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Posts from the "Traffic Calming" Category

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As SFMTA Looks to Calm Traffic on Scott, Parking Warriors Get Loud

One vision for Scott as rendered by the SF Bicycle Coalition.

The SFMTA held a public meeting last week about how to calm traffic on three blocks of Scott Street along the Wiggle. On the table are design features that would signal drivers to slow down and possibly prevent them from using the street as a cut-through route. Even though planners say the project may remove few, if any, parking spaces, a familiar handful of pro-car activists showed up to fume about the agency’s livable streets projects in general.

The SFMTA held the meeting to get feedback on various treatments to slow car and bicycle traffic on Scott — and there was consensus among attendees that slower traffic was needed to make the street more comfortable for pedestrians, particularly as growing numbers of bike commuters use the crosstown route. Treatments on the table include traffic diverters, which filter out motor vehicle through-traffic but allow for free-flowing bicycle and pedestrian movement and retain access for local car trips. Also under consideration are raised crosswalks, roundabouts and bulb-outs with greenery, and other design changes that calmed residential streets in other cities but aren’t widespread in San Francisco.

“As we’ve been looking into this, we definitely find that there are some [characteristics] that make [Scott] a good candidate to do something a little bit different,” said Miriam Sorrell, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision.

Most residents said that crossing streets around the Wiggle was often an uncomfortable experience, and some welcomed a significant change to the status quo. But a few people criticized the diverters because car owners would have to change their routes to access their block when driving, and seemed to believe that most residents own cars (which is not supported by census data).

When the meeting opened up for comments, Jung O’Donnell stood up to loudly denounce what she perceives as the SFMTA’s “war on cars” that she sees as essential to family life: “It makes it so much harder for people like me to live in the city when you’re so anti-car,” O’Donnell told SFMTA staffers. She did not refer specifically to the Scott project.

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Without Traffic Calming, Sunset Blvd. Project a Missed Chance to Save Lives

Sunset Boulevard at Ortega Street. Photo: Google Street View

Six-lane Sunset Boulevard is one of the city’s most dangerous streets to cross, but that won’t change under plans being developed by the SF Public Utilities Commission.

Intersections along Sunset where pedestrian deaths and injuries occurred between 2005 and 2010. Image: SFDPH

The SFPUC’s Sunset Boulevard Greenway project is aimed at replacing the underground sewer system and re-landscaping the corridor’s grassy medians, which are half a block wide and separate the motorway from parallel streets, to better absorb stormwater. While traffic and safety improvements aren’t the focus on the project, digging up the street — a rare and major city investment — offers a chance for the SFMTA to make changes that could reduce pedestrian injuries, says Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe.

“The SFPUC’s current greening designs fail to address the conditions on this wide, fast street that make it so deadly,” said Stampe. “This is a real missed opportunity.”

Between 2005 and 2010, 28 people were hit by cars on Sunset – many suffering severe injuries, according to data from the Department of Public Health. Three victims were killed, including an 83-year-old man at Taraval Street in 2005, a 20-year-old woman at Vicente Street in 2008, and 81-year-old Yee-Sung Poon, run over in a crosswalk at Santiago Street in January, 2009.

Poon’s death was deemed nothing more than “a tragic accident” by police, according to the SF Chronicle.

But such tragedies can be prevented with smarter design. Stampe suggests removing two of Sunset’s six traffic lanes, which would help tame car traffic. The only change made to Sunset in recent years was the installation of a traffic signal at Quintara Street, which, unlike redesigning streets for slower speeds, doesn’t necessarily make streets safer.

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SFMTA Looks to Tame Sixth Street With Road Diet, Temporary Parklet

Sixth at Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Sixth Street, which has one of the highest rates of pedestrian injuries in the city, could receive a road diet after the SFMTA analyzes the impacts of removing two of its four traffic lanes to improve safety.

In the meantime, the agency is planning a pilot project this fall on the street’s northern end at Market Street, likely in the form of a parklet-style installation in the parking lanes, to test out “gateway” treatments to signal freeway-bound drivers to slow down.

“There’s nothing telling you so much that you’re entering someone’s neighborhood,” said Mike Sallaberry, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at a community planning meeting yesterday. “It just looks like a continuation of a freeway that leads to another freeway. So maybe we can do something really soon that announces to people that, hey, you’re coming into our front yard.”

Though the SFMTA won’t present proposals for the pilot until the next community meeting in the coming months, planners said it will likely occupy parking spaces for roughly two months on one or both sides of Sixth between Market and Stevenson Street, an alleyway. Sallaberry said the pilot would help inform the larger plan to redesign Sixth for the long term. In addition to calming traffic, removing two of the street’s travel lanes will open up space for improvements like sidewalk expansions, bike lanes, and greenery.

“Lowering the speed saves lives,” said SFMTA project manager Adam Gubser. In response to residents’ calls for police to issue more tickets to drivers violating Sixth Street’s 25 mph speed limit, Gubser said, “It is enforcement, but it’s also engineering and education. We can’t rely on one leg. The facility should be designed for the speed we want.”

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Planning Department Sets Out to Create “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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An example alley from Copenhagen. Image: Planning Department

The Planning Department held a community workshop yesterday to field ideas on how to turn the numerous alleyways in and around Hayes Valley into calmer, greener, more inviting respites from the major traffic-heavy streets.

The “Living Alley Project” is an effort conceived in the Market Octavia Area Plan to re-think the neighborhood’s alleys as people-oriented gathering spaces, where cars are allowed at low speeds, but street life comes first.

“We need more community spaces,” said Robin Levitt, an architect who lives on one of the alleyways and advocated for the removal of the Central Freeway. Patricia’s Green, the park that replaced a block of space formerly occupied by the highway structure, is often overwhelmed with demand, he said. “More than most neighborhoods in the city, we have a lot of through traffic on very busy streets like Gough and Franklin, Oak and Fell, which were once neighborhood streets.”

“The alleys can serve as a shared space, where traffic is calm,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity to re-envision what a street can be — a public space, where children feel like playing, rather than as something to just move through.”

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City Agencies Unveil Final Design for Bartlett “Mercado Plaza”

Images: Planning Department

The final designs for a people-friendly block of Bartlett Street in the Mission were presented [PDF] last week by the Planning Department, Department of Public Works, the SFMTA, and the design firm Rebar. The plan retains the sidewalk extensions that are key to calming traffic and inviting social activity outside of events like the weekly Mission Community Market, when the block is closed to cars.

The project still depends, however, on the SF Fire Department’s approval of the 14-foot roadway. SFFD has opposed narrowing the road below the state Fire Code minimum of 20 feet of unobstructed roadway. Department officials say it could inhibit emergency vehicle access, even though a number of other states and cities use 12-foot minimums without problems. The curbs on the lightly-trafficked block would also be less than six inches high — easily mountable by emergency vehicles — which will no longer be considered an obstruction by the city under legislation recently passed by the Board of Supervisors, set to go into effect at an unknown date.

A few residents at last week’s meeting re-stated their complaints about the plan’s removal of 21 on-street parking spaces on Bartlett to make room for more public space. City staffers, however, displayed a chart showing that the 350-space garage and parking spots on Bartlett are rarely full. A few other residents voiced continued support for the replacement of car parking with pedestrian space.

A future Barlett Street on a regular day.

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SFCTA Board Approves Funding For Masonic, Second Street, and More

The Masonic re-design will now be fully funded. Image: SF Planning Department

Federal funding for street redesigns on Masonic Avenue, Second Street, and other improvements was unanimously approved yesterday by the Board of Supervisors, acting as the board of the SF County Transportation Authority.

The projects selected to receive a chunk of the regional One Bay Area grant also include a bike/ped path on Mansell Street in McLaren Park, pedestrian safety improvements on Broadway in Chinatown, and bike and pedestrian upgrades on streets around the Transbay Transit Center. Altogether, $35 million in OBAG funds will go toward projects in SF.

A crash between a car and a fire department truck seen last week, after the car driver reportedly ran a red light. Photo: Michael Helquist

The most anticipated project in the package — and the most contentious – was the overhaul of Masonic, a deadly street which is slated to get raised bike lanes, reduced traffic lanes, a tree-lined median, bus bulb-outs, and other pedestrian safety upgrades. Of the estimated $18 million needed for the project, OBAG will provide $10 million, while the SFMTA is expected to provide the remaining $8 million.

SF Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Kristin Smith wrote in a blog post yesterday:

This is a huge win for safer, more complete San Francisco streets — especially on Masonic Avenue, one of San Francisco’s most deadly streets. In the last five years, 122 people have been injured and two people killed, just on 2/3 of a mile of Masonic. Thanks to today’s funding decision, this deadly corridor will be transformed into a safer place for all road users.

Even though the Masonic project was approved last September after several years of planning and extensive outreach, a few dozen residents at the hearing told the board to reject funding for the plan because it would remove all on-street car parking on Masonic. They claimed that the safety upgrades were actually dangerous, would add congestion, and that they weren’t notified about the planning process. Almost as many speakers who backed the project attested to the long-overdue need to save lives and make the street more accessible to bicycling.

Supervisors — including Eric Mar, Mark Farrell, and London Breed, who penned a joint letter in February urging funding for the project — gave a sympathetic nod to the complainers, but didn’t budge on their commitment to safer streets.

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City Officials Unveil a People-Friendly Street in Fisherman’s Wharf

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Two blocks of Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf have been revamped to prioritize walking and biking after the project was expedited with support from political leaders.

Car traffic on Jefferson between Hyde and Jones Streets has been tamed, with formerly one-way traffic now running two-way. Sidewalks were expanded with new planters and seating, on-street parking was removed, and the asphalt roadway was replaced with a surface designed for slower speeds. Altogether, the street has been re-designed to send the message that people come first, not cars.

“It’s very refreshing,” said Mayor Ed Lee. “There are places to sit, places to walk, and it’s safer for everybody. It’s going to bring more people down here.”

City officials and community leaders at a ribbon-cutting ceremony today touted the revamp — the first phase of streetscape plans for Jefferson — as an example of how well city agencies can coordinate when politicians put their support behind a project. City leaders largely credited the mayor for expediting the Jefferson improvements to finish in time for the America’s Cup races this summer.

“The mayor’s leadership is the only reason, to some degree, that we’re actually here today, opening up a brand new street,” said David Berbey, president of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District.

Officials also gave much credit to Neil Hrushowy, the Planning Department’s project leader, for his efforts at community outreach and spearheading the often difficult process of creating a design that accommodated demands from various interests. One change that was made to address merchants’ concerns was the addition of curbs, since the original proposal called for a pedestrianized, curbless street where drivers were expected to share space with pedestrians.

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City Sets Out to Create Safer, Greener Streets on the Wiggle

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The Wiggle could be transformed into a greener, more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly route in the coming years thanks to a new planning effort launched by the SFMTA and the SF Public Utilities Commission.

At an open house community meeting yesterday, planners shopped potential treatments like traffic diverters, traffic circles, bulb-outs, and raised crosswalks that could be used to calm motor traffic while adding plants and surfacing treatments to absorb more storm runoff.

“We want to think about how we can make the streets for people,” said Luis Montoya, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets Subdivision. “We’ve been hearing for several years about several issues going on on the Wiggle, whether it be cut-through traffic, bikes and cars speeding and not yielding to pedestrians, and people wanting to see more green on their streets.”

Bicycle traffic has grown dramatically in recent years on the Wiggle, the flattest central route connecting the eastern and western neighborhoods by zig-zagging through the Lower Haight. During that time, the SFMTA has added green-backed sharrows and more visible crosswalks, and the agency plans to remove parking spaces at corners (a.k.a. daylighting) this summer to improve visibility at intersections.

Connections to the Wiggle have also seen major improvements recently, with the installation of the Fell and Oak protected bike lanes on the west end, and an overhaul of Duboce Avenue on the east end that included a new green bike channel.

The SFMTA is now able to embark on more intensive changes to the Wiggle’s streetscape thanks to a partnership with the PUC, which is looking to replace the sewers and add water-absorbing treatments (similar to the project under construction on western Cesar Chavez Street), planners said.

The PUC is providing $4.2 million in addition to $800,000 from the Prop B street improvement bond. By combining projects and funds, both agencies can save time and money, planners said. The project is currently scheduled to be completed in mid-2016.

Ambitious visions for the Wiggle have been sketched out by city planners and livable streets advocates. In 2011, bicycle planners from the SFMTA joined planners from the Netherlands in a workshop called ThinkBike, where they set out to re-design major SF bicycle routes for walking and biking first. The conceptual plans that came out of the workshop depicted on-street greenways with chicanes and traffic lane closures, as well as green-backed sharrows and bike channels like the ones which were later implemented. Last year the SF Bicycle Coalition created more detailed renderings of a Wiggle greenway based on those visions.

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Mission’s People-Friendly Block on Bartlett Faces Fire Code, Parking Hurdles

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An initial conceptual rendering of the redesigned block of Bartlett, between 21st and 22nd Streets, during the weekly farmer's market. Unlike the vision depicted here, planners said the project will include curbs. Image: Mission Community Market

One day each week, the block of Bartlett Street between 21st and 22nd Streets bustles for a few hours when it’s transformed into the Mission Community Market. On all the other days, however, it mostly serves as a parking lot.

The Planning Department and organizers from the Community Market held a packed public meeting yesterday to start off the design process for the Mercado Plaza project, which would include greenery and physical traffic calming improvements to make the block a more inviting place to be at all hours.

“The idea is to transform an overly wide street into a street with much more amenities for public space where kids can play, families can get together, and bringing more culture to the street,” said Ilaria Salvadori of the Planning Department’s City Design Group.

“It’s hard to overstate the need for that kind of public space, especially in the Mission,” said ‘Deep Jawa, a neighbor who is known for building a parklet on the curb space in front of his home. “If you look at Dolores Park, you can see how it has become the Mission’s congregation space. The idea of building a new public gathering space is incredibly exciting.”

Narrowing the wide roadway on the one-way street is key to the expansion of public space and the traffic calming effect planners hope to achieve. Under the block’s redesign, planners propose narrowing the existing traffic lane to 14 feet wide and, where car parking is retained, a 7-foot-wide parking lane.

But changes to road widths must be cleared by the Fire Department, which generally follows state standards that require a 20-foot wide unobstructed roadway for fire truck access. However, the department approves projects on a case-by-case basis, said Patrick Siegman, a principal at the transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard.

With a new package of proposed legislation, Supervisor Scott Wiener hopes to cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape that hinders pedestrian safety improvements. That includes the 20-foot fire code standard, which Wiener said doesn’t always make sense in a dense city. His legislation, which goes up for initial committee approval on Monday, would help clarify what the city considers an obstruction, since features like curbs can usually be mounted by a fire truck, he said.

“The fire code can at times be one-size-fits-all, and tends to be fairly suburban in nature, in terms of wider streets and being car-focused,” he said. “We have a lot of streets that are heck of a lot narrower than 20 feet, and we also have a lot of streets that could really benefit from sidewalk widenings.”

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Planning Department Unveils Final Castro Streetscape Design

Image: Planning Department

The final plan for wider sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements on Castro Street between Market and 19th Streets was presented at an open house by the Planning Department this week. Overall, the pedestrian environment on Castro will be vastly improved after the skinny sidewalks are widened to as much as 22 feet, and the narrowed traffic lanes should also calm motor traffic.

The new plan for the northeast corner of Market, Castro and 17th. Image: Planning Department via BAR

Few changes were made to the draft plan presented last month. Despite the concerns raised by Peter Straus, an SF Transit Riders Union member and and retired Muni service planner, all car parking (except one space) was preserved by shortening the length of the spaces. That means Muni could see more delays caused by drivers maneuvering in and out of parking spots in front of buses.

Planners also revealed that among the four options for how to spend one portion of the project’s budget, the most heavily favored among survey respondents was a package of permanent improvements to Jane Warner Plaza on 17th and Castro (which haven’t been designed yet). The three other options, which won’t be built since they were less favored, included additional bulb-outs at Castro’s intersections with Market, 18th and 19th.

Some of the more cosmetic neighborhood features, like rainbow crosswalks, sparkle sidewalk surfacing, and historical facts about the Castro embedded in the sidewalks may also be off the table. City staffers say the installation of those features depends on whether or not the contractors’ bids for those improvements are low enough for the project’s $4 million budget.

The Bay Area Reporter has more details on the plan.

Construction is scheduled to take place between January and October of next year.