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DPW Looks to Add Some Green to Car-Clogged Central Irving Street

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Irving Street at 20th Avenue. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Most of the space on the busy commercial stretch of central Irving Street in the Sunset serves as a clogged parking lot, with rampant double parking and drivers circling the easternmost block to work around 19th Avenue’s left-turn bans. But while the car traffic and angled parking spots that eat up public space may not disappear any time soon, the Department of Public Works held a recent public meeting to field input on how to make the street more livable with new trees, re-paving, a median with greenery, and a few corner bulb-outs.

Irving, between 19th and 27th Avenues, is slated to get the improvements using $3 million from the Prop B street improvement bond.  However, planners said it likely won’t be enough for any significant sidewalk expansions.

Sam Kaleh, owner of Lucca Foods at Irving and 20th Avenue, said crossing the street at the corner can be dangerous, and hopes to see crosswalks made more visible. He’s considering applying for a parklet in front of his store to provide more space for people than the narrow sidewalk currently provides, though he’d prefer a bulb-out because he’s concerned a parklet would invite homeless people to sit in it. (That’s a concern that prevails among some merchants and residents, even though it generally hasn’t been a real problem at the 38 parklets installed around the city.) “I’d like to see people be safe and happy about shopping on the street,” said Kaleh.

Irving at 19th Avenue.

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Details on 2nd Street Protected Bike Lanes, Ped Upgrades Come Into Focus

A rendering of Second Street at South Park. Images: DPW

The plan for raised, parking-protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements on Second Street is shaping up after the Department of Public Works presented new details [PDF] last week.

When completed in September 2016, the project is expected to transform Second into a far safer corridor with protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, pedestrian bulb-outs, more visible crosswalks, and new greenery.

In response to calls for wider sidewalks, planners added a major improvement in the latest iteration of the plan. Originally, city staff said only one of the narrow sidewalks on the stretch of Second between Harrison and Townsend Streets could be widened due to budget constraints. But because of a push from residents who emphasized the importance of taking the opportunity to widen sidewalks on both sides to 15 feet, the project will now include that change, said Cristina Olea, DPW’s project manager. Utility poles will remain in place until the city funds a separate project to move the overhead wires underground.

Despite surveys showing broad support for the proposed improvements, as well as praise for DPW’s extensive community outreach from residents and city officials, discussion at the latest meeting was hijacked by a contingent of residents from a building at 355 Bryant Street who said they were recently caught off guard by the project.

Those residents mostly voiced fears about traffic congestion and problems with loading that they claimed would result from the project. When one man argued that the proposed safety improvements couldn’t be made because car commuters need all four existing traffic lanes to get to and from the Bay Bridge, Olea said the improvements should discourage those drivers from using Second as an alternative to the main motor routes like First and Third Streets.

“Our overall vision is to de-emphasize Second Street as a route to the freeway,” said Olea. “It’s not an arterial.”

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Livable City: Ticket Fee a Smart Way to Fund Transit to Warriors Arena

A rendering of the proposed Warriors basketball arena on the Embarcadero. Image: Golden State Warriors

Transporting folks to and from a new Warriors arena, condo, and hotel development planned for Piers 30-32 along the Embarcadero will require smart planning and the money to fund improvements for transit, walking, and biking to avoid clogging the waterfront with cars.

But Muni typically gets shorted when it beefs up transit service to bring fans to major sports and music events around the city, says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who yesterday proposed adding a $1 to $3 transit surcharge to tickets for such events. Wiener asked the City Controller’s Office to study the impacts of such a fee, and he says preliminary estimates indicate it could bring in anywhere from $3 million to $22 million per year for Muni, depending on the size of the fee and which venues pay it.

“Muni doesn’t have enough light rail vehicles, its vehicles frequently break down, and service has degraded,” Wiener said in a statement. “With a growing population and a possible new sports/concert arena at Piers 30-32, now is the time to ensure that Muni can meet not only today’s transit needs, but also the transit needs of the future.”

“Currently, the Muni underground is overwhelmed whenever there’s a Giants game. With the addition of the new arena, the strain on Muni service will be even more severe.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART Board of Directors, said the proposal “would certainly help Muni run the extra service,” for which the agency often pays transit operators overtime.

Radulovich pointed out that the surcharge wouldn’t necessarily come out of fans’ pockets, since venue managers would likely lower their ticket prices to match the going rate. “If they could charge two bucks extra on a ticket already, they’d be doing it,” he said. “They price them to fill the seats.”

An even better proposal, Radulovich noted, would be for event tickets to include a free Muni ride to encourage attendees to take transit instead of drive.

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Wider Highways? Bay Area’s Smart Growth Plan Has Some Glaring Mistakes

Population growth in the Bay Area doesn’t have to mean more traffic and more suburban sprawl, if it’s planned for in a sustainable way. To that end, regional planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission recently released a draft of Plan Bay Area, a state-mandated blueprint for focusing housing growth over the next 25 years near transit hubs, where new residents are less likely to need a car to get around.

A high-occupancy toll lane on Highway 680. Photo: Laura Oda, Bay Area News Group

Sustainable planning advocates say the plan is mostly headed in the right direction, but it still falls short in some areas. One glaring mistake is that the plan calls for spending billions to widen highways to create high-occupancy toll lanes — carpool lanes that single-occupancy drivers can pay to use. Those lanes should instead be created by converting existing highway lanes, says TransForm, an Oakland-based group that advocates for better walking, biking, and transit policies on a regional and state level.

“MTC’s plan follows a 1970s-era Caltrans practice that limits Express Lanes to new construction only, without even studying the option of optimizing existing lanes,” wrote TransForm Deputy Director Jeff Hobson in a blog post. “This kind of outdated thinking is hardly the best approach to solving 21st century transportation problems – and would completely exclude some of the most congested stretches of highway from the plan.”

Because most of the revenue from HOT lanes will be soaked up to pay for the highway widenings, instead of just charging single-occupancy drivers to alleviate congestion in existing lanes, SPUR has pointed out that they will generate little money for transit improvements. Meanwhile, the new lanes will induce more demand for driving and do nothing to reduce existing congestion.

Shown in pink: Priority development areas, where housing growth will be focused over the next 25 years under Plan Bay Area. Image: MTC

“MTC’s plan continues the cycle of ‘build more lanes, attract more drivers’ by creating new options for solo drivers, but no new transportation choices,” wrote Hobson. ”Over the long term, this strategy is virtually guaranteed to land us back at square one: gridlock on heavily-traveled highways.”

The MTC’s draft plan also fails to include enough new transit-oriented affordable housing to reduce the projected costs of housing and transportation, TransForm says. While the MTC set a goal of reducing those costs from an estimated 66 percent of household income for low-income families region-wide to 56 percent, the agency actually projects those costs to increase to 73 percent of household income. That means living in a walkable community would be less affordable than it already is.

“Without stronger policies in place to prevent that from happening, folks will end up living farther and farther away from places like San Francisco, and we will then encroach on our precious farmland and open space that we’re so fortunate to have in the Bay Area,” TransForm Community Planner Joél Ramos told MTC commissioners at a recent public meeting.

The MTC does expect the plan to meet its goals in six areas, including providing enough housing for all of the Bay Area’s projected new residents without any expansion of sprawl; exceeding the state-mandated 15 percent reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions (the projected improvement is 18 percent); and reducing residents’ exposure to dangerous fine particulate pollution, which largely comes from trucks, by 71 percent. MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger also said that the spending plan for transit improvements focuses primarily on fixing existing systems first before embarking on expansions.

Yet Plan Bay Area falls short in addressing other major problems [PDF], with some even expected to get worse:

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Livable City: With Smarter Land Use, SFCTA Could Avert “Total Gridlock”

San Francisco’s South of Market district will be crippled by gridlock within a generation unless the city makes major improvements to its transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure and implements policies that entice commuters to travel by means other than driving.

That’s according to planners from the SF County Transportation Authority who aim to avert such a scenario by implementing a long-range transportation blueprint over the next 25 years [PDF]. But the blueprint misses some major opportunities to pursue transit-oriented growth, say advocates. In effect, they argue, planners are making it much harder to avoid a traffic-choked future than it has to be.

To avert “total gridlock” in SoMa, planners estimate that the anticipated increase in driving brought on by population and job growth must be curbed by about 20 percent, with another 20 percent reduction needed to have “a livable, functional, flowing system, that is meeting the needs of bicyclists and transit,” said Tilly Chang, the SFCTA’s deputy director for planning. “We’re talking about quite a big reduction in travel demand by car in the peak period in order to meet these basic functional network goals.”

The projected traffic tsunami comes from an anticipated 101,000 new households and 191,000 new workers between now and 2040, mainly in downtown and along the city’s eastern waterfront, according to the SFCTA. Under the status quo, that growth is expected to generate approximately 412,000 daily car trips, which is about how many are currently made across Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge combined. Chang noted that 80 percent of downtown driving commuters are San Franciscans, while 50 percent of downtown transit commuters come from within the city. “We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

The forecast even accounts for major transit projects currently underway, like Bus Rapid Transit routes on Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard, the Central Subway, the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, and the Transbay Center, as well as planned biking and walking improvements, Chang said.

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Congestion Pricing: Vital for Funding a Sustainable Transpo Future in SF

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Third Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Take a shot at budgeting San Francisco’s future transportation revenue with the new online “Budget Czar” simulator from the SF County Transportation Authority, and it will quickly become clear: If residents want better transit and safer streets for walking and biking over the next 25 years, the city needs to collect new sources of transportation revenue in a way that effectively reduces motor vehicle congestion.

The SFCTA anticipates having $64 billion to spend over the next 25 years, with 80 percent ($52 billion) going to maintain the existing state of street and transit infrastructure — “not nearly enough to meet projected needs,” the agency said in a statement. With $9 billion already committed to projects in the works, that leaves just $3.14 billion left to devote to projects like pedestrian safety upgrades, a network of protected bikeways, and increased transit service — improvements that the SFCTA believes are in high demand from the public. By seeing how residents would budget that $3.14 billion in the “Czar” simulator, the SFCTA says it hopes to get a better picture of how to prioritize transportation projects in the 25-year San Francisco Transportation Plan, expected to be adopted next spring.

“We need to critically think about, ‘What are some of the best sources of revenue?’” said Egon Terplan, regional planning director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “One of the really important functions of the Transportation Plan is to put that on the table, and to say, ‘What projects do you want as a city and county? And if you want more investment in transportation projects than we likely have money for, are you willing to pay for it?’”

As funding sources like gas taxes and federal grants shrink, population growth in the Bay Area means the SFCTA expects as many as 412,000 more daily car trips clogging the city’s streets and highways by 2035. But that scenario can be averted if San Francisco institutes a congestion pricing system that provides incentives for drivers to avoid adding to traffic jams while funding improvements to make transit, bicycling and walking more attractive.

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The Outside Lands Transpo Crunch: Bringing 65K People Per Day to GG Park

For the fifth year, San Francisco’s transportation system will absorb one of its largest floods of travelers when 65,000 daily attendees descend upon Golden Gate Park this weekend for the three-day Outside Lands music festival.

With festival goers traveling from near and far, promoters have tried each year to curb the number of people arriving by car, providing shuttles, bike valet and rows of bike racks, while “strongly encouraging” visitors on the event’s website to come by means other than driving.

Still, with many driving from across California and beyond, thousands of cars will inundate the park and the surrounding neighborhoods, and Muni vehicles will be packed. Although little data on mode share is available from the organizers (they’re apparently slammed preparing for the event), a representative said they expect close to 20 percent of people to come by shuttle or bike. That leaves about 52,000 people either driving, taking transit, or walking to Golden Gate Park.

Despite shuttles provided to and from Civic Center, as well as extra Muni service, the N-Judah, 5, and 71 lines are expected to be packed throughout the day. During the first event in 2008, Muni added 118 buses over the weekend, according to SFist, which reported that some riders waited 45 minutes just to board. This year, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Muni will add limited-stop buses on the 5-Fulton from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. each day of the event, as well as inbound N-Judah Express buses on Friday night from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Rose said Outside Lands organizers “have offered to fund at least some of the extra service,” though the specific plans for service haven’t been finalized yet. Muni staff will also sell off-board tickets at the Civic Center and 4th and King Caltrain stations from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to speed up boardings.

Outside Lands’ distant location from downtown (its name derives from the formerly undeveloped expanse of dunes) means it lacks the advantage of being within walking distance of BART and Caltrain, which other major events enjoy.

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More Cars = Less Congestion? Supes Grill CPMC’s Perplexing Traffic Analysis

How can more cars relieve congestion at an intersection?

Members of the Board of Supervisors pursued that question this week during two hearings on California Pacific Medical Center’s plan to build the massive new Cathedral Hill medical center at Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. The board postponed a vote on Tuesday to approve the project’s environmental impact report, which was approved by the Planning Commission in April despite the 1,200 parking spaces it would include.

The thousands of car trips those parking spaces would induce have troubled residents and livable streets advocates. Scrutinizing the traffic impacts predicted in the EIR, supervisors grilled Planning Department staff over the perplexing finding that congestion at two intersections would actually be reduced, despite additional vehicle traffic.

Viktoriya Wise of the Planning Department made numerous attempts to explain the perplexing “peak-hour factor” used in Level of Service, the automobile-centric traffic formula which planners must use to analyze traffic impacts. But Supervisor David Chiu wasn’t satisfied, asserting that the peak-hour factor wasn’t used in other cities, according to experts he’d spoken to.

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TTI: Mass Transit Saved Drivers 45.4 Million Hours Last Year

Last year, the D.C. region ran away with the dubious honor of Most Congested Metro Area. D.C. area drivers wasted 74 hours and 37 gallons of fuel sitting in traffic last year, which would have cost about $100 over the course of the year. But the gasoline cost is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the 2011 Urban Mobility Report, released today by the Texas Transportation Institute, this delay cost the average D.C. driver $1,495 once you factor in lost productivity and increased trucking times. In Chicago, it’s $1,568. L.A., $1,334.

Every year, TTI puts out their Urban Mobility Report, and every year we criticize it for its autocentrism. After all, its sole measure is how fast a vehicle can speed down a given mile of roadway. Maybe your city is dense and friendly to pedestrians and bikes, so that it’s easy to glide past the automobile gridlock on your short commute to work. Or maybe transit provides an excellent and affordable alternative to traffic jams. None of that matters to TTI. If someone, somewhere, is sitting in traffic, that’s all that matters. All other measures and modes of urban mobility are ignored.

TTI doesn’t bother to figure out how much time is saved if one avoids that congestion by taking transit, but they do examine how much time transit riders save drivers by taking vehicles off the road.

How public transportation reduces delays for drivers, 2010. Source: 2011 Urban Mobility Report, via APTA.

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Whose Streets?

Market and Kearny and 3rd Streets, 1909. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library)

“Whose Streets? OUR Streets!” yell rowdy demonstrators when they surge off the sidewalk and into thoroughfares. True enough, the streets are our public commons, what’s left of it (along with libraries and our diminishing public schools), but most of the time these public avenues are dedicated to the movement of vehicles, mostly privately owned autos. Other uses are frowned upon, discouraged by laws and regulations and what has become our “customary expectations.” Ask any driver who is impeded by anything other than a “normal” traffic jam and they’ll be quick to denounce the inappropriate use or blockage of the street.

Bicyclists have been working to make space on the streets of San Francisco for bicycling, and to do that they’ve been trying to reshape public expectations about how streets are used. Predictably there’s been a pushback from motorists and their allies, who imagine that the norms of mid-20th century American life can be extended indefinitely into the future. But cyclists and their natural allies, pedestrians, can take heart from a lost history that has been illuminated by Peter D. Norton in his recent book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. He skillfully excavates the shift that was engineered in public opinion during the 1920s by the organized forces of what called itself “Motordom.” Their efforts turned pedestrians into scofflaws known as “jaywalkers,” shifted the burden of public safety from speeding motorists to their victims, and reorganized American urban design around providing more roads and more space for private cars.

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