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Posts from the Livable Streets Category


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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Neighbors Welcome a Calmer, Greener Bryant Street Near Cesar Chavez

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Residents are enjoying a more livable outer Bryant Street since the city implemented a road diet last month, reducing four traffic lanes to two (plus left-turn bays at some intersections) between 23rd and Cesar Chavez Streets. Neighbors joined Friends of the Urban Forest on Sunday on the block between 26th Street and Cesar Chavez to add trees and plants to two new medians — visual signals that drivers should slow down as they enter the neighborhood from the 101 freeway.

Friends of the Urban Forest joined neighbors Sunday in planting two new medians that were installed along with a road diet on Bryant Street between 26th and Cesar Chavez Streets. Photo: Dan Sherman

The project, part of a bigger slate of traffic calming improvements planned for the neighborhood, has made the intersection of Bryant and Cesar Chavez much safer for pedestrians, said Fran Taylor of CC Puede. “For me, the most important improvement has been the elimination of the double left-turn that used to feed traffic from southbound Bryant onto eastbound Cesar Chavez and the freeway ramp, making the pedestrian crossing on the east side of Chavez a death-defying experience,” she said. “The median, especially now that it’s landscaped, makes the street feel smaller and cozier.”

In its 2010 Mission Streetscape Plan, the Planning Department noted that Bryant had “far more roadway space than is needed for the amount of traffic that uses the street,” which led to “fast-moving traffic and neighborhood cut-throughs, and… a landscape that is dominated by asphalt.”

To calm car traffic, planners removed traffic lanes, added medians, and re-arranged some on-street parking spaces to be perpendicular with the curb, narrowing what used to look like a wide-open roadway.

The plan also calls for more midblock sidewalk extensions (also known as chicanes) along Bryant, including a “landscaped plaza” between 25th and 26th, but those improvements are included in the long-term phase. And that’s not set for implementation for ten or more years, due to the limited funds available for such projects.

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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.


SFMTA Board Approves Fell and Oak Bikeways, Work to Begin This Month

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Construction will begin this month on physically separated bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements on three critical blocks of Fell and Oak Streets after the project was approved unanimously yesterday by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

Image: SFMTA

“This is such a game-changer,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “I think when we make this small but critical gap more welcoming and bike-friendly, we really are going to see more people biking to work, to parks, to school.”

SFMTA crews plan to begin work in October on striping the Fell Street bike lane, re-striping parking spaces on nearby streets, and upgrading continental crosswalks, said SFMTA project manager Luis Montoya. Striping the Oak bike lane will require more work than the Fell lane, since the Oak lane will require a slight re-alignment of the three traffic lanes. The completion dates for each piece of the project will depend on the schedule of the agency’s paint shop, but agency staff hopes to have both bike lanes finished by winter on the three blocks between Scott and Baker Streets, he said.

Work on the 12 sidewalk corner bulb-outs and planted concrete bike lane barriers would be finished by next spring or summer. Although the SFMTA said earlier this month that the bike lanes may not be rideable during concrete construction, Montoya said crews would be sure to maintain temporary bike lane access. The project will also add bicycle traffic signals to give bicyclists and pedestrians a head start in the traffic cycle.

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe cheered the pedestrian upgrades included in the plan, which initially included only bike lanes. “The project will widen sidewalks at corners with 13 [originally proposed] bulb-outs, which is really quite a lot. I’d like to get to a point where it’s not a lot, but right now it’s a lot.”

As part of the project, the traffic signals on Oak and Fell would be adjusted to lower synchronized vehicle speeds from 25 MPH to 20 MPH, which will “help to start addressing the [traffic] speeds … that basically make it feel like we’ve got freeways running right through our city,” said Stampe. “For too long, Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle have been like islands in the middle of these freeway-like traffic conditions.”

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Eyes on the Street: McCoppin Transformation in Progress

Streetscape enhancements are transforming McCoppin Street. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Last summer, we wrote about a package of overdue streetscape improvements planned for the neighborhood around McCoppin Street, which would include a public gathering space called the McCoppin Hub adjacent to the Central Freeway.

Work on those projects is finally starting to make some profound changes to the neighborhood. Recently installed planted medians have had a noticeable traffic calming effect. Compare the above photo with the old McCoppin:

McCoppin Street last year.

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New Ordinance Streamlines Conversion of Gas Stations to Ped-Friendly Uses

The Arco gas station at Fell and Divisadero Streets, where a queue of drivers regularly blocks the sidewalk and bike lane. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Board of Supervisors today approved changes to the city’s planning code to make it easier for developers to convert gas stations to uses like apartments and storefronts on major transit and pedestrian streets.

“Gas stations have a lot of [drivers] coming in and out, and they can slow down transit,” said Judson True, an aide to Supervisor David Chiu, at a hearing of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee last week. “In a transit-first city, while we want to make sure there are some gas stations, on primary transit corridors, this allows them to be converted under certain parameters without a Conditional Use authorization.”

By removing the hurdle of obtaining a Conditional Use permit — an exemption from local planning regulations — the amendment is intended “to balance the desire to retain [gas stations] with city policies which support walking, cycling, and public transportation, and which encourage new jobs and housing to be located in transit corridors,” according to the Board of Supes’ summary of the bill [PDF].

In addition to attracting car traffic that often blocks transit, bike lanes, and sidewalks, gas stations are voids in the urban fabric that degrade the pedestrian environment. On a block of Divisadero Street between Fell and Oak Streets, which is packed with three gas stations, street safety advocates held protests in 2010 calling for the closure of a driveway at an Arco gas station where drivers regularly block the bike lane on Fell. The situation improved somewhat after the SFMTA painted the bike lane green and removed parking spaces to create a longer queuing space. Though major street improvements are planned for Fell and Oak, the Arco entrance would remain mostly as it is, and it’s unclear whether these routes would be considered primary transit or pedestrian streets.

The ordinance, which also includes a provision expanding the enforceable bike parking requirements within buildings, is part of a larger effort underway by Livable City and Supervisor Chiu to reform myriad aspects of the city’s planning code. Stay tuned for more coverage of this ongoing campaign.

A gas station at the corner of Market and Buchanan Streets, where the Wiggle begins, is currently being converted into a 115-unit condo building with ground-level retail space. Photos: Google Maps and Arquitectonica via Curbed SF


Today, Block Parties Need Permits. Tomorrow, Could They Be Permanent?

Photos: Aaron Bialick

The demand for car-free streets in San Francisco is easy to see at the Sunday Streets events around the city. If there’s no Sunday Street in your neighborhood, though, not to worry: You can bring a car-free event right to your doorstep.

With a little outreach to your neighbors, a permit application, and a fee, it may be easier than you think.

My block in the Inner Sunset did it this Sunday for the tenth year in a row for its annual block party, bringing neighbors together for a potluck, games, and conversation.

Organizer Walter Van Riel said once he put the vehicle barriers in place, the street was transformed in an instant. “Not more than five minutes later, I heard the sound of kids playing in the street,” he said.

Going car-free relieves streets of the noise and danger normally present, which can prevent kids from playing outside and inhibit relationships between neighbors. Mary Deely, who has lived on the block since 1970, said without the block party, she wouldn’t know her neighbors as well. “I wave to people, but I don’t really talk to them until the block party,” she said.

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Tomorrow: Support a Two-Way Haight and More 15 MPH School Zones

Photo: Bryan Goebel

Two important projects will get a hearing before an SFMTA engineering panel tomorrow, and advocates say a show of support is crucial.

First up is a hearing for the third set of 15mph school zones, championed by Walk San Francisco. More than 70 streets are on the latest list. As we’ve written, the 15mph school zone campaign is part of a groundbreaking citywide initiative pushed by Walk SF to implement safe speed zones around 200 schools, and comes just a few weeks before Walk to School Day on October 5.

The second item to convert Haight Street between Octavia and Market into a two-way street is a project that could face some opposition, but is being pushed by pedestrian, biking and transit advocates as a much-needed measure to calm traffic, improve walking conditions and speed up Muni service on the 6 and 71 lines. The plan would also give us San Francisco’s first red bus lane.

You can read the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association’s letter of support here [pdf].

Tomorrow’s hearing starts at 10 a.m. in Room 416 at San Francisco City Hall.


Streets Bond Measure Headed to November Ballot

Photo: ejbSF

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of occasional stories on the “2011 Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond.”

A $248 million streets bond measure being pushed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other electeds is on its way to the November ballot after being approved this week in a 9-2 vote by the Board of Supervisors. The “2011 Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond” would provide funds over three years to repave the city’s crumbling streets and fix cracked and buckling sidewalks. Streets with high volumes of transit, bicycle and pedestrian traffic would be prioritized.

“With more than half of our 850 miles of roadways deteriorating, we must confront the crisis in the condition of our streets now or we will face even greater costs and threats to public health and safety later,” Lee said in a statement released yesterday.

The San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW) recently posted maps online that give a citywide breakdown of which streets stand to benefit from the bond money. The final list of streets would be “geographically equitable” and the SFDPW would “ensure that projects are evenly distributed to all parts of the city” without raising property taxes.

The agency’s outgoing director, Ed Reiskin, recently appointed to head the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said funding sources to improve street conditions have gradually declined over the years, and the measure is urgently needed to rebuild a growing backlog of streets in poor condition.

“We have a huge need. That backlog is maybe three quarters of a billion dollars, and there’s just no way that we can dig out of that hole using the operating dollars that are funding police and firefighters and library services and health and human services,” Reiskin told Streetsblog in a recent interview.

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Neighborhood Outreach Continues for Fell and Oak Bikeways

One option for a bikeway on Fell Street presented to neighborhood associations by the SFMTA. See the rest in this pdf.

Fourteen years of community-driven efforts to improve conditions on Fell and Oak Streets around the Panhandle are finally paying off. The outreach continues on a vision for separated bikeways that would provide San Franciscans safe access to the flattest route connecting the western neighborhoods to areas east while making the neighborhood more livable for residents and businesses.

For some fifty years, the city has chosen to prioritize automobile storage and speed on Fell and Oak, which serve as one-way, multi-lane residential freeways with car parking lanes on either side. The street invites over 30,000 daily drivers [pdf] (in each direction) to motor through the neighborhood while imposing a dangerous three-block gap for bicycle commuters on the Wiggle route and the Divisadero commercial corridor.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), which represents 12,000 members, has surveyed [pdf] nearly all of the businesses along the three blocks of Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker Streets to field initial opinions on a bikeway proposal. Of the three options presented, the survey found most merchants were unsure whether replacing a parking lane, a travel lane, or using a peak-hour tow-away lane would be the best option.

“Only one respondent was explicitly against the project, while most were not against it as long as attention was paid to the concerns, and some were even supportive of the project with no concerns,” the survey said.

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