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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category

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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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Planning Commission OKs Parking-Saturated Condo Project at Embarcadero

Not pictured: a 400-space undergound parking garage and all the car traffic it will generate. Image: Hutner Descollonges via 8Washington.com

A luxury waterfront condo and parking garage development is on its way to the central Embarcadero, even though it would add three times the number of residential parking spaces allowed by law, plus 255 public spaces, to one of San Francisco’s most transit-rich destinations.

The SF Planning Commission approved the environmental impact report for the 8 Washington Street project in a 4-2 vote yesterday after a joint hearing with the Recreation and Parks Commission that lasted seven hours. The project must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The garage would include a parking spot for each of the 145 units (three times what the planning code permits) and 255 public spaces, which the Port claims are needed to replace other nearby parking being removed. The project would bring some park space and pedestrian enhancements, but the enormous underground public parking garage will wipe out any benefit by serving as a magnet for car traffic in an area that already caters too much to the automobile, even after its revitalization following the removal of a freeway.

“We think it’s a terrible idea,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, who argues the area already accommodates excessive amounts of car parking given its proximity to multiple downtown transit options. “With the exception, maybe, of Midtown Manhattan and the Chicago Loop, I can’t think of a place in the United States that has got more transit service.”

8 Washington will be located within walking distance of numerous neighborhood amenities and transit lines, including Muni light rail and BART stations. Radulovich also noted that future transit projects like high-speed rail are poised to make it an even more ideal spot for reliable car-free travel.

Jonathan Stern, the Port’s director for waterfront development, argued to the Planning Commission that the parking is needed for Ferry Building customers who drive to “carry large objects” and who compete with driving commuters for spots, also noting that the underground garage will be “out of sight.” The Port says that 961 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the building, including the 105-space parking lot currently located on the 8 Washington site, have recently been removed or will be removed in coming years.

Advocates who’ve looked at the numbers say the Port’s parking supply analysis is severely flawed. Existing parking garages and lots in the area are poorly utilized, according to Radulovich, who says that more than enough parking would be provided by converting underused commuter parking spaces to short-term parking for Ferry Building visitors who drive, though that could be challenging to do in private garages.

“The Port’s taken this position that the high watermark of parking, the maximum number of historic parking spaces, is the natural or logical number of parking spaces,” said Radulovich. “We think that’s kind of a bogus approach.”

A 2005 study [PDF] by the SF County Transportation Authority found that despite “a perceived shortage” of parking in the area, off-street lots and garages were occupied at a rate of just 21 percent and on-street parking 70 percent. “This could be because some garages are less visible or in areas that less familiar to tourists,” the study says, “which implies that better driver information systems, even just better signage, would improve the parking situation today.” It also noted that luring drivers into garages with comparatively lower prices, as the SFPark program is currently doing, would help optimize use of the existing parking.

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Which SF Neighborhoods Have the Strongest Walkable Magnetism?

Walkability, transit access, good local schools — San Franciscans clamor to live in neighborhoods with features like these.

Potrero Hill artist Wendy MacNaughton’s ”mental map” of the city lists the strongest qualities of seven areas that stand out for her, among them SoMa’s “best transit access in town” and the “convenient, walkable, easy everything” nature of Lower Pacific Heights and the Fillmore area.

It’s no wonder, considering such characteristics correlate strongly with happiness. Unfortunately, walkable neighborhoods are a scarce resource in this country, which means living in one can come at a high price.

I spotted a copy of the poster hanging in the cafe at City Hall, where an employee pointed out that it was featured on the July 2010 cover of 7×7 Magazine, which commissioned MacNaughton to create the map.

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SF Agencies Take Aim at Bureaucratic Obstacles to a Transit-First City

San Francisco agencies are developing a wide-ranging program to streamline the funding and construction of improvements for walking, bicycling, and transit.

Image via SFMTA. See full PDF here.

The Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP) would reform the city’s transportation practices in three key areas: by eliminating reliance on the automobile-centric measuring stick known as Level of Service (LOS), by instituting a system of development impact fees that fund sustainable transportation improvements, and expediting the review process for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects. The details are on the wonky side, but if the city delivers on these reforms, SF could be looking at a much more rapid build-out of transit corridors, bikeways, and pedestrian safety measures.

“This program is taking a look at how we manage, regulate, and mitigate for development as it relates to transportation to develop a process that’s more transparent, equitable, and meaningful, and provides a much better nexus between land use planning and transportation,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

SF Planning Department Assistant Director Alicia John-Bauptiste presented details [PDF] about the TSP Tuesday to the SFMTA Board of Directors. The program, currently planned for adoption in late 2013, is a coordinated effort between the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the SF County Transportation Authority, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

One key component to the TSP is the Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF), which would replace the current Transit Impact Development Fee (TIDF) that building developers pay to the SFMTA to account for infrastructure costs due to car trips and transit trips made by users of those buildings. The TSF would be based on offsetting car trips added by a project, and its revenues could only be spent according to a spending plan to directly fund projects that improve transit service and bicycle and pedestrian safety. Developers would receive discounts on the TSF for building less car parking, and it would apply to residential buildings (except affordable housing), which the TIDF doesn’t.

According to John-Bauptiste, many developments and transportation projects will also no longer be required to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) as part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which would lead to major time and cost savings. “Individual projects will be relieved of having to study cumulative transportation impacts because the TSP EIR will study those impacts. Project-specific analysis will be limited to site design issues such as loading docks, curb cuts, and pedestrian and bicycle safety,” the presentation says.

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Transit Incentives Can’t Make Up for Parking Glut at Cathedral Hill CPMC

A rendering of CPMC's proposed 555-bed hospital and medical office building at Van Ness and Geary. Image: Rebuild CPMC

Nearly 10,000 additional cars [PDF] are predicted to travel every day to the gigantic Cathedral Hill California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) at Van Ness and Geary after it opens in 2016. While the city is negotiating how much the institution will pay to help mitigate the impacts those cars will have on Muni and pedestrian and bicycle safety, some advocates argue that won’t make up for a fundamental flaw: The medical center will include too much parking.

The 555-bed hospital and medical office building will include more than 1,200 parking spaces. CPMC projects half the visitors and employees to come by transit, foot or bike. But based on CPMC’s track record at three of its existing sites in the city, Marlayne Morgan of the Cathedral Hill Neighborhood Association doesn’t think that’s likely.

CPMC’s transit incentives for employees aren’t enough, says Morgan. “Even with giving $100 to take public transit, they can’t get 50 percent of their employees out of their cars,” she told the SF Board of Supervisors at a four-hour hearing last week on the transparency of CPMC’s negotiations with the city. “There’s no way to mitigate the impact of this facility unless you take it down in size.”

Cathedral Hill’s staff will be comprised largely of current CPMC employees at its other San Francisco locations, just under half of whom live outside the city, according to the transportation analysis in the CPMC’s Institutional Master Plan [PDF].

“They’re taking three hospitals and putting them in one location,” said Morgan. “It’s hard to believe that this is going to change the patterns at Cathedral Hill.”

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