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Posts from the Traffic Calming Category

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SFFD “Imposing the Authority” to Demand Wider, Speedier Streets

The debate over whether San Francisco’s streets should be wider and less safe just to accommodate fire trucks was aired publicly at a City Hall hearing yesterday. Livable streets advocates and Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called the hearing, challenged the SF Fire Department’s insistence on wider roadways, particularly its recent eleventh-hour push to change street widths that were agreed upon years ago in redevelopments at Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point.

Fire Marshall Michie Wong. Image: SFGovTV

Fire Marshal Michie Wong. Image: SFGovTV

Officials from SFFD and the Department of Public Works asserted that dozens of miles of new residential streets planned in those redevelopments were not limited to 20 feet wide, as stipulated in city plans and agreements. Instead, they insisted that the roads must be expanded to 26 feet. Officials from the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (the successor to the SF Redevelopment Agency), the developers, and community members involved in the decades of planning for those projects all disagreed.

SFFD officials disregarded those agreements, as well as 20-foot minimums set in the state fire code — the same width SFFD defended when it attempted to subvert new 12-foot minimums last yearFire Marshal Michie Wong said the department prefers 26 feet because that’s the standard set in the International Fire Code, even though city policies have set much lower minimums. Wong said SFFD has printed documents telling developers that the minimum street width under the Fire Code is 26 feet.

“We are imposing the authority to use whatever we need to justify the increased width,” said Wong. Using the International Fire Code standard “as a guideline is sound judgment.”

In response, Wiener said, “I have an issue when the legislative body that the voters have elected has chosen not to adopt a particular requirement, that the Fire Department would nevertheless impose that.”

To make the department’s case, SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi showed a presentation of photos and videos from fires in the city where they claimed limited space between parked cars made the job difficult, including the recent major construction fire in Mission Bay, and a similar one in Houston, Texas.

“Using the example of extreme [situations] does not help the conversation; it definitely escalates fear in people,” said Cheryl Brinkman, who sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors but spoke only for herself. “I think we have more to fear every day from poorly-designed streets.”

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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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Mapping San Francisco’s Most Speeding-Plagued Streets

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Urban cartographer Stephanie May used engineering and traffic surveys collected by the SFMTA between 2004 and 2010 to piece together this map of speeding. The darker the segment, the higher the average speed. Fatter segments represent streets with a higher incidence of speeding.

A new online map begins to show which San Francisco streets have the worst speeding problems, according to data from SFMTA engineering and traffic surveys. The map was created by Stephanie May, who works for the SF-based organization Urban Mapping and teaches cartography at SF State University and history at Stanford, according to her Twitter page.

Ideally, a map like this could show people where they should advocate for safety improvements, and where city agencies ought to focus enforcement and traffic calming efforts. This map is a start, but the available data has a lot of gaps, since speed surveys are typically done only in response to complaints from residents, May said. The data is also a bit dated, collected between 2004 and 2010. It would be interesting to see how road diets and other traffic calming measures implemented since then have changed the picture.

On Twitter, May said she thinks “the real message of the map is that @sfgov needs to monitor traffic speeds more systematically (and report).”

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Bayshore Blvd Gets Buffered Bike Lanes, But “Alemany Maze” Still a Barrier

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Bayshore, seen here looking north near Bacon Street, had four traffic lanes reduced to two to make room for buffered bike lanes. Photo: Brian Coyne

The SFMTA extended the buffered bike lanes on Bayshore Boulevard earlier this month from Silver Avenue south to Paul Avenue, reducing four traffic lanes to two. The street now provides a calmer, safer bicycling link for Bayview residents all the way up to where Bayshore ends, at Cesar Chavez Street and the “Hairball” freeway interchange.

The bike lanes were originally slated to go on San Bruno Avenue, which runs parallel to Bayshore on the opposite side of 101, according to the SFMTA website:

This project was originally planned for San Bruno Avenue as part of the 2009 San Francisco Bicycle Plan. However, due to potential conflicts with planned Muni improvements along San Bruno Avenue, the SFMTA has determined that a more appropriate north-south bicycle route between Paul and Silver Avenues would be Bayshore Boulevard because it connects directly with existing bikeways north of Silver Avenue and does not conflict with transit operations.

Traffic analysis was completed that showed that there was not a need to keep four travel lanes.

Chris Waddling of D10 Watch describes: “Pedestrians dash across eastbound Alemany at San Bruno Ave. on their way to the farmers market.” Photo: Chris Waddling

Yet the benefits of the bike lanes and taming speeds on a traffic sewer are largely lost at the “Alemany Maze” – the tangle of looping freeway ramps where 101 and 280 intersect. As D10 Watch author Chris Waddling pointed out, the interchange presents “outright hostile conditions for pedestrians and cyclists,” cutting off access between neighborhoods for those traveling without a car:

Say you want to get from Bayview to a Glen Park BART by bike. Riding the new lanes on Bayshore are now great, but get from Bayshore to the separated bike lane on Alemany at Putnam, and you’re sharing the road with freeway-bound vehicles.

Or say you want to walk from the Portola to the Alemany Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. You either cross illegally at the top of San Bruno Ave or walk an extra 1/4 mile each way to get to the light at Putnam. And if you need one, it’s too bad there’s no ADA ramp for you when you get there.

The benefits of increasing pedestrian and bike access in the area are many: reduced car traffic on Saturday mornings in and around the Alemany Farmers Market; safer access to the Farmers Market for Portola residents; greater access to amenities in the Portola by residents of Bernal Heights; safer access to BART for Portola residents; an opportunity for beautification of the median.

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Eyes on the Street: Holloway Bike Lane Connects SFSU, City College

The SFMTA has installed bike lanes and speed bumps on Holloway Avenue between Beverly Street and Ashton Avenue, a stretch that serves as the main bicycling route connecting SF State University to City College’s Ocean Campus and Balboa Park Station.

The configuration has a bike lane on one side of the street and a parking lane on the other, switching sides at Vernon Street. The side without a bike lane has sharrows. Traffic lanes have also been narrowed.

Henry Pan, an SFSU student who bike commutes on Holloway, said “traffic is noticeably calmer now,” and the project is “long overdue.”

The project is the second iteration of a 2010 traffic calming experiment that narrowed traffic lanes on Holloway and the parallel Garfield Avenue, from Junipero Serra Boulevard to Ashton Avenue. The original configuration was removed after residents complained it was ineffective and too confusing (for instance, the design included shoulders that weren’t marked as bike lanes, but had a similar width).

The new Holloway improvements link a few other ongoing traffic calming and bike lane projects along the corridor through Ingleside. On the west end, buffered bike lanes were installed in 2012 on Holloway between Junipero Serra and 19th Avenue as part of a road diet. On the east end, the SFMTA installed a partial bike lane and sharrows on the block of Lee Avenue that connects to Ocean Avenue, a heavily-trafficked street which lacks bike lanes. The Planning Department recently launched an initiative to redesign Ocean.

Between Ashton and Lee, the SF Public Utilities Commission also plans to install a “green street” traffic-calming plan with bulb-outs and rain gardens starting in mid-2015.

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Road Diet, Buffered Bike Lane Finally Coming to Northbound Bernal Cut

The proposed road diet for northbound San Jose Ave. Image: SFMTA

A road diet and buffered bike lane are finally coming to San Jose Avenue north of 280, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut, where neighbors have fought for traffic calming for years.

The SFMTA and Caltrans are moving forward with a two-phased pilot project — first, in March, the SFMTA will reallocate one of San Jose’s three northbound traffic lanes to widen the existing bike lane with a buffer zone, much like the southbound side. If traffic speeds don’t drop below the target, Caltrans will remove one of the two traffic lanes on the 280 off-ramp that the agency added in 1992 to accommodate re-routed traffic during freeway repairs after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

That second off-ramp lane was supposed to be temporary, but Caltrans never removed it. The agency was finally convinced by the SFMTA, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and neighborhood residents to test the lane’s removal on the condition that it’s a reversible pilot. (Caltrans has jurisdiction over the off-ramp, while SFMTA has jurisdiction over San Jose, which is a city street, as much as it might seem like a freeway.)

“There’s been a fight with Caltrans for 20 years now to get it back to one lane,” said Jon Winston of Friends of Monterey Boulevard, who has pushed for safer streets in the neighborhood.

“The speeds are incredibly high,” said Wiener. “We have crazy stories of cars turning on to the side streets and flipping over… and I can’t imagine why anyone would bike in a bike lane with no buffer and 50 mph traffic going past you.”

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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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SFMTA Unveils Wiggle Plans, Including Traffic Diverter at Scott and Fell

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Image: SFMTA

The Wiggle is set to become a calmer, safer, and greener route after proposals presented by the SFMTA yesterday, with improvements like raised crosswalks, bulb-outs with greenery, textured pavement, and a traffic diverter at Scott and Fell Streets.

The diverter, which would prevent drivers from entering the block of Scott between Fell and Oak Streets in the southbound direction while allowing bike and foot traffic, is expected to lighten car traffic on Scott and facilitate the left turn into the Fell Street bike lane. Although the SFMTA has installed a protected left-turn signal there, some bike commuters continue to make the short-distance turn against a red light, when drivers have a green light to turn left on to Scott into their path. Under the SFMTA’s plan, an “extra-large bulb-out” with planters would physically block drivers from making that left turn.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, called the traffic diverter “a great tool for safer, smarter movement on our streets.”

“It’s exciting that we’re not just thinking of the traditional designs of yesteryear,” she said. “It’s great to be thinking outside the box.”

Concerns voiced by some neighbors at a meeting about traffic diverters on Scott in September seem to have been largely assuaged. The diverter even has support from many Scott residents, according to attendees at yesterday’s open house meeting. Although some neighbors on parallel streets remain concerned about drivers using their streets as an alternative, SFMTA planners say they plan to adjust traffic signals to make Divisadero flow more smoothly for motor traffic, including the 24-Divisadero, making it the most attractive option for drivers. “In fact,” says an SFMTA FAQ sheet [PDF], “some cross-town traffic on” neighborhood streets such as Steiner, Pierce, and Broderick “may switch to Divisadero as well.”

“It seems like there’s huge agreement that this neighborhood has so much more potential to be a great walking, biking, living environment,” said Shahum. “I think the city’s put forward some really strong proposals.”

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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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Parking-Protected Bike Lane Coming to West End of Bay Street

Image: SFMTA

A new type of bike lane design for San Francisco, and perhaps the whole country, is coming to a four-block stretch of Bay Street in the Marina next fall. The street is set to be redesigned with a road diet [PDF] that includes a parking-protected bike lane on one side of the street, with a novel touch — back-in angled parking.

The project will run between Fillmore and Laguna, alongside Marina Middle School and the Moscone Park. It will be the first parking-protected bike lane installed on a typical city street in SF, the only other one being on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park. While that project included a bike lane placed between the pedestrian walkway and parallel parking spots, the new Bay bike lane will be combined with a back-in angled parking arrangement.

Ben Jose, spokesperson for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets section, said the project prompted by calls for traffic calming improvements from residents along the western end of four-lane Bay Street and near Fort Mason and “assisted-living facilities.”

The redesign “will narrow the roadway, which should reduce speeding and improve pedestrian safety by shortening the crossing distance,” Jose wrote in an email. “Slowing speeds and improving safety by narrowing the roadway is especially important given the nearby school, park, and assisted living facility.”

Currently, that stretch of Bay sees rampant speeding. It has four traffic lanes despite drawing far less car traffic than the rest of the street east of Laguna, where most drivers turn off towards Marina Boulevard and the Golden Gate Bridge. The redesign will remove two of the four traffic lanes west of Laguna, and result in a net addition of one parking space.

The parking-protected portion will include a five-foot buffer between parking spaces and the bike lane. On the other side of Bay, the existing unprotected westbound bike lane will remain alongside parked cars, with a new, painted four-foot buffer to separate it from moving cars.

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