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Coming to 13th Street: SF’s First Downtown Parking-Protected Bike Lane

13th Street is set to get a westbound parking-protected bike lane between Bryant and Folsom Streets, among other improvements this spring. Image: SFMTA

San Francisco may get its first downtown parking-protected bike lane on 13th Street this spring. The SFMTA will be taking comments on the plans at a hearing tomorrow morning.

The bike lane would be installed only in the westbound direction of 13th underneath the Central Freeway, from Bryant to Folsom Streets. It would complement the existing eastbound bike lane on 14th Street, providing a safer route on a “key east-west corridor for people biking to destinations like the Caltrain Station, the Mission District, AT&T Ballpark, and the South Beach area in general,” said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose.

It would be the city’s first parking-protected bike lane other than the one on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park. Like the JFK bike lane, the 13th Street redesign is a big change to the geometry of the street that doesn’t require much in the way of construction. All it takes is painting a curbside bike lane with a buffer zone between parked cars.

Although there are plans underway for similar designs on other streets, including Second Street, the 13th Street project is apparently on a fast track to be implemented first.

Jose said a four-block bike parking-protected bike lane on Bay Street along Marina Middle School, which was originally scheduled to be installed last fall, may be implemented around the same time as the 13th Street one.

The 13th Street project would set a real precedent, demonstrating how SoMa’s wide, car-dominated streets can be tamed with protected bike lanes. A general traffic lane will be removed to create the bike lane, calming motor traffic.

“This project helps connect two important bike routes and addresses a serious safety gap on a street that has had two fatalities in as many years,” said Chema Hernández Gil, community organizer for the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We’re glad to see the SFMTA take action to make people safer, and hope similar improvements can happen on the other side of Division to improve safety for people biking in either direction.”

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Gentrification Fears Threaten to Derail Mission Street Improvements

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City efforts to make more room for walking and transit on Mission Street are being fought by some residents who think they’ll exacerbate gentrification. Image: Planning Department

Mission District residents who equate streetscape improvements with rising rents dominated a community meeting discussion yesterday about public space upgrades along Mission Street.

It was the Planning Department’s latest public meeting about its Mission Street Public Life Plan, an effort to envision Mission Street “as a vital transit corridor with art, commerce and new public spaces for people to enjoy,” encompassing Mission outside of downtown (from South Van Ness Avenue to Randall Street).

The plan would complement other efforts from the SFMTA to convert two traffic lanes into Muni-only lanes and install bulb-outs to improve pedestrian safety and streamline bus boardings. But residents who spoke up in the question-and-answer session seemed to fervently oppose any upgrades, especially beautification efforts like trees and art that helped transform nearby Valencia Street years ago.

Trees, benches, and other sidewalk amenities were blamed for the skyrocketing rents, evictions, and demographic shifts in the neighborhood. Little distinction was made between those and upgrades for transit and pedestrian safety.

One resident, Tom Stolmer, called the streetscape plan a “thinly veiled effort to exploit the Mission into a theme park for Google.”

“It’s just another way to bring gentrification,” John Mendoza of Calle 24, a group of Latino merchants and residents in the neighborhood around the 24th Street commercial corridor, told Streetsblog. “If they don’t get it one way, they’ll come in the back door. If they don’t come in the back door, they’ll come in the window.”

Calle 24 President Erick Arguello said “people are now suspicious” of the city’s agenda since planners hadn’t previously launched street improvement efforts when residents pushed for them in past decades. When streetscape improvements started going in on 24th Street, he said it resulted in rising rents, leading Calle 24 to push for a halt to any street upgrade efforts. “We saw the buildings go up for sale, we saw the prospecting coming in,” he said.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike/Ped Safety Tweaks on Upper Market, Valencia

The Market Street bike lane was widened and painted green between Octavia Boulevard and the Wiggle, among other tweaks in the neighborhood. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA recently made some upgrades to bike lanes and pedestrian crossings around Valencia Street and Market Street.

Near Octavia Boulevard, the Market bike lanes were widened and painted green, and a buffer zone was added, making it a bit more comfortable for commuters pedaling up the hill from lower to upper Market towards the Wiggle. The traffic lanes, formerly 12 feet wide (which encourages drivers to speed and is unusual in SF) were narrowed to 10 feet to make room for the bike lanes, said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. Continuing east toward downtown, the Market bike lanes got a fresh coat of green paint and some new plastic posts at Tenth Street.

Cheryl Brinkman, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, was spotted in a platoon of bike commuters climbing the hill in the newly widened Market bike lane.

“I think it feels more welcoming for cyclists, and it helps drivers realize that that’s a different kind of space,” said Brinkman. “I think for San Francisco, the green has really come to symbolize that that’s a space where there’s going to be a bicycle. And extra buffer zone is really nice because you can really ride out of the door zone.”

A couple of relatively new treatments (for SF) were also implemented on northern Valencia, at the intersections of Duboce Avenue and McCoppin Streets.

Duboce, which Jose noted sees “the fifth highest number of injury collisions citywide” (fourth highest for bicycle injuries), received a number of safety tweaks. Jose said these are the first of two phases for “Vision Zero improvements” planned for the intersection.

At Valencia and Duboce, a “mixing zone” was created by widening the bike lane approach.

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Trucker Who Killed Amelie Le Moullac Deemed “Negligent” in Civil Suit

A civil jury has determined that a truck driver was negligent when he killed Amelie Le Moullac as she rode her bike at Folsom and Sixth Streets in August 2013, KQED’s Bryan Goebel (Streetsblog SF’s first editor) reported today:

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: Voce Communications

A San Francisco Superior Court jury has found the driver of a big rig truck negligent for striking and killing a 24-year-old woman who was bicycling to Caltrain in the city’s South of Market.

Amelie Le Moullac’s family had sought $20 million in damages from the driver, Gilberto Alcantar, 47, and Milpitas-based Daylight Foods. The jury awarded the family $4 million, and also found Daylight Foods legally responsible for the August 2013 crash at 6th and Folsom streets.

“This was not a mere accident, and I’m relieved to hear from the jury that something wrong was done, and I’m very sorry that the police missed that,” Denis Le Moullac, Amelie’s father, told KQED. “One can only be relieved to hear that our daughter had done nothing wrong. This is not really something that deeply consoles us, but it satisfies us.”

The finding that Le Moullac was not at fault for her own death reinforces the finding of SFPD investigators after footage of the crash was presented to them by Marc Caswell, then a staffer for the SF Bicycle Coalition, who tracked down the video himself after a memorial and rally held at the scene of the crash. Earlier that day, SFPD Sergeant Richard Ernst had parked in the bike lane to make a point of blaming Le Moullac for her own death.

“After we held the memorial for Ms. Le Moullac, and Sergeant Ernst had acted so outrageously, we were standing on the corner cleaning up when I had a pang of doubt that the SFPD had treated this case as seriously as I would have hoped they would,” Caswell recalled. “So, I decided to just ask the businesses — and I am so honored that my small action led to some amount of resolution for the Le Moullac family from this terrible injustice.”

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Hearst Corp Seeks to Rip Out Annie Alley Plaza to Make Room for Cars

The Hearst Corporation filed an appeal last month in an attempt to dismantle the Annie Alley street plaza so drivers exiting its parking garage could take a more direct path to Mission Street.

In November, the alley exit along Mission, between Third and New Montgomery Streets, was turned into a place for gathering and events that opened to popular fanfare. But the pop-up plaza apparently surprised and irked some higher-ups at Hearst with enough pull to hire a lawyer to get it taken out on the company’s behalf, even though the company was involved in creating the plaza.

A hearing for the appeal is scheduled at the Board of Permit Appeals on February 11.

Representatives from Hearst were involved in the planning for the plaza, which lasted two years, and even hosted a small meeting of local property managers for it. The media conglomerate is a major real estate owner in the Yerba Buena neighborhood of SoMa, and the parking garage exit for its Hearst Building is on the alley Jessie Street, which intersects Annie at the corner next to the street plaza. Some drivers apparently were used to turning on Annie to go westbound on Mission.

In a December 17 letter [PDF] addressed to Stephen Hearst, vice president and general manager of Hearst’s Western Properties, John Elberling of the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium wrote that “we are appalled by the gigantic Hearst Corporation’s blindside attack on this tiny but heartfelt Yerba Buena community improvement project.”

The Yerba Buena Community Benefit District built this very, very modest Neighborhood public space at its own cost as a new amenity for all of us that live, work, or visit our Yerba Buena Neighborhood. The project went through a very public and open community design process over two years. Representatives of the Hearst Corporation, as adjacent property owners, were specifically included in that process. Then it went through a rigorous City permitting process without objection by the Hearst Corporation.

But now that Annie Alley Plaza is open, completed in November, suddenly the Hearst Corporation has filed an appeal with the City Board of Permit Appeals seeking to invalidate those permits and force its immediate demolition!

The appeal, Elberling wrote, appears to be “the naked intimidation tactics of a gigantic corporate bully against our small Yerba Buena/ SOMA community.”

It’s possible the appeal will be dropped before the hearing. Hearst is reportedly in talks with the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District and other players at City Hall to rescind it. The YBCD led the planning process and paid for most of the plaza’s costs, facilitated by the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program.

Andrew Robinson of YBCD would not comment on the status of the appeal, but said the organization is “hopeful that a resolution will occur in the next week or so.”

During the planning process, Hearst representatives had been informed that traffic counts would be taken during the two-year trial period and compared against those taken in 2013, both when Annie was open to cars and during trial car closures for events.

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Eyes on the Street: Octavia Car Queue Squeezes Out Bikes on Page Street

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A typical queue of cars on Page Street at Octavia Boulevard. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Page Street is a pretty great bicycle route to get downtown from the western neighborhoods — until you reach the two blocks that are typically backed up with cars waiting to turn on to Octavia Boulevard and the Central Freeway. Bike commuters are forced to squeeze by stopped cars, either to the left (in the mostly empty oncoming traffic lane) or the right (the door zone tunnel).

This situation isn’t new, and some sustainable transportation advocates in Hayes Valley have long called for solutions to provide a safe path for people on bikes.

Muni riders recently got an effective fix for the same problem on Haight Street, one block over, where a bus-only lane was created by narrowing traffic lanes, running to the left of the right-turning car queue. Since Page isn’t as wide as Haight, there isn’t room to provide a similar treatment for bikes without subtracting car storage or the westbound traffic lane, making those two blocks one-way (for cars, at least).

This problem is enough to deter some people from biking on Page, even though the rest of the street is a pretty low-stress route (and mostly downhill, eastbound). For the less risk-averse among us, rolling by the left of the car queue while holding the brakes is tolerable, but I’ve heard from many people (including my wife) that these blocks can really be a deal-breaker for the whole route. Alternative streets — Oak, Fell, and Haight — are not as safe, direct, or intuitive.

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Mayor Appoints Livable Streets Proponent Julie Christensen as D3 Supe

Julie Christensen, a leading North Beach advocate for wider sidewalks and a Central Subway extension, has been appointed as the new District 3 Supervisor by Mayor Ed Lee.

Christensen fills the seat left by David Chiu after his election to the State Assembly. She has shown promise as a neighborhood leader who stands behind changes that make room for livable streets improvements even when it means subtracting space for cars.

Christensen is a member of the SPUR Advisory Board and founded SF NexTstop to rally for an extension of the Central Subway to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. She has backed sidewalk extensions and bike lanes on Columbus Avenue, and championed the Mason Street plaza as part of the North Beach Library expansion, which opponents claimed would cripple the neighborhood when the block was closed to cars. (It didn’t.)

The appointment was announced on the library street plaza itself, where, in 2009, she remarked on the success of the trial plaza:

We were standing out there yesterday and the world was not coming to an end. North Beach was not hopelessly snarled in traffic. People have these Christmas faces on, like it’s Christmas day and this present has been dropped on them.

In a publicly-viewable Facebook post by North Beach News last April, she defended transit bulb-outs on Columbus at Washington Square Park that removed a handful of car parking spaces. She told NBN, ”Will it be better? We shall see. There will be more room for pedestrians and more room for transit riders. Nice if the park gets healed. We shall see.”

Commenting on the post, one woman complained, “This is not just widening sidewalks, it’s a loss of tons more parking and a bike lane that does not make a whole lot of since [sic].” In response, Christensen wrote:

“Tons” of parking = 3 spaces eliminated. (Yes, I know, still a loss). There will still be 2 traffic lanes. No bike lanes – yet. That will be discussed at further neighborhood meetings.

In a statement, Mayor Lee said he’s “very proud to appoint” Christensen. “As a longtime District Three resident and small business owner, Julie has worked tirelessly on important projects and neighborhood concerns including the North Beach Library, the Central Subway and numerous pedestrian safety projects.”

Chiu, the outgoing supervisor, was considered one of the city’s most bike-friendly politicos for a time. But when Polk Street merchants complained about the loss of parking spaces for protected bike lanes, Chiu caved and dropped his previous calls for SF to move quickly on implementing a robust bike network, which he once said was his top priority.

So, while Christensen’s record on transit and livable streets is promising, it remains to be seen how strongly she’ll stand up for safety improvements to her district’s streets when the parking-at-all-costs crowd gets loud.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has previously decried the “tortured path” of the North Beach Library expansion as a symbol of how “a highly popular, beautifully designed project” can be “stymied by a small group of opponents,” told the SF Examiner that Christensen is “one of the best neighborhood leaders in the city.”

“She has a proven track record of getting things done at a neighborhood level,” he said.

Read more coverage of Christensen’s appointment at the SF Chronicle and the SF Business Times.

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Muni Proposes New Bus Route, Curbside Transit Lanes on 16th Street

This month, the SFMTA will hold a public meeting about transit-only lanes on 16th Street and launching a new Muni line to Mission Bay. Image: SFMTA

Muni plans to launch a new bus line this month to beef up service along eastern 16th Street, connecting the BART station at Mission Street to the soon-to-open University of California SF hospital at Mission Bay. The 55-16th Street route would complement existing 22-Fillmore service on 16th, extending beyond the 22′s endpoint all the way to the east end of 16th and then north on Third Street towards its terminus at UCSF.

The line is a precursor for plans to add street upgrades, like transit-only lanes and bus bulb-outs, along 16th to speed up the 22-Fillmore. The SFMTA plans to hold its first community meeting for those plans on January 14, and says they will “reduce transit travel time along the length of the corridor by 25 percent.”

The plans are part of the Muni Forward program (previously known as the Transit Effectiveness Project), which calls for the 22 to be re-routed towards Mission Bay on its eastern leg, which the 55 will do. But an SFMTA report [PDF] says the re-route won’t happen for at least five years, since the 22 relies on overhead wires, which would have to be installed along eastern 16th and are impeded by a Caltrain crossing. Instead, diesel buses will be used on the 55 in the interim.

“After extensive evaluation, SFMTA confirmed that the overhead wire work associated with the proposed 22 Fillmore extension… could not be implemented by the anticipated opening date for the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital at Mission Bay on February 1, 2015,” the SFMTA report says.

The 55-16th Street is set to launch on January 31, and will be presented to the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval on Tuesday. See a map of the route and an overview of transit upgrades proposed for 16th Street after the break.

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Extending the Central Subway: Why Stop at Fisherman’s Wharf?

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The nascent prospect of extending the Central Subway beyond Chinatown gained steam this week with the release of a preliminary city study [PDFthat lays out some conceptual proposals to bring the subway further into the city’s northern neighborhoods.

T-Third “Phase 4″: subway to the Presidio? Image: SFMTA [PDF]

North Beach neighbors, who are living with construction disruption as the tunnel’s drill is extracted in their backyards, but won’t get a station, joined Fisherman’s Wharf merchants at an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting this week to cheer the “T-Third Phase 3″ extension proposal. (The existing T-Third alignment is the line’s first phase, and the Central Subway currently under construction is the second phase.) The extension doesn’t have any firm plans or timelines yet, as this is the first time city planning agencies have formally examined the possibilities.

But one transit advocate asked: Why stop at the wharf?

“You have to be more far-sighted,” said Howard Strassner, chair of the local Sierra Club chapter’s land use and transportation committee.

For all the Central Subway’s faults, extending it to connect Muni’s T-Third line northward to major destinations would make it more useful. Strassner said a westward expansion of the T past Fisherman’s Wharf, through Russian Hill and the Marina, to the Presidio — a prospect the city study loosely discusses as “T-Third Phase 4″ — “should be [analyzed] at the same level of intensity and completeness…. It’s just as important, it may get many more riders.”

Indeed, the city’s preliminary study says that a rail line to the Presidio — whether it’s underground, on the surface, or a mix of both — could be too popular. “The ridership increase would overload the existing T-Line system infrastructure to beyond planning capacity levels, because the 2-car platforms and 2-car trains are too small,” the study says.

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Bold Visions for the Embarcadero Emerge at Public Design Workshops

A group presents two proposed visions for how to re-allocate space on the Embarcadero at a public design workshop. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Ever since the Embarcadero was uncovered from beneath a freeway more than two decades ago, San Franciscans’ appetite for a more people-friendly waterfront only seems to have grown.

At a series of recent public design workshops this month, groups of attendees were asked to put together a display of how they’d re-allocate street space on the Embarcadero. The main idea was to figure out how to provide a protected bikeway, so that riders of all ages can enjoy the popular waterfront without having to mix it up with either motor vehicles or crowds of pedestrians on the shared sidewalk.

At one of the workshops, two groups suggested that half of the roadway, on the waterfront side, be dedicated primarily to walking and biking, even if it includes a shared-space zone where delivery drivers can move through slowly for loading. Finding a design that allows deliveries to safely co-exist with the bikeway seems to have been the main challenge since the SFMTA launched its redesign process in July.

Overall, the idea of re-thinking the Embarcadero as a street with less room for cars and more for walking and biking has been popular. Most of the groups at one workshop said all car parking should be eliminated from the street. Hundreds of parking spaces sit empty in nearby lots and garages — with more coming.

Even Mary McGarvey, an SF tour bus driver, espoused the idea of devoting the entire waterfront side of the roadway — which currently includes three traffic lanes and one car parking lane — to foot and bike traffic. The Embarcadero’s median streetcar tracks would then provide a buffer from motor vehicles.

McGarvey said she’s personally seen the successes of similar waterfront reclamations in cities in Germany, Austria, and northern Europe.

“Once they’re in, people love it,” she said. “I’ve worked in tourism for practically 20 years. Everybody would love to have a big, wide-open space where they feel safe from traffic and from bicyclists hitting them.”

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