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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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Fire Chief’s Pedestrian Victim-Blaming: Wrong and Dangerous

It can take up to two minutes for firefighters to leave Fire Station 1 on Folsom Street, where drivers block the “Keep Clear” zone. Though they attempt to use the new buffered bike lane, it’s also blocked by drivers. Image: KRON 4

There’s no telling where San Francisco Fire Chief Johanne Hayes-White got the patently false stats on pedestrian safety she cited to the SF Examiner yesterday. Hayes-White argued that the city shouldn’t build proven pedestrian safety upgrades because most people hit by drivers while walking are to blame for their own injuries.

The Fire Department hasn’t cited any data to back its misguided campaign against bulb-outs and bike lanes on the grounds that they cause delays for emergency vehicles. But what’s clear to anyone on the streets is that firefighters and ambulances are constantly delayed by private autos, whether they’re doubled-parked or sitting in congestion. By opposing proven safety upgrades on streets that see the very crashes they respond to, SFFD is making the city a more dangerous place to live.

SF Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White at a hearing in September. Image: SFGovTV

As Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider told the Examiner, it’s “a shame.”

“We’re all working on public safety here,” she said. “What we need to be doing is building safer streets. These sort of improvements reduce deaths.”

Hayes-White told the Examiner that “as many as 74 percent of pedestrian injuries result from jaywalking, other citable offenses or pedestrians being ‘inattentive.’” But according to the SFMTA’s 2010-2011 Collisions Report [PDF], out of the 844 non-fatal pedestrian crashes in 2011, police attributed 573 primarily to driver error. The five most commonly-cited factors were driver violations, the top being motorists’ failure to yield the right-of-way in a crosswalk.

Despite the complete lack of data to support “distracted walking” as a significant cause of pedestrian deaths, Hayes-White and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr continue to blame the victims.

Meanwhile, as Supervisor Scott Wiener noted to the Examiner after a ride-along with SFFD responders, ”Bulb-outs weren’t a problem. Double-parked cars are a huge problem for them.” Another screamingly obvious observation is the fact that bulb-outs often replace curbside parking spaces. Yet SFFD would have the public believe that fire truck and ambulance drivers have an easier time navigating around parked cars than curbs.

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Inner Sunset Organizers Take a Serious Look at Irving Street Public Plaza

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This concept for a plaza on Irving Street at 10th Avenue is intended as a “conversation starter” for the Irving Commons project. Image: Chris Duderstadt

The vision for a block-long pedestrian plaza on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset is taking the next step, with the launch of a community-based study. Dubbed “Irving Commons,” the plaza idea was warmly received by neighbors when it was presented two years ago at Inner Sunset Sundays, a street party organized four times per year on the block of Irving between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Chris Duderstadt, an organizer of the Irving Commons Project, at Inner Sunset Sundays last weekend. Photo: Inner Sunset Sundays via Facebook

The Irving Commons Project is being led by a group of local organizers, including Adam Greenfield, an organizer of Inner Sunset Sundays and president of the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors board. He emphasized that the study is not necessarily a campaign for the plaza, but simply an examination of its potential. “We started to realize that doing the occasional street event was so limited in what we could do, so the idea started coming out: What if this were a permanent gathering space?”

Taking cues from successful plazas in SF and other cities, organizers say the location appears to meet all the right qualifications. It’s right next to the bustling neighborhood hub of Ninth and Irving, where four transit lines, including the N-Judah — Muni’s busiest — either pass through or stop nearby. But the block itself has no transit lines or garage entrances. Meanwhile, it’s home to a variety of businesses and gets a lot of walking and biking traffic.

The vast majority of the block, however, is essentially a parking lot. Lincoln Way, one block over, serves as the main thruway for drivers.

“It’s definitely worth a study,” D5 Supervisor London Breed told Streetsblog at Inner Sunset Sundays last weekend. “I think it’s a great idea, and I love the fact that they’re coming together to talk about it, and they’re not trying force anything down anyone’s throat. They’re saying, we want to see what’s possible.”

The plaza study is intended to flesh out traffic impacts (with help from city planners, organizers hope) and the potential benefits to nearby businesses. It will also survey how people get to the street. Surveys done on similar commercial streets like Polk, Columbus, Geary in the Richmond, and Irving west of 19th Avenue have consistently found that the proportion of people arriving without cars is roughly around 80 percent.

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Columbus Safety Plans Vetted By Community, Opposed By Merchant Leader

The SFMTA is looking to implement plans based on the concepts approved in a Columbus Avenue study three years ago, such as this vision for the Green and Stockton intersection, but removing traffic lanes may still face some opposition. Image: SFCTA

Over two-thirds of the space on Columbus Avenue is devoted primarily to cars, yet only one-third of the people on the street are typically in automobiles.

That’s according to a 2010 study of how to improve the design of Columbus, in which residents and transportation planners came to the conclusion that North Beach’s thoroughfare needs calmer traffic and more space for pedestrians, transit, and bicycling. Now, three years later, as the SFMTA looks to finally implement the ideas laid out in the plan, some merchants and residents are pushing back, dismissing the extensive analysis and community planning already done.

Columbus is set to be re-paved next summer, presenting an opportunity to cost-effectively implement the concepts in the SF County Transportation Authority study, which include bulb-outs on Columbus’ narrow, crowded sidewalks and an on-street plaza — dubbed “Piazza St. Francis, the Poet’s Plaza” — on an adjacent block of Vallejo Street. At the intersection of Columbus, Green, and Stockton Streets, traffic islands would be added to simplify motor vehicle movements, diverting traffic off westbound Green and southbound Stockton (converting it to a one-way street north of Columbus).

With a road diet, one stretch of Columbus, between Green and Union Streets, would get transit-only lanes, while 8-foot-wide buffered bike lanes would be installed between Green and Washington Streets (although the bike lanes weren’t included in the SFCTA study, the traffic impacts of a road diet were).

“Columbus is being re-paved, and probably won’t be re-paved for another 20 years,” SFMTA planner James Shahamiri said at a meeting with the Telegraph Hill Dwellers in October. “We have some funding, and we want to see what level of improvements we can make based on the community plan that was adopted by the TA.”

The “primary liaison between the [SFCTA] and the many stakeholders” involved in the development of the study, as described in the study itself, was Renew SF — Revitalize and Energize the Northeast and Waterfront of San Francisco. Wells Whitney, the organization’s founder, said neighborhood support for the plan still seems strong. “Almost everyone I’ve talked to is enthusiastic about wider sidewalks, more bulb-outs, bike lanes, and calming the traffic and making it more of a neighborhood boulevard than a thruway,” he said.

Leading the opposition to the safer street design is Daniel Macchiarini of the North Beach Business Association. Macchiarini told Streetsblog he doesn’t believe a road diet on Columbus will result in the kind of boost in livability and business that came with a similar, widely-lauded project on Valencia Street because, unlike Valencia, Columbus lacks alternative parallel routes for drivers. “This is another project that will stall traffic on Columbus Avenue,” he said.

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Packed Meeting About Future of Oakland’s Latham Square Shut Down Early

Two design proposals for Latham Square — one with cars (left) and one without (right). Image: City of Oakland

After public pressure, the City of Oakland held a second community meeting Wednesday about the design of the Latham Square pilot plaza, where a lane of car traffic was reinstated prematurely at the behest of Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn. Despite a standing room-only crowd of attendees showing up to weigh in, the meeting was shut down 45 minutes early.

For city officials, the proposal to widen sidewalks but permanently reinstate two-way car traffic at Latham Square appears to be a done deal — though no pedestrian usage data was presented to the public after a six-week car-free pilot period.

“I don’t see us going back to the closure” of Telegraph, said Brooke Levin, interim director of the Oakland Public Works Agency. In fact, she added, it is likely the city will reopen the northbound traffic before construction begins on the final design next summer.

Before Wednesday’s public meeting, city staffers held an invitation-only meeting on November 15 with City Manager Deana Santana. Invitees included several business owners who oppose the car-free plaza, along with representatives of the Downtown Oakland Association (which supports the pedestrian plaza), Popuphood, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

But attendees who packed the public meeting, which was not announced on the city’s website until the day before, appeared evenly divided between supporters of the car-free plaza and those who want to bring back two-way car traffic. “We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Levin told the crowd.

City planners’ recommended permanent design for the plaza includes restoration of two-way traffic on Telegraph with narrower auto lanes and an expansion of the existing sidewalk in the triangle between Broadway and Telegraph. Opinions and suggestions for the design were mixed among the 50-plus Oakland residents, merchants, property owners, and downtown workers at the meeting.

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SFPUC Unveils New Green Designs for Holloway, Plaza at Mission/Valencia

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SFPUC’s rendering of the plan for a new plaza at Mission and Valencia Streets, created by converting two traffic lanes.

The SF Public Utilities Commission unveiled final redesign concepts last week for two projects that would mean more space for pedestrians and stormwater-absorbing greenery. One project will bring traffic-calming bulb-outs and “rain gardens” to the eastern stretch of Holloway Avenue, a major east-west bike route in Ingleside. The other would convert two traffic lanes at Mission and Valencia Streets into a new plaza with green bulb-outs that would extend to the entrance of the Tiffany bike boulevard, altogether creating what planners call a “Green Gateway.”

Both projects appear to have garnered broad support among neighbors who participated in the design processes, though they each require the removal of a handful of car parking spaces — the usual point of contention in street redesigns. It’s a refreshing outcome compared to the battles over re-allocating car space typically seen in other city-led planning efforts.

“These projects are perfect examples of smart solutions to our city’s pedestrian safety problems,” said Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk SF, who applauded the projects for “connecting safety with sustainability.”

“These are excellent models for how we can support holistic changes to our public spaces that tackle multiple problems,” she said. “We often see that the most dangerous streets also lack green space — picture Sixth Street or Folsom. We’d like to see more projects like these prioritized on our most dangerous streets.”

“We need more efforts where we have community space,” said D9 Supervisor David Campos, who noted that the Mission and Valencia plaza could serve as a “centerpiece” for the neighborhood south of Cesar Chavez Street. “That neighborhood hasn’t been getting enough attention.”

Only minor tweaks to the Mission and Valencia plan have been made following the last community meeting. Changes include the removal of greenery along the curb that faces Mission to make room for a bus stop to be moved there from across the street. Only 10 parking spaces will be removed for the sidewalk expansions, with some replacement spots added by converting parallel parking spots on the east side of Valencia to back-in angled parking.

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Potrero Ave. Safety Redesign Limps Toward the Finish Line

A DPW rendering of option 1 for Potrero between 22nd and 24th Streets, which appeared to be most favored by attendees.

Updated 11/14, 2:34 p.m. with response from Supervisor David Campos below.

Design options for the embattled plan to improve safety Potrero Avenue have come down to the two blocks between 22nd and 24th Streets in front of SF General Hospital.

According to a vote via stickers placed on a board, most attendees at a public meeting last week seemed to favor Option 1, with a landscaped median and widened sidewalk — not the preservation of car parking that project opponents want.

Option 1 would retain the most important expansion of pedestrian space, but it’s still half the size of the four-block sidewalk expansion the city originally sought before the parking-obsessed opponents exerted their will. The rest of the project area, which covers Potrero between 17th and 25th Streets, is now set to receive a landscaped median and buffered bike lanes, a longer transit lane than the one that exists (moved from the northbound side to southbound), and no sidewalk expansions, instead retaining parking and traffic lanes for cars.

“I know people that work here that have been injured just coming to work, and I’m concerned that we need to do more to protect people,” said Sasha Cuttler, a nurse at SF General who has helped organize support among hospital workers for bolder safety improvements on Potrero. “As someone concerned with public health, I’m concerned about the fact that there’s a disproportionate impact on San Francisco, and specifically on the poor, densely-populated parts like the Mission.”

For the blocks between 22nd and 24th, city planners have left it up to the public to vote for one of three choices: Options 1, 2, and 3. Options 1 and 2 would both include a wider east sidewalk, with a fraction of the road space allocated to either a planted center median (Option 1) or a two-foot buffer for the bike lanes (Option 2). Option 3 would forego sidewalk widening to preserve 26 car parking spaces and include a bike lane buffer, but no planted median. Another meeting on the project will be held on November 21 where the public can weigh in.

City planners have solidified the plan for the rest of Potrero between 17th and 25th. It calls for the landscaped center median, two-foot bike lane buffers, and a colored transit-only lane southbound from 18th to 24th Streets. Aside from some expansions at street corners and bus stops, sidewalk widenings on those blocks are now off the table to preserve car parking. Originally, Potrero’s eastern sidewalk was in line for a four-block widening instead of two blocks.

“We were willing to make the trade-offs because we still got widening in strategic locations where we needed it the most,” said Cristina Calderón Olea, project manager for the Department of Public Works. “This bus stop is always overflowing,” she said, pointing to an illustration of the plan for a bus bulb on the west side of Potrero at 24th, which would only require the removal of one parking space.

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SF’s First Painted Sidewalk Extensions Come to Sixth Street

Six new curb extensions were installed using temporary materials, as seen here and Sixth at Mission Streets. Photos: Aaron Bialick

A deadly stretch of Sixth Street received the city’s first painted sidewalk extensions last week, created using low-cost, temporary materials to help make pedestrians more visible. The SFMTA implemented the pilot project between Market and Harrison Streets — four blocks dense with residential hotels and shops — to help curb injuries while the agency develops plans for a road diet.

The six sidewalk bulb-outs replace car parking spaces, marked using a red and white gravel surface and plastic posts, with boulders and portable concrete planters set inside. The measures are expected to make pedestrians more visible to drivers as they enter crosswalks, and send the signal that the street isn’t just an extension of the freeway, but a gateway to a dense neighborhood street that drivers are expected to share with residents.

“We’re hoping that pilot programs like this can be a model for the city, knowing that [pedestrian safety] is an issue for every corridor,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim. “People are already, anecdotally, talking about some safety improvements from these very affordable pilot designs that we’re putting out just to see what we should be doing to make Sixth Street safer.”

Sixth is designed primarily to speed drivers between the Tenderloin and the 280 highway through the dense SoMa neighborhood. Between 2005 and 2010, 93 pedestrians were injured and five were killed by drivers on this stretch, according to data from the Department of Public Health.

“If we don’t make our streets safer, if we don’t have proper enforcement, if we aren’t designing our streets to be shared by multiple users, people actually die or lose important parts of their body,” said Kim, who noted that in District 6 alone, pedestrian injuries have racked up a cost of $13.5 million in the last five years in costs for medical treatment and emergency services.

Although many pedestrian injuries occur while drivers are making a turn, neighborhood residents also say pedestrians are often hit on multi-lane streets like Sixth when, as they make their way through a crosswalk, some drivers stop to yield the right-of-way, but others attempt to pass, apparently not expecting a person to be in their path.

“It is not a pretty picture when you see a senior citizen going up in the air and coming down,” said ”Mother” Elaine Jones, a senior tenant organizer who lives at a single resident occupancy hotel at Howard and Sixth. “You’ve got some people laughing. They’re not caring. Enough is enough.”

Sixth and Market Streets.

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Noticed More “Continental” Crosswalks? They’re Now Standard on SF Streets

Irving Street and 10th Avenue on Halloween. Photo: Aaron Bialick

It’s not your imagination — crosswalks around San Francisco are being upgraded more rapidly to the “continental” striping style, also known as “ladder” or “zebra-striped” crosswalks, to make people more visible to drivers when they’re crossing the street.

The SFMTA has ditched its traditional crosswalk design comprised of two white lines along the length of a crosswalk, since studies from the Federal Highway Administration have shown continental stripes are much more effective at getting drivers to yield the right-of-way, said Ben Jose, spokesperson for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision.

“Until recently, San Francisco primarily implemented continental crosswalks at mid-block and school area crosswalks,” Jose wrote in an email. “The SFMTA’s current goal is to gradually enhance all crosswalk markings to the high-visibility continental marking pattern.”

The SFMTA adds the treatment whenever there’s an opportunity like a street re-paving, Jose said. Those are occurring more rapidly with the bond funds made available by Prop B. I’ve recently spotted the new crosswalks on streets from Irving in my neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, to Powell Street in Union Square, one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the country. (Finally!)

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider applauded the agency’s move to adopt zebra crosswalks on a wide scale. ”The ladder-style striping helps drivers distinguish the crosswalk from other roadway markings much sooner than the old fashioned double lines,” said Schneider. “This is one example of a quick, cheap, and smart way to prevent pedestrian injuries.”

As a reminder, 964 pedestrians were injured on SF streets last year. This year, 12 have been killed. In 2011, motorists’ failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk was the most-cited cause of pedestrian injury, comprising 40 percent of cases, according to the SFMTA’s 2010-2011 Collisions Report [PDF].

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Oakland Planning Director Cuts Off Latham Square Pilot, Lets Cars Back In

Photo: Laura McCamy

The crowning achievement for Oakland’s new planning and building director so far might be ensuring that cars are being driven through the Latham Square pilot plaza once again.

The Latham Square pilot was supposed to last for six months, but after just six weeks, the widely-lauded, one-block plaza at the foot of Telegraph Avenue is no longer car-free. “The pilot program of having the pedestrian-only area was cut short and one southbound lane was reopened to cars without any warning to pedestrians,” said Jonathan Bair, board president of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. The current configuration leaves some reclaimed pedestrian space in the middle of the street, but it is no longer connected to the sidewalk. Now the City Council will consider whether to keep it that way.

Rachel Flynn became Oakland's planning and building director in March. Photo: SF Business Times

Oakland Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn told Streetsblog the car-free pilot had been given enough time, and that “there’s only so many people that are going to come into Oakland at this time.”

“If all you’re doing is blocking off the vehicles but not increasing the bikes and pedestrians, are you achieving your goal?” said Flynn. When asked for data on Latham Square’s use, she said, “We don’t know how to measure pedestrian and bicycle activity.”

“It’s not like we’ve seen hundreds of new bikes there, while we’ve seen hundreds of vehicles not going to this area.”

Flynn came to Oakland in March, having previously worked at a planning firm based in Abu Dhabi, following a stint as planning director of Richmond, Virginia, in 2011.

Oakland Planning staff will present a proposal to the City Council later this month for a permanent plaza design that includes two-way car traffic on Telegraph. The plan, which has not been released to the public yet, would expand the current sidewalk space from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet, but leave Latham Square bisected by lanes of motor traffic.

When it was proposed, the pilot plaza project was touted as an effort to emulate the success of on-street plaza projects implemented in New York City and San Francisco.

“The purpose of the plaza is to establish safer traffic patterns,” said Sarah Filley of Popuphood, which curates vending spots on Latham Square. “By opening up both of the traffic lanes, you’re not prototyping anything. You’ve just added a nicer median.”

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Parking-Obsessed Extremists Threaten Plan for Safer Walking on Potrero

DPW's rendering of one design option for Potrero Avenue.

Update: A petition in support of wider sidewalks on Potrero has been created.

In what may be a new low for selfish opposition to street safety measures, flyers and a petition full of misinformation are being circulated against wider sidewalks on Potrero Avenue. Believe it or not, this one’s not a joke, and the city may water down its pedestrian safety plan in response.

This flyer is being circulated around Potrero Avenue.

“Say YES to keep all of our current parking spaces. NO to wider sidewalks!” reads a flyer posted on and around Potrero decrying the city’s proposed safety plan. Opponents claim the sidewalk expansion would “eliminate” 100 parking spaces on Potrero from 22nd to 25th Streets.

In their attempts to appease the parking-obsessed opponents, city planners already reduced that number to 79 spaces a few months ago. According to a Department of Public Works flyer advertising a community meeting next week, new options set to be presented would include “strategically placed bulb-outs and median islands” while removing between 58 and 28 spaces. Some parking loss would be averted by converting parallel spaces to perpendicular ones on nearby streets.

A MoveOn.org petition launched October 1 by Rebecca Sawyer currently has 285 signatures against the project. “Potrero Avenue is a local street, but starting in 2014, the Dept. of Public Works intends to make Potrero a high-speed transit link to and from 101,” the petition reads. “Parking is already VERY difficult in this area surrounding SF General Hospital, but this will make it even worse for residents of the area.”

Meanwhile, neighborhood advocate Fran Taylor of CC Puede penned a letter to DPW Director Mohammed Nuru in support of the sidewalk expansions. ”We can tell that people making comments opposed to ‘high speed’ and helping drivers from out of town (the 101 link) are attacking things that aren’t actually in the proposal,” she said. “What we can’t know is how many people who simply signed their names also think they’re opposed because of this misinformation.”

Under the city’s current plan, Potrero’s narrow nine-foot sidewalks would be widened to 14 feet on the east side of four blocks in front of SF General Hospital, and sidewalks would be extended at street corners. Along with left-turn lanes, the sidewalk expansion will re-purpose space currently occupied by free on-street car storage, which opponents argue should be retained instead of making improvements to public safety. The plan could actually have done much more to reclaim space from cars — it still lacks protected bike lanes and didn’t add a transit lane.

While the pedestrian improvements in the plan would help reduce injuries and tame motor traffic, some petition signers seem to believe the  claims that the “local street” will be turned into a “high-speed transit” corridor. Others simply insist that car parking is paramount.

In an email, Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider urged DPW’s Nuru, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, and Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen to “support public safety over personal convenience.”

There is an opportunity right now to calm Potrero Avenue, including wider sidewalks and other improvements that are proven to reduce the risk of crashes. Unfortunately, as a result of a few loud residents that have spoken out about the inconvenience of parking loss, the city might consider removing the proposal to widen sidewalks, thus reducing the pedestrian safety improvements on this segment. The proposed sidewalk widening is adjacent to San Francisco General Hospital, where many disabled patients will benefit from the proposed sidewalk widening to make crossing the street safer, and navigating the sidewalk and accessing Muni easier.