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A Time to Remember

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DylanMitchellThree years ago today, 21-year-old Dylan Mitchell was riding his bike east on 16th Street when a garbage truck traveling in the same direction turned on South Van Ness and collided with him. He died at the scene–a scene where flowers were left during Thursday night’s “Ride of Silence.”

Mitchell was one of almost fifty cyclists killed while riding the streets of San Francisco who were remembered that evening. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when one tries to sum up the pain caused by San Francisco’s deadly combination of unsafe streets and twisted priorities, where street parking is given weight over human life and limb.

Riders started to assemble in the Sports Basement on Bryant around 5:30 Thursday night. Despite the nature of the meeting, spirits were generally high. People were there to enjoy the company of other survivors, it seemed, as much as remember the dead. Devon Warner, the event organizer, stressed that everyone “gets used to close calls” riding a bike in San Francisco. Every rider knows it’s just a matter of luck who gets killed and who survives.

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SPUR Talk: Connecting the Foot of Lake Merritt

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"The Living Room" of Oakland, Lake Merritt, is somewhat disconnected from Oakland's institutions. Photo: SPUR

“The Living Room” of Oakland, Lake Merritt, is somewhat disconnected from Oakland’s institutions. Photo: SPUR

Wednesday afternoon, at SPUR’s Oakland office, a crowd of some fifty people came to hear a panel discussion about knitting together the various attractions at the foot of Lake Merritt in Oakland.

At the southern end of Lake Merritt, Oakland’s street grid funnels around several big institutions there, including the Oakland Museum of California, Laney College, and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. All are poorly connected to the lake. SPUR is promoting an initiative to connect the whole schmear through art and better pedestrian linkages.

The panel was composed of Lori Fogarty from the Oakland Museum of California, Kelley Kahn from the City of Oakland ‎Department of Economic and Workforce Development, and Walter Hood from the Hood Design Studio. Benjamin Grant, Urban Design Policy Director for SPUR, kicked off the discussion with the definition of “Place Making” from the National Endowment for the Arts:

In creative placemaking, public, private, not-for-profit, and community sectors partner to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.

From that definition, he gave several examples from other cities of how planners and policy makers can re-activate quiet and often forgotten areas of a city with art. He cited the Pearl Street Project in Philadelphia, the Waterfire Project in Providence, Rhode Island, the Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas, and the Wynwood Walls of Miami, Florida.

All of these are fascinating examples of urban revitalization and Streetsblog readers should check out their websites. But the Wynwood Walls project seemed a particularly good approach for the institutions of Lake Merritt. Miami did a global search and brought urban artists from all over the world to paint the walls of a warehouse district. The effect was to draw people in and create an enlivened and connected urban space. Of course, Lake Merritt is already the home of the Oakland Museum of California, with its walls and multiple levels acting as an urban tableau.
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Tim Doyle Crash Demands Faster Fixes for SF Streets

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On Bike to Work Day, 48-year-old Tim Doyle nearly died demonstrating, once again, the fundamental flaw of painting bike lanes between fast-moving traffic and parked cars.

There’s no need to watch this horrible wreck again, which was shot from the cell phone of someone driving a few car lengths behind Doyle, if you’ve already seen it. It’s sufficient to say Doyle was riding in the bike lane, doing everything right and legal, when a parked SFPD cruiser suddenly and completely without warning, pulled directly into him, catapulting him through the air. It’s a miracle that Doyle is alive to complain about San Francisco bicycle infrastructure. And it’s sufficient to say, again, that lanes like this don’t work. We’ve seen it again and again.

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SFMTA Open House Gets Feedback on Bike Lanes and More

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SFMTA took public comment on three different streetscape projects Monday night. Photo: Streetsblog.

SFMTA took public comment on three different streetscape projects Monday night. Photo: Streetsblog.

Some 30 residents of the Western Addition, Lower Haight and Hayes Valley neighborhoods (plus some interested folks from outside the area) showed up Monday night to the auditorium at John Muir Elementary School to learn about SFMTA’s plans on three different, but related, projects: the Western Addition Community-Based Transportation Plan, the Lower Haight Public Realm Plan, and the Page Street Green Connections Project. From SFMTA’s release about the meeting:

  • The Western Addition Community-Based
    Transportation Plan’s overall goal is to
    improve the community’s transportation
    options and enhance access to more
    employment and education opportunities.
  • The Lower Haight Public Realm Plan is
    working to develop a community-based
    vision that will complement and enhance the
    neighborhood’s public spaces.
  • As part of the Octavia Boulevard
    Enhancement Project, the Page Street Green
    Connections Project is about making Page
    Street a more walkable, bikeable, and
    sustainable corridor in the Hayes Valley
    neighborhood.

Streetsblog readers can follow these projects and make comments via SFMTA’s web page. Two things immediately stood out. On a table at the center of the room, SFMTA had left the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) manual. The cover features what is now widely accepted as the preferred design for bike lanes: make them protected, either by bollards, curbs, planters, or–in this case–parking.
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L-Taraval and the Concrete Boarding Island Question

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Supervisor Katy Tang addresses a grumpy audience about proposed Taraval safety improvements back in February. Photo: Streetsblog.

Back in February, Streetsblog reported on one of three meetings about SFMTA’s planned “Muni Forward” improvements to the L-Taraval line. Since then, SFMTA has held various smaller meetings with local stakeholders, confirmed SFMTA.

But rumors have grown that, under the direction of Supervisor Katy Tang, the SFMTA was backing off safety improvements, such as adding concrete boarding islands. This was reinforced by a San Francisco Examiner headline “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes.” Concrete boarding islands require the elimination of some parking spots on Taraval, and local business owners were objecting.

This follows a pattern, also seen on Mission Street, where local business owners complain that any elimination of traffic lanes or parking hurts business. This led to Supervisor David Campos calling for a rethink of the transit-only lanes on Mission. He confirmed that directly with a Facebook post.

But in the case of Tang, sources close to the goings-on say the rumors are wrong. Streetsblog reached out to Supervisor Tang’s office on several occasions but, most likely due to timing, hasn’t connected so far. That said, Streetsblog was able to obtain this response via email from Tang to the Examiner and, along with it, to the rumors that she’s for eliminating boarding islands:

With a single headline, “Supervisor slams brakes on L-Taraval changes,” the Examiner has completely misrepresented what has transpired with the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. [The Examiner’s article] from May 5, 2016 attempted to provide readers with an update about SFMTA’s proposed changes to the L-Taraval to improve pedestrian safety and transit reliability. Instead, readers were led to believe that my office tried to stop the proposed changes from happening.

SFMTA presented our community with a set of proposals that included installation of boarding islands, stop removals, transit-only lanes, and traffic signals as part of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. Naturally, the proposal was met with opinions from all sides. Neighbors were invited to community meetings that turned into public shouting matches. Thus, our office suggested that we hold focus group meetings with representatives from all communities to move the conversation forward in a more productive manner. We included community members who represented youth, seniors, transit riders, drivers, merchants, bicyclists, pedestrian safety advocates, and those with disabilities. Through this forum, we were able to discuss in greater detail SFMTA’s initial proposal and where potential changes could be made or not be made. All of the detailed feedback will help SFMTA refine its initial proposal.

As with all large projects, community members will find that they share a diversity of opinions. But regardless of how people feel about specific proposals, most community members have acknowledged that we share common interests: safety and transit reliability. My job is to facilitate a productive dialogue to ensure that we meet our shared goals in the best way possible – not to interject my own opinions about a project. At no point during this process did I slam the brakes on any component of the L-Taraval Muni Forward Project. We are trying to move the conversation forward, and we hope the Examiner will do the same.

– Katy Tang, District 4 Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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One Year Later: Assaulted Cyclist Reflects

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Anthony Ryan near the spot where he was attacked by a raging motorist. Photo: Streetsblog.

Anthony Ryan near the spot on Phelan Avenue, in front of City College of San Francisco, where he was attacked by a raging motorist. Photo: Streetsblog.

Last year, Streetsblog brought you the story of Anthony Ryan, a middle-aged art instructor who teaches at several San Francisco colleges. He was on his way home one evening from a job at San Francisco State, around 9 p.m. this time last year, when he suddenly found himself in mortal danger at the hands of a motorist who was determined to harm him. You can review the details here.

The end of the attack was caught on video and detectives tracked down the assailant by the license plate. The man driving the car was eventually convicted of assault. But the incident still troubles Ryan. Streetsblog has covered several stories about cyclists who have been harmed or threatened, either intentionally or because of irresponsible behavior. But it’s important to remember that the physical and psychological pain and disruption from these incidents, even when there aren’t serious injuries, lingers. All the more reason that the core causes are so important to address, both with law enforcement and better infrastructure.

That’s why Streetsblog sat down with Ryan to reflect on the incident and the trial and prosecution, one year later.

Streetsblog: How often do you ride your bike?

Anthony Ryan:  Every day, basically. Even when I take the bus and BART to Diablo Valley College, where I teach in Pleasant Hill, I bring my bike for the last half-mile and to get around campus.

SB: I understand the road rage incident in 2015 wasn’t your first life-and-death experience on a bike?

AR: Yes, I had a crash in 2011. I was in a crosswalk at Victoria and Ocean and someone ran the red and hit the front of my bike. And I was launched and landed on my face.

SB:  You ended up in the hospital and had your jaw wired, is that right?

AR: Yes. I was cited for unsafe movement.

SB: What! Did you challenge that?

(Shook his head)

SB: Why not?

AR: I was talking with a lawyer for a while. I had minimal liability from the driver and then I was battling with my insurance company. I had a $100,000 bill from SF General and spent close to two years fighting Anthem Blue Cross, getting them to pay. Pretty typical.

SB: What did the lawyer do?

AR: She actually really helped with the insurance company and didn’t get any money for herself out of that.

SB: But you didn’t go after the driver? I guess that’s hard if the police cited you. Did you talk with your Supervisor about the police?

AR: I was in touch with the Bicycle Coalition. They said to file a complaint with the Office of Citizen’s Complaints. I didn’t pursue that. Read more…

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SF Bicycle Coalition’s “Bike Talks” Series

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Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the SF Bicycle Coalition, and BART District 8 Director Nick Josefowitz lead Monday's evenings talk. Photo: Streetsblog

Janice Li, Advocacy Director for the SF Bicycle Coalition, and BART District 8 Director Nick Josefowitz led Monday evening’s talk. Photo: Streetsblog

Monday evening, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition held the second of its first three scheduled “Bike Talks,” a series it plans to continue to foster discussion and help shape its advocacy.

Here’s how the SFBC describes the meetings:

Here at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we know our members love to dig deep on the details of the policies that guide our everyday lives. We are excited to start Bike Talks, a series of policy-focused discussions to engage our membership more deeply in our organization’s advocacy work. Each discussion will have a theme and bring in members and experts on the topic to grow the dialogue.

Monday night’s discussion, which featured Nick Josefowitz, BART director representing District 8 (which includes parts of San Francisco) and father of new baby twins, focused on the future and past of BART and how it can be more accommodating to cyclists. Remember it was less than three years ago that bicycle advocates scored a major victory when BART finally dropped its ban on bikes during rush hour. That was part of a shift in BART’s management and philosophy, explained Josefowitz. “We’ve gone from a board with a suburban vision of BART, where everybody drives to a station, finds free parking, and then takes a Cadillac, armchair-style BART into downtown,” he said. Josefowitz said the new BART cars will have smaller, more subway-style seats to carry more people. “It took ten years of advocacy by TransForm, Bike East Bay, and SFBC, but now the general managers, executives, planners—everybody at BART realizes we do not want to double down on suburbs and cars, because there is a better way of doing things.”

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San Francisco Needs to Get Out of the Car Storage Business

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Free private automobile storage on transit routes makes for inherently dangerous conditions. Image: Wikimedia

Free private automobile storage on transit routes makes for inherently dangerous conditions. Image: Wikimedia

Marco Salsiccia is a blind resident of the Sunset District. Last month, while stepping off an L-Taraval train at a stop without a boarding island, he got his cane stuck in the wheel well of a car as it illegally passed the train. His cane snapped in two. The motorist stopped briefly and then took off. Salsiccia emailed his San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang about the incident:

Today’s situation could easily have been much worse. I could have been injured, maimed, or even killed. If this happened to me, I imagine similar—if not worse—things have occurred to others in the highly-trafficked area.

Indeed, worse things have happened. Salsiccia had his foot run over by a driver a few years earlier while he crossed Taraval from Safeway (fortunately, he only suffered some bruising). As Streetsblog previously reported, SFMTA data shows that 22 people have been hit getting off trains on Taraval just in the past five years.

Streetsblog reached out to Tang’s office to get her take on the rate of improvements on Taraval under SFMTA’s Muni Forward program. Streetsblog will update this post if a reply is received. But this was part of her reply to Salsiccia’s email:

Please know that there is currently an intensive planning process happening to plan for future safety improvements along the L-Taraval, including proposals for boarding islands. Along with that have been other ideas for how we can properly train/educate drivers about slowing down near trains where passengers are getting on/off the trains, and stopping behind the train when this occurs.

If that seems a bit wishy washy, there’s a reason. As previously reported, there’s resistance to boarding islands because they require taking away (or relocating) street parking. And this gets local merchants up in arms.

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BART’s Electrical Issues Not Yet Solved

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BARTs Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer, at his desk at the Hayward shops.

Henry Kolesar, BARTs Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer, at his desk at the Hayward shops.

BART’s power surge problem, which had been frying train electronics and took some 85 cars out of service at its height, has gone away and service is more or less back to normal. Here it is from BARTs own statement:

After swapping out the generation of train cars most prone to damage (our “C” cars) to help establish regular service again, the spikes in voltage along the track have gone away. So we have since moved the C cars back to add more cars to the line, and the problem has not reoccurred.

“The problem has gone away,” said Paul Oversier, Assistant General Manager of Operations, “but we need to get to the bottom of this. We don’t want our customers to suffer through another round of this so we need to get to the root cause.”

In other words, they haven’t fixed the problem. It went away on its own.

Henry Kolesar, Group Manager, Vehicle Maintenance Engineer at BART’s Hayward repair facility, gave Streetsblog a tour and showed us the parts that are causing the problems. Kolesar also endeavored to explain exactly what’s going on with the electrical engineering (and we think we get it).

The key component that got fried is called a thyristor. That’s already been widely reported. So what is a thyristor exactly? The motors on BART trains run on 1000 volts of power from the third rail. But BART trains are controlled by computers. The computers do all the calculations about how fast the motor needs to turn to assure that the train is going at the proper rate and that it’s stopping and starting exactly where it needs to. The computers figure out how much voltage to apply to the motors to achieve the proper speed and acceleration. Here’s the problem: the computers run on 36.5 volts.

So you need a device that can take the signal from the 36.5 volt computer and use it to regulate the 1,000 volts of power coming into the train motor. Obviously, you can’t just plug the motor into the computer’s circuits, or it would turn into a smoking glob of mush.

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SPUR Meeting Pushes Second Transbay Tube

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SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang moderated the discussion held at SPUR Oakland.

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) sponsored a meeting Wednesday afternoon in their Oakland office to discuss the need for a new Transbay crossing. Some 60 people attended the panel discussion, which lasted roughly two hours and looked at all imaginable challenges to developing, funding and building a second rail crossing from San Francisco to Oakland.

“This conversation has been going on for a very long time; often it’s been in the domain of hobbyists and advocates,” said Ratna Amin, Transportation Policy Director for SPUR. “Now is the time to move the idea of a second BART tube into the realm of a real project.” Amin presented background, with a map of the original vision for BART, which was to go to Marin as well. Then, as now, BART “was a really visionary response to growth in automobiles and congestion getting worse in the future,” she explained.

One theme that came out of the conference, was that when they talk about BART, they aren’t necessarily talking about BART’s non-standard gauge and equipment. “We’re not looking at anything as a stand alone project. It’s a statewide project,” added Amin. By that she means that High Speed Rail, Caltrain, Amtrak, ACE and all regional rail systems that use standard gauge tracks need to be able to use the new tube. “A new tube—it is either standard gauge or it is both.”

The conference comes after a white paper from SPUR about what a second BART tube might look like and where it could run. But the conference dug deeper into some of the pragmatic questions, such as how to make sure such a large project doesn’t suffer the same cost overruns and embarrassments of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Read more…