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Posts from the "Scott Wiener" Category

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With or Without Mayor Lee, Wiener and Advocates Push to Keep VLF Alive

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Just because Mayor Ed Lee withdrew his support for restoring the vehicle license fee doesn’t mean it’s dead. Sustainable transportation advocates are building a campaign to get the measure approved at the ballot this November with the help of Supervisor Scott Wiener, who may introduce the measure at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, which is the legislative deadline to do so.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener said he’s not officially throwing his support behind a VLF measure on the November ballot just yet, but that he wants to keep the dialogue open with Mayor Lee on a timeline for a campaign that he’s willing to back.

“It will allow us to continue the conversation with the mayor about how we’re going to move forward with this critical revenue,” he said. “If the mayor’s position is that November 2014 is not the right time, and that it should be a different election, then we can have that conversation. But it’s not adequate to not have the VLF move forward in November and not have any indication of when it might move forward.”

Given Tuesday’s legislative deadline, Wiener and advocates say the discussion is quickly evolving. Wiener said he may decide not to introduce the measure if “we can come up with some sort of consensus about a different timetable in 2015 or 2016, when people think we can move forward with unity and get it passed.”

“I would prefer to do it in November 2014 and get it passed, and get funding for our roads and transit quickly, but the problem is we’ve not even had that conversation,” said Wiener. “The message we’ve gotten is that the mayor does not want to move forward and is not committing to any particular timetable after that.”

The mayor’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment yet. If introduced Tuesday, Wiener’s proposal would have to be approved by eight supervisors to be put on the ballot.

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Muni Tests Train With More Standing Room, Supes Breed and Wiener Approve

Photos courtesy of Supervisor London Breed’s office.

A Muni train car re-configured with fewer seats and more standing room was put into Metro service this week. According to the SFMTA, 14 “double-wide” seats were replaced with “single-wide” seats, adding a net capacity gain of “at least ten” riders to the car, which is a pilot project to squeeze more capacity onto Muni’s trains.

SFMTA officials, along with Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener, rode the car on the N-Judah yesterday morning. I was also supposed to be there, but in regular Muni fashion, the train wasn’t on time — in fact, it was inexplicably half an hour early. Fortunately, Breed’s office passed along some rare photos of public officials riding Muni.

While Muni riders wait for a fleet of 200 new train cars, “I am committed to doing everything possible to help Muni riders, and I look forward to hearing directly from them about this pilot design,” said Breed in a statement. “This design will create more space for Muni riders, who are too often forced to wedge onto full trains or wait at the station in hope for room on the next one.

From left to right: Supervisor London Breed, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and Muni Operations Director John Haley enjoy the additional standing room.

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SFFD “Imposing the Authority” to Demand Wider, Speedier Streets

The debate over whether San Francisco’s streets should be wider and less safe just to accommodate fire trucks was aired publicly at a City Hall hearing yesterday. Livable streets advocates and Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called the hearing, challenged the SF Fire Department’s insistence on wider roadways, particularly its recent eleventh-hour push to change street widths that were agreed upon years ago in redevelopments at Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point.

Fire Marshall Michie Wong. Image: SFGovTV

Fire Marshal Michie Wong. Image: SFGovTV

Officials from SFFD and the Department of Public Works asserted that dozens of miles of new residential streets planned in those redevelopments were not limited to 20 feet wide, as stipulated in city plans and agreements. Instead, they insisted that the roads must be expanded to 26 feet. Officials from the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (the successor to the SF Redevelopment Agency), the developers, and community members involved in the decades of planning for those projects all disagreed.

SFFD officials disregarded those agreements, as well as 20-foot minimums set in the state fire code — the same width SFFD defended when it attempted to subvert new 12-foot minimums last yearFire Marshal Michie Wong said the department prefers 26 feet because that’s the standard set in the International Fire Code, even though city policies have set much lower minimums. Wong said SFFD has printed documents telling developers that the minimum street width under the Fire Code is 26 feet.

“We are imposing the authority to use whatever we need to justify the increased width,” said Wong. Using the International Fire Code standard “as a guideline is sound judgment.”

In response, Wiener said, “I have an issue when the legislative body that the voters have elected has chosen not to adopt a particular requirement, that the Fire Department would nevertheless impose that.”

To make the department’s case, SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi showed a presentation of photos and videos from fires in the city where they claimed limited space between parked cars made the job difficult, including the recent major construction fire in Mission Bay, and a similar one in Houston, Texas.

“Using the example of extreme [situations] does not help the conversation; it definitely escalates fear in people,” said Cheryl Brinkman, who sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors but spoke only for herself. “I think we have more to fear every day from poorly-designed streets.”

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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