While the world has gathered in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss again a shared approach to Climate Chaos, action is already being taken in countless communities. On a visit last week to Guadalajara, Mexico, more than a thousand miles west of the Climate Meeting, I had the pleasure of discovering a vibrant grassroots movement to block the construction of a new 23-kilometer elevated freeway through the heart of the city. Interestingly, this movement leans primarily on people who live along the proposed route of the freeway, but found crucial support and activism from Ciudad Para Todos (City For All), a three-year-old group of bicycle and transit activists who are Guadalajara’s most vocal opponents to the reign of the car.
Posts from the "Neighborhoods" Category
(Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed)
The proposal to convert Center Street in Berkeley from an asphalt thoroughfare to a park-like promenade -- revealing a long-hidden underground creek -- is the latest twist in the interesting and often-controversial story of the Bay Area's heavily-modified waterways.
The Center Street project is a striking reversal of a century-old trend towards burying Berkeley's creeks below ground. It's also an example of the relatively new practice of "daylighting" forgotten waterways, a trend said to have been unintentionally sparked forty years ago in nearby Napa.
"In the 70s, there was the redevelopment," Barry Martin, Napa's Public Information Officer explained to Streetsblog. "and a number of buildings were taken down. The creek ran underneath some structures, so as they were designing this urban renewal project, [daylighting] was part of that."
"I don't think there was any environmental thinking going on at that time," he added.
dismissed the project as the nation's first, saying, "all they did was take the top off a concrete channel."
Uncovering the waterway didn't fix Napa's watershed problems, either.
Forty years after its restoration began, Napa still struggles with the health of the Napa River: Frequent flooding plagued the city during the past decades, and engineers are only now getting the water flow under control, in part thanks to tactics similar to those employed by the settlers of 200 years ago.
In the 1800s, residents recognized that the east side of the river's oxbow was too wet to use in winter, and set aside the land as a summer fairground. An amphitheater now sits on the land, but there's more to the park than meets the eye: It serves as a buffer during floods, redirecting overflow away from more vulnerable areas.Read more...
Now, city officials are teaming up with residents to plan a redesign of the aging structure that could encourage neighbors to visit one another on foot and by bicycle. A Planning Department award, announced in September, will fund a study of the maze to tap into the ideas of locals who have to live with it. As the freeway approaches the end of its natural life, neighbors fear that without an alternative plan, Caltrans will simply replace the old freeway with basically the same design.
Potrero was reconfigured in 2005, from six car lanes to four, with new left-turn pockets, bike lanes, and crosswalk enhancements. Bayshore and eastern Cesar Chavez are both slated to be restriped with bike lanes as part of the citywide bike plan. Western Cesar Chavez has inspired an ambitious Planning Department redesign that will create a landscaped median and changes similar to those on Potrero. All four roadways, however, feed into the notorious churning maze, leaving cyclists and pedestrians dashing across on and off-ramps and skulking along dark, threatening pathways.
The hairball wasn't always so forbidding. Bonnie Ora Sherk, president and founding director of Crossroads Community (The Farm), recalls holding musical offerings, poetry readings, art installations, dance performances, and public gatherings there. She planted lush gardens with local school children in the 1970s in the belly of the maze, the site under which the Islais, Precita, and Serpentine Creeks converge. Crossroads Community was so named by Sherk to be a place for people from the four surrounding communities to come together where the freeway had severed them.Read more...
"This was our share and it's unpleasant," said DPW Director Ed Reiskin. As a result of the city budget crisis, the department was forced to slash its street cleaning budget by $2.7 million and trim its landscaping budget by $800,000. A reduction in street sweeping services was announced last month.
The cuts come right as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office embarks on a number of new projects to green space and improve the public realm. The landscaping positions being eliminated include crews who've been heavily involved in the Pavement to Parks projects. Reiskin predicted the cuts wouldn't have a direct impact on those efforts, but rather, would affect the agency's ability to maintain landscaped medians, trim trees and respond to service requests.
"Nobody was spared and this just challenges us more to figure out how to be more efficient and use more in the way of low-maintenance planting, which we're trying to move more towards, so we need less gardening."Read more...
"I think everyone looks at 18th Street as this great pedestrian-oriented street with these really amazing businesses on it where the sidewalks are too narrow and too crowded," said Tom Radulovich, a neighborhood denizen and Executive Director of Livable City, who is working with other advocates and merchants to make the block near Dolores Park more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
"You see so many more people walking or bicycling through the neighborhood than driving, and a lot of them are locals."
As a first step, the MTA is considering -- and is likely to approve -- eliminating the 7-9 a.m. tow-away zone on the south side of 18th Street eastbound between Dolores and Treat, which would help calm speeding automobile traffic during peak morning hours, and hopefully reduce the amount of collisions in the area.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, while gathering interviews for this story, I witnessed a car collision on Guerrero at 18th, followed by a chorus of "whoas" from Tartine patrons. No one was hurt, but a Tartine employee said she's witnessed or heard at least six collisions in the last year.Read more...
I got an email forwarded to me over the weekend titled "BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA HATES URBAN GARDENS" which naturally sparked my interest. Turns out to be a lot more interesting than the title even suggested. Asa Dodsworth has lived in his place on Acton and Allston Way in Berkeley for about a decade, which he owns. He's a gentle, lanky fellow who decided some years ago to plant food in his front yard and on the six-foot wide median between the curb and the sidewalk running in front of his property. He's not officially associated with Transition Towns or any of the many new initiatives cropping up (pun intended!) that are trying to find local ways to address a world out of kilter. But clearly his dedicated effort to use his small area to grow food instead of keeping it strictly ornamental or recreational is part of a bigger agenda of urban redesign and transformation that benefits us all, and sets a standard that many more of us should be working towards.
I took my bike on BART to seek out this controversial streetscape and see for myself. As luck would have it, I arrived in late afternoon and found Asa pruning some of the foliage in his median, while a cluster of folks stood around discussing not just his situation, but the also the larger dynamic associated with the overblown "crisis" of the light brown apple moth. (For a full download on this topic, go to www.DontSprayCalifornia.org). To get to Asa's place I got off at Ashby BART and rode north on Acton until I found it, not knowing precisely where it was, but having seen some photos on-line. As I rode along I couldn't help but notice that LOTS of homes along Acton are characterized by dense foliage in the front yards, sometimes fruit trees, sometimes just a variety of thick shrubs, flowers and on one occasion at least, artichokes!
The data contradict the stereotype that shoppers drive to shop and by consequence need on-street parking or free parking to attract them to downtown and prevent them from shopping at malls in suburban areas.
From the study:
Comparing the recreational activity spending amounts by mode, drivers and carpoolers spent more per visit than all other modes, at an average of $88 each. Considering that they came into downtown San Francisco an average of four days per month for recreational purposes and comprised 17% of all respondents, the monthly total for each driver averaged to $259. Transit riders, spent an average of $40 per visit, but traveled to downtown at almost double the frequency, an average of seven days a month. Therefore, over the course of the month, transit riders spent an average of $274. With transit riders comprising the majority of respondents, 60%, the results show that they generate substantial business in downtown. Walkers outspent both transit riders and drivers, spending $291 per month and came to downtown eight days a month.
TA Transportation Planner Zabe Bent explained that the surveys for the mode choice study were conducted at three locations downtown (Union Square near the parking garage, Stockton and Market, and 4th and Mission near the parking garage) that were meant to capture drivers and transit riders equally. The surveys were collected on weekdays during peak holiday shopping in late November, 2007, and again during weekdays in April, 2008.
In a complementary study conducted by the TA, 72 percent of business owners surveyed in commercial districts said they thought their customers drove alone to shop, while another 15 percent assume customers drove some of the time (PDF). Further TA data show that while commercial districts in high car ownership neighborhoods like West Portal see up to 41 percent driving shoppers, nothing comes close to the near 90 percent perception among business owners (PDF).
DPW crews have been working at a feverish pace to complete the city's first "Pavement-to-Parks" plaza, pouring yellow, slip-resistant road paint over the surface and installing 70 demarcation bollards that will be filled with soil and gravel and adorned with fan palms, yucca jewels and birds of paradise. Crews are installing movable barriers at both ends of the plaza to allow for emergency fire access. Tables and chairs will also be situated around the plaza, and locked at night on a nearby catenary poll.
"The goal of this opening on Wednesday is to show how you can do something really quick, really simply," said Andres Power, an urban designer at the SF Planning Department.
Liz Ogbu, an architect with Public Architect Inc., which has designed the project pro bono, said, "This is a little nuts. It’s sort of forced everyone to have to think out of the box and sort of roll with the punches and just be quick on their feet."
For example, Ogbu said they ran out of paint Sunday and a new shipment was still a day away but "somebody came up with the idea of, well, we can tap the traffic paint, and we were a little skeptical because we couldn’t match the color, but it works well and we’re in good shape.”
Crews have also set up the bollards to accommodate the streetcars and buses that will continue passing through the plaza. Ogbu said plazas with transit ways have worked well in some European cities, including Amsterdam.
"All the Muni drivers have been giving us thumbs up as they’ve been coming through," said Ogbu. "And the business owners who we’ve been back and forth with, they’re in good shape.”
Editor's note: Today we begin Part I of our occasional series on LOS reform.
The Pseudo-Science of LOS
There's a dirty little secret you should know about San Francisco: It's engineered first and foremost for automobility and will never be able to shed this bias if the traffic engineers are in the driver's seat wielding their traffic analysis tools like bibles. As long as the city continues prioritizing the use of transportation analysis known as Level of Service (LOS), you might as well burn our Transit First policy for warmth.
On the one hand, LOS is a very simple and blunt metric for understanding the speed that vehicles can move about the city. LOS measures the amount of vehicular delay at an intersection, with A through F grades assigned to increased delay. This measurement is taken during the peak 15 minutes of evening rush hour and if an intersection slips from LOS D to LOS E, traffic managers will try to mitigate the impact, which usually means widening the road, shrinking the sidewalks, removing crosswalks, softening turning angles, and adjusting signal timing to speed the movement of vehicles.
Yet the result of relying on this poor methodology to shape the growth of cities has a profound affect on the politics of human mobility, privileging the movement of vehicles before the movement of anything else. Quite simply, LOS analysis has given us Phoenix and Atlanta, congestion and ever-longer commutes, and a whole host of ills that accompany reliance on the inefficient use of street space for our cars.
"I've been doing transit analyses in California for 20 years," said Jeffrey Tumlin, principal of Nelson Nygaard, a transportation and land use consulting firm. "In my practice the single greatest promoter of sprawl and the single greatest obstacle to transit oriented development (TOD) and infill development is the transportation analysis conventions under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, LOS."