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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category

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Appeals Board Reverses Vote to Downsize Parking-Free 1050 Valencia

The San Francsco Board of Appeals voted yesterday to reverse its decision to downsize the long-embattled condo project at 1050 Valencia Street in the Mission. The project includes no car parking and one bike parking space for each unit.

Image: Architect Stephen Antonaros via Mission Local

The vote restores the full 12 units approved by the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors. The Appeals Board had voted in December to chop off one of the building’s five floors, removing three units, two of which would be subsidized affordable housing. The downsizing was intended to appease vociferous neighbors opposed to the perceived increase in noise, shadows, and competition for curbside parking spaces, since new residents wouldn’t have off-street parking. (Studies show that residents who move into a home without a dedicated parking space are less likely to own and drive cars.)

Housing development advocates successfully challenged the Board of Appeals vote on the grounds that it violated the California Housing Accountability Act. The Housing Action Coalition explains in a press release:

Under the California “Housing Accountability Act,” for a local agency to condition approval of a housing project on reducing its density to less than that allowed by law, the agency must make findings that the project would have a “specific adverse impact on public health and safety” unless the density is reduced.

HAC Executive Director Tim Colen argued to the Board of Appeals that, in fact, restricting the amount of desperately-needed housing in transit-oriented projects like 1050 Valencia is what’s harmful to public health and the economy. “Among the consequences are discrimination against low-income and minority households, lack of housing to support employment growth, imbalance in jobs and housing, reduced mobility, urban sprawl, excessive commuting, and air quality deterioration,” he said.

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The Bay Area Needs More Walkable Housing, Not Google Bus Bashing

The anger of the protestors who blockaded a Google bus in the Mission on Monday was very real and understandable. San Francisco residents, living in a highly sought-after city with a limited housing supply, are coping with a crisis of skyrocketing rents and evictions. Meanwhile, Muni riders increasingly find their stops blocked by private shuttles that appear to be whisking away the very Peninsula tech workers blamed for driving up rents.

Plenty has been written about the strife caused by SF’s housing crisis in the last few years. But as we wrote in February, pointing fingers at tech shuttles doesn’t help solve the problem — if anything, it’s a distraction from effective solutions.

The real culprits are the decades-long failures of SF and other Bay Area cities to develop efficient transit systems and the kind of walkable neighborhoods that are in ever higher demand, yet in scarce supply in the region. And deeper than that is the cultural aversion to change and the political establishment that caters to it, avoiding tough but necessary decisions.

Don’t get me wrong — the fact that private shuttles are illegally using Muni stops without paying anything for it is unjust and unsustainable, as Monday’s protestors rightly called out. But those specific problems can be addressed by devoting more curb space to transit — both public and private — the vast majority of which is currently devoted to free, subsidized personal car storage. The SFMTA’s plans to convert car parking to shuttle stops and establish a private shuttle fee system are a step in the right direction.

But what’s really hampering Muni performance is all the private car traffic that bogs down buses and the unnecessary frequency of stops. Imagine if protestors devoted this much energy and media savvy to demanding speedy implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project by City Hall.

Meanwhile, the fact is that the Bay Area can’t have the dynamic tech-based economy sought by Mayor Ed Lee and an affordable housing supply for middle-class and low-income people without building substantial amounts of walkable development.

One factor we’ve pointed out on Streetsblog is that housing development in SF and other cities is hamstrung by minimum parking requirements, meaning housing for people is mandated to come with a certain amount of housing for cars. This adds to the cost of building, owning, and renting that housing, and limits the amount of space for residences or businesses. And as research has shown repeatedly, when housing is bundled with a parking space, residents are more likely to own a car and drive, making the transit system less effective.

Unfortunately, the positions staked out by Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen on recent housing development projects coming out of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan work against the goal of affordability. Campos and Cohen have fought projects on the basis that they don’t have enough parking, causing developers to add spaces or subtract apartments, flying in the face of smart zoning policies developed over ten years. Meanwhile, parking-free housing is a growing trend in other American cities.

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Q&A With Robert Grow: How Utah Decided to Embrace “Quality Growth”

Envision Utah didn’t tell Utahns they should build light rail, says Robert Grow. Utahns expressed their hopes and desires for the future, and plans for transit construction arose from those values. Photo: Visit Salt Lake/Eric Schramm

If you’ve ever wondered how a deep-red state like Utah has managed to build some of the most ambitious transit expansions in the country, the short answer is: Envision Utah.

Starting in the late nineties, the non-profit Envision Utah brought together an incredibly broad spectrum of interests, including plenty of people without a specific stake in the process, to explore how the 10-county region surrounding Salt Lake City, known as the Greater Wasatch Area, should cope with anticipated population growth. Organizers showed people what would happen if the region carried on with business-as-usual development, then outlined the ramifications of three other potential scenarios with scientific rigor. The extraordinarily thorough process involved hundreds of public meetings, leaving no one out and turning every participant into a problem-solver. Along the way, Envision Utah pioneered a new approach to regional planning, bringing together transportation and land use decisions in unprecedented fashion.

Robert Grow says he didn't tell Utahns what to do; they told him what their values were and they came up with a plan together, Photo: Envision Utah

Robert Grow. Photo: Envision Utah

It would be fair to say that after this effort, nearly entire state was on board with the vision that came out of this process: Quality growth with compact, mixed-use development, multi-modal transportation options, and untouched wild and agricultural spaces.

If you have some time, this history of Envision Utah will hold your attention like no other planning document. (If you have a little less time, you can get the basics in this PDF.)

Robert Grow was the founding chairman who guided Envision Utah through its formative stages. He returned to the helm last year as its president and CEO. In the interim, he helped bring lessons from the Envision Utah model to 80 regions around the country. After a recent swing through the East Coast where he shared the Envision Utah story at an event organized by Transit Center, I called up Grow to see what the rest of the country can learn from his home state.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Envision Utah gets a lot of attention for having done this process and instilled these values in a place where people wouldn’t have expected it. You don’t talk about “smart growth,” you talk about “quality growth.” I was curious where that phrase came from.

It came from the fact that this was Utahns deciding how Utahns wanted to grow, and therefore we gave it our own name: “quality growth.”

If you look at many of the goals — transportation choices, housing for everyone, spending infrastructure money smart, preserving water, making sure we have clean air — people across the country have differences, but also have common things they really want. They want to have personal time and opportunity; they don’t want to be stuck in traffic and waste their lives. They want to get home for dinner with their kids or spend time with their friends. The things we value actually drive that quality growth strategy in Utah.

So we did not, quote, “instill” those values. Those values are the ones Utahns already had. So the goal was to understand not how to manipulate or push people toward an outcome but to listen to them in a way that we understand what they really wanted. And then to show them, through the scenarios, the choices.

Envision Utah has absolutely no authority. So we just show people, if you choose this, this is the outcome, but if you choose this, that’s the outcome.

What other language changes or thematic adaptations did you have to make when taking on a quality growth mission in a place where people are deeply skeptical of government, deeply skeptical of planning, deeply skeptical of urbanism?

I’m not sure they’re skeptical of all those things. Their values are their values. When they see choices and they choose how to grow, those strategies may look like strategies other places but adopted by Utahns. We used the words that Utahns used.

This values study approach which we used is not a poll. It involved almost 100 multi-hour interviews, laddering people — and laddering is a term I could describe but essentially saying: What are the attributes of living here? How does that affect your life in a functional way? What is the emotional quotient of that — how does it make you feel? And how does that attach to your values?

By value laddering you learn what people want, but you also learn why they want it. And knowing why they want it and the words to describe it, when you present scenarios you can present them in Utah words. And so Utah is here to keep Utah “beautiful, prosperous, neighborly and healthy” for future generations. We added “healthy” a few years ago. Those were Utah’s words for a prosperous economy.

Those are Utahns’ words for things you might say in completely different words somewhere else. But we didn’t pick the words. Utahns picked those words.

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Supes Narrowly Reject EIR Appeal Against Car-Free Condos at 1050 Valencia

The proposed parking-free, 12-unit condo and retail development at 1050 Valencia Street narrowly cleared a hurdle Tuesday after a 6-5 vote by the Board of Supervisors, which rejected an appeal that contended the project should be required to have a full environmental impact report.

A rendering of the 1050 Valencia project. Image: Stephen Antonaros via Curbed

The project, approved by the Planning Commission more than a year ago, has faced continued opposition for several years, organized by the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association and the neighboring Marsh Theater. LHNA contends that new residents will own cars despite the lack of dedicated parking — even though a growing body of research shows otherwise – and take up street parking spots. Meanwhile, the Marsh’s protests focus on potential noise and shadows.

The latest appeal protests the Planning Department’s determination that the project does not require a full EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act because it complies with the zoning of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, for which an area-wide EIR was already done. Five supervisors voted to uphold the appeal — David Campos, John Avalos, Malia Cohen, Eric Mar, and Jane Kim. It next goes to the Board of Appeals.

Stephen Williams and other LHNA reps argued that the project’s location on Valencia at Hill Street, between 21st and 22nd Streets, was not a “transit-rich” area where residents would be able to live without cars, though studies show that residents who move into units without dedicated parking are less likely to own cars, and about half of residential parking garages in the Mission aren’t used for car storage.

“What does ‘transit-rich’ mean? No one knows,” Williams said in response to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who pointed out that the location is within one block of Mission Street, which has some of the most frequent Muni service in the city, and less than half a mile from BART’s 16th and 24th Street stations. Valencia is also one of the most heavily-traveled streets for bicycle commuting, and the building will have indoor parking for 28 bikes.

“I don’t think anybody should consider that transit-rich,” Williams said.

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How Will SF Fund the Sustainable Transport System a Growing City Needs?

Within a few decades, San Francisco’s streets will be even more clogged with cars, more dangerous for walking and biking, and Muni will burst at the seams as more people try to get around. That’s the future city officials warned about at a hearing yesterday, painting a grim picture of traffic-choked streets if nothing is done to change the status quo of paltry funding for walking, biking, and transit.

“The growth is coming to San Francisco, the people who are here aren’t leaving, and more jobs are coming,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “I think we got away for a few decades with not making investments in our transportation system” and other infrastructure, he said, “but we’re beyond a point where we can get away with it anymore.”

As we’ve reported, the city’s transportation and street infrastructure has $3.1 billion in unfunded maintenance needs over the next ten years, $2.2 billion of which is to bring Muni up to a “state of good repair.” Looking at all of the transit systems in the Bay Area, the budget gap is $18 billion over the next 25 years, and that’s just maintenance — adding the capacity to transport a larger population will cost more.

Those numbers don’t include funding to implement the SF Pedestrian Strategy, the Bicycle Strategy, the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, traffic signal upgrades, and other street redesigns, each of which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Reiskin. None of the measures currently in the works to increase transportation funding would come close to meeting the projected needs.

Over the next 25 years, San Francisco is projected to add 92,410 housing units and 191,000 jobs, said Planning Director John Rahaim. Those figures come from Plan Bay Area, a strategy to focus regional population growth near transit and job centers that was approved last week by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and is set to be updated every five years.

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Central Corridor Plan Envisions Transitways and Safer Streets for SoMa

Fourth Street. Photo: San Francisco in 15 Weeks

The Central Subway is coming, like it or not, and that means Fourth Street will get Muni Metro service starting in 2019. With that in mind, the SF Planning Department recently released the draft Central Corridor Plan, which sets the stage for upzoned transit-oriented development near new stations and street improvements to accommodate a growing population in a rapidly changing section of SoMa.

“The idea is to support development here because it’s a transit-rich area,” said Amnon Ben-Pazi of the Planning Department’s City Design Group. “Between BART, Caltrain, and the new light-rail, you have as much city and regional transit as you can get.”

The Central Corridor Plan, which encompasses one section of the broader Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, is aimed at creating a more people-friendly SoMa — a district which was primarily industrial until recent years. Streets that have served as car traffic funnels since the mid-20th century would be overhauled with improvements like protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, wider sidewalks, transit-only lanes, and two-way traffic conversions.

The Central Subway route along Fourth Street. Image: SFMTA

SoMa’s streets “were designed in a really specific way to accommodate large volumes of very fast traffic and trucks,” said Ben-Pazi. “While that may have been appropriate when this was an industrial area, it’s certainly not appropriate now with what we know about pedestrian safety and how the design of streets really affects the behavior of drivers.”

“If we’re going to go in the direction of having more people live and work here,” he added, “relying on the streets for their everyday circulation, we really need to address what these streets are designed as.”

Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said the plan seems to be mostly on the right track, though it should include greater restrictions on new car parking that are more in line with the plan for the adjacent Transbay District adopted last year. “With as much development as is planned, and with a desire to reclaim SoMa’s mean, traffic-sewer streets for people and sustainable transportation, the plan has to be truly transit-oriented,” he said.

The plan calls for reducing traffic lanes and on-street car parking to make room for improvements to transit, biking, and walking. Ben-Pazi said the environmental review process for all of those projects would be completed as part of the plan, which is currently set to be adopted in late 2014.

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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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New Ordinance Streamlines Conversion of Gas Stations to Ped-Friendly Uses

The Arco gas station at Fell and Divisadero Streets, where a queue of drivers regularly blocks the sidewalk and bike lane. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Board of Supervisors today approved changes to the city’s planning code to make it easier for developers to convert gas stations to uses like apartments and storefronts on major transit and pedestrian streets.

“Gas stations have a lot of [drivers] coming in and out, and they can slow down transit,” said Judson True, an aide to Supervisor David Chiu, at a hearing of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee last week. “In a transit-first city, while we want to make sure there are some gas stations, on primary transit corridors, this allows them to be converted under certain parameters without a Conditional Use authorization.”

By removing the hurdle of obtaining a Conditional Use permit — an exemption from local planning regulations — the amendment is intended “to balance the desire to retain [gas stations] with city policies which support walking, cycling, and public transportation, and which encourage new jobs and housing to be located in transit corridors,” according to the Board of Supes’ summary of the bill [PDF].

In addition to attracting car traffic that often blocks transit, bike lanes, and sidewalks, gas stations are voids in the urban fabric that degrade the pedestrian environment. On a block of Divisadero Street between Fell and Oak Streets, which is packed with three gas stations, street safety advocates held protests in 2010 calling for the closure of a driveway at an Arco gas station where drivers regularly block the bike lane on Fell. The situation improved somewhat after the SFMTA painted the bike lane green and removed parking spaces to create a longer queuing space. Though major street improvements are planned for Fell and Oak, the Arco entrance would remain mostly as it is, and it’s unclear whether these routes would be considered primary transit or pedestrian streets.

The ordinance, which also includes a provision expanding the enforceable bike parking requirements within buildings, is part of a larger effort underway by Livable City and Supervisor Chiu to reform myriad aspects of the city’s planning code. Stay tuned for more coverage of this ongoing campaign.

A gas station at the corner of Market and Buchanan Streets, where the Wiggle begins, is currently being converted into a 115-unit condo building with ground-level retail space. Photos: Google Maps and Arquitectonica via Curbed SF

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Transbay Transit Center to Fill Downtown With People, Not Cars

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The new Transbay Transit Center is expected to transform San Francisco’s downtown core by focusing new development around a massive regional transit hub in eastern SoMa. Scheduled to open in 2017, it will link 11 transit systems and eventually CA High-Speed Rail. Some have called it the ”Grand Central of the West.”

Renderings via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Planning Commission last week approved an influx of high-density office and housing redevelopment, including the West Coast’s tallest skyscraper, in the neighborhood surrounding the new station at First and Mission Streets, known as the Transbay Center District. To ensure that new workers and residents come by transit, foot, and bike instead of clogging the streets with cars, the plan would make sweeping streetscape improvements and limit the amount of car parking in the area.

“This is going to be one of the best examples of transit-oriented development in the world,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the SF Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “We’re going to be putting in $4 billion in transit infrastructure and then putting our tallest buildings right on top of it. It’s going to be studied and emulated all over the world if we get this right.”

The hub, which replaces the old Transbay Terminal, would connect to transit systems in all nine Bay Area counties, including Muni, BART, AC Transit, SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit. Caltrain would operate on an electrified system connecting directly to the station, thanks to a recently-approved plan to extend tracks from the 4th and King station. Caltrain would share those tracks with high-speed rail trains.

Streets within the plan area — bounded by Market Street to the north, Steuart to the east, Folsom to the south, and just short of Third to the west — would be transformed with improvements for walking, bicycling, and surface transit.

Major streets — Mission, Howard, New Montgomery, Second, First, and Fremont Streets — would get wider sidewalks, road diets, transit lanes, and boarding islands. The planning department is also looking at creating a transit-only plaza on Mission between First and Fremont.

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Coalition of California Advocates Headed to Sacramento to Save Transit

Members of a broad coalition hailing from throughout California are headed to Sacramento next week to push policymakers to save transit funding and enact sustainable transportation planning reforms.

The Oakland-based transit advocacy group TransForm has amassed about 150 advocates to descend on the capitol for its two-day Transportation Choices Summit, the first known event of its kind, where they will meet with state representatives and urge them to prioritize walking, bicycling, and transit.

TransForm State Policy Director Graham Brownstein said the action came out of the organization’s Invest in Transit campaign, launched last year to address the “very, very serious crisis” facing transit systems in California. The state has made dramatic funding cuts totaling more than $4 billion over the last decade, and TransForm recognized the immediate need for “creative policy reforms that will stabilize, and then grow transit funding in California,” said Brownstein.

The cornerstone of the campaign is a push to ensure that a major portion of the revenue from California’s nascent cap-and-trade program will be dedicated to transit operations and affordable housing projects located near transit.

The cap-and-trade revenue could go a long way toward restoring the damage done to transit funding under the Schwarzenegger administration. By selling emissions permits, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration anticipates the cap-and-trade program will generate $1 billion in the 2012-2013 budget and $10 billion annually by 2020, according to TransForm [PDF].

Brownstein said transit agencies need all the help they can get to avert a much deeper statewide crisis.

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