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Ocean Ave to Get Spruced Up, But Real Transformation Will Have to Wait

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Ocean and Geneva Avenues, outside the City College Main Campus. Photo via the SF Planning Department

City planners are shaping up plans for Ocean Avenue, following public workshops that will help develop a vision for both near-term and long-term improvements. The near-term plans, for the commercial stretch of Ocean west of Phelan Avenue and the City College campus, are far along in their development. Meanwhile, a long-term plan for the remainder of the avenue, stretching eastward to the Balboa Park BART Station, is still in its earlier stages.

Thus far, no major changes have been proposed on Ocean. Most of the street has narrow sidewalks, no bike lanes, and heavy car traffic turning from 280 — making the street dangerous to cross and snarling Muni. A separate plan is in the works to remove and re-configure those ramps years down the road, but a redesign of Ocean could present the opportunity to free up room for walking, biking, and transit.

On Ocean between Manor and Phelan Avenues, the near-term plans — set for construction next spring — include a handful of bulb-outs, new sidewalk greenery, seating, and other street fixtures at three “key” T-intersections: Ashton, Capitol, and Granada Avenues. At those intersections, Lily Langlois, the Planning Department’s project manager, said “the street dead-ends at Ocean, so there’s this kind of focal point, and an opportunity to build on that street pattern by creating those community gathering spaces.”

Community members have already taken proactive measures to improve the public realm on Ocean. Today, an event was held to celebrate a mobile parklet that was developed, designed, and built by high school students from the Youth Art Exchange. It will be placed in front of at least five different local businesses, six months at a time, starting at Fog Lifter Cafe.

Alex Mullaney, publisher of the neighborhood newspaper The Ingleside Light, said he helped push the Department of Public Works to create a plan for streetscape improvements on long-neglected Ocean, and created the Ocean Avenue Association’s Street Life Committee.

The near-term streetscape improvements “will go a long way to modernize Ocean Avenue, and bring it up to speed with a number of other neighborhoods,” he said. ”The new landscaping and amenities will improve quality of life and slow down traffic. Ocean Avenue has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city, along with three extremely dangerous intersections. I have zero doubt that the near-term project will turn around those two issues.”

A mobile parklet now sits on Ocean and will be moved every six months. Photo: Youth Art Exchange via Facebook

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Commentary: Why This Senior and Transit Advocate Blocked a Google Bus

Editor’s note: This is a guest op-ed that does not represent the views of Streetsblog.

Buses good, cars bad. I get it.

Corporate shuttles replace thousands of cars – so why would someone who’s spent hours pounding the podium at Muni hearings, and campaigning for cyclists and pedestrians, join a blockade of seniors and disabled people protesting tech buses? Over time, I’ve gone from considering the buses positive, to understanding their destructive role in San Francisco’s displacement crisis.

Housing-war history, generational conflicts, and the consequences of growing inequality all churn the current debate over who can live in San Francisco. Getting stuck in a simplistic “buses good, cars bad” formula can keep sustainable transportation advocates from appreciating all this context. I’ve been dismayed at some comments on Streetsblog about “those idiot Google bus blockaders.” One commenter even claimed that the backers of the pro-car “Restore Transportation Balance” ballot measure must be the same as those blocking the buses.

This defies belief! Tenant advocates have been the driving force behind recent antidisplacement actions, including the bus blockades, and as someone who’s worked with the San Francisco Tenants Union for decades, I can testify that it’s always a struggle to find someone with a car to haul campaign literature or conduct a carpool. The Restore Transportation Balance backers, in contrast, are largely Republicans and homeowners. The same right-wingers who wail, “The bike coalition runs this town” also say “The tenants union runs this town.”

My thinking on the corporate shuttles changed when I began making connections between transportation justice and economic equity. Streetsblog readers understand automobile domination, the bullying assumption that cars have the right of way, and pedestrians and cyclists should flutter aside like pigeons. Similarly, corporate domination runs right over vulnerable populations. The two issues often converge, as when our puppet mayor takes orders from his venture capital bosses and, like a vending machine, spits out the repeal of Sunday parking meter enforcement, a bait and switch on vehicle license fee increases, and tepid lip service on Vision Zero.

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SFMTA to Create Sansome Street Contra-Flow Lane for Muni’s 10, 12 Lines

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A new contra-flow lane for transit and commercial vehicles on Sansome would eliminate a detour for Muni’s 10-Townsend line [PDF]. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA plans to install a contra-flow transit lane for three blocks of Sansome Street near the Financial District, providing a faster and more direct route for Muni’s 10-Townsend and 12-Folsom bus routes.

The new southbound lane would be reserved for transit, bicyclists, and commercial vehicles during daytime hours, and eliminate a detour that Muni buses must currently take along Battery Street, one block away. It’s expected to save an average of three minutes for Muni riders, according to Sean Kennedy, planning manager for the SFMTA Transit Effectiveness Project.

The project received preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering hearing today, and is set to go to the SFMTA Board of Directors for final approval on September 2. It’s expected to be installed by spring 2016.

Currently, the three-block stretch of Sansome between Washington Street and Broadway has two traffic lanes, both one-way northbound, with parking lanes on either side. The project would convert that stretch to two-way traffic, similar to the configuration that already exists on Sansome south of Washington, but the newly-converted southbound lane would be prohibited to cars between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day. All of the existing metered parking spaces on the southbound side would be converted to metered loading zones, according to Kennedy, and most of them would be replaced on cross-streets by converting other loading zones to parking spaces.

Sansome, looking south toward Pacific Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The new southbound lane would be similar to the existing part-time lane on the east side of Sansome. On the eastern curb, parking is currently banned between 3 to 6 p.m., when the curbside lane becomes a moving lane for transit and commercial vehicles.

The project will also upgrade the traffic signals along Sansome with transit priority detection, “daylight” some corners, and the crosswalks will be upgraded to “continental” or ladder-style, said Kennedy. American Disabilities Act-friendly curb ramps and blue zones for disabled parking will also be added.

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Muni Plans to Launch “Double Berthing” in October, a Year Behind Schedule

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Muni still hasn’t launched double loading of trains in its metro stations, a.k.a. “double berthing,” but says it could finally happen in October — a full year after the original launch date.

“The project is still in testing, to debug issues with the platform signs and trains,” said Muni Operations Director John Haley. “According to our project manager, they are progressing and hope to have it installed in October.”

Last September, Haley had told us that the train control software had been upgraded, and that computer-only simulations of allowing two trains to board passengers in a station simultaneously proved successful. The tests had “been positive with no bugs or glitches found,” Haley said at the time.

When they ran the live field tests, however, Muni managers apparently found some bugs.

Muni did, however, successfully start running a three-car train to make short runs in its metro stations last October, as promised.

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Mayor-Funded BeyondChron Attacks Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

BeyondChron editor Randy Shaw, who gets funding from the Mayor Ed Lee’s office for projects like the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, penned a predictable defense of Lee’s recent attack on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s transit funding ballot measure today. Shaw backed Lee’s decision to drop support for the vehicle license fee increase, and argued that Muni’s share of the city’s general fund has increased enough in recent years, compared to other city services.

Screenshot from BeyondChron

Much like Shaw’s January article lauding the mayor’s call for free Sunday parking – which ignored the SFMTA’s report on its impacts – his latest piece just mimics Lee’s position. Mayor Lee said on Monday that Wiener’s measure is “disturbing,” that it “can be very damaging” to the city budget, and that he “has to hold the supervisors [that voted for it] accountable.”

Shaw argued that, by mandating a set-aside for Muni and safer streets, Wiener’s ballot measure would “reduce the ability of elected officials to set budget priorities” such as the Children’s Fund and increased wages for non-profit worker contracts. Shaw targeted his arguments towards Wiener, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (one of the five other supervisors who supported the measure), and Streetsblog:

Wiener, Chiu and many transit advocates like to depict Mayor Lee as Scrooge when it comes to transit funding. They continually point to the mayor’s “abandoning” the Vehicular License Fee for the November ballot, despite this being “recommended by his own task force.”

Mayor Lee only “abandoned” the VLF for this November because polls showed voters strongly opposed it. As the SF Chronicle’s Matier & Ross reported on May 7, “a poll of 500 likely San Francisco voters – conducted for Lee by EMC Research from March 21-27 – found just 24 percent supported the fee increase. That is far short of the simple majority required for passage. Sixty-nine percent were opposed, and the remaining 7 percent were undecided.

Curiously, Aaron Bialick of StreetsblogSF cited the Matier & Ross story in reporting that the poll found 44% approval for the VLF. Bialick has repeatedly bashed Lee for not moving forward on the VLF, yet even with his misreading of the poll results—and 24% v 44% is a big difference—you can’t go forward with ballot measure when your support is under 50% before the opposition campaign kicks in.

The cherry-picking there is blatant. The Matier and Ross article Shaw refers to says, “When pollsters told survey respondents about the improvements the money would provide for Muni, road repairs and the like, support climbed to 44 percent — still below the majority threshold.” It would raise $1 billion over 15 years for pedestrian safety projects, bike infrastructure, transit improvements and vehicle purchases, and road re-paving — just by restoring the VLF to the rate that it was at statewide for over 50 years.

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Mayor Vows to Punish Supes Who Backed Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

Mayor Ed Lee, who has cut into transportation funding by nixing Sunday parking meters and abandoning a proposed vehicle license fee increase, now says that he will punish the six supervisors who voted to approve a ballot measure to increase transportation’s share of the general fund. Supervisor Scott Wiener proposed the charter amendment as a stop-gap measure to fund the city’s transportation needs, while SF waits two years for the mayor to support a vehicle license fee measure.

Mayor Ed Lee with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin yesterday, where he told reporters that he will “hold the supervisors accountable” for putting Scott Wiener’s transit funding measure on the ballot. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Chronicle reported on Sunday that ”the mayor’s office seems to be hinting that it will target programs important to the six supervisors who voted to place Wiener’s proposal on the ballot — Wiener, David Chiu, Jane Kim, London Breed, Malia Cohen and David Campos.”

Lee confirmed this report at a press conference yesterday, where he signed his touted $500 million transportation bond ballot measure. The mayor told reporters, ”I have to hold the supervisors that did this accountable,” and called Wiener’s measure ”disturbing,” adding that it “can be very damaging” to the city budget.

“Fiscally, it was not responsible to have done,” Lee said. “It disbalances the budget, and it was not what we had all collaboratively agreed to do.”

If passed, Wiener’s charter amendment would allocate an estimated $22 million to transportation in fiscal year 2015-2016, with 75 percent dedicated to Muni and the rest dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements. Subsequent increases, based on population growth, would follow each year. A provision in the measure allows the mayor to nix it, once voters approve the vehicle license fee — as expected in November 2016, if the mayor follows through on his pledged support.

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Watch Muni Explain the Need to Crack Down on Parking Scofflaws — In 1988

When it comes to effectively enforcing parking regulations to make San Francisco’s streets work more efficiently, SF hasn’t changed much since 1988.

A parking control officer marking a tire to enforce time limits in 1988. Image via Youtube

That’s when Muni planner Jerry Robbins created the above video, explaining why it’s so important to keep drivers from parking in transit-only lanes or blocking intersections, and to make sure delivery drivers aren’t hogging loading zones all day. Today, Robbins is the interim director of SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division, and he said he still shows the video to the planning staff he oversees.

“When I look at the video, I think of how similar things are today,” said Robbins. “The cars look different, but everything else looks pretty much the same. I think the lesson of the video is still valid.”

Robbins said the video was created at a time when city planners were considering some of the transit-boosting upgrades to street infrastructure that are now being implemented today, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project — new transit-only lanes, transit-priority signals, and bus bulbs. Last year, the SFMTA began painting transit-only lanes red on downtown streets to help keep drivers out of them, without the need to issue tickets.

But it wasn’t until recently that the city focused on making those kinds of improvements. In 1988, Robbins said the now-defunct Department of Parking and Traffic made some changes to more effectively enforce against parking violations, primarily by increasing parking ticket fines.

“It wasn’t to preclude anything, but just to treat enforcement as one of the things in the toolbox that should be considered with all the other new regulations,” he said. ”Enforcement alone can be a big game changer.”

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Eyes on the Street: First Block of Muni’s Red Carpet Rolled Out on Market

Photo: Cheryl Brinkman

The first segment of Market Street’s transit-only lanes was colored red this weekend, on the eastbound side between Fifth and Sixth Streets.

As we reported last week, the SFMTA is planning to roll out the “red carpet” for Muni riders on the existing bus lanes, between Fifth and 12th Streets. Riders on Muni’s F, 6, 9, 9L, 71, and 71L routes should see a faster, more reliable ride, as buses and streetcars will have to dodge fewer stray cars.

Drivers apparently need highly visible reminders to stay out of lanes reserved for buses, streetcars, and taxis. Muni bus operator Mariam Muller told ABC 7, “This is every day, all day” that Muni-only lanes are violated. “It’s very frustrating. A lot of the time, it is just for people to travel down the lane because the other lane is so congested. Bicyclists, they don’t want to use their own lane cause maybe of the congestion of the cars.”

After new red transit-only lanes were added on Church Street in spring of last year, the SFMTA said reliability for the 22-Fillmore and J-Church improved, with 20 percent of vehicles running closer to schedule. Speeds increased by 5 percent.

The Market lanes’ red paint job is expected to be completed in November, according to NBC.

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SFMTA to Paint the Transit Lanes Red on Mid-Market This Weekend

Red paint will be added to send a stronger message that private auto drivers should stay out of mid-Market Street’s transit-only lanes. Photo: Google Maps

The SFMTA announced that red paint will be added this weekend to the transit- and taxi-only lanes on mid-Market Street, between Fifth and 12th Streets. The treatment, already rolled out recently on bus lanes on Third Street and the Geary-O’Farrell Street couplet, is intended to make it more obvious that private auto drivers shouldn’t be in the heavily-abused Muni lanes.

“These lanes represent a low-cost, but high-impact measure to decrease travel time, by preventing cars from using transit-only lanes,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

The red paint is one of several short-term measures the SFMTA plans to take to help keep Muni moving on Market, along with re-timing traffic signals and adding cross-hatched markings in intersections to tell drivers not to “block the box.”

The coloring should help — it’s appeared to be fairly effective at keeping drivers out of the way of Muni vehicles on Church Street. But it’ll still be a while before the SFMTA takes stronger measures, like more car diversions and extending the transit-only lanes east of Fifth, and further into downtown. Those improvements aren’t expected to come until next year at the earliest.

The SFMTA said construction on the Market transit lanes will happen at night.

A transit lane on Third Street was painted red in March. Photo: SFMTA

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Supes Approve Wiener’s Population-Based Transit Funding Measure for Ballot

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The Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 today to put on November’s ballot a charter amendment that would increase the share of general funds devoted to transportation, based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure as a backup plan to generate transportation revenue — 75 percent of which would go to Muni, 25 percent to pedestrian and bike upgrades — after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot this year. If passed by a majority of voters in November, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year by retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Annual funding increases, commensurate with population growth, would follow.

“For too long, City Hall has been slow to prioritize transit funding,” Wiener said in a statement. “We are a growing city, and we need to take firm steps to ensure that our transportation system keeps up with that growth. Improving transit reliability and capacity, and making our streets safer, are key to that goal.”

The six supervisors who voted in support of the measure were David Chiu, London Breed, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and Jane Kim. The votes against came from Supervisors Katy Tang, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, and Eric Mar. Supervisor John Avalos was absent.

At a recent committee hearing, Supervisors Tang and Yee voiced their “discomfort” with the measure, because it could siphon off general funds that could be used for other city services. Tang also said asking voters to pass the measure, in addition to the $500 general obligation bond for transportation, may be too much of a burden. According to reports from staff at City Hall, Mayor Lee also opposed it for those reasons.

When asked for comment on the supervisors’ approval of Wiener’s measure, mayoral spokesperson Francis Tsang only said, “Mayor Lee’s transportation priority for November is for approval of the City’s first ever $500 million general obligation bond for transportation.”

Wiener’s measure includes a provision that would allow the mayor to nix the charter amendment, if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016.