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San Francisco Needs to Get Out of the Car Storage Business

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Free private automobile storage on transit routes makes for inherently dangerous conditions. Image: Wikimedia

Free private automobile storage on transit routes makes for inherently dangerous conditions. Image: Wikimedia

Marco Salsiccia is a blind resident of the Sunset District. Last month, while stepping off an L-Taraval train at a stop without a boarding island, he got his cane stuck in the wheel well of a car as it illegally passed the train. His cane snapped in two. The motorist stopped briefly and then took off. Salsiccia emailed his San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang about the incident:

Today’s situation could easily have been much worse. I could have been injured, maimed, or even killed. If this happened to me, I imagine similar—if not worse—things have occurred to others in the highly-trafficked area.

Indeed, worse things have happened. Salsiccia had his foot run over by a driver a few years earlier while he crossed Taraval from Safeway (fortunately, he only suffered some bruising). As Streetsblog previously reported, SFMTA data shows that 22 people have been hit getting off trains on Taraval just in the past five years.

Streetsblog reached out to Tang’s office to get her take on the rate of improvements on Taraval under SFMTA’s Muni Forward program. Streetsblog will update this post if a reply is received. But this was part of her reply to Salsiccia’s email:

Please know that there is currently an intensive planning process happening to plan for future safety improvements along the L-Taraval, including proposals for boarding islands. Along with that have been other ideas for how we can properly train/educate drivers about slowing down near trains where passengers are getting on/off the trains, and stopping behind the train when this occurs.

If that seems a bit wishy washy, there’s a reason. As previously reported, there’s resistance to boarding islands because they require taking away (or relocating) street parking. And this gets local merchants up in arms.

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BART’s Electrical Issues Not Yet Solved

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BARTs Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer, at his desk at the Hayward shops.

Henry Kolesar, BARTs Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer, at his desk at the Hayward shops.

BART’s power surge problem, which had been frying train electronics and took some 85 cars out of service at its height, has gone away and service is more or less back to normal. Here it is from BARTs own statement:

After swapping out the generation of train cars most prone to damage (our “C” cars) to help establish regular service again, the spikes in voltage along the track have gone away. So we have since moved the C cars back to add more cars to the line, and the problem has not reoccurred.

“The problem has gone away,” said Paul Oversier, Assistant General Manager of Operations, “but we need to get to the bottom of this. We don’t want our customers to suffer through another round of this so we need to get to the root cause.”

In other words, they haven’t fixed the problem. It went away on its own.

Henry Kolesar, Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer at BART’s Hayward repair facility, gave Streetsblog a tour and showed us the parts that are causing the problems. Kolesar also endeavored to explain exactly what’s going on with the electrical engineering (and we think we get it).

The key component that got fried is called a thyristor. That’s already been widely reported. So what is a thyristor exactly? The motors on BART trains run on 1000 volts of power from the third rail. But BART trains are controlled by computers. The computers do all the calculations about how fast the motor needs to turn to assure that the train is going at the proper rate and that it’s stopping and starting exactly where it needs to. The computers figure out how much voltage to apply to the motors to achieve the proper speed and acceleration. Here’s the problem: the computers run on 36.5 volts.

So you need a device that can take the signal from the 36.5 volt computer and use it to regulate the 1,000 volts of power coming into the train motor. Obviously, you can’t just plug the motor into the computer’s circuits, or it would turn into a smoking glob of mush.

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Proposed East Bay Bike-Share Sites Announced

Proposed bike-share stations near downtown Oakland.

Proposed bike-share stations near downtown Oakland.

Note: This story has been corrected since it was originally posted. Thank you to sharp-eyed readers.

Bay Area Bike Share released a map of proposed sites for bike-share stations in the East Bay today. Proposed sites for expansion into San Francisco and San Jose have already been released, but these are the first ones for Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville. The total number of bikes planned in the three cities is 1,300, with 800 of them in Oakland and 100 in Emeryville, to be rolled out by the end of 2017.

Phase 1, about 25 percent of the final East Bay expansion, will include 350 bikes at 34 stations.

Proposed bike-share stations near the UC Berkeley campus.

Proposed bike-share stations near the UC Berkeley campus.

A map of the initial proposed East Bay hubs, available here, shows them mostly sited along a spine between downtown Berkeley and downtown Oakland. Five stations surround the UC Berkeley campus’ south and west sides, with another located across from Berkeley High School and the downtown Y, and a seventh a little further south on Telegraph at Blake street.

From there, the corridor of proposed sites generally follows Telegraph Avenue, incorporating BART stations and outlying hubs along 40th Street into Emeryville and on the western side of Lake Merritt.

Amtrak stations are left out of the first phase, though, and so are the West Oakland and Rockridge BART stations.

It looks like a good start, if your destinations are all near Telegraph or in downtown Oakland. With luck, further expansions to connect these hubs to other destinations will come sooner than later.

Having bike-share available close to the new Telegraph Avenue parking-protected bike lanes will be a game-changer for that area and we hope it will create some urgency to finish the new facilities further towards Temescal.

What do you think? Are these in the right places? Bike-share needs a somewhat dense network of hubs to be useful, but it’s also necessary to put the hubs in places near where people want to go. Is this a good start?

Bay Area Bike Share is still accepting suggestions for station locations here. Comments can be made here, or at local public libraries, which will be presenting information about the expansion at the following times:

From April 26 through May 9, during regular open hours:

  • Berkeley Library

    • Central Branch, 2090 Kittredge St
    • Claremont Branch, 2940 Benvenue Ave
  • Emeryville
    • Town Hall, 1333 Park Ave (through May 11)
  • Oakland Library

    • Main Branch, 125 14th St
    • Asian Branch, 388 9th St

Also on May 3 from 4 to 6 pm, at the Temescal Branch Library, 5205 Telegraph in Oakland.

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Transit Riders Union Party for Better BART and Muni Service

Panel

Thea Selby MCs a discussion with Tim Papandreou, Eugenia Chien and Jeff Tumlin. Image: Streetsblog

Thursday evening the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU), an advocacy group pushing for better, more reliable transit, held its “Make Transit Awesome Party” at the DG717, a co-working space in downtown. The event was a combination fundraiser and chance to hear from some of the most influential people in transportation.

The centerpiece of the event was a panel discussion with Tim Papandreou, Chief Innovation Officer at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy for Nelson Nygaard Consulting, and Eugenia Chien, who writes the popular Muni Diaries blog. Thea Selby, chair of the SFTRU board, moderated the panel. One of the first things discussed: why is it so hard to get transit improvements and what can advocates do to change that?

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SPUR Meeting Pushes Second Transbay Tube

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SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang moderated the discussion held at SPUR Oakland.

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) sponsored a meeting Wednesday afternoon in their Oakland office to discuss the need for a new Transbay crossing. Some 60 people attended the panel discussion, which lasted roughly two hours and looked at all imaginable challenges to developing, funding and building a second rail crossing from San Francisco to Oakland.

“This conversation has been going on for a very long time; often it’s been in the domain of hobbyists and advocates,” said Ratna Amin, Transportation Policy Director for SPUR. “Now is the time to move the idea of a second BART tube into the realm of a real project.” Amin presented background, with a map of the original vision for BART, which was to go to Marin as well. Then, as now, BART “was a really visionary response to growth in automobiles and congestion getting worse in the future,” she explained.

One theme that came out of the conference, was that when they talk about BART, they aren’t necessarily talking about BART’s non-standard gauge and equipment. “We’re not looking at anything as a stand alone project. It’s a statewide project,” added Amin. By that she means that High Speed Rail, Caltrain, Amtrak, ACE and all regional rail systems that use standard gauge tracks need to be able to use the new tube. “A new tube—it is either standard gauge or it is both.”

The conference comes after a white paper from SPUR about what a second BART tube might look like and where it could run. But the conference dug deeper into some of the pragmatic questions, such as how to make sure such a large project doesn’t suffer the same cost overruns and embarrassments of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Read more…

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Plans and Programs Committee Crunches Numbers on Street Improvements

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Emily Stapleton, general manager at Bay Area Bike Share, updates the Supervisors on the Committee. Photo: Streetsblog.

Emily Stapleton, general manager at Bay Area Bike Share, updates the Supervisors on the Committee. Photo: Streetsblog.

This morning in City Hall, SF County Supervisors London Breed, Mark Farrell, John Avalos, Aaron Peskin, and Katy Tang heard updates on bike and transit projects from the SF County Transportation Authority, SFMTA and Bay Area Bike Share (they also heard a bit from the usual public-meeting gadflies, but that goes without saying).

With Tang as its chair, this panel makes up the Plans and Programs Committee of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board. First on the agenda was filling two vacancies on the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project. Clearly, residents are keenly interested in the goings on, as there were 31 candidates who threw in for the voluntary position, although only a handful showed up to address the committee directly. Ultimately, the decision on who would fill the open spots was tabled and the committee went on to hear about allocations of Prop K and AA funds.

Anna LaForte, Deputy Director for Policy and Programming for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, talked about the spending they want to do from the Prop K transportation sales tax and the Prop AA Vehicle Registration fee. Prop K, approved by San Francisco voters in November 2003, currently generates about $100 million annually. On the agenda this morning: the “Treasure Island Mobility Management Program” which will study building a new ferry terminal on Treasure Island to give residents an alternative to the bus and Bay Bridge. She went over seven projects including adding bulb-outs at 25 intersections at priority locations on “Pedestrian High Injury Corridors” as identified under Vision Zero. The idea here is to add permanent, concrete bulb outs in places where there’s currently only paint.

The SFCTA wants to authorize more expenditures on "Bulb-outs", or curb extensions, like this one at 7th Ave. and Irving Street. Image: Google Maps

The SFCTA wants to authorize more expenditures on bulb-outs, or curb extensions, like this one at 7th Ave. and Irving Street. Image: Google Maps

Now, even for the most die-hard transportation policy wonk, committee meetings set up to discuss the minutia of funding allocations can be dry. But Streetsblog readers should be glad for this work, because without the bucks and staffers at the different agencies crunching the numbers on all these specific disbursements, we’d get no bulb outs, no bike lanes, and no street improvements.
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Mission Businesses Tussle with Transit Advocates over Bus Lanes

SFMTAs newly painted transit lanes on Mission are raising the ire of many. Image: SFMTA

SFMTA’s newly painted transit lanes on Mission are raising the ire of many. Image: SFMTA

Businesses in the Mission are complaining to Supervisor David Campos about the new “Red Carpet” painted transit lanes. And there’s already talk about taking them out. The San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU) reacted in an email blast last week:

Starting in March, after a decade of numerous community discussions, planning and studies, Muni finally started installing transit priority treatments on Mission Street. Just a month in and despite flagrant violations by drivers, they are already benefiting riders by making their rides faster and more reliable.

However, there has been a major backlash against these changes, and some, in particular Supervisor Campos, have called for rollback of this major progress. It is a betrayal of the 65,000 riders who are served by the 14, 14R and 49 buses, as well as a betrayal of the Transit First charter of this city.

This is what Campos had to say about the lanes on his Facebook page:

While I understand the intention was to enhance the commute of 65,000 transit riders, the changes look better on paper than in practice. I have heard from many of you–car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks…That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program. We look forward to announcing a solution shortly. In the meanwhile, please email your concerns to the SFMTA at matthew.brill@sfmta.com.

The SFTRU is pretty peeved that Campos is even suggesting undoing the results of all their hard work. They’ve set up a web page, letting transit-supporters know how to stop this roll back. As the SFTRU put its outrage:

The paint has hardly dried. Yet the transit only lanes on Mission Street may go away soon. If prioritizing transit is not possible on Mission Street, one of Muni’s key corridors, then will we ever see Muni become world-class system in our lifetimes?

But let’s back up a second. Do the business owners who say the transit lanes make it harder to drive to their shops and are keeping away customers, really have a basis to complain?

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This Week: Second Transbay Tube, Transit Riders Union Fund Raiser

sblog_calendar1Here are this week’s highlights from the Streetsblog calendar:

  • Tuesday: SFMTA’s Board of Director’s Meeting. One of the highlighted topics under consideration: whether or not to approve a pilot phase under the Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign Project. Under the proposed pilot project, the eastern section of the roadway on Twin Peaks would be made car-free, and the western section would carry two-way vehicle traffic. Tuesday, April 19, 1:00 pm, City Hall, Room 400, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl., San Francisco, CA 94102.
  • Wednesday: SPUR will hold a talk on the possibility of a “A New Transbay Transit Crossing.” Infrastructure investment on this scale raises big questions about regional transit capacity, connectivity, reliability and resilience, and requires consideration of broader land use, equity and sustainability impacts. Hear from four Bay Area organizations with recent or soon-to-be published papers on this topic and learn more about how we might be crossing the bay in the future. Co-presented by the City of Oakland Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Admission is free for SPUR members, $10 for non-members. Wednesday, April 20, 12:30 to 2:00pm. SPUR Oakland, 1544 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612.
  • Thursday: Muni Transit Riders Union holds its “Make Transit Awesome: Party & Campaign Kick-off.” Drinks generously donated by Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, music by DJ Spinnerty, and some very special guest speakers, including: Eugenia Chien, founder of Muni Diaries, the center of SF’s online transit culture, Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, the transportation planning firm founded by former Muni directors, Tim Papandreou, Director of SFMTA’s new Office of Innovation, Thea Selby as MC, board chair of SF Transit Riders and also on the board of California High Speed Rail. Sliding Scale Donation $5-25, (but no one is turned away for lack of funds). RSVP on Facebook and invite your friends. Thursday, April 21st, 7-9PM, DG717, 717 Market St, San Francisco (between 3rd and 4th st)
  • Saturday: The annual Cesar Chavez Parade. Commemorate & Celebrate the Life and Work of Labor & Civil Rights Leader Cesar E. Chavez. The parade will proceed from Dolores and 19th streets, east on 19th Street, south on Mission Street, east on 24th Street to Folsom Street. The festival area will take place on 24th Street between Treat and Bryant streets. In addition to the parade, the event will include music, entertainment, and arts and crafts booths. Saturday, April 23, 10 am, Assemble for Parade Dolores Park-19th Street/Guerrero Street. Parade starts at 11 am.
  • Saturday: The 46th Annual Earth Day Celebration. (This is in conjunction with the Cesar Chavez event). There will be speakers, food and three Stages of Multi-Cultural Entertainment. Saturday, April 23rd in the Mission District on 22nd Street from 10am-7 pm.

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.

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Planning for the Future of San Francisco’s Hub Neighborhood

Map of the HUB. Image: SF planning department.

Map of the HUB. Image: SF planning department.

About a hundred planners, developers, neighbors, and interested citizens crowded into a conference room at One South Van Ness yesterday evening for a presentation from the San Francisco Planning Department on their plans for the area immediately around the intersection of Market and Van Ness, also known as the Hub.

The Hub, of course, got its name back in the 1800s, when four trolley lines converged there. And, as John Rahaim, Planning Director for San Francisco, reminded everyone at the start of the meeting, it remains a major transit hub for bikes, Muni trains and buses, and BART.

“We felt it was time to take a fresh look at this portion of the plan,” he said to the group, noting the the Hub neighborhood is also part of the larger Market and Octavia Area Plan adopted in 2008.

So why is the planning department paying special attention to the Hub and, in effect, creating a plan within a plan? Rahaim said they hoped to move more quickly with this area that is such a focus of activity, with its many transit lines, including dedicated Bus Rapid Transit coming to Van Ness, and its proximity to the Opera House and Symphony.

“We felt this part of the plan needed another look to create new open spaces and improve sidewalks,” he explained.
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How to Get Vision Zero Working: a Talk with Walk SF’s Nicole Ferrara

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Supervisor London Breed and Nicole Ferrara address volunteers at a Walk to Work Day Event in Hayes in San Francisco, California - Photo: Walk SF/Jonathan Fong

Supervisor London Breed (red skirt) and Nicole Ferrara (red shoes) address volunteers at a Walk to Work Day Event in Hayes in San Francisco, California – Photo: Walk SF/Jonathan Fong

A little less than a week ago, Walk San Francisco held its fourth annual “Walk to Work Day” events. The idea is to get people more aware of the health benefits of walking. From Walk SF’s promotion:

Walking at least 15 minutes of your commute counts! Start your healthy walking habit and get rewarded at one of the Walk to Work Day “hubs” across the city. Stop by for a FREE Clipper Card, totes, coffee, or breakfast snack, and much more!

While there was reason to celebrate walking in San Francisco, this year’s event came shortly after a sobering piece in the San Francisco Chronicle listed a spate of road deaths in early 2016:

In addition to the six pedestrian deaths, three people in a car were killed in a Super Bowl Sunday crash on a city street, and a cable car operator hit by an allegedly drunken motorcyclist in June 2015 died of his injuries in January.

As the article made clear, people just keep getting hurt and killed despite San Francisco’s efforts to make its streets safer. The Chronicle cited safe-streets advocates as putting the blame on a system that prioritizes parking availability over safety; a critique Streetsblog has levied for some time:

Vision Zero, San Francisco’s ambitious program to eliminate traffic deaths, is off to a rough start this year — with six people in crosswalks struck and killed by cars and accusations that the Municipal Transportation Agency is protecting parking instead of pedestrians. [emphasis added]

After the story came out, Streetsblog sat down with Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk SF, and a leading activist for safer streets, to ask if she agreed with its conclusions and, if so, why she thinks Vision Zero isn’t having a more tangible effect.

Streetsblog: So you saw the Chronicle story. Is it right to conclude that the Vision Zero efforts, so far, have failed?

Ferrara: It’s been a little over two years since we started Vision Zero. There are a couple of things that point to certain treatments that are working–the SFMTA has started to evaluate and they are showing positive results in terms of yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk. That, plus speeding, are the top two causes of death and serious injury. However, I think we don’t have a ton of projects in the ground that are comprehensive yet.
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