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Painted Bulb-Outs Arrive at Howard Street — Are More Coming Soon?

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One year and four months after SF’s first painted curb extensions came to Sixth Street, the SFMTA has implemented its second set at three intersections on Howard Street, in tandem with a wider and greener bike lane.

But for such a seemingly simple safety measure — using low-cost gravel and epoxy to expand sidewalk corners and slow drivers’ turns — the question remains: Why does it take SF so long to implement?

Expectations were raised when deadly Sixth Street received the city’s first six painted bulb-outs at the intersection of Market, Mission, and Howard, even if SF’s extensions were much smaller in size and number than painted curb extensions in NYC.

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who grew up in Manhattan, said at the time that “it’s been amazing to see the difference they’ve been making for the quality of life of pedestrians and cyclists.”

A painted bulb-out in New York City. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

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Howard Bike Lane Gets Wider and Greener — Will Protection Come Soon?

The Howard Street bike lane in SoMa, between Sixth and Tenth Streets, was widened and got some green paint this week. While it’s no protected bike lane, we’ve already heard from bike commuters who say the buffer zone and contrast make the ride a bit more comfortable.

For the SFMTA, these improvements are low-hanging fruit to pluck while shaping bigger plans protected bike lanes on Howard and Folsom Street, a couplet of one-way streets. Howard’s new buffer zone, which isn’t as wide as Folsom’s, was created by narrowing a 15-foot wide traffic lane, which didn’t require a lengthy environmental review.

Folsom’s bike lane was widened with a buffer zone between Fourth and 11th Streets in late 2013 by removing a traffic lane, and was fast-tracked as a pilot project after Amelie Le Moullac was killed by a trucker at Folsom and Sixth. The bike lane on Eighth Street also replaced a traffic lane in 2013.

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Hearst Corp Backs Off Bid to Tear Out Annie Alley Street Plaza

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The Hearst Corporation has withdrawn its appeal against the Annie Alley street plaza [PDF] after talks with city planners and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.

The bid to get the plaza torn out was surprising, since Hearst had been involved in creating the plaza, leading to speculation that closing the alley to cars had irked executives at the company.

“We withdrew the appeal based on the positive discussions we have been having with YBCBD and other stakeholders to assess the situation and make improvements,” said Marty Cepkauskas, director of real estate for Hearst Western Properties.

The plaza is safe at least until its permit renewal comes up in August, according to Robin Abad Ocubillo, project manager for the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks program. Ocubillo said Hearst agreed to support the project “as long as there is follow-up traffic monitoring,” though that “was always part of the plan.” Hearst and YBCBD will also assess whether they need someone to direct traffic during rush hour at Jessie and New Montgomery Streets, one of the exits still available to drivers leaving the Hearst Building parking garage.

“We’re pleased that the appeal was withdrawn and we look forward to continuing our conversations with Hearst,” said Andrew Robinson, YBCBD’s director of neighborhood partnerships. “Because this project is a pilot program, neighborhood feedback is important to its long-term success.”

Robinson said YBCBD can now focus on “testing Annie Street Plaza as a great place for art, performance, music and other programming to create a vibrant place for the neighborhood as it was envisioned by the community.”

The YBCBD is calling for artists and musicians who want to perform on the plaza to reach out through the organization’s website.

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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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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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“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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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: 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.