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Posts from the Greenstreets Category


San Francisco Could Find Downstream Benefits in Innovative Street Paving

Source: Chicago's <A href="">Green Alleys Handbook</a>Source: Chicago's Green Alleys Handbook

During the heavy rainfall season, San Francisco faces some daunting challenges: Draining the water, keeping the roads from getting slippery, and containing and treating the runoff. Some storms are so severe that the city can't keep pace. That's when we see flooding in the Muni tunnels and sewage discharges into the bay.

But the solution -- or at least part of the solution -- could be as simple as changing the material that we use to pave our streets.

The city considered a wide variety of low-impact-design techniques for managing water at community meetings held in 2007. Among the solutions was permeable pavement, a technique dating back centuries that fell out of favor during the fast-and-cheap highway booms of the last few decades.

As Miles Chaffee, President and founder of Milestone Imports explained to Streetsblog, the benefits of permeable paving are numerous. "It decreases impervious land coverage, provides a more stable load-bearing surface, and allows the water to go into the ground," he said. "It eliminates the need for detention ponds, which require additional space. And it takes off a lot of stress from the sewer systems when it's done correctly."

In addition, permeable paving can be made lighter in color, which reduces the urban heat island effect. It can be made of recycled materials, such as concrete and rubber, and by filtering the water, it removes pollutants. There are advantages for bicyclists as well: "It takes that film of water off the ground that makes it slippery," Chaffee said.


The Lure of the Creeks Buried Beneath San Francisco’s Streets

(Editor's note: This is Part 2 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed.)

San Francisco may be getting new waterfront soon, thanks to ambitious projects currently being studied by the city's Public Utilities Commission, including proposals for daylighting, or uncovering, long-buried creeks and streams and creating open-air channels that flow alongside the city's sidewalks and streets.

Top contenders for daylighting include: Islais Creek, originating in Glen Canyon Park and flowing through Bernal Heights to Islais Creek Channel, passing under Third Street just north of Bayview; Yosemite Creek, flowing from McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley through Portola to Bayview and entering the bay near Candlestick Park; and the little-known Stanley Creek, flowing along Brotherhood Way into Lake Merced near the border with Daly City.

Like the Center Street daylighting proposal in Berkeley, these projects wouldn't attempt to replicate a natural habitat, due to the limitations of dense human development. Instead, the PUC proposes a "compromise" approach that would merge the needs of communities with the hydrological benefits of exposed waterways.

And those benefits would be significant. A 2007 study by the PUC found that daylighting Yosemite Creek would reduce strains on the water system; an important finding, since those strains regularly cause raw sewage overflows that exceed federal limits. A three-hour storm -- such as the one seen last weekend -- could drop over 50 million gallons onto the Yosemite watershed, overwhelming pipes that are decades past their expected lifespan.


Quantifying the Value of San Francisco’s Unaccepted Streets

As we have reported, Berkeley Professor Nicholas de Monchaux's Local Code proposal for activating San Francisco's "Unaccepted Streets" called for transforming the patchwork of 529 acres of underutilized alleys, street-ends, and pathways into a network of green spaces. Were San Francisco to build out the more than 1500 identified sites, de Monchaux estimates that the city would save $4.8 million in air pollution mitigation, $6.9 million in energy savings, and a staggering $1 billion in stormwater infrastructure.

From the proposal:

The final outcome of our proposal is a pedestrian network of places, and a virtual network of spaces as well. A focused web threaded through real and virtual fabric; our systematic interventions turn away from the idea of urban infrastructure driven by cars and highways to a more robust, and perhaps natural, notion of urbanity. Instead of the old metaphors of lungs and circulation, we propose a robust, networked logic of health and social welfare, a distributed immune system for the 21st-century metropolis.

While the project didn't win UCLA's WPA 2.0 design competition, Professor de Monchaux and the five other WPA 2.0 finalists were afforded an audience in late November with President Barack Obama's Director of the Office of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrion and HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims, who both apparently showed great interest.

"My goal now is to initiate some of those conversations with local agencies," said de Monchaux. "I think a very interesting next step would be to implement some of the designs locally, create a community based laboratory to see how these designs would perform."


San Francisco Starts Building Green Streets For Stormwater Management

Without question, Portland's Greenstreets program is the benchmark for American cities seeking to manage storm water and runoff from the street level before it enters the sanitation system pipes. Now, San Francisco is on its way to constructing its first on-street stormwater facilities in two places in the Bayview and Visitation Valley, pilots that should be instructive for the city going forward with the Better Streets Plan.

Leland_Avenue_overhead_small.jpgClick image to enlarge: Leland Avenue intersection overview.
Leland Avenue in Visitation Valley, which is already under construction, adopts various green-street treatments along the four-block commercial stretch that is being re-designed. Primarily an effort to revitalize business along the corridor, the Leland Avenue redesign incorporates some innovative treatments, including planted bulbouts, permeable pavers and stormwater drainage in parking lanes, high visibility crosswalks, and connections to the city's greenway network.

The Planning Department's Andres Power lauded the Leland Avenue improvements, and said the reconstruction of the street was the first step in a process the city hopes will become codified in every street redesign moving forward through the Better Streets Plan. He pointed to a new project, however, in neighboring Bayview as the benchmark for how San Francisco is innovating street design. Power is the project manager for the Model Block pilot on Newcomb Avenue in the Bayview, a project designed around stormwater treatment. The Newcomb project is situated on the 1700 block, just off of 3rd Street between Newhall and Phelps, and will employ a cocktail of street treatments, including stormwater planters and bulbouts, planted traffic calming chicanes, permeable pavement at on-street parking spaces, landscaped sidewalks that absorb runoff, raised crosswalks, and new street trees.

"Newcomb will be the first true green street in San Francisco," said Power, who noted that over the last few years movement from within the city on these matters has been quite positive. "From a policy and design perspective, there has been a sea change; it is infinitely easier to be able to talk about this stuff. Good design feels much less like an impossibility."

The cost to remake the Newcomb is $1,251,421, half of which comes from the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, nearly $500,000 from the U.S. EPA, and the remainder from San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing Community Challenge Grants. The Redevelopment Agency, as part of the expansion of its Model Block single-family home rehabilitation program, will provide financial assistance to low-income families on Newcomb in conjunction with the renovation to refurbish their dwellings.



Portland’s Greenstreets Program a Sterling Best Practice Model

42nd_Belmont_small.jpgA typical greenstreet facility in Portland, Oregon. This one compines a stormwater treatment facility with a bulbout to reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Photos: Portland BES.
When Streetsblog San Francisco took part in the Congress for the New Urbanism's Project for Transportation Reform in Portland last week, city planners and transportation engineers treated participants to numerous tours of innovative network solutions that city has embraced, including its greenstreets program for stormwater treatment on street rights-of-way. With nearly five hundred greenstreet facilities already in the ground, Portland has plans to add another five hundred in the next five years, greatly reducing the burden stormwater can place on its sanitation system.

Portland's greenstreet facilities often take up multiple on-street parking stalls and replace the asphalt with beds planted in native species that help absorb significant volumes of streetlevel wastewater, near 100 percent in some locations. Facilities include swales, curb extensions, planters, and infiltration basins, and are typically linear and pool 6 to 9 inches deep [PDF].

David Elkin, a Landscape Architect working for Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), explained on the tour that the first experiments with greenstreet facilities in Portland were necessitated because the city had to meet mandates in a Clean Water Act lawsuit for polluting the Willamette River, which flows through Portland. The city faced the challenge of increasing the number drainage pipes in east Portland, at a cost of $150 million, or develop another solution for reducing "upstream" water volumes, those that came from surface streets. By adding the greenstreet facility network, which initially cost $11 million, the city met its target stormwater capture and estimated that it saved $60 million in pipe replacement costs.

"We can talk about all the multiple benefits that greenstreet facilities provide, but the bottom line is it saves taxpayers dollars," said Elkin, noting that the first on-street facility was installed in 2002. "Instead of just a patch or trench in somebody's street, we're going to leave behind a green, vegetated facility."



SF Approves Trial Closure of Mason Street In North Beach

Picture.jpgMason Street triangle will be future home of North Beach Branch Public Library. Photo from corner of Lombard St and Columbus Ave. Courtesy: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.
San Francisco's traffic managers last week approved a trial closure of one block of Mason Street in North Beach from August 1st to September 27th to test what their models tell them: that they can close the street permanently to allow expansion of the North Beach Branch Public Library and the park at Joe DiMaggio Playground. Mason Street currently serves as a direct route to Fisherman's Wharf from Columbus Avenue and detractors are concerned that traffic will worsen on adjacent streets and that drivers will have difficulty understanding the change.

Despite the protestation from a few community members at last week's ISCOTT meeting and concern from Fisherman's Wharf businesses that the timing could be better, the city decided to test the closure at the height of tourist season to measure peak traffic rather than waiting for an off-peak period when results might not represent similar travel demand.

"The whole point of this analysis is to demonstrate the worst-case scenario, traffic at peak periods," said the Planning Department's Andres Power, who was responsible for ushering the trial through the city's maze of agencies responsible for street closures. "Ultimately it would be a disservice to do it in November. If the catastrophic failure [some are predicting] happens now, it would be better to know."



Things Are Heating Up!

cm_june09_naked_cyclists_start_0079.jpgNew Bike Plan! Let's Get Naked and Celebrate! Critical Mass San Francisco, June 2009.

I was glad to see “We Are the World” on the ridiculously inadequate Climate Change bill that finally emerged from the corrupt U.S. Congress. Sadly, the bill could only emerge with the support of a number of mainstream environmental lobbyists in DC, who clearly have sold out to get something, anything, in the direction of addressing the climate catastrophe. Here in San Francisco there’s an inordinate amount of enthusiasm for the Bike Plan getting okayed by part of the city government, even though it’s still under an injunction, and even when that finally gets lifted, it’ll take three years to finish this Plan, one which will have relatively little effect on this car-dominated city. In some strange way the Climate Bill and the Bike Plan are eerily similar: sources of great pride to those who believe in incremental change, “the best we can do in the current political climate” to political realists, but falling way short, sorely disproportionate to the actual needs they ostensibly address. (An article in the UK Guardian Weekly June 5-11 edition “Climate Change Creates New ‘Global Battlefield’” quotes a new report from Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum that there are already 300,000 deaths a year due to the warming climate, and 300 million people have already been affected!)

I’m not saying anything that most people can’t readily see if we pause from our daily frenzy long enough to think about the bigger picture. I’ll go out on a limb (barely) and say here and now that the Climate Catastrophe conference scheduled for Copenhagen, Denmark in December will fail to do anything meaningful. It’s not hard to predict, since even with a 60-vote Democratic (comedian-reinforced) Majority in the U.S. Senate, there’s no chance of a treaty being ratified that addresses the structure of the U.S. economy or the geographic arrangement of our dwellings, our transit infrastructure, or our energy use. And yet, this is simply what is necessary to have ANY CHANCE AT ALL of averting catastrophic ecological and economic collapse… funny to think that things are that stark, and hard to see if we don’t stop and look, but there it is.


Mayor Newsom Unveils SF’s First Pavement to Parks Plaza

newsom_holding_court.jpgSupervisor Dufty and Mayor Newsom at the 17th St. plaza dedication cerimony, via Jamison on Flickr
Standing before a crowd of more than 100 people, many of them city staff who had worked to realize the transformation of an underutilized street into a "Pavement to Parks" pedestrian refuge, Mayor Gavin Newsom dedicated the first of at least four such plazas that will be constructed around the city.  

"I know that many of you have been talking about this for... at least 13 or 14 years.  Formally it's been at least a decade since community groups came together and talked about converting this pavement into a plaza," said Newsom.  "I refer to it as 'democratizing this public realm' and the street realm, and looking differently in terms of our open space, open space in terms of taking back this pavement, and converting it into plazas." 

Newsom added: "If we're successful here...if the community all agrees that this works... if the transit riders and the activists all agree that this works, then we look forward to bringing this to other parts of the city."

The city will evaluate the plazas after 60 days with the community and then extend the trial for another four months, if it is desired.  Additionally, Newsom said three other plazas are already being designed, with support for the concept among supervisors in the districts where they would be located, and there are nine additional locations for the program at some point in the future.  The next three projects will be, in this order:

  • Wolf's Cafe at 8th Street and 16th Street in Lower Potrero
  • Naples Green in the Excelsior
  • Guerrero Street and San Jose in the outer Mission



News From New York: The ABC’s of Trial Plazas and Complete Streets

Picture_18.pngThe trial plaza at Madison Square
When we wrote about the trial pedestrian plaza on 17th Street and Market Street that DPW expects to start this May, the story generated numerous doubts about how the city would create a successful public space out of a busy street abutting a gas station. 

As commenter Josh said, "This truly is a ridiculous idea! Why would anyone want to "enjoy" a small patch of cemented area that's filled with salvage yard leftovers while inhaling unhealthy fumes from not only the cars on the busy streets that surround the designated area but by the gas station?"

Though we can't make guarantees on a pilot project that hasn't been built, we thought we'd highlight some of New York City's temporary plazas and street treatments as best practice analogs, knowing our DPW and MTA are also looking to the Big Crabapple for inspiration. 

DPW Director Ed Reiskin explained to Streetsblog by email that his goal is to keep expenses low. "As for cost, it should be minimal, since materials cost should be close to zero," he said.  "There will be some labor cost to us and MTA to put up signs, transport and place materials, and install any pavement treatments and cuts."

In New York, even the "salvage yard leftovers" have become very nice public amenities.



Streetfilms: A Proposed Urban Park in Historic North Beach

"What destroys the poetry of a city? Automobiles destroy it, and they destroy more than the poetry."
--Lawrence Ferlinghetti

One of San Francisco's cherished literary icons -- poet, painter and City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- is celebrating his 90th birthday today, and I thought it would be fitting to bring you his vision for transforming a small block of Vallejo Street in historic North Beach into what would be called the Piazza Saint Francis. 

Ferlinghetti founded the Piazza Saint Francis Foundation and is working with the Planning Department's City Design Group, Caffe Trieste and many others, including attorney and former supervisor Angela Alioto and film director Francis Ford Coppola (who worked on "The Godfather" screenplay at Trieste), to create an Italian-style piazza, with inscriptions on the paving stones from up to 30 or 40 authors, mostly poets.

North Beach is an ideal place to do this, not just because of its Italian flare. The neighborhood consistently shows some of the highest pedestrian counts in the city, yet lacks a lot of usable public space. It does feature Grant Street, though, one of San Francisco's most pedestrian-friendly streets, which runs through the heart of Chinatown, across Columbus, and into North Beach alongside Trieste, and Washington Square Park.

The biggest obstacle to realizing the project is the estimated $3.5 million price tag. The city can't afford to do it, so private funds will need to be raised to make it happen. "We urgently need money to make it go forward," said Ferlinghetti.