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Posts from the "Traffic" Category

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Advocates: CityPlace EIR Highlights Need for Level of Service Reform

What the view of CityPlace from Mason Street would look like. Image: Market Street Holdings LLC

What the view of CityPlace would look like from Mason Street. Image: Market Street Holdings LLC

At the heart of the San Francisco Planning Department’s 328-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for CityPlace, sustainable transportation advocates have pinpointed one glaring flaw. In assessing the impacts of new off-street retail parking, the environmental analysis [pdf] concludes that building a 167-space garage will have the same effect on traffic as building no garage at all.

“This environmental analysis has really pitted this project against pedestrian safety and the livability of this neighborhood,” said Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City.

CityPlace is a 250,000 square foot retail project planned for Market Street that the Mayor has trumpeted as essential for the area, “a key pillar in the continuing revitalization of Mid-Market that will bring hundreds of jobs and new revenues to boost our City’s economy and thousands of new pedestrians and shoppers to activate one of the most blighted blocks of Market Street.”

Radulovich along with attorney Arthur Levy and Walk SF had filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s certification of the DEIR, arguing that it failed to adequately address and mitigate the dangers to pedestrians and bicyclists. Levy was also concerned the St. Francis Theater, designed by architect John Galen Howard, will be demolished and that the glass structure won’t fit in with the visual and historic character of Market Street.

Supporting the appeal seemed politically impossible for the Board of Supervisors. Instead, Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the area, with help from Judson True, an aide to Supervisor David Chiu, brokered a deal [pdf] before the supervisors meeting Tuesday.  Market Street Holdings LLC (Urban Realty), the project’s sponsor, agreed to charge a 20 cent per vehicle exit fee at the CityPlace garage that would eventually add up to $1.8 million for “bicycle and/or pedestrian and/or transit improvements.” That pleased the supervisors and the DEIR was certified on a 9-0 vote, giving the final clearance.

The rejection of the appeal followed a public hearing in which the advocates laid out their case, and the project’s sponsors were allowed a rebuttal.

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Advocates Call on SFMTA to Take Immediate Steps to Fix Masonic Avenue

_2.jpgA ghost bike at Masonic and Turk in memory 21-year-old Nils Linke, who was killed by a drunk driver one week ago. Photo: Michael Helquist of BIKE NOPA.
A week after a 21-year-old German tourist on a bicycle was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver on Masonic Avenue, the first death of a bicyclist in the city this year, advocates who have been working for years to calm the major arterial are calling on the SFMTA to make immediate safety improvements.

The SFMTA recently unveiled four long-term options to fix Masonic, but in light of Nils Linke's death Friday night, and with the bike injunction finally lifted, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Michael Helquist of BIKE NOPA and other advocates are urging the agency to take action sooner rather than later.

"We've been really happy and encouraged to see the long-range vision the MTA is putting forward in terms of the four options that have been presented at the community meetings. We think this is really going in the right direction but with the recent tragedy this past weekend we feel like it really underscores the need to make some immediate improvements," said Renée Rivera, the SFBC's acting executive director.

She would like to see buffered bike lanes installed immediately, on a trial basis, in both directions of Masonic Avenue between Ewing Terrace and Fulton Street.

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Jack Fleck on Market Street, Muni, Global Warming and Traffic

Jack_Fleck_.jpgPhoto: Bryan Goebel.

What does San Francisco's retired top traffic engineer think about Market Street, Muni and global warming? We sat down with Jack Fleck recently for an extended interview. The 62-year-old retired last week after more than 25 years with the former Department of Parking and Traffic and the current San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

Fleck expounded on a number of topics and his answers offer some insight into his thinking over the years as the city's lead traffic engineer.

On cars and driving:

As a student I started connecting all these problems with the automobile and the first one was related to the urban riots, I mean the fact that at that time equal housing laws didn't exist. So, African Americans were pretty much confined to the inner city, at the same time the freeways were crisscrossing the cities and making them much less livable, destroying neighborhoods and creating noise and pollution and all of that, and they became like pressure cookers and they exploded, and so the inner city blight and the white flight were something I paid a lot of attention to in the '60s. But then also reading Jane Jacob's book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," and how she contrasted Robert Moses, who was the big freeway builder. His vision of how the freeway was always good versus the reality, and not just freeways, but parking lots and widening streets and all the things that she talked about to create the fabric of a city and the way that the automobile was part of the problem. It wasn't like that was the only problem, but that was something she talked a lot about and I learned the word 'livability' I think from Don Appleyard when I took classes at Berkeley. I went to grad school in City Planning at Berkeley.

So that sort of struck home as that's what I want to do, make cities livable and I don't know that it was really a word that was used a lot until more recently, but it does make sense. That's from all the days that I've been involved in this is trying to make this city a better place to live. But then there were other problems with cars obviously, the wars for oil and I think I learned the word ecology in about 1969, it was the first time I heard that word. I was like 'oh, that's a good one', because air pollution, oil spills which obviously are still a problem. So all of that sort of compounded to make me much more anti-automobile, but still, I was like 'yes, cars are still convenient and people love cars.' I was never a person that loved cars like they were my baby or something, like some people their whole identity is caught up in their cars and that's still true today, but they are very convenient to get around and so it's a love/hate thing.

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Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck Looks Back at 25 Years of Shaping SF Streets

Jack_Fleck_1.jpgJack Fleck, who retired yesterday after 25 years with the SFMTA, has been pondering the city's streets from his 7th floor office above Van Ness and Market Streets. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on the past, present and future of traffic engineering in San Francisco. 

Jack Lucero Fleck remembers his teenage years as a sputnik, the kind of kid who was as "nutty as a slide rule," loved math and science, and knew he was headed in that direction. It was the summer of 1965, and living in Peoria, Illinois, the same town where US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood grew up, Fleck couldn't quite peg what he wanted to do in life. And then there were the Watts riots.

"I got kind of interested in, 'well, what caused that? Why were people burning down their neighborhood?'," Fleck, 62, explained during a recent interview. "I decided I would go into civil engineering because I liked to do math and science and engineering and I would combine it with city planning to make cities better places to live, so people wouldn't want to burn them down."

For the last 25 years, Fleck, who retired yesterday from his job as San Francisco's top traffic engineer, has had a hand in almost every major transportation project in San Francisco, from the demolition and boulevard replacement of the Embarcadero and Central Freeways, to helping in the design of the T-Third line and Central Subway, to crafting a controversial proposal to remove the bike lane at Market and Octavia Streets.

He has sometimes been the bane of transit advocates for defending post-World War II traffic engineering orthodoxy favoring one-way street networks, such as those that roar through neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SoMa. While some advocates have been working to dismantle some of the one-way arterials, Fleck, who became lead traffic engineer in 2004, is a firm believer in them. Still, those advocates and transportation professionals who have worked with Fleck (none we contacted would go on the record with their criticisms) say he has been a true professional and easy to work with.

"His views are very progressive and he's very environmentally conscious," said Bond Yee, the interim Director of Sustainable Streets at the SFMTA who has been at the agency four years longer than Fleck. "He epitomizes what the new generation of transportation professionals is becoming. He's a little bit ahead of his time."

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San Francisco Moves to Lessen the Impact of Truck Traffic

SFTruckTrafficRoutes_002small.jpgClick to enlarge: The revised San Francisco truck route map. Image: SFMTA

In a city as dense as San Francisco, it's inevitable that truck traffic often travels along streets where people live. But public health and environmental justice groups, the MTA and the Department of Public Health are now collaborating to ensure that the impact of that traffic is mitigated as much as possible, and doesn't continue to disproportionately affect the southeast section of the city.

To this end, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell called for an update on the collaborative effort at a hearing last week.

"Southeast San Francisco bears a significant burden of the city's traffic volume," said Maxwell. "Much of city's local traffic is disproportionately through communities of color."

A survey of the city's southeastern communities found that 46 percent of respondents said they smell pollution on their block every week, and 44 percent live within 500 feet of a high volume roadway, said Charlie Sciammas of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER). In addition to greatly increased asthma rates, a recent study found that living within close proximity to such streets correlates with higher body mass indexes in kids.

The MTA has a three-prong approach to solving the problem: the first is an update to the San Francisco truck traffic routes map, which the MTA's Sam Fielding said hadn't been revised since before the Embarcadero Freeway and a spur of the Central Freeway were torn down.

"We created a newly updated truck route map and asked for feedback from the public and 40 trucking companies," said Fielding. "It's advisory, and isn't incorporated in the General Plan yet, but we're talking to City Planning to incorporate it in the next update."

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Study Finds Livable Streets Even More Important for Kids than Adults

IMG_1459.jpgFewer cars means more walking and healthier kids.

By most measures, San Francisco is a great place to walk and bike, with its compact street grid, mixed-use neighborhoods and relatively mild weather. But a new study conducted by UC Berkeley professor Michael Jerrett suggests the city may need to focus on taming traffic before kids will get the full health benefits of that dense development.

Streetsblog New York's Noah Kazis reports on the study, which links traffic volumes to youth obesity:

Jerrett shows that not only does the built environment matter, but traffic volumes matter too. His team's long-term study tracked children from across Southern California, starting from ages 9-10 and continuing through high school. Controlling for a wide variety of factors, they compared the children's body mass indexes (BMI) to the density of traffic near their homes.

Children living within 150 meters of high-traffic areas were found to have, on average, BMIs five percent higher than those living near low-traffic areas. Only the immediate surroundings seem to matter: Traffic levels within 300 or 500 meters didn't affect BMI.

The researchers put forward two reasons for why traffic volumes contribute to obesity. High asthma rates could be part of the equation, making kids less likely to engage in physical activity. Kids - and their parents - also seem to be especially sensitive to the real or perceived danger from cars, much more so than adults.

To put the findings in context, a regular San Francisco block is about 600 feet, or about 180 meters. If kids live on a street with a lot of traffic, or if the next cross street is overrun with cars, there's a real chance they'll be less likely to bike or walk.

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In Texas, One Newspaper Laments the Highway Lanes Not Built

The Transportation Enhancements program, which requires states to set
aside 10 percent of their federal transport money for new bicycle and
pedestrian facilities, among other projects, turns 19 years old this
year. But you’d almost never know it after reading Saturday’s Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, in which the paper
tallies
— with no shortage of alarm — the federal money not being
spent on new roads.

797.jpgAn artist’s rendering of the Woodall Rogers Deck project
in Dallas. (Photo: U. of MN)

The Star-Telegram story, which soon got snapped up
by the Associated Press, begins by challenging Dallas’ Woodall Rogers
Deck Park, a groundbreaking
effort
to cap the city’s Woodall Rogers Freeway and create a
5.2-acre green space for the public. The park, aimed at creating a
walkable link between Dallas’ local districts, received
$16.7 million in stimulus funding from the Obama administration.

From the Star-Telegram:

The Woodall Rodgers project is a glaring example of how,
at a
time when many Texans distrust their transportation leaders, huge
chunks of federal and state money are being spent on projects that have
little or nothing to do with directly improving traffic.

"Texans
should be outraged by it, especially when they’re being asked to
support tax increases for transportation," said Justin Keener, vice
president for policy and communications at the Texas Public Policy
Foundation, a nonpartisan research institute in Austin.

The Star-Telegram reviewed 515 state projects awarded
funds
under the federal transportation enhancement program during the past 18
years and found projects large and small that had little to do with
mobility.

As it happens, the "nonpartisan" Texas Public Policy Foundation
makes no bones about its political alignment on its website, which outlines a
mission of "limited government" and offers a litany of pro-industry
critiques of the Democratic health care bills.

The group’s leadership is stocked with veteran advisers to
Republican Gov. Rick Perry (TX), and chairman of the board Wendy
Lee Gramm
is a former Enron lobbyist who
aided
her husband Phil Gramm, a former Texas GOP senator, in his
late-1990s push to de-regulate Wall Street.

Yet aside from Gramm’s group, the Star-Telegram story includes no
sources criticizing Texas transportation enhancements, which have
received $997 million since the program began in 1991.

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The ‘Movie Ticket’ Theory of Transportation Pricing

Let’s say you’re at the movies, and you look up at the box office
only to see no ticket prices listed. You know you’re going to have to
pay for the show eventually — perhaps even during income-tax season –
but for now you can watch all you want, seemingly for free.

2777481403_e25bf63dde.jpg(Photo: Roloff via Flickr)

How many movies would you see? One, two … or as many as you wanted to?

Former federal highway official Steve Lockwood presented that hypothetical at today’s University of Virginia conference to illustrate the nation’s wacky notion of transportation pricing.

"The reason we don’t have a flexible dialogue when it comes to pricing is that we don’t know how much things cost," he said.

Right now
tolling is prohibited on existing interstate highway systems built with
federal funds, with a few exceptions. But conference speakers on both
ends of the political spectrum agreed that the transportation system
must be priced more accurately in order to avoid catastrophic
consequences.

In other words: It’s time to start properly labeling the price of a movie ticket.

Douglas Foy, the former development secretary of Massachusetts, and transit critic
Adrian Moore of the Reason Foundation, sparred on many issued but
agreed that any new highway capacity should include charges beyond the
gas tax.

The comparison of film-going to driving is an
imperfect one, to be sure, but the core need to inform the public about
the consequences of decision-making applies to both activities.

"People
love to believe they can be free riders," Jay-Etta Hecker of the
Bipartisan Policy Center told conference attendees today. "People need
to be educated that this isn’t a free-rider system."

The
federal effort to encourage sounder urban transportation pricing
remains in its infancy, however. Mary Peters, George W. Bush’s second
transportation secretary, introduced the Urban Parternship Agreements
(UPA) in 2007 to incentivize congestion mitigation efforts, but New
York City lost its chance at the UPA cash after the state legislature
voted down congestion pricing.

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How Much Would Most People Pay For a Shorter Commute?

chart.gif(Data: IBM’s CPI)

As Washington conventional wisdom has it,
raising gas taxes or creating a vehicle miles traveled tax to pay for
transportation is impossible during the current recession. After all,
who would want to squeeze cash-strapped commuters during tough economic
times?

As it turns out, the public is very willing to pay for the
shorter commuting times that result from less traffic — and they’re
willing to pay top dollar, as IBM’s new Commuter Pain Index (CPI) shows.

When
asked what value they would place on every 15 minutes sliced from their
daily commute, 36.5 percent of CPI respondents said between $10 and
$20. That’s about five times the recent trading price of a ton of carbon emissions on the nation’s climate-change exchanges.

And
the price of a shorter commute was higher in more congested cities. In
Los Angeles, 22 percent of residents said every 15 minutes not spent en route to work would be worth between $31 and $40 — or more than $100 per hour.

What
does the data mean? For one thing, those who fear that voters would
revolt if asked to pay more for a more efficient, less congested
transport network shouldn’t let that stop policy-making. As every
successful politician knows (and the president is re-learning on health care), messaging is the key to winning over the public.

In
other words, Democrats who feign unwillingness to subject voters to
higher gas taxes are ignoring their ability to control the message.
When a greater contribution to transportation is pitched as a way to shorten commutes and give workers more free time, the prospect becomes more desirable.

And
it’s not that lawmakers don’t know how to decrease congestion,
particularly in the urban areas that were polled to produce the CPI.
Reducing the number of car trips and lowering demand during peak travel
times are proven to be a cheaper and more effective method of battling congestion than expanding highway capacity.

Is it time to nickname the White House’s Sustainable Communities Initiative the "Shorter Commutes Initiative"?

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Bay Bridge Closure Inspires Curiosity Among Livable Streets Advocates

pic29179.jpgThe original and a new temporary structure will be swapped this weekend. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.
The Bay Bridge closure this weekend will be the third in four years, and drivers are starting to figure out alternatives, including taking BART, carpooling on other bridges, and simply avoiding unnecessary trips. But this year's closure is different from those in 2006 and 2007: for the first time, the Bay Bridge will have a planned closure on a regular workday. No one knows what that will entail for certain, but BART will likely be packed, and the streets around Rincon Hill and much of South of Market may be strangely calm.

While the bridge is closed, from 8 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Tuesday, crews will cut and roll away a 300-foot-long section of the east span of the bridge. In its place, a new section will be moved in, which will connect to a temporary half-mile-long detour. The detour will allow crews to complete work on a permanent replacement structure, which will eventually be used to connect the new east span of the bridge to the Yerba Buena Island tunnel. The Bay Bridge website has an excellent video explaining this weekend's construction work.

BART will be running trains hourly overnight on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to 14 stations. There will be no overnight service in the early hours of Tuesday, even though the bridge will still be closed. There will also be additional ferry service across the Bay during the bridge closure, and AC Transit will reroute its transbay routes to meet the BART stations at Coliseum/Oakland Airport, MacArthur, North Berkeley, and West Oakland after making the regular East Bay stops. Muni's route 108 to Treasure Island will operate regular service. The Caltrans Bicycle Shuttle, which normally runs only on weekdays, will add weekend service during the closure, via the Golden Gate and Richmond San Rafael Bridges. A complete list of transit options during the closure is available at 511.org.

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