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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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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.

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Mini Plaza Creates Public Space, Not Carmageddon, at Market and Dolores

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Photo: Scott Wiener

It’s happened again: street space was re-allocated from cars to people, and the unbearable traffic jams opponents warned of have failed to materialize. In fact, some of them even like the result now.

At the southwest corner of Market and Dolores Streets, the sidewalk was extended to create a mini plaza last fall, as part of a city agreement with the developers of a building housing condos and a Whole Foods Market there. The sidewalk extension was opposed by a loud few, who claimed that removing part of a traffic lane and car parking lane would result in disastrous queues of cars.

Supervisor Scott Wiener posted the above photo of the plaza on Facebook, noting that it “has been a huge success”:

We had to push hard to prevent the plaza from being significantly reduced in size due to unfounded concerns about traffic congestion. Fortunately we were able to keep the plaza design intact, and it’s worked out beautifully. Very positive addition to our public realm in this growing part of the neighborhood.

Over and over again, we see that the sky doesn’t fall when well-executed projects reclaim space for people. Some folks just won’t believe it until the changes are on the ground, but in the meantime we all reap the benefits of safer and more livable streets.

Hayes Valley livable streets advocate Jason Henderson said that even some of the most ardent opponents of the Market and Dolores plaza are now fans of it, as noted in my article last week about why city officials won’t win by pandering to the vocal cars-first contingent.

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Scott Wiener: SFFD’s Next Fire Truck Fleet Needs to Be More Versatile

The SF Fire Department needs to replace its aging fire trucks soon, and Supervisor Scott Wiener says the department should use the purchase to take advantage of more versatile models that other cities are using to navigate narrow streets.

SFFD has fought against pedestrian safety improvements that narrow roadways, claiming that they hinder fire truck access, even though other cities use lower street width minimums, and San Francisco has plenty of slender streets that firefighters regularly serve.

“Our fire trucks should be designed around the needs of our city, not vice versa,” said Wiener.

While SFFD has protested wider sidewalks, officials haven’t targeted much more prevalent obstacles like double-parked cars, and they admit they don’t have a firm grasp on what’s causing recent increases in response times. SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said at a hearing in January that “there could just be more cars.”

“While I and others have disputed [SFFD's] assertions,” said Wiener, “if the department is concerned, the solution is to take a hard look at truck design.”

Smaller trucks, better designed for tight spaces than most of SFFD’s current fleet, are in use by a station in Bernal Heights, and they’re commonly seen in older cities in Europe and Japan. But SFFD has made several excuses about why it can’t buy more of them. At the January hearing, Lombardi said that fewer American manufacturers are producing smaller fire trucks, that smaller trucks tend not to meet smog standards, and that powerful engines are needed to climb San Francisco’s steep hills.

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Safer, More Transit-Friendly Streets Planned for the Upper Haight

Flickr user Drumwolf writes: “Yes, THAT Haight and Ashbury. Really not all that, is it.”

Update 4/10: The Planning Department posted an online survey where you can weigh in on the design proposal for upper Haight Street.

The Planning Department has drawn up early plans for three of the Haight-Ashbury’s major streets: upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and the southern end of Masonic Avenue. The proposals for the Haight Ashbury Public Realm Plan were developed through two public workshops aimed at re-thinking the streets as friendlier places for walking, biking, and transit.

Although planners set out to consider all of the streets in the Haight-Ashbury, Masonic, Stanyan, and Haight “rose to the top” among streets that residents wanted the city to improve, said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “There was no interest in touching” the smaller residential streets, she said. “We didn’t want to muck up things that are already working well.”

Of the three streets, the strongest consensus so far seems to be around plans for Haight Street, said Smith. The proposed improvements for Haight include several sidewalk bulb-outs along the street, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project‘s plans to consolidate bus stops and add transit bulbs. Those would provide more breathing room along the busy sidewalks, while also speeding Muni boardings.

“Haight Street is a significant path for public transit,” said Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith and a board member of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. The removed bus stops will “free up space for wider sidewalks, which can accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic… on weekends and sunny days.”

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Preview the Upgrades Coming to the Castro’s Jane Warner Plaza

Jane Warner Plaza, seen here in 2011. Photo: Mike Bjork/Flickr

Jane Warner Plaza, the first plaza created using semi-permanent features as part of SF’s Pavement to Parks program, will get some repairs and upgrades as part of the Castro Street overhaul currently underway.

Upgrades coming to Jane Warner Plaza at 17th, Castro, and Market Streets. Image: DPW

The worn-out painted asphalt will be replaced with an easier-to-wash colored asphalt, and a pedestrian island will allow a more direct link between the Market and Castro Street crosswalks, said Department of Public Works project manager John Dennis. Bollards will also be placed outside the potted planters that currently separate the plaza from the roadway, and the metal barricades placed at the plaza’s east end on 17th Street will be replaced with permanent gates.

The streamlined crosswalk configuration will be “the big change,” said Dennis. “Right now, a pedestrian [coming from Castro] has to cross 17th Street and then cross Market Street. In the future, they’ll be able to walk directly across Market from Castro and 17th.”

The plaza will feel “less chopped up,” said Andrea Aiello, president of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District.

The plaza improvements were selected by residents through a Planning Department survey of residents last year. Asked to choose between four different ways to spend a chunk of the Castro project’s money, plaza upgrades were heavily favored over options for bus bulb-outs on 18th at Castro, bulb-outs and a “gateway” median at 19th and Castro, and bulb-outs on the northern corners of Castro and Market.

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Supervisor London Breed Won’t Fight for Full Transit Bulbs on Irving Street

D5 Supervisor London Breed, whose district includes the Inner Sunset, says that the downsized proposals for transit bulbs on Irving Street and Ninth Avenue are “headed in the right direction,” according to Conor Johnston, a legislative aide.

Photo: Office of Supervisor London Breed

“We are balancing a lot of competing interests,” Johnston told Streetsblog, citing vocal opposition from neighbors and merchants to parking removal.

City surveys showed strong support in the neighborhood for sidewalk extensions to make boarding easier along the full length of two-car Muni trains. They also found that the vast majority of people get to Ninth and Irving without a car, a finding consistent with a number of other commercial districts where travel surveys have been conducted. Nevertheless, to preserve car parking, the SFMTA downsized the bulb-outs to less than half the full-length proposals.

Johnston said the parking-first opponents have been vocal, which largely drove the SFMTA’s decision. ”We’ve been contacted by residents and a number of merchants who didn’t want full-length bulb-outs, a lot of whom didn’t want any changes at all,” he said. “As with any democratic process, it’s a balance, a matter of finding consensus.”

Sure, give-and-take can be positive if it produces a better result — streets that are safer and more efficient. But democracy doesn’t mean catering to the loudest complainers and tossing aside the city’s purported “Transit First” commitment, which is supposed to prioritize the most efficient modes — transit, walking, and biking — in the allocation of street space. Is it more democratic to delay and inconvenience thousands of transit passengers each day so that a few dozen people can store their cars on a public street?

When Supervisor Breed took office over a year ago, she indicated that she gets it. “As supervisor, my goal is to look at data, to look at what’s happening, to look at ways in which we can improve the ability for people to get around,” she told Streetsblog in February of last year. “We have to look at it from a larger scale. We can’t just piecemeal it together.”

Breed’s position is crucial — we’ve seen in many transportation projects that a supervisor’s support (or opposition) can make a real difference, leading city agencies to stay the course on transit and street safety upgrades. She helped face down the naysayers when it came to implementing a protected bikeway on Fell and Oak Streets. In this case, however, Breed is okay with letting a loud and irrational subset of cars-first residents dictate the extent to which transit and walking will be improved.

The Inner Sunset Park Neighbors hasn’t taken an official position on the project. The proposal went to a public comment hearing on Friday and is scheduled for consideration by the SFMTA Board of Directors on March 28.

Update: In the comment section of this article, Johnston said that appeasing opponents is important to ensure support for the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project and the vehicle license fee increase and General Obligation bond measures headed to the ballot in November: “If the MTA or we pushed the 2nd car bulb outs (or anything else) ‘opposition-be-damned,’ it would leave a very bad taste in the community’s mouth and jeopardize much greater efforts. Absent collaboration, public sentiment can turn against not only the TEP but the VLF and GO bonds, all of which need support and are far, far more important to our transit first goals than a 2nd car bulb out in the Inner Sunset.”

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Section of Arguello Blvd in the Presidio Widened for Sidewalk, Bike Lanes

Arguello, before (left) and after (right). Photos: SFCTA

City officials held a press conference yesterday to tout the widening of Arguello Boulevard in the Presidio to add sidewalks and bike lanes. Previously, the short stretch of road had only shoulders for people to walk and bike on, squeezing between guard rails and motor traffic. It’s one of the first projects to be funded by a local $10 vehicle registration fee increase which city voters passed under Prop AA in 2010.

Photo: SFBC

Supervisors Mark Farrell joined officials from the SF County Transportation Authority, the Presidio Trust, the SF Bicycle Coalition, and Walk SF at the event to promote the project  as an “expedited safety” improvement, though the road is used more for recreation than A-to-B travel, and planners didn’t face the challenges that come with reallocating space for walking and biking on city streets (the road was expanded on to park land).

“For years, bicyclists and pedestrians have traversed a dangerous stretch of roadway to travel on this route,” said Farrell in a statement, noting that private philanthropists paid for much of the project’s design and construction. Of the $1,120,769 in total, Prop AA revenue underwrote $350,000, and $750,000 came from other sources, according to the SFCTA.

“Not only have we managed to expedite the delivery of this important safety project thanks to Prop AA,” said Farrell, “but we’ve also done so by bringing together a federal agency, private philanthropy, and public dollars — a truly creative and collaborative approach to meeting the needs of San Francisco residents.”

There does seem to be a missed opportunity with the design of the bike lanes. The lack of driveways and car parking seems to provide prime conditions for raised, protected bike lanes on a curb, rather than painted bike lanes on the roadway.

Still, the SF Bicycle Coalition noted it’s “one more link in better biking and a crucial connector to the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Supervisor Farrell sits with Walk SF’s Nicole Schneider (left) and others as Presidio Trust Executive Director Craig Middleton speaks. Photo: Charity Vargas Photography