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Posts from the "Greenways" Category

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Creating a Safer “Green Gateway” at Valencia and Mission Streets

A vision for Valencia Street's south end at Mission Street, where two right-turn lanes would be converted into stormwater-absorbing plaza. Image: SFPUC

A chunk of roadway at Valencia and Mission Streets would be reclaimed to create a plaza designed to make the corner more pedestrian-friendly and absorb stormwater under a project led by the SF Public Utilities Commission.

The Valencia and Mission Green Gateway Project would widen sidewalks and add greenery and permeable pavement treatments along the southernmost block of Valencia, between Mission and Duncan Street, where it also intersects with the Tiffany Avenue bike boulevard.

Under designs presented by the SFPUC, the SFMTA, the Department of Public Works, and the SF Planning Department at an open house yesterday, the two right-turn traffic lanes on southbound Valencia at Mission would be converted to the permeable plaza, shortening a long crosswalk that currently crosses five lanes. The sidewalk would be expanded out to the existing refuge island.

“We’re making traffic make more sense,” said Raphael Garcia, project manager for the SFPUC.

The southbound end of Valencia would get a narrowed roadway, but an extension of the Valencia bike lane to Mission shown on an initial rendering for the project won’t be included, because that block is not part of an official bike route, according to Adam Gubser, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision. Instead, the block will retain two southbound traffic lanes so that Muni buses on the 36-Teresita line, which make a right turn there, aren’t delayed by car traffic waiting to turn, he said. Parallel parking spaces on the east side of the block would also be converted to back-in angled parking spaces to minimize parking removal. Altogether, ten parking spots would be removed for the project.

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City Sets Out to Create Safer, Greener Streets on the Wiggle

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The Wiggle could be transformed into a greener, more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly route in the coming years thanks to a new planning effort launched by the SFMTA and the SF Public Utilities Commission.

At an open house community meeting yesterday, planners shopped potential treatments like traffic diverters, traffic circles, bulb-outs, and raised crosswalks that could be used to calm motor traffic while adding plants and surfacing treatments to absorb more storm runoff.

“We want to think about how we can make the streets for people,” said Luis Montoya, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets Subdivision. “We’ve been hearing for several years about several issues going on on the Wiggle, whether it be cut-through traffic, bikes and cars speeding and not yielding to pedestrians, and people wanting to see more green on their streets.”

Bicycle traffic has grown dramatically in recent years on the Wiggle, the flattest central route connecting the eastern and western neighborhoods by zig-zagging through the Lower Haight. During that time, the SFMTA has added green-backed sharrows and more visible crosswalks, and the agency plans to remove parking spaces at corners (a.k.a. daylighting) this summer to improve visibility at intersections.

Connections to the Wiggle have also seen major improvements recently, with the installation of the Fell and Oak protected bike lanes on the west end, and an overhaul of Duboce Avenue on the east end that included a new green bike channel.

The SFMTA is now able to embark on more intensive changes to the Wiggle’s streetscape thanks to a partnership with the PUC, which is looking to replace the sewers and add water-absorbing treatments (similar to the project under construction on western Cesar Chavez Street), planners said.

The PUC is providing $4.2 million in addition to $800,000 from the Prop B street improvement bond. By combining projects and funds, both agencies can save time and money, planners said. The project is currently scheduled to be completed in mid-2016.

Ambitious visions for the Wiggle have been sketched out by city planners and livable streets advocates. In 2011, bicycle planners from the SFMTA joined planners from the Netherlands in a workshop called ThinkBike, where they set out to re-design major SF bicycle routes for walking and biking first. The conceptual plans that came out of the workshop depicted on-street greenways with chicanes and traffic lane closures, as well as green-backed sharrows and bike channels like the ones which were later implemented. Last year the SF Bicycle Coalition created more detailed renderings of a Wiggle greenway based on those visions.

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San Franciscans Want to Link Parks With Safer Intersections, Living Streets

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Screenshot from ImproveSF.com

Bringing safe bike infrastructure and shared, pedestrian-priority streets to San Francisco are just a couple of popular ideas among users on ImproveSF.com, a city-sponsored website which features a platform for residents to provide input on the Planning Department’s “Green Connections” project.

Planners are fielding ideas from the Green Connections section of the website to help shape the developing plan for a citywide network of park-to-park routes, asking questions like, “How can we make it easier and safer to walk or bike to parks?” The most popular answers to that question are, “Safer intersections the Dutch way,” traffic calminggreening and landscaping, and “WOONERFS! Paseos! Living Streets!

Any visitor can “like” an idea or suggest their own — the Planning Department is listening. “This is a 20-year long project, and in order to better connect individuals and their families to enjoy natural areas and public amenities in their community, it’s important that we hear what residents really want in their neighborhoods,” said Planning Department Director John Rahaim in a statement.

Seen any other successful ideas you’d like to see adapted from other cities? Got new, imaginative ideas for streetscapes of your own? Head over and share them with the city.

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Envisioning the Wiggle as a People-Centered Greenway

Scott Street between Oak and Page Streets. Image: SFBC

The SF Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) has posted new visuals on its website depicting how streets on the Wiggle could be transformed into greener, traffic-calmed streets oriented toward safe walking and bicycling.

The Wiggle, the flattest route connecting the east and west parts of the city, is already a magnet for bike traffic. However, as the SFBC notes, new riders can get confused by the twists and turns of the route, and high-speed motor vehicle traffic makes cycling feel too dangerous for many people to consider riding.

The renderings of Waller Street and Scott Street draw on concepts that emerged from last year’s ThinkBike Workshops, in which planners from the SFMTA and the Netherlands sketched out redesigns to enhance the experience of pedestrians and cyclists on major bicycling corridors. The SFBC envisions wider sidewalks, more public seating, higher-visibility bike markings, and streets engineered for automobile speeds that don’t threaten people traveling on foot or by bike.

The SFMTA is taking some steps toward the ThinkBike vision by rolling out ladder crosswalks and green-backed sharrows emphasizing pedestrian and bicycle priority along the route.

The SFBC’s renderings are part of its Connecting the City campaign to make SF streets accessible for all-ages cycling. The top priority for the campaign is a seamless “Bay to Beach” bicycle route, including the Wiggle, that feels safe enough for anyone from 8 to 80 years old to ride.

The SFBC also has a survey for the public to share their thoughts on the renderings.

Waller Street between Steiner and Pierce Streets. Image: SFBC

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Tomorrow: Help Envision Better Streets Connecting to Heron’s Head Park

Tomorrow the SF Planning Department is putting on the first in a series of walks as part of its new Green Connections project, an effort to improve access to parks making better use of city streets.

Biking and walking routes to Heron's Head Park. See the full PDF. Image: SF Planning Department

The intent of the program, according to the department’s website, is to create “a citywide network of green streets that can be built over time, improving pedestrian and bicycle access to parks, open space and the waterfront.”

At a kick-off meeting last month, planning department staff began collecting feedback and showing how traffic calming and greening techniques could be included in the plans. On tomorrow’s walk, you can tell planners what you like and don’t like about the pedestrian environment en route to Heron’s Head Park near Hunter’s Point.

Planners will use the walks and other public events to engage communities in shaping the Green Connections project, and by late 2013 they hope to finish conceptual designs in six neighborhoods: Chinatown, the Tenderloin, the Western Addition, Potrero Hill, Visitacion Valley, and Bayview-Hunter’s Point.

Tomorrow’s two-hour walk meets at 1 p.m. the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park at 32 Jennings Street (coincidentally at the east end of Cargo Way, where crews are currently constructing a two-way protected bikeway).

Check out all the project materials from the kick-off meeting on the Green Connections website, and see highlights after the break.

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The Nowtopian 16 Comments

The Political and Economic Implications of Bicycling Tourists

A Bike-and-Roll rental station in front of the Hyatt Regency at Market and Spear.

I’ve been bicycling in San Francisco since the late 1970s so I vividly remember when almost all bicyclists could recognize each other on the streets of the city. There really weren’t that many of us even as recently as the beginning of the 1990s, just two decades ago. We’ve come a long way, and one of the less recognized aspects of this bicycling boom has been the incredible expansion of bike rentals and bicycling tourism.

I wrote a flyer back in 1986 calling for a “City of Panhandles” and one of the arguments I made in that largely unnoticed document was that a systematic effort to provide safe, separate bikeways crisscrossing the City would itself lead to a tourism boom. As it turns out, we’re experiencing a dramatic increase in tourists cycling even before we provide adequate infrastructure. San Francisco is just an incredibly beautiful place, and people come from all over the world to experience its beauty. Growing numbers of those visitors aren’t much interested in seeing it through windshields and are opting instead (or in addition) to rent bicycles.

There are three “big” companies doing bike rentals in SF: Bike and Roll, Blazing Saddles, and Bay City Bikes (a number of smaller places, like the BikeHut at Pier 40, also rent bikes). I recently spoke with Darryll White, owner of Bike and Roll, and he gave me some impressive aggregate numbers. Since 1995 the local bicycle rental business has grown from about $500,000 a year to over $10 million! The remarkable thing about this huge increase in tourist cycling is that about 90 percent of the rentals are heading to the Golden Gate Bridge and to Sausalito, where the City Council has erupted into battles over bike parking vs. car parking, even pondering charging fees to touring bicyclists. The Golden Gate Ferry service keeps at least four of its ferry runs going to accommodate the cycling tourists, which have hit peaks of 2,500 per day during recent summer months.

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Bay Area Cities Rediscover the Creeks Under Their Streets

ramblasperspect.jpgOne of the proposed designs for Center Street in Berkeley, by Ecocity Builders

(Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed)

The proposal to convert Center Street in Berkeley from an asphalt thoroughfare to a park-like promenade -- revealing a long-hidden underground creek -- is the latest twist in the interesting and often-controversial story of the Bay Area's heavily-modified waterways.

The Center Street project is a striking reversal of a century-old trend towards burying Berkeley's creeks below ground. It's also an example of the relatively new practice of "daylighting" forgotten waterways, a trend said to have been unintentionally sparked forty years ago in nearby Napa.

In the 1970s, as part of the redevelopment of its downtown, the City of Napa stumbled upon a new way of thinking about the urban watershed: Instead of leaving the Napa River buried, engineers removed its cover, exposing it to daylight.

"In the 70s, there was the redevelopment," Barry Martin, Napa's Public Information Officer explained to Streetsblog. "and a number of buildings were taken down. The creek ran underneath some structures, so as they were designing this urban renewal project, [daylighting] was part of that."

"I don't think there was any environmental thinking going on at that time," he added.

Some urban planners debate whether Napa's construction in the 70s constitutes the country's first daylighting project. In 2003, Steve Donnelly, then co-director of the Urban Creeks Council, dismissed the project as the nation's first, saying, "all they did was take the top off a concrete channel."

Uncovering the waterway didn't fix Napa's watershed problems, either.

Forty years after its restoration began, Napa still struggles with the health of the Napa River: Frequent flooding plagued the city during the past decades, and engineers are only now getting the water flow under control, in part thanks to tactics similar to those employed by the settlers of 200 years ago.

In the 1800s, residents recognized that the east side of the river's oxbow was too wet to use in winter, and set aside the land as a summer fairground. An amphitheater now sits on the land, but there's more to the park than meets the eye: It serves as a buffer during floods, redirecting overflow away from more vulnerable areas.

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The Nowtopian 4 Comments

Depaving Uncovers Layers of History

watching_morning_training_6110.jpgNeighbors gather for tips and tricks to Mission Roots gardening project, 23rd and Florida

We walk on layers of history. In our neighborhoods, in our cities, there were once natural phenomena, like creeks, sand dunes, hills, and forests. Over time they were covered in farms, factories, houses, and most of all, streets. At first those streets were dirt, often thick and muddy. Around the middle of the 19th century they started to be used for railroads, both intercity, and local streetcar and cable car lines. Sometimes the shape of our 21st century streetscape is a ghost of those old train lines.

In the Mission, where I live, all of this pertains. But more than the questions of ecological succession, including natural and human, as well as agricultural, industrial, and residential uses of land, there are the shifting human communities themselves. At any given moment in time there are diverse populations living side-by-side, right next door, right on top of each other, but sometimes that close proximity does not include much awareness or daily interaction.

Last week I wrote about Jane Martin and her project PlantSF, and how it inspired a couple of dozen families along the nearby blocks of Harrison, Alabama, 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th to begin the historically overdue process of depaving this cemented neighborhood. I walked around speaking with folks this past Saturday, as "Mission Roots" took hold in many sidewalk gardens, and I had more than one reaction. Of course I was delighted to see all the effort being made to green the city, to reverse the domination of 20th century urban design. I met many lovely folks, most of whom were homeowners working in front of their own properties. Apparently the organizers had successfully garnered a $50,000 grant to provide materials, and the cement cutting services were donated by a local company. The homeowners had to apply to the city for permission, using the one-page permit Jane Martin helped design, and that involved a modest fee and a drawing that conforms to city regulations in terms of accessibility, utilities, etc. Interestingly, one of the main organizers of this effort, Audrey Newell, confirmed my hunch that 75% of the participants had approached the organizers, rather than the organizers having to go out and convince people.

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The Nowtopian 9 Comments

Jane Martin is a Force of Nature

jane_cu_gardening_5826.jpgJane Martin gardening at 23rd and Harrison, Jan. 3, 2009.

Jane Martin is a longtime resident of San Francisco's Mission District, a licensed architect, and an avid gardener. She is the founder of PlantSF, an informational website dedicated to reconfiguring the design and use of urban spaces, primarily sidewalks and to a lesser extent, residential streets. PlantSF started in 2004 after Martin had spent considerable effort establishing a sidewalk garden in front of her then-home on Shotwell between 17th and 18th Streets.

"Before I thought to organize [PlantSF] I just wanted to put in a garden. We have these really wide sidewalks all over town and they're relatively underutilized. [The garden] also had the added benefit of reducing driving and parking on the sidewalk."

orig_sidewalk_garden_w_palm_longer_view_5919.jpgMartin's original garden with flourishing palm tree, on Shotwell between 17th and 18th Streets.
This block of Shotwell was infamous for sewage backups and blackwater flooding during heavy rainfall. Only a few years ago most of the neighbors had to stockpile sandbags during winter to stop their garages from flooding with sewage. After Martin figured out how to get through the city bureaucracy, and ultimately helped create a streamlined permit process for anyone to follow (downloadable here), many of her neighbors on the same block opened their sidewalks and put in permeable driveways and gardens. Even PG&E, just south of 18th between Shotwell and Folsom, got into the act. Read more...