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Safer, More Transit-Friendly Streets Planned for the Upper Haight

Flickr user Drumwolf writes: “Yes, THAT Haight and Ashbury. Really not all that, is it.”

Update 4/10: The Planning Department posted an online survey where you can weigh in on the design proposal for upper Haight Street.

The Planning Department has drawn up early plans for three of the Haight-Ashbury’s major streets: upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and the southern end of Masonic Avenue. The proposals for the Haight Ashbury Public Realm Plan were developed through two public workshops aimed at re-thinking the streets as friendlier places for walking, biking, and transit.

Although planners set out to consider all of the streets in the Haight-Ashbury, Masonic, Stanyan, and Haight “rose to the top” among streets that residents wanted the city to improve, said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “There was no interest in touching” the smaller residential streets, she said. “We didn’t want to muck up things that are already working well.”

Of the three streets, the strongest consensus so far seems to be around plans for Haight Street, said Smith. The proposed improvements for Haight include several sidewalk bulb-outs along the street, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project‘s plans to consolidate bus stops and add transit bulbs. Those would provide more breathing room along the busy sidewalks, while also speeding Muni boardings.

“Haight Street is a significant path for public transit,” said Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith and a board member of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. The removed bus stops will “free up space for wider sidewalks, which can accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic… on weekends and sunny days.”

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“Muni TEP Approved”? Not So Fast

Photo: SFMTA

The Muni Transit Effectiveness Project took a major step forward on March 28, when the SFMTA Board of Directors approved plans for route changes and street upgrades aimed at streamlining transit service. Judging from the headlines on major media reports, the vote sounded like a green light for the entire TEP. However, the reports glossed over some very important details.

While the “12 percent increase in service” trumpeted by the SFMTA’s press release and heavily featured in newspapers might sound good, the TEP’s plans have been watered down, and many of its juiciest transit-priority street alterations await far-off approvals. All told, successful implementation of the TEP is far from ensured.

After years of planning, public outreach, and revisions for 30-some Muni route re-alignments and frequency changes, six routes have been put on hold, and five dropped completely. The SFMTA Board has also only approved some of the Travel Time Reduction Proposals — capital improvements to routes like transit bulb-outs, stop consolidations, and transit-only lanes. Those projects may bring some of the largest gains in transit speeds and ridership, but the SFMTA hasn’t begun the public outreach process for most of them. Many route changes and TTRPs were watered down during public outreach, to appease people who complained about longer walks and removing car parking.

Meanwhile, an appeal against the Muni TEP’s environmental impact report was filed just one hour after it was certified by the SF Planning Commission on March 27, although Muni TEP planning manager Sean Kennedy doesn’t expect it to significantly delay implementation.

In announcing the SFMTA Board’s recent vote, the agency sent out a press release with a headline touting a “12 percent increase in Muni service” resulting from the TEP. The increase apparently comes from a combination of speed improvements and increased funding, for which the agency is banking on three transportation funding measures planned for the ballot this November.

In recent years, the SFMTA had previously promoted a figure of 10 percent, not 12. When asked how that figure increased, Kennedy said the agency just extended the time frame which the figure applies to. “Instead of saying that we would do the whole increase in this [two-year] budget cycle, it basically just means we’ll do all those increases and improvements, it might just be over the next two budget cycles,” said Kennedy. “The time just draws out, not necessarily the projects.”

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How Google Busers Can Avoid Bus Backlash: Get a Car

Tech workers’ humdrum daily commutes in San Francisco have recently become anything but. An environmental appeal was filed (and later rejected) against the city, on the grounds that the “Google buses” are a direct cause of skyrocketing rents and housing displacement. Protestors blockading tech shuttles in bus stops have drawn a frenzy of international media attention.

Image: ABC 7

So what can a gentrifier do to get to that lucrative tech job in Silicon Valley, without having to sneak around costumed blockades and news cameras? As it turns out, there is one sly way for a commuter to use plenty of public curb space for absolutely free, while completely avoiding public scrutiny. All that this theoretical Google or Facebook worker has to do to both enjoy the city life in San Francisco, and fly under the radar of the political backlash, is drive to work. You can bet that no one will block their vehicle in protest, file a lawsuit, or seek an environmental review for the existing policies that let commuters store their private vehicles on public streets.

Sure, the big private buses make an easy target to fixate upon and blame for the city’s housing woes. Sure, many of us have sat aboard Muni buses blocked by a shuttle bus idling at its bus stop. As we’ve written, this is not a sustainable situation: Private bus operators should be charged an appropriate and legal amount for new loading zones by reallocating curb space now used for parking. That’s what the SFMTA is planning to do with its pilot regulation program. Although its scant $1-per-stop price has drawn criticism, it’s the maximum allowed under state law, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has wished aloud that they could charge more.

Targeting tech shuttles does not address the root causes of the city’s big woes, and two recent polls indicate that a majority of San Franciscans agree. The Bay Area has failed to build an efficient transit network to connect where people live and work, and failed to build enough housing to match its vigorous job growth. Minimum parking requirements ensure that cars find housing, even when people can’t, and even though most of the space along San Francisco’s curbs is reserved for storing private automobiles.

The very same complaints against commuter shuttles, as lodged by those who appealed the environmental review exemption for the SFMTA’s shuttle regulation program, can be levied against cars as well — albeit on an entirely different scale. Private cars clog the streets, block Muni, occupy public space for free, create air and noise pollution, and endanger bicyclists and pedestrians, all day, every day, throughout the entire city — and instead of filing lawsuits, we take it all for granted.

If the argument is that vehicles driven for highly-paid residents are also vehicles that drive gentrification, it’s bizarre that no one seems to care when that vehicle is a car. It’s another example of how our society has a huge blind spot: We cannot seem to see how much we’ve re-shaped our cities, and our lives, to ignore the negative effects of the automobile.

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Friday: SFMTA Board Considers Final Proposals for Muni TEP Service Changes

An example of a proposed service change for the 48-Quintara and a new line, the 58-24th Street. Image: SFMTA

Service changes to 15 Muni lines are headed to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval on Friday as part of the Transit Effectiveness Project. The proposals were revised through input at community meetings and approved by the board’s Policy and Governance Committee (PAG) last Friday. Many were fine-tuned largely to appease complaints from riders who would have to walk, at most, a few more blocks for more streamlined routes.

If you can’t make the City Hall board meeting on Friday at 8 a.m., you can weigh in on the proposals by emailing the SFMTA Board at MTABoard@sfmta.com. Here’s the list of proposed line changes from an SFMTA email:

Here’s what we proposed, what we modified based on what we heard, and what we will be recommending to the SFMTA Board:

2 ClementThe PAG supports the recommended proposal of using existing overhead wires to implement 2 Clement trolley service on the entire Sutter/Post Street corridor, adding service on the Sutter Street route segment, and realigning the 2 line to operate on California Street to Eighth Avenue, on Eighth Avenue south to Clement Street, on Clement Street between Eighth and Sixth Avenues, and to California via Sixth Avenue.  Service will be discontinued on Clement Street; between Arguello Boulevard and 6th Avenue, and 8th and 15th Avenues.

3 Jackson: The PAG supports maintaining service on the 3 Jackson with reduced frequency to better match customer demand.

6 Parnassus: The PAG supported maintaining the 6 Parnassus in the line’s current alignment through Ashbury Heights to UCSF and Golden Gate Heights and to reduce the frequency of the line to better match customer demand west of Masonic Avenue.  Service will be further increased on the 71L Haight/Noriega Limited.

8X Bayshore Express: The PAG supports the continuation of 8X service north of Broadway for every other trip.

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Supervisor London Breed Won’t Fight for Full Transit Bulbs on Irving Street

D5 Supervisor London Breed, whose district includes the Inner Sunset, says that the downsized proposals for transit bulbs on Irving Street and Ninth Avenue are “headed in the right direction,” according to Conor Johnston, a legislative aide.

Photo: Office of Supervisor London Breed

“We are balancing a lot of competing interests,” Johnston told Streetsblog, citing vocal opposition from neighbors and merchants to parking removal.

City surveys showed strong support in the neighborhood for sidewalk extensions to make boarding easier along the full length of two-car Muni trains. They also found that the vast majority of people get to Ninth and Irving without a car, a finding consistent with a number of other commercial districts where travel surveys have been conducted. Nevertheless, to preserve car parking, the SFMTA downsized the bulb-outs to less than half the full-length proposals.

Johnston said the parking-first opponents have been vocal, which largely drove the SFMTA’s decision. ”We’ve been contacted by residents and a number of merchants who didn’t want full-length bulb-outs, a lot of whom didn’t want any changes at all,” he said. “As with any democratic process, it’s a balance, a matter of finding consensus.”

Sure, give-and-take can be positive if it produces a better result — streets that are safer and more efficient. But democracy doesn’t mean catering to the loudest complainers and tossing aside the city’s purported “Transit First” commitment, which is supposed to prioritize the most efficient modes — transit, walking, and biking — in the allocation of street space. Is it more democratic to delay and inconvenience thousands of transit passengers each day so that a few dozen people can store their cars on a public street?

When Supervisor Breed took office over a year ago, she indicated that she gets it. “As supervisor, my goal is to look at data, to look at what’s happening, to look at ways in which we can improve the ability for people to get around,” she told Streetsblog in February of last year. “We have to look at it from a larger scale. We can’t just piecemeal it together.”

Breed’s position is crucial — we’ve seen in many transportation projects that a supervisor’s support (or opposition) can make a real difference, leading city agencies to stay the course on transit and street safety upgrades. She helped face down the naysayers when it came to implementing a protected bikeway on Fell and Oak Streets. In this case, however, Breed is okay with letting a loud and irrational subset of cars-first residents dictate the extent to which transit and walking will be improved.

The Inner Sunset Park Neighbors hasn’t taken an official position on the project. The proposal went to a public comment hearing on Friday and is scheduled for consideration by the SFMTA Board of Directors on March 28.

Update: In the comment section of this article, Johnston said that appeasing opponents is important to ensure support for the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project and the vehicle license fee increase and General Obligation bond measures headed to the ballot in November: “If the MTA or we pushed the 2nd car bulb outs (or anything else) ‘opposition-be-damned,’ it would leave a very bad taste in the community’s mouth and jeopardize much greater efforts. Absent collaboration, public sentiment can turn against not only the TEP but the VLF and GO bonds, all of which need support and are far, far more important to our transit first goals than a 2nd car bulb out in the Inner Sunset.”

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SFMTA Proposes New Steps to Divert Cars Off Market Street

With new diversions for private autos on Market Street, the SFMTA would direct traffic on to these possible routes instead. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA has proposed new forced turns for private autos at intersections on the most congested stretch of Market Street, which could be implemented in phases early next year. SFMTA staff presented the changes [PDF] to the agency’s board of directors Friday — not just as a way to speed up transit, but to make the thoroughfare safer for walking and biking.

The SF Chronicle reports:

“This is primarily a safety project,” said Timothy Papandreou, director of strategic planning in the sustainable streets division of the Municipal Transportation Agency…

The changes announced Friday include stepped-up enforcement of existing transit-only lanes and turn restrictions. Early next year, additional mandatory turns are to be installed at Third, Fourth and Fifth streets and transit-only lanes would be extended eastward down Market.

Market Street between Eighth and Montgomery streets has twice as many collisions as parallel Mission Street despite having only a third of the traffic, Papandreou said. It also includes four of the city’s 20 worst intersections for collisions that injure or kill pedestrians — Fifth Street, Sixth Street, Eighth Street and Main Street. Two of the worst intersections for bike collisions are also on Market at Third and Fifth streets.

The MTA will focus first on Montgomery to Fifth streets before considering whether to head farther down Market.

As we reported last month, the SFMTA is implementing near-term measures in the meantime, including re-timing traffic signals, painting the transit-only lanes red (an effort that began on Third Street last week), and installing ”Don’t Block the Box” paint and signage at intersections, all of which will come with increased enforcement by early summer.

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Eyes on the Street: Third Street’s Abused Muni-Only Lane Gets Red Paint

Third Street approaching Bryant. Photo: Jessica Kuo

Update 6:09 p.m.: SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said “this is a low cost measure to remind and prevent auto drivers from using transit only lanes,” and that the agency will implement the treatments on these street segments this week:

a. 3rd Street between Townsend and Jessie streets
b. Geary/O’Farrell streets between Market and Gough streets – (Note: segments between Grant and Powell will not be painted due to ongoing Central Subway construction)
c. Market Street inbound between  5th and 12th streets and outbound between 8th Street and Van Ness Avenue.

The transit-only lane on Third Street, which tends to have an awful lot of cars in it, got some red paint this week to emphasize what the stenciled paint already says: “Bus Only.” The paint was added to a stretch approaching Bryant Street, where drivers are allowed to cross the bus lane to make a right turn, but not sit in it and block the 30, 45, and 8X lines.

The dashed treatment appears to denote a “merge zone,” similar to the green paint treatments added to bike lanes where drivers can cross, signaling to watch for people on bikes. It’s the first time the SFMTA has added such a treatment to a transit lane. Solid red paint has been used to highlight rail-only lanes on Church Street and the southern stretch of Third where the T-line runs.

We’ll see how far this goes to getting drivers to respect the transit lane. Certainly, it won’t happen without serious enforcement. The blockages are a real problem for Muni riders headed from SoMa to the Financial District and North Beach. Last July, Streetsblog reader Mike Sonn tweeted that he was waiting for his bus near this location when the bus passed him because drivers were blocking the path to the stop.

Drivers were still found blocking the lane. Photo: Jessica Kuo

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Irving Transit Bulb-Outs Downsized to Appease SFFD, Parking Complainers

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Transit bulbs were reduced to less than half the size in the Ninth and Irving area, compared to the original proposals (shown in the inset).

Sidewalk widenings on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset, proposed by the SFMTA to make it safer and easier for tens of thousands of commuters to board the N-Judah, have been cut down in size to a fraction of the original proposals due to neighborhood complaints about losing car parking and protests from the SF Fire Department.

The plans are scheduled for preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering on Friday at 10 a.m. The SFMTA Board of Directors must approve the plans at a later meeting.

The changes originally proposed as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project would have widened sidewalks along almost the entire south side of Irving between Eighth and Ninth Avenues [PDF], both sides of Irving between Fifth and Sixth Avenues [PDF], and the west side of Ninth between Irving and Judah Street. These long bulb-outs would have served full two-car trains at new stop locations planned for the N-Judah, Muni’s busiest line, while providing more breathing room on a busy pedestrian street.

The plan now calls for transit bulbs less than half that size (see all of the proposals here).

“It’s disappointing to consistently see projects that work to reclaim public space as shared space for everyone to enjoy, and that are in our existing plans and guidelines get watered down,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Whether it’s Irving Street, Potrero, Polk, or Columbus, the time is ripe for the transportation community to show our opposition to mediocrity.”

The transit bulbs on Ninth Avenue and on Irving between Eight and Ninth were shortened to preserve car parking for merchants and neighbors who protested the removal of, at most, 30 spaces, according to SFMTA staff. The new plans remove just 13 parking spaces, including one for a bike corral.

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Facing Resistance to Longer Walks, SFMTA Revises Some Muni Route Changes

Muni TEP Planning Manager Sean Kennedy explains proposals at an open house meeting last night. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA is fine-tuning its proposals to change Muni routes as part of its Transit Effectiveness Project, an effort to make Muni more efficient. By consolidating stops and concentrating service on key routes, the TEP aims to make Muni faster and more reliable. The agency presented revisions at a public meeting last night intended to address pushback from some residents, many of whom are elderly, against proposals that would have them walk up to a few blocks more to their Muni stop.

A second open house will be held tomorrow morning, where the SFMTA will present the revised proposals again for feedback.

With input collected at 11 neighborhood meetings held throughout the city over the past few weeks, a few of the proposed line adjustments have undergone major revisions to avoid disrupting current service patterns, said Sean Kennedy, planning manager for the Muni TEP. “There are a couple of hot issues in each district,” he said.

For example, a proposal to move the 27-Bryant segment in the Mission to Folsom Street [PDF], replacing the 12-Folsom (proposed to be eliminated) and re-named the 27-Folsom, has been changed to keep Muni on Bryant. Residents, including Supervisor David Campos, protested the prospect of walking to parallel lines like the 9-San Bruno on Potrero Avenue (three blocks away) or the new 27 route (five blocks away). Planners said the original proposal would have allowed Muni to provide more frequent service on those lines, alleviating crowding on the 9 and 9-Limited.

“We heard from the community that people really need the service on Bryant,” said Kennedy, “that there are a lot of daycare facilities on there, and we thought that the 9/9L was close enough to serve those people on the 27. But it turns out, as we heard, that the 9 is super crowded, and not necessarily a safe line.”

Under the new proposal, Folsom will be served by a new line to be created as part of the TEP, the 11-Downtown Connector, which will stretch from North Beach to the outer Mission District.

Concerns from residents appear to be largely focused on the ability of elderly and disabled riders to walk longer distances, as well as people who feel unsafe walking in certain areas due to street crime. However, 61 percent of Muni riders in a 2010 survey said they would consider walking a longer distance to their stop if they knew it would reduce their overall travel time.

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29-Sunset to Get Muni-Only Left-Turn Lane at Lincoln and 19th Ave

A draft plan from 2007 for a left-turn Muni lane (bottom) at Lincoln Way and 19th Ave./Crossover Drive. The SFMTA says the project will finally be implemented by this summer. Image: SFCTA

Muni’s 29-Sunset line will get an exclusive left-turn lane this summer at Lincoln Way and 19th Ave., allowing buses to skip an egregiously slow detour around the block, which it currently makes before heading north into Golden Gate Park. Left turns at the intersection are currently prohibited, and will remain so for other traffic.

A northbound 29 bus seen crossing Lincoln on to Crossover Drive after completing a loop around the block. With the new left-turn lane, the bus will be able to reach Crossover directly. Photo: MuniDave/Flickr

Ride the 29 northbound today, and you’ll experience how frustrating it can be — at Lincoln and 20th Avenue, the bus turns right, then left onto a congested block of Irving Street, then left again on to 19th, then it makes a stop at Lincoln before heading into the park, where 19th becomes Crossover Drive. The whole thing takes anywhere from three to seven minutes, according to the SFMTA.

The new left-turn lane will untie this time-consuming knot, allowing Muni to make a direct left turn on to Crossover, where the existing stop at 19th and Lincoln will be moved into Golden Gate Park.

This improvement, which is notably not part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project (it precedes the TEP), has been in the works for at least seven years. SFMTA planner Cheryl Liu explained in an email that it faced a series of delays, including being “placed on hold” when the agency made budget cuts in 2009:

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