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Friday: Opening Ceremony for Polk Contra-Flow Bike Lane

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The Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane connecting Market Street to City Hall is set to be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday at 11 a.m.

City officials will follow the event with a bike tour of recent streetscape projects, hitting various neighborhoods before returning to Civic Center. Get one of the few available spots while you can.

In addition to the contra-flow bike lane, the Department of Public Works has been painting the existing southbound bike lane green, as well as the northbound bike lane connection to McAllister Street in front of City Hall. The angled parking spaces along Civic Center plaza on that block were also converted to angled back-in parking. SFMTA staff said the agency couldn’t make that stretch of bike lane protected by placing it curbside (similar to the planned bike lane for two blocks of Bay Street) because electric car ports installed by former Mayor Gavin Newsom are in the way.

The ribbon-cutting will take place at Market and Polk Streets.

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Excitement at Transbay Event, But Federal Transportation Bill Uncertain

Transbay_groundbreak_1.jpgSenator Barbara Boxer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US DOT Secretary Ray Lahood, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board Chairman and SFMTA CEO Nat Ford at the Transbay Transit Center groundbreaking. Photos: Matthew Roth.

Though most of the California political class celebrated the groundbreaking of the new Transbay Transit Center with U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood in San Francisco yesterday, significant questions remain for funding a national high-speed rail network through the federal transportation act.

The event swarmed with Secret Service and various other branches of law enforcement keeping an eye on a crowd that, as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom joked with LaHood, was mostly made up of consultants on the Transbay project.

LaHood cracked wise several times at Newsom's expense, repeating more comments Newsom made before the press conference to the public and the media and suggesting Californian's should vote him in as Lt. Governor on his humor alone.

When he stopped ribbing Newsom, LaHood gushed about how far "ahead of the curve" California is on high-speed rail. LaHood said U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had cast "courageous votes" that made the stimulus bill possible, which meant a $48 billion infusion for the US DOT or nearly two-thirds his annual budget. From the $8 billion President Barack Obama added for high-speed rail nationally, California received $2.3 billion, $400 million of that for the Transbay Transit Center.

"People who come back from Europe or Asia and have ridden high-speed rail, like many of you have, come back to America and ask why we don't have high-speed rail in America? Because we've never made the investment, that's why," said LaHood. "This year we had 8 billion times more money for high-speed rail given President Obama's vision to connect America with high-speed, inter-city rail."

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Mayor Newsom Weighs in on SFMTA Budget in Weekly Address

If you're wondering why Mayor Gavin Newsom supports a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency two-year budget that continues major Muni service reductions, you just might find your answer in the Mayor's weekly YouTube update.

In a thirteen-minute discussion of the SFMTA budget, the Mayor admits he's not proud of the budget, but defends it as addressing "reality" in light of the state's theft of State Transit Assistance (STA) funds over the past few years. The Mayor also argues that the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A (TWU), which represents Muni operators, should make concessions similar to other public unions to help stave off the cuts.

As for proposals to extend parking meter enforcement hours to Sundays and evenings, install new parking meters around the city, enforce provisions in the planning code that prohibit discounted long-term parking downtown, and pursue other revenue options instead of cutting service, the Mayor concludes that those first three wouldn't quite add up to the $28.8 million necessary to cancel the cuts for the next fiscal year, and thus they shouldn't be pursued at all.

He's also got sharp words for the Board of Supervisors, which put strings on a $7 million transfer from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority to the SFMTA that include reducing the service cuts by half. On the parking meter front, the Mayor points out that only one of the supervisors has opted-in to a program that would pilot extended meter hours in their district.

Indeed, the Mayor and some of the supervisors have been slow to support extended meter hours, citing the unfair impact it would have on drivers during tough economic times. But service cuts and fare increases for Muni riders -- on Sundays, evenings, and every other time of the week -- seem to be causing less sweat for the city's elected class, despite overwhelming evidence that extended meter hours would actually be an economic boon for businesses that benefit from the increased turnover. Cutting Muni service and raising fares, by contrast, is not known to have any economic upside.

What do you think of the Mayor's take on the SFMTA budget? And be sure to let the Board of Supervisors know at the Budget and Finance committee hearing on Wednesday, when the supervisors will consider whether to accept or reject the two-year budget.

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A Change of Heart on Sunday Parking Meters for Newsom?

mayor.jpgThe Mayor is now apparently willing to consider Sunday metering. Photo by Bryan Goebel.
After months of opposing an extension of parking meter enforcement hours, Mayor Newsom may be finally open to a limited proposal that would help reduce Muni's staggering budget deficit. The Chronicle's Heather Knight  and The Appeal's Chris Roberts report that Newsom is still against extending weekday metering to evenings, but has come around on the idea of Sunday enforcement, which would raise an estimated $2-3 million dollars annually. Knight writes:

The mayor is open to charging drivers to park at meters on Sundays because he said merchants have told him it helps car turnover near their shops rather than allowing people to park all day long for free.

That's also what an MTA study on extended meter hours found, and what we've reported extensively. San Francisco lags behind many other cities in this regard. Los Angeles, Long Beach, Glendale, Pasadena, Montreal and Princeton, New Jersey are examples of cities that have implemented parking enforcement on Sundays.

Unfortunately, on weekday evening metering, Newsom remains spooked by Oakland's experience.

"Just look at the East Bay and the revolt," he told Knight. A vocal group of Oakland business owners and residents protested vigorously when their city council changed meter hours last year, but the parallel is a shaky one since Oakland's meter hour changes were far less targeted than the MTA proposal. The agency has done a considerable amount of outreach to merchants and community groups.

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MTA Directors Get Another Earful on Muni Service Cuts and Fare Hikes

989154636_1263f7e3ae.jpgStormy skies are ahead for Muni. Flickr photo: fmosca
Muni's budget saga continued today as the MTA Board heard details on proposed service cuts and future deficits, prompting a growing outcry from the city's transit riders. The cuts would include eliminating ten percent of Muni service, bringing frequencies on many routes to historic lows.

More than 45 members of the public spoke at the meeting, decrying the cuts and fare increases. Many focused on a staff proposal to increase monthly discount passes to $30. The passes are available to seniors and people with disabilities, and are already set to increase from $15 to $20 in May.

Aside from service cuts and a request to the San Francisco Country Transportation Authority for $7 million, the discount pass increase would make the biggest dent in the MTA's $16.9 million end-of-year deficit. The agency could reap an extra $1 million from the increase, but it's not likely to be popular with the Board of Supervisors, who will vote on any fare increases.

Dozens of speakers testified against the measure, including Bob Planthold of the Senior Action Network, who called the idea "a war on the disabled and seniors."

"You're leaving money on the table by ignoring the parking meter experiment," said Planthold. "That's cowardice."

The ARC of San Francisco, a service and advocacy organization for people with disabilities, organized a large group to speak at the meeting. 

Ernestine Patterson, a Muni rider who is visually impaired, told the Board the changes would affect her independence. "Doubling the amount we pay for fast passes truly removes the wonderful feeling of independence I have always enjoyed, to be able to get on the bus to go when I want and how often I want," she said.

MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford prefaced the meeting with an assertion that the MTA has limited options. "At this point we can only provide the service we can afford," he said.

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Mayor, MTA and Bike Activists Celebrate First New Bike Lane in Three Years

bicyclists_in_bike_box.jpgSFBC's Leah Shahum, the MTA's Oliver Gajda and SFBC Board Member Dan Nguyen-Tan in the freshly painted green bike box on Scott Street at Oak. Photo by Bryan Goebel.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, three members of the Board of Supervisors, MTA officials, SFBC staff and bicyclists -- standing in the glaring fall sun amidst the roar of cars on Oak Street -- celebrated the city's first new bike lane in three years today, and then grabbed the paint rolls and applied buckets of shiny green paint to the Scott Street bike box.

"The good news is we didn't wait until today to get started. The injunction was [partially] lifted last week and already the folks you see behind us have been hard at work," said Newsom. "They've been out there putting in some new bike lanes and we're going to be putting in bike racks every single day."

Newsom said that San Francisco is going to try a series of innovate treatments, such as the green bike box, taking cues from European cities that have become world-class bicycling cities. And like Valencia Street, he said, the MTA will begin changing the signal timing on some streets to better accommodate bicyclists.

"We're going to be trying some things that candidly we wished we were doing for the last three years that are things that are being done around the world, particularly in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, that are being proffered and exampled in places like Portland and other municipalities," Newsom said, adding that the plan is to add six new miles of bike lanes in six months and increase the city's existing 23 miles of sharrows by 326 percent.

Mayor_painting.jpgMTA Chief Nat Ford and Mayor Gavin Newsom paint the bike box green. Photo by Matthew Roth.
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Paint-Happy MTA Crews Prepare for Physically Separated Market St Lane

thermoplastic_glob_.jpgA freshly installed Mississippi Street bike lane, made of thermoplastic, which dries in 30 seconds. The installation was a little tricky because of the rough street terrain but the kick ass DPT crew got it perfectly straight. Photos by Bryan Goebel.
Though it might sound incredible to San Franciscans who have followed bicycle issues for the past three years, not only are more bicycle infrastructure improvements coming, they might be better than anyone imagined. Streetsblog has learned that in addition to the lanes striped today on Mississippi and Howard and seven more bike lanes expected in the next few weeks, the MTA will install a separated bike lane on Market Street.

At a press conference tomorrow, Mayor Gavin Newsom and MTA officials will announce a number of "innovate design treatments" allowed under a judge's order issued last week, including plans to install safe-hit posts on an existing bike lane creating a physically separated lane on Market between 9th and 10th Streets. The posts are similar to the ones now in place in the bike lane at Market and Octavia. It was still unclear, however, if the project would include both east and westbound bike lanes, or just one.

"San Francisco's first attempt at a physically separated bike lane is a really great step forward. Separated bike lanes are a great way to get novice cyclists who are uncomfortable riding in traffic more used to riding on the street," said Marc Caswell, the SFBC's program manager. He said the SF bike lane will be similar to early physically separated bike lanes in New York City, which were improved under Janette Sadik-Kahn, Commissioner of the NYCDOT.

The protected bike lane will help eliminate conflicts between drivers and bicycle riders on that portion of Market Street where drivers often fail to respect the bike lanes. "A physically separated bike lane is a great way to make sure the bike lane is a clear and safe way to travel without any obstructions," Caswell said.

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Eyes On the Street: SF Gets Its First New Bike Lane in Three Years

4151496516_7ab9fd2ac1.jpgThe SFBC's Andy Thornley was the first to ride in the new Scott Street bike lane. Flickr photo: sfbike
San Francisco bicycle riders this morning let out a loud cheer, popped open a bottle of champagne and toasted the city's first bike lane in three years: a freshly painted sliver of Scott Street on the Wiggle between Oak and Fell that now serves as a left-turn lane for the thousands of daily commuters traveling by bicycle onto Fell Street.

"It feels really great to have some fresh bicycle paint down on the streets," said Andy Thornley, SFBC Program Director, who lit a cigar in celebration. "We have waited a long time and I think I speak for all bicyclists present and all those yet to bicycle in the city that this is an historic day."

The MTA paint crews found themselves caught up in the excitement of the moment on Scott Street, posing for pictures with bicycle activists and smiling and nodding at the thumbs up from passing cyclists in what Thornley described as "a little street party."

"You guys deserve this," said a member of the MTA paint crew who didn't want to be identified. "You've been waiting too long." He added that he was also a bicyclist but had been grounded by a recent injury.

Thornley said the left-turn bike lane on Scott will greatly improve safety for the daily throngs who ride the Wiggle. Indeed, within minutes after the fresh paint had dried, dozens of northbound bicycle riders began using the lane as if it had already been there.

"It's definitely the way that I move around that part of town so I'm looking forward to being more comfortable and dignified and having a more delightful ride through the Wiggle," said Thornley.

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The Nowtopian 22 Comments

Farming, Park Parking and Empty Promises

Victory_garden_w_city_hall_aug_08_3695.jpgThe Potemkin Victory Garden during Slow Food Nation, August 2008.

Gavin Newsom is running for President, er um, I mean Governor (you gotta take these things one step at a time). Maybe he’ll make it, maybe something will wreck his chances. It’s an interesting drama from the point of view of recent American history, as he follows in the footsteps of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and has surrounded himself with a retinue of advertising professionals… you know, those people who do nothing useful for society but are extremely well-paid to craft lies and deceptions and help the powerful stay on top. Newsom is a vacuous politician with no rudder or internal gyroscope grounded in any values other than what will get him on to the next stop of his political ambition. His advertisers (do they advise? I think they just advertise) are shrewd enough to keep associating the Newsom Brand with the innovative thinking and practices that are practically boiling out of political sight in San Francisco. But we cannot and should not think of him as an ally since his track record is demonstrably empty when it comes to doing what he says.

Newsom got a bunch of local press last week when he announced that he was directing his department heads to examine their city-owned surplus real estate holdings for the potential to kick-start a serious effort at locally grown urban agriculture. As a person who has—even here—promoted the idea of “One Lane for Food” I am of course glad to see the idea of urban agriculture gaining traction. But having Gavin Newsom using the idea as the buzz-of-the-week in his gubernatorial campaign is simply aggravating.

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SF Supes Committee Supports GG Park Metering and Streetscape Bond

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee showed unanimous support today for a pair of proposals that will both have major impacts on people walking, biking, using transit and driving in the city.

410050_25b2a8b15d_o.jpgDrivers often take advantage of Golden Gate Park's free on-street parking. Flickr photo: morganthemoth

The first is a measure to begin charging for on-street parking in the eastern half of Golden Gate Park, where many of the park's most popular attractions are located. The plan will turn over responsibility for on-street parking in Golden Gate Park from the Recreation and Park Department to the MTA, which will install meters and charge for some street parking in the park for the first time.

The Rec and Park department, the MTA, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, and Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos expressed support for the measure on public policy grounds, since charging for parking may lead to reduced driving and increased walking and biking in the park, and is consistent with the city's transit first policy.

Given the impact on transit riders of recent Muni fair hikes, Campos said drivers should "share the pain" of balancing the budget.

The meters will be a financial boon for the MTA and the park department, with the MTA collecting citation revenue and the park department collecting meter fare revenue. Once the meters are installed, as early as next April, they're projected to bring in $500,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30 and $1.4 million in the second year for the park department. The MTA will bring in a net profit of about $379,000 per year.

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