Skip to content

Posts from the "North Beach" Category

37 Comments

Columbus Safety Plans Vetted By Community, Opposed By Merchant Leader

The SFMTA is looking to implement plans based on the concepts approved in a Columbus Avenue study three years ago, such as this vision for the Green and Stockton intersection, but removing traffic lanes may still face some opposition. Image: SFCTA

Over two-thirds of the space on Columbus Avenue is devoted primarily to cars, yet only one-third of the people on the street are typically in automobiles.

That’s according to a 2010 study of how to improve the design of Columbus, in which residents and transportation planners came to the conclusion that North Beach’s thoroughfare needs calmer traffic and more space for pedestrians, transit, and bicycling. Now, three years later, as the SFMTA looks to finally implement the ideas laid out in the plan, some merchants and residents are pushing back, dismissing the extensive analysis and community planning already done.

Columbus is set to be re-paved next summer, presenting an opportunity to cost-effectively implement the concepts in the SF County Transportation Authority study, which include bulb-outs on Columbus’ narrow, crowded sidewalks and an on-street plaza — dubbed “Piazza St. Francis, the Poet’s Plaza” — on an adjacent block of Vallejo Street. At the intersection of Columbus, Green, and Stockton Streets, traffic islands would be added to simplify motor vehicle movements, diverting traffic off westbound Green and southbound Stockton (converting it to a one-way street north of Columbus).

With a road diet, one stretch of Columbus, between Green and Union Streets, would get transit-only lanes, while 8-foot-wide buffered bike lanes would be installed between Green and Washington Streets (although the bike lanes weren’t included in the SFCTA study, the traffic impacts of a road diet were).

“Columbus is being re-paved, and probably won’t be re-paved for another 20 years,” SFMTA planner James Shahamiri said at a meeting with the Telegraph Hill Dwellers in October. “We have some funding, and we want to see what level of improvements we can make based on the community plan that was adopted by the TA.”

The “primary liaison between the [SFCTA] and the many stakeholders” involved in the development of the study, as described in the study itself, was Renew SF — Revitalize and Energize the Northeast and Waterfront of San Francisco. Wells Whitney, the organization’s founder, said neighborhood support for the plan still seems strong. “Almost everyone I’ve talked to is enthusiastic about wider sidewalks, more bulb-outs, bike lanes, and calming the traffic and making it more of a neighborhood boulevard than a thruway,” he said.

Leading the opposition to the safer street design is Daniel Macchiarini of the North Beach Business Association. Macchiarini told Streetsblog he doesn’t believe a road diet on Columbus will result in the kind of boost in livability and business that came with a similar, widely-lauded project on Valencia Street because, unlike Valencia, Columbus lacks alternative parallel routes for drivers. “This is another project that will stall traffic on Columbus Avenue,” he said.

Read more…

23 Comments

Central Subway Pagoda Deal Will Take $9 Million From Muni Operating Funds

Updated 2/23

A deal struck by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to extract tunnel drills at the site of the abandoned Pagoda Theatre will cost the agency an estimated $9.15 million. While the lease deal with building owner Joel Campos allows the SFMTA to move forward with an extraction plan that’s less disruptive to the North Beach neighborhood than the original one, agency Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the money will come out of Muni’s operating budget, unless it receives an additional grant from the Federal Transit Administration to plug the gap, according to the SF Examiner.

The site of the abandoned Pagoda Theatre at Powell Street and Columbus Avenue. Image: Google Maps

The news confirms fears that the Central Subway’s ever-ballooning costs will eat away at funds needed to provide existing Muni service. Put in terms of bus service lost, $9.15 million equates to roughly 100,000 service hours, based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation using the cost savings estimated by the SFMTA when it proposed service cuts in 2010.

“MUNI bus service to North Beach and Telegraph Hill has been slashed continually for years due to operational funding shortfalls,” said Mike Sonn, chair of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Transportation and Parking Committee, in a letter sent today to Reiskin and the Board of Supervisors [PDF]. “Today, residents and visitors to North Beach no longer have even one direct bus route to or from downtown that runs during non-rush hour times. And in MUNI’s proposed new ‘Transit Effectiveness Plan,’ service to North Beach would be reduced even further through cuts to the 8X line.”

THD is urging the SFMTA to instead “pursue the less-expensive and less-disruptive alternative to leave the drilling machine under the ground near the final Central Subway stop on Washington Street.”

Though the Pagoda plan initially had support from Central Subway skeptics because it could open the door for a future North Beach station, the site’s property manager, Martin Kirkwood, told the Examiner Campos intends to move forward with plans to develop the site, ruling out the possibility of turning it into a station.

“Diverting $9.15 million in precious funds from MUNI’s operational budget will steal that money directly from the bus service we desperately need for an unnecessary drilling machine extraction site we absolutely don’t,” said Sonn.

Update 2/23, 1:00 p.m.: Responding in the comment section on this article, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said that the funds would not come from the operating budget, as Reiskin stated, but from reserves in the city’s General Fund:

While we respect concerns for Muni and its budget, some of these details misrepresent the facts about Muni service to North Beach and the Pagoda Palace plan. Regarding the Pagoda deal, we will not use our current operating budget to pay for the lease or the additional construction costs. Instead, the funds will initially come from our General Fund reserve, which is larger than expected due to a stronger economy. The two-year lease includes $400k in yearly rent, but all other payments up to a maximum of $3.15 million are conditional upon our approval of ownership’s out-of-pocket costs. Going forward, we will work with the Federal Transit Administration to secure their approval to reimburse these costs. With the addition of the Central Subway, the T Third Line is projected to become Muni’s most utilized light rail line, with more than 65,000 boardings per day by 2030. That means less crowded streets and buses, and more efficient travel through downtown, Chinatown, North Beach and beyond.  Contrary to what is stated, Muni provides North Beach residents and visitors a variety of transit options, including the 8x, 30, 45 and 41 bus routes and the historic cable cars, for travel to and from the Financial District, Union Square and other downtown areas. Most of these routes operate all day, within and outside of rush hour times. Also, through programs like the Transit Effectiveness Project, we aim to add transit-only lanes, widen streets and improve transit signal priority to make bus routes throughout the city more efficient, faster and reliable.

12 Comments

Calls for North Beach Central Subway Station Intensify as Plans Evolve

This post supported by

Central Subway planners got the green light from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors today to pursue a new plan that could cut down on the expected construction disruption in North Beach while also keeping the path clear for an eventual extension of the line to the neighborhood.

An SFMTA plan would reduce disruptions due to extracting the Central Subway drill in North Beach, but extending the line into the neighborhood still hasn't even been studied. Image: centralsubwaysf.com

Residents and merchants in North Beach, who were fiercely opposed to the SFMTA’s original plan to extract the subway tunnel boring machine on Columbus Avenue at Union Street — which would have closed two of Columbus’s four traffic lanes for ten months — rallied behind the idea of bringing the machine out at the nearby abandoned Pagoda Palace Theater. Of the options on the table, planners say that one would most effectively minimize disruption while keeping the tunnel clear if the agency eventually decides to extend the T-Third subway line to North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The lack of solid plans to extend the Central Subway beyond Chinatown, despite taking the drill out in North Beach, has been one of the major criticisms of the project. According to SF Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin believes it’s possible to turn the Pagoda site into an eventual subway station, though the agency has yet to even study the next phase for the subway.

But Reiskin also emphasized that the SFMTA Board’s vote to endorse the Pagoda plan would have little bearing on a potential North Beach station. “I think this was a little bit misconstrued in some of the media reports,” he told the board. Discussions and planning for a North Beach extension, he said, “would be subject to a separate process.”

Read more…

6 Comments

The Sky Didn’t Fall: Block of Mason Street Now Permanently Closed to Cars

Photo: Tony Wessling

Putting another nail in the coffin of falsely-predicted traffic jams, a block of Mason Street has been permanently closed to motorists for the construction of a plaza as part of the expansion of the North Beach Public Library.

North Beach resident Tony Wessling sent in the above photo, noting that “the predictions of Traffigeddon have not materialized, and the speed of traffic heading up and down Mason above Columbus has slowed considerably.”

That confirms the conclusions found in a trial plaza study three years ago aimed at assuaging fears voiced by an opposition group formed under the banner “Save Mason Street” (whose website no longer exists). When the Board of Supervisors approved the enrivonmental impact report for the library expansion project in June of last year, Ed Reiskin, head of the Department of Public Works at the time, said the trial “not only helped to validate the analysis of the traffic impact, but really supported the notion that there was significant positive impact for the public for the increased open space.”

The plaza is expected to be completed in the first half of 2014, said DPW spokesperson Mindy Linetzky, although she noted that “the Recreation and Parks Department may be making additional improvements to the Mason Street section as well as the surrounding Joe Di Maggio Playground that could run after this date.”

4 Comments

Sunday Streets Returns to Chinatown (But Not North Beach) This Weekend

Sunday Streets returns to Chinatown this weekend with a car-free route running along Grant Avenue and east toward the Embarcadero. It’ll be Sunday Streets’ second run in Chinatown, following a highly popular event last year, but the route will be different: Rather than running into North Beach all the way to Coit Tower, it’ll turn east at Jackson Street toward the waterfront.

Sunday Streets organizer Susan King said the route was changed to avoid disrupting Muni service on Columbus Avenue, which will help accommodate the crowds headed to the America’s Cup yacht race this weekend. On a block of Battery Street, where the route jogs over from Jackson to Washington Street, King said a temporary transit-only lane will be created to allow Muni and Golden Gate Transit buses to run through. “I am curious to see if this helps speed transit up since there are no cars to compete for road space with,” she said.

However, while King said organizers would aim to include North Beach in the following years, the neighborhood’s exclusion from the event was a surprise and a disappointment to local residents and merchants, said Mike Sonn, head of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Parking and Transportation Committee.

“Sunday Streets provides an excellent opportunity to experience a great neighborhood in an exciting new way and to expose our unique collection of local businesses to thousands of visitors and residents alike,” he said. “We look forward to working with Sunday Streets in the future to ensure that North Beach becomes a staple in the annual line-up.”

To be sure, folks from around the city will be coming to the area for the usual abundance of activities, including the annual ping pong tournament at Portsmouth Square, Tai Chi classes, a preview exhibit of the new Exploratorium, and, of course, free bike rentals and bike riding lessons for kids. Unlike last year, bicycle riding will be allowed along the entire route.

See you out there.

18 Comments

First Walking Sunday Streets a Hit in Chinatown and North Beach

Thousands of people enjoyed a car-free Grant Avenue through Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill yesterday. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

San Francisco’s Grant Avenue, the city’s oldest street, was opened to pedestrians only yesterday in a milestone Sunday Streets event that drew thousands of people to the historic neighborhoods of Chinatown and North Beach on a sunny, 74-degree day. The city’s first walking Sunday Streets on a thoroughfare that seems like one of the most ideal streets to pedestrianize was clearly a hit.

“It’s a fantastic event. The weather is gorgeous and it’s nice to have Chinatown and North Beach connected in this way,” said Tom Radulovich of the non-profit Livable City, which sponsors Sunday Streets.

Unlike fairs in Chinatown and North Beach that typically line the street with outside vendors, the car-free event that spanned more than 20 blocks was organized to give neighborhood residents, locals and merchants a taste of what Grant Avenue can look and feel like without cars on a typical Sunday.

“I like having no cars,” said Lisa Mai, a North Beach resident who took a break from jump roping with other teens from the YMCA, a Chinatown fixture since 1911. “When you’re in a car it’s like you’re really rushing, but when you’re walking, when you walk along Grant, you see all these people coming out to enjoy it.”

From the Chinatown Gateway to Coit Tower, people filled the narrow street on foot, and shopped, sipped tea, snapped photos, hula-hooped, painted, enjoyed live music and other activities without the anxiety of automobiles.

Read more…

12 Comments

“Tortured Path” of North Beach Library Project Comes to a Close

One proposal for re-purposing Mason Street as a park between the new North Beach Branch Public Library and Joe DiMaggio Playground. Courtesy Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Nearly two years after San Francisco reclaimed a short block of Mason Street in North Beach as a trial plaza, the SF Board of Supervisors yesterday approved the environmental impact report for the planned expansion of the North Beach Public Library.

The unanimous vote came as a relief to the majority of neighbors and some city supervisors who were eager to see the project come to fruition after being stalled by a handful of opponents.

“The tortured path of this project is in many ways symbolic of the dysfunctionality in land use in San Francisco,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. ”We have a highly popular, beautifully designed project to replace an outdated and inaccessible structure with a beautiful, usable and accessible new library; to create additional, much-needed open space in a densely populated neighborhood.”

Read more…

10 Comments

Eyes on the Street: Rebar Crews Grace Columbus Ave. with Second Parklet

The Rebar crew assembles the parklet. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Within a span of just a few hours, a new parklet has transformed a part of Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Fronting Caffe Roma, it’s the second project to bring some breathing room to choked sidewalks on a section where cafe and restaurant life fill one of the city’s densest and most historic neighborhoods.

“Somebody called it our own little Via Veneto,” said Tony Roma, the owner of Caffe Roma. “If you’re familiar with Via Veneto in Rome, it’s open to the cafes and people sit down outside in the sun and drink their spritz.”

“So if we’re gonna get a warm weekend, here’s the place to do it.”

The parklet, designed and installed by the art and architecture collective Rebar Group, features a section of tables and chairs for the public to relax, eat and drink, while greenery in the rest of the area is intended to have more of a “park” feel, said Roma.

Søren Schaumburg Jensen, a Rebar Group intern and landscape architecture student from Copenhagen, Denmark, assisted with the project. “I really like the module concept of parklets,” he said. “It can be temporary, and you can exchange modules if you want to and move them.”

“I think Copenhagen could learn a lot from taking up parking spaces and extending the sidewalk like this,” he added, to the surprise of project manager Noah Brezel and myself.

Read more…

32 Comments

The Broadway Tunnel: One of SF’s Meanest Streets for Biking and Walking

IMG_2145.jpgThe Broadway tunnel's pedestrian path. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The Broadway tunnel, stretching from Hyde Street in Russian Hill to Powell Street in Chinatown, is one of the scariest places in San Francisco to ride a bike, and it's no walk in the park for pedestrians, either.

With two wide lanes of auto traffic in each direction of the double-bore tunnel and not a single stop sign or light for five blocks, even many experienced cyclists fear it. The amplified roar of traffic alone is enough to leave a pedestrian on the narrow side paths shaken.

"If I was actually in the street, this would be the worst, probably, because it's just so closed," said Caroline, a bike commuter who rides on the side path to avoid the treacherous road. "If there was an accident, there's nowhere to go. You can't try to get off the road. You'd be crushed. It'd be pretty terrible."

Chris Whitacre, a seasoned bike messenger who rides all over the city in the course of his work, felt the same way. "Oh yeah, it's sketchy," said Whitacre, who rides on the side path on his way uphill -- westbound -- through the tunnel, and braves the street on his way downhill, when he can keep up with traffic.

Neither cyclists nor pedestrians are thrilled with that arrangement, since the side paths are already very narrow for people on foot or in wheelchairs. While the city has big plans for other bike network improvements, major upgrades to the tunnel remain the stuff of dreams.

Read more...
34 Comments

Dreaming of Pedestrian Heaven on San Francisco’s Oldest Street

IMG_1981.jpgEnjoying a car-free Grant Avenue at Noodle Fest. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Could San Francisco's first and oldest thoroughfare become the city's first true pedestrianized street?

Since the day in 1835 when William Richardson drew the first map of Yerba Buena that included just one street, called "Calle de la fundacion" -- Foundation Street, which ran along the lines of present-day Grant Avenue, the city's oldest street has gone through several transformations. First, it was renamed Dupont Street, in 1847, then Grant Avenue, in 1886. But the coup de grâce to the old Calle de la fundacion was the 1906 earthquake, which leveled everything but the hills.

On a bright afternoon last Sunday, less than a block from where Richardson first made his home in 1835 near Grant and Washington Street, there were signs Grant might be ready for another transformation. This time, the center of the transformation was not fire or renaming, but noodles.

Thousands of people packed into a few blocks of Grant Avenue where it intersects Broadway, the traditional boundary between Chinatown and North Beach. Noodle Fest 2010, put on by the Chinatown Community Development Center and the North Beach Merchants Association, sought to bridge two neighborhoods that four lanes of traffic on Broadway have long kept apart.

Merchants reaped the benefits of a lot of extra exposure, while everyone got a tantalizing look at what a pedestrianized Grant Avenue could look like.

"For the merchants who participated in Noodle Fest, they were extremely happy to see all the attention their restaurant received by so many people who hardly venture into either neighborhood," said CCDC's Vivian Chang, who helped organize the event.

Read more...