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Applying the Parklet Strategy to Make Transit Stops Better, Quicker

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Planners are looking to use the parklet model to deliver bus bulb-outs at low cost. Muni and AC Transit (shown) are developing programs with different takes on the concept. Image: Ben Kaufman

San Francisco’s parklet revolution has broadened the possibilities for how curb space can be used. Now, city planners in SF and the East Bay are taking the idea in a new direction: using temporary sidewalk extensions to make transit stops more efficient and attractive.

Three different names for the concept have emerged from planners at three institutions where it was conceived independently — “temporary transit bulbs,” “multi-purpose parklets,” and “stoplets.” Those terms come from, respectively, SF transportation agencies, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, and Ben Kaufman, a graduate student at the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

Whatever you call it, the method could allow transit agencies to much more rapidly implement transit bulb-outs — sidewalk extensions at transit stops — and reap the benefits at about one-twentieth the cost of pouring concrete, on average, according to Kaufman.

For his UCLA graduate project, Kaufman is wrapping up a stoplet design guide for AC Transit, which received a Safe Routes to Transit grant to study the idea.

Kaufman sees stoplets as a way to re-invent the bus stop. “Why can’t we create a space that people actually want to sit at, that would make people excited to wait for a bus?” he said. “Instead of being a waiting experience, it can be a relaxing experience.” Like parklets, stoplets would be “adopted” by merchants who want to improve bus stops in front of their storefronts.

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Another Day, Another Driver Blocking Muni’s Busiest Metro Line

N-Judah riders can’t get any relief from idiots who leave their automobiles in the way of Muni’s busiest line.

The entire length of the metro line was shut down for at least 40 minutes Thursday, starting at about 2 p.m., after the driver of an extra-wide pick-up with a raised chassis parked at the curb on Carl Street. The vehicle was so big it obstructed the train’s path, clearly marked by a white stripe.

The SFMTA’s Twitter account reported that the line was blocked at 2 p.m., and that it was cleared by 2:38 p.m.

This time, there were no superhuman feats from N-Judah riders to clear a path — the truck was eventually towed.

Until the streets on the N’s route get improvements like separated transit lanes and car restrictions, riders can continue to expect routine shutdowns caused by clueless motorists. The list of recent causes: Parking a vehicle that’s too wide, attempting to drive into a visibly-marked train tunnel, an angry passenger throwing out the vehicle’s keys, and the most common one — double-parking on the tracks, as exhibited below on Ninth Avenue:

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Three-Bike Bus Racks on Muni: A Solution for Late-Night Transit Woes?

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Photo: SFMTA

Muni is testing front-mounted bike racks that can carry three bicycles (instead of the usual two) on some of its most hilly bus routes. If implemented widely, that third bike space could prevent some late-night travelers from getting “bumped” when racks fill up.

Bike capacity on transit is particularly important in SF and the Bay Area, given geographic barriers like hills and, well, the bay. Late at night, when many buses cover little ground and come just once an hour, getting home can be especially difficult for people with bikes who rely on transit for part of their trip, or who are just too tired to make the ride home. Late-night buses, it seems, often attract the most bikes.

Last month, Janel Sterbentz was one of the lucky ones. She narrowly avoided waiting an extra hour at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue at 2 a.m. on a Friday morning, when the hourly AC Transit All-Nighter bus — the only way to get to the East Bay by transit once BART shuts down — arrived with both of its bike rack spots full.

Unlike Muni, AC Transit and SamTrans allow bikes on board late-night buses at the operator’s discretion.

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

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Mayor Lee Warms to Prop B Muni Funding Increase, Which He Opposed

Mayor Lee on another photo op Muni ride to yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Mayor’s Office/Twitter

Mayor Ed Lee held a press conference yesterday to mark a $48 million increase in transportation funding for Muni and safer streets. But the largest chunk of that increase, and the only one that resulted directly from political leadership, came from Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Proposition B — which Lee fervently opposed.

The funding increase “is a great thing for the eighth-largest transportation center in the country,” Lee told reporters yesterday, touting the boost it would bring to Muni vehicle maintenance and infrastructure. Lee was joined by Wiener, as well as Supervisors London Breed and Julie Christensen.

When the Board of Supervisors approved Prop B for the ballot last July, Lee threatened retribution for the six who voted for it, though he apparently never followed through.

At the time, the mayor called Wiener’s measure “disturbing” and said it “can be very damaging” to the city budget. “I have to hold the supervisors that did this accountable,” he told reporters. “Fiscally, it was not responsible to have done. It disbalances the budget, and it was not what we had all collaboratively agreed to do.”

Prop B passed with 61 percent of the vote in November, mandating an annual increase in funds for transportation and safer streets based on population growth. Since the measure also factors in the last 10 years of growth, it is expected to yield a $24.2 million increase this year.

The $48 million increase to the SFMTA’s budget also includes $7.2 million from the agency’s share of the general fund, a result of greater tax revenue from a booming economy. The other $16.7 million comes from a boost in development impact fees earmarked for street improvements, which resulted from an increase in building construction.

While that $48 million should help SF implement safer streets and better transit, the city could have raised much more had Lee been willing to ask car owners to chip in for the disproportionate costs they incur. However, the mayor passed up an estimated $77 million by repealing Sunday parking meters and abandoning his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot.

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Cafe Owner, Breed, Sway Muni to Keep Two 21-Hayes Stops Within a Block

Muni’s 21-Hayes will continue to make an inbound stop for Central Coffee at Central Avenue, a short block after its stop at Masonic (seen in background). Photo: Aaron Bialick

There’s a reason Muni’s 21-Hayes still stops twice on the block between Central and Masonic Avenues — the owner of the cafe on the corner of Central demands it.

The SFMTA announced last week that it will ditch plans to remove the inbound bus stop at Central, after a persistent protest campaign by the owner Central Coffee, who insists the stop keeps him in business. As a result, bus commuters will continue to slog through the North of Panhandle neighborhood.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said “we are no longer recommending” removal in an email blast last Friday. Approval of the stop removal was taken off the SFMTA Board of Directors’ Tuesday agenda.

The decision was made “based on community feedback” and a push from D5 Supervisor London Breed, according to Reiskin’s email. In a statement, Breed said she “received many neighborhood concerns about the removal of the Hayes/Central bus stop.”

“The large community contingent requested SFMTA staff and directors to keep the bus stop on Central and Hayes,” she said. “For my part, I asked SFMTA to listen to the neighbors concerns about removing the bus stop. And to look for creative solutions to address their concerns while implementing Muni Forward.”

Under Muni Forward, the SFMTA is starting to implement stop consolidations along some routes. Protests against have typically come from seniors and the disabled riders near each individual stop — not merchants.

Reiskin wrote in the email:

As we work to improve Muni citywide, selective bus stop removal is one of many tools in our toolbox to reduce travel times and create a more efficient public transit network. By optimizing the location of bus stops and reducing the number of stops, we can improve service for customers, reduce conflicts between buses and other vehicles, improve safety for people walking and bicycling, and decrease the amount of time buses spend stopped at stoplights.

In 2009, Muni reported that 70 percent of Muni stops are closer than its own policies dictate. A 2010 SFMTA survey found that 61 percent of riders said they would consider walking farther if it made their overall trip faster and more reliable.

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Eyes on the Street: New Muni Signage, Route Names, and Maps in Action

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“14-Limited” buses fly the new flag, “14 Rapid.” Photo: Jessica Kuo

The SFMTA launched its “Muni Forward” wayfinding upgrades this weekend with new shelter features, sign posts, and changes to some bus route names. In the most sweeping change, the former “Limited” buses can now be seen rolling with the new “R” mark for “Rapid.”

Photo: SFMTA

The SFMTA is installing new Muni stop sign poles, which include solar-powered lanterns that light them at night, featuring the new route designations. The new, more legible Muni map can also be found at a growing number of stop shelters and stations.

It’s all part of the launch of Muni’s largest service increase since 1980 under Muni Forward, which officials promise is “long term, focused and systematic.” The service increase, the first of three waves, provides more frequent service for about 165,000 daily riders along nine of Muni’s busiest routes, including the 38-Geary, 5-Fulton, and 14-Mission. Much of the boost goes toward express and rapid services.

Muni riders can also expect to see new 60-foot-long hybrid electric buses, which were unveiled last week. to roll out soon. Aside from neat features like the ability to run on battery for up to seven miles if the power poles detach from overhead wires, the SF Chronicle reported that on the inside of the buses, Muni’s effort to “eradicate negative and threatening messaging” is visually evident. The buses do not feature the familiar statement, “Information Gladly Given But Safety Requires Avoiding Unnecessary Conversation.”

SFMTA officials cut the ribbon on the first newly-upgraded shelter on Geary Street in the Tenderloin. Photo: SFCTA/Twitter

Some SFMTA planners are pretty excited about the new map. Photo: Jessica Kuo

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Not All City Hall Electeds Up to the Challenge of Riding Muni for 22 Days

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Six supervisors did not hesitate to commit to the SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days starting on June 1, but five supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee haven’t signed on. The split is a good indicator of who supports transit at City Hall — for the supervisors who have a record of legislating to improve transit, riding Muni every day is no biggie, and some do it already.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU's 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted a photo early.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU’s 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted an early selfie.

Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, Julie Christensen, John Avalos, and Eric Mar committed to the challenge at Tuesday’s board meeting. Mayor Lee and the other five supervisors have either declined the challenge or haven’t responded to Streetsblog’s request for comment.

The 22 days represent the 22 years since SF voters approved Prop AA, an advisory measure which stated that “city officials and full-time employees [shall] travel to and from work on public transit at least twice a week,” according to SFTRU:

22 years later, this policy agreement has never been acted on, and now is a chance to make up for lost time!

When they regularly ride public transit, city officials better understand the rider’s daily experience and prioritize funding and planning a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it. This is an opportunity for our city officials to promote their own commitment to public transportation, showcasing that they care about the future of Muni.

Here are SFTRU’s guidelines for the challenge:

Participating officials will tweet while riding, walking to, or waiting for transit every day for those 22 days, posting it to Twitter with an optional photo using the hashtag #OnBoardSF. If they don’t take transit for one of those days, they will tweet their reason why with the same hashtag.

Supervisor Wiener said he’s been a daily Muni rider for 18 years. “I’m lucky that I live in the Castro,” where “we have really strong transit access.” But he plans to up his game and “try some of the lines that are a little bit more challenging.”

“I should assume everyone is doing [the challenge] unless otherwise stated,” Campos said on Tuesday. “So count me in.”

Supervisor Kim said she “will be participating,” but that since she lives within walking distance of City Hall, “it would actually be very hard for me to take Muni versus walking. So I will do my best to go take Muni for a stop.” Supervisor Christensen said she walks and takes Muni most days. “In addition to riding Muni, I’m also trying to expand it,” presumably referring to her push to extend the Central Subway.

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Muni’s Yellow Pole Markings at Transit Stops Will Be Replaced By Real Signs

Chestnut and Laguna Streets, where a popular transfer stop for tourists is marked only with yellow and black paint on a pole. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Chestnut and Laguna Streets, where a popular transfer stop for tourists is marked only with yellow and black paint on a pole. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The days of Muni stops marked with no visual cue except a utility pole with yellow paint and black stenciled letters are coming to an end.

As part of the Muni Forward upgrades launching this weekend, the SFMTA will raise the standard for signage at every stop. At the very least, every stop will include a “flag” sign that lists the complete name of Muni routes that serve it, as well as their terminal stops and major destinations along the way.

“We’re really tuned into signage throughout the system,” Muni Forward manager Julie Kirschbaum told Streetsblog. “Even stops that don’t have shelters will have a flag.”

It’s a good step toward a more legible, easy-to-navigate Muni, especially for a system that’s relied on so heavily by tourists.

Even some pretty significant Muni stops lack basic visual cues. Take, for example, the inbound stop for the 30-Stockton at Laguna and Chestnut Streets in the Marina (pictured above). You might not guess from looking at it, but it’s the main transfer point for tourists headed downtown from the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting from the 28-19th Avenue. Many times I’ve taken that trip, only to watch the busload of map-toting passengers disembark and walk toward the nearest stop that has a shelter — going in the wrong direction. (I usually point them in the right direction, toward the empty-looking corner.)

The SFMTA has already started to roll out a batch of wayfinding upgrades to help orient Muni riders, including a new, more legible Muni map (though the maps are not always oriented correctly themselves).

Coming soon to every Muni stop. Image: SFMTA

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Will Muni’s Largest Service Increase in Decades Have Staying Power?

“Muni Forward” upgrades coming include increased service along with branding changes. Image: SFMTA

“Muni Forward” upgrades coming soon include increased service on about a dozen routes. Image: SFMTA

Muni is making major service improvements and shoring up the basics of running buses on schedule, and this time, officials say, the improvements will stick.

“This is long term, focused and systematic,” Muni Operations Director John Haley told reporters last week, calling upcoming “Muni Forward” upgrades the largest increase in service since the Market Street subway opened in 1980.

Most importantly, the SFMTA plans to roll out a package of service increases on April 25 as part of the ongoing Muni Forward campaign, previously known as the Transit Effectiveness Project, with improvements focused on its busiest lines. As the SF Chronicle reported, nine routes will run more frequently during the morning rush and seven will run more frequently during the evening commute, with several other routes getting more service at other times.

All told, Muni says, those improvements will affect about 165,000 daily riders. Two other waves of frequency increases will come to yet-to-be-named routes in the fall and next February.

Muni is also ramping up its re-branding efforts with changes to some route names. “Limited” lines will now be called “Rapid” lines to shed the “negative connotation,” said Muni Forward Program Manager Sean Kennedy. Muni will also replace its shelter maps with a new, more legible map of the system, and install new signs to market the rapid routes.

The funding for Muni’s service improvements can largely be chalked up to rising revenue streams from a booming economy. Will it last? In 2009, when it was called the TEP, Muni’s improvement program was put on hold because of recession-era budget cuts.

Haley said the new service increases are built into the current two-year budget, and that he’s optimistic that revenue will increase in future budgets. With the greater funding provided by the passage of Propositions A and B in November, Muni plans to continue replacing its aging bus fleet, resulting in fewer breakdowns. Haley said there’s also greater pressure from the public to improve Muni as the city’s transit-riding population grows.

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Muni Double-Berthing Still Delayed Pending CPUC Approval

The ongoing delays for double-berthing in Muni Metro stations continue, as Muni waits for its training plan to be approved by the CA Public Utilities Commission.

After Muni officials demonstrated double-berthing for the CPUC in December, expecting the green light, Muni Operations Director John Haley told Streetsblog that CPUC needed to sign off its training plan, which Muni officials apparently didn’t anticipate. In early February, Haley told us he was in talks with CPUC and hoped to have approvals in place within two to four weeks.

But CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper said it was only on March 27, last Friday, that the agency received all of the documentation needed.

“We had already done the training,” said Muni spokesperson Paul Rose, “but the CPUC requested that we get signatures from each operator. We have done that and are awaiting a response.”

“It is too early to provide a date for launch,” he added.

Prosper told us on Wednesday that CPUC would send a written reply “in the coming days” to “allow SFMTA to place the system in service.” Rose said Muni hasn’t received it yet.

The SF Transit Riders Union “has been eagerly awaiting double berthing for quite a long time, and we’re very happy that the SFMTA is ready to move forward,” said spokesperson Reed Martin. SFTRU “urges the CPUC to move quickly and approve the plan, allowing Muni Metro riders to finally experience double berthing in action!”

We also have a few more details on some of the limitations of double-berthing, also known as double-train loading. According to Muni Deputy Director of Operations Jim Kelly, double-berthing will only be possible at Civic Center, Powell, and Montgomery Stations because the platforms at the rest of the stations are too short for two trains to load safely. Each train which loads behind another train will also stop a second time at the front of the platform.