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Mayor Lee Warms to Prop B Muni Funding Increase, Which He Opposed

Mayor Lee on another photo op Muni ride to yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Mayor’s Office/Twitter

Mayor Ed Lee held a press conference yesterday to mark a $48 million increase in transportation funding for Muni and safer streets. But the largest chunk of that increase, and the only one that resulted directly from political leadership, came from Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Proposition B — which Lee fervently opposed.

The funding increase “is a great thing for the eighth-largest transportation center in the country,” Lee told reporters yesterday, touting the boost it would bring to Muni vehicle maintenance and infrastructure. Lee was joined by Wiener, as well as Supervisors London Breed and Julie Christensen.

When the Board of Supervisors approved Prop B for the ballot last July, Lee threatened retribution for the six who voted for it, though he apparently never followed through.

At the time, the mayor called Wiener’s measure “disturbing” and said it “can be very damaging” to the city budget. “I have to hold the supervisors that did this accountable,” he told reporters. “Fiscally, it was not responsible to have done. It disbalances the budget, and it was not what we had all collaboratively agreed to do.”

Prop B passed with 61 percent of the vote in November, mandating an annual increase in funds for transportation and safer streets based on population growth. Since the measure also factors in the last 10 years of growth, it is expected to yield a $24.2 million increase this year.

The $48 million increase to the SFMTA’s budget also includes $7.2 million from the agency’s share of the general fund, a result of greater tax revenue from a booming economy. The other $16.7 million comes from a boost in development impact fees earmarked for street improvements, which resulted from an increase in building construction.

While that $48 million should help SF implement safer streets and better transit, the city could have raised much more had Lee been willing to ask car owners to chip in for the disproportionate costs they incur. However, the mayor passed up an estimated $77 million by repealing Sunday parking meters and abandoning his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot.

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Tomorrow: Support a Safer Upper Market With Protected Bike Lanes

A view from the bike lane at Market at 16th Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA will hold an open house tomorrow on bike and pedestrian safety upgrades along upper Market Street, which could include bulb-outs to calm the street’s wide, dangerous intersections and protected bike lanes on some segments.

The SFMTA’s proposal hasn’t been presented yet, but safe streets advocates say they worry the bike improvements may not be as ambitious as they should be. Early proposals have met with opposition from a contingent of merchants who want to preserve — you guessed it — car parking.

Street Fight author Jason Henderson, a member of the Market-Octavia Community Advisory Committee, said the committee is “really excited to see a fully separated” protected bike lane, particularly on the uphill block of Market between Octavia Boulevard and Buchanan Street, which funnels bike commuters to the entrance of the Wiggle.

That bike lane segment was recently painted green and widened, and a handful of parking spots were removed near corners at Upper Market intersections in 2011 to provide more room at some points where the bike lanes were squeezed. But drivers regularly block the bike lanes on Upper Market, and riding on its rough pavement without protection from traffic can still feel harrowing.

“It needs to be wider than I think they’re considering,” said Henderson. “We need to need to be building for future capacity — not [the current] 3.5 percent bicycle mode share — but 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent.”

According to the SFMTA’s website, the project will be split into near-term and long-term upgrades. The quick improvements include painted bulb-outs (the SFMTA calls them “safety zones”), adjustments to signal timing, more visible crosswalk striping, and right-on-red restrictions.

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Drivers Hit Two Seniors in Two Days at Castro and 19th Crosswalk

Photo: Bryan Goebel

On Tuesday and Wednesday, drivers hit seniors in the eastern crosswalk crossing 19th Street at Castro Street. Wednesday’s crash scene is pictured here. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Two seniors were injured by drivers in a crosswalk at 19th and Castro Streets in separate crashes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Bryan Goebel, Streetsblog SF’s first editor, and his neighbor Hank Cancel happened upon the aftermath of the crashes.

Both victims sustained minor injures, according to Goebel and Cancel. But they said close calls with reckless drivers are routine at the intersection.

On Tuesday, a woman and man who appeared to be in their late 60s were crossing 19th in the intersection’s eastern crosswalk when the woman was hit by a driver making a right turn from northbound Castro. Cancel said the woman scraped her knee, and the female driver exchanged information with her, but nobody called 911.

Based on talking with the driver and victim, Cancel thinks the driver may have whipped quickly around the turn, as he sees many drivers do at the corner after coming down the hill on Castro. “The back of her car hit the pedestrian, because she didn’t actually wait for the pedestrian to clear the crosswalk,” he said.

On Tuesday, a driver (the woman left of the man) hit a woman (seen wearing a hat) while turning right at the same crosswalk. Photo: Hank Cancel

On Tuesday, a driver (the woman left of the man) hit a woman (seen wearing a hat) while turning right at the same crosswalk. Photo: Hank Cancel

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Wiener’s Prop B Yields More Money Than Expected for Muni, Safe Streets

SF voters may get more money than anticipated for better transit and safer streets from the passage of Proposition B, a measure crafted by Supervisor Scott Wiener to increase the share of general funds for transportation based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

With city coffers boosted by tax revenues resulting from a booming economy, Prop B is expected to yield $26 million in the next annual budget, 75 percent of which would go to Muni, with the remainder dedicated to pedestrian and bike safety upgrades. Originally, only $22 million was expected.

Of the nearly $19.5 million expected for Muni, most will cover the purchase of 18 new buses. The other $6.5 million will fund various street safety measures in pursuit of Vision Zero.

“It’s a really strong list,” said Wiener, “and it’s doing exactly what we intended Prop B to do — to improve Muni’s reliability and capacity in the face of a growing population, and to make street safety improvements as our streets become more crowded.”

Prop B instituted a city charter amendment mandating annual increases in the share of general funds set aside for transportation, based on population growth. The first increase of $26 million, which the Board of Supervisors must approve as part of the annual budget by July, accounts retroactively for the last ten years of growth. Commensurate increases are expected in the years to follow.

Wiener proposed the measure last year after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for a ballot measure to restore the local vehicle license fee to its longtime level of 2 percent. That was expected to yield an estimated $1 billion over 15 years, restoring a revenue stream cut by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mayor Lee can repeal the Prop B amendment if a VLF increase is passed by voters in 2016.

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Wiener to SFMTA: Don’t Warn Double-Parkers, Cite Them

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Seventh Street in SoMa. Photo: Matt Montagne/Twitter

Typo correction: The SFMTA says commercial vehicles are only allowed to double park when there is no legal parking space nearby.

At a hearing this week on the prevalence of double-parking in SF, Supervisor Scott Wiener said parking control officers shouldn’t give double-parked drivers a chance to move before receiving a citation.

“If the worst thing that’s going to happen to you is you’re going to be asked to move, how is that in any way a disincentive to double parking?” Wiener asked SFMTA Parking Enforcement Director Cameron Samii.

Samii said that such warnings are only given to delivery drivers, and only when there is no legal nearby parking space and they are not blocking a Muni line or “creating a hazard.” He said an exemption in state law allows commercial drivers to double park while loading under those conditions.

However, private auto drivers have long been known to get off with warnings, and there is no clear evidence that practice has changed. And for people on bikes, any double-parked vehicle creates a hazard.

Double-parking tickets have recently been on the upswing, however, with monthly citations rising from 1,808 in September to 2,947 in January, though they dropped again slightly in February to 2,495 [PDF]. Compared to all double-parking tickets, bike lane violations increased at a faster rate, from 110 in September to 285 in January.

The SF Bicycle Coalition recently conducted a social media campaign called #ParkingDirtySF, asking the public to tweet photos of drivers parked in bike lanes and blocking intersections. With more than 500 responses, the SFBC listed the 15 worst locations and the most common types of violators.

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SF Voters Reject Cars-First Prop L — Will City Hall Finally Take the Hint?

According to Folks for Polk, merchants took at least 10 of their “Yes on L” posters down “after the facts were made clear.” Photo: Folks for Polk

Proposition L was nixed by San Francisco voters yesterday. With nearly all of the votes counted, 62 percent rejected Sean Parker’s measure to keep SF in the 20th century by prioritizing free parking and encouraging driving.

Leaders at City Hall, and the agencies that shape SF’s streets, should read the writing on the wall: San Franciscans want to put the era of automobile-centric streets behind them, and it’s time to stop letting a vocal minority of curmudgeons hamper efforts to make streets safer and Muni more reliable.

“The voters gave a pretty resounding ‘yes,’ we do want these things built,” said Peter Lauterborn, who managed the “No on L” campaign. “I hope that the city leadership takes that to heart.”

“Hopefully, for projects that we’ve set out to do — Vision Zero, the [Transit Effectiveness Project] implementation, establishing the bike network — the SFMTA will be bolder than they have been in the past,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved two transportation funding measures, Propositions A and B. That’s a sign that San Franciscans have a strong appetite for better transportation options, and that they’re willing to bank on city agencies like the SFMTA to deliver them.

The success of Prop A, a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation, was not surprising given the political boost it got from City Hall and specifically Mayor Ed Lee. Lee helped to raise over $1,100,000 for the Prop A campaign, despite no organized opposition.

Meanwhile, the more controversial Prop B garnered a surprising 61 percent of the vote, even though no campaign committee was organized nor was money raised to promote it. “The campaign was gathering an impressive list of endorsements,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the measure.

“The voters showed that they really do care about smart transportation policy and investment,” said Wiener. “City Hall needs to match our own budget priorities with what the voters want.”

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NACTO Street Design Guides Now Official Policy in SF

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to establish the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street and Urban Bikeway Design Guides as official policy for all city agencies, as proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

The NACTO guides, which provide designs standards for parking-protected bike lanes like this one in New York City, are now official guidelines for all SF agencies to follow. Photo: Utility Cycling

“Safe and livable streets start with smart street design reflecting the needs of all users,” Wiener said in a statement. “Safe streets and livable neighborhoods require the three ‘e’s — education, enforcement and engineering. Importing NACTO’s urban design policy will guide us to deliver on that third e — engineering — by ensuring we design streets for all users, including not just cars but also pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists. For San Francisco to have a more sustainable future, we need an environment that encourages and allows people to safely and enjoyably walk, bike, and use transit, in addition to driving.”

“Engineering is the most important because it naturally educates every user of the street,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, applauding the adoption at a hearing on Monday.

At yesterday’s board meeting, Wiener said adopting the guides is “what we should’ve done a long time ago.” The SFMTA already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but other city agencies that play a role in street design will now be able to rely on the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets.

The NACTO guides “give us the toolbox and the tactics to make streets safer, more livable, and more economically vibrant,” said Darby Watson, section leader for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at Monday’s hearing. “Both guides have been fully vetted through a peer-to-peer working group of city engineers and planners sharing and developing these guidelines specific to urban places.”

A press release from Wiener’s office noted that “one of the NACTO guidelines adopted includes the policy that individual lane widths on most streets not exceed 10 feet.” As walkable urban design luminary Jeff Speck wrote on CityLab this week, wider lanes encourage drivers to speed and make streets more dangerous.

“While most existing lanes in San Francisco are 10 feet or less,” Wiener’s press release said, “certain departments recently attempted to require that streets approved for the Candlestick and Hunters Point Shipyard be widened to include travel lanes that were 13 feet wide.” The leading “certain department” pushing wider streets in that development area has been the SF Fire Department.

In two weeks, the NACTO Designing Cities Conference will be hosted in San Francisco, from October 22 to 25. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin is currently the president of NACTO.

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Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

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Wiener Moves to Make NACTO Street Design Guides Official Policy for SF

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Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced a bill that would make the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ guides for Urban Streets and Urban Bikeways official city policy. The SFMTA Board of Directors already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but Wiener’s legislation would establish them as official guidelines for other agencies to use, including the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the SF Fire Department.

Supervisor Scott Wiener riding on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC

“The MTA is not the only agency that’s designing streets,” said Andres Power, an aide for Wiener and previously the Planning Department’s manager of the parklet program. “The idea is to have a sense of what it is that is our collective city policy.”

The NACTO guides provide the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets. Notably, Caltrans recently endorsed the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, clearing the way for established standards for protected bike lanes in California.

Wiener hopes to have the legislation approved in time for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference, which will be hosted in San Francisco from October 22 to 25. It will be the first time the national event is held in SF, one year after SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin was named president of the organization.

Power said the NACTO guides will help complement SF’s Better Streets Plan, which was adopted citywide in 2010. Whether the BSP has been consistently implemented is an open question, but it mainly provides design guidelines for sidewalks, not roadways.

The NACTO guide adoption could provide more leverage for city officials to counter protests from the Fire Department against narrow roadways that create a safer, slower street environment. SFFD has fought projects that include roadways narrower than the minimums set in national fire code recommendations designed for suburbs.

Wiener plans to introduce further legislation to continue his efforts to reform the city’s street design and fire codes, Power said.

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Supes, Mayor Get Developers to Pay Nearly Full Tax for Transbay Rail

Developers agreed to pay nearly the full property assessment rates to help fund transportation projects in the Transbay Transit Center District, under an agreement announced by the Board of Supervisors yesterday. Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee stood their ground against the developers, who hired former mayor Willie Brown as a lobbyist to try to lower the rates on the special infrastructure tax district, known as a Mello-Roos District. The move threatened to cut funds from the extension of Caltrain and high-speed rail downtown into the Transbay Center under construction.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Chronicle reports:

Under the agreement, the city will still collect up to $1.4 billion in taxes from property owners around the new transit center for the Caltrain, and possibly high-speed rail, connection. But the revenue would come in over 37 years instead of 30 after city officials agreed to extend the life of the tax district to make it more palatable for the property owners.

Even though the rates hadn’t changed from 0.55 percent of property values, developers complained that the skyrocketing value of real estate in downtown had increased the maximum project revenues in the district from $400 million to $1.4 billion.

The Board of Supervisors won’t vote on final approval of the agreement for another two weeks while the details are worked out, but members said it looks solid at first glance. Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim lauded the agreement, and credited Mayor Lee for standing firm against the developers’ attempts.

“I’m not referring to this as a compromise, because the [Transbay Joint Powers Authority] is getting all the money that we were seeking,” said Wiener.

Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey told the Chronicle on Monday, “The city believes that the special tax rates that the developers are being asked to pay are more than fair considering they are taking advantage of a very significant increase in height limits for their buildings offered under the transit center district plan.”

The developers apparently backed down on their threats to sue the city if it didn’t assess the property values at their 2007 rates rather than current ones. Before the agreement was reached in a closed session, Wiener said, “If [a lawsuit is] what has to happen, so be it. I don’t think we should cave in.”

“I don’t think much of the legal claim that’s being asserted,” said Wiener. “I think it’s pretty clear that the valuation was not going to be at the bottom of the recession.”

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