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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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Muni’s Sluggish 30-Stockton Finally Set to Get Greater Priority on the Streets

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Muni’s 30 buses should get some relief on Stockton Street. Photo: geekstinkbreath/Flickr

Muni’s notoriously sluggish 30-Stockton line is finally set to get some upgrades that will give buses higher priority on streets through the dense neighborhoods of Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, and near Fisherman’s Wharf.

The plans, part of the SFMTA’s “Muni Forward” program, include transit-only lanes, bus bulb-outs and boarding islands, transit signal priority, and stop consolidation on Stockton, Kearny, and North Point Streets, as well as Columbus Avenue. On two street segments where traffic lanes are too narrow to fit buses, car parking and traffic lanes would be removed to provide more maneuvering space.

The 30, one of Muni’s slowest lines, averages a mere 3.6 mph between Market and Sutter Streets, according to a 2007 SF Chronicle article. Before leaving his position as a transportation reporter at the SF Examiner, Will Reisman raced the 30 at walking pace from Chinatown to Market – and won.

The 30-Stockton takes 11 minutes to travel the mile-and-a-half segment north of Market, according to Muni Forward manager Sean Kennedy. The SFMTA estimates that upgrades could speed up the ride through that segment by about 27 percent, and result in a more reliable ride for roughly 70,000 daily riders that use the 30, 45-Union, and 8x-Bayshore Express through there.

A smoother, faster ride would especially benefit transit-dependent residents of Chinatown, which has the city’s lowest rate of car ownership.

“It’s such an oversubscribed route,” said Cindy Wu, a community planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center. (Wu is rumored to be a top candidate for the mayoral appointment for the District 3 Supervisor seat vacated by David Chiu.) “Seniors and residents depend on it for everyday errands, whether it’s grocery shopping or going to the doctor.”

CCDC is “encouraged” by Muni’s proposals to improve surface transit, said Wu, and those are still necessary “even though the Central subway is coming in” to connect Chinatown, Union Square, and SoMa. The 30 and 45 lines have been on a one-block detour near Union Square for four years to accommodate subway construction.

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SF Hotel Council on Board With Market Street Car Restrictions, Transit Lanes

Market Street, looking east at Seventh Street. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

The SF Hotel Council supports the SFMTA’s proposals to extend transit-only lanes and ban private cars from mid-Market Street, said the council’s chief.

“We looked at all the proposals to try to vet out any potential issues, and [the SFMTA has] been wonderful to work with,” said Kevin Carroll, the Hotel Council’s executive director, at an SFMTA open house meeting yesterday. The proposals will bring ”faster transit times for everybody — our visitors, our employees,” he said. ”Our visitors will have a better experience on Market Street. It’s safer, easier, more understandable.”

The project, presented under the banner of Vision Zero, will make Market a safer street to walk and bike on. SFMTA’s Project Manager Mari Hunter said that idea seems to be easy for many to support.

City studies have also shown that most drivers who get on Market only travel for a block or two. “That’s enough to create conflict,” said Hunter. ”Market Street is unique in that, while in other parts of the city, the majority of collisions occur at the intersections, we’re finding just as many mid-block.”

Many drivers on Market seem to simply be lost, and making it clearly car-free may simplify the street network for drivers. Taxis and delivery vehicles would still be allowed, though Hunter said the SFMTA has worked with hotel managers to create more loading zones on side streets, which will reduce the need for curbside stops on Market.

“People get into these loops,” circling around blocks, Carroll said.

The project is expected to be approved by the SFMTA Board in March, and would be implemented over the next spring and summer.

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“Box Blocking” Enforcement is Overdue, But SF’s Traffic Woes Run Deeper

A typical scene at Main and Harrison Streets. Image: KRON 4

For a mystifying exhibit of irrational and antisocial behavior, just watch the rush-hour race to nowhere as drivers attempt to beat one another through a gridlocked San Francisco intersection.

The question, “Do I have room to make it across?,” apparently does not factor into the decision of many drivers who accede to the beckoning green light — only to end up sitting astride a crosswalk, in the path of a Muni bus packed with 70 people, or dozens of other commuters trying to bike or drive through on the cross-street.

This needlessly disruptive traffic dysfunction can perhaps be chalked up to the wishful thinking of impatient automobile drivers. Sitting on one side of the intersection, instead of the other, doesn’t tend to afford a lot of actual progress — but maybe it helps “box blockers” feel like they’re getting somewhere.

Often, the space trampled under their wheels is part of the crosswalk — the scarce designated place where people can cross on foot, theoretically free of cars. Instead, pedestrian crossings are dangerous and downright undignified.

“It’s scary,” said Jamie Whitaker, who lives near the Bay Bridge in SoMa, where drivers trying to cram on to the on-ramps “predictably” block crosswalks and compete with one another to get through. “You just don’t know if someone is gonna shove down their gas to speed up and get around other cars, and not realize someone’s in the crosswalk.”

“I fear for my life every time I leave work,” Christine Queen told ABC 7 at car-clogged Second and Bryant Streets in a report earlier this month. “Seriously, I’ll tell you, it’s like no one’s even walking.”

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Studies Show Car Traffic in San Francisco is Dropping

Car traffic at Mission and Third Streets has declined by 7 percent over the last few years, according to SFCTA counts. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Car traffic has dropped in San Francisco in recent years, despite an economic boom and a growing population, according to studies by the SF County Transportation Authority.

A newly updated study (reported by SF Weekly) by the SFCTA counted fewer cars at 11 of 15 intersections during evening peak hours this year, compared to earlier counts taken between 2009 and 2012. Driving speeds, meanwhile, are “increasing moderately.”

As SF Weekly’s Joe Eskenazi pointed out, the data fly in the face of anecdotes from drivers — who almost universally feel that car congestion is always getting worse. And given the city’s booming economy, population, and construction in recent years, that’s one scenario that certainly would have been plausible had the 20th-century status quo continued.

“Anecdotal evidence is hard to counter,” Eskenazi wrote. “But what statistical evidence does exist flies in the face of your well-worn anecdotes.”

SFCTA transportation planner Dan Tischler acknowledged that, despite the somewhat limited scope of the study, all of the evidence available indicates that San Francisco commuters are driving less, and likely switching to other modes to get around.

“We are not really sure if traffic conditions are worse now than they were a few years ago, but we do have strong evidence that transit is playing an increasingly significant role in handling growth in travel demand,” said Tischler.

Most importantly, Tischler noted, driving speeds have largely remained flat, or even increased slightly, from 2011 to 2013. That contradicts any notion that fewer cars were counted because congestion is causing them to moving through more slowly. (Slower speeds would actually increase throughput, since cars follow one another more closely at slow speeds.)

“Lower traffic volumes, combined with higher speeds, indicates that lower traffic volumes may be due to less demand rather than too much demand,” Tischler said.

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SFMTA Looks to Boost Muni’s 28-19th Ave With Bus Bulbs, Fewer Stops

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The SFMTA has an online survey available where you can weigh in on the proposed improvements for Muni’s 28-19th Avenue.

Take a ride on Muni’s crowded 28-19th Avenue from the Golden Gate Bridge to SF State University, and you may notice the that bus gets a lot slower south of Golden Gate Park.

That’s because once the bus gets to 19th Avenue in the Sunset, the street’s design robs Muni riders of two major benefits that speed up their ride on Park Presidio Boulevard in the Richmond. On that stretch, the stops are two blocks apart, and buses can stop directly in the traffic lane to load passengers.

But once the bus reaches 19th, the 28 inexplicably stops at every block in the Sunset. If buses pull out of the traffic lane to reach the curb, the bus can only continue moving once private automobiles have passed by. It takes 25 minutes, on average, to traverse 19th from Lincoln Way to Junipero Serra Boulevard, according to Muni.

But 19th Avenue may finally get up to speed — and become safer — thanks to bus bulb-outs and stop consolidation, both planned under the SFMTA’s Muni Forward program (previously known as the Transit Effectiveness Project). The SFMTA held a community meeting on the plans last week, and they seemed to be fairly well-received.

Bulb-outs are scheduled to be constructed in fall 2016, in conjunction with Caltrans’ plans to re-pave the entire stretch of Highway 1 within SF’s city limits, according to Muni Forward program manager Sean Kennedy. Other changes that don’t require concrete work, like stop consolidation, could occur sooner.

Overall, Kennedy said the improvements would speed up the 28′s travel time on 19th by about 20 percent. For the 28 local service, that means a savings of more than four minutes in each direction on that stretch. The 28-Limited would save 1.5 minutes on its run, would see its hours extended from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (instead of just school rush hours), and would be extended to Balboa Park BART.

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Supe Kim, Mayor Lee Activate New Sixth Street Crossing Signal

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A new pedestrian crossing signal was installed at Sixth and Minna Streets, seen here before it was activated. Photo: Google Maps

Mayor Ed Lee and D6 Supervisor Jane Kim held a press conference yesterday to activate a new pedestrian signal across deadly Sixth Street at Minna Street, a narrow cross street. Although a marked crosswalk had already existed there, drivers routinely failed to yield to people within it.

The button-activated signal is part of a package of pedestrian safety measures planned for Sixth Street, which decades ago had been designed to speed drivers between the Tenderloin and the 280 highway through the dense SoMa neighborhood, which resulted in an alarming rate of traffic violence. In the past seven years, Sixth has seen more than 50 pedestrian injuries and two fatalities just between Market and Howard streets, according to a Mayor’s Office press release.

“Our families and seniors on Sixth Street know that mid-block crossings, turn restrictions and sidewalk bulbouts can actually save lives,” Kim said in a statement.

“These tragic statistics are simply unacceptable, and we are working towards our new Vision Zero goal: zero traffic fatalities in the next 10 years,” said a statement from Mayor Lee. “Building safer, better streets is a critical part in saving lives.”

Long-term plans for Sixth include a road diet that would remove two of its four traffic lanes and replace them with wider sidewalks and conventional bike lanes. That’s expected to calm car traffic dramatically, but there’s no construction timeline yet.

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Eyes on the Street: To Transform an Intersection, Just Add Color

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Preliminary concepts for Bartlett and 22nd proposed last year. Image: SF Planning

At the most recent Sunday Streets in the Mission, Walk SF demonstrated how a little chalk can give a sense of place to an intersection. Just holding back the cars allows the community to add its own flair through color, transforming an asphalt expanse into a calmer, more people-oriented space.

“It helps to calm traffic. It signals to drivers that there’s a community here, to expect kids, to expect families, and to slow down,” executive director Nicole Schneider said on a car-free Valencia Street at 22nd Street. ”It helps to bring the community together around a sense of place.”

Schneider’s chalk demo was just a short block away from the intersection of 22nd and Bartlett Street, where SF’s first permanently-painted intersection is set to arrive sometime next year, as part of a pedestrian-friendly revamp of Bartlett. Community-designed, painted intersections have been installed in recent years in cities like Portland and Seattle, Schneider noted.

People at the event asked Schneider whether cars can still drive over the murals — the answer is yes. So the murals shouldn’t result in a political furor, unlike many other suggestions to re-purpose any space that’s used to move and store cars. Painting the streets to create a safer and more convivial place seems like a low-cost no-brainer.

“I have gotten so much positive feedback,” said Schneider. “It’s just fun.”

A painted intersection in Portland. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

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Neighbors Celebrate the New “McCoppin Hub,” Dog and Skate Park

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The McCoppin Hub, along Valencia near Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Neighbors near McCoppin Street recently celebrated the completion of the McCoppin Hub, a plaza created from a street stub that sits against the Central Freeway ramp towards Market Street. The plaza, a nearby dog run, and skate park have been in the works for years as a package of newly depaved public spaces planned after the freeway’s partial reconstruction.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Lynn Valente, a neighborhood activist, at the plaza last month. “This was a true grassroots effort. The neighbors worked on this for ten years with the city to have some amenities in our neighborhood, for pedestrians and traffic and bicycles… It would kind of mitigate the effect of the Central Freeway ramp which goes over the neighborhood.”

“I couldn’t be prouder, because it was a lot of people really sticking to it and making sure we got these amenities,” she added.

Waiting for the spaces has certainly required patience among neighbors. When we wrote about the neighborhood in July 2011, the projects were already considered a long overdue follow-up to the freeway’s completion in 2005. At that time, construction on the McCoppin Hub was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012.

Other improvements in what’s officially called the SoMa West Improvement Projects included traffic-calming revamps of side streets like Elgin Park and Stevenson Street, as well as greenery, bike lanes, and raised crosswalks along McCoppin Street.

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