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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 district’s three pedestrian deaths within the last two months each took place on streets known to be dangerous for walking. On February 19, 72-year-old Eileen Barrett was killed by a Muni driver on Lake Merced Boulevard and John Muir Drive. On March 4, Hanren Chang, a 17-year-old Lowell High School student, was run down by an allegedly drunk driver on her birthday on Sloat Boulevard at Forest View Drive in a crosswalk, less than a block from her house. On March 21, 68-year-old Tania Madfes, a retired teacher, was crossing West Portal Avenue at Vicente Street with her husband when a driver ran them down. Madfes died from her injuries a week later.
Most of the district’s pedestrian crashes take place on streets designed for drivers to speed, like Sloat, O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, and 19th Avenue, according to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. Residents said even in crosswalks where the agency has added treatments like more visible crosswalk markings and signs that instruct drivers to yield to pedestrians, they don’t.
Anyan Cheng, who was a close friend of Chang’s, said she did a one-hour study this week of a pedestrian crossing on Sloat, the speedway where Chang was killed. Even as elderly residents tried to traverse the roadway, she said, “not one car stopped.”
“On Sloat, on 19th Avenue, on Ocean, on Monterey, we need to fix our streets to tame speeds, calm traffic, and prevent more tragedies,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF.
While District 7 carries a generally proportionate share of pedestrian injuries, those injuries are more likely to be fatal, said SFMTA traffic engineer Ricardo Olea. Of the estimated two to three pedestrians injured every day in San Francisco, District 7 sees 8 percent, but 16 percent of the city’s pedestrian fatalities occur there.
Sloat Boulevard, at the crosswalk where Hanren Chang was killed by a driver last Saturday night. Photo: Lea Suzuki, SF Chronicle
Friends and family mourning the death of Hanren Chang, a 17-year-old Lowell High School student who was killed on Sloat Boulevard last Saturday night by driver 29-year-old Kieran Brewer, are calling for safety fixes to prevent future deaths on the excessively-wide speedway. Brewer was arraigned yesterday on felony charges of DUI and felony vehicular manslaughter.
Some safety improvements are already in the works for three intersections on Sloat, including the one where Chang was killed — but they’re not scheduled to be implemented for at least another 18 months, according to a memo from the SF County Transportation Authority [PDF]. The Board of Supervisors coincidentally approved a $797,000 federal grant on Tuesday to plan and construct sidewalk bulb-outs and flashing pedestrian beacons, and adjourned the meeting in honor of Chang. But as the SF Chronicle reported today, the plan is only set to be designed by the end of the next fiscal year — June 2014 — and built within a year after that.
But Sloat, where drivers are invited to speed on an excessively wide roadway, remains a deadly place for pedestrians, as Anyan Cheng, a close friend of Chang’s who launched a petition for safety improvements, told the Chronicle. ”It’s like a freeway in a residential area,” she said. “People don’t stop for you. Drivers don’t see you.”
As Streetsblog has reported, 54-year-old Feng Lian Zhu was killed by a driver in January 2010 on Sloat near Forest View Drive — the same intersection where Chang was killed. In 2011, 33 traffic crashes occurred at Sloat intersections, according to police data. In those crashes, two pedestrians were injured at Everglade Drive and 44th Avenue, and two bicycle riders were injured at 19th Avenue, also a state highway.
An allegedly drunk driver was arrested for hitting and killing 17-year-old Hanren Chang on Sloat Boulevard near Vale Avenue on Saturday night. According to CBS 5, 29-year-old Keiran Brewer was driving westbound on Sloat at about 11:20 p.m. when he hit Chang, who was crossing the street in the northbound direction, and dragged her “a short distance.” Update: According to ABC 7, Chang was a student at Lowell High School and had just got off a Muni bus on her way home after celebrating her birthday.
Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said the organization “is saddened to learn of San Francisco’s fourth pedestrian death this past weekend. Hanren Chang was a young girl who lost her life in an awful way, killed and apparently dragged by a car on Sloat Boulevard, one of San Francisco’s most dangerous streets.”
“It’s time for Mayor [Ed] Lee to mobilize city agencies to make our streets safer for everyone, and prevent more needless tragedies,” she added.
Despite some recent safety improvements, Sloat, a state highway run by Caltrans, remains a deadly speedway dividing the Parkside neighborhood. In January 2012, Caltrans put Sloat on a road diet (converting two of six traffic lanes to buffered bike lanes), upgraded some crosswalks with more visible markings, and lowered the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph. However, without further physical traffic calming measures, the lives of residents crossing the street are still at serious risk.
Two pedestrians were injured on Sloat in 2011, and as Streetsblog reported in January 2010, 54-year-old Feng Lian Zhu was killed by a driver on Sloat near Forest View Drive.
“We were encouraged by the recent improvements Caltrans made on Sloat,” said Stampe. “Clearly much more needs to be done, and the city and the state need to work together quickly to add lights and further traffic-calming to fix this deadly road.”
Sloat runs along the border between District 4 and District 7, whose new supervisor, Norman Yee, expects to hold a hearing later this month to review dangerous spots for pedestrians and the status of safety projects. Eileen Barrett was killed by a driver two weeks ago on Lake Merced Boulevard, another high-speed road in Yee’s district.
As of last week, District 4 is represented by newly-appointed Supervisor Katy Tang, who replaced Carmen Chu. On the Board of Supervisors, Chu pushed Caltrans to initiate last year’s safety improvements. Although Tang didn’t initially mention pedestrian safety when asked about her transportation priorities, she followed up with Streetsblog saying she’d like to discuss the issue further. If you have a pedestrian safety question you’d like us to bring to Tang’s attention, let us know in the comments.
Update: Tang told ABC 7 that pedestrian improvements are slated for the intersections of Sloat and Everglade Drive, Forest View Drive, and 23rd Avenue.