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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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SFMTA’s Tom Maguire Promises Reforms to Streamline Safe Street Fixes

Tom Maguire, the SFMTA’s new Sustainable Streets Director, said he’s working on reforms that will fast-track implementation of numerous street safety fixes that will help SF accomplish Vision Zero.

Tom Maguire. Photo: SFGovTV

Maguire, who started at the SFMTA two months ago after serving in an executive role in New York City’s Department of Transportation, told the supervisors’ Vision Zero Committee last week that he’s taking on the 10 “primary challenges” [PDF] that delay small infrastructure projects. The primary challenges were identified in last year’s SF 2040 Transportation Plan.

Street safety advocates have long pushed for the SFMTA, and other agencies, to cut the red tape and lack of coordination that result in the painstakingly slow roll-out of pedestrian and bike safety measures.

“I certainly walked into a situation here where project delivery was the primary challenge,” Maguire told the committee. As a veteran of NYC DOT, where safety projects seemingly appeared overnight under former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Maguire is expected to both bring a fresh perspective and improve the SFMTA’s tempo.

While SFMTA officials haven’t set specific targets that would measure progress on bureaucratic reforms, their current goal is to implement safety fixes on at least 13 miles in each of next two years. Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider pointed out that that falls well short of the 18 mile goal (targeted to “high-injury” streets) requested by the Vision Zero Coalition of advocates at a recent rally. However, it does best the SF Pedestrian Strategy adopted last year, which calls for fixes on five high-injury miles per year.

Tim Papandreou, SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy, said a goal of 13 miles annually — not necessarily along high-injury corridors — seems to be a realistic expectation. ”At least there’s one bar that we can cross, and say ‘we did that,’ ” said Papandreou. “Anything above that would be great.”

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Union Square’s “Winter Walk” Plaza on Stockton a Hit – Why Bring Cars Back?

Stockton Street, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has temporarily been transformed into well-loved “Winter Walk” plaza. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Families are loving “Winter Walk SF,” the temporary holiday plaza filling two blocks of Stockton Street in Union Square. As CBS reporter John Ramos put it, the on-street downtown play space “represents the San Francisco everyone wants it to be.”

“I didn’t expect to see this,” one smiling girl told Ramos, standing on the green astroturf. “I thought it would be cars.”

Even former Mayor Willie Brown — not exactly known as a livable streets visionary — called it “spectacular” in his latest SF Chronicle column. “While you’re walking, think about what it would be like if the change were made permanent when the subway construction is complete.”

Brown was referring to the fact that the plaza will only be in place during a holiday construction hiatus for the Central Subway. After the new year, Stockton between Geary and Ellis Streets will once again fill with machinery, its use from 2012 until at least 2016.

Afterwards, cars, buses, and bikes are scheduled to once more clog Stockton — but even Brown suggests it shouldn’t go back to the way it was:

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Stockton Street in Union Square Becomes a Plaza for the Holidays

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Two blocks of Stockton Street in the bustling Union Square shopping district are being converted into a pedestrian plaza for the holidays. The roadway has been occupied by Central Subway construction machinery for a couple of years now, but now crews are taking a break and covering up the site with turf for what’s been dubbed Winter Walk SF, “an inviting open plaza in the heart of Union Square” that will run until the new year.

The two blocks “will be open for winter merriment with a nightly light art show projected on the Macy’s Men’s Building featuring Jack Frost’s adventures as he spreads festive icicles throughout San Francisco,” states the Union Square Business Improvement District on its website. “Expect caroling, demos and other wintery surprises.”

The pedestrianization project should boost the bottom line for Union Square merchants during the big holiday shopping season. When Stockton was closed to cars in 2011, and remained open to buses, taxis, and people walking and biking, they said they saw a jump in business. However, ever since construction ramped up with cranes, and pedestrians have been corralled into a narrow passage, some merchants have complained that they’ve lost business.

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Neighbors Celebrate the New “McCoppin Hub,” Dog and Skate Park

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The McCoppin Hub, along Valencia near Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Neighbors near McCoppin Street recently celebrated the completion of the McCoppin Hub, a plaza created from a street stub that sits against the Central Freeway ramp towards Market Street. The plaza, a nearby dog run, and skate park have been in the works for years as a package of newly depaved public spaces planned after the freeway’s partial reconstruction.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Lynn Valente, a neighborhood activist, at the plaza last month. “This was a true grassroots effort. The neighbors worked on this for ten years with the city to have some amenities in our neighborhood, for pedestrians and traffic and bicycles… It would kind of mitigate the effect of the Central Freeway ramp which goes over the neighborhood.”

“I couldn’t be prouder, because it was a lot of people really sticking to it and making sure we got these amenities,” she added.

Waiting for the spaces has certainly required patience among neighbors. When we wrote about the neighborhood in July 2011, the projects were already considered a long overdue follow-up to the freeway’s completion in 2005. At that time, construction on the McCoppin Hub was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012.

Other improvements in what’s officially called the SoMa West Improvement Projects included traffic-calming revamps of side streets like Elgin Park and Stevenson Street, as well as greenery, bike lanes, and raised crosswalks along McCoppin Street.

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Boat Owners Gripe as Car-Free Marina Path Moves Forward

Attendees at a community meeting last night in the Marina. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A community meeting held yesterday about plans to remove car parking from a stretch of the Marina pedestrian and bike path was attended by just a couple dozen people, most of whom appeared to be boat owners protesting the move. The Recreation and Parks Department does appear to be moving forward with the plan, despite complaints from some well-connected Marina boaters who have delayed the project for months.

Photo: Matt Dove

Several harbor tenants repeated mostly baseless arguments heard at previous meetings, defending the 51 often-empty parking spots by instead complaining about the behavior of people who bike on the path.

This stretch of path along Marina Boulevard, between Scott and Baker Streets, sits alongside four wide traffic lanes. It’s the only segment of the 500-mile Bay Trail that has car access on it. Only two percent of people using the path park cars on it — the rest walk or bike. Most of those biking appear to be pedaling leisurely on rental bikes, and many of them are children.

But that doesn’t jibe with the narrative of menacing road-hogs told by those like Paul Manning, a harbor tenant.

“I think it’s important that, when bicyclists ask for sharing the road, that it be a combination and not an exclusive use of the road,” Manning told Streetsblog. “In this project in particular, they want to obliterate all the cars and have exclusive use for pedestrians and cyclists, which seems unreasonable.”

“That’s their modus operandi,” said Allen Cavey, in response to Manning. ”They want everybody off, but they can’t get the pedestrians off because they’re on the sidewalk.”

Cavey, who identified as a harbor tenant since 1963, said he’s long fought efforts to take cars off the Marina path, which “really started” in 1996. Cavey was unabashed in his contempt for the SF Bicycle Coalition and in his celebration of keeping cars on the path.

“As a member of the Harbor Tenants Association, I had to rattle down the testy, belligerent, arrogant Bicyclist [sic] Coalition. We won, we prevailed. And we’re still parking on the esplanade. And we’re going through the same thing again.”

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SF Officials Tout School Zone Safety Upgrades on Walk and Roll to School Day

Mayor Lee squeezes down a SoMa sidewalk with students headed to Bessie Carmichael Elementary School yesterday. Photo: Richard Carranza/Twitter

On another record-breaking Walk and Roll to School Day, Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials held a press conference to tout recently-completed pedestrian safety measures on streets surrounding Bessie Carmichael Elementary in SoMa, and three schools in the Avenues. Almost 90 schools and 14,000 children citywide were estimated to have participated in the event — over 85 percent of SF Unified School District students.

“Today reminds us: children deserve to walk to school safely, not only on Walk and Roll to School Day, but every day,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said in a statement.

Bessie Carmichael Elementary, located at Fourth and Harrison Streets next to a highway 80 on-ramp, is surrounded by some of the city’s most dangerous, freeway-like streets.

“This is not just any kind of traffic on the streets. This is freeway traffic,” said Fred Rutger, who said he’s been injured three times by hit-and-run drivers during his eight years as an SFMTA crossing guard for Bessie Carmichael Middle School, located at Harrison and Seventh Streets, three blocks away from the elementary school and next to a different set of freeway ramps. Each driver who hit him had made an illegal right turn from a far traffic lane, he said. There are no signs telling drivers headed to and from the freeway that they’re entering a school zone.

The SFMTA completed installation of 15 MPH school zones at 181 schools in 2012, but a Walk SF press release pointed out that “Bessie is one of a handful of schools in the city which do not qualify for slower 15 mph school zones, as state law precludes these slow zones on wide, fast streets where they’re needed most.”

Plans for a road diet on Sixth Street are in the works, and painted bulb-outs were recently added on street corners. The SFMTA also plans to add a signalized crosswalk at Sixth and Minna Streets this month, among other smaller improvements that don’t have a timeline yet.

Rutger said he’s been hit at Seventh and Folsom Streets, which he called one of the most hazardous intersections. The SFMTA recently re-timed traffic signals there to give pedestrians a head start, which could mitigate the danger somewhat, while students and parents wait for a more substantial transformation of the car-dominated intersection. Some pedestrian bulb-outs and daylighting are planned, but it’s unclear when they’ll come.

In a statement, Mayor Lee pushed Prop A, the $500 million general obligation bond to fund transportation improvements — which was originally supposed to be on the ballot alongside a vehicle license fee increase until Lee abandoned support for it.

“Walk and Roll to School Day grows every year, as more and more families choose to walk, bike or take Muni to school,” said Lee in a statement. “Whether they are in the Sunset District or in the heart of SoMa, we want every student to be safe when they are walking to school.”

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Closed Crosswalks Remain Even in Today’s Walkable Hayes Valley

Fell and Gough Streets. Photo: tracktwentynine/Instagram

Hayes Valley may be one of the country’s densest and most walkable urban neighborhoods, but believe it or not, it still has three closed crosswalks — vestiges of the mid-20th century’s cars-first planning.

“For many years, traffic engineers devised ways to pen people in, so that cars weren’t inconvenienced,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. ”Nowadays, the city realizes how foolish that thought was, especially in an urban environment which thrives on connecting people with people — not people with fast moving cars.”

Last week, a visiting transportation writer who was exploring many of SF’s otherwise-progressive recent livable streets efforts was surprised and ashamed to find pedestrians banned from crossing at one side of the intersection at Gough and Fell Streets. Instead, people walking there are forced to take a detour through three crosswalks instead of one, so that turning car traffic can whisk through unimpeded.

The SFMTA had previously approved re-opening that crosswalk, as well as another at Fell and Franklin Streets. That was over a year ago.

SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said the Fell and Franklin crosswalk is set to be re-opened next month, but that the Fell and Gough crosswalk is on hold and will be implemented late next year, in conjunction with “sewer, water, paving and signal enhancements” to “maximize efficiency.”

As for the closed crosswalk at Oak and Franklin Streets, which would cross three lanes of turning motor traffic, SFMTA planners looked at re-opening it but “decided to not move forward at this time,” said Jose. Opening the crosswalk, or removing a turn lane, would “result in traffic backing up into Market Street,” he said.

“Re-opening crosswalks is a basic walkers’ rights issue,” said Schneider, who pointed out that the Mayor’s Pedestrian Strategy has a goal of opening two crosswalks per year through 2021, and “notes that this is a quick, cost-effective way to enhance pedestrian safety and walkability.”

Robin Levitt of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, and a member of the Market-Octavia Community Advisory Committee, said he’s disappointed that the Oak and Franklin crosswalk won’t be opened any time soon, and that the Fell and Gough crosswalk won’t be opened for at least another year. Still, ”It’s been that way forever,” he said, and another year isn’t a big setback.

Nonetheless, ”If this was a bottleneck delaying cars, I think they’d probably get on it.”

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East Palo Alto’s Highway 101 Ped/Bike Bridge Almost Fully Funded

Walking across Highway 101 in East Palo Alto requires crossing wide six-lane intersections, and using a narrow sidewalk on University Avenue’s north side (far left). Photo: Andrew Boone

East Palo Alto’s decades-long dream to reconnect its east and west sides via a pedestrian/bicycle bridge has taken a huge leap forward. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) approved the city’s $8.6 million application to construct a 12-foot wide bridge over Highway 101 between Newell Road and Clarke Avenue, following East Palo Alto’s City Council’s June allocation of $600,000 for environmental review and design.

The bridge is the second-most expensive project recommended for Caltrans funding statewide, out of 145 ped/bike projects that will receive $221 million over the next two years from the state’s new consolidated Active Transportation Program. (The top-dollar project is $10.9 million for environmental studies and land acquisition for the Coachella Valley Link, a 50-mile long “mostly continuous” multi-use path in Riverside County.)

University Avenue, which runs roughly north-south across the center of East Palo Alto, crosses Highway 101 and continues as Palm Drive through downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University. University Avenue’s 1950′s-era, auto-centric highway interchange design, complete with high-speed loop ramps and six-lane intersections on both sides, practically ensures danger for pedestrians and bicyclists. Anyone on foot or bike must cram into one narrow sidewalk, on the north side of the bridge over Highway 101, since no sidewalk was ever built on the bridge’s south side, and no bike lanes have never been striped within the street.

East Palo Alto’s Woodland neighborhood (foreground) and major shopping center and schools (background) are divided by Highway 101. The curving black line in the center shows the bridge’s planned alignment. Image: Alta Planning + Design

The East Palo Alto Highway 101 Ped/Bike Overcrossing, to use its official name, will provide a safe alternative one third of a mile to the southeast, and shorten the distance between the densely populated Woodland neighborhood west of the highway and the Ravenswood 101 Shopping Center on the east. Shopping trips to Mi Pueblo, the city’s only grocery store, will be faster for many residents by bicycle or even on foot than in a car, since drivers will still have to pass through a total of seven heavily trafficked signals to make the one-mile trip.

Several schools located on nearby Clarke Avenue will suddenly become accessible on foot or by bike for the many children living west of the highway. And Newell Road, running due south from the shopping center and the future ped/bike bridge, connects directly to Palo Alto’s high-quality network of bike lanes and bicycle boulevards.

The bridge “will enhance public safety, promote walking and bicycling, and reduce vehicular trips on University Avenue and other congested roadways,” stated the introduction to the bridge project’s $300,000 feasibility study, completed last year by Alta Planning + Design. “The project will also improve community health by providing recreational opportunities and linkages to the Bay Trail and City of Palo Alto.”

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Bulb-Outs: Noe Valley’s Getting Them, Outer Balboa’s Got Them

Photo: SFMTA

Two business corridors are getting a boost from sidewalk bulb-outs: Balboa Street in the Outer Richmond recently had some finished, and 24th Street in Noe Valley will get them this fall.

The dozen-odd sidewalk extensions on outer Balboa were completed in May as part of a larger project under construction since last year that also includes a road diet and repaving. The SFMTA said that the switch, to two from four traffic lanes, both calmed traffic (as part of an area traffic calming plan) and provides wider lanes that Muni buses could actually fit in.

In April, Balboa also got a parklet, in front of Simple Pleasures Cafe at Balboa and 35th Avenue. The parklet is the second one in the Richmond, and the city’s second to occupy angled parking spaces.

The bulb-outs provide space for planters, although some neighbors were riled by their size relative to the sidewalk. One corner also features a monument that marks the Balboa corridor, which an SFMTA Facebook post called “an Outer Richmond gem.” The SFMTA wrote that staffers refer to the bulb-outs as ’Balbo-outs.”

In an SF Chronicle article last year, District 1 Supervior Eric Mar called the Outer Richmond strip “a quirky, great place,” and said “the project will bring new life to a very old neighborhood.”

The size of the planters that came with the bulb-outs on Balboa irked many residents. Photo: SFMTA

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Eyes on the Street: This Is Not a Sidewalk, It’s Parking

At first (and second) glance, this block in south SoMa appears to have cars parked across what clearly looks to be a sidewalk. The area in question is up on a curb, has curb-level sidewalks leading to it from the streets that intersect on either side of the block, and even has both a trash can and fire hydrant on it. If there’s somehow another a sidewalk there, it’s nowhere to be found.

The block in question is on Henry Adams Street, also known as the north end of Kansas Street where it meets the roundabout at Division Street. Patrick Traughber called attention to it on Twitter, perplexed by a scene of what could be easily mistaken as pedestrian space overtaken by careless automobile storage.

But the SFMTA assures us: ”What looks like a sidewalk is not; it is actually valid parking,” said agency spokesperson Paul Rose after I presented the photo and location to him.

“It is an odd configuration (curbed), but you can see the signs in the background that say 2-hour time limit,” he said. “The location is enforced for the time limit. In front of the public parking is a private business with their own parking spaces.”

Could’ve fooled me. It appears that this side of the street functions as a “shared” space for both pedestrians and drivers. The only sidewalk to be found is on the opposite side of the street, and it’s both elevated and separated by a guard rail.

Perhaps some folks with deeper historical knowledge of this area could fill us in via the comments. But one guess of mine is that this was a sidewalk decades ago, which was informally taken over for parking, then legitimized for that use by a past generation of city officials who would actually do such a thing.