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Posts from the "Scott Wiener" Category

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Neglecting Muni Costs the Economy at Least $50 Million Per Year

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Every time a Muni train breaks down or a bus is stuck in car traffic, San Francisco pays big time.

City staffers are beginning to tally up the economic toll of Muni delays, and presented [PDF] some alarming figures at a hearing yesterday called by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

In April, riders were delayed a cumulative 86,000 hours, or, as SF Weekly calculated, 19 years and eight months. That amounts to an economic loss of $4.2 million, or $50 million per year, according to the City Controller’s Office. And that’s a conservative estimate — it doesn’t account for delays outside of rush hours or the loss of potential customers who might otherwise use Muni to shop if the system were more reliable, a Controller’s Office staffer said.

“The system’s struggles have real-life consequences for our city,” said Wiener. “When service is unreliable, people are delayed and frustrated in getting where they’re going, leading to negative economic impacts and reduced quality of life.”

Last week, the N-Judah — Muni’s busiest line — shut down twice in two days due to damaged overhead wire equipment, leaving trains sitting on the street for most of a 24-hour period. Such meltdowns not only have internal costs for Muni, like overtime labor to run shuttle buses as a substitute for train service and the cost of repairing equipment. They also cost commuters time, and repeated delays lead them to consider other ways of getting around — or to question whether to make a trip at all.

“The bottom line,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, “is the transportation system matters to people when they’re choosing where to live, where they work, what modes of travel they’re going to use, and how they’re going to allocate their household budget between housing and transportation.”

With Muni being deprived of funding for decades — a situation that’s only getting worse — the system’s outlook is grim. Here are the stats, as reported by Muni and summed up by SF Weekly, since July:

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Livable City: Ticket Fee a Smart Way to Fund Transit to Warriors Arena

A rendering of the proposed Warriors basketball arena on the Embarcadero. Image: Golden State Warriors

Transporting folks to and from a new Warriors arena, condo, and hotel development planned for Piers 30-32 along the Embarcadero will require smart planning and the money to fund improvements for transit, walking, and biking to avoid clogging the waterfront with cars.

But Muni typically gets shorted when it beefs up transit service to bring fans to major sports and music events around the city, says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who yesterday proposed adding a $1 to $3 transit surcharge to tickets for such events. Wiener asked the City Controller’s Office to study the impacts of such a fee, and he says preliminary estimates indicate it could bring in anywhere from $3 million to $22 million per year for Muni, depending on the size of the fee and which venues pay it.

“Muni doesn’t have enough light rail vehicles, its vehicles frequently break down, and service has degraded,” Wiener said in a statement. “With a growing population and a possible new sports/concert arena at Piers 30-32, now is the time to ensure that Muni can meet not only today’s transit needs, but also the transit needs of the future.”

“Currently, the Muni underground is overwhelmed whenever there’s a Giants game. With the addition of the new arena, the strain on Muni service will be even more severe.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART Board of Directors, said the proposal “would certainly help Muni run the extra service,” for which the agency often pays transit operators overtime.

Radulovich pointed out that the surcharge wouldn’t necessarily come out of fans’ pockets, since venue managers would likely lower their ticket prices to match the going rate. “If they could charge two bucks extra on a ticket already, they’d be doing it,” he said. “They price them to fill the seats.”

An even better proposal, Radulovich noted, would be for event tickets to include a free Muni ride to encourage attendees to take transit instead of drive.

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Sup. Wiener: Muni Will Only Get Worse Under City’s Ten-Year Spending Plan

Supervisor Scott Wiener is sounding the alarm that Muni, already the slowest transit system in the country, will only get worse over the next ten years unless officials at City Hall take the initiative to devote more resources to the city’s decrepit transit vehicles and infrastructure.

Under the the latest iteration of the city’s ten-year Capital Plan, a draft of which was approved by the Board of Supervisors last week, Muni will only see more of the breakdowns and crowding that have plagued the system due to decades of underfunding, said Wiener.

While the $330 million currently set aside in the plan for Muni is an increase over the city’s historic spending levels of “basically zero,” Wiener lamented the fact that it comes nowhere near filling the system’s backlog of repairs and equipment replacements, which the SFMTA estimates would require $510 million every year within the ten-year period.

“I think it’s important for all of us to understand that that is not even close to what we need even to improve service levels today, let alone with a growing population and a ten-year older system,” Wiener said at a recent meeting of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

As the SF Examiner has reported, even if voters approve two proposed revenue measures in November 2014, the Capital Plan would include a combined $790 million over the next ten years for transportation and street infrastructure — nowhere near the $3.1 billion backlog, $2.2 billion of which the SFMTA says is for Muni:

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Bike/Ped Advocates Back Wiener’s Move to Curb Superfluous CEQA Appeals

Supervisor Scott Wiener wants to reform the current CEQA appeals process, which puts projects like the bike and pedestrian safety measures on Fell and Oak Streets at risk of unnecessary delay. Photo: Aaron Bialick

In November, a handful of opponents filed a CEQA appeal against the Fell and Oak Street bike and pedestrian improvements after construction on the project had already begun. Fortunately, the Board of Supervisors dismissed their claims that the project required a full environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, and the appeal didn’t delay work on the project. But that’s not always the case with projects that improve street safety.

Pedestrian and bicycle advocates hope that legislation making its way through the Board of Supervisors will curb such late — and costly — CEQA appeals. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the legislation, said it wouldn’t make any changes to CEQA itself, which is a state law. Rather, it would establish local deadlines to appeal development and street projects that are declared exempt from CEQA’s onerous EIR requirements. Such deadlines were mandated by the state legislature over a decade ago, and San Francisco is the only California city which has yet to comply with that mandate.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Scott Wiener’s Office via SF Examiner

“When an appeal of a categorical exemption or negative declaration comes into the Board of Supervisors, we don’t really know if it’s even timely. The rules are that unclear,” said Wiener. “The Planning Department doesn’t know, the clerk of the Board of Supervisors doesn’t know, the people who filed the appeal often don’t know,” leading the City Attorney to determine the answer, which can take up to two weeks, he said.

The confusing appeal process has often been used as a tool to slow or stop projects that have already undergone extensive vetting via community meetings, analysis, and city approvals. The SF Bike Plan was held up for four years after a lawsuit was filed by Rob Anderson, forcing the city to do an extensive re-analysis that lead to no changes to the original plan. Even for relatively small projects like the protected bike lanes and pedestrian bulb-outs on Fell and Oak, the appeals process has added “unnecessary difficulty in making progress on our city’s stated goals,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “Our organization has unfortunately seen a lot of the bumps in the road.”

“It takes far too long to make improvements that save people’s lives,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe, who pointed out that the organization actually filed a CEQA appeal in 2009 against the EIR for the planned CityPlace Mall (since re-named Market Street Place) which led to the sponsor agreeing to pay fees towards bike and pedestrian safety improvements. “Walk SF supports [Wiener's] legislation because we believe we still can use this process to make necessary appeals, but we’re also very concerned about how the current process slows down critical improvements for pedestrian safety,” she said.

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Plan for Ped-Friendly Castro Takes Shape: Will Parking Trump Muni Riders?

Images: Planning Department

City planners presented detailed options for pedestrian upgrades on Castro Street at a community meeting last night. The improvements, set for construction next year, will include sidewalks as wide as 22 feet, new trees, and pedestrian-scaled lighting.

By reclaiming space from Castro’s excessively-wide traffic lanes, the plan is expected to provide more room for people on Castro’s often overcrowded sidewalks, calm motor traffic, and improve safety. Castro, between 17th and 19th Streets, sees some of the heaviest foot traffic of the city’s neighborhood commercial streets, even exceeding Columbus Avenue in North Beach, said Nick Perry, project manager for the Planning Department. With the proposed improvements making Castro more attractive to visit, those numbers are expected to jump, judging by the success of similar projects like the 2009 streetscape improvements on Valencia Street.

According to a Planning Department survey following the first community street design workshop in January, over 93 percent of respondents like the basic plan (76 percent “strongly” like it). At last night’s meeting, agency staff sought feedback from residents on options like the types of trees to plant, pavement treatments (rainbow-colored crosswalks, anyone?), and where to put sidewalk bulb-outs.

Along Castro, the plan would repurpose excess road space that currently tends to be taken up by double-parkers. But since the roadbed will be narrowed, the SF Transit Riders Union is concerned that unless further steps are taken, the 24-Divisadero and 35-Eureka lines could face more delays as buses wait behind drivers while they parallel park.

“It’s a great streetscape design,” said Peter Straus, a TRU member and retired Muni service planner, “but by narrowing it, all of the parking movements, in and out of parking spaces, especially where you have high turnover on a commercial street, where they’re all moving through that one lane, it’s inevitably going to lead to significant delays to Muni operations.”

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Planning Commission Approves Ped-Friendly Plan for Market and Dolores

As part of a newly-approved agreement, developers will add a sidewalk extension at Market and Dolores to make room for a mini plaza. Image: Prado Group

A plan to add a mini plaza and pedestrian safety improvements at Market and Dolores streets was approved by the SF Planning Commission on Thursday. The project will include new pedestrian refuges and sidewalks as wide as 14 feet, as well as special pavement treatments to highlight crosswalks on the block of Dolores between Market and 14th Streets. The crosswalk on Dolores at Clinton Park, a side street, will also be raised.

Image via Curbed SF

The plan received unanimous approval from commissioners, who were not swayed by some neighbors who opposed the conversion of two traffic lanes to pedestrian space on a short, lightly-trafficked section of Dolores. The improvements were part of a city agreement with the developers of an 85-unit apartment building and Whole Foods Market under construction at the corner. The arrangement calls for the developer to install the street upgrades in lieu of $510,000 in impact fees.

“The current design allows cars to whip around the corner quickly onto Dolores, endangering people who are crossing,” Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe wrote in a letter to the Planning Commission in support of the project. “Dolores itself is also a high-speed street, making conditions more dangerous for all users, since any collisions are made much more serious at higher vehicle speeds.”

D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener praised the plan because it “appropriately balances pedestrian safety with traffic flow in the area. It’s a unique opportunity that we’re not gonna have again to do this upgrade.”

“If you’ve ever walked that intersection or driven by it, it is an incredibly wide, long pedestrian crossing — one of the longest in the area,” he said.

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Wiener Proposes Bills to Hack Through Red Tape for Ped Safety Upgrades

The bureaucratic red tape encumbering the city’s progress on life-saving pedestrian safety measures is the target of a new legislative package set to be introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Photo: Streetsblog

“Current city procedures and rules significantly undermine the delivery of pedestrian safety improvements, with insufficient agency coordination and policies that de-prioritize improving pedestrian safety,” Wiener’s office said today in a press release.

The legislation has four components, including the creation of a new entity to streamline coordination between the different agencies involved in street design:

(1) an ordinance that mandates interagency coordination by creating a centralized Street Design Review Committee, which was a key recommendation from a 2010 Controller’s Audit [PDF]; (2) an accompanying resolution calling for city agencies to modernize street code provisions , better coordinate their efforts around public projects and to formulate clear procedures to do so [PDF]; (3) an ordinance making it easier for developers to build pedestrian safety projects and gift them to the city [PDF]; and (4) an ordinance amending the Fire Code to ensure that pedestrian safety projects are not unnecessarily impeded by the code’s definition of minimum street width [PDF].

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe applauded Wiener’s move to help speed the implementation of safer streets. “It is critical to reduce the delays and vetoes behind closed doors that drive up costs, weaken projects beyond recognition, or kill them entirely,” she said. “From Valencia to Fell and Oak to Broadway, there are examples of this on almost every street-improvement project in the city, plus many more that never happened at all, despite clear community demand. It’s time to change that, and deliver on the promise of safer, better streets.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Sarah Rice, SF Chronicle

The legislation seems like a promising step toward achieving the targets set in the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s draft Pedestrian Strategy – a 25 percent reduction in injuries by 2016, and a 50 percent reduction by 2020. The strategy calls for substantial pedestrian infrastructure improvements on five miles of “high priority” streets per year.

As Streetsblog has reported, two to three pedestrians are injured on San Francisco streets every day. Four pedestrians have been killed by drivers this year alone, and 19 were killed last year.

One commonly cited reason for SF’s slow pace on pedestrian safety upgrades is what an SF County Transportation Authority official has described as “fragmented responsibility” between the SFCTA, SFMTA, the Department of Public Works, and other agencies. Wiener’s proposed Street Design Review Committee would help address this issue by creating “a central clearinghouse for project disputes among agencies.” His office says this “will ensure that proposed improvements are consistent with established policies like the Better Streets Plan and the Transit First Policy.”

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Supes Find Compromise in West SoMa Plan’s Housing/Transit Tussle

City supervisors have reached a compromise on a contentious measure in the zoning plan for the western South of Market District that would have diverted some developer impact fees away from transit and street improvements to fund affordable housing.

Trinity Place housing development at 8th and Mission Streets, just outside the border of the West SoMa Plan. Photo: sftrajan/Flickr

By increasing the number of subsidized affordable apartments that residential building developers will be required to provide in large projects, an amendment introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim removed the 33 percent cut in developer impact fees for transportation upgrades originally proposed in the West SoMa Plan, while also satisfying residents’ calls to increase the amount of affordable housing for low-income residents in the area. The plan was passed unanimously by the Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday, and the full Board of Supervisors is expected to consider it in the coming weeks.

Kim, who introduced the amendment that settled the housing/transit tussle, said the solution makes more sense now than it did during the plan’s eight-year development, when the real estate economy was in worse shape. At the time, planning participants thought that imposing more costly housing requirements would dissuade developers from building new housing at all. But with today’s development boom, those requirements are expected to be more palatable. “After doing some number crunching” with community members and housing advocates, she said, ”we were able to get some consensus.”

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As Bike-Share Pilot Lurches Along, Supe Wiener Calls for Full-Scale Launch

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Barclays Cycle Hire in London. Photo: mikesandra4/Flickr

While San Franciscans eagerly await the repeatedly-delayed launch of the Bay Area’s small-scale bike-share pilot program, which has now been downsized to a minuscule 700 bikes (350 of them in SF), Supervisor Scott Wiener says San Francisco needs to take the initiative to move ahead and launch a “full-scale system” throughout the city by next year.

Wiener plans to introduce a resolution [PDF] at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting calling on the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to move beyond the pilot being planned by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and launch a citywide bike-share system by 2014. American cities including New York, Chicago, Portland, and Los Angeles are all expected to launch their respective systems by then.

Scott Wiener at Bike to Work Day 2011. Photo: Dyami Serna, SFBC

“All over the world, cities are recognizing the tremendous value of city-wide bike-share programs in reducing traffic, improving public transit and stimulating the local economy,” Wiener said in a statement. “Here in San Francisco, we should be doing everything we can to establish and start reaping the benefits from a full-scale bike share program.”

Bike-share, which the SFMTA has called one of the most cost-effective ways to increase bike ridership, was originally promised to launch in the spring of 2012 in five cities along the Peninsula, from San Francisco to San Jose. However, the BAAQMD has delayed the 1,000-bike pilot program, citing the general complexity of coordinating a regional system between five municipalities.

Karen Schkolnick, the BAAQMD’s grant programs manager, said the current launch date is set for this August, and that the pilot will initially only include 700 bikes, though the agency expects to deliver the full 1,000 bikes within the following six months. The reason, she said, is that the $7,000,000 program won’t be adequate to provide the 1,000-bike system as originally thought, and the agency hopes to get more funding from private sponsors with the initial 700-bike launch. “Basically, we used local funding to seed it,” she said.

Ultimately, said Schkolnick, the BAAQMD hopes the system will sustain itself on sponsorship funds and membership fees, and expand to the East Bay with as many as 10,000 bikes. But Wiener said he wants to make sure “we’re not just, in the future, waiting on the Air Board. I believe we should be pushing forward with our own expansion.”

“We know what we need here, and we need a lot more bike-sharing,” he said.

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West SoMa Plan May Direct Funds to Affordable Housing at Transit’s Expense

A provision in the new zoning plan for the western South of Market District has come under scrutiny by city supervisors because it would direct a larger share of developer fees for some projects to go towards affordable housing at the expense of transit and street improvements.

An affordable housing development at 8th and Howard Streets. Image: David Baker + Partners Architects

When the West SoMa Area Plan went up for approval by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee on Monday, it originally called for one-third of some developer impact fees that normally go toward transit, streets, and open space to instead be spent on affordable housing. An amendment from Supervisor Scott Wiener has tentatively scuttled that provision by setting the revenue levels closer to those in the larger Eastern Neighborhoods Zoning Plan. The plan is set to return to the committee for approval on Monday, where Wiener’s amendment could still be rescinded. After committee, it must be approved by the full Board of Supervisors.

Wiener said that while he’s a strong proponent of raising subsidies for affordable housing, an increase in population will come with an added strain on the transportation system at a time when transit is already woefully starved of funding. “To me it’s very counterintuitive, and I don’t think it’s good policy, to reduce transit impact fees when we’re increasing population,” he said. “Whether it’s transit, or it’s pedestrian safety upgrades, our capital needs are so dramatic.”

Jane Kim, supervisor of District 6, which includes West SoMa, said she sees the need to increase transit funding, but stood by the original provision because it was agreed upon by a majority of residents who participated in the plan’s development. She sees it as “a net gain for the city.”

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