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How SFPD Caught One of the Violent Panhandle Bike Thieves

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFPD says it has arrested one of the bike thieves who assaulted six people biking on the Panhandle in October and stole their bikes. Lieutenant Jason Sawyer of SFPD Park Station’s Investigations Unit said police “have no doubt” that the juvenile male was one of the assailants who threw bottles at bike commuters and jammed sticks into their spokes late at night.

Sawyer said police caught the suspect by setting up a sting after one of the victims saw their bike on sale on Craigslist. The victim contacted police, who initiated a faux sale to arrest him. Typically, bike thieves sell the bikes to a third party first, he said.

“He was not the smartest crook,” said Sawyer. “He basically committed the crime, and was right there selling the bike as well.”

Police must still prove that the suspect was directly involved with the attacks, but they “have no doubt,” Sawyer said. “As soon as he knew we were looking at him, all these robberies stopped. There were a rash of them within a few days — all very violent. Nothing since.”

In a blog post, the SF Bicycle Coalition gave “many thanks to the SFPD for responding swiftly to our calls, and for following through on the investigation.”

“Biking on the Panhandle needs to remain safe and comfortable, serving as a busy and important connector for people biking between the Eastern and Western neighborhoods of our city,” the SFBC wrote.

Sawyer said police can’t release many details on the ongoing investigation, or information about the suspect, because he’s a juvenile. He has been charged with possession of stolen property in the juvenile court system, but charges for the robberies haven’t been brought yet since the victims haven’t been able to identify their assailants. “It was dark and they were very terrified,” he said.

“We know he did it; he knows that we know he did it,” said Sawyer.

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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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All-Door Muni Boarding Still Means Quicker Buses, Less Fare Evasion

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Muni bus boardings are quicker across the board since 2009, despite increasing ridership. Image: SFMTA [PDF]

Two years after Muni launched all-door boarding, the agency continues to report [PDF] quicker boardings and lower rates of fare evasion.

As SFBay reported, SFMTA Performance Manager Jason Lee told the agency’s board yesterday that “dwell times,” the amount of time buses spend waiting at stops, have decreased by an average of 38 percent systemwide. Dwell times are also more consistent across the city, since the longest bus stops have seen the most improvement. Since 2011, average bus travel speeds have increased from 8.41 mph to 8.56 mph.

Photo: SFMTA

“That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up,” said Lee.

Fare evasion, meanwhile, dropped from 9.5 percent in 2009 to an estimated 7.9 percent in 2014, translating to an estimated $2.1 million in annual savings.

The results contradict predictions from critics who said all-door boarding would encourage fare evasion. Previously, bus operators had to verify and enforce payment at the front door. Now, buses use a “proof of payment” system, as had been the policy on light-rail lines for decades, where fare inspectors randomly check whether passengers have paid their fares. Inspection staff levels were boosted from 41 to 54 when all-door boarding launched.

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BART Will Study Second Transbay Tube, West Side Extension

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BART plans to study a new Transbay tube, leading into SoMa and SF’s western neighborhoods. Image: BART [PDF]

Updated 11:06 p.m. with comments from BART Board-elect Nick Josefowitz.

BART says it will formally study the decades-old ideas of building a second Transbay tube and extending service to SF’s western neighborhoods.

Ellen Smith, BART’s acting manager for strategic and policy planning, recently told a SF County Transportation Authority Board committee (comprised of SF supervisors) that regional transportation agencies plan to fund a study of a subway connecting the South of Market area to Alameda, with a possible extension west underneath the Market Street subway, towards the Richmond and Sunset Districts.

BART has only sketched out the ideas as conceptual routes, and has yet to provide even a ballpark estimate of a timeline or costs.

Don’t expect to take a ride anytime soon, though: “We could be talking decades,” Smith said. Building a new underwater tube is ”clearly a massive investment and undertaking, technically, operationally, financially, and politically.”

The tube would be a key piece of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the growing number of riders squeezing into the existing Transbay Tube, BART’s busiest section of track.

A second tube would “greatly increase our capacity, but probably not double it,” said Smith. It would make the system more resilient, keeping service running even if minor mechanical problems occur within the existing two-track tube. It would also make 24-hour service possible, since BART maintenance crews currently need to clear the tube for nightly work.

The current single tube “was planned in the 1960s, when there were only 3.6 million people in the Bay Area,” a small fraction of the 9 million expected by 2040, said Smith.

The ideas for BART expansions in SF are hardly new, but it’s the first time BART said it will study them.

SPUR has long pushed the idea of a second Transbay tube, and explained its vision in a video in 2011. In the meantime, the organization says bus service should be given higher priority on the Bay Bridge with the creation of a contra-flow transit lane. Smith said BART is considering launching a new Transbay bus service, but the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has only just begun preliminary consideration of a transit lane on the bridge.

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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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Annie Alley Transformed Into a Downtown Gathering Space

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Attendees watch an opening celebration event at the new Annie Alley Plaza on Wednesday. Photo: SF Planning/Flickr

San Francisco’s newest on-street plaza opened downtown this week on Annie Street, a one-block alley that runs near SPUR’s Urban Center between Market and Mission Streets, about halfway between Third and New Montgomery Streets. Temporary concrete and wood seats have transformed a large section of the alley into a car-free space for gatherings and events in the middle of the bustling Yerba Buena District.

The plaza project “shows just how little you really need to do to make use of these public spaces for things other than cars,” said Gil Kelley, who started as the Planning Department’s citywide planning director earlier this year. “A few lights, a few plants, a few wooden benches, a little music — and suddenly, you have a great event space.”

“This will be a place where we envision activation, to include music, festivals, movies, a place to socialize, and a place to find solace,” said Lance Burwell, a board member of Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, which helped fund and coordinate the project, with the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks Project, through two years of planning.

Annie Alley is the first temporary on-street plaza conversion seen in some time – they’ve been rare ever since the initial batch of on-street plazas was built in 2009 and 2010. The plaza is expected to be in place for two years, and will be evaluated afterwards, before plans for a permanent plaza are considered.

Annie Alley sits in the middle of one of SF’s most heavily-walked neighborhoods. The area is poised to become a focal point for even denser development, as new buildings surround the Central Subway and Transbay Transit Center stations under construction.

“As San Francisco intensifies its human activity and builds, the streets really are our living room,” said Kelley. “We have to use them for more than just cars.”

“Ensuring that we have more spaces like Annie Alley that are protected for pedestrians — places to listen to music, to watch movies, to walk, to drink at Novela [a neighboring bar], and come out and hang out with friends… all of this makes our neighborhoods more complete and humane,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim.

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Stockton Street in Union Square Becomes a Plaza for the Holidays

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Two blocks of Stockton Street in the bustling Union Square shopping district are being converted into a pedestrian plaza for the holidays. The roadway has been occupied by Central Subway construction machinery for a couple of years now, but now crews are taking a break and covering up the site with turf for what’s been dubbed Winter Walk SF, “an inviting open plaza in the heart of Union Square” that will run until the new year.

The two blocks “will be open for winter merriment with a nightly light art show projected on the Macy’s Men’s Building featuring Jack Frost’s adventures as he spreads festive icicles throughout San Francisco,” states the Union Square Business Improvement District on its website. “Expect caroling, demos and other wintery surprises.”

The pedestrianization project should boost the bottom line for Union Square merchants during the big holiday shopping season. When Stockton was closed to cars in 2011, and remained open to buses, taxis, and people walking and biking, they said they saw a jump in business. However, ever since construction ramped up with cranes, and pedestrians have been corralled into a narrow passage, some merchants have complained that they’ve lost business.

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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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SFMTA Wants Stop Lights, Not Signs, To Keep Muni’s 5-Fulton Moving

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An SFMTA board, displayed at a Wednesday community meeting, explained how adding traffic signals can speed up the 5-Fulton. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The latest of SFMTA’s efforts to speed up Muni lines to run into some neighborhood opposition involves its proposed replacement of stop signs with transit-priority traffic signals. Some Western Addition neighbors have protested a proposal to signalize five intersections on McAllister Street to speed up the 5-Fulton, one of the designated “Rapid” routes receiving upgrades under the Muni Forward program (also known as the Transit Effectiveness Project).

Initially, the complaints were driven by fears that signals would bring dangerous speeding to McAllister. Muni planners responded by holding more outreach meetings, and presented data showing that pedestrian injuries declined on similar streets after signals were added. They also say speeds won’t go up significantly, since signals will be synchronized for speeds below 20 mph.

A September hearing on the transit-priority signal plans for McAllister and Haight Street drew strong opposition from neighbors, leading the SFMTA to postpone the plans’ approval and drop a signal . D5 Supervisor London Breed asked the SFMTA to do the extra outreach, but is cautiously supportive of the agency’s efforts, said aide Conor Johnston.

“When it comes to transportation, her priority first and foremost is improving transit,” he said. “The only thing that trumps that is public safety.” Johnston said the data on injury reductions were “helpful, but not a complete answer.”

The stop sign at McAllister and Laguna Streets will remain, though five other intersections are proposed to get signals. Photo: Peter Ehrlich/Flickr

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Tomorrow: Rally for Vision Zero Action After Spate of Traffic Violence

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Pedestrian safety advocates, including SF County Transportation Authority Chief Tilly Chang (left), at a Walk to Work Day event in April. Photo: Aaron Bialick

A coalition of street safety advocates will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., calling upon city leaders and agencies to step up the action on Vision Zero. The event will also serve as a memorial to victims of traffic violence.

Just in the last two weeks, six people have been killed in traffic crashes in SF and more have been injured, according to Walk SF. The latest death came this morning at about 6:15 a.m., when a 51-year-old woman was killed by a Golden Gate Transit bus driver while jogging in a crosswalk at Lombard Street and Van Ness Avenue. The driver was making a left turn — one of the most common factors causing deadly pedestrian crashes along one of the city’s most dangerous streets.

In total, 26 people have been killed in traffic crashes in SF this year, according to Walk SF.

SF’s latest victim was killed at Van Ness and Lombard this morning. Photo: Anne Makovec/Twitter

“Enough is enough!,” the organization wrote in a message to its members today. “San Franciscans spoke loud and clear at the polls to make safety a priority for our streets, voting Yes to Prop A and B, and No to Prop L. Now, the City must not delay efforts to make Vision Zero — the goal to end ALL traffic-related deaths in ten years — a reality.”

The propositions Walk SF referred to were Props A and B, two transportation funding measures, and Prop L, the rejected cars-first measure which attacked pedestrian safety improvements. With all three votes, a majority of San Franciscans indicated that they want quicker action on safer streets.

The coalition gathering at tomorrow’s rally will include the South of Market Community Action Network, the Senior and Disability Action Network, Chinatown Community Development Center, the Central City SRO Collaborative, the SF Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and other community groups.

Eighteen people have been killed by drivers while walking in SF this year, 14 of whom were walking on the city’s most dangerous streets — the six percent of streets that account for 60 percent of serious and fatal injuries, Walk SF noted.

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