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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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DPW, SFMTA Finally Streamlining Construction of Safer Intersections

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Poor coordination between city agencies has led to many a missed opportunity to build pedestrian safety measures when crews are already digging into a street corner for maintenance purposes. With the Department of Public Works ramping up its street re-paving work thanks to the Prop B Street Improvement Bond and upgrading many corner curb ramps to meet ADA standards, the agency says it’s finally starting to coordinate with the SFMTA to efficiently incorporate life-saving sidewalk extensions into its plans.

DPW crews rebuilding a sidewalk corner to install a curb ramp in the Excelsior. DPW and SFMTA say they’re starting to incorporate sidewalk bulb-outs into such projects. Photo: SFDPW/Flickr

“A process has been spearheaded by the MTA and Public Works to identify key locations where bulb-outs are either necessary or would be the best improvement,” John Thomas, DPW’s project manager for the street re-paving program, told a Board of Supervisors committee yesterday.

Safe streets advocates have for years criticized the lack of such coordination when crews dig into a street corner where a bulb-out could improve pedestrian visibility, shorten crossing distances, and cause drivers to make turns more carefully. Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich noted that DPW recently installed ADA-compliant curb ramps along dangerous Guerrero Street in the Mission, as well as the deadly intersection of Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue one block away, but didn’t extend any of the sidewalks.

“They demolished and rebuilt each street corner on Guerrero, but didn’t bulb out the curbs, even though they rebuilt the sidewalks, gutters, and catchbasins,” said Radulovich. “Yes, it would have cost more to provide some basic pedestrian safety improvements, but not much more. And now, because of the city’s five-year rule, DPW has made it even harder to improve pedestrian safety on this dangerous street.”

“The curb ramp program could’ve been a good ped safety program as well,” he said.

The five-year rule, according to Radulovich, is the city’s policy of not doing major street work on the same spot for five years unless it’s an emergency. While that rule seems to be adhered to for the most part, the same can’t be said of policies mandating that safety improvements like bulb-outs be coordinated with other street work were called for in the 2005 Complete Streets Ordinance and the 2010 Better Streets Plan.

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SFMTA Confident in Bike/Ped Funds, Says Changing Streets “the Hard Part”

SFMTA officials are growing more confident in obtaining the funding needed to implement the street safety infrastructure called for in the agency’s Bicycle Strategy and Pedestrian Strategy. But no matter how much funding the agency has, the SFMTA needs to address the lack of follow-through and political will to implement street redesigns, which often leaves projects delayed and watered down to preserve traffic lanes and car parking spaces.

Ed Reiskin. Photo: Michael Short, SF Chronicle

“It’s trying to get public acceptance of making that re-allocation,” agency chief Ed Reiskin told the SFMTA Board of Directors at a meeting yesterday on the agency’s Strategic Plan. ”It’s a pretty significant change we would need to be making in the public rights-of-way for transit and cycling and, to a lesser extent, to improve pedestrian safety — changes in the right-of-way that have been largely unchanged for the past 50, 60, 70 years. That, I think, is our biggest challenge.”

Cheryl Brinkman, vice chair of the SFMTA Board, said the agency and its board need to stand up to vocal groups who fight efforts to implement the city’s transit-first policy. “We need to be willing to step up and make those hard decisions, and understand that what we see as the needs for transportation in the city, may not jive with what we’re hearing loudly expressed in certain areas,” she said. ”We do need to step up say, ‘No, we need to re-allocate space, it has been mis-allocated for so long.’”

While no one at the hearing said Ed Lee’s name (many participants were appointed by him), it was hard to avoid thinking of the mayor’s failure to stand up for contentious street safety projects.

Reiskin told Streetsblog the SFMTA is “developing a new agency-wide approach to public outreach” as well as working with the City Controller’s Office to produce economic studies on the effects of street redesigns “to try to validate or disprove some of the concerns that are raised or the benefits that are estimated from these improvements.” The agency is also gathering research from other cities through the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the coalition of city DOTs currently led by Reiskin.

“We need to do a better job of articulating the transportation, safety, health, and economic benefits, not just based on theory, but based on empirical data from the city and elsewhere,” said Reiskin. “Some people are always gonna need to drive in San Francisco. The more people who are walking, on a bike, or on transit make space for those who really need to use a car for any given trip.”

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Cesar Chavez: A Traffic Sewer Transformed Into a Safer Street

As part of the newly-completed redesign of Cesar Chavez, there’s a new plaza at the corner of Mission and Capp Streets. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Western Cesar Chavez Street has been transformed after decades as a dangerous motor vehicle speedway that divided the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods. City officials cut the ribbon today on a redesign of the street, nearly nine years after residents began pushing for safety improvements.

Cesar Chavez was widened in the 1930s and 40s at the expense of safety and livability to serve as a thoroughfare from the 101 and 280 freeways to a planned Mission Freeway that was never built. As a result, it became a virtual no-man’s land for walking and biking, and crossing the street was a huge risk.

Fran Taylor speaking at the ribbon cutting today.

Fran Taylor speaking at the ribbon cutting today.

“Our neighborhoods were cut in two by this dangerous street that was in no way worthy of the man it was named after,” said Fran Taylor, who helped found CC Puede to push for a redesign of the street. “It’s taken a long time, and the efforts of many, but we finally have a Cesar Chavez Street to be proud of.”

With the redesign, the six traffic lanes on Cesar Chavez (known as Army Street until the nineties) were reduced to four. In place of those two lanes are unprotected bike lanes, bulb-outs with rain gardens, and a center median lined with palm trees. With fresh pavement and markings like continental crosswalks, the treatments have made the street calmer and more habitable for people.

The ribbon cutting was held on Si Se Puede! Plaza, which was created at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez and Mission Street, where Capp Street ends. Drivers can still pass through at the end of Capp, but permeable, textured pavement raised to sidewalk level signals that they are guests.

“We finally have a street that’s going to protect families and reflects what we value, which is safety, first and foremost,” said D9 Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes Cesar Chavez. “It took longer than it should have.”

The project snowballed from a simple re-paving planned by Department of Public Works into a full redesign as residents pushed for safety improvements, and city agencies sought to coordinate those changes with the re-pave to save costs. Andres Power was the project manager for the Planning Department until 2012, when he became an aide for Supervisor Scott Wiener.

“On one hand, it’s unbelievable that it takes this long to get anything like this done. On the other hand, it’s such a transformative project, and I think the wait was well worth it,” said Power. “We wanted to do something that was not just a street project, that was about bringing the neighborhood together, and encouraging people to use the street outside of their cars.”

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SFFD Not Sure What Delays Responses: “There Might Just Be More Cars”

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SFFD doesn't have any data on what delays its vehicles, but as Stanley Roberts' latest "People Behaving Badly" segment shows, drivers routinely fail to make way for ambulances. Image: ##http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1hPs8i5V84##KRON 4##

SFFD doesn’t have any data on what delays its vehicles, but as Stanley Roberts’ latest “People Behaving Badly” segment shows, drivers routinely fail to make way for ambulances. Photo: KRON 4

An official from the SF Fire Department explained SFFD’s position on bulb-outs and road diets last week to the SF Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee. According to Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi, the department’s main concern isn’t about curb extensions, but raised “hardscape” structures like planters or railings that can prevent a fire truck from mounting them.

Although SFFD hasn’t publicly called for increased police enforcement against drivers who double park — a major impediment to fire trucks and ambulances — Lombardi said he agrees that enforcement should be stricter, but that double parking is “a reality.”

“We’re dealing with it every day, where if there’s a delivery truck, there’s a construction job going on, there’s a double-parked car,” Lombardi said. “If it’s a 20-foot street, we can easily go around that, but if all of the sudden it’s a 14- or 16-foot wide street, that becomes an issue.”

Lombardi stressed that SFFD is “not dead-set against bulb-outs,” and that the department approves them on a routine basis. “But when it creates a situation where we can’t legally make a turn, it’s hard for us to just say okay,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’ll make it safer for pedestrians, I’m just saying for our fire operations, it makes it tougher.” Lombardi also denied a recent report from SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin that SFFD officials said they were worried about getting tickets from police when entering an oncoming lane to make a wide turn.

According to data presented by Lombardi, response times for stations in the Mission and the Castro have increased an average of 19 seconds in the past four years, compared to 10 seconds citywide. While Lombardi noted that “a lot of traffic calming measures have been put in place in the past two years” in those neighborhoods, SFFD says it doesn’t have a way to determine what’s causing response delays.

“We have other things to think about” when responding to an emergency, said Fire Marshall Michie Wong.

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Vote to Hand Latham Square Back to Cars Bodes Ill for Downtown Oakland

Latham Square as it exists today. Photo: Alec MacDonald

After a trial public plaza at Latham Square was undercut by Oakland’s Planning and Building Manager, the Oakland City Council voted last week to reinstate two-way car traffic on the small, southernmost block of Telegraph Avenue, caving to merchants and developers pushing for unfettered car access.

At their January 7 City Council meeting, Oakland council members considered different proposals for the layout of Telegraph at Broadway, a key gateway linking the bustling offices around City Center BART with the burgeoning Uptown dining and entertainment scene. Besides the critical role Latham Square Plaza will serve in the ongoing revitalization of the area, it also stands as a flashpoint in the broader movement to make Oakland more people-friendly. The council’s vote to maintain lanes for car traffic was undeniably a setback for that movement.

Last summer, the city closed off vehicular lanes along the 1500 block of Telegraph and filled the space with seating, planters, and other pedestrian amenities as part of a six-month pilot project intended to gauge the feasibility of a permanent street closure. Complaints from nearby business owners, however, prompted the city to prematurely reopen one southbound lane of Telegraph after just six weeks.

The council’s final decision last week undermined the effort to create a people-friendly space in the heart of downtown Oakland. Although the proposal that city leaders adopted will still expand the plaza’s square footage from 2,500 (before the pilot project) to 9,500, livable streets advocates feel the restoration of two-way auto traffic will undercut the appeal of the space and create a safety hazard for people who use it. Altogether, two of the three original traffic lanes will be reinstated.

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Dismissing SFFD’s Irrational Protests, SFMTA Approves Bulb-Outs at School

The SF Fire Department continues to make increasingly bizarre claims in opposition to sidewalk bulb-outs and narrower roadways. Last week, the SFMTA Board of Directors dismissed SFFD’s protests against six-foot bulb-outs at E.R. Taylor Elementary School in the Portola neighborhood. According to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, one of SFFD’s claims was that fire truck drivers would be ticketed by the SFPD for entering an oncoming traffic lane to make a wide turn.

Bacon and Goettingen Streets, in front of E.R. Taylor Elementary, where SFFD attempted to downsize corner bulb-outs planned by the SFMTA. Image via SF Examiner

The SF Examiner reported on the dispute yesterday, though the paper didn’t question SFFD’s claims about the supposed hazards of six-foot bulbs (SFFD pushed for five feet). According to the Examiner, SFFD spokesperson Mindy Talmadge said “the department has been ‘vilified’ for voicing concerns on pedestrian safety.”

This is a misleading way to frame what’s been going on. SFFD has not been “voicing concerns” about pedestrian safety — the department has been interfering with street redesigns that improve pedestrian safety.

And the inexcusable part is that SFFD’s pushback against measures to calm traffic and make it safer for people to cross the street appears to be based on unfounded fears. The department hasn’t offered any hard evidence to support its claims that roadways narrower than 20 feet are unfit for fire trucks, even though plenty of cities use lower minimums, and lots of SF streets are already much narrower (SFFD has not, however, called for the removal of car parking or more enforcement against double parking). And the notion that SFPD will ticket siren-blaring fire trucks for the common practice of using oncoming traffic lanes defies belief (indeed, such an incident would probably spark public outrage).

“It’s troubling to see the Fire Department — a public safety agency — becoming the chief impediment to improving pedestrian and bicycle safety on our streets, especially in light of the recent surge in pedestrian deaths,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “SFFD needs to drop their specious arguments and begin to educate themselves about pedestrian safety, and how other cities are making streets safer for walking, cycling, and driving while maintaining emergency response times.”

Although SFFD claims it supports pedestrian safety measures, it has long fought to water down projects to narrow streets, which reduces the very injuries that the department responds to. As noted in a 2009 report [PDF] from the Congress for the New Urbanism on how better street design can improve safety and emergency response times, a 1997 study of 20,000 crashes in Colorado found that “the most significant relationship to injury accidents” was street width. “As street widths widen, accidents per mile per year increases exponentially, and the safest residential street width are the narrowest (curb face).”

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DPW Tallies the Vote Before Committing to More Ped Space on Potrero

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A DPW rendering of option 1 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th Streets, which has been selected after receiving the highest number of votes from the public.

The Department of Public Works has selected a design option for the two most heavily-contested blocks of Potrero Avenue following a vote by attendees of two public meetings. Of the three choices presented for the section between 22nd and 24th Streets in front of SF General Hospital, the most popular was Option 1, which will allocate street space to wider sidewalks and a center median with plantings — not a bike lane buffer or car parking, as in the two other options, according to DPW.

By November, DPW had settled on the plan for the rest of Potrero, between 17th and 25th Streets, which will include a planted center median (south of 20th Street), pedestrian bulb-outs, and green-painted buffered bike lanes. It also calls for moving the existing red-painted transit lane from the northbound side to southbound side and extending it a few blocks. No other section will get a full sidewalk widening other than the one side of the two blocks that the public voted on.

Although DPW originally proposed widening four blocks of Potrero’s eastern sidewalk, planners downsized that part of the proposal after some people agitated to retain parking and traffic lanes for cars. However, according to DPW, in the vote on options for the two blocks between 22nd and 24th, only 25 percent of attendees voted for option 3 — the one that prioritized car parking.

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said the organization “is thrilled that DPW did not choose option 3, a plan to maintain sub-par sidewalks in front of a hospital.” The improvements in option 1 “can cut the number drivers that hit pedestrians in half,” she said.

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SFFD Responds to “Special Interest Group Allegations” on Street Safety

The SF Fire Department has issued a statement on what it calls “allegations being made by special interest groups” regarding the department’s resistance to sidewalk bulb-outs and other safety improvements. We can only assume the groups SFFD is referring to are Walk SF (which penned an op-ed in the SF Examiner yesterday), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Streetsblog.

An SFFD truck turns to avoid cars parked at a perpendicular angle, as seen in a ##http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/special-reports/tight-streets/nbKkZ/##KTVU segment## in which the department points fingers at bulb-outs, bike lanes, and medians for slowing them down.

An SFFD truck seen turning to avoid cars parked at a perpendicular angle in a KTVU segment where firefighters point fingers at bulb-outs, bike lanes, and medians for slowing them down.

The statement admits that SFFD Chief Johanne Hayes-White erred last week when she claimed that pedestrians are found at fault in 74 percent of crashes. “Recently, the Fire Department was provided with data related to incidents involving pedestrians and vehicles that was misinterpreted. The moment the error was brought to our attention a correction was made,” the statement says.

In addition to “special interest groups,” the release includes a few other bizarre statements, including one that betrays a fundamental failure to comprehend how sidewalk extensions improve pedestrian safety (by calming traffic, slowing drivers’ turns, and making pedestrians more visible before they cross):

We haven’t seen pedestrians being hit by vehicles on sidewalks because the sidewalks are too narrow. Furthermore, by narrowing city streets our vehicles and any other large vehicle traveling through San Francisco would be forced to cross into oncoming traffic to make a right-hand turn under normal circumstances. Proposals such as these cannot possibly make our streets, pedestrians and bicyclists safer.

“It is a ludicrous suggestion that the Fire Department would somehow be against improving the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists,” the statement says.

SFFD also maintains its position that road width minimums of less than 20 feet are untenable for fire trucks, saying, “The minimum width is in the Fire Code for a reason.” That reason, however, probably has more to do with the fact that state-adopted fire codes are crafted by the International Code Council, a Texas-based nonprofit, based on a suburban model, and basically copied in cookie-cutter form. Plenty of American cities use 12-foot minimums, and SF has had streets narrower than 20 feet long before it started installing bulb-outs, which typically only replace parked cars that take up street width anyway.

As a reminder, the Board of Supervisors adopted a local 12-foot minimum this fall (as allowed by state law), and SFFD unsuccessfully tried to nix it.

SFFD claims it “has done nothing to ‘block’ traffic calming efforts,” despite countless reports from city staffers and street safety advocates of doing just that. Notably, SFFD protests led the Planning Department to water down the pedestrian-friendly plan for a block of Bartlett Street in the Mission this summer.

Here’s SFFD’s full statement:

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With WalkFirst, SF Takes a Data-Driven Approach to Pedestrian Safety

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The city recently launched the WalkFirst program to lay a data-driven, participatory foundation for the effort to attain the main goal of its Pedestrian Strategy — cutting pedestrian injuries in half by 2021. In the coming months, staff from the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the Controller’s Office, and the Department of Public Health will field public input on dangerous streets and release new data illustrating the toll of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

To start, the new WalkFirst website has easy-to-use, interactive tools showing where most pedestrian crashes occur, the factors that cause them, and the kit of street design tools to reduce them. An online survey also allows people to weigh in on how pedestrian safety funding should be prioritized.

“For the first time, San Francisco will be investing in projects that are data-driven and focused on the most dangerous streets for pedestrians,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. WalkFirst is “a step forward for using the data that we have to the make the biggest impact.”

The feedback from the website will inform a draft plan for safety improvements scheduled to come out in January, with adoption by the SFMTA Board expected in February. The plan will guide an expected $17 million in safety improvements over the next five years. “By combining rigorous technical analysis with significant community outreach, we will target our investments in the communities that need them the most,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

The city’s goals include “upgrading” 70 miles of streets where injuries are most concentrated — 5 miles per year through 2021. Another aim is to extend pedestrian crossing times at 800 intersections — at least 160 annually. Schools and senior centers with high rates of pedestrian injuries will also be targeted for improvements, while the SFPD is expected to beef up its “Focus on the Five” effort to prioritize traffic enforcement efforts against the most dangerous violations at the most dangerous locations. (Not all SFPD captains appear to have gotten that memo.)

City agencies are also working on a report providing a fuller picture of the economic toll of pedestrian injuries, as well as the benefits of reducing them. As we reported in 2011, DPH and the University of California, SF estimated that the costs of medical treatment, emergency services, and other impacts of ped crashes add up to about $76 million annually. The WalkFirst report is expected to expand upon the economic ripple effects of traffic violence.

“Every life and injury is incredibly valuable, but from a decision-maker’s perspective, it’s also helpful to understand how much this is costing us to help make the case for the improvements that are needed,” said Schneider. “It costs way more to treat someone who’s been injured than it does to prevent the injuries in the first place.”

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At Car-Free Marina Path Meeting, Parking-First Boaters Balanced by Sanity

Image: DPW

Update 12/19: DPW now has an online survey you can take about removing parking on the Marina path.

Marina boat owners riled by the prospect of removing underused car parking from the Marina Boulevard bicycle and pedestrian path got a bit of a reality check at a meeting last week. Some neighbors in attendance made the case for moving the parking, and planners presented some enlightening data about the path’s use.

Unlike the first meeting, the open house format didn’t lend itself to loud rants from boat owners in defense of their entitlement to car storage on the path. In the open Q-and-A session of the previous meeting, attended by about a dozen people who mostly appeared to be boat slip lessees, one man argued that ”the bicyclists are out for whatever they can get” and that “the marinas on the east coast, where I also live, have adequate parking.” One woman asked whether or not parking was open space.

At the latest meeting, I did get into a discussion with someone who had a more reasonable defense of using the path for parking. He made the case that boat slip renters are entitled to the parking on the path as part of their contracts, and that the stretch in question, between Baker and Scott Streets, wasn’t a destination worth improving.

But the 57 parking spaces — the only ones directly on the 500-mile Bay Trail — just aren’t essential. They sit adjacent to just 91 of the 350-some-odd total slips in the Marina basin, and occupancy ranges between 40 and 68 percent, according to city counts done throughout 2011. And yet a quarter of the path is devoted to auto storage, while another quarter is deemed a “shared” driving lane, which undermines any sense of safety and comfort for people walking and biking — who comprise 98 percent of the users on this segment of the path.

The Marina path as it exists today. Photo: DPW

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