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SFBC: Golden Gate Bridge Bike/Ped Toll “Out of Sync With Bay Area Values”

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A toll for people walking and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge will be considered for study tomorrow by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District’s Board of Directors. The SF Bicycle Coalition is calling on sustainable transportation advocates to oppose the fee, calling it an tired idea that would discourage walking and biking.

“This really seems to be out of sync with the values of most of the people in the Bay Area,” SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum said on this morning’s edition of KQED Forum. “We’ve seen not only the state of California, but both San Francisco and Marin Counties, and the Bridge District itself, commit very smartly to decrease carbon emissions.”

“This is an unfortunate déjà vu. This has been studied before,” she added. “Every five years or so, this idea rears its head, and regularly people come out of the woodwork and say this is just a bad idea.”

GGBHTD General Manager Denis Mulligan said on the forum that the board will merely consider approval of a packaged “work plan” with 45 budget proposals to study [PDF], including the tolls on biking and walking. He said the study would look at the potential impacts of such fees, like lines of people waiting to get on to the bridge, as well as possible discounts for locals.

“Like any topic, people have differences of opinion — some members of the community feel that it’s appropriate, and some feel that it’s not,” said Mulligan. Almost every forum listener who called in or commented online blasted the idea.

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It’s the Little Things: A Notably Positive SFPD Encounter on My Bike

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Last night, I was biking home on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset when I encountered an all-too-familiar sight: A double-parked car. I signaled and moved to the left to pass the car, in view of an SFPD cruiser behind.

At Irving Street near 10th Avenue, where drivers routinely double park, I had a refreshing encounter with an SFPD officer. (This photo was taken at a separate time.) Photo: Aaron Bialick

Normally, I’d expect the police to move along, doing nothing about this kind of situation. Other bicycle riders have reported far worse encounters with the SFPD.

But to my surprise, the driver of the police cruiser stopped behind the double parker and used their horn to buzz at them until they moved.

This might seem like a mundane encounter, but it left an impression since it’s so rare. I’m just not used to police actually caring about drivers who pose hazards to people biking or walking, or delaying Muni, even when the behavior is clearly illegal. Usually they just move along. When you get around by bike in SF for a while, it’s something you sadly can come to expect.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but if SF is fortunate, this officer’s little deed is not just a sign of a good apple, but rather of a larger shift in priorities at SFPD. Maybe it’s related to recent pushes from the top to pursue Vision Zero, or to crack down on double parking. Of course, citations might be more effective, but whoever the officer was — presumably from Taraval Station — thank you. The little things can speak volumes about SFPD’s attitudes.

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SFMTA Proposes New Car Restrictions, Extended Bus Lanes on Lower Market

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The SFMTA has proposed prohibiting private auto drivers from turning on to mid-Market Street and extending its transit-only lanes. Image: SFMTA

Last week, the SFMTA presented its proposal to ban private auto drivers from turning onto Market Street, between Third and Eighth Streets. The move would be complemented with extended transit-only lanes, plus a new system of wayfinding signs aimed at keeping drivers off of Market.

The new plans, named “Safer Market Street,” would be implemented over nearly a year, beginning next spring, and would represent a major step towards a car-free lower Market – a longtime goal of many livable streets advocates, and some city officials.

“These improvements have been long desired by people traveling regularly on Market Street,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “It’s clear that tens of thousands of people’s commutes, shopping trips, and any other kind of travel will be significantly improved when the most commonly used travel modes are actually prioritized on Market Street — walking, bicycling and taking transit. This will be a real example of SF leaders living up to their commitments, both to Transit First and Vision Zero.”

As we’ve reported, city studies have shown that lower Market already sees relatively little car traffic, and most drivers only travel on the street for an average of two blocks. Many of them seem to be either searching for parking (which doesn’t exist on the street) or simply lost. Since the implementation of requirements for eastbound drivers to turn off of Market at Sixth and Tenth Streets, Muni speeds have increased, even if some drivers still ignore the signs.

Although SFMTA board member Malcolm Heinicke and other proponents have pushed for a full ban on cars on Market, rather than a step-by-step approach, the proposed turn restrictions would leave only a few places where drivers could turn onto Market east of Tenth. The street would still be open to taxis, commercial vehicles, and people walking, biking, and on transit. The restrictions are seen as a precursor to the Better Market Street makeover, which could make most of the thoroughfare car-free once it begins construction in 2017.

SFMTA officials have long held off on proposing additional car restrictions, citing traffic flow complications created by the construction of the Central Subway. The agency is apparently now ready to move forward.

Market Street, looking east at Seventh Street. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

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NACTO Street Design Guides Now Official Policy in SF

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to establish the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street and Urban Bikeway Design Guides as official policy for all city agencies, as proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

The NACTO guides, which provide designs standards for parking-protected bike lanes like this one in New York City, are now official guidelines for all SF agencies to follow. Photo: Utility Cycling

“Safe and livable streets start with smart street design reflecting the needs of all users,” Wiener said in a statement. “Safe streets and livable neighborhoods require the three ‘e’s — education, enforcement and engineering. Importing NACTO’s urban design policy will guide us to deliver on that third e — engineering — by ensuring we design streets for all users, including not just cars but also pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists. For San Francisco to have a more sustainable future, we need an environment that encourages and allows people to safely and enjoyably walk, bike, and use transit, in addition to driving.”

“Engineering is the most important because it naturally educates every user of the street,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, applauding the adoption at a hearing on Monday.

At yesterday’s board meeting, Wiener said adopting the guides is “what we should’ve done a long time ago.” The SFMTA already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but other city agencies that play a role in street design will now be able to rely on the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets.

The NACTO guides “give us the toolbox and the tactics to make streets safer, more livable, and more economically vibrant,” said Darby Watson, section leader for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at Monday’s hearing. ”Both guides have been fully vetted through a peer-to-peer working group of city engineers and planners sharing and developing these guidelines specific to urban places.”

A press release from Wiener’s office noted that “one of the NACTO guidelines adopted includes the policy that individual lane widths on most streets not exceed 10 feet.” As walkable urban design luminary Jeff Speck wrote on CityLab this week, wider lanes encourage drivers to speed and make streets more dangerous.

“While most existing lanes in San Francisco are 10 feet or less,” Wiener’s press release said, “certain departments recently attempted to require that streets approved for the Candlestick and Hunters Point Shipyard be widened to include travel lanes that were 13 feet wide.” The leading “certain department” pushing wider streets in that development area has been the SF Fire Department.

In two weeks, the NACTO Designing Cities Conference will be hosted in San Francisco, from October 22 to 25. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin is currently the president of NACTO.

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Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

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

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

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Auto-Clogged Powell Street Could Be a Car-Free Haven

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

It’s a wonder that anyone drives a car on Powell Street in Union Square. Yet along the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare this side of the United States, you’ll typically see the perplexing scene of drivers, sitting in a line heading down the hill, all seemingly going nowhere in particular and certainly not very quickly. These private autos block bustling crosswalks, jam up Muni’s world-famous cable cars and its busiest bus line, and make an overall shameful display out of what many see as San Francisco’s gateway.

Allowing cars on the two-block stretch of Powell, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has made even less sense ever since all street parking, except for loading zones, was removed in 2011 for the Powell Street Promenade, a “mega parklet” that extended Powell’s sidewalks using temporary materials.

Powell doesn’t connect drivers to Market Street either, since the southernmost block was turned into a plaza for people and cable cars only in 1973. The vast majority of drivers drive down the street only to turn off of it, squeezing through busy crosswalks and taking up a disproportionate amount of street space along the way.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

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Wiener Moves to Make NACTO Street Design Guides Official Policy for SF

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Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced a bill that would make the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ guides for Urban Streets and Urban Bikeways official city policy. The SFMTA Board of Directors already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but Wiener’s legislation would establish them as official guidelines for other agencies to use, including the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the SF Fire Department.

Supervisor Scott Wiener riding on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC

“The MTA is not the only agency that’s designing streets,” said Andres Power, an aide for Wiener and previously the Planning Department’s manager of the parklet program. “The idea is to have a sense of what it is that is our collective city policy.”

The NACTO guides provide the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets. Notably, Caltrans recently endorsed the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, clearing the way for established standards for protected bike lanes in California.

Wiener hopes to have the legislation approved in time for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference, which will be hosted in San Francisco from October 22 to 25. It will be the first time the national event is held in SF, one year after SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin was named president of the organization.

Power said the NACTO guides will help complement SF’s Better Streets Plan, which was adopted citywide in 2010. Whether the BSP has been consistently implemented is an open question, but it mainly provides design guidelines for sidewalks, not roadways.

The NACTO guide adoption could provide more leverage for city officials to counter protests from the Fire Department against narrow roadways that create a safer, slower street environment. SFFD has fought projects that include roadways narrower than the minimums set in national fire code recommendations designed for suburbs.

Wiener plans to introduce further legislation to continue his efforts to reform the city’s street design and fire codes, Power said.

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NYC’s Tom Maguire Expected to Lead at the SFMTA, if Mayor Lee Lets Him

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Ever since we broke the news that New York City’s Tom Maguire would be hired as the new director of the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division, we’ve heard only positive reactions. If nothing else, there’s a lot of hype building for this promising veteran of the livable streets renaissance seen under Janette Sadik-Khan‘s NYC Department of Transportation. On the other hand, Sadik-Khan and her executive staff had the full support of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The SFMTA did its part for the hype with a press release that was rife with praise from officials in both SF and NYC. Here’s JSK herself:

From rolling out the fastest bus routes in New York City to devising groundbreaking parking policies, Tom Maguire worked on some of the most innovative changes to New York City streets over the last eight years. But the Big Apple’s loss is the Bay Area’s gain. With his one-of-a-kind mix of creative policy skills, technical expertise and political savvy, there’s no one better equipped to deliver world-class streets and chart San Francisco on a course to safer, more sustainable future.

Polly Trottenberg, Sadik-Khan’s successor at NYC DOT, said Maguire is “a remarkable leader [who] oversaw some of NYC DOT’s major initiatives from PlaNYC and post-Sandy resiliency to the Select Bus Service partnership and Freight Mobility. We will miss his vision and energy in New York.”

“The Giants moving to San Francisco in the late 50s had a big impact in the baseball world, and Tom Maguire becoming SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director is a big win for San Francisco in the transportation field,” she added.

While SF advocates don’t have experience with Maguire, they say his reputation holds a lot of promise, but that his ability to help the SFMTA make strides in advancing sustainable streets will depend on backing from Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

“The importance of this position cannot be emphasized enough,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “Mr. Maguire will need to bring a combination of high-level vision, and the ability to roll-up-his-sleeves, to ensure that projects get delivered in a timely way. And it’s critical that he has the support of MTA Chief Ed Reiskin. There’s never been a more opportune time for strong leadership to transform the SFMTA and help San Francisco’s transportation systems live up to their potential.”

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Tomorrow: Hearing on Traffic Signals to Speed Muni on Haight, McAllister

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A snapshot of the SFMTA’s plans for Upper Haight. See the full plan here [PDF].

On the agenda [PDF] for tomorrow’s SFMTA public engineering hearing are proposals to speed up Muni lines with transit-priority traffic signals and bus bulb-outs along Haight and McAllister Streets. These types of changes are central to the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project, but some residents have voiced concerns about replacing stop signs with traffic signals and requiring pedestrians to wait before crossing.

The SFMTA plans to replace stop signs with signals at ten intersections on Haight and five on McAllister. These would be transit-priority signals, meaning that they will stay green when they detect approaching buses on the 5-Fulton, 71-Haight/Noriega, and 6-Parnassus lines.

On the 5, the SFMTA predicts that the signals alone will save 1.5 minutes in each direction, in addition to six minutes saved by adding bus bulb-outs, removing and relocating some stops, and adding right-turn lanes to keep turning cars out of the way. On Haight itself, those improvements are also expected to save three minutes for the 71 and 6, in addition to several more minutes of savings thanks to the contra-flow bus lane being constructed at Market Street. The SFMTA says intersections without signals or stop signs will receive traffic calming treatments, to encourage drivers to yield to people crossing.

Natalie Burdick of Walk SF said the Muni TEP proposals “should not conflict with the SFMTA’s own stated priority for ensuring the safety of the city’s road users.”

“Signalized intersections can support safer walking environments if they are designed effectively,” she said. “For instance, signals can be timed to calm traffic with lower speeds, and provide regular phases for pedestrian crossings.”

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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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