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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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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

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Castro Street Redesign Breaks Ground, Rainbow Crosswalks Unveiled

The new Castro Street is on its way, with the Department of Public Works breaking ground today on the two-block street redesign, which will include wider sidewalks. One detail of the plan was also unveiled at the event — rainbow crosswalk designs for the Castro and 18th Street intersection.

Supervisor Scott Wiener with planners from DPW, the Planning Department, and reps from the Castro CBD today. Photo: Scott Wiener/Twitter

“This streetscape project will be transformational for Castro Street and for the neighborhood,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who secured $4 million for the project from the Prop B street re-paving bond funds, in a statement. “Castro Street is one of the busiest pedestrian corridors in the city and at the heart of both our neighborhood and the LGBT community. Wider sidewalks and an improved Jane Warner Plaza, which will allow for more street life and neighborhood interactions, will make a great and historic street even better.”

The design of the rainbow crosswalks, largely funded by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District, was selected through an online poll of over 4,500 Castro residents and visitors conducted by the CBD, the Castro Biscuit wrote today.

As Wiener mentioned, Jane Warner Plaza at 17th and Castro will get some more permanent fixtures, though we haven’t see what they’ll look like yet. The project will also include new street trees, pedestrian-scale lighting, upgrades to Muni’s overhead wire infrastructure, water mains, and sparkled sidewalks and sidewalk plaques along the Rainbow Honor Walk “showcasing heroes of the LGBT community,” said a DPW press release, which said the work will be completed in October. Construction is expected to halt for the Pride festival in June and be finished in time for the Castro Street Fair, according to the Biscuit.

Image: Planning Department

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Irving Transit Bulb-Outs Downsized to Appease SFFD, Parking Complainers

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Transit bulbs were reduced to less than half the size in the Ninth and Irving area, compared to the original proposals (shown in the inset).

Sidewalk widenings on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset, proposed by the SFMTA to make it safer and easier for tens of thousands of commuters to board the N-Judah, have been cut down in size to a fraction of the original proposals due to neighborhood complaints about losing car parking and protests from the SF Fire Department.

The plans are scheduled for preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering on Friday at 10 a.m. The SFMTA Board of Directors must approve the plans at a later meeting.

The changes originally proposed as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project would have widened sidewalks along almost the entire south side of Irving between Eighth and Ninth Avenues [PDF], both sides of Irving between Fifth and Sixth Avenues [PDF], and the west side of Ninth between Irving and Judah Street. These long bulb-outs would have served full two-car trains at new stop locations planned for the N-Judah, Muni’s busiest line, while providing more breathing room on a busy pedestrian street.

The plan now calls for transit bulbs less than half that size (see all of the proposals here).

“It’s disappointing to consistently see projects that work to reclaim public space as shared space for everyone to enjoy, and that are in our existing plans and guidelines get watered down,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Whether it’s Irving Street, Potrero, Polk, or Columbus, the time is ripe for the transportation community to show our opposition to mediocrity.”

The transit bulbs on Ninth Avenue and on Irving between Eight and Ninth were shortened to preserve car parking for merchants and neighbors who protested the removal of, at most, 30 spaces, according to SFMTA staff. The new plans remove just 13 parking spaces, including one for a bike corral.

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Foster City Abandons Plan to Close Crosswalk Where Girl Was Injured

A 17-year-old Foster City girl was seriously injured after being struck by a BMW driver while walking in the northern crosswalk (on the right) at Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue on January 24. Photo: Andrew Boone

Many Foster City residents were shocked last month when their City Council responded to the injury of a 17-year-old girl by closing off the crosswalk at Edgewater Boulevard at Port Royal Avenue, where she was struck by a driver. Hundreds of residents petitioned the council to take other steps instead of installing “No Ped Crossing” signs and physical barriers. The council reversed its crosswalk closure decision last week, opting instead to install pedestrian-activated flashing lights.

The intersection’s well-known hazards caught the City Council’s attention after the driver of a 2014 BMW 528i slammed into a high school student who was walking in the crosswalk on Edgewater on January 24, breaking both of her legs and knocking her to the ground unconscious. She spent several days in Stanford Medical Center’s intensive care unit but ultimately survived.

Mayor Charles Bronitsky places the blame for car crashes on both drivers and pedestrians not following traffic laws, and argues there’s little cities can do to reduce traffic collisions. ”It’s an issue of personal responsibility, folks,” he said. “There’s nothing the government can do to make people be responsible. We gotta do the best we can to try to babysit adults.”

The statewide fine for walking across a street where “No Ped Crossing” signs are installed, such as this one on Franklin Street in San Francisco, is $194.

Council members Steve Okamoto, Art Kiesel, and Gary Pollard were on the verge of voting to install stop signs on Edgewater Boulevard during their February 3 city council meeting when Bronitsky warned of “potential legal repercussions” that could arise.

A 2012 traffic report authored by professional traffic engineer Steve Fitzsimons of Republic ITS, a subsidiary of Siemens that installs and maintains traffic signals, concluded that stop signs are “unwarranted” according to a state standard that recommends a street to have either more collisions (five annually) or higher car traffic volumes before they’re installed. The report concluded that the left-turn conflicts, high pedestrian traffic (including many children), and poor visibility for drivers turning onto Edgewater from Port Royal were “not relevant,” despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, including calls from residents to fix those hazards in emails to the city and at public meetings.

Fear of litigation helps explain the city’s reaction. City Attorney Jean Savaree said that the city would lose its “design immunity” legal defense in the case of a lawsuit brought by the victim of a collision somehow caused by the stop signs.

“When you hire a traffic engineer and they make recommendations to you, if you follow those, you trigger what’s called design immunity,” Savaree said. “If you install a four-way stop where it’s not warranted and you have a collision, the city is sued [on the basis] that you created a dangerous condition because you have not followed a professional engineer’s advice.”

Okamoto pointed out to fellow council members that other stop signs classified as “unwarranted” by exactly the same type of traffic engineer’s report were previously installed at three other intersections after residents complained of unsafe conditions at those locations.

“I don’t think there has been any liability issues at those intersections,” said Okamoto. ”In spite of the concern of legal counsel, I still support four-way stop signs.”

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Mayor Lee Unveils 5-Year Plan to Improve Safety at Up to 265 Intersections

These are the 170 locations in line for safety upgrades in the WalkFirst program. An additional 95 intersections will receive safety improvements if voters pass transportation funding measures on the ballot this fall. Image: WalkFirst

Today Mayor Ed Lee and city officials announced a five-year plan to implement pedestrian safety upgrades at 170 priority intersections. The city also launched its “Be Nice, Look Twice” PSA campaign today.

Mayor Lee today with Supervisor John Avalos (left) and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The 170 locations in the WalkFirst Capital Improvement Program [PDF] were determined using injury data and public input. These improvements will be funded by $17 million set aside over the next five years, according to the SFMTA. If voters pass the three transportation funding ballot measures proposed by the mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force in November, the city will have an additional $50 million and could pay for safety fixes at 265 intersections.

“We’ve been saying ‘sorry’ for” pedestrian crashes, “when we ought to be saying, thank you for yielding. Thank you for not running red lights. Thank you for not speeding,” Lee said in announcing the WalkFirst plan and pedestrian safety awareness campaign.

The awareness spots, which can already be seen on Muni buses, come in several different versions, with text saying, “Drive like: your [friend/mom/family] is in the crosswalk.” Some versions show drivers yielding before the crosswalk, and at least one, posted by a Twitter user, depicts a truck driver violating the crosswalk and slamming into a pedestrian.

“I’m asking my officers to not be so nice when they see persons not yielding, when red lights are run, and when speeding occurs,” said Lee, pointing to a recent 12 percent increase in the SFPD’s Traffic Company staff. “Enforcement is about that discipline that we have to have for people’s behavior.”

These “Be Nice, Look Twice” ads have already been spotted on Muni buses.

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