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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…

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Litter and Livable Streets

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Why are some neighborhoods covered in litter? Photo: Streetsblog.

Why are some neighborhoods covered in litter? Photo: Streetsblog.

A few weeks ago, I found an apartment in the Outer Mission. It had a view of Twin Peaks, plenty of room, and it was in my price range. It is a short bike ride to the great transportation links at Balboa Park Station. It also was a half-block from a stop on the 14-Mission bus. There’s a nice cafe down the street, a couple of small markets within a few blocks, and pretty much everything a Livable Streets advocate could ask for, except for bike lanes, but hopefully those will come.

As I negotiated with the owner, I started hanging out in the area as much as possible, to see how I liked it. Almost right away, I noticed a lack of pedestrian traffic. Despite Lincoln Park and the Cayuga Playground, both a few blocks away, a large supermarket on Alemany, and some nice restaurants, and a fair amount of car traffic, I saw virtually nobody out walking.

And there was a whole lot of trash. At first I thought it was because of the powerful winds that came through a few days prior; perhaps they had blown over some trash cans. But the litter stayed. Nobody swept up in front of their shops. As I explored further, I noticed even more trash.

What struck me even more was the stark contrast with the neighborhoods on the other side of I-280. Less than two miles to the west I could find litter if I looked for it, but I wasn’t tripping over it. On the weekends, I saw people outside cleaning up their front yards and sidewalks with rakes and brooms. Same with graffiti: to the west of I-280, it’s there, but harder to find. East of I-280, it’s pretty prominent.
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A Safer Masonic on the Way

Michael Helquist and Dale Danley looking pleased to see Maconic improvements finally happening. Photo: Streetsblog

Michael Helquist and Dale Danley looking pleased to see Masonic Avenue improvements finally happening. Photo: Streetsblog

Wednesday evening some 130 local residents and other interested parties dropped in at the San Francisco Day School to learn about the construction phase of SFMTAs Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project. To quote SFMTA’s own release about the project:

With construction starting in June 2016, the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project is an effort to improve safety for people walking, biking, taking transit and driving on Masonic Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Fell Street. It will bring a variety of improvements to the corridor including, wider sidewalks, a new median, new paving, landscaping, raised bikeways, better lighting and upgraded sewer infrastructure.

The meeting was primarily to let local residents know what to expect from the jack hammers and traffic delays they will experience from June through late 2017, when construction is scheduled to be completed.

Michael Helquist, an advocate with “Fix Masonic” who helped raise support for the changes over the years, was thrilled. “This took several years of going door to door to build support,” he said. “Safety is my biggest concern.”

And, indeed, this is a corridor that needed it. Also from SFMTA’s data:

From 2009 to 2014, there were 113 traffic collisions on Masonic Avenue between Fell Street and Geary Boulevard. This includes 14 pedestrian collisions and 24 bicycle collisions, including two fatalities.

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SFSU Students Study How to Un-Suck Biking to BART

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Professor Jason Henderson's "Bicycle Geographies" class explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: ???TK

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class (seen with additional university staff in this photo) explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: Nolen Brown

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class wants the ride from Daily City BART to San Francisco State University’s campus to be comfortable and fun.

And why shouldn’t it be?

After all, it’s only a 1.6 mile trip that should take even a novice cyclist about 15 minutes. Given the proximity to BART, this should be a no-brainer. But thanks to some harrowing intersections, high-speed traffic lanes, and oddly placed and timed “safety measures,” it’s anything but.

“That route probably felt quite calm in a big group with 40-plus people in a group ride,” said Joshua Handel, one of five students in the class, during a presentation to administrators at the school. Handel is referring to a Bike to Work Day ride done earlier this month with staff and students.

“But when one does it alone, there’s a lot of traffic stress,” he continued.  Read more…

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“Make Transit Awesome” Campaign Crosses Finish Line Tomorrow

CampaignBannerTomorrow, Thursday, the San Francisco Transit Riders (SFTR) group wraps up its “Make Transit Awesome” Indiegogo campaign.

A crowd-sourcing campaign is usually not all that noteworthy, except in this case it’s for a cause near-and-dear to Streetsblog readers. The SF Transit Riders have been instrumental in getting things such as transit-only lanes on Mission, encouraging (or perhaps shaming is the right word) San Francisco’s politicians to ride Muni, and getting all-door boarding, which they promoted as a pilot program back in 2011. A whole lot of the Muni improvements we’ve seen in the past few years can be traced back to an SFTR campaign.

SFTRU wants everyone on Muni to get where They're going in 30 minutes or less. Photo: Aaron Bialick.

SFTR wants everyone to get where they’re going in 30 minutes or less. Photo: Aaron Bialick.

And Andy Bosselman, an SF Transit Riders advocate, is a regular voice on the pages of Streetsblog, where he’s written about everything from Clipper card discounts to calling out Mayor Lee for his lack of action on the Transbay Caltrain link. Their slogans are ubiquitous, such as with the “Keep Mission Red” campaign to protect the transit-only lanes from pushback from merchants. They’re also working on a plan called 30-30. “The idea is that anyone can get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in 30 minute by public transit,” said Thea Selby, chair of the groups executive board, at an event that kicked off the campaign. They want to achieve that goal by 2030.  Read more…