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Two Hit-and-Run Killings Last Night Plus Another Death This Morning

Three more people killed while cycling in the Bay Area in just the past 24 hours. Photo: SFBP Community Vigil Ride.

How many more vigils are needed before we get real change to our streets? Photo: SFBP Community Vigil Ride.

Editor’s note: it’s positively numbing that I can’t finish writing a piece about two cycling deaths in 24 hours, when a third cyclist is killed, this morning, this time in Pleasanton

Wednesday evening, word came down that a woman was killed in Golden Gate Park while riding her bike. And in a separate incident, a woman was killed in SoMa at 7th and Howard Streets.

The names of two three more beautiful people will be added to the sites visited in the next Rides of Silence. Speeches will be given. There will be vigils.

Two three more families and groups of friends will endure unbearable absences. For them, the agony never ends.

And yet, the legislative priority is to slash fines for motorists blowing through red lights.  Tone-deaf law makers boast about making it easier for law-breaking drivers to restore suspended licenses. And every time hard-fought safety measures are put in, our politicians and city planners cow to angry motorists clamoring to roll them back.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in a statement, put it this way:

We know what our city’s streets need; we need the SFMTA to deliver. Ultimately, we need leadership at the top, and Mayor Ed Lee is failing as a leader. Where we need transformative safety improvements and transformative leadership, we have vague promises and a void of action… We need protected bike lanes on JFK Drive. And across SoMa, we need physically protected bike lanes and intersections. These crashes were preventable, and the city should urgently act to see that such tragedies are not repeated.

San Francisco State University geography professor, writer, and Streetsblog contributor Jason Henderson summed it up too:

There are too many cars in the city and it is too easy to drive them fast and violently. Every day I observe it getting worse. Every single day is worse than the previous. This is a political problem with a political solution. Golden Gate Park could and should be completely car free. South of Market should have fully-separated and wide cycletracks on every street. But the SF mayor-BOS-SFMTA-SF Planning Commission simply pander to angry motorists and give them more parking.

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Streetsblog Talks With SF Bicycle Coalition Incoming Director Brian Wiedenmeier

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BriansmilingEarlier this week, the SF Bike Coalition announced it is tapping its development director, Brian Wiedenmeier, as its new executive director. Wiedenmeier takes the reigns from Margaret McCarthy, who had served as the organization’s interim director during a search to replace Noah Budnick, who resigned last year.

Streetsblog sat down with Wiedenmeier to find out more about him and his goals for the organization.

Streetsblog: So why bike advocacy?

Brian Wiedenmeier: I associate cycling with joy and freedom, I began riding a bike as a child and as someone who grew up in a small town in the Midwest. It’s not cool after 16, so I bought a car to get to my job. But when I went to college at the University of Minnesota a car was not something I could afford, so I started biking again out of necessity. But then I realized what a freeing, amazing thing it was–this simple machine that let me experience the city in a new way.

SB: Tell us about cycling in Minnesota.

BW: Minneapolis is a great city that’s blessed with a network of fully separated bike paths that run through parks. And they have the midtown Greenway which is an old piece of rail infrastructure, a freight line that ran in a trench through the city. It’s been re-purposed exclusively for the use of bicycles and pedestrians. It’s a magic thing with bicycle on-ramps and off-ramps that get you cross town in no time flat.

SB: But you decided to move to San Francisco. How was that, cycling-wise? Read more…

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Mission Madness: How Effective is the Big Meeting Format for Outreach?

SFMTA's Matt Brill addresses a boisterous crowd on Mission Street. Photo: Streetsblog

SFMTA’s Matt Brill addresses a boisterous crowd about Mission Street. Photo: Streetsblog

Roberto Hernandez, the “Monarch of the Mission,” didn’t put down the microphone when his two minutes were up. Heavy set, with his trademark fedora, he had already gone several minutes past the cut-off alarm, shouting about how someone with seven children can’t possibly ride the bus, reminiscing about riding a bike before there were bike lanes in San Francisco, and generally cursing SFMTA and the Mission Street transit-only “red lanes” that he connected with the ills of gentrification. At least, that seemed to be what he was saying, in addition to something about lowriders. It was difficult to understand, thanks to all the boos, hisses, and cheers, with roughly half the crowd shouting, “your two minutes are up!” or “cut off his mic” and the other half shouting, “Let him speak!”

It’s a scene that seems to play out every time SFMTA holds one of these large community meetings about whatever fill-in-the-blank project. Someone will take over the mic, break the rules, and whip the room into a lather.

But Monday night’s meeting was especially bad.

It must have been 85 degrees at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. That’s probably because 200 people crammed into the space to support–and bemoan–the SFMTA’s transit-only “red carpet” lanes installed last March on Mission. Or maybe the heat was from the smoldering rage, seemingly intensified by the thudding noise from a dance class above that vibrated throughout the meeting room, which is also an art space.

That said, before the raucous meeting officially got underway, Streetsblog was able to talk one-on-one with a few of the attendees and presenters.

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Balboa Park Station Open House

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BART Planner Tim Chan explaining station plans and hearing comments from morning commuters at Balboa Park Station. Photo: Streetsblog.

BART’s Tim Chan explained station plans and took comments from morning commuters at Balboa Park Station. Photo: Streetsblog.

This morning from 7 to 10 am BART officials, consultants, and even a legislative aide for Supervisor John Avalos’s office answered questions and heard comments from the public about plans to modernize Balboa Park Station, one of the busiest in both BART and Muni’s networks.

From BART’s webpage on the project:

The goal of the project is to develop and prioritize potential station improvements to upgrade and modernize the station’s function, safety and security, capacity, sustainability, appearance, and improve the customer experience. BART is also partnering with the City to identify plaza improvements to support the Upper Yard Affordable Housing Project.

It would be hard to argue that Balboa Park station doesn’t need improvements. A confluence of three Muni trains, seven buses, and the southernmost transfer station for four BART lines, it seems an obvious place for intense transit-oriented real estate development. But with I-280 on one side and a Muni Light Rail maintenance facility on the other, developing the area is challenging. “It doesn’t work for cars, pedestrians, or cyclists,” said Frances Hsieh, the legislative aide for Supervisor Avalos.

“It’s an aging station desperately in need of an upgrade,” said Tim Chan, manager of station planning and development for BART.

Members of the public who stopped by seemed to agree.

“It’s generally dirty and it feels unsafe,”  said Edward Anaya, a lawyer who commutes through Balboa Park from his home in Excelsior. “There are walkability and safety issues competing with the traffic from I-280.”

Jennifer Heggie takes the bus from Sunnyside to pick up BART at Balboa. She said the station has already improved and it used to “smell like urine,” but she wishes there were a shelter on the Geneva side for people connecting to buses there. “It’s cold at night.”

Chan said that’s one of the things they want to fix, by adding “more weather protection” for people transferring between BART and Muni. They also want to “extend the canopies at the ends of the BART platforms” so people don’t have to bunch up when it’s raining.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development is working on the Upper Yard affordable housing project, planned across from the old car barn and powerhouse. It’s currently used as a parking lot.

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Mission Transit Lane Removal Nudged Closer to Reality

Even though the pain dried only three months ago, there's already talk of removing the bus-only lanes on Mission. Photo: SFMTA.

Even though the paint dried only three months ago, there’s already talk of removing the bus-only lanes on Mission. Photo: SFMTA.

Last April, businesses on Mission Street started to gain some traction in pushing against SFMTA’s “red carpet” bus-only lanes, which they claim—contrary to the available evidence, it should be noted—are hurting their bottom line. The result: Supervisor David Campos asked the SFMTA to “make a radical shift in the program,” as he put it in a Facebook post.

The first step in that “radical shift” is now happening, and it may not bode well for transit advocates. According to an SFMTA release:

District 9 Supervisor David Campos and Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), today announced a series of activities to gather additional feedback on the Mission Street Improvement Project, which established bus-only lanes on Mission Street from 14th Street to 30th Street. The activities include a community hearing, merchant walks in the project area, and a survey of residents and visitors on Mission Street. The community hearing, to be held on June 20 at 6:00 PM at the Mission Cultural Center, provides an opportunity for community members to discuss their experiences and suggestions for improving the project.

The problem, of course, is public meetings on transit projects seem to attract a disproportionate number of, well, grumps. “One of the things that stands in the way is often times a small number of deluded people are the ones who show up. And they complain and their complaints may be irrational and factually incorrect. But because they show up, they’re the ones who win the day,” said Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy for Nelson\Nygaard Consulting, at an SF Transit Riders event.

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Why are More Facebook Workers Driving to the Office?

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Protesters block a "Google Bus." Data from Facebook suggests more people are driving as a result of SFMTA restrictions on Tech Shuttle routes. Photo: Chris Martin

Protesters block a “Tech Shuttle.” Data from Facebook suggests more people are driving, perhaps in anticipation of SFMTA restrictions on shuttle routes. Photo: Chris Martin

As Facebook prepares to expand its West Campus in San Mateo County, it is presenting environmental reports to groups such as the Menlo Park Transportation Commission. Commissioner Adina Levin brought this to Streetsblog’s attention from the report: apparently more Facebook employees started driving in the past couple of months to the social media giant’s headquarters in Menlo Park. From a post by Levin in the Friends of Caltrain Blog entitled “San Francisco shuttle changes increase car traffic:

Facebook disclosed that their car commute trips had spiked in recent months, adding about 400 more cars to San Francisco streets, due to new San Francisco rules changing shuttle stops.

Reviewing the the next expansion of their Menlo Park campus, Facebook shared results of their successful transportation program, which had about 50 percent of employees refraining from driving alone – until SFMTA changed shuttle stops as a result of resident protests. The drive-alone rate, which had been about 50 precent, increased to 54 percent of Facebook’s 10,000 workers.

Napkin math suggests about 400 additional Facebook drivers on San Francisco streets and highway 101 following the shuttle changes. Facebook’s driving rate is still much lower than the 80 percent plus drive-alone rate at typical suburban office parks. But the extra cars are surely not what San Francisco’s policymakers and activists were hoping for.

The SFMTA rules changes she’s referring to started in February of this year. Some of them were designed to, according to SFMTA’s material, improve labor relations and help the environment by mandating newer model buses. However, it also included the following change:

  • Commuter shuttles over 35 feet long must stay on Caltrans arterial street network.

“Recent changes to the program were in direct response to what we heard from many in the community and from elected officials,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesman. “Shuttle companies can still use those smaller neighborhood streets. They just need to use shuttle buses that are more appropriate for them–buses that aren’t over 35 feet long.”

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Not Voting for Buses? Bay Area Transit Study Open Thread

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Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to a an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Election day is a good time for a discussion about a recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) study that seems to show that Bay Area residents are using their transit choices to, in effect, vote for rail, ferry, and ride-hailing, but not for more buses. From an East Bay Times look at the study:

The problem is that buses, by far the biggest piece of the transit puzzle, saw ridership drop 15 percent from 1991 to 2014, more than canceling out the 63 percent surge in train and ferry use, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. With private tech shuttles transporting employees from home to office and the proliferation of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, are buses merely outdated behemoths ready to go the way of the dinosaur?

Is it really true that Uber and Lyft are responsible for declining bus ridership? Are tech shuttles really pulling people from city buses?  With ride-hail, it depends which study one consults. According to a March study from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ride-hail works hand-in-glove with transit:

A survey of 4,500 people across the US confirms that people who routinely use “shared modes” of transportation (e.g. bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesharing) were more likely to use public transit. These individuals were less likely to drive, more likely to walk, and saved more on overall transportation costs.

But an earlier study from the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley shows the opposite.

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M-Ocean View Subway: Is this Project Really About Trains?

View from inside an inbound M-Oceanview. Why should a train full of people sit in a mixed-flow turning pocket waiting for cars to make a left into a mall? Photo: Streetsblog.

View from inside an inbound M-Ocean View just south of Stonestown. Why should a train sit in traffic waiting for cars to make a left into a shopping mall? Photo: Streetsblog.

Thursday, SFMTA joined several agencies at the Bay Area 2040 open house in Oakland. One of the projects presented was the M-Ocean View improvement plan. As the Examiner reported today, SFMTA is now leaning towards an all-underground option, with a tunnel stretching from West Portal to Parkmerced. This project, at around $3 billion, would re-align the M-Ocean View to the west of 19th Ave. and put it in a tunnel. Ostensibly, the project’s objective is to increase capacity and the speed of the trains to better serve SF State and the burgeoning community of Parkmerced.

From the SFMTA’s factsheet from the section entitled, “Key Benefits of Full Subway” PDF:

MUNI METRO SPEED AND RELIABILITY: No delay to train from waiting at intersections [emphasis added] makes for faster and more reliable service. Undergrounding the M- and K-lines through West Portal also addresses this major bottleneck

Somebody has to point out the elephant in the room.

Why is the train waiting at intersections in the first place?

The M-Ocean View, for its run down 19th, has its own right-of-way. But at each intersection, it has to wait for lights to cycle and automobiles to cross.

Obviously, putting the train in a tunnel is not the only solution.

Liz Brisson, Project Manager, Urban Planning Initiatives Sustainable Street Division for the SFMTA, explained at Thursday evening’s open house that there are short-term improvements to the M-Ocean View in the works, such as giving it more priority at signal lights and reducing the length of the turning pocket, seen in the photo above, at Stonestown. Right now an inbound M-Ocean View train has to wait behind left-turning cars before it can proceed into the Stonestown station.

But why just shorten the turning pocket? Why not get rid of the one that’s blocking the trains? And why signal “priority” instead of pre-emption: meaning why not when the train approaches, gates come down or the light always turns red for the cars and green for the train? The answer is obvious: it will cause more delay for privately owned cars.

The SFMTA’s studies also say the train goes slow because of closely spaced stations and that some stops should be eliminated and consolidated. But stop consolidation doesn’t require tunnels.

As this publication has covered for many years, San Francisco has long had a “transit first,” policy, at least in theory. But what clearer example could there be that transit is still far from first, when trains full of hundreds of people have to sit behind cars turning into a shopping mall?

Certainly, projects to create bus-only lanes on Van Ness, Mission and Geary are a step in the “transit first” direction. But putting Light Rail trains in a tunnel, when they already have a right of way (ROW), doesn’t sound like “transit first.” It sounds like a way to get the train out of the way of the cars.
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Bay Area 2040: Envisioning the Future of the Bay Area

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SFMTAs Liz Brisson at the Plan Bay Area open house. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA’s Liz Brisson at the Plan Bay Area open house. Image: Streetsblog.

Who says you can’t have everything?

Well, when it comes to transportation infrastructure and planning, economics and tax payers do, for starters. But Thursday evening’s Plan Bay Area 2040 open house wasn’t about holding back. Instead, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) asked the public to chime in and help envision a transportation and planning future for the entire Bay Area. The open house is part of an ongoing effort to create a catch-all road map for agencies throughout the region.

Held at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter Auditorium across from the Lake Merritt BART station, the open house consisted of half a dozen information stations, with representatives from a gaggle of area transportation planning agencies, including AC Transit, BART, Caltrans, Caltrain, MTC, and SFMTA, not to mention consultants, who heard public comments and discussed priorities for the Bay Area.

Among them was Liz Brisson, Project Manager, Urban Planning Initiatives Sustainable Street Division for the SFMTA. She was answering questions at the “Core Capacity Transit Study” station, a study project she’s working on. “Transit is bursting at the seams,” she said, adding that means it’s essentially working. But it has to work better to accommodate growth. “We know what we have to do.”

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SF Budget: Better Muni and Vision Zero…But November Tax Has to Pass

Additional funding for the Van Ness BRT Project, depicted here, was one of the projects highlighted in the Mayor's proposed budget. Image: SFMTA.

Additional funding for the Van Ness BRT Project, depicted here, was one of the projects highlighted in the Mayor’s proposed budget. Image: SFMTA.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee released his 455-page budget proposal on Tuesday. It includes $9.6 billion in fiscal year 2016-17  for transportation, police officers, and street cleaning, a $700 million increase in funds. The fiscal year runs from July 1 of this year until June 30 of next year.

The transportation section runs from pages 315 to 322–here are some highlights:

The proposed budget includes an additional $15 million in FY 2016-17 and $62.2 million in FY 2017-18 in new transportation funding. Once fully implemented in FY 2017-18, these investments will provide $28.7 million for Muni fleet, infrastructure upgrades, and transit optimization, $9.6 million for equity and affordability initiatives, $14.3 million to support regional transit projects and fleet needs, and $9.6 million to fully fund street safety projects that are consistent with the City’s Vision Zero policy.

Lee was presenting the budget as a step forward for the city’s transit programs and safety initiatives.

“The result is the SFMTA’s first-ever $1 billion operating budget to improve transit performance and reliability. The SFMTA operates the nation’s eighth largest public transit system and it serves every neighborhood,” said Lee in his Proposed Balanced Budget Speech, on Tuesday.

“To invest in the future of Muni, my proposed budget also includes significant investments in capital improvements, including nearly $26 million for new hybrid buses and light rail vehicles, and $5.9 million in street and pedestrian safety projects to move the City closer to its Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities by 2024,” he added.

Lee also noted that the budget maintained funding for Muni’s free programs for seniors, youth, and people with disabilities.

“This budget contains very robust investment in a number of critical transportation needs,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose Proposition B is responsible for much of the growth in the transportation and safe streets portion of the budget. Prop B instituted a city charter amendment mandating annual increases in the share of general funds set aside for transportation, based on population growth. In this budget, Prop. B is “pushing $30 million or more over to transportation,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, the Budget Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be taking a look at the document and making further recommendations. Read more…