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Posts from the Traffic Calming Category


Wiggle Safety Upgrades Delayed Over Turn Bans to Reduce Thru Traffic

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The Wiggle would become safer and calmer with upgrades like a traffic diverter at southbound Scott and Fell streets. But Lower Haight neighbors oppose left-turn bans aimed at attracting cross-town drivers to Divisadero Street. Image: SFMTA

Improvements that would make the Wiggle calmer and safer have been delayed after continued driver protests against three left turn bans on Divisadero Street proposed as part of the project. Approval of the project was removed from the SFMTA Board of Directors’ Tuesday agenda and postponed until June.

Hoodline reported that some members of the Lower Haight Neighbors and Merchants Association can’t stomach the all-hours left turn bans from Divisadero on to Haight Street, and peak hour bans for turns on to Hayes and McAllister Streets.

The SFMTA says the bans are intended to complement the Wiggle improvements, which include a traffic diverter on Scott Street. By keeping cut-through drivers moving on Divisadero, the main driving route, that street would become the more attractive driving option. “This will reduce Scott Street’s appeal as a cross-town route, making it a more pleasant place to walk, bike, and live,” says an SFMTA fact sheet [PDF] on the Wiggle improvements.

“We want people to get where they need to go safely while keeping heavier traffic on Divisadero,” Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire said in a statement. “The SFMTA’s proposals for Divisadero will improve traffic flow, cut down on congestion and reduce spillover traffic into the neighborhood. We have worked with the community extensively on this project, and we wanted to take a little more time to better understand the concerns of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association.”

A major feature of the planned Wiggle upgrades is a large sidewalk bulb-out which would physically block drivers from entering southbound Scott at Fell Street. That would reduce the car traffic on Scott, which runs one block parallel to Divisadero, that degrades the livability of the neighborhood and congests the intersection at Haight. The improvements also include raised crosswalks, bulb-outs with rain gardens, and textured pavement.

“Thousands of people bike and walk through the Wiggle every day, and they and the neighborhood residents deserve a street that works for them,” said Tyler Frisbee, policy director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. The SFMTA’s project “enhances the residential, family-oriented nature of the community and ensures that everyone is able to walk, bike, and enjoy the area in a safe, inviting place. This project will reduce the amount of water pollution and runoff from these streets, minimize traffic congestion for neighbors, and improve safety for people walking and biking. That is a clear win-win.”

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SFMTA Proposes Short-Term Safety Upgrades for Octavia Boulevard

SFMTA proposals in the works include sidewalk expansions and lane removals on and around Octavia. Image: SFMTA

Ten years after Octavia Boulevard opened in the footprint of the former Central Freeway, the SFMTA has proposed a package of short-term safety fixes for people walking and biking, especially along the cross streets.

The upgrades could be implemented by the end of 2016. Proposals in the works include a bike lane on eastbound Page Street, a fix for the poorly-designed bike “chute” at Octavia and Market Street, “shared street” treatments in the frontage lanes on Octavia, and even a memorial to the Freeway Revolt at Market. Motor vehicles lanes could also be removed on Fell and Oak east of Octavia to calm traffic, with angled parking added.

The first wave of improvements, mainly sidewalk bulb-outs and traffic islands, are expected to come up for public comment at an SFMTA engineering hearing on May 22.

SFMTA project manager Casey Hildreth said that some of the improvements are intended to be experimental, and that planners will measure the effects on safety, traffic speeds, and car congestion. “We don’t want to be frozen by the perfect,” he said in a recent presentation [PDF] at the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association.

The improvements are expected to be funded by development impact fees collected from housing built in the footprint of the former Central Freeway. A package of increased SFMTA funding highlighted by Mayor Ed Lee this week included $3.3 million in development fees earmarked for the Market and Octavia area to get bike, pedestrian, and Muni improvements. It’s not clear how much funding would be needed in total for the proposed upgrades.

Octavia is often cited as a model by other cities looking to replace a freeway with a boulevard. As Hildreth explained, it was intentionally designed to create “ambiguity” and counter the “freeway mentality” that drivers often have.

But problems remain at the intersections and on other streets affected by freeway traffic, which need improvements for walking, biking, and transit. High-traffic intersections remain dangerous, for instance, at Fell and Oak Streets, which were designed as one-way traffic funnels.

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Drivers Hit Two Seniors in Two Days at Castro and 19th Crosswalk

Photo: Bryan Goebel

On Tuesday and Wednesday, drivers hit seniors in the eastern crosswalk crossing 19th Street at Castro Street. Wednesday’s crash scene is pictured here. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Two seniors were injured by drivers in a crosswalk at 19th and Castro Streets in separate crashes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Bryan Goebel, Streetsblog SF’s first editor, and his neighbor Hank Cancel happened upon the aftermath of the crashes.

Both victims sustained minor injures, according to Goebel and Cancel. But they said close calls with reckless drivers are routine at the intersection.

On Tuesday, a woman and man who appeared to be in their late 60s were crossing 19th in the intersection’s eastern crosswalk when the woman was hit by a driver making a right turn from northbound Castro. Cancel said the woman scraped her knee, and the female driver exchanged information with her, but nobody called 911.

Based on talking with the driver and victim, Cancel thinks the driver may have whipped quickly around the turn, as he sees many drivers do at the corner after coming down the hill on Castro. “The back of her car hit the pedestrian, because she didn’t actually wait for the pedestrian to clear the crosswalk,” he said.

On Tuesday, a driver (the woman left of the man) hit a woman (seen wearing a hat) while turning right at the same crosswalk. Photo: Hank Cancel

On Tuesday, a driver (the woman left of the man) hit a woman (seen wearing a hat) while turning right at the same crosswalk. Photo: Hank Cancel

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Planning Dept Releases Design Guide for “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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The SF Planning Department’s new guide lays out concepts like “living zones” for SF’s alleyways. Image: Planning Department

The SF Planning Department released a design guide this week for “living alleys” [PDF], providing a template to transform SF’s narrow, low-traffic streets into places to gather and play.

Inspired by the Dutch “woonerf” concept, the “Living Alleys Toolkit” lays out proven design measures that make smaller streets more inviting to stay and play on, giving street life priority over drivers moving through. The guide states:

The “Living Alleys Toolkit” cover, featuring the Linden Alley project implemented in 2010.

A living alley is a street designed as a place for people. It can be considered an “Urban Living Room”. Its design can reconfigure the geometry and surfacing of the street, or simply add low cost amenities for residents while maintaining the traditional curbed right-of-way. Whatever approach, living alleys prioritize the entire public right-of-way for pedestrians and bicyclists with alternative but clear physical boundaries. A living alley also has areas of exclusive pedestrian use and areas where vehicles are allowed to share space with pedestrians and bicyclists.

While the concept has been implemented more widely in northern Europe, the guide notes, similar ideas have been applied in Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. In SF, a section of Linden Street was redesigned as a living alley in 2010, and plaza projects have been implemented in SoMA on Annie Alley and Mint Plaza. In Oakland, two alleys in the Temescal neighborhood were converted into pedestrianized retail streets that delivery vehicles can enter.

The new guide, which started development in mid-2013, focuses on the potential for living alleys in Hayes Valley and just south of Market Street near Octavia Boulevard, since it was conceived in the Market-Octavia Area Plan with the removal of the Central Freeway. But in the future, as those initial alley transformations are implemented, the city will look at expanding them citywide, said the Planning Department’s David Winslow.

The guide includes prototype street designs. One is a plan to convert Ivy Street, between Gough and Franklin Streets, to a shared-space zone where cars are still allowed to pass through, as seen on nearby Linden.

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Eyes on the Street: To Transform an Intersection, Just Add Color

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Preliminary concepts for Bartlett and 22nd proposed last year. Image: SF Planning

At the most recent Sunday Streets in the Mission, Walk SF demonstrated how a little chalk can give a sense of place to an intersection. Just holding back the cars allows the community to add its own flair through color, transforming an asphalt expanse into a calmer, more people-oriented space.

“It helps to calm traffic. It signals to drivers that there’s a community here, to expect kids, to expect families, and to slow down,” executive director Nicole Schneider said on a car-free Valencia Street at 22nd Street. “It helps to bring the community together around a sense of place.”

Schneider’s chalk demo was just a short block away from the intersection of 22nd and Bartlett Street, where SF’s first permanently-painted intersection is set to arrive sometime next year, as part of a pedestrian-friendly revamp of Bartlett. Community-designed, painted intersections have been installed in recent years in cities like Portland and Seattle, Schneider noted.

People at the event asked Schneider whether cars can still drive over the murals — the answer is yes. So the murals shouldn’t result in a political furor, unlike many other suggestions to re-purpose any space that’s used to move and store cars. Painting the streets to create a safer and more convivial place seems like a low-cost no-brainer.

“I have gotten so much positive feedback,” said Schneider. “It’s just fun.”

A painted intersection in Portland. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

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It’s Not the Bulb-Outs: Poor Management Blamed for Slower SFFD Response

The SF Fire Department’s top brass, who have recently blamed safer street designs for slowing emergency response times, are coming under fire as evidence mounts that SFFD’s own management problems may be to blame. The department lacks sufficient medical staff, equipment, and emergency vehicles, according to a report released in June, and officials apparently neglected to purchase new vehicles with public funds intended for that purpose.

SFFD Chief Johanne Hayes-White speaking at Bike to Work Day with DA George Gascon (left) and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Today, SFFD’s rank-and-file firefighter organizations penned a letter calling on Mayor Ed Lee to replace Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White to address “the crisis in public safety,” the SF Chronicle reported. Last week, the Chronicle reported that Supervisor London Breed, a former fire commissioner, “has lost confidence in the leadership of the San Francisco Fire Department”:

The Fire Department has increasingly struggled to get ambulances to medical emergencies to transport patients to the hospital, an issue that has been detailed in several city reports this year. While fire trucks with at least one paramedic on board respond to all 911 calls within minutes to administer medical care, patients are regularly waiting for long periods for an ambulance to arrive – it happened 2,500 times in 2013, a fourfold increase since 2008 and 25 percent jump over 2012.

In August, according to data presented to the Fire Commission last month, there were more than 374 incidents where it took more than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at a call – including nine cases where it took more than an hour…

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Tell SFMTA How the New San Jose Ave Bike Lane and Road Diet Are Working

How does northbound San Jose Avenue feel ever since it got a road diet and buffered bike lane? The SFMTA has launched an online survey where you can weigh in on the project. It’s your chance to let planners know if you think the street’s safer and calmer, and how it could be improved.

As we’ve written, the “Bernal Cut” finally got a road diet in June, following years of advocacy from neighbors who have pushed for traffic calming. Over 20 years ago, Caltrans invited more speeders to the street by adding a 280 off-ramp lane. Under the current pilot project, the SFMTA and Caltrans replaced of one of San Jose’s three traffic lanes with a buffered bike lane, matching the geometry of San Jose’s southbound side.

The agencies are measuring the traffic-calming effects of the change: if the number of drivers traveling faster than 35 mph doesn’t drop to 15 percent or less, Caltrans will test the removal of the second off-ramp lane it added in 1992 as a temporary measure.

San Jose has a speed limit of 45 mph, and before the redesign, 15 percent of drivers traveled faster than 48 mph (a figure known to engineers as the “85th percentile speed”). On the off-ramp, that speed was 57 mph.

The SFMTA said on its website that agency staff made some preliminary observations on how traffic was moving on August 13 “during both the AM and PM peak travel periods,” finding:

  • The two new merges at the foot of the off-ramp, one with San Jose Avenue and one with Monterey Boulevard, are working well, and drivers are negotiating them with no visible difficulty.
  • Motorists were observed driving in the bike lane, particularly between Milton Street and St. Mary’s Avenue.  Project staff are looking into the travel patterns of these drivers and are exploring ways to mitigate this unsafe behavior.
  • Congestion approaching Randall Street has increased, but has not affected the freeway off-ramp.  Staff noted congestion on San Jose Avenue prior to the implementation of the pilot, and are currently measuring detailed queueing times.  Additional wait time is only present for up to half an hour during the AM and PM peak periods.

This unremarkable picture doesn’t quite jibe with the carmageddon-like scenarios described by a few motorists who have jumped into the comment section on our June article, claiming it’s resulted in car backups a mile long. Of course, it typically takes months after street redesigns for changes in behavior to settle in, as drivers adjust and more people decide to try bicycling on the improved route.

In any case, the SFMTA needs to hear from a greater number of people to get a more complete picture of how San Jose’s working.


SPUR Ocean Beach Erosion Plan Shelves Road Diet for Great Highway

SPUR will not pursue its vision for narrowing Great Highway from four lanes to two, as neighbors fear that traffic will divert onto their streets. Image: SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR has set adrift its proposal to halve the size of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, as the group strives to avoid distracting attention from implementing the other priorities in its Ocean Beach Master Plan. A road diet may be revisited later, once more pressing concerns have advanced.

SPUR calls the OBMP “a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.” It also includes proposals to remove other sections of the Great Highway that are threatened by severe erosion, in what’s called “managed retreat.”

One of SPUR’s highest priorities is converting the Great Highway south of Sloat to a trail. Images: SPUR

Ben Grant, SPUR’s project manager for the OBMP, said one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it with a walking and biking trail. Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, which still would see less traffic than they’re built for.

But the “most controversial” piece of the OBMP plan, said Grant, was the proposal to remove two of the four lanes on the main stretch of the Great Highway, as well as adding parking spaces along that stretch to replace those that would be removed south of Sloat. SPUR doesn’t want opposition to those elements to distract from the more urgently needed road closure south of Sloat.

“We’ve gotten quite a few strong negative reactions to this,” Grant said at a recent SPUR forum. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider.”

Nothing in the OBMP is an official city proposal yet, but SPUR’s ideas are being seriously considered by public agencies that will conduct environmental impact reports for them.

“It’s an interesting thing to think about,” said Grant. “What if we take our one major stretch of oceanfront road and think of it not as a thoroughfare for moving through — [but] think of it instead as a way of accessing and experiencing the coast, as a coastal access or park road?”

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SFPD Cites Light-Running Driver in Crash at Speed-Plagued Oak and Octavia

The SFPD cited a driver for running a red light at Oak Street and Octavia Boulevard on Tuesday night, then crashing into a van and sending three vehicle occupants to the hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the blue Infiniti was traveling north on Octavia when he broadsided the van and sent it into a utility pole, which flipped the van over onto its side.

The intersection is known for high-speed vehicle crashes and light-running drivers, and neighbors have been asking the SFMTA for years to re-configure it and other Hayes Valley intersections to reduce the danger posed by high-volume, high-speed motor traffic. Just last month, a Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association meeting focused on street safety fixes, where D5 Supervisor London Breed told Hoodline that she “got an earful about some of the challenges around traffic in the area,” noting that “we’re hoping to implement some changes sooner rather than later.”

Much of the discussion at the meeting “centered around the contrast of drivers’ freeway on- and off-ramp mentality with the residential nature of the neighborhood,” Hoodline reported. “One concerned mother noted that children play at Patricia’s Green while drivers barrel north up Octavia.”

Oak and Octavia saw a particularly horrific crash in 2011, when a car-carrier truck hit a UCSF shuttle van — the driver of which reportedly ran a red light while traveling eastbound on Oak. Dr. Kevin Mack was ejected from the UCSF van and killed.

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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

Hat tip Jeff Speck.