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Monday: Speak Out on SFFD’s Push for Wider Streets at City Hall

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A City Hall hearing scheduled for Monday is your chance to weigh in on the SF Fire Department’s insistence on wider roadways to accommodate fire trucks, which has undermined and watered down a number of livable streets projects.

An SFFD fire truck seen on Kearny Street in the Financial District. Image: kevinsyoza/Youtube

Supervisor Scott Wiener called for the hearing, to be held at a meeting of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee, to shed light on the SFFD’s claims that safer, slower, narrower streets hinder fire trucks. Reps from city agencies like the SFMTA and DPW are also expected to make presentations on street safety and design issues. Here’s the hearing description on the meeting agenda [PDF]:

Hearing requesting a report from the Fire Department, Department of Public Works, and the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure on the proposal to widen certain streets in the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point developments, including why certain departments desired to make such a change so late in the process, the departments are requested to discuss their policy rationale for requesting such changes, including if and how the Better Streets Plan, the Pedestrian Safety Strategy, and the “Vision Zero” policy were factored and why prior Board of Supervisors and Mayoral approval of street cross sections for these developments was disregarded.

You can speak during the public comment period. The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, Room 263. and can be viewed live on SFGovTV. The hearing is the second item on the agenda.

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Bike to Work Day at City Hall: Who Really Gets the Need for Safer Streets?

Another year, another Bike to Work Day press conference at City Hall. As city officials ride to the podium, the event serves as a bellwether of the city’s political commitment to making city streets safe enough for everyone to bicycle, regardless of age or experience.

Supervisor Scott Wiener led in calling for safer streets for bicycling at City Hall today. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

The mayor, most of the supervisors, and the heads of SFMTA, SFPD, and the Department of Public Works generally stuck to the usual pro-bike rallying calls, endorsements of Vision Zero, and talking up the importance of the transportation funding measures headed to the ballot. But Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim stood out with some more concrete and thoughtful remarks on the state of cycling.

Wiener gave the most frank assessment of the sorry state of many San Francisco streets, city officials’ role in fixing them, and the press conference ritual itself:

We gather here once a year, all of us elected officials and department heads, we get up here and we talk about what’s gonna happen and how we need to make this city safer, the streets safer, better for biking and walking and uses by everyone. But you know, it’s not about the words everyone says. It’s about the actions. And the actions are really, really hard sometimes. And it’s up to you, the residents of this city, to hold all of us elected leaders and our departments accountable to make sure that we’re not just saying things at press conferences, but actually doing the hard things.

D6 Supervisor Kim elicited applause when she called for protected bike lanes on dangerous street in her district: the length of Polk, Second, Sixth, Folsom, Howard, and Turk Streets, and Golden Gate Avenue. Kim said she wants to see them within the next ten years.

Supervisor Jane Kim riding to City Hall with an SFBC staffer on Howard Street in SoMa today. Photo: Jane Kim/Twitter

“Folks like me are not gonna get on their bike unless they know they’re going to be able to do that safely,” Kim said, recounting her recent experience of learning to bike in her district. “As we think about what urban planning means, as we think about what it means to grow smart-growth neighborhoods, we have to figure out how to get people out of their cars and onto their bike. For me, that is my commitment to my city and my district, to be one less vehicle on the road.”

Compared to 20 years ago, when Bike to Work Day started, bike advocates have come a long way in winning political support. Last week, city officials unveiled the new contra-flow protected bike lane on two blocks of Polk Street, connecting Market Street to City Hall — arguably the highest-quality piece of bike infrastructure in the city, despite its short length. As the Bay Guardian’s Steve Jones wrote this week, “Building high-profile, separated cycletracks to the steps of City Hall seems to symbolically mark the arrival of cyclists into the political mainstream.”

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Scott Wiener Proposes Measures to Curb SFFD’s Push for Wider Streets

The San Francisco Fire Department has not let up in its fight against narrower roads in the city, protesting measures like bulb-outs and traffic lane removals that make streets safer. In one of the latest instances, SFFD has fought 20-foot-wide streets planned for two major redevelopments, going against years of planning and established city codes. The department wants all new streets to be at least 26 feet wide.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Scott Wiener today proposed measures to take on SFFD’s irrational stance. ”Elected policymakers and the voters have repeatedly adopted a policy of safer streets through effective street design, yet some of our departments are acting as if those directives didn’t exist,” he said in a statement.

Wiener’s proposed legislation would require city departments to get Board of Supervisors approval if they want to “deviate” from street width standards in the Fire, Public Works, and Administrative Codes, and the Better Streets Plan. The proposal also asks the City Attorney to draft amendments to those codes to “clarify” the existing standards. 

The legislation would also request a report from the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst on the feasibility of using trucks that are smaller and more flexible than many of SFFD’s “large suburban-sized trucks,” according to a press release from Wiener’s office. SFFD already uses such trucks in Bernal Heights and Telegraph Hill, and the report would look at best practices in other cities.

Wiener also requested a hearing to shed light on the SFFD’s push for wider streets in the Hunters Point and Candlestick Point re-development sites in the southeast area of the city, “including why the departments injected this change so late in the process and despite approval by the Board of Supervisors of a narrower width,” the press release says.

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Mini Plaza Creates Public Space, Not Carmageddon, at Market and Dolores

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Photo: Scott Wiener

It’s happened again: street space was re-allocated from cars to people, and the unbearable traffic jams opponents warned of have failed to materialize. In fact, some of them even like the result now.

At the southwest corner of Market and Dolores Streets, the sidewalk was extended to create a mini plaza last fall, as part of a city agreement with the developers of a building housing condos and a Whole Foods Market there. The sidewalk extension was opposed by a loud few, who claimed that removing part of a traffic lane and car parking lane would result in disastrous queues of cars.

Supervisor Scott Wiener posted the above photo of the plaza on Facebook, noting that it “has been a huge success”:

We had to push hard to prevent the plaza from being significantly reduced in size due to unfounded concerns about traffic congestion. Fortunately we were able to keep the plaza design intact, and it’s worked out beautifully. Very positive addition to our public realm in this growing part of the neighborhood.

Over and over again, we see that the sky doesn’t fall when well-executed projects reclaim space for people. Some folks just won’t believe it until the changes are on the ground, but in the meantime we all reap the benefits of safer and more livable streets.

Hayes Valley livable streets advocate Jason Henderson said that even some of the most ardent opponents of the Market and Dolores plaza are now fans of it, as noted in my article last week about why city officials won’t win by pandering to the vocal cars-first contingent.

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Scott Wiener: SFFD’s Next Fire Truck Fleet Needs to Be More Versatile

The SF Fire Department needs to replace its aging fire trucks soon, and Supervisor Scott Wiener says the department should use the purchase to take advantage of more versatile models that other cities are using to navigate narrow streets.

SFFD has fought against pedestrian safety improvements that narrow roadways, claiming that they hinder fire truck access, even though other cities use lower street width minimums, and San Francisco has plenty of slender streets that firefighters regularly serve.

“Our fire trucks should be designed around the needs of our city, not vice versa,” said Wiener.

While SFFD has protested wider sidewalks, officials haven’t targeted much more prevalent obstacles like double-parked cars, and they admit they don’t have a firm grasp on what’s causing recent increases in response times. SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said at a hearing in January that “there could just be more cars.”

“While I and others have disputed [SFFD's] assertions,” said Wiener, “if the department is concerned, the solution is to take a hard look at truck design.”

Smaller trucks, better designed for tight spaces than most of SFFD’s current fleet, are in use by a station in Bernal Heights, and they’re commonly seen in older cities in Europe and Japan. But SFFD has made several excuses about why it can’t buy more of them. At the January hearing, Lombardi said that fewer American manufacturers are producing smaller fire trucks, that smaller trucks tend not to meet smog standards, and that powerful engines are needed to climb San Francisco’s steep hills.

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Pandering to the Parking-First Contingent Won’t Win Transportation Funding

Some pretty specious rationales are being used to peddle some pretty terrible recent transportation policy decisions in San Francisco. Yesterday, the SFMTA Board of Directors repealed Sunday parking metering, caving to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee. Board members said they bought into the mayor’s thinking that bringing back free Sunday parking would help win support for transportation funding measures on the November ballot.

We’ve explained why the mayor’s claims of an anti-meter popular backlash are unfounded, as the real push appeared to come from church leaders. But at City Hall, this faulty strategy of backtracking on solid efforts to improve transit and street safety seems to be popular among among decision-makers besides the mayor. In another recent case of the city watering down a great project, the SFMTA downsized transit bulb-outs in the Inner Sunset to preserve parking for a vocal minority who complained. Supervisor London Breed basically said that tip-toeing around the parking-first contingent is necessary to ensure that voters approve new funding for transit improvements down the line.

“They’re pandering to a specific group of motorists — the loudest opponents — who are never going to support these programs,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.”

Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener debated the merits of pandering to cars-first voters last week. Photo left: Office of London Breed, Photo right: Aaron Bialick

At a supervisors committee meeting last week on the SFMTA’s budget, which relies heavily on the ballot measures to fund planned transit and safety improvements, Breed said she’s ”trying to understand how we’re going to convince voters, especially drivers, to spend a lot of money.”

Breed said that while city officials like her might understand the connection between making walking, biking, and transit more attractive and cutting congestion and parking demand, many voters may not be so savvy. ”We’re asking drivers to basically foot the bill for all of the improvements, and we’re taking away parking spaces, making things a lot more — what drivers believe, and have expressed in my district — more difficult,” Breed told SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Breed also said she was concerned that the city doesn’t have a plan B for funding the Bicycle Strategy, the WalkFirst pedestrian strategy upgrades, and the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project. The three ballot measures would fund about half of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements called for, and most of the Muni TEP. “It sounds like we’re taking it for granted that this is actually going to pass,” said Breed.

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Castro Street Redesign Breaks Ground, Rainbow Crosswalks Unveiled

The new Castro Street is on its way, with the Department of Public Works breaking ground today on the two-block street redesign, which will include wider sidewalks. One detail of the plan was also unveiled at the event — rainbow crosswalk designs for the Castro and 18th Street intersection.

Supervisor Scott Wiener with planners from DPW, the Planning Department, and reps from the Castro CBD today. Photo: Scott Wiener/Twitter

“This streetscape project will be transformational for Castro Street and for the neighborhood,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who secured $4 million for the project from the Prop B street re-paving bond funds, in a statement. “Castro Street is one of the busiest pedestrian corridors in the city and at the heart of both our neighborhood and the LGBT community. Wider sidewalks and an improved Jane Warner Plaza, which will allow for more street life and neighborhood interactions, will make a great and historic street even better.”

The design of the rainbow crosswalks, largely funded by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefits District, was selected through an online poll of over 4,500 Castro residents and visitors conducted by the CBD, the Castro Biscuit wrote today.

As Wiener mentioned, Jane Warner Plaza at 17th and Castro will get some more permanent fixtures, though we haven’t see what they’ll look like yet. The project will also include new street trees, pedestrian-scale lighting, upgrades to Muni’s overhead wire infrastructure, water mains, and sparkled sidewalks and sidewalk plaques along the Rainbow Honor Walk “showcasing heroes of the LGBT community,” said a DPW press release, which said the work will be completed in October. Construction is expected to halt for the Pride festival in June and be finished in time for the Castro Street Fair, according to the Biscuit.

Image: Planning Department

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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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In SF, Bay Area Bike Share’s Bikes Get Almost Three Trips Per Day

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Image: SFMTA. Click to enlarge.

Following an underwhelming start, Bay Area Bike Share now sees an average of at least 2.5 trips per bike per day within San Francisco, according to the SFMTA. Since September 10, the average rate in SF has held mostly steady at about 2.7, and goes as high as 3.7.

For the entire five-city system, the average is about 1.9 trips per bike per day, up from the rate of 0.92 during the first 12 days after the August 29 launch. At two months in, Bay Area Bike Share’s usage exceeds that of DC’s Capital Bikeshare at the same point in time, according to SFMTA Bike-Share Program Manager Heath Maddox, who told supervisors Monday that the usage rate is “gratifying to see.”

Altogether, Bay Area Bike Share has about 2,000 members, and users have ridden 128,161 miles, or “almost five times around the Earth,” said Maddox. The 350 bikes within SF — half the system’s fleet — are used 900 to 1,000 times per day, he said.

The new numbers may not break any records, but Maddox said it’s “a healthy rate” and “a number we’re happy with.”

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Mayor Lee: I Will Have Tickets Issued to Double Parkers Who Block My Car

With the spotlight turned on the dangers and dysfunction that result from the sorry state of double-parking enforcement in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has staked out a position on the matter that seems to show a tone-deaf windshield perspective on city streets more than an actual commitment to making them safer.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who grilled parking enforcement officials at a hearing on double parking last week, asked the mayor at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting what he will “do to ensure that double parking enforcement is a priority where it impacts transit riders, pedestrians, and cyclists.”

“What specific goals and metrics do you propose we establish to ensure that the most impactful double parking behavior becomes an enforcement priority for the MTA and the police department?” Wiener asked Lee. “Will your office agree to report back in a year on the city’s stepped up enforcement efforts against double parking?”

The mayor’s prepared response started off with an anecdote about a recent encounter with double parkers who blocked his car while he was apparently being chauffeured around the Mission. The strongest commitment made by the mayor was that “next time, instead of rushing off to my appointment, I will ask my officers in my car to get out and issue those citations, if not strong warnings.”

“You couldn’t even turn the corner,” he said of the inconvenience he experienced when trying to turn off of Valencia on to 16th Street last week. “All three double-parkers were looking at each other as if nothing was wrong.”

Lee went on to mention that double parking creates hazards for people walking, biking, and driving, and that it “literally stops Muni,” and listed the measures the SFMTA has already taken to address it, such as increased enforcement and new loading zones. But while he said it’s “it’s clear we need to do more,” his commitments were limited to “meeting with both the MTA and police department to understand how we can better deal with double parking.”

“Specifically, I will task both of these departments to identify how we can change the culture to make our streets safer for all modes of transportation, while fostering a more transit-friendly San Francisco,” Lee told Wiener. “If it’s a part of a resource issue, I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to address the issue through the budgetary process.”

In the meantime, keep an eye out for the mayor out on the streets, “Carrying forth my personal commitment to you that everywhere I see it, I will stop it myself.”