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Posts from the "Walking" Category

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Highway Safety Projects Ineligible for Highway Funds in San Mateo County

Shoulder of Highway 1 Coastside San Mateo County

Walking or biking in this shoulder on Highway 1 is often the only option available to get between coast-side towns in San Mateo County without driving. Photo: Matt Hansen, Peninsula Press

San Mateo County’s Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail just barely made it into the list of Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects approved for funding by the Transportation Authority (TA)’s Board of Directors last Thursday. Despite this step forward, building the trail will be difficult thanks in large part to restrictions on how TA funds can be spent, which hamper walking and biking projects.

The $165,000 allocated to the mid-coast trail will only pay for the engineering design and environmental review of the first of four phases, from Half Moon Bay to El Granada. Funds to actually construct the trail and design the three remaining sections to the north, from El Granada to Montara, haven’t yet been identified.

“The coast-side trail is among the most important projects to my constituents since I’ve been elected,” said Supervisor Don Horsley in March. “And this is the first opportunity we’ve had to apply for funding.”

This trail has been recommended by several transportation planning studies over the past ten years, most recently by the 2010 Highway 1 Safety and Mobility Improvement Study, which cites improved safety for people walking and bicycling and a reduction of traffic on Highway 1 among its benefits.

During its March 4 review of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects, the TA’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) “noted concerns regarding safety, traffic congestion, access to schools, and access for people who don’t have cars as strong reasons in support of the Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail.”

But this type of project — infrastructure that reduces highway congestion by providing safe alternatives to driving — is surprisingly difficult to fund in San Mateo County.

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Chevy: What Better Way to Explore the Divisadero “Microhood” Than by Car?

The marketers at Chevy totally have this urban millennial thing nailed down. The car manufacturer sponsored this promotional video for a Divisadero Microhood Art Walk held last week, along with the website The Bold Italic.

In this virtual tour of the microhood, local business owner Erin Fong gets into one of Chevy’s electric Volts, driving an entire five blocks from the east side of Alamo Square to Divisadero. The drive is shown in a time lapse from the windshield. (Not shown: the hunt for a parking space.)

If the video leaves you puzzled and thinking, “That makes no sense whatsoever,” you’re not alone. Watching a video about driving is the complete antithesis of actually getting immersed in a microhood, an activity for which walking might be the best mode of transport. Perhaps that’s why the event is called an art walk.

Apparently, this campaign to market cars to urban millennials is no isolated incident. It’s part of General Motors’ Drive the District campaign, targeting major cities around the country, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, Portland, and Washington, D.C.. It’s certainly no coincidence that these cities are both seeing an influx of young people, and also making it easier to get around without a car.

Perhaps Chevy doesn’t know how out of touch they appear, trying to sell cars to young folks in one of America’s most walkable neighborhoods. As this generation loses interest in owning and driving cars, auto industry advertising only seems to become more clueless.

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Atherton’s Bike/Ped Plan Calls for Safer El Camino Real and Bike Boulevard

A proposed plan for El Camino Real in Atherton would reduce six traffic lanes to four and add a bike/ped path and bike lanes. Image: Alta Planning + Design

The Atherton Town Council this afternoon will review a draft of its first ever bicycle and pedestrian plan, which it crafted over the past eight months with resident input. The plan has attracted little notice, even though it calls for safety redesigns on major streets like El Camino Real, Middlefield Road, and Marsh Road.

The plan’s primary goals are to improve safety for people walking and bicycling on Atherton’s streets, and to reduce school-related traffic congestion by removing barriers that keep children from accessing key destinations on foot or by bike.

Atherton paid for the $40,000 bike/ped plan using a $350,000 settlement that it won from Facebook in 2012, for declining litigation after claiming that the environmental impact report for Facebook’s Menlo Park Campus inadequately assessed traffic impacts.

El Camino Real, whose six lanes slice through the center of Atherton, is by far the town’s most dangerous street. In October 2010, 55-year-old Honofre Mendoza and 62-year-old Christopher Chandler were killed by drivers in separate crashes while crossing El Camino at Isabella Avenue. Exactly two years later at the same intersection, two women were seriously injured by an SUV while walking together in a crosswalk.

Middlefield Road has also seen its share of serious collisions. A man was killed in September 2013 after being struck by a hit-and-run driver near Glenwood Avenue. Several students are also typically injured each year while walking along or crossing Middlefield near Menlo-Atherton High School.

Alta Planning + Design, the consultant crafting Atherton’s new bicycle and pedestrian plan, recommends $13 million in safety projects, including nearly $7 million of “priority projects.” These include pedestrian safety improvements at key intersections, new walking and biking paths, and new crosstown bike routes — including an overhaul of El Camino Real that would add bike lanes and reduce auto lanes from six to four.

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Spectacular New Devil’s Slide Trail Difficult to Reach Without a Car

A 1.3-mile section of abandoned Highway 1 south of Pacifica was converted into the new Devil’s Slide Trail, seen here just before its grand opening to the public on March 27. Photo: Andrew Boone

The 1.3-mile “Devil’s Slide” segment of Highway 1 just south of Pacifica is the latest addition to San Mateo County’s 20 parks. The freshly-paved walking and biking trail offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and its coastal cliffs, and it’s by far the widest trail in the San Francisco Bay Area, with 12 feet striped for walking and 12 feet for bicycling.

“This is inarguably one of the most beautiful segments of the California Coastal Trail,” said Coastal Conservancy Executive Officer Samual Schuchat at the trail’s ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. “It’s incredibly exciting to open it, after years of driving through here and wanting to take in these views but being afraid that you would crash.”

The geologically hazardous section of highway was closed to cars in March of last year with the opening of the twin Tom Lantos tunnels, which Caltrans constructed to bypass this stretch. As Deidra Kennedy of the Pacifica Historical Society told the SF Chronicle last week, Caltrans originally planned to build an inland bypass and bury the Devil’s Slide highway, but local activists persuaded them to instead build a tunnel and re-purpose the coastal road.

Construction included re-paving the road, building parking lots, bus stops, and public restrooms at both ends, and adding three overlooks, 12 benches, and a variety of educational panels alongside the trail to help visitors learn about the area’s geology and ecology. The San Mateo County Parks Department spent $2 million on the highway-to-trail project, and will invest another $492,000 per year to maintain it, or roughly 5 percent of the department’s annual budget.

Getting to the new trail without a car, however, is a challenge. Since the trail was carved from Highway 1, the highway remains the only way to get there.

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Belmont’s Ralston Corridor Study Ignores Need for Safe, Direct Bicycling

Ralston Avenue facing east from El Camino Real

Believe it or not, planners say there’s no space for bike lanes on Ralston Avenue in downtown Belmont. Photo: Google Maps

The Belmont City Council is gearing up to decide on a list of infrastructure investments intended to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion on Ralston Avenue. At a community meeting last month, representatives from consulting firms W-Trans and Alta Planning presented their Ralston Avenue Corridor Study, intended ”to improve the multi-modal function” of the busy arterial street.

Ralston Avenue is currently dangerous for everyone, with collision rates higher than statewide averages everywhere along the street except west of Alameda de las Pulgas. On average, there are six traffic collisions on or near Ralston every month, nearly all of them injuring at least one person. The most common primary cause is unsafe speed, according to the Belmont Police Department and the StateWide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS).

“This is the predicted result of higher vehicle speeds,” said Belmont Planning Commissioner Gladwyn d’Souza. “Both the frequency and severity of collisions rise exponentially with speeds.”

Among other things, the draft Ralston Avenue Corridor Plan recommends new sidewalks, curb extensions, high-visibility crosswalks, bike lanes, and even a roundabout. Residents are hopeful the improvements will reduce speeding and allow more people to feel safe walking with their children, but some say the study has ignored its fundamental charge to propose ways to make all modes of transportation function safely along the entire street.

No bike safety improvements whatsoever are proposed for the street’s two most challenging sections: from Highway 92 to Alameda de las Pulgas, and from Twin Pines Lane to Highway 101.

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San Mateo Bike/Ped Projects Compete for Paltry Funding

The design and planning work for a 3/4-mile paved trail connecting El Grenada with Half Moon Bay on the east side of Highway 1, similar to this existing path on the west side of 101, is unlikely to be among the ten projects funded in San Mateo County’s latest round of bike/ped grants. Photo: Google Maps

Of the 23 biking and walking projects with a hat in the ring for funding from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority’s (TA) Pedestrian and Bicycle Program, only ten can be funded with the $5.7 million that’s available. And that’s the largest funding source for bike/ped projects in the 20-city county. Meanwhile, unnecessary highway expansions are on track to get hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.

The list of ten recommended projects to receive funding was crafted by TA staff and reviewed by the agency’s Citizens Advisory Committee and Board of Directors earlier this month. In total, 15 cities had submitted 23 projects amounting to $9.3 million. The projects are competing for a pot of funds drawn from 3 percent of the half-cent Measure A transportation sales tax — just 1/67 of one cent of every dollar spent on retail sales in the county.

The paltry level of funding means that the TA Board must choose between projects like widening shoulders on Alpine Road in Portola Valley, intended to make room at pinch points for pedestrians and bicyclists; and the Midcoast Multi-Modal Trail, a proposed paved trail that would connect Montara with Half Moon Bay. The shoulder widening project made the recommendation list while funding to plan the Midcoast Trail did not.

The shoulders on Alpine Road at Arastradero Road and on Portola Road at Farm Road currently narrow to two-foot-wide “pinch points” to fit left-turn lanes. Photo: Google Maps

On the TA’s 100-point ranking system, the Alpine shoulder widening beat the trail project by 0.1 points, though the Alpine project also had strong popular support. If approved by the TA Board at its next meeting on April 3, Portola Valley would use $309,500 in TA funds and $138,000 of its own funds (a 30 percent match) to widen Alpine Road and Portola Road at a number of 500-foot-long “pinch points,” where two-foot-wide shoulders that force bicyclists into the traffic lanes would be widened to create a continuous minimum five-foot-wide shoulder.

Leslie Latham, a member of the TA’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Traffic Safety Committee, told the TA Board that residents gathered roughly 300 signatures in support of the project. “Only 14 percent of them came from Portola Valley. They came from 25 different cities,” she said.

Portola Valley Mayor Ann Wengert said that a wider shoulder is critical for safety due to “the huge increase in the number or riders and pedestrians” on the town’s streets over the past decade.

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Foster City Abandons Plan to Close Crosswalk Where Girl Was Injured

A 17-year-old Foster City girl was seriously injured after being struck by a BMW driver while walking in the northern crosswalk (on the right) at Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue on January 24. Photo: Andrew Boone

Many Foster City residents were shocked last month when their City Council responded to the injury of a 17-year-old girl by closing off the crosswalk at Edgewater Boulevard at Port Royal Avenue, where she was struck by a driver. Hundreds of residents petitioned the council to take other steps instead of installing “No Ped Crossing” signs and physical barriers. The council reversed its crosswalk closure decision last week, opting instead to install pedestrian-activated flashing lights.

The intersection’s well-known hazards caught the City Council’s attention after the driver of a 2014 BMW 528i slammed into a high school student who was walking in the crosswalk on Edgewater on January 24, breaking both of her legs and knocking her to the ground unconscious. She spent several days in Stanford Medical Center’s intensive care unit but ultimately survived.

Mayor Charles Bronitsky places the blame for car crashes on both drivers and pedestrians not following traffic laws, and argues there’s little cities can do to reduce traffic collisions. ”It’s an issue of personal responsibility, folks,” he said. “There’s nothing the government can do to make people be responsible. We gotta do the best we can to try to babysit adults.”

The statewide fine for walking across a street where “No Ped Crossing” signs are installed, such as this one on Franklin Street in San Francisco, is $194.

Council members Steve Okamoto, Art Kiesel, and Gary Pollard were on the verge of voting to install stop signs on Edgewater Boulevard during their February 3 city council meeting when Bronitsky warned of “potential legal repercussions” that could arise.

A 2012 traffic report authored by professional traffic engineer Steve Fitzsimons of Republic ITS, a subsidiary of Siemens that installs and maintains traffic signals, concluded that stop signs are “unwarranted” according to a state standard that recommends a street to have either more collisions (five annually) or higher car traffic volumes before they’re installed. The report concluded that the left-turn conflicts, high pedestrian traffic (including many children), and poor visibility for drivers turning onto Edgewater from Port Royal were “not relevant,” despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, including calls from residents to fix those hazards in emails to the city and at public meetings.

Fear of litigation helps explain the city’s reaction. City Attorney Jean Savaree said that the city would lose its “design immunity” legal defense in the case of a lawsuit brought by the victim of a collision somehow caused by the stop signs.

“When you hire a traffic engineer and they make recommendations to you, if you follow those, you trigger what’s called design immunity,” Savaree said. “If you install a four-way stop where it’s not warranted and you have a collision, the city is sued [on the basis] that you created a dangerous condition because you have not followed a professional engineer’s advice.”

Okamoto pointed out to fellow council members that other stop signs classified as “unwarranted” by exactly the same type of traffic engineer’s report were previously installed at three other intersections after residents complained of unsafe conditions at those locations.

“I don’t think there has been any liability issues at those intersections,” said Okamoto. ”In spite of the concern of legal counsel, I still support four-way stop signs.”

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How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

Retail sales on the section of Columbus Avenue with a protected bike lane (the green line) outperformed retail sales on a parallel stretch of Amsterdam Avenue and an adjacent part of Columbus with no bike lane (the pink line). Image: NYC DOT

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How can it be measured?

A report released by NYC DOT last Friday [PDF] describes a new method to measure the economic effect of street redesigns, using sales tax receipts to compare retail activity before and after a project is implemented. DOT and consultants at Bennett Midland examined seven street redesigns — including road diets, plazas, protected bike lanes, and Select Bus Service routes — and compiled data on retail sales in the project areas as well as similar nearby streets where no design changes were implemented.

While the authors do not claim that all of the improvement in sales is directly caused by street redesigns (there are a lot of factors at work), they did conclude that a street’s “gain in retail sales can at least in part be attributed to changes stemming from the higher quality street environment.” The study also found that the impact becomes apparent relatively quickly: Retailers often see a change in sales within a year of a project being implemented.

While it makes intuitive sense that a better pedestrian environment and high-quality transit and bikeways will draw more foot traffic in a city environment than a car-dominated street, evidence that livable streets are good for business tends to be indirect. Customer intercept surveys have shown that most people in urban areas (including New York) walk, bike, or take transit to go shopping. While customers who drive spend more per trip, they also visit less often than shoppers who don’t drive. The net result: Car-free shoppers spend more than their driving counterparts and have a bigger impact on the bottom line of local businesses. Nevertheless, merchants tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking as means of access.

With this study, DOT used a third-party data source to see how well sales are actually doing in two large categories: retail outlets like grocery stores, clothing stores and florists, and hospitality services like bars, restaurants, and hotels. The study uses state sales tax receipts because they are available on a quarterly basis can be categorized by business type, allowing for an up-to-date and detailed understanding of how retailers are faring on a particular street. Results can be examined before and after a street design change, and compared with sales trends both borough-wide and and on “control streets” nearby that did not receive street design changes.

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New Options Arise for Greener, Calmer Streets on the Wiggle

A rendering of what the Waller and Pierce intersection would look like with raised crosswalks, greened bulb-outs, and water-permeable pavement in the parking lanes. Image: SFPUC

Plans to create calmer, greener streets on the Wiggle came into clearer focus Tuesday after the SFMTA presented more refined proposals for raised crosswalks and intersections, bulb-outs with greenery, traffic circles, traffic diverters, and other safety improvements.

The proposed treatments [PDF] are aimed at improving stormwater drainage while also calming motor and bicycle traffic. One newly proposed measure to help address the growing number of complaints that an increased number of bicycle commuters are making the streets uncomfortable to walk across is “in-pavement speed reduction bars” on approaches to crosswalks. Those, planners explained, would be strips of colored material much like the green-backed sharrows already along the Wiggle aimed at signaling bicycle riders to prepare to yield to pedestrians.

A example of "in-pavement speed reduction bars" shown along the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Image: SFMTA

“We can’t force anyone to stop, but there are physical improvements we can do to make it so that you can see what’s coming sooner and act accordingly,” said Miriam Sorrell, a planner with the SFMTA’s Livable Streets team.

While the original aim of the project was to add greening improvements along the traditional Wiggle bicycle route — topographically, the flattest way across the lower Haight — the SFMTA and Public Utillities Commission are now considering deviating from the route for two blocks, placing improvements on a block of Pierce and Page Streets instead of the corresponding blocks of Haight and Scott Streets. That’s because permeable pavement treatments that would go underneath the parking lanes on Haight wouldn’t be able to bear the loads of Muni buses and delivery trucks which often stop there. Sorrell said the pavement treatments are mostly intended to absorb stormwater, though they can contribute to calming traffic by narrowing the visual width of the roadway.

“We have the most potential for stormwater management” on Pierce and Page, said Sorrell, “compared to on Haight Street where we might be limited in terms of some of those green infrastructure improvements.”

The other reasons to consider the two-block deviation, SFMTA planners say, are that many bicycle riders have said they deviate on to Page and Pierce anyway, and that Scott would still have reduced car traffic if the street is blocked off to cars in at least one direction, as the agency proposes to do. The motor traffic diverters could be added on Scott at Oak or Fell Streets, creating a dead-end for drivers in one or both directions, preventing them from using Scott as a cut-through route. People walking and biking would still be allowed to filter through in both directions, and the SFMTA has also proposed adding a traffic circle at Scott and Page to calm that intersection further.

Although the proposals to divert motor traffic raised concern from some pro-parking activists at a recent meeting (even though little if any car parking would be removed), the Wiggle proposals seem mostly well-received.

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In Case SFPD Doesn’t Ask for Crash Footage, New Website Can Help Find It

Image: CommunityCam

A new online platform called CommunityCam provides a crowdsourced map of surveillance cameras on the streets that could help investigators and the public find video footage that may prove useful after a traffic crash.

As we saw last week, San Franciscans can’t rely on the SFPD to do their jobs when a pedestrian or bicyclist is injured by a driver, including taking a quick survey of nearby buildings for surveillance cameras that could provide key evidence in determining the cause of the crash. Instead, SFPD too often blames the victim by default.

CommunityCam currently lists the locations of more than 1,000 “outdoor, public-facing security cameras,” said Ellen Arndt, communications manager for VideoSurveillance.com, which hosts the map. “If a cyclist is hit and the driver fails to stop, he or she can look at CommunityCam’s map to determine if a nearby camera may have caught the incident on video.”

Sadly, it has indeed come to the point where the public may have to do investigative work on traffic crashes for the SFPD. At least now, it’s easier to find these cameras.