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Posts from the Pedestrian Safety Category

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Should SF Streets Go Car-Free to Make Room for Nightlife?

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Vancouver’s Granville Street, seen here in 2013, is regularly closed to cars on weekend nights. Should SF do the same with its nightlife streets? Photo: Aaron Bialick

Polk, Valencia, Castro, Broadway — when bar patrons crowd these streets at night, should they go car-free?

While the idea may be novel to San Francisco, many other cities have done it. Up the coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, downtown Granville Street is often closed to cars on bustling weekend nights for people to roam the roadway, extending the street’s permanent pedestrian mall, which is several blocks long.

In a new report [PDF], city agencies recommend taking a look at nighttime car-free hours to improve streets for patrons and workers.

“Streets are the living room of our cities, where people meet, interact, and socialize,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who requested the report. “We should consider opportunities to foster these urban connections for the sake of supporting nighttime activity and advancing pedestrian safety.”

“So many of the events that really define San Francisco, both for locals and visitors, are events that happen when the streets are shut down and the people are in them,” said Tom Temprano, owner of Virgil’s Sea Room bar on Mission near Cesar Chavez Street, and a member of the city’s Late Night Transportation Working Group, which developed the report. “From Sunday Streets, to Pride, to Folsom Street Fair, to Bay to Breakers, these are all really events that are core to San Francisco’s identity and happen when we take cars off the road and let people have a good time.”

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Alameda’s Second Parking-Protected Bikeway Takes Shape on Shoreline Drive

Alameda’s Shoreline Drive was just striped with a new, 1.8-mile parking-protected bikeway. Image: Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay

The East Bay’s island city of Alameda has laid down its second parking-protected bikeway along Shoreline Drive.

The paint has barely dried on the 1.8-mile, two-way bikeway, but Alamedans are already using it. The city is adding finishing touches before a ribbon cutting set for March 7. Bike East Bay Education Coordinator Robert Prinz, a former Streetsblog intern, captured the below time lapse video showing a roll down the bikeway.

It’s one of only a handful of parking-protected bikeways in the Bay Area, and the first to be installed since SF’s John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park was striped in 2012.

“We really think of this as our first complete street,” said Lucy Gigli of Bike Walk Alameda. “There’s vehicle travel, there’s wonderful bike lanes now, and the path and sidewalk are so much more comfortable for people walking.”

Like other parking-protected bikeways in cities like New York, the Shoreline project uses paint and concrete islands, with a car parking lane between the bikeway and the motor traffic lanes. A buffer zone allows for room to safely open car doors. The curbside bikeway runs along Alameda’s beach and next to a major shopping center (surrounded, unfortunately, by a giant parking lot). 

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City College Property Could Make Room for Buffered Bike Lane on Ocean Ave

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Ocean Avenue could be widened in front of the City College campus, and a freeway ramp re-aligned, to make bicycling from Balboa Park Station much safer. Image: Planning Department

A proposed solution has surfaced for one of the most frightening gaps in the Ocean Avenue bike lane at Balboa Park Station, where the existing bike lane disappears and throws uphill bike commuters in front of a high-speed freeway off-ramp. City College of SF has proposed opening up the edge of its main campus property, currently occupied by a retaining wall and undeveloped land, to make room for the bike lane extension, sidewalk extensions, and landscaped medians.

With plans also in the works to remove the curved highway 280 off-ramp and replace it with a perpendicular, signalized ramp, that stretch of Ocean could become dramatically safer.

The fix was presented this week at the final open house meeting for planned streetscape improvements along Ocean and around Balboa Park Station. Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors, said the plans for bike and pedestrian improvements are “so far, so good,” and have been anticipated since the city began developing plans for the area in the late 90’s.

“The community has been remarkably patient, and the devil will be in the details,” he said. Still, the currently poor conditions for walking and biking to the station set “a low bar.”

City planners had originally included no substantial improvements to make bicycling safer on Ocean between the Balboa Park BART/Muni Station and CCSF, insisting on retaining both westbound traffic lanes, which Muni buses use. City agencies are now “working with City College to design a terraced landscape to eliminate the blank retaining wall currently in place and create a more inviting entrance,” according to Planning Department presentation materials [PDF].

Today, people using the westbound bike lane on Ocean are thrown into a traffic lane in front of a freeway off-ramp. Image: Google Maps

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One Year Into Vision Zero, Advocates Call for Bolder Action From City Hall

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SF agencies released a new two-year Vision Zero Strategy [PDF], and safe streets advocates say it needs to go farther.

A year after City Hall officials first pledged to embrace Vision Zero, safe streets advocates have released a report [PDF] reviewing the state of efforts to end traffic fatalities by 2024. City officials simultaneously released a “Vision Zero Strategy” [PDF] for the next two years. Both documents were released in conjunction with a new program requiring video training for city truck drivers on safe urban driving, announced at a press conference yesterday.

The progress report from the Vision Zero Coalition, a group of nearly 40 community organizations led by Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition, says City Hall has “made important progress” with nine agencies endorsing the goal. Extensive research has also been done in recent years through the WalkFirst program to identify which streets see the highest rates of pedestrian injuries.

But to ensure that City Hall’s embrace of Vision Zero turns into life-saving action, advocates say efforts need to ramp up in 2015 to slow driving speeds and curb the most dangerous driving behaviors. Physical street design measures, data-driven traffic enforcement, and education campaigns are key to creating a safer driving culture.

Expectations this year “are definitely going to be high,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider.

“There’s huge public support for Vision Zero. Now Mayor Lee and his city team need to turn this into action,” said a statement from Noah Budnick, the new executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, who previously campaigned for Vision Zero in New York City. “The SFMTA must get proven safety improvements onto our streets as fast as they can, and the SFPD must crack down on reckless drivers who put San Franciscans at risk. There’s no time to waste to save lives.”

The Vision Zero Coalition’s report calls for three goals to be met this year, including a city-led campaign already underway to change state law to allow enforcement through speed cameras. The Coalition also want SFPD to increase the share of “Focus on the Five” citations to 37 percent of all traffic citations in 2015 and to meet the department’s official 50 percent minimum by 2016. So far, all SFPD stations except one have yet to come close to that goal, and the new Traffic Company Commander, Ann Mannix, has not promised to meet it.

The report also calls on agencies like the SFMTA and Department of Public Works to expedite physical safety measures on 18 miles of high-injury corridors annually. The city’s two-year Vision Zero Strategy, which is an update to the Pedestrian Strategy and the WalkFirst plan, sets the annual bar at 13 miles.

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Fell and Oak Safety Features to Finally Be Installed By April

Bulb-outs, rain gardens, and planted traffic islands on three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets are now set to be completed two years late. Image: SFMTA

The final pieces of the protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety upgrades on three blocks of Fell and Oak Streets are now due to be finished by April, according to the Department of Public Works. Assuming this timetable holds up, construction of the project will conclude two years after the originally promised date in spring 2013.

Crews have been at work for months installing the sidewalk extensions and rain gardens on Fell and Oak between Baker and Scott Streets. There have been no signs yet of construction of the planted traffic islands that will separate the bike lanes from motor traffic (except in locations where there are driveways or turn lanes).

The buffered bike lanes on Fell and Oak have mostly remained the same since they were striped without physical protection in September 2012 and May 2013, respectively. One exception was the installation of short-lived plastic posts in April 2013, which were removed after the bike lanes were re-paved less than a year late and never replaced.

At some points during construction, the Fell and Oak bike lanes have been blocked. Photo: Jonathan G/Twitter

Without the traffic islands, the bike lanes remain unprotected, keeping riders exposed to three lanes of heavy motor traffic and discouraging risk-averse people from biking. Drivers often park in the lanes, though Supervisor London Breed has convinced the tow truck company on Fell to reduce that practice.

While most of the basic bike safety improvements are in place, the project delays have been numerous and, in most cases, baffling. During the planning process, the original construction date of spring 2012 was pushed back a year to create more parking on nearby streets to compensate for spaces removed for the bike lanes. In October 2013, the SFMTA and DPW said construction wouldn’t happen that year because the agencies wanted to tweak the designs of the bulb-outs and islands.

Until recently, a sign was posted at the site promising construction would be finished in January 2015. When asked why the project still isn’t finished, DPW staff didn’t answer the question, only providing the new date. 

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Will the SFMTA Board Demand Complete Protected Bike Lanes on Polk Street?

The watered-down re-design of Polk Street is expected to go up for approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors in March. But support seems stronger than ever for a bolder plan that includes protected bike lanes along the whole length of the corridor, as many residents and merchants call for safety to be a higher priority than car parking.

SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman said the board could vote to hold off on approval of the re-design until it includes an option for a full-length bike lane, which the board requested in December 2013, though it hasn’t been presented by SFMTA staff.

“If we accept the notion that we can prevent traffic deaths and serious injuries, then we have a moral obligation to make sure that this project is a Vision Zero project,” said Brinkman. “That’s not something I take lightly.”

“This is their chance to show what Vision Zero really means,” said Tyler Frisbee, policy director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. “If the SFMTA Board is committed to Vision Zero, which they have been huge leaders on, we need to make sure that particularly when we’re [re-designing] high-injury corridors, that safety is our number-one priority.”

The current plan would create a protected bike lane only on a relatively small section of the street. Space would be reallocated by removing about 30 percent of the 320 parking spaces on Polk, or 2 percent of the 5,000 parking spaces within a block of the street. But even though 85 percent of people on Polk arrive without a car, and customers who drive spend the least per week, a vocal group of merchants and some residents demand that all spaces be retained for car storage.

At a 10 a.m. public hearing last Friday, about 45 speakers called for a safer plan, while 25 called for the preservation of the 110 parking spaces. According to the SF Bicycle Coalition, at least 220 letters calling for a safer plan have been sent to the SFMTA and other city officials, along with 320 petition signatures. And while some media reports have painted a simplistic picture pitting merchants against cyclists, at least 14 merchants have also sent in such letters.

“There are plenty of merchants who realize that their best customers are not driving and don’t need parking,” said Frisbee. “What they need are safer ways to get around Polk Street.”

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New Data Shows Most Trips in SF Are Made Without a Private Automobile

Based on a new, more accurate travel survey, the SFMTA found that driving has made up the minority of trips for at least three years. Image: SFMTA

San Franciscans don’t drive nearly as much as previously thought, according to new SFMTA survey data. But the needle hasn’t moved much in recent years either.

More than 50 percent of trips in San Francisco are made without a private automobile — and it’s been that way for at least three years, according to travel survey results presented at an SFMTA Board meeting today [PDF, page 18]. Last year, 52 percent of trips in the city were made by transit, walking, biking, car-share, taxi, or ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber.

Solo driving accounted for only 27 percent of trips in 2014, the SFMTA found, with carpooling accounting for another 21 percent. Those two types of trips are what the agency counts as “private auto” trips.

The findings are a significant departure from previously released data on city travel patterns, which had estimated that 62 percent of trips in the city are made with private autos. But those numbers were based on a less accurate survey methodology, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire told the Board.

The old data “probably didn’t tell us the whole picture,” said Maguire, who explained that the old numbers were based mostly on traffic planning forecasts and U.S. Census data that are at least five years old. The new data is based on a local, annual “Travel Decision Survey” conducted by the SFMTA which asked residents and commuters detailed questions about their travel behavior.

How San Franciscans traveled in 2014. Image: SFMTA

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New SFPD Traffic Chief Ann Mannix Hesitant to “Focus on the Five”

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali has been replaced by Northern Station Captain Ann Mannix, the SF Chronicle reported today.

Ann Mannix. Photo: SFPD

Ann Mannix. Photo: SFPD

Ali, who held the position for two-and-a half years, has repeatedly promised that the SFPD is committed to its “Focus on the Five” enforcement campaign. But under his tenure, only one station has come close to meeting the target of issuing 50 percent of traffic tickets for the most common causes of pedestrian injuries — speeding, violating pedestrian right-of-way in a crosswalk, red light running, stop sign running, and turning violations. The share of tickets to people walking and biking, meanwhile, has increased.

In an interview with Streetsblog, Mannix expressed reservations about ordering officers to follow the SFPD’s 50 percent goal.

Those five violations are the most common causes of pedestrian crashes, according to SFPD data compiled and reported by the SFMTA. SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign is predicated on using that data to deploy traffic enforcement resources most effectively. The campaign was announced two years ago, and Ali set the 50 percent minimum one year ago, but thus far only Richmond Station has met the goal.

When asked if she would help get the department to meet its enforcement targets, Mannix questioned the data and told Streetsblog that “it’s a very fine line between issuing a quota to police officers to do something — they observe a violation and cite it. I cannot, by law, make them go out and issue a citation.”

“We will continue to focus on those five. Will they be the highest numbers we cite? Not necessarily.”

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said she hopes that Mannix “embraces an approach to ensure that SFPD’s citations are based on data… for the Police Department to do their part in shifting the culture on San Francisco streets so that a human life is worth more than speed.”

But Mannix contended that speed is likely overrepresented in the data collected through the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) because under the system, unsafe speed is often marked as a primary factor in crashes when drivers weren’t exceeding the speed limit. “If the speed limit’s 25, you could be going 10 mph and be going too fast for conditions — you were speeding,” she said. “That would be a primary factor barring any other obvious collision factors.”

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Gentrification Fears Threaten to Derail Mission Street Improvements

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City efforts to make more room for walking and transit on Mission Street are being fought by some residents who think they’ll exacerbate gentrification. Image: Planning Department

Mission District residents who equate streetscape improvements with rising rents dominated a community meeting discussion yesterday about public space upgrades along Mission Street.

It was the Planning Department’s latest public meeting about its Mission Street Public Life Plan, an effort to envision Mission Street “as a vital transit corridor with art, commerce and new public spaces for people to enjoy,” encompassing Mission outside of downtown (from South Van Ness Avenue to Randall Street).

The plan would complement other efforts from the SFMTA to convert two traffic lanes into Muni-only lanes and install bulb-outs to improve pedestrian safety and streamline bus boardings. But residents who spoke up in the question-and-answer session seemed to fervently oppose any upgrades, especially beautification efforts like trees and art that helped transform nearby Valencia Street years ago.

Trees, benches, and other sidewalk amenities were blamed for the skyrocketing rents, evictions, and demographic shifts in the neighborhood. Little distinction was made between those and upgrades for transit and pedestrian safety.

One resident, Tom Stolmer, called the streetscape plan a “thinly veiled effort to exploit the Mission into a theme park for Google.”

“It’s just another way to bring gentrification,” John Mendoza of Calle 24, a group of Latino merchants and residents in the neighborhood around the 24th Street commercial corridor, told Streetsblog. “If they don’t get it one way, they’ll come in the back door. If they don’t come in the back door, they’ll come in the window.”

Calle 24 President Erick Arguello said “people are now suspicious” of the city’s agenda since planners hadn’t previously launched street improvement efforts when residents pushed for them in past decades. When streetscape improvements started going in on 24th Street, he said it resulted in rising rents, leading Calle 24 to push for a halt to any street upgrade efforts. “We saw the buildings go up for sale, we saw the prospecting coming in,” he said.

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Polk Street Redesign Delayed a Year, Interim Measures Coming in Spring

The already watered-down redesign of Polk Street, with a protected bike lane only on one segment, will begin construction in Spring 2016 — a full year behind the original schedule. The SFMTA announced that final approval of the project is approaching with a preliminary hearing next Friday, January 30, followed by a vote at the SFMTA Board of Directors in February or March.

The SFMTA did say in an email blast, however, that Polk will get some interim improvements starting this spring:

These improvements will include a southbound bike lane between Union Street and Post Street, leading pedestrian intervals which allow pedestrians a few seconds of a “WALK” signal before vehicles receive a green light at certain intersections, and red curb “daylighting” to increase pedestrian visibility at certain intersection approaches.

Additionally, painted bulb outs at certain locations of future concrete bulb outs, bicycle safety measures at key intersection approaches, and new loading zones to reduce the amount and frequency of double parking on some blocks will all be installed.

The delay only adds insult to injury after original plans for protected bike lanes along the vital north-south corridor were largely scuttled due to vociferous opposition from parking-obsessed merchants. And the SFMTA is reportedly not planning to move forward with the full-length bike lane pilot option requested by the SFMTA Board in November 2013.

Chema Hernández Gil, community organizer for the SF Bicycle Coalition, said that despite the “positive elements” planned in the project, “this half-hearted approach calls into question the city’s commitment to achieving Vision Zero.”

“It is dismaying to see the SFMTA ignore the community’s desires for a safety-first approach by neglecting to include a safe design for people biking between Pine and Union Streets — half of the project area — even though it ranks as one of the most dangerous bike routes according to the SF Department of Health’s Cyclist High Injury Corridor network,” said Hernández Gil in a statement. “For the sake of a vibrant, thriving and safe Polk Street, we urge the SFMTA to put forth an improved design that includes continuous protected bikeways from McAllister to Union Streets. We also urge them to advance the implementation to prevent injuries and provide safe, comfortable access on one of the city’s most important north-south bike routes.”