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Posts from the Pedestrian Infrastructure Category

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SFMTA Proposes a Car-Free Powell Street in Union Square

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA has proposed making crowded, traffic-clogged Powell Street in Union Square a car-free street on a trial basis. Removing cars from the equation would make the street function better for pedestrians and cable cars on the blocks between Ellis and Geary Streets.

As we wrote last year, it makes little sense to have cars on Powell, which is seen as San Francisco’s gateway for visitors. On this two-block stretch, private car drivers routinely block bustling crosswalks, create stop-and-go traffic that damages Muni’s world-famous cable cars, and obstruct intersections in the path of the 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line.

The car-free trial has already been delayed due to the Union Square Business Improvement District’s resistance to what it calls a “rushed” timeline and insistence on delivery vehicle access throughout the day.

The SFMTA’s goal “is to have these changes in place before the 2015 holiday shopping season,” with signs and paint installed in November, according to an agency flyer [PDF]. An engineering hearing is tentatively scheduled for October 2, and an SFMTA Board vote on October 20, but agency staff said the dates aren’t confirmed.

The car-free trial was originally listed on an engineering hearing for August 14 but got tabled before the hearing was held.

Union Square BID Executive Director Karin Flood told Hoodline that “the group was concerned about the SFMTA ‘fast-tracking’ the changes without taking into account stakeholder concerns.”

“We are open to the concept of making the area more pedestrian friendly but need to ensure that merchant loading/unloading needs are accommodated and that the timing is right,” Flood wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

Under the proposal, during a 12-18 month trial phase, cars and delivery vehicles would not be allowed on Powell except between midnight and 5 a.m., when cable cars don’t operate. This aligns with how “most business who responded” to an SFMTA survey already handle their deliveries. According to the SFMTA flyer, these businesses “indicated that they conduct their loading on a side street or during late night hours when the cable cars are not running.”

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Upper Market Street Gets First Phase of Safety Upgrades

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The SFMTA has completed its first wave of safety upgrades on Upper Market Street. The changes include painted sidewalk extensions (a.k.a. “safety zones”), high-visibility crosswalks, and signs prohibiting drivers from turning right at red lights.

SFMTA officials and Supervisor Scott Wiener held a press conference today to mark the completion of the improvements between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street.

The 10 newly-installed safety zones narrow the roadway and reduce crossing distances, which should help calm motor traffic at the three Market intersections where they were installed: 16th/Noe, 15th/Sanchez, and 14th/Church Streets.

Most of Upper Market’s intersections converge with two other streets. The legacy of cars-first design at these complex six-point intersections is a disaster for public safety. Pedestrians must traverse long stretches of pavement in crosswalks regularly blocked by drivers, while drivers often speed up to beat the light.

Upper Market has six wide traffic lanes and a median strip that seems to encourage speeding. Walking and biking were an afterthought in its design.

From 2007 to 2012, motorists injured pedestrians in 27 crashes and injured bicyclists in 32 crashes on Market between Octavia and Castro, according to the SFMTA. During the same period, an additional 102 crashes involved only motor vehicle drivers and passengers.

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SFMTA Approves 2nd Street Protected Bike Lane Redesign, Ponders Car Bans

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Second Street will get raised, protected bike lanes, sidewalk extensions, and Muni boarding islands with a redesign approved yesterday. But SFMTA Board members wonder if car restrictions are needed, too. Image: DPW

The SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday unanimously approved a redesign of Second Street which will remove traffic lanes and add safety upgrades like raised, protected bike lanes and sidewalk extensions. After years of delay, SFMTA Board members and some attendees at the meeting said it may not go far enough, and that the agency should consider car restrictions to prevent private autos from clogging the street.

The redesign [PDF] will remove two of Second Street’s four car traffic lanes and bring one of the city’s first routes with raised bike lanes protected from motor traffic by curbs and parked cars. Muni boarding islands will also be installed to allow buses to make stops in the traffic lanes and passengers to alight without conflicting with bike traffic.

The approval is “a resounding victory for safer SoMa streets,” wrote SF Bicycle Coalition Business and Community Program Manager Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, in a blog post. The SFBC submitted support letters from nearly 100 residents and a dozen businesses on the street, Cosulich-Schwartz told the SFMTA Board, noting that it’s the only north-south bike route in that area of SoMa.

Walk SF’s new policy and program manager, Cathy DeLuca, also lauded the plan. In addition to safer crossings (including removal of dangerous double-turn lanes at Harrison Street), and more room for pedestrians, she noted that the protected bike lanes will “make it easier for pedestrians and motorists to navigate” Second, which is “in the heart of such a fast-growing part of our community.”

The redesign “will give the residents, employees, local business, and visitors who use Second Street the great street they deserve,” Davi Lang, an aide for D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, told the SFMTA Board.

DeLuca noted that the plan for Second is the first street redesign to come out as part of the citywide Green Connections plan.

Second’s redesign has been delayed for years. Most recently, completion was pushed back a year from its previous schedule, to fall of 2017, apparently due to delays in completing the environmental review. Before that, the year-long construction was scheduled to be finished by the end of this year.

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Eyes on the Street: Twitter’s Alley-Turned-Plaza Bustles Near Civic Center

City transportation staffers enjoy the astroturfed plaza created on the Stevenson Street alley as part of the Twitter building's renovation. Photo: Jessica Kuo

City transportation staffers enjoy the astroturfed plaza created on the Stevenson Street alley as part of the Twitter building’s renovation. Photo: Jessica Kuo

A plaza is bustling with life several months after its creation on a segment of the Stevenson Street alleyway at 10th Street, next to the Twitter offices.

The “Market Square” plaza is a privately-owned public open space built as part of Twitter’s office construction and renovations. That intersection of the mid-Market, SoMa, and Civic Center areas was relatively dead just a few years ago before unoccupied buildings and lots were filled by condo buildings like NEMA and tech companies like Twitter and Uber. Occupying the floor of Twitter’s building next to the alley is “The Market,” a grocery store and food hall complete with tech-salary prices.

Today, the plaza serves as a gathering space filled largely with a mix of tech workers and city government employees coming from nearby offices to enjoy some coffee. (Is there any more effective way to populate a pedestrianized alley than by opening a Blue Bottle?)

Stevenson's previous iterations, as seen in 2007 (left) and 2012 (right). Photos: Google Street View

Stevenson’s previous iterations, as seen in 2007 (left) and 2012 (right). Photos: Google Street View

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Noe Valley Gets Sidewalk Extensions and Decorative Crosswalks on 24th

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

Photo: Aaron Bialick

City officials celebrated new brick-trimmed crosswalks and sidewalk bulb-outs on 24th Street in Noe Valley at a ribbon-cutting ceremony today.

The changes will make for a more pedestrian- and transit-friendly environment on Noe Valley’s commercial corridor. At Castro and Noe Streets, the transit bulb-outs — curb extensions at bus stops — will help speed up Muni’s 24 and 48 lines.

Supervisor Scott Wiener speaking at the ribbon-cutting today. Photo: Scott Wiener/Twitter

Supervisor Scott Wiener speaking at the ribbon-cutting today. Photo: Scott Wiener/Twitter

“Property owners and merchants have invested heavily in streetscape improvements” on 24th in recent years, and the latest upgrades “keep the momentum going,” said Noe Valley Association Executive Director Debra Niemann in a statement. “That’s one of the reasons Noe Valley appeals to many as a place to live and as a shopping destination.”

“The commercial heart of Noe Valley is 24th Street, one of the great neighborhood corridors in San Francisco,” said D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener in a statement. “It’s a community destination to shop and eat and to catch up with neighbors. These streetscape improvements make 24th Street safer, more attractive and more welcoming for residents and visitors.”

Completion of the “24th Street Urban Village” project, led by the Department of Public Works, was delayed from last fall. The project also includes new benches and planters on the bulb-outs, and was paid for with $560,000 from the $248 million street re-paving bond passed by voters in 2011.

“One of the most important investments we can make in our communities is making our neighborhood streets safer,” said a statement from SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, who called the improvements “significant upgrades for pedestrian safety that will help us reach our citywide Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths.”

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North Beach Meeting on Sidewalk Bulbs Gets Tense; SFMTA to Paint Demos

A public meeting in North Beach became tense yesterday as residents and firefighters opposed to basic street safety measures continued to assert that sidewalk bulb-outs are dangerous. To appease skeptics, the SFMTA announced that the bulb-outs planned at four intersections on Columbus Avenue will be tested first by installing painted “safety zones” in August. Construction of concrete versions will begin next year.

A sidewalk extension on Columbus Avenue at Washington Square Park. One man complained yesterday that "there should be a warning saying that you are now much closer" to motor traffic. Photo: SFMTA

A sidewalk extension on Columbus Avenue at Washington Square Park. One man complained yesterday that “there should be a warning saying that you are now much closer” to motor traffic. Photo: SFMTA

The Columbus bulb-outs were approved months ago, and have already been heavily watered-down during a planning process that’s lasted years. The SF Fire Department signed off on them as safe for turning fire trucks.

The bulb-outs “being proposed for Columbus Avenue are not that scary,” said D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen, who told attendees she convinced the SFMTA to implement the painted versions as a trial. “We’ve been looking at all these really carefully… modifications were made, and what we’ve got now is kind of a river stone that’s been smoothed over by all kinds of forces.”

“Nobody that I know is particularly freaked out by what we ended up with,” she added. “But just to make sure, we’re going to paint these on the street. And if somehow, something comes up with the templates, and the reviews, and the tens of hours of community meetings that was not brought to our attention, I guarantee I will go and fix it.”

It was the second recent meeting about bulb-outs held by North Beach Neighbors. At the first meeting on April 30, Hoodline reported, members of SF Fire Fighters Union Local 798 protested life-saving curb extensions claiming they hinder fire trucks. Since that meeting, the union’s president also sent a letter [PDF] to SFFD Chief Johanne Hayes-White calling the department’s approvals of bulb-outs “very troubling.”

Unlike the first meeting, officials from SFFD and the SFMTA made presentations and answered questions on the issue, which seemed to quell fears among some attendees.

A few people remained unconvinced, however, and raised their voices. Here’s one of the arguments between an opponent and SFMTA planner Oliver Gajda, about whether it’s safe to assume that trucks can turn around bulb-outs without conducting a field test:

Firefighter Tony Rivera also repeated an anecdote to scare people about the prospect of wider sidewalks that he told at the April meeting, according to Hoodline.

At Columbus and Union Streets, where the block of sidewalk along Washington Square Park was extended last year to make the bus stop more efficient, Rivera said he became alarmed when his six-year-old son bent down to pick up a penny at the curb.

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SF Firefighters Take Campaign Against Safe Street Design to North Beach

At a community meeting about bulb-outs in North Beach tomorrow evening, some residents and firefighters are expected to speak against the curb extensions on the grounds that they make streets more dangerous.

Image: KTVU

As Hoodline has reported, the leadership of the North Beach Neighbors and the SF Fire Fighters Union have drummed up opposition to bulb-outs proposed at four intersections along Columbus Avenue. NBN will hold its second public discussion on the issue tomorrow.

While the SF Fire Department’s top brass has shown signs of letting go of its opposition to curb extensions, SF Fire Fighters Union Local 798 has maintained a campaign for wider, more dangerous roadways.

Now there’s tension between the union and the fire department about street design. In a June 18 letter to SFFD Chief Johanne Hayes-White [PDF], Local 798 President Tom O’Connor protested the department’s “very troubling” approval of “obstacles” that “will require our members to knowingly drive into oncoming traffic” (yes, some firefighters still make that claim):

We further assert that any and all obstacles that have already installed [sic] should completely [sic] removed on the basis that they are a danger to public safety, to our members and to the integrity of our apparatus and finally as a violation of the California Vehicle Code.

NBN President Trish Herman has fueled the flames. She told Hoodline that “bulb-outs in the Castro have caused traffic back-ups,” presumably referring to Castro Street’s recent sidewalk expansion, which narrowed its excessively wide traffic lanes. She also complained about sidewalk space removing parking: “They’re not considering the vehicle public,” she said.

Bulb-outs improve the visibility of pedestrians, shorten crossing distances, and keep drivers from barreling around turns at high speed and hitting people. They are an increasingly common street safety measure in SF.

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Safer Path Could Help Untangle the “Alemany Maze” Highway Interchange

Image: SFCTA via D10 Watch

Image: SFCTA via D10 Watch

The “Alemany Maze,” the deadly Highway 101 and 280 interchange in the southeast city, could get a safer crossing for walking and biking. Funding to study a walking path and bike lanes through the junction was approved this week by the SF County Transportation Authority Board of Directors, comprised of the Board of Supervisors.

The Alemany Maze. Photo: Chuck B. / my back 40 (feet)

The study, set to be completed by next June, will look at creating a “multi-modal pathway” where residents already cross the “nasty mess of ramps” to reach the Alemany Farmers Market, SFCTA planner Colin Dentel-Post told an SFCTA board committee this week.

“People currently use an informal pathway and dangerous, unsignalized crossings through the interchange,” he said. The maze “creates a barrier between the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Bernal, Portola, Bayview, and Silver Terrace neighborhoods.”

The $100,000 approved for the study was requested by D9 Supervisor David Campos. Campos was apparently swayed by the Portola Neighborhood Association to push for a safer crossing, according to a recent post by Chris Waddling at D10 Watch.

Waddling, chair of the SFCTA Citizens Advisory Committee representing District 10, lauded the advancement of the project:

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SFMTA Plans to Install Painted “Safety Zones” at 40 Intersections This Year

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A painted bulb-out, a.k.a. “safety zone,” at Sacramento and Stockton Streets, where 78-year old Pui Fong Yim Lee was killed. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA has ramped up its roll-out of painted curb extensions, which the agency calls “safety zones,” at some of the city’s most dangerous corners. Twenty-one have been installed at at least 11 intersections, and the tally should reach 40 intersections by the end of the year, said SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose.

Painted bulb-outs are a low-cost measure to slow down turning drivers, using khaki-colored gravel and epoxy to expand sidewalk corners. When the bulb-outs replace parked cars at street corners, they also make people more visible to drivers approaching intersections, a measure known as daylighting. Once funding becomes available, they can be upgraded to concrete sidewalk extensions.

“We are installing painted safety zones on the city’s pedestrian high-injury network, where just 6 percent of city streets account for 60 percent of pedestrian injuries and fatalities,” Jose wrote in a recent blog post. “Painted safety zones are one of the elements we are quickly installing to improve safety in support of our Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic deaths.”

So far, most of the bulb-outs can be found along Howard Street in SoMa and as part of the first phase of safety upgrades on Polk Street.

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Parking-Protected Bike Lanes, Ped Safety Upgrades Coming to Division at 9th

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The bike lanes on a block of Division, between 9th and 10th Streets, will get a parking-protected redesign this fall. Photo: Google Maps

The bike lanes on a block of Division, between 9th and 10th Streets, will get a parking-protected redesign this fall. Photo: Google Maps

Bike lanes on the block of Division Street between 9th and 10th Streets will get some much-needed protection this fall. Earlier this week the SFMTA Board of Directors approved a design that will put people on bikes between the curb and parked cars. The massive 9th and Division intersection will also get safety improvements like large painted curb extensions.

The upgrades would complement other bike and pedestrian safety improvements going in along Division, which becomes 13th Street as it runs beneath the Central Freeway.

SF’s first parking-protected bike lane on a city street was expected to be constructed this spring on westbound 13th, from Bryant to Folsom Street. SFMTA officials haven’t explained why that project has been delayed, though some of the other striping improvements included in the package have been implemented.

Altogether, the upgrades along Division and 13th, from the traffic circle at Eighth Street to Folsom, will create a continuous curbside westbound bike lane that could set a precedent for how low-cost redesigns can make dangerous SoMa streets safer.

“It’s turning out to be a really good cycling route,” Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich told the SFMTA board on Tuesday.

Plans for Division near Ninth and 10th include large painted bulb-outs and a installation of a missing sidewalk on Ninth. Image: SFMTA

Plans for Division near Ninth and 10th include large painted bulb-outs and a installation of a missing sidewalk on Ninth. Image: SFMTA

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