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Guest Editorial: Safety Must Come First on Taraval

croppedTaraval

Concrete boarding islands (right) make streets safer than letting people board in the middle of the street (left). Photo: SFMTA

Every day 29,000 Muni riders and countless walkers travel on Taraval Street, one of the city’s 12 percent of streets responsible for over 70 percent of traffic deaths and life-changing injuries. On average, every five and-a-half weeks someone is hit while walking on Taraval.

This afternoon, walkers and MUNI riders will have a once-in-a-generation chance as the SFMTA Board of Directors considers a proposal to reshape this deadly street into a safe place for everyone.

But whether the SFMTA will deliver a life-saving project, or a watered-down conciliation that will continue to put our fellow community members’ lives at risk, is yet to be seen.

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Vision Zero Committee Hears Radio Spot and Other Efforts to Curtail Speeding

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Supervisors Yee and Campos at the Vision Zero Committee of the Transportation Authority. Photo: Streetsblog

Supervisors Yee and Campos at the Vision Zero Committee of the Transportation Authority. Photo: Streetsblog

Note the ‘call to action’ at the end of this post.

Thursday afternoon, Supervisors Norman Yee and David Campos, commissioners on the County Transportation Authority Vision Zero Committee, heard updates from SFMTA officials on plans to install safety infrastructure and increase educational awareness on the dangers of speeding. They also discussed Mayor Ed Lee’s Executive Directive to, among other things, install speed humps in Golden Gate Park and protected bike lanes South of Market. Safety advocates also spoke, keeping up the pressure on city agencies to follow through on promised improvements.

John Knox White, Transportation Planner at SFMTA, gave a detailed update on the status of the Vision Zero Communications Outreach Program. “We’re trying to change San Francisco’s culture,” White told the committee. “We’re trying to change to a culture that embraces public safety.” Read more…

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BART Board Candidates Discuss Future of Bay Area Transportation

The SF Transit Riders Brian Stokle moderated a discussion among BART board candidates for District 9 and 7. Photo: Streetsblog.

The SF Transit Riders’ Brian Stokle moderated a discussion among BART board candidates for District 9 and 7. Photo: Streetsblog.

Yesterday evening, the San Francisco Transit Riders held a “BART Board Director Candidate Forum” at the Mission Pool & Playground Clubhouse in the Mission District.

From the SF Transit Riders:

We are hosting the forum for the candidates to introduce themselves and respond to SFTR and public questions. This is an important time in BART’s history. Its aging system is facing the challenges of ever more crowded trains. With these BART Board elections and the $3.5 billion BART bond to improve safety and increase train reliability on the same ballot, there are many issues to discuss at the forum.

Thea Selby, chairwoman of the SF Transit Riders, spoke with Streetsblog prior to the event. She explained that the forum was intended to help educate the voters about what each candidate stood for, without her organization taking sides. “To my knowledge this is the only educational forum,” she said. It was also part of “Transit Week,” a push by the advocacy group to change perceptions of riding the bus as something people only do when they don’t have a better alternative. “We want to remind transit riders they can be proud of producing less congestion and pollution and helping San Francisco meet its climate change goals,” she said.

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Push Continues in City Hall for Safer Bike Infrastructure

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Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim and David Campos hear testimony from SFMTA to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee about efforts to accelerate street improvements. Photo: Streetsblog.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and David Campos hear testimony from SFMTA to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee about efforts to accelerate street safety improvements. Photo: Streetsblog.

Note the ‘call to action’ at the end of this post.

Yesterday afternoon, some 30 officials, police officers, advocates, and other members of the public joined the regular meeting of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at City Hall to discuss how to get protected bike lanes installed quickly on San Francisco’s most dangerous streets.

“It is incredibly frustrating to our city and residents to continue to see people killed and injured on our streets,” said District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, “Are we working with the urgency that we need to take?”

The people killed whom Kim was referring to were, of course, Kate Slattery and Heather Miller. They died while riding their bikes in San Francisco on the evening of June 22. Over a month later, Mayor Ed Lee issued an Executive Directive instructing “SFMTA to deliver near­-term safety improvements on 7th and 8th Streets in the next nine months” and the SF Recreation & Parks Department “to deliver near­-term safety improvements to reduce speeds and vehicular through-traffic on JFK Drive in the next six months,” among other things. The hearing was part of an ongoing effort to check up on and make sure agencies followed through.

“It’s not just engineering. And it’s not just enforcement. It’s those two plus education,” explained Tom McGuire, Director of Sustainable Streets for SFMTA. “We believe you should be able to ride safely if you’re 80 or eight or anywhere in between. Kate Slattery and Heather Miller remind us we’re not there.”

Indeed, San Francisco is not there, but the question Kim and other members of the panel and public demanded to know is, “Why not?”

Patrick Traughber and Jay Harris wait patiently for their turns to speak. Photo: Streetsblog.

Patrick Traughber and Jay Harris wait patiently for their turns to speak. Photo: Streetsblog.

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SFMTA Wants Your Help Planning San Francisco’s Subway Future

A rendering of Muni's new rail cars, coming soon. Image: Siemens.

A rendering of Muni’s new rail cars, coming soon. Image: Siemens.

Now’s your chance to go full transit geek.

SFMTA has launched its “Subway Vision” web page as a first step in developing a long-range transportation plan for the next fifty years. Or as they explained it in their release:

We want you to help draw the San Francisco subway map of the future.

We’ve teamed up with the San Francisco Planning Department and other city partners to launch a new website where you can help shape the city’s plan for future subway — our Subway Vision for the next fifty years. It’s part of the foundation we’re laying for an effective, equitable and sustainable transportation network for the future of San Francisco.

To get this right, we need your input on priorities – whether it’s extending the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf, building a second Transbay Tube for BART into Mission Bay or extending the Market Street subway across the city to allow for longer trains.

Streetsblog took a quick and dirty stab at it (see the results below).

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Streetsblog Talks with Scott Wiener

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Streetsblog sat down with Supervisor Scott Wiener in an unofficial district office (Casto Tarts) on Friday. Photo: Streetsblog.

Streetsblog sat down with Supervisor Scott Wiener in an unofficial district office (aka: Castro Tarts) on Friday. Photo: Streetsblog.

On Friday, Streetsblog caught up with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. Readers may recall that Streetsblog last interviewed the then newly re-elected chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority back in January. Since that interview, much has changed. The mayor has a new Executive Directive on Vision Zero, a new city sales tax initiative is scheduled for the November ballot that will be integral to the budget and transportation investment, and there is a new interim police chief. Moreover, Wiener is now locked in a close fight for the State Senate District 11 seat for San Francisco and San Mateo County with Supervisor Jane Kim. Given all that, Streetsblog thought it was time to get the latest from Wiener.

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Streetsblog: You recently wrote an editorial advocating for late night service on BART and Muni. I know you’ve been working for some time on late-night service options. Do you envision that as bus-only, bus-plus-Muni rail, or do you see a scheme of, say, single-tracking through the Transbay, so it would include some BART service too?

Scott Wiener: Obviously, the easiest late-night transportation expansion is going to be a bus service and that’s been a big focus. Improving the owl service—making it more frequent and expansive; not having to tour the whole city to get home. And we want to increase Transbay late-night service to make it truly usable. We’ve made progress, and there will be more.

I’d absolutely like to see overnight rail service. I’d like to see Muni run the subway later too—at least on the weekends until 2 a.m. In terms of BART—we’ve been struggling for so long. They insist they can’t do 24-hour service.  I’ve heard conflicting things about whether BART has enough of  a “can do” attitude. But they are emphatic about the impossibility of running overnight. So we need to keep a second Transbay tube on track, which will allow for 24-hour BART. Of course, it’s not just about 24-hour capacity; it’s about redundancy. It’s about connecting Caltrain, the Capital Corridor, and getting HSR over to the East Bay and Sacramento.

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SPUR Talk: Transportation Challenges for Downtown Tech Companies

A SPUR panel discussed how downtown Tech companies Airbnb and Salesforce help their employees get to work . Photo: Streetsblog.

A panel at SPUR discussed how downtown tech companies Airbnb and Salesforce help their employees get to work . Photo: Streetsblog.

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), hosted a lunchtime talk in downtown San Francisco today, with representatives from Salesforce and Airbnb, about how the companies help employees commute between work and home. Unlike tech giants based outside of downtown San Francisco, neither company makes heavy use of private buses–so-called Tech Shuttles–and instead depends on public transit such as BART, buses and Caltrain.

“Our San Francisco campus is right down the street,” said Lauren Bennett, Senior Program Manager for Transportation at Salesforce. Her company has seven buildings in downtown San Francisco with nearly 7,000 employees, she explained, adding “That gives us access to two BART stations and the regional Transbay Terminal…we don’t have a last-mile problem.”

That’s probably why a third of its employees get to work by BART, with another 20 percent getting in by various bus and other transit providers. That’s part of a corporate strategy. “We think our employees want to work in urban areas and like the city as an amenity,” she said. And they don’t try to insulate their employees from the surrounding area. “We don’t have a cafeteria. We want people to get out, walk around and spend money in small businesses,” she said.

Airbnb has a similar strategy. “Airbnb was born and bred South of Market,” said Rob King, Facilities Coordinator at Airbnb. “It was started with air mattresses on the floor in SoMa; we’ve always been an urban company right in the heart of cities.” But the SoMa location comes with its own last-mile challenges. “The Caltrain station and BART are both .8 miles away,” said King, “Transbay is 2 miles and it’s 2.5 for the Ferry Terminal.”
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SFMTA Readies Limited Roll Back on Mission Transit Project

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A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni daily to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA staff has released its recommendations for compromises to its recently completed Mission Street transit upgrades. In addition to plans to relocate the outbound Cortland stop to the nearside of the intersection, the staff wants to move forward with (from the agency’s FAQ):

  • Removing two of the required right turns on Mission at 26th and 22nd. This will allow vehicles to travel four blocks on Mission before encountering a required right turn, making it easier to access businesses and find parking along the street. We expect this change to improve traffic circulation without increasing through traffic or delaying bus riders.
  • Exempting taxis from the left turn restriction at 21st Street. This exemption, in the middle of the Mission corridor, will provide more options for taxis to reach their destinations.

SFMTA also reports increased bus reliability and an 85 percent reduction in Muni collisions. So why roll anything back if the improvements are working? Streetsblog readers will recall that these additional changes are in response to anger from local merchants, many of whom complained to Supervisor David Campos about lost parking and turning restrictions. Campos’s staff was unavailable, but in a previous post from his Facebook page, he wrote that  “I have heard from many of you–car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks…That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program.” That resulted in a contentious public meeting on June 20 that brought out transit advocates to speak in favor of the “red-carpet” bus lanes, against business owners who demanded that Mission be changed back to the way it was.

Certainly, the shift that SFMTA is recommending is nothing as “radical” as Campos’s business constituents were requesting, at least so far; SFMTA is not talking about taking away the transit lanes. And the turning restrictions are so routinely violated–as observed by Streetsblog this afternoon–that it’s difficult to imagine eliminating them will make much difference.

Private cars follow a cab north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

A line of private cars follow a taxi north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

And that speaks to a deeper problem–with a myriad of exceptions to follow, how can different drivers decipher who can turn when and where?  And if a left turn is dangerous for an Uber driver, can it really be safe for a taxi driver? Again, continually accommodating different interests–rather than holding the line on safety–leads to bad outcomes and is no doubt why Vision Zero efforts are failing thus far. “The plan has tried to fit safety in after the fact, rather than building in a Vision Zero lens from the beginning,” wrote Walk San Francisco’s Executive Director Nicole Ferrara, in an email to Streetsblog. “We’re particularly concerned with changes that will allow taxis to make left turns, further confusing drivers and compromising on a key pedestrian safety treatment.”

That said, “It’s reassuring that SFMTA does not intend to recommend changes which significantly compromise the now-documented benefits of improved reliability and faster transit trip times the plan has achieved,” said Peter Straus, from the Executive Board of the San Francisco Transit Riders.

Business owners around the intersections in question, meanwhile, still want Mission restored to how it was before March, when SFMTA put down the “red-carpet” lanes for transit. Patel Varsho, who’s owned “King of Fashions,” a clothing shop on Mission, since 1991, said they’ve felt the cuts to parking and that  “Business is slow.” Mihee Lee owns the “Smile Bar-B-Q,” a nearby lunch counter on Mission at 22nd. “Customers have no parking,” she said. “Business is down 20 percent.” Neither commented specifically on the significance of eliminating the turn restrictions, and instead were concerned primarily about parking.

Either way, as Streetsblog has pointed out before, business owners tend to overestimate how many customers arrive by car. Lee, for example, said she didn’t know how many of her customers take the bus versus driving, making her claim that business was down 20 percent due to changes to the street seem dubious.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Jesse Oropeza, meanwhile, said there’s been no change in business. She works at “Mission Shoe Repair” on 22nd, right by the intersection with Mission. But Wilfredo Dominguez, who’s owned “Cuzcatlan Travel Service” a few shops down for two decades, also said business is down by 20 percent. “It’s hard because of the loss of parking,” he said. “We have loyal customers who drive from Berkeley, San Mateo and San Jose–they [SFMTA] really screwed up by doing what they did. They should send buses to Van Ness.”

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

But Jacob Bullock, owner of the “Refinery Grooming Club,” on Mission said: “we still get plenty of business…and I think the bus ride is better.”

One thing the transit lanes doesn't seem to have improved on: bus bunching. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

Despite claims of improved reliability, the transit lanes don’t seem to have improved bus spacing. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will hear public comment on the roll-back proposals on August 16, at 3:00 p.m. in San Francisco City Hall, Room 400. If you are unable to attend, email comments to MTABoard@sfmta.com.

UPDATE: The day after publication, David Campos’s staff sent the following response to the story: “Transit reliability and thriving small businesses are not mutually-exclusive. I hope the SFMTA’s revisions will work as a compromise between the needs of transit riders and small businesses.”

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More Grumbles at Final Hearing on Taraval Changes

Some 60 people came to address a Friday morning hearing on proposed changes to the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog.

Some 60 people came to address a Friday morning hearing on proposed changes to the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog.

SFMTA, at long last, held its final hearing on the proposed Muni Forward safety and speed improvements to the L-Taraval. The two-hour meeting, which started at 10 a.m. at City Hall, was attended by some 60 people.

Streetsblog readers will recall the last large hearing for Taraval was held in February and, as with many of these big public hearings, there were outbursts, groans, and grumbles.

This meeting was more under control, thanks to Mike Hanrahan with the hearings section of SFMTA. “Two minutes is plenty of time if you’ve thought about what you want to say,” he said to the audience, prepping them for the comment period. He then introduced Michael Rhodes, who gave some brief background on the project and explained some amendments. Almost immediately, grumbles came from the audience and someone tried to ask a question. Hanrahan reminded them the comment period is coming up and, “We can’t have interruptions.” Read more…

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Streetsblog Talks with Supervisor Jane Kim, Part II

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D11 Supervisor Jane Kim at her desk in City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim at her desk in City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Two weeks ago, Streetsblog did a Q&A with San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim. Kim was on a trip to New York and arranged to do the interview by phone. Unfortunately, the connection was intermittent, there was some miscommunication, and the interview had to be cut short. A few days later, Kim asked Streetsblog if we could continue the conversation. Fair enough. (Since Kim is in a tight race for the California State Senate seat for District 11 with Supervisor Scott Wiener, Streetsblog will do another interview with him as well).

In this follow up, Streetsblog talked with Kim about the State Senate, the search for a new police chief, Transbay and more topics of importance to livable streets advocates. But first on her mind was Tuesday night’s marathon budget negotiations, which didn’t turn out entirely as she would have liked.

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Streetsblog: So the Board was here past 10 pm–the budget passed and there will be a sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Jane Kim: I supported the point-five sales tax measure, because it’s a swap out of our existing sales tax.

SB: But not the .75 percent increase that passed?

JK: I wanted the city to look at alternative revenue. It [a sales tax] is ultimately a regressive tax. I don’t want to depend on that for essential city services,

SB: What else then?

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