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Avalos Ready to Champion Freeway Ramp Closures at Balboa Park Station

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The 280 freeway on-ramp at Geneva Avenue next to Balboa Park Station would be removed under the recommendations of an SFCTA study. Photo: SFCTA

Balboa Park Station could become a safer transit hub by 2020 if the city moves forward with proposals to close one freeway ramp and re-align another, as recommended in a study recently completed by the SF County Transportation Authority. Although the proposal hasn’t received much public attention, it’s sure to face a tough political fight when it’s eventually implemented, said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the SFCTA. Avalos said the project is worth implementing, and he’s eager to champion the plans as soon as they can move forward.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

“It’s a political problem how to implement these changes around the station. People want things to be different, but they don’t want any change,” said Avalos. “The trade-offs, they see as really harmful to the neighborhoods.”

The SFCTA study proposes altering freeway ramps, changing traffic signals, and a new frontage road for loading — changes that were vetted by the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee. The study notes, “With strong support, consensus, and high priority from the community, agencies, and elected officials, the initial pilot projects could begin in 2016, with full implementation by 2020.”

Avalos’s term in office will end in late 2016, but he said he hopes to help move the freeway ramp changes forward before he leaves. ”I have two-and-a-half years of office left, and I want to be part of actually getting some implementation on these changes,” he said.

The goal of the SFCTA study was to find ways to make the streets safer around Balboa Park Station, which is surrounded by car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. Even though 24,000 people use the station daily to ride Muni and BART — it’s BART’s busiest station outside of downtown SF — it seems to be designed as an afterthought to the 280 freeway. Many commuters exiting the station walk or bike to City College’s main campus.

“The neighborhood has long suffered from its cluster of poorly-designed freeway on- and off-ramps,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors. ”We finally have a definite and buildable proposal for the freeway ramps that will reduce the burden that they impose.”

Through the study, planners and CAC members explored several options for re-configuring the freeway ramps. The favored option would remove one of the two northbound on-ramps, at Geneva Avenue. A curved southbound off-ramp that slings cars onto westbound Ocean Avenue would also be removed and replaced by a new ramp that approaches the street at a head-on 90-degree angle. That new intersection would be signalized.

This proposal originally called for closing the second off-ramp that touches down at Geneva, but that idea was dropped.

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Avalos “Disgruntled” Over Paying for His City Hall Parking Perk [Updated]

Update: Avalos said on Twitter that his email was meant as a joke.

Supervisor John Avalos sent out an email today complaining about the $173 he pays monthly for a reserved parking spot in front of City Hall. That’s even though he pays less than half the $395 going price for a reserved parking spot at the Civic Center garage. The $173 fee is apparently set to offset the cost of lost revenue from the meter occupied by a reserved spot.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Responding to a notice sent by City Hall’s building services manager to the Board of Supervisors about the annual parking fee agreement, Avalos said the fee “is totally messed up and makes no sense policy-wise,” since parking used to be a free perk for supes. Avalos’ email was sent to all supervisors, their staff, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Dear Government Overlords:

The City Hall parking fee for elected officials is totally messed up and makes no sense policy-wise. For years the policy was a parking space for elected officials as part of holding office. What’s next? Will we be paying rent for our offices at City Hall?

I don’t drive every day, but often I don’t have much of a choice as I have to be in multiple places, often mixing work with driving my kids around, over the course of the day. When I go on errands with my car, I pay for parking meters and garages and even pay for tickets and towing when I mess up, so I am not getting special privileges beyond what comes with holding elective office and being very busy with my family and service to the city.

Signed,
Disgruntled Supervisor

It would be disappointing to hear Avalos divulge such a retrograde stance about his personal parking spot, particularly since he’s one of the only elected officials in recent years to have supported Sunday parking meters. In 2009, he also supported installing parking meters in Golden Gate Park, and as he noted in his email, Avalos is known for sometimes walking, biking, and taking Muni to work. He even campaigned for mayor on a strongly pro-bike platform, has pushed for better Muni service for low-income riders, and wrote the ordinance requiring secure bike parking in downtown office buildings.

On the other hand, Avalos also introduced the SFMTA meter contract amendment that hamstrung the agency’s ability to install new meters over the next five years.

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Bixi Bankruptcy Delays Bay Area Bike Share Expansion Until Fall at Best

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The expansion of Bay Area Bike Share into the Mission, the Castro, Hayes Valley, and Mission Bay planned for early this year won’t happen until fall at the soonest, due to the recent bankruptcy of Bixi, the company that supplies hardware and software for several American bike-share systems.

Heath Maddox, the SFMTA’s bike-share program manager, broke the news to an SF County Transportation Authority Board committee this week. He said the expansion would come in the fall “if everything went very well.”

“Our main technology and software provider is actually for sale,” said Maddox. “We should know what becomes of that sale later this month. Hopefully, it’ll be bought by our current operations and maintenance provider [Alta Bicycle Share], and they could just move, without a hitch, and once again fire up production.”

Maddox said after the sale and re-organization is completed, “it takes five to six months to produce the equipment once it’s ordered.”

In response, Supervisor John Avalos, the SFCTA Chair, said the expansion was supposed to have happened “yesterday,” and asked Maddox to “meet offline to talk more about it.”

The discussion took place after a presentation on the SFCTA’s “Strategic Analysis Report” on Bay Area Bike Share, which provided recommendations to guide the system’s expansion. One of those recommendations is to re-structure BABS’ administration to allow the SFMTA more independence to facilitate a swift expansion within San Francisco, which sees 90 percent of the system’s ridership.

The latest delay is one of too many to count for bike-share in SF. San Franciscans’ appetite for bike-share was first whetted in 2009, when even a tiny pilot of 50 bikes was dropped after Clear Channel backed out of a partnership with the city. Bay Area Bike Share was first promised in summer 2012 (though it didn’t have a name until May 2013), and was supposed to include 500 bikes and 50 stations in San Francisco, with the other half of the system in four cities along the Peninsula.

But only 35 of SF’s stations were put on the ground (and another 35 on the Peninsula), when the initial cost estimates proved to be too optimistic. The other 15 stations were promised within a few months. Now those stations (plus two more) will be coming in the fall, at the earliest.

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Avalos’ Eyes on the Street: SFPD Blocks Crosswalk During Traffic Stop

Supervisor John Avalos posted the above photo on Facebook with the following explanation:

Ironic traffic stop on Mission and Ocean. Police vehicle stopped in the middle of the intersection blocking the cross walk and sending the 49 bus into the next lane. We have a ways to go to coordinate our pedestrian safety effort.

Indeed. Avalos, the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, posted this on the same day he joined Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders at a press conference announcing the five-year WalkFirst plan. The same day, a Board of Supervisors committee held a hearing on Vision Zero, the city’s goal of ending traffic deaths within ten years. It’s worth noting Avalos launched the Vision Zero campaign at City Hall along with Supervisors Jane Kim and Norman Yee.

If SFPD is going to lead in those efforts, as Chief Greg Suhr has pledged to do, the department’s officers are going to need to start with some basic awareness of how they can stop contributing to the problem.

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Imagine No Deaths: Supes, Safe Streets Advocates Call for “Vision Zero”

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Duboce Avenue at Noe Street. Photo: Aaron Biailck

A coalition of safe streets advocates, community organizations, and city supervisors have launched a campaign for San Francisco to join leading cities in adopting a “Vision Zero” goal — an end to traffic deaths on city streets within ten years.

“We need a culture shift in San Francisco, and it has to start from the top down,” said Supervisor John Avalos, also the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority, in a statement. “We’re calling for our mayor, our police chief and our SFMTA director to commit to allocating resources to the three areas that we know can save lives,” he said, referring to engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to reduce crashes.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Leaders in Chicago and New York City have adopted Vision Zero policies, following the lead of Sweden, which launched the official campaign in 1997, though the country’s traffic deaths have been declining since the 1970s despite increasing population.

In a press release, Supervisors Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee said they’ll introduce a resolution calling for a “Vision Zero Plan” based on three major components:

  • The establishment of a “crisis intervention” team by the SFMTA that would be tasked with getting at least two dozen pilot projects into the ground over the next two years, using “near-term, low-cost safety improvements in the areas with repeat traffic collisions.”
  • SFPD to direct its traffic enforcement resources to “cite the most problematic dangerous behaviors and locations.”
  • A “citywide safety awareness program for drivers.” Supervisors Yee and Avalos are “targeting state funding opportunities through the Transportation Authority” to fund it, and Supervisor Kim has called for the formation of “an interagency work group to develop a large vehicle and city fleet driver education program for all city employees or drivers who contract with the city.”

Last year, the number of people killed while walking and biking — 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists –- was the highest since 2007, noted a statement from Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition:

Despite calls for critical safety improvements to the streets and more data driven enforcement of traffic crime and widespread education, the Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney and SFMTA Director have made only small commitments to street safety and have not committed to any larger vision toward keeping our residents safe on increasingly chaotic streets.

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Supes Avalos, Wiener Clash on Equitable Spending Strategies for Muni

Supervisors John Avalos and Scott Wiener are sparring over how new revenue for transit should be spent to benefit the Muni riders who need it most.

With tax measures proposed for the 2014 ballot that could significantly increase transportation funds, Avalos introduced a charter amendment yesterday that would “require the city to prioritize investments to address existing disparities in service to low-income and transit dependent areas,” according to a statement from his office.

The Transit Equity Charter Amendment “provides a framework for how the city rebuilds transportation transit infrastructure and rebuilds transit service,” Avalos said at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, explaining that it would also set stricter equity performance metrics and increase oversight by the SF County Transportation Authority Board, which is comprised of the supervisors. “It will help ensure that our investments are also targeted to address service deficiencies in our low-income and transit-dependent neighborhoods,” he said.

If approved, the amendment — also sponsored by Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, Norman Yee, and Eric Mar — would be placed on the November 2014 ballot alongside tax measures to increase funding for transportation upgrades, as recommended by Mayor Ed Lee’s Transportation 2030 Task Force, a 48-member group that has met throughout the year to develop the recommendations.

Avalos, who represents the SFCTA Board on the task force — also known as T2030 — has criticized its lack of representatives of low-income communities. It has reps from a broad range of city agencies, regional transportation agencies, and transportation advocates like SPUR, the SF Bicycle Coalition, and Walk SF, as well as labor groups. It also includes two for-profit tech companies — Google and Genentech.

Representing the Board of Supervisors on the task force along with Supervisor David Chiu is Wiener, who said the Avalos amendment will “undermine Muni service, make the system less reliable, and do nothing to achieve what we need most: to shore up the system and expand its capacity to meet the needs of our growing population.”

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Breed Defends Record on Safer Streets for Biking; Plus: Other Supes Respond

Supervisor London Breed has issued a statement explaining her Twitter comments yesterday on safer streets for bicycling which led her to delete her account. Breed had responded to an inquiry sent out by Twitter user Patrick Traughber to every city supervisor and a few other city officials, asking, “In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to creating safer streets for bicycling in San Francisco?”

Supervisor London Breed on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

In her initial answer, Breed cited “the bad behavior of some bicyclist,” which led several people to respond in protest. Breed tried to clarify that she’s “not blaming anyone,” and that she’s “been fighting to help make streets safer for all,” but then shut down her account minutes into the discussion. Breed has a record of making abrasive comments on Twitter, arguing with constituents and getting press attention for it.

In her written statement, Breed defended her record of standing up for street redesign projects like Masonic Avenue and Fell and Oak Streets in the face of anti-bike vitriol. Here’s what she had to say:

I suspended my account because I realized twitter can be extremely time consuming and it’s too hard to have nuanced policy discussions in 140 characters. I want to take some time to think about how I use this medium in the future.

With respect to the bike exchange, my record is clear! I have been a consistent and effective advocate for bike projects in our city. I got the Oak and Fell bike lanes implemented well ahead of schedule. I led the effort to fund the Masonic Blvd project which includes dedicated bike lanes, and I’ve voted for every bike project that’s come before the Transportation Authority, including the popular bike share program just implemented in our city.

My point was not that I think bicyclists’ behavior should be an impediment to new projects. My point was bicyclists’ behavior is the complaint I hear most often from those who oppose the projects. So as a practical matter, those behavioral concerns — whether you think they’re accurate or inaccurate, right or wrong — make it harder to get new projects moving, harder to win public and political support. But that absolutely has not, and will not, stop me from fighting to win that support.

I’ve faced a lot of fire, a LOT of fire, over the Masonic blvd project and I’ve stood strong in my support. That’s my record. So it does bother me to see Masonic supporters criticizing me over a twitter post. But it is my fault for being unclear about a complicated topic on an inappropriate medium. That is why I am taking a break from that medium.

Breed deserves a lot of credit for supporting those safety improvements. And judging by her statement, she doesn’t think that policymakers should decide whether San Franciscans get to have safer streets based on the perceived behavior of people who use a particular mode of transportation.

Traughber’s question on Twitter yielded responses from a few other supervisors and District Attorney George Gascón, offering a glimpse into those officials’ understanding of how to make streets safer (or just how willing they are to respond to tweets).

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Supes Seek Answers on Bike/Ped Strategy, “Better Market Street” Delay

Supervisors Avalos, Kim, Mar, and Wiener.

Members of the SF Board of Supervisors are calling attention to the need to fund the SFMTA’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategies, as well as the delayed Better Market Street project, which suddenly looks like it might not include space for bicycling.

The Market Street situation concerned Supervisors Scott Wiener and John Avalos enough to call separate hearings and release statements on the issue. Both are troubled by the new completion date of 2019 — a four-year delay — and the idea of building protected bike lanes on downtown Mission instead of Market, which was recently added as a potential option to the surprise of advocates and supervisors.

Avalos called for a hearing at the next meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority Board on February 26. In a statement, he said, “Market Street is the most bicycled street West of the Mississippi, and I believe it deserves dedicated cycle tracks along its full length. The current state of Market Street with the ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ zig-zagging bike lane is unbecoming for the premiere thoroughfare of one of America’s premier bicycling cities… We, as city officials, can’t squander this once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Wiener’s hearing would take place at an upcoming meeting at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. “The Better Market Street project should be the best example of improving our streets through creating safer pedestrian and bike access and making thoughtful transit decisions,” he said in a statement. “The plan should encourage people to make better use of public space and to advance our city’s Transit-First policy. We need to carefully scrutinize any changes to the plan that could impact that goal.”

On funding the Pedestrian Strategy, D6 Supervisor Jane Kim called a hearing with city staffers about how to fund the safety improvements needed to reach the plan’s goals, which include cutting pedestrian injuries in half by 2020. She didn’t say if Mayor Ed Lee was expected to attend.

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Downtown Bike Access Ordinance Clears Key Hurdle at Board of Supes

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today gave preliminary approval to what advocates call the strongest bicycle access legislation in the country. The ordinance [PDF], which would require downtown building managers to provide secure indoor bicycle parking for employees either on-site or nearby, is expected to receive final approval from the board next week and be signed into law 30 days after that.

Employee bike parking at San Francisco City Hall. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“Today’s vote is another way that San Francisco is proving itself to be a great place to do business and to bicycle,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. ”The city took a significant step forward today in recognizing that more people bicycling benefits our city’s economy.”

“An impressive number of businesses ranging from law firms to tech companies to real estate firms are already making it easier for more of their employees to bike to work, and this legislation will help even more companies become more bike-friendly,” she added.

Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the legislation, noted the broad support it enjoys, particularly from the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA), which was involved early on in its development. All supervisors except for Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd voted in favor of the proposal.

“With many companies expressing the desire for bicycle parking and storage, BOMA recognizes the need to provide safe, secure parking for bicycling employees,” said BOMA President Meade Boutwell in a statement. ”Members of [BOMA] are concerned about the environment and promote the use of sustainable transportation options, including bicycles.”

BOMA’s support, noted Avalos, “says a lot about where we’ve come from in terms of how much cycling is accepted as a means of commuting in San Francisco.”

At a recent hearing on the proposal, SFBC Program Manager Marc Caswell pointed out that it will benefit far more than the “hundreds of thousands” of San Franciscans who already bike to work. It will also provide incentive for “the thousands of other people who are interested in biking to work, but are discouraged because they do not have a secure place to park their bike right now,” he said.

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Bike Coalition Endorses John Avalos for Mayor Followed by Chiu, Lee

John Avalos Rides SF from John Avalos on Vimeo.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition announced today that it is endorsing John Avalos as its number one pick for mayor, followed by David Chiu and Ed Lee. Avalos, the District 11 supervisor, has been especially aggressive about courting the bicycle vote, showing up at bike events, and spreading the word about his campaign in bike shops.

Chiu, the car-free District 3 supervisor who is board president, has also been reaching out to bicyclists, and the SFBC said the ranked-choice endorsements reflect the three candidates “who are mostly actively supporting a better city through bicycling.”

In an email sent out to its members, the SFBC outlines why it’s supporting each candidate:

Our #1 mayoral endorsement is John Avalos. In his role as the District 11 representative of the SF Board of Supervisors, Avalos has been a strong voice for better bicycling and livable streets. He has worked with the SF Bicycle Coalition to advance bike improvements, including essential funding for those projects. Avalos, who is a regular bike rider, has also been a steady supporter of Sunday Streets, Bike to School Day, our Connecting the City vision, and transit and public realm improvements. Avalos is currently drafting legislation to increase bicycle access to commercial buildings. Find out more about John Avalos, including his bike video, here.

Our #2 mayoral endorsement is David Chiu. Chiu serves as the President of the SF Board of Supervisors and represents District 3. He doesn’t own a car and has helped to raise the visibility of biking by executing his Board duties by bike, by transit, and on foot. He has worked with the SF Bicycle Coalition to advance bike improvements, including Market Street trials for better biking, walking, and transit, as well as supporting Sunday Streets and Connecting the City. Chiu sponsored an important policy statement to reach 20% of trips in SF by bicycle by 2020. Find out more about David Chiu here.

Our #3 mayoral endorsement is Ed Lee. Lee has been a vocal supporter of the SF Bicycle Coalition’s goals since his appointment to Mayor in January. His support for better bicycling, especially our Connecting the City initiative, has moved our vision substantially toward action by prioritizing these projects among City staff and helping to find funding. Lee has been a strong supporter of Sunday Streets and has leveraged his many years of experience in city government to prioritize and expedite bike-positive work on the streets. Find out more about Ed Lee here.