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Posts from the "Livable Streets" Category

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Mini Plaza Creates Public Space, Not Carmageddon, at Market and Dolores

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Photo: Scott Wiener

It’s happened again: street space was re-allocated from cars to people, and the unbearable traffic jams opponents warned of have failed to materialize. In fact, some of them even like the result now.

At the southwest corner of Market and Dolores Streets, the sidewalk was extended to create a mini plaza last fall, as part of a city agreement with the developers of a building housing condos and a Whole Foods Market there. The sidewalk extension was opposed by a loud few, who claimed that removing part of a traffic lane and car parking lane would result in disastrous queues of cars.

Supervisor Scott Wiener posted the above photo of the plaza on Facebook, noting that it “has been a huge success”:

We had to push hard to prevent the plaza from being significantly reduced in size due to unfounded concerns about traffic congestion. Fortunately we were able to keep the plaza design intact, and it’s worked out beautifully. Very positive addition to our public realm in this growing part of the neighborhood.

Over and over again, we see that the sky doesn’t fall when well-executed projects reclaim space for people. Some folks just won’t believe it until the changes are on the ground, but in the meantime we all reap the benefits of safer and more livable streets.

Hayes Valley livable streets advocate Jason Henderson said that even some of the most ardent opponents of the Market and Dolores plaza are now fans of it, as noted in my article last week about why city officials won’t win by pandering to the vocal cars-first contingent.

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Detailed Polk Street Designs: Plans for Safe Bicycling Still “Lackluster”

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Polk will get a raised bike lane, but only northbound from McAllister to California Street. Images: Planning Department

The SFMTA and the Planning Department presented detailed plans for Polk Street at the project’s final open house meeting yesterday. The new aspects include specific locations of bulb-outs, dedicated bicycle signals, left turn prohibitions, loading zones, and new trees and landscaping. Plans to improve bicycle infrastructure are still composed of a mix of protected, buffered, conventional, and part-time bike lanes, depending on the stretch and side of the street.

In a blog postthe SF Bicycle Coalition wrote that it is ”deeply troubled” that the SFMTA and Supervisor David Chiu have stood bythe lackluster design,” in which protected bike lanes were largely cast aside to preserve parking spaces for a vocal minority of merchants.

Noting the inconsistencies between officials’ Vision Zero rhetoric and the watered-down proposal to improve safety on Polk, which sees the second highest number of crashes of any corridor in the city, the SFBC announced it is launching a David Chiu/MTA Polk Street Body Count clock, a tracker that will count the number people hurt on Polk going forward.

Luis Montoya, project manager for the SFMTA, characterized the compromised safety plans as an appropriate balance. ”I think people see that we’ve stuck to what we’ve said the project goals were of improving safety, addressing the specific crash patterns that we see, balancing the needs of the street,” he said.

Polk at California, where the configuration for bike lanes changes.

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Tonight: Final Open House on a Safer Polk Street

Left: a “Save Polk Street” flyer. Right: A parody from an anonymous satirist. Photos: Folks for Polk/Twitter

Tonight is the SFMTA and Planning Department’s final open house on the Polk Street redesign, the last chance to weigh in on the agency’s preferred design before it goes to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval. As you can see from the above flyer, the parking-obsessed “Save Polk Street” group is still fighting against safety measures in order to hang on to the small amount of car storage the SFMTA proposes to remove.

Meanwhile, an anonymous satirist posted a parody flyer countering some of the opposition nonsense. Perplexingly, the Save Polk Street flyer accuses the SFMTA of not approving pedestrian bulb-outs in the plan. As the parody flyer points out, it was none other than Save Polk Street that protested the bulb-outs and any measures that remove parking. (“Why did the bullies say ‘no’ to the bulbouts MTA supported for their God-given right to parking? … WHY? WHY? WHY?”)

A second satirical flyer. Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter

The proposed design calls for a southbound, green-painted bike lane between parked cars and moving cars on the nine-block segment of Polk between California and Union Streets. The northbound direction will only have a bike lane during the morning commute hours — the rest of the day, riders will still be forced to mix with motor vehicles. While the bike lane is in effect, curbside parking won’t be allowed (hence the top of Save Polk Street’s flyer reading, “$500 TOW AWAY!”). At other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

The 11-block southbound segment between McAllister and California Streets will include a raised, protected bike lane with bike traffic signals. The northbound side of that segment will include a green, buffered bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

A city survey found that the top priority for people who live, work, and shop on Polk was safer conditions for walking and bicycling — easily eclipsing the importance people placed on car storage on a street where 85 percent of people arrive without a car. In November, the SFMTA Board required that planners present them with a pilot project option for a full-length bike lane.

The SFMTA planners will be on hand to discuss the proposals at the open house, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the auditorium of Tenderloin Elementary School at 627 Turk Street, between Polk and Van Ness Avenue.

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Car Alarms: San Francisco’s Most Needless Nuisance

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Going by the notes left on this car parked on lower Haight Street in 2003, its alarm wasn’t exactly serving its intended purpose. Photo: jennconspiracy/Flickr

You’ll have to forgive me if this post sounds cranky. I lost some sleep last night when I was woken at 3:30 a.m. by a car horn that continuously blared from my neighbor’s house for 20 minutes. It was probably triggered by debris blowing in the storm.

Car alarms are not an uncommon sound in my apartment, since my building has a parking lot instead of what could be ground-floor apartments and/or a backyard. My street is also lined with autos parked along the curb and in “driveways” (illegally), so my neighbors and I are surrounded by noise bombs that could be detonated by the slightest touch or glitch.

There are a couple of remarkable things about car alarms — one is how numb we’ve become to them, and the other is how utterly useless they are. The two are related.

False alarms account for as much as 99 percent of events in which automobile anti-theft devices are triggered, according to two studies published in the 1990s by the New York State Legislature and the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law. Car alarms are largely ineffective at deterring professional thieves who know how to work around them.

So no one’s actually alarmed by them. People are mostly just annoyed.  ”An audible system is really just a noisemaker,” General Motors spokesman Andrew Schreck told NYC’s Transportation Alternatives in a 2003 report. “Most people, when they hear an alarm, they just walk the other way.”

Banning them seems like a no-brainer, though the legislative hurdles are apparently not insignificant. A TransAlt campaign to ban car alarms in NYC resulted in the passage of a 2004 City Council bill that included only ineffective measures.

Like NYC, San Francisco could — and should — be a much quieter place. I know if it weren’t for sounds from cars, I wouldn’t hear much other noise in my home. It’s not just some natural fact of “city life” — it’s a completely unnecessary byproduct of private automobile ownership, one that we’ve allowed to become inexplicably prevalent and persistent.

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Survey Shows Polk Neighbors Want Safer Streets First, Not Parking

A new survey shows that car parking is far from the top priority for people who live, work, and shop on Polk Street.

Updated 6:09 p.m. with comment from MPNA.

Polk Street’s dangerous conditions for people walking and biking are, by far, the biggest concern for people who live, work, and shop there — far more important than any lack of car parking, according to a new neighborhood survey.

The survey [DOCX] was conducted by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development in partnership with the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, which hosted a neighborhood meeting last March where the parking-obsessed furor drummed up by the a group of merchants called “Save Polk Street” overwhelmed discussion of facts with fearmongering.

“Middle Polk is extremely concerned about safety – pedestrian, bicycles, etc..” said MPNA Chair Dawn Trennert. ”No doubt that would rank #1. The Save Polk Street issue about parking has a few aspects to it – but the primary one is concern over removal of parking.  Pedestrian and bicycle safety and parking are all important items for our neighborhood.”

Out of the 140 respondents to the survey conducted last fall, 48 said “the biggest challenge affecting Middle Polk” was the “unsafe environment for pedestrians and cyclists.” It was the top choice, while “not enough parking” was chosen by 16 respondents, making it the third-most selected choice. The second-biggest concern was the “presence of homelessness / loitering.”

The survey findings buttress an SFMTA survey released last March which found that 85 percent of people on Polk arrive without a car, and that those who do drive tend to spend the least on a weekly basis.

“These survey results reaffirm what so many residents, shoppers and commuters of Polk Street understand: this thriving corridor needs a transformation that places people first,” said Kristin Smith, communications director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. “The SFMTA must implement a robust pilot to demonstrate the benefits of safer and more inviting biking and walking conditions and ensure the Polk Street Project Improvement Project meets the real needs of Polk.”

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Meet Streetmix, the Website Where You Can Design Your Own Street

Streetmix lets users mix and match design elements to create the street of their dreams. Image: Streetmix

Last fall, Lou Huang was at a community meeting for the initiative to redesign Second Street in San Francisco. Planners handed out paper cutouts, allowing participants to mix and match to create their ideal street. Huang, an urban designer himself, thought the exercise would make for a great website. Now, after months of work beginning at a January hackathon with colleagues at Code for America, it is a great website.

The principle behind Streetmix is simple: it brings drag-and-drop functionality to a basic street design template. Users select a road width and add or remove everything from light rail to wayfinding signs, adjusting the size of each feature meet their specifications.

“It’s a little bit like a video game,” collaborator Marcin Wichary said. ”We were very inspired by SimCity.”

But Streetmix is more than just a fun way for amateur street designers to spend an afternoon. “What we want to focus on is, how can this enable meaningful conversations around streets?” Wichary said. “For many people it’s a kind of entry point.”

The first version of Streetmix went online in January, but the latest version, which has new features and a slicker design, launched less than two weeks ago. In that short time, advocates have used the website to illustrate possibilities for Dexter Avenue in Seattle and Route 35 on the Jersey Shore. Streetmix has profiled how people from Vancouver to Cleveland use the website. Residents of Sioux Center, Iowa, even used Streetmix illustrations in their campaign to stop the state DOT’s road widening plan in their town.

“It’s giving power back to the people, allowing them to vocalize what their streetscape priorities are,” Huang said.

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Chronicle Op-Ed: Make Polk Street More Like Paris, Less Like Detroit

Spotted in today's Chronicle. Photo courtesy of Bryan Goebel

We’ve gotta spotlight this op-ed that appeared in today’s edition of the SF Chronicle calling upon the SFMTA and city leaders to make Polk Street more like “a Paris street, where people saunter and stay for hours, not just one errand.”

“For that to happen, it has to be engineered away from the Detroit model — maximum vehicle parking, maximum travel lanes — to a human model – maximum pedestrian and bike safety,” wrote Kurt Wallace Martin, author of the Bay Bikers blog on SFGate.com.

The article actually appeared on Bay Bikers last week, but the Chronicle editorial staff apparently saw fit to give it space in its print edition. The paper deserves recognition for publishing such a progressive vision for Polk Street — a political battleground in the movement to change the cars-first status quo on San Francisco streets.

Martin continues:

Having lived in both Paris and Detroit, I’d say Polk is more a Detroit-style street, designed and built for motorized convenience. People not protected by their vehicles are scared on Polk. They wait at intersections, looking both ways more than once before hurrying across. (The dangers are real: Polk averages one pedestrian and one bicycle accident per month.) Polk is perfectly placed on the map to be an engaging landing spot between Market Street and San Francisco Bay. It’s a street not crazed with traffic like Van Ness, and not hilly like Larkin – a street that should tie the neighborhood together. But Polk feels more like Van Ness than it should…

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Safer Polk Street Supporters Rally for Neighborhood Meeting Monday

Opponents of the redesign want to "Save Polk Street" by maintaining the dangerous status quo. (Note: The meeting location listed on this flyer is outdated.) Photo: Blake Harris

With flyers stuck on storefront windows along Polk Street spreading misinformation about the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s developing plans to make the street a safer, more inviting place to walk and bike, local supporters of the project are rallying neighbors and merchants to attend a public meeting on Monday. There, city officials including SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin and D3 Supervisor David Chiu are expected to attend.

The flyers, handed out to merchants by an entity calling itself the “Save Polk Street Coalition,” falsely claim that the SFMTA is “planning to remove 20 Blocks of street parking on Polk St. from Union St. to McAllister St.”

In reality, the project’s proposed options, which were developed with input from well-attended community outreach meetings in September and December, would only remove some portion of the on-street parking on Polk, which in total represents 7 percent of all parking within a block’s range of the corridor. Meanwhile, the commercial street would receive the kind of improvements that have been shown time and time again to invite more shoppers.

Madeleine Savit, a 61-year-old mother, architect, and urban planner who lives in the neighborhood, has been talking with shop owners and attempting to debunk misconceptions about the project with a flyer of her own, which reads, “SFMTA’s Polk Street proposals benefit all in our community.” She said the vast majority of upset merchants seem grossly misinformed, and estimates that “Save Polk Street” is led by a handful of people.

Madeleine Savit's flyer.

“People don’t know what’s going on. So the most vocal people are the minority,” said Savit. “The problem is, we’re not dealing with facts. We’re dealing with emotion and fear.”

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed to streets like Valencia, where bike and pedestrian improvements have revitalized businesses by inviting people to spend more time on the street. “It’s very clear that when other corridors in San Francisco have been studied the way Polk Street is right now, there have been great improvements not only to the walkability and bikeability, but also to the business environment and real estate values,” she said.

On Polk, parklets and bike corrals that replaced parking spaces in the last couple of years have drawn more foot traffic. After a parklet was installed in front of Quetzal Cafe on Polk between Bush and Sutter Streets, a study conducted by the Great Streets Project found that more people stopped to talk or window-shop, and overall foot traffic increased.

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A Safer Polk Street vs. Preserving a Sliver of Parking

On-street car parking on Polk Street, between Union and McAllister Streets, makes up just 7 percent of the 4,300 parking spaces within a block of the street. A new NIMBY group wants to "stop the radical agenda" of improving safety on Polk because it could remove some of that 7 percent. Image: SFMTA

A new entity that calls itself the “Save Polk Street Coalition” has come out against the developing plan to improve safety for people walking and biking on Polk Street because it would entail removing some parking spaces.

The group’s website, which doesn’t identify any of the businesses or residents it claims to represent, decrees: “STOP the radical agenda of the SFMTA.” The sky-is-falling rhetoric continues:

Street parking is vital to Polk St. businesses. If you eat, live, work or shop along Polk Street this WILL affect you! If you want the restaurants, shops and services on Polk Street to survive make your voice heard. Save Polk Street from this misguided experiment!

First, let’s clear this up: The notion that car parking is what brings customers to shop in walkable San Francisco neighborhoods has been debunked time and time again. Customer intercept surveys on Columbus Avenue found that just 14 percent of people arrived by car, and those people tended to spend less than people who arrived by other means. Pedestrianization projects like the proliferation of parklets and temporary bans on parking on Stockton Street in Chinatown have drawn more people to streets while subtracting parking.

To boost foot traffic and make the street a more inviting destination, re-purposing public space from automobile storage to improve conditions for walking and biking is a solid strategy. And by making it easier to get to Polk without a car, fewer visitors would need to occupy a parking space in the first place.

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Cleaning Up SF’s Car-Littered Sidewalks Will Take More Than Parking Tickets

Cars littered on San Francisco’s sidewalks are a painfully common sight. The problem is perhaps most prevalent in outer neighborhoods like the Sunset and Bayview, where, for decades, homeowners with residential garages have paved over their front yards. The pedestrian environment on these streets is left degraded, with swaths of dead space where families and people with disabilities are often forced to walk around an obstacle course of cars and driveway ramps.

Make no mistake: It’s illegal to park on any part of a sidewalk or in a “setback” between the sidewalk and a building. The practice of paving over front yards was also banned in 2002.

Yet conditions in these neighborhoods make clear that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency does not enforce sidewalk parking on sight (though officials have claimed that’s the policy). Meanwhile, the Planning Department says it only fines homeowners who pave their yards when someone files a complaint. The issue recently got some attention in an SF Chronicle article last week, as well as the latest segment of KRON 4′s People Behaving Badly.

With all this space physically molded for car storage — practically every last inch on many streets – Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said cleaning up San Francisco’s car-littered sidewalks will take more than getting parking control officers to hand out tickets. The Planning Department — which has no staff to proactively enforce rules against illegal setback pavings, according to the Chronicle — would have to crack down on violators, reversing decades of institutional tolerance for the practice.

“The city has turned a blind eye for so long that they have created a de facto entitlement” to illegal parking, Radulovich said. “City agencies have created an uncomfortable dilemma for themselves – start enforcing the law and deal with the fallout, or continue to ignore the problem and watch it grow worse.”

The setbacks, side yards, and backyards required in the city’s planning code ”were intended to create usable open space and/or gardens, not open parking,” said Radulovich. Greenery lost to pavement also means more stormwater flowing into the often-overloaded sewer system.

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