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Eyes on the Street: New Car-Free Fourth Street Extension at UCSF Campus

Andy Thornley rides on the new block of Fourth Street at UCSF Mission Bay. Photo: Jessica Kuo

The extension of Fourth Street with a car-free promenade appears mostly complete at the University of California, San Francisco campus in Mission Bay. In 2012 we reported on how this project can connect 16th Street to Mariposa Street and the Dogpatch neighborhood without inviting more car traffic as UCSF builds out its development.

The new block features a public plaza and bikeway running through it, and it’s designed to allow emergency vehicle access. On each end are car drop-offs. It’s one block of walking and biking bliss bookended by the usual car-dominated city streets.

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“Not a Freeway” — Re-Branding the Excesses of the $1.4B Presidio Parkway

A temporary bypass road, with a movable median barrier, runs by the Main Post Tunnels under construction for the Presidio Parkway early this year. Photo: Presidio Parkway

When visitors land on the front page of the Presidio Parkway’s website, they see an animated pelican emerging from beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, gliding across green hills and blue skies. When the bird lands, you can “Meet Parker” with a click and learn all about the Presidio Parkway Pelican.

The PR team for this freeway project wants you to know that Parker the fictional pelican is “very excited about the improvements the new Presidio Parkway will bring to his favorite national park!”

This “former military pilot” even has his own color-within-the-lines page [PDF] that parents can print out for their kids to fill in. Perhaps that helps distract the whole family from the $1.4 billion taxpayers will be forking over for the next 30 years to build a one-mile freeway connecting the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco’s Marina District.

The Presidio Parkway probably needs a re-branding campaign like this to make it palatable to the public. With the images of birds, clouds, and rolling hills, you can’t really tell that this project is about building a gargantuan concrete structure. In fact, the website insists that it’s “a parkway, not a freeway” with a logo depicting a quaint, narrow road, somehow free of motor vehicles, snaking through the grass to everybody’s favorite bridge.

Screenshot of the banner on PresidioParkway.com

There’s no doubt the depression-era Doyle Drive needed to be replaced, and there’s good reason the design of its successor has been deliberated since the 80s. The elevated highway was crumbling and would likely have succumbed to the next big earthquake. Designed to steer the motoring public around the former Presidio military base, it cut off the national park from the Bay.

The new road will be less of a monstrosity, and the temporary structure built in the first phase has already provided a “seismically safe” road for drivers. Car traffic is currently routed through the first of four planned tunnels via a temporary bypass road. In 2015, both pairs of tunnels are expected to open, and on top of them will be 13 acres of parkland that people and wildlife can traverse freely to Crissy Field.

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Developers Don’t Want to Pay for Caltrain/HSR Extension to Transbay Center

Developers who are building towers around the Transbay Transit Center in SoMa are fighting to reduce a special property tax that will be levied on developments in the area. The biggest loser could be the downtown rail extension to bring Caltrain and California high-speed rail into the terminal, as more of the funds for the regional rail hub and other long-term projects would have to come from taxpayers.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The group of developers is backed by former mayor Willie Brown, who registered as an official lobbyist to work for them in July (he also recently lobbied “pro bono” for AnsoldoBreda, the manufacturer of Muni’s current train fleet). Brown previously helped create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to oversee the massive package of projects centered around what’s been called the “Grand Central of the West,” expected to open in 2017.

SF Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported in July:

Brown confirmed for us that he is representing Boston Properties — builder of the 61-story Salesforce Tower — and more than a half dozen other property owners.

In exchange for the city allowing them to increase the height and density of their projects, the property owners agreed two years ago to be assessed up to $400 million to help pay for a Transbay Transit Center rooftop park and other public improvements to the area.

Only now, thanks to skyrocketing property values and changes in the city’s methodology for calculating the assessments, the developers — paying into what’s known as a Mello-Roos special district — could face up to $1.4 billion in charges.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the agreement creating the Mello-Roos district on Tuesday, but D6 Supervisor Jane Kim postponed the item one week. “We wanted additional time to be able to brief all of the offices on this issue, but also talk to the multiple parties involved,” Kim said at the meeting.

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Why 24th St Merchants Ditched Sunday Streets: High Fees, Too Many Events

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Sunday Streets on 24th Street in 2011. Photo: geekstinkbreath/Flickr

People enjoying Sunday Streets in the Mission last weekend may have wondered why the route no longer ran on 24th Street, the most crowded street of any that see the event. Instead, the car-free Valencia Street route was complemented by an east-west leg on residential 18th Street, which saw sparse use compared to 24th.

Despite the boon to business Sunday Streets brings, it was 24th Street merchants who asked Sunday Streets to be taken off of their corridor.

Erick Arguello, president of the Calle 24 Merchants and Neighborhood Association, said merchants no longer wanted to pay high permitting fees to serve food outside, and that residents felt there are just too many events held on 24th.

“Twenty-Fourth Street has the highest concentration of events of any corridor in the city,” said Arguello. “There were some complaints from residents, and it was tougher for their customers to get there, [because] Sunday’s usually [the merchants'] busiest day. But mainly it was the cost.”

As we’ve written, organizers of Sunday Streets and other car-free neighborhood street events get slammed with questionably high fees from a slew of city agencies, including the SFPD, SF Fire Department, and the Departments of Public Health and Public Works.

“Although the route along 24th Street was incredibly popular, group members requested the event continue through the Mission on other streets in 2014,” said Beth Byrne, co-director of Sunday Streets for Livable City. “The challenges working with so many events that take place in the neighborhood throughout the year were overwhelming, and they decided to focus on other events and initiatives along the corridor.”

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SPUR Ocean Beach Erosion Plan Shelves Road Diet for Great Highway

SPUR will not pursue its vision for narrowing Great Highway from four lanes to two, as neighbors fear that traffic will divert onto their streets. Image: SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR has set adrift its proposal to halve the size of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, as the group strives to avoid distracting attention from implementing the other priorities in its Ocean Beach Master Plan. A road diet may be revisited later, once more pressing concerns have advanced.

SPUR calls the OBMP “a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.” It also includes proposals to remove other sections of the Great Highway that are threatened by severe erosion, in what’s called ”managed retreat.”

One of SPUR’s highest priorities is converting the Great Highway south of Sloat to a trail. Images: SPUR

Ben Grant, SPUR’s project manager for the OBMP, said one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it with a walking and biking trail. Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, which still would see less traffic than they’re built for.

But the “most controversial” piece of the OBMP plan, said Grant, was the proposal to remove two of the four lanes on the main stretch of the Great Highway, as well as adding parking spaces along that stretch to replace those that would be removed south of Sloat. SPUR doesn’t want opposition to those elements to distract from the more urgently needed road closure south of Sloat.

“We’ve gotten quite a few strong negative reactions to this,” Grant said at a recent SPUR forum. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider.”

Nothing in the OBMP is an official city proposal yet, but SPUR’s ideas are being seriously considered by public agencies that will conduct environmental impact reports for them.

“It’s an interesting thing to think about,” said Grant. “What if we take our one major stretch of oceanfront road and think of it not as a thoroughfare for moving through — [but] think of it instead as a way of accessing and experiencing the coast, as a coastal access or park road?”

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Closed Crosswalks Remain Even in Today’s Walkable Hayes Valley

Fell and Gough Streets. Photo: tracktwentynine/Instagram

Hayes Valley may be one of the country’s densest and most walkable urban neighborhoods, but believe it or not, it still has three closed crosswalks — vestiges of the mid-20th century’s cars-first planning.

“For many years, traffic engineers devised ways to pen people in, so that cars weren’t inconvenienced,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. ”Nowadays, the city realizes how foolish that thought was, especially in an urban environment which thrives on connecting people with people — not people with fast moving cars.”

Last week, a visiting transportation writer who was exploring many of SF’s otherwise-progressive recent livable streets efforts was surprised and ashamed to find pedestrians banned from crossing at one side of the intersection at Gough and Fell Streets. Instead, people walking there are forced to take a detour through three crosswalks instead of one, so that turning car traffic can whisk through unimpeded.

The SFMTA had previously approved re-opening that crosswalk, as well as another at Fell and Franklin Streets. That was over a year ago.

SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said the Fell and Franklin crosswalk is set to be re-opened next month, but that the Fell and Gough crosswalk is on hold and will be implemented late next year, in conjunction with “sewer, water, paving and signal enhancements” to “maximize efficiency.”

As for the closed crosswalk at Oak and Franklin Streets, which would cross three lanes of turning motor traffic, SFMTA planners looked at re-opening it but “decided to not move forward at this time,” said Jose. Opening the crosswalk, or removing a turn lane, would “result in traffic backing up into Market Street,” he said.

“Re-opening crosswalks is a basic walkers’ rights issue,” said Schneider, who pointed out that the Mayor’s Pedestrian Strategy has a goal of opening two crosswalks per year through 2021, and “notes that this is a quick, cost-effective way to enhance pedestrian safety and walkability.”

Robin Levitt of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, and a member of the Market-Octavia Community Advisory Committee, said he’s disappointed that the Oak and Franklin crosswalk won’t be opened any time soon, and that the Fell and Gough crosswalk won’t be opened for at least another year. Still, ”It’s been that way forever,” he said, and another year isn’t a big setback.

Nonetheless, ”If this was a bottleneck delaying cars, I think they’d probably get on it.”

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SFPD Cites Light-Running Driver in Crash at Speed-Plagued Oak and Octavia

The SFPD cited a driver for running a red light at Oak Street and Octavia Boulevard on Tuesday night, then crashing into a van and sending three vehicle occupants to the hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the blue Infiniti was traveling north on Octavia when he broadsided the van and sent it into a utility pole, which flipped the van over onto its side.

The intersection is known for high-speed vehicle crashes and light-running drivers, and neighbors have been asking the SFMTA for years to re-configure it and other Hayes Valley intersections to reduce the danger posed by high-volume, high-speed motor traffic. Just last month, a Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association meeting focused on street safety fixes, where D5 Supervisor London Breed told Hoodline that she “got an earful about some of the challenges around traffic in the area,” noting that “we’re hoping to implement some changes sooner rather than later.”

Much of the discussion at the meeting “centered around the contrast of drivers’ freeway on- and off-ramp mentality with the residential nature of the neighborhood,” Hoodline reported. “One concerned mother noted that children play at Patricia’s Green while drivers barrel north up Octavia.”

Oak and Octavia saw a particularly horrific crash in 2011, when a car-carrier truck hit a UCSF shuttle van — the driver of which reportedly ran a red light while traveling eastbound on Oak. Dr. Kevin Mack was ejected from the UCSF van and killed.

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Eyes on the Street: Buffered Bike Lanes for Students on Ortega in the Sunset

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This school year, Ortega Street offers parents a safer street to walk and bike their kids on in the Outer Sunset, as seen here at 40th Ave. Photo: SFBC

The SFMTA has installed new bike lanes and traffic calming measures on Ortega Street in the Outer Sunset, bringing a safer commute for parents and students in time for the start of the school year. Ortega runs along Sunset Elementary School and AP Giannini Middle School, which occupy the four blocks between 37th and 41st Avenues.

The improvements, funded in part by a Safe Routes to School grant, include a bike lane with a buffer zone in the uphill direction on the stretch along the school, and a conventional bike lane in the downhill direction. Ortega also has new pedestrian islands, speed humps, continental crosswalks, daylighting, and sidewalk bulb-outs to calm car traffic and make it safer to cross the street. They were previously expected to be installed by the end of 2012, with the bike lanes in by summer of last year, and it’s unclear why the project was delayed.

The safety upgrades were championed by Nik Kaestner, the director of sustainability for the SF Unified School District, who bikes his kids to school on “a heavy Dutch cruiser,” he told the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Asked about the benefits of these projects, Kaestner pointed out that “walking school buses and bike trains also build community and allow students to arrive at school ready to learn… Ensuring that students have a variety of ways of getting to school means that students from disadvantaged areas have the means to get to the school of their choice.”

See more photos after the jump.

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SFMTA to Create Sansome Street Contra-Flow Lane for Muni’s 10, 12 Lines

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A new contra-flow lane for transit and commercial vehicles on Sansome would eliminate a detour for Muni’s 10-Townsend line [PDF]. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA plans to install a contra-flow transit lane for three blocks of Sansome Street near the Financial District, providing a faster and more direct route for Muni’s 10-Townsend and 12-Folsom bus routes.

The new southbound lane would be reserved for transit, bicyclists, and commercial vehicles during daytime hours, and eliminate a detour that Muni buses must currently take along Battery Street, one block away. It’s expected to save an average of three minutes for Muni riders, according to Sean Kennedy, planning manager for the SFMTA Transit Effectiveness Project.

The project received preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering hearing today, and is set to go to the SFMTA Board of Directors for final approval on September 2. It’s expected to be installed by spring 2016.

Currently, the three-block stretch of Sansome between Washington Street and Broadway has two traffic lanes, both one-way northbound, with parking lanes on either side. The project would convert that stretch to two-way traffic, similar to the configuration that already exists on Sansome south of Washington, but the newly-converted southbound lane would be prohibited to cars between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day. All of the existing metered parking spaces on the southbound side would be converted to metered loading zones, according to Kennedy, and most of them would be replaced on cross-streets by converting other loading zones to parking spaces.

Sansome, looking south toward Pacific Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The new southbound lane would be similar to the existing part-time lane on the east side of Sansome. On the eastern curb, parking is currently banned between 3 to 6 p.m., when the curbside lane becomes a moving lane for transit and commercial vehicles.

The project will also upgrade the traffic signals along Sansome with transit priority detection, “daylight” some corners, and the crosswalks will be upgraded to “continental” or ladder-style, said Kennedy. American Disabilities Act-friendly curb ramps and blue zones for disabled parking will also be added.

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Embarcadero Bikeway Hugely Popular, But Deliveries May Pose a Challenge

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One vision from the SFBC (not the city) for a protected bikeway on the Embarcadero. Image: SFBC

At its first community meeting, a proposed protected bikeway on the Embarcadero seemed popular with just about everyone, though accommodating port deliveries could pose a challenge for its design.

Despite the green paint added last year, the existing Embarcadero bike lanes are routinely blocked by delivery trucks and private autos. Photo: SFBC/Twitter

“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” said SFMTA project manager Patrick Golier. “We’ve had a number of conversations with a variety of stakeholders, all with different interests in the Embarcadero, and everyone seems to feel the same way: The Embarcadero’s oversubscribed, it’s an incredibly popular and iconic place, and there are ways to make it safer and more comfortable for everyone.”

Under the status quo, the conventional bike lanes — striped between parked cars and moving cars — are often blocked by cars. Meanwhile, the wide north sidewalk along the waterfront, shared between bicyclists and pedestrians, has become increasingly crowded. The proposal to upgrade the street with a physically protected bikeway seems to have enthusiastic support from the Port of San Francisco, which shares jurisdiction with the SFMTA over the street.

The north sidewalk’s mixed traffic “is a historical characteristic of the waterfront — where horse-and-buggies and trucks and people and trains all shared the promenade edge. We never changed that when the promenade was created” after the fall of the Embarcadero Freeway, said Port Planning Director Diane Oshima. “It’s really been within the last couple of years that the volumes of people have grown, to an extent where we recognize that we need to be planning for a refreshed way to accommodate bicyclists in a safer way.”

But Oshima did say that delivery vehicles still need direct access to the piers, and that the street should be designed to accommodate both loading zones and occasional truck traffic that would safely cross the bikeway and promenade.

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