Freeway Revolt at Market. Motor vehicles lanes could also be removed on Fell and Oak east of Octavia to calm traffic, with angled parking added.

The first wave of improvements, mainly sidewalk bulb-outs and traffic islands, are expected to come up for public comment at an SFMTA engineering hearing on May 22.

SFMTA project manager Casey Hildreth said that some of the improvements are intended to be experimental, and that planners will measure the effects on safety, traffic speeds, and car congestion. “We don’t want to be frozen by the perfect,” he said in a recent presentation [PDF] at the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association.

The improvements are expected to be funded by development impact fees collected from housing built in the footprint of the former Central Freeway. A package of increased SFMTA funding highlighted by Mayor Ed Lee this week included $3.3 million in development fees earmarked for the Market and Octavia area to get bike, pedestrian, and Muni improvements. It’s not clear how much funding would be needed in total for the proposed upgrades.

Octavia is often cited as a model by other cities looking to replace a freeway with a boulevard. As Hildreth explained, it was intentionally designed to create “ambiguity” and counter the “freeway mentality” that drivers often have.

But problems remain at the intersections and on other streets affected by freeway traffic, which need improvements for walking, biking, and transit. High-traffic intersections remain dangerous, for instance, at Fell and Oak Streets, which were designed as one-way traffic funnels.

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Planning Dept Releases Design Guide for “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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The SF Planning Department’s new guide lays out concepts like “living zones” for SF’s alleyways. Image: Planning Department

The SF Planning Department released a design guide this week for “living alleys” [PDF], providing a template to transform SF’s narrow, low-traffic streets into places to gather and play.

Inspired by the Dutch “woonerf” concept, the “Living Alleys Toolkit” lays out proven design measures that make smaller streets more inviting to stay and play on, giving street life priority over drivers moving through. The guide states:

The “Living Alleys Toolkit” cover, featuring the Linden Alley project implemented in 2010.

A living alley is a street designed as a place for people. It can be considered an “Urban Living Room”. Its design can reconfigure the geometry and surfacing of the street, or simply add low cost amenities for residents while maintaining the traditional curbed right-of-way. Whatever approach, living alleys prioritize the entire public right-of-way for pedestrians and bicyclists with alternative but clear physical boundaries. A living alley also has areas of exclusive pedestrian use and areas where vehicles are allowed to share space with pedestrians and bicyclists.

While the concept has been implemented more widely in northern Europe, the guide notes, similar ideas have been applied in Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. In SF, a section of Linden Street was redesigned as a living alley in 2010, and plaza projects have been implemented in SoMA on Annie Alley and Mint Plaza. In Oakland, two alleys in the Temescal neighborhood were converted into pedestrianized retail streets that delivery vehicles can enter.

The new guide, which started development in mid-2013, focuses on the potential for living alleys in Hayes Valley and just south of Market Street near Octavia Boulevard, since it was conceived in the Market-Octavia Area Plan with the removal of the Central Freeway. But in the future, as those initial alley transformations are implemented, the city will look at expanding them citywide, said the Planning Department’s David Winslow.

The guide includes prototype street designs. One is a plan to convert Ivy Street, between Gough and Franklin Streets, to a shared-space zone where cars are still allowed to pass through, as seen on nearby Linden.

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Neighbors Celebrate the New “McCoppin Hub,” Dog and Skate Park

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The McCoppin Hub, along Valencia near Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Neighbors near McCoppin Street recently celebrated the completion of the McCoppin Hub, a plaza created from a street stub that sits against the Central Freeway ramp towards Market Street. The plaza, a nearby dog run, and skate park have been in the works for years as a package of newly depaved public spaces planned after the freeway’s partial reconstruction.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Lynn Valente, a neighborhood activist, at the plaza last month. “This was a true grassroots effort. The neighbors worked on this for ten years with the city to have some amenities in our neighborhood, for pedestrians and traffic and bicycles… It would kind of mitigate the effect of the Central Freeway ramp which goes over the neighborhood.”

“I couldn’t be prouder, because it was a lot of people really sticking to it and making sure we got these amenities,” she added.

Waiting for the spaces has certainly required patience among neighbors. When we wrote about the neighborhood in July 2011, the projects were already considered a long overdue follow-up to the freeway’s completion in 2005. At that time, construction on the McCoppin Hub was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012.

Other improvements in what’s officially called the SoMa West Improvement Projects included traffic-calming revamps of side streets like Elgin Park and Stevenson Street, as well as greenery, bike lanes, and raised crosswalks along McCoppin Street.

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Man in Wheelchair Killed by Freeway-Bound Driver at Market and Octavia

Image: NBC

A man in a wheelchair, reportedly in his 20s, was killed by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard around midnight last night. SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said the crash is still under investigation, but that driver appears to have been heading south on Octavia at the entrance of the Central Freeway, where witnesses said the victim was crossing against the light. The man is the 13th known pedestrian to be killed by a driver in SF this year.

In shots from NBC’s television broadcast, the victim’s motorized wheelchair can be seen sitting several dozen feet south of the intersection on the freeway ramp. SFPD investigators have not determined how fast the driver was going.

As media reports have noted, a new enforcement camera was activated Friday to cite drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway ramp, but it doesn’t appear the driver was making such a turn in this case.

“News of another pedestrian death on Market and Octavia is truly devastating, and reminds us of the dangers pedestrian face when freeways intermix with city streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that another pedestrian suffered “major injuries” after being hit by a driver last Thursday at a freeway onramp near Seventh and Harrison Streets in SoMa. “Not only are these intersections dangerous because of the high speeds of cars and trucks entering and exiting, they’re often dark, loud, uninviting, and segment our communities.”

Since the Central Freeway ramp opened at Market and Octavia in 2005, the intersection has seen a higher rate of traffic injuries than any other in SF, with 13 in 2011, according to the SFMTA’s 2009-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF]. Although livable streets advocates and city agencies pushed for a tear-down of the Central Freeway back to Bryan Street after it was damaged in an earthquake, it was rebuilt to touch down at Market and Octavia at the behest of Caltrans and car commuters living in the western neighborhoods.

Schneider pointed to recent calls from John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, for a “freeway-free San Francisco.” At a forum in September, Norquist asked why SF, which protested its planned freeways and prevented most them from being built — and is considering removing another section — doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised.

“Freeways merging with city streets create a terrifyingly dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and truly all roadway users,” said Schneider. “Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco to seriously consider what ‘freeway-free’ could mean for public health, safety, and livability in our wonderful city.”

[Update] SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new enforcement camera cannot capture video footage of crashes to be used as evidence in crash investigations, as it only takes still photos of drivers who make an illegal right turn.

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Planning Department Sets Out to Create “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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An example alley from Copenhagen. Image: Planning Department

The Planning Department held a community workshop yesterday to field ideas on how to turn the numerous alleyways in and around Hayes Valley into calmer, greener, more inviting respites from the major traffic-heavy streets.

The “Living Alley Project” is an effort conceived in the Market Octavia Area Plan to re-think the neighborhood’s alleys as people-oriented gathering spaces, where cars are allowed at low speeds, but street life comes first.

“We need more community spaces,” said Robin Levitt, an architect who lives on one of the alleyways and advocated for the removal of the Central Freeway. Patricia’s Green, the park that replaced a block of space formerly occupied by the highway structure, is often overwhelmed with demand, he said. “More than most neighborhoods in the city, we have a lot of through traffic on very busy streets like Gough and Franklin, Oak and Fell, which were once neighborhood streets.”

“The alleys can serve as a shared space, where traffic is calm,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity to re-envision what a street can be — a public space, where children feel like playing, rather than as something to just move through.”

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Park Areas Under Central Freeway Downsized to Retain Caltrans Parking

Left: The original vision for the conversion of a Caltrans parking lot into a dog run, basketball courts, and a playground. Right: The final plan, which will build only the dog run in order to retain most of the parking lot. Images: Department of Public Works

A plan to convert parking lots under the Central Freeway near Duboce and Valencia Streets into a skate park and dog run is moving forward, but it won’t include basketball courts or a children’s playground as originally envisioned by residents.

Because the city will have to lease the land from Caltrans, which owns and collects revenue from the existing parking lots, city officials involved in planning the long-delayed parks projects say budget constraints left them with no choice but to allow the state department of transportation to retain a large section of the parking lot at the expense of park space.

“The City Parking Area is a vital revenue component to making the entire lease structure with Caltrans feasible; thus helping to fund the projects and keep them moving forward,” wrote Gloria Chan, a spokesperson for the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, in a February email to residents. “Without this revenue, we would not be able to plug the funding gap needed for these projects.”

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim introduced legislation this week to establish agreements between Caltrans and city agencies to move the project forward, and construction on the skate and dog parks are expected to begin this summer. She praised the project planners, but made no comment on the downsizing.

The SF Examiner reported details of the deal last month:

Under the terms of the lease deal, Caltrans will receive $10,000 a month for 20 years, with rent increasing by 2 percent every year. The Recreation and Park Department — the agency in charge of maintaining the park — will pay $85,000 a year for the site. Public Works will pay $66,000 a year.

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Planning Commission OKs Car-Free Housing at Fulton and Gough

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A rendering of the new project approved for Gough and Fulton Streets. Image: David Baker + Partners Architects

A massive Hayes Valley parking lot, formerly occupied by the Central Freeway, will be developed into a car-free apartment building and Boys and Girls Club after the project was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission last week.

The six-story apartment building at Fulton and Gough will include 69 rental units, eight of them available at subsidized below-market rates, all without car parking. The adjacent Boys and Girls Club will include parking — six tandem spaces which drivers will access via Ash Street, an alleyway, where the project developer will add a raised crosswalk along Gough. Pedestrian improvements like sidewalk seating and bulb-outs at Fulton and Gough will also be added as part of the agreement, and the site will include 70 indoor bike parking spaces.

Occupying a corner just two blocks from City Hall, the project “continues the reparation of the neighborhood damage caused by the collapse and removal of the Central Freeway,” notes project architects David Baker + Partners on the firm’s website.

Jason Henderson of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association called the project “a key precedent” for the integrity of the Market-Octavia Area Plan, which sets limits on new parking to make room for people, not cars.

The project also marks what could be an upward trend of car-free housing being built in the city. In September, the Planning Commission approved a project with 12 car-free condos at 1050 Valencia Street.

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Eyes on the Street: A Livable Street Emerges Next to the Central Freeway

Elgin Park, old and new. Left: Google Maps. Right: Mark Dreger.

A nice little transformation has taken place on Elgin Park, a one-block residential street next to the Central Freeway touchdown at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard.

Streetsblog reader Mark Dreger sent in the above photo of the makeover, noting that “it looks like SF’s version of a woonerf” — the Dutch term for the pedestrianized streets common in the Netherlands, where cars are allowed, but priority is given to people on foot and children playing.

The project is a piece of the Department of Public Works’ West SoMa Improvements, which set out to create greener, calmer streets in the neighborhood around McCoppin Street, where the Central Freeway spur was reconstructed in the middle of the last decade. While the removal of the freeway north of Market revitalized Hayes Valley, Caltrans insisted on rebuilding the freeway on the south side of Market, despite a city-backed plan to remove it further south.

Elgin Park, which lies west of Valencia between Duboce Avenue and Market (where there’s a bike/ped-only entrance ramp from Market), is one of several alleyways that are being revamped with new pavement and greening, as well as traffic-calming chicanes and raised crosswalks. At the west end of McCoppin (on the opposite side of the freeway), which has been re-paved with planted medians, chicanes, and bike lanes, the McCoppin Hub plaza is set to be constructed by summer, according to the DPW website.

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Mayor’s Transpo Chief: “Let’s Be San Francisco and Take Down the Freeway”

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The 280 freeway looking from Potrero Hill, where it divides the neighborhood from Mission Bay. Photo: Michael Patrick/Flickr

The idea of removing the northern section of Highway 280 near Mission Bay is gaining more traction as planners look for ideal ways to usher in high-speed rail and transit-oriented development in downtown San Francisco.

At a SPUR forum yesterday, Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director, Gillian Gillett, sketched out a proposal to follow in the footsteps of the removals of the Embarcadero Freeway and a section of the Central Freeway, which revitalized the neighborhoods the roads used to divide. As Adina Levin at Green Caltrain reported, Gillett argued that replacing the elevated portion of I-280 with a street-level boulevard, from its current terminus at 4th and King Streets south to 16th Street, would improve the livability of the area, open up land to develop new neighborhoods, provide funding through real estate revenue, and open up engineering solutions to facilitate the extension of Caltrain and CA High-Speed Rail to the planned Transbay Transit Center.

If the freeway is left to stand, its pillars would present an engineering obstacle to running the train tracks undergound, meaning the only other feasible way to allow rail tracks to safely and expediently cross 16th Street would be to dip 16th underneath the tracks. And that would make the intersection — a gateway to Mission Bay — even more hostile for people walking and biking than it already is.

As past cases have shown, creating a surface street where that part of I-280 now stands and integrating it into the neighborhood would actually reduce overall car traffic. In a moment that would make the city’s mid-20th Century freeway protesters proud, Gillett told the crowd, “Let’s be San Francisco and take down the freeway.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe called the proposal “an exciting opportunity to re-orient our city around sustainable public transportation and create a more walkable city.”

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