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Posts from the "Parks" Category

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Park Areas Under Central Freeway Downsized to Retain Caltrans Parking

Left: The original vision for the conversion of a Caltrans parking lot into a dog run, basketball courts, and a playground. Right: The final plan, which will build only the dog run in order to retain most of the parking lot. Images: Department of Public Works

A plan to convert parking lots under the Central Freeway near Duboce and Valencia Streets into a skate park and dog run is moving forward, but it won’t include basketball courts or a children’s playground as originally envisioned by residents.

Because the city will have to lease the land from Caltrans, which owns and collects revenue from the existing parking lots, city officials involved in planning the long-delayed parks projects say budget constraints left them with no choice but to allow the state department of transportation to retain a large section of the parking lot at the expense of park space.

“The City Parking Area is a vital revenue component to making the entire lease structure with Caltrans feasible; thus helping to fund the projects and keep them moving forward,” wrote Gloria Chan, a spokesperson for the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, in a February email to residents. ”Without this revenue, we would not be able to plug the funding gap needed for these projects.”

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim introduced legislation this week to establish agreements between Caltrans and city agencies to move the project forward, and construction on the skate and dog parks are expected to begin this summer. She praised the project planners, but made no comment on the downsizing.

The SF Examiner reported details of the deal last month:

Under the terms of the lease deal, Caltrans will receive $10,000 a month for 20 years, with rent increasing by 2 percent every year. The Recreation and Park Department — the agency in charge of maintaining the park — will pay $85,000 a year for the site. Public Works will pay $66,000 a year.

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Separated Bike-Ped Path Coming to Mansell Street in McLaren Park by 2016

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Images: Rec and Parks

Mansell Street, which runs through McLaren Park, is poised to get a two-way bikeway and a walking and jogging path separated from motor traffic under a plan approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission last week.

Mansell is a wide roadway with no dedicated space for walking and biking, and its four traffic lanes are split down the middle by a planted median. Under the new plan, which is combined with a road re-paving, one side of that median will be car-free. On the other side, motor traffic, including Muni’s 29-Sunset line, would run in one lane in each direction.

The project, set to begin construction in summer 2015 and be completed in 2016, should provide a much more inviting connection to walk and bike across McLaren Park, San Francisco’s second-largest city-owned park, which sits between the Visitacion Valley and Excelsior neighborhoods.

The chosen design was favored by the vast majority of attendees at two community meetings, beating out an alternative that would have retained one traffic lane on each side of the median, along with buffered bike lanes separated from cars with stripes only, according to a department presentation [PDF]. Rec and Parks is hoping to fund the project using up to $6.1 million from Prop AA vehicle registration fee revenue and the regional One Bay Area Grant.

Mansell today.

See an overview of the route after the jump. Read more…

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Wayfinding Signs: A Nice Touch for the Developing “Green Connections” Plan

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City planners continue developing a vision for a network of lush, pleasant streets prioritized for walking and biking between the city’s parks and waterfronts. Staff from the SF Planning Department plans to present its draft network [PDF] for the ”Green Connections” project at an open house next Wednesday, October 3, and the public is invited to weigh in on the selected routes.

Photo: SFMTA

Coincidentally, one tool that could be used in Green Connections was recently implemented, at least temporarily, downtown and along the Embarcadero: Wayfinding signs listing estimated walking times to major destinations. Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said they’re an important way to help encourage walking, since many visitors (and residents) may be surprised to learn how quickly they can hoof it from one neighborhood to another.

“A lot of people might take the bus to North Beach, but they don’t know that they could get there in 15 or 20 minutes from downtown,” said Stampe. “Showing how easy it is to get from one place to another will help get more people walking.”

The idea of Green Connections is to lay out a plan of street routes connecting parks and waterfront destinations to prioritize for greenery, pedestrian and bicycle improvements over the next 20 years. In addition to the Planning Department’s community meetings, Walk SF has been leading park-to-park walks along with Nature in the City, and the SF Parks Alliance over the year to field residents’ thoughts on how the corridors can be improved.

The signs at the Embarcadero were put in by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to help point visitors to, from, and along the waterfront during the America’s Cup yacht races this year and next summer. They were recommended in the People Plan, which is aimed at making it easier for visitors to walk, bike and take transit to the crowded events.

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The Outside Lands Transpo Crunch: Bringing 65K People Per Day to GG Park

For the fifth year, San Francisco’s transportation system will absorb one of its largest floods of travelers when 65,000 daily attendees descend upon Golden Gate Park this weekend for the three-day Outside Lands music festival.

With festival goers traveling from near and far, promoters have tried each year to curb the number of people arriving by car, providing shuttles, bike valet and rows of bike racks, while “strongly encouraging” visitors on the event’s website to come by means other than driving.

Still, with many driving from across California and beyond, thousands of cars will inundate the park and the surrounding neighborhoods, and Muni vehicles will be packed. Although little data on mode share is available from the organizers (they’re apparently slammed preparing for the event), a representative said they expect close to 20 percent of people to come by shuttle or bike. That leaves about 52,000 people either driving, taking transit, or walking to Golden Gate Park.

Despite shuttles provided to and from Civic Center, as well as extra Muni service, the N-Judah, 5, and 71 lines are expected to be packed throughout the day. During the first event in 2008, Muni added 118 buses over the weekend, according to SFist, which reported that some riders waited 45 minutes just to board. This year, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Muni will add limited-stop buses on the 5-Fulton from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. each day of the event, as well as inbound N-Judah Express buses on Friday night from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Rose said Outside Lands organizers “have offered to fund at least some of the extra service,” though the specific plans for service haven’t been finalized yet. Muni staff will also sell off-board tickets at the Civic Center and 4th and King Caltrain stations from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to speed up boardings.

Outside Lands’ distant location from downtown (its name derives from the formerly undeveloped expanse of dunes) means it lacks the advantage of being within walking distance of BART and Caltrain, which other major events enjoy.

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UCSF Campus Plan Orders Up an Extension of 4th Street — Hold the Cars

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A new public plaza and bikeway would extend the current terminus of Fourth Street to the Dogpatch neighborhood. Images: UCSF

Rarely does the opportunity to create a new street present itself in a densely built-out city like San Francisco. But neighbors and planners at the developing Mission Bay campus of the University of California, SF decided to make the best of such a chance by designing an extension of Fourth Street as a car-free plaza.

Fourth Street currently terminates at 16th Street just north of the Dogpatch neighborhood. The SF Board of Supervisors approved a plan [PDF] this week to extend it south to connect to Minnesota Street at Mariposa with a public plaza and bikeway. It will run between a parking lot and a building in a 289-bed hospital complex set to open in 2015.

“The plaza on Fourth Street will provide an opportunity to create a warm and welcoming civic space for all to enjoy,” said D10 Supervisor Malia Cohen at a June hearing of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

Residents in the Dogpatch neighborhood have been advocating for the creation of the plaza for years, said Susan Eslick, vice president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association. Aside from the benefits of creating a new public space, she said neighbors didn’t want to encourage motorists to use Fourth as a new through-way into the neighborhood. The plan “will keep Dogpatch the livable, small-scale neighborhood that it is,” said Eslick.

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Andres Power Helps Lead a Streets Renaissance One Parklet at a Time

City planners often get very little public recognition for the work they do, and can sometimes take the heat on a project if it doesn’t prove politically popular. In the case of San Francisco’s revolutionary Pavement to Parks program, the early resistance to reclaiming public space from cars to create convivial spaces for people has gradually subsided and parklets are now in heavy demand. None of it would have been possible without the hard work and determination of Andres Power, an urban designer for the San Francisco Planning Department.

As the manager of the P2P program, Power has spent tireless hours managing the city’s initial plaza and parklet projects and moving them through the vast city bureaucracy. He deals regularly with merchants, neighbors and community groups. He’s worn a hardhat on many a Saturday and is the guy who gets called at midnight if something goes wrong.  Power’s unwavering dedication, even in the face of fierce opposition, has made him one of the unsung heroes of San Francisco’s livable streets movement.

Along with some of his colleagues at the Planning Department, Power is working from within to change the dysfunctional and old-school culture of city government with an eye to then transform our streets. The Pavement to Parks program is now catching the attention of cities all over the U.S. Last week, San Francisco issued a new request for parklet proposals, which means they’ll be spreading to even more neighborhoods.

Power was born in San Francisco and grew up in the East Bay city of Albany. I sat down with him recently to find out more about his interest in urban planning, and his involvement in the Pavement to Parks program.

Bryan Goebel: What sparked your interest in city planning?

Andres Power: I’ve always loved cities. Being in a place that’s dynamic and changing and exciting has always been something that has intrigued me. I’ve tried to think back and to figure out what my motivators were and I think I just landed in the right place, to be honest. I had some great professors in undergrad at Brown University that really were forward and progressive thinking and inspired me. Then, after undergraduate, I went and worked in New York at the Department of Housing and Preservation doing economic development for the city and it was just an amazing place to be. It was so crazy and frantic, such a huge and complicated bureaucracy, but still, individual people could make amazing changes.

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What Can SF Learn from Other Cities’ Urban Water Projects?

(Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed. In Part 1, we examined a radical new daylighting proposal in Berkeley; and in Part 2, we looked at the changes that SF streets may face under a bold plan by the Public Utilities Commission.)

Phalen Creek in St. PaulPhalen Creek in St. Paul, MN
Although the daylighting of underground urban streams has its roots here in the Bay Area, it's a practice that's spread around the country and the world in the last few decades.

Early daylighting projects like the Napa River, Strawberry Creek, and Codornices Creek formed the basis for a worldwide shift in the possibilities presented by urban watersheds. Now, a series of best-practices has begun to emerge from the ever-growing number of daylighted streams around the world, which could inform the proposed transformations of creeks here in San Francisco.

The SF Public Utilities Commission is now studying the feasibility of daylighting Yosemite Creek, Islais Creek, and Stanley Creek. While their research is underway, Streetsblog decided to take a closer look at successful urban water projects around the world from which planners might draw inspiration.

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Former Trash-Strewn Lot Becomes An “Off-Ramp Park”

IMG_1881.jpgSixth and Brannan Park. Photos: Michael Rhodes

San Franciscans don't often spend their days contriving ways to spend more time near freeway off-ramps, especially when proximity to freeways can be a risk to your health, but the city's newest park along the I-280 exit at Sixth and Brannan Streets may make you think twice about it.

City leaders officially launched the park with an opening ceremony this afternoon, and with the success of the Pavement to Parks program, which reclaimed underused street space for public parks and plazas, the Department of Public Works and Caltrans have now embarked on a series of upgrades across the city on what we'll unofficially dub, "Off-Ramps to Parks."

"Creating beautiful, livable, vibrant, and sustainable spaces is an important part of our work, however, we cannot do it alone," said DPW Director Ed Reiskin. "These types of partnerships are critical in an era when we are seeking the most efficient way to clean and beautify the city."

On this sunny Wednesday afternoon, it appeared the demand for green space was strong -- even along a freeway off-ramp. Several groups of people lounged along the paths, and the hum of the exiting cars could almost be mistaken for the babbling of a creek (the exhaust of the cars was less mistakable, though a strong breeze and the trees helped mitigate that.) The park includes walking paths, new trees, flowers, and other landscaping upgrades like boulders, which serve as the only seating at present.

"Before, it didn't have all the greenery. All it had was a bum," said Megan Bluxome, an art student who used to live nearby, but hadn't returned to the area recently. "It looks like it's not part of the city, a very short natural walk -- right next to the freeway."

"It's an escape," she added.

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Bay Area Cities Rediscover the Creeks Under Their Streets

ramblasperspect.jpgOne of the proposed designs for Center Street in Berkeley, by Ecocity Builders

(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 1970s, as part of the redevelopment of its downtown, the City of Napa stumbled upon a new way of thinking about the urban watershed: Instead of leaving the Napa River buried, engineers removed its cover, exposing it to daylight.

"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.

Some urban planners debate whether Napa's construction in the 70s constitutes the country's first daylighting project. In 2003, Steve Donnelly, then co-director of the Urban Creeks Council, 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.

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A Vision For Transforming San Francisco’s “Unaccepted Streets”

Local_Code.jpgA proposed design for an unaccepted street, from Local Code, courtesy Nicholas de Monchaux
Throughout San Francisco's history, from the early street grid to the more recent expansion of freeways, slivers of land that don't fit into the master plans of architects and designers have been cast aside, lumped into a category the Department of Public Works (DPW) refers to as "unaccepted streets." These "paper streets" are mapped but not maintained by any agency. As Chris Carlsson so beautifully chronicled in his Ghost Streets tour, many of these alleys and street stubs are cared for by neighbors and transformed into small gardens or pocket parks.  Many more, however, are forgotten urban scars and latent public space.

Berkeley Professor of Architecture Nicholas de Monchaux estimates that there are 529 acres of unaccepted streets, just over half the land area of Golden Gate Park. In Local Code [PDF], one of six finalists in UCLA's WPA 2.0 design competition ("Whoever rules the sewers, rules the city"), de Monchaux details his vision for replenishing 1514 of these unaccepted streets by linking contemporary geospatial planning tools with existing public processes through the DPW to implement  "a range of local infrastructural gestures, from soil remediation, to victory gardening, to playgrounds and pastures."  

Local Code borrows from the work of  "anarchitect" Gordon Matta-Clark, who in the early 1970s discovered that New York City auctioned off pieces of unusable land that resulted from surveying anomalies and public-works expansion, so called "gutterspaces," fifteen of which he purchased and developed for Fake Estates, an architectural intervention meant to dissect notions of materiality, property ownership, and prestige.

With Local Code, de Monchaux hopes to accelerate the pace of converting streets into green spaces, particularly in the underserved neighborhoods in the shadows of freeways, where unaccepted streets are abundant.  "If you look at the unaccepted streets, it is like heat map of all the areas with health problems, pollution issues, and neglected spaces," he said.

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