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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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Chamber of Commerce: Empty Asphalt = Good Transportation Performance

The Chamber of Commerce report states that American transportation performance has been through the roof lately, a finding that should lead the Chamber to question some of its assumptions. Source: U.S. Chamber TPI 2011 Update

The Chamber of Commerce released its annual Transportation Performance Index (TPI) last week [PDF], and you can tell it’s due for a total overhaul, because according to the Index, recession-battered 2009 was a banner year for transportation performance.

Using 2009 data, the Chamber, a powerful lobbying group that represents millions of American businesses, determined that the performance of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is improving. However, even the Chamber dismisses the significance of its own results, saying the “improvement” is illusory — due to the decline in driving, and thus congestion, during the recession. But there’s another good reason to dismiss the results: The Chamber is measuring the wrong things.

The Chamber uses the TPI “to track the performance of transportation infrastructure over time… and demonstrate the connection between infrastructure performance, rather than spending, and the economy.” It claims to be the first organization to ever measure the correlation between the quality of transportation systems and economic growth.

But the Chamber’s metrics produce some truly baffling results. During the economic torpor of 2009, the index experienced its greatest improvement in a single year since 1990. Despite the nonsensical figures, the Chamber uses the report release as an opportunity to call for renewed infrastructure investment.

“By all accounts, the nation’s transportation networks continue to languish.” said Janet Kavinoky, head lobbyist for the Chamber’s infrastructure program. “The improvement of the TPI is not sustainable and does not represent a long-term trend… It is due to the economic downturn, rather than strategic policy and regulatory reforms or new investment.”

That’s all true, but that’s not the only reason to question the results of the TPI.

Of the 21 indicators the Chamber uses in its complex formulas, none deal with emissions. Of all of the ways the Chamber chooses to evaluate the U.S. transportation system, none investigates the effect on air and water quality. They certainly don’t take public health into account, ignoring the effect of our transportation choices on our waistlines or our lungs. In fact, the Chamber completely glosses over non-motorized transportation. Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure doesn’t count as one of the “fixed facilities” the Chamber examines.

Here’s all you need to know to be convinced that the Chamber’s measurements of transportation performance don’t add up: Though it didn’t name the top states for transportation performance this year (that listing only comes out every other year), these were the top winners last year:

Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce TPI 2010

Maybe that’s what you get when you evaluate performance on congestion based on “route-miles per 10,000 population” — the higher the better. That’s right. The Chamber judges congestion using a simple formula: asphalt divided by people.

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The Sinister Logic of Old-School Traffic Engineering, in XtraNormal

There is a strange world where up is down, in is out, right is wrong, and black is white. I’m not just talking about the San Francisco Planning Department’s indefensible trip-generation analysis for new parking spaces.

No, I mean the world of old-school traffic engineers, where improving safety on the streets means reducing conflicts with cars (you know, like pesky pedestrians), widening lanes and softening turning radii to allow traffic to move more freely. This is the world of Caltrans, for one, and it’s antithetical to making your city more livable.

Though the state has started to reform its highway and street design guidelines, city planners throughout the Bay Area can attest to the difficulty of adding bus bulbs, traffic calming or bicycle infrastructure in the face of engineers with their traffic bibles telling them there is no such thing as an acceptable green bike lane.

This excellent XtraNormal cartoon, which was produced by Strong Towns, lays out the problem, complete with jargon that will make your head spin.

If you have eight minutes and a wonky sense of humor/indignation, I recommend you watch. If eight minutes seems like a long time, imagine going up against these guys for a decade to reverse the violent upheaval perpetrated on your neighborhood decades prior in the name of progress.

Gives me chills.

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New Study Analyzes Traffic Around Former Central Freeway

Traffic on Octavia Blvd at Market St. SFCTA

Traffic on Octavia Blvd at Market Street. Image: SFCTA

The Central Freeway sections damaged by the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 have been replaced by such a distinctive Octavia Boulevard, for many San Franciscans the double-decked behemoth that used to dominate the neighborhood has become a distant memory. Most of the traffic the freeway carried, however, has not disappeared and now city planners are tracking its displacement on city streets and devising scenarios for reducing it to make surrounding neighborhoods more hospitable to transit, pedestrians and cyclists.

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) this week released baseline traffic information as part of the ongoing Central Freeway and Octavia Circulation Study and proposed solutions for improving the situation locally and regionally [pdf].

The most obvious finding in the study is that traffic levels, while somewhat reduced on Octavia Boulevard itself since the freeway came down, nonetheless continue to choke the study neighborhoods and affect numerous areas further afield.

The Central Freeway Circulation study area is roughly from Noe Street and 18th Street to the southwest, up to Turk Street and Franklin Street to the northeast, with some of the numbered streets in SOMA to the east and as far as Scott Street to the west. The neighborhoods include Hayes Valley, SOMA, The Mission, Duboce Triangle, Civic Center and the Upper Market/Castro, though it also attempts to measure impacts in neighborhoods as far south as Glen Park and the Mission, which have been dealing with commuter traffic that started using detour routes like San Jose Avenue and Guerrero Street to access downtown after the earthquake.

Despite the ubiquity of transit lines serving the Market Street/Octavia and Hayes Valley neighborhoods, most people traveling to and through the area use a car. While slightly below the city average for auto trips (59 percent), 50 percent of the study area’s 340,000 daily trips are by car, 21 percent by transit, and 29 percent by foot or bicycle.

“This study is like a microcosm of the city’s challenges,” said Tilly Chang, SFCTA Deputy Director for Planning. “If you look at mode share, it’s under-performing even the citywide average in terms of auto modes and non-auto modes.”

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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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