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Applying the Parklet Strategy to Make Transit Stops Better, Quicker

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Planners are looking to use the parklet model to deliver bus bulb-outs at low cost. Muni and AC Transit (shown) are developing programs with different takes on the concept. Image: Ben Kaufman

San Francisco’s parklet revolution has broadened the possibilities for how curb space can be used. Now, city planners in SF and the East Bay are taking the idea in a new direction: using temporary sidewalk extensions to make transit stops more efficient and attractive.

Three different names for the concept have emerged from planners at three institutions where it was conceived independently — “temporary transit bulbs,” “multi-purpose parklets,” and “stoplets.” Those terms come from, respectively, SF transportation agencies, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, and Ben Kaufman, a graduate student at the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

Whatever you call it, the method could allow transit agencies to much more rapidly implement transit bulb-outs — sidewalk extensions at transit stops — and reap the benefits at about one-twentieth the cost of pouring concrete, on average, according to Kaufman.

For his UCLA graduate project, Kaufman is wrapping up a stoplet design guide for AC Transit, which received a Safe Routes to Transit grant to study the idea.

Kaufman sees stoplets as a way to re-invent the bus stop. “Why can’t we create a space that people actually want to sit at, that would make people excited to wait for a bus?” he said. “Instead of being a waiting experience, it can be a relaxing experience.” Like parklets, stoplets would be “adopted” by merchants who want to improve bus stops in front of their storefronts.

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Will Caltrans Get On Board With a Contraflow Bus Lane on the Bay Bridge?

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Image: SPUR

Image: SPUR

The proposal to improve transbay transit with a contraflow bus lane on the Bay Bridge is gaining traction, as the SF Chronicle reported yesterday. The idea has been pushed by proponents at SPUR, AC Transit, and some BART board members for years as a relatively quick and inexpensive solution to move more people between SF and the East Bay. BART is already experiencing “crush loads” under the Bay, but a second transbay tube may not come for decades.

As SPUR explained in a video in 2011, converting an eastbound traffic lane into a westbound bus-only lane during morning commute hours could move an additional 10,000 bus riders per hour — “almost the entire capacity on the entire upper deck” of the Bay Bridge — on AC Transit’s 30 transbay lines, which currently carry an estimated 14,000 passengers per day. It would require the construction of new bus ramps, including one to connect to the Transbay Transit Center in SF.

“With our packed capacity, and all of the development in the Transbay area and [Transbay Center] nearing completion, we’re going to really need that bus capacity,” said Tom Radulovich, a BART board member and director of Livable City. “Building a shiny, multi-billion dollar terminal and having those buses stuck in traffic doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The biggest barrier to implementing the idea is convincing Caltrans, which has jurisdiction over the Bay Bridge, said Radulovich. According to him, the agency has said that the contraflow lane is unnecessary because it can manage car congestion through ramp metering. Caltrans didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Wiggle Safety Upgrades Delayed Over Turn Bans to Reduce Thru Traffic

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The Wiggle would become safer and calmer with upgrades like a traffic diverter at southbound Scott and Fell streets. But Lower Haight neighbors oppose left-turn bans aimed at attracting cross-town drivers to Divisadero Street. Image: SFMTA

Improvements that would make the Wiggle calmer and safer have been delayed after continued driver protests against three left turn bans on Divisadero Street proposed as part of the project. Approval of the project was removed from the SFMTA Board of Directors’ Tuesday agenda and postponed until June.

Hoodline reported that some members of the Lower Haight Neighbors and Merchants Association can’t stomach the all-hours left turn bans from Divisadero on to Haight Street, and peak hour bans for turns on to Hayes and McAllister Streets.

The SFMTA says the bans are intended to complement the Wiggle improvements, which include a traffic diverter on Scott Street. By keeping cut-through drivers moving on Divisadero, the main driving route, that street would become the more attractive driving option. “This will reduce Scott Street’s appeal as a cross-town route, making it a more pleasant place to walk, bike, and live,” says an SFMTA fact sheet [PDF] on the Wiggle improvements.

“We want people to get where they need to go safely while keeping heavier traffic on Divisadero,” Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire said in a statement. “The SFMTA’s proposals for Divisadero will improve traffic flow, cut down on congestion and reduce spillover traffic into the neighborhood. We have worked with the community extensively on this project, and we wanted to take a little more time to better understand the concerns of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association.”

A major feature of the planned Wiggle upgrades is a large sidewalk bulb-out which would physically block drivers from entering southbound Scott at Fell Street. That would reduce the car traffic on Scott, which runs one block parallel to Divisadero, that degrades the livability of the neighborhood and congests the intersection at Haight. The improvements also include raised crosswalks, bulb-outs with rain gardens, and textured pavement.

“Thousands of people bike and walk through the Wiggle every day, and they and the neighborhood residents deserve a street that works for them,” said Tyler Frisbee, policy director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. The SFMTA’s project “enhances the residential, family-oriented nature of the community and ensures that everyone is able to walk, bike, and enjoy the area in a safe, inviting place. This project will reduce the amount of water pollution and runoff from these streets, minimize traffic congestion for neighbors, and improve safety for people walking and biking. That is a clear win-win.”

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Three-Bike Bus Racks on Muni: A Solution for Late-Night Transit Woes?

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Photo: SFMTA

Muni is testing front-mounted bike racks that can carry three bicycles (instead of the usual two) on some of its most hilly bus routes. If implemented widely, that third bike space could prevent some late-night travelers from getting “bumped” when racks fill up.

Bike capacity on transit is particularly important in SF and the Bay Area, given geographic barriers like hills and, well, the bay. Late at night, when many buses cover little ground and come just once an hour, getting home can be especially difficult for people with bikes who rely on transit for part of their trip, or who are just too tired to make the ride home. Late-night buses, it seems, often attract the most bikes.

Last month, Janel Sterbentz was one of the lucky ones. She narrowly avoided waiting an extra hour at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue at 2 a.m. on a Friday morning, when the hourly AC Transit All-Nighter bus — the only way to get to the East Bay by transit once BART shuts down — arrived with both of its bike rack spots full.

Unlike Muni, AC Transit and SamTrans allow bikes on board late-night buses at the operator’s discretion.

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

An AC Transit bus with a three-bike rack at the Transbay Terminal in SF. Photo: Kenya Wheeler/Twitter

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Parking-Free Marina Path Plan Could Be Delayed By Boaters’ Parking Proposal

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The Marina path as it exists today. Photo: Department of Public Works

Updated at 11:38 p.m. with further response from the Recreation and Parks Department below.

The Marina Boulevard bicycle and pedestrian path was supposed to be car-free by now. The years-old plan to remove the 57 car parking spaces on the stretch between Scott and Baker Streets is scheduled to be implemented by this spring.

But the SF Recreation and Parks Department may hold off yet again — potentially for years — because the department is seriously considering a last-minute proposal from boat owners to carve curbside “parking bays” from the path to preserve some spots.

The Association of Bay Area Governments’ Bay Trail Project and the SF Bicycle Coalition sent a letter [PDF] Tuesday urging Rec and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg “in the strongest of terms to move forward with the current plan to remove the parking and driving lane… immediately.”

We believe that a proposal to provide a drop-off, loading/unloading zone with limited parking may have merit and should be pursued. However, the thousands of walkers, joggers, cyclists, families, roller-bladers and wheelchair riders who make up 98% of the users of the Marina Green Bay Trail cannot continue to wait for safety in this area.

[Update] Rec and Parks spokesperson Connie Chan wrote in an email that the department “is seeking funding for” the project to include “the construction of 3 new parking bays.”

“Each bay will provide 3 to 5 parking spaces: 2 white loading-only spaces, 1 blue ADA-only space, and 2 unregulated public parking spaces (optional),” she wrote. “One parking bay will be situated near each dock gate, with exact location determined by traffic code and/or other site constraints.”

When asked if the parking removal will no longer happen this spring as planned, she repeated, “At this time, the Department is seeking funding for the project.”

In addition to reducing space for people, lumping parking bays into the project could further delay it for years. Digging into the pavement would require securing funding, design work, and construction for a project that originally only involved removing parking bumpers and replacing signs and pavement striping. It would add an estimated $450,000 to a $60,000 project.

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Eyes on the Street: New Muni Signage, Route Names, and Maps in Action

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“14-Limited” buses fly the new flag, “14 Rapid.” Photo: Jessica Kuo

The SFMTA launched its “Muni Forward” wayfinding upgrades this weekend with new shelter features, sign posts, and changes to some bus route names. In the most sweeping change, the former “Limited” buses can now be seen rolling with the new “R” mark for “Rapid.”

Photo: SFMTA

The SFMTA is installing new Muni stop sign poles, which include solar-powered lanterns that light them at night, featuring the new route designations. The new, more legible Muni map can also be found at a growing number of stop shelters and stations.

It’s all part of the launch of Muni’s largest service increase since 1980 under Muni Forward, which officials promise is “long term, focused and systematic.” The service increase, the first of three waves, provides more frequent service for about 165,000 daily riders along nine of Muni’s busiest routes, including the 38-Geary, 5-Fulton, and 14-Mission. Much of the boost goes toward express and rapid services.

Muni riders can also expect to see new 60-foot-long hybrid electric buses, which were unveiled last week. to roll out soon. Aside from neat features like the ability to run on battery for up to seven miles if the power poles detach from overhead wires, the SF Chronicle reported that on the inside of the buses, Muni’s effort to “eradicate negative and threatening messaging” is visually evident. The buses do not feature the familiar statement, “Information Gladly Given But Safety Requires Avoiding Unnecessary Conversation.”

SFMTA officials cut the ribbon on the first newly-upgraded shelter on Geary Street in the Tenderloin. Photo: SFCTA/Twitter

Some SFMTA planners are pretty excited about the new map. Photo: Jessica Kuo

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Not All City Hall Electeds Up to the Challenge of Riding Muni for 22 Days

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Six supervisors did not hesitate to commit to the SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days starting on June 1, but five supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee haven’t signed on. The split is a good indicator of who supports transit at City Hall — for the supervisors who have a record of legislating to improve transit, riding Muni every day is no biggie, and some do it already.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU's 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted a photo early.

Supervisor John Avalos, one of six supes to get on board with SFTRU’s 22-day Muni riding challenge, tweeted an early selfie.

Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, Julie Christensen, John Avalos, and Eric Mar committed to the challenge at Tuesday’s board meeting. Mayor Lee and the other five supervisors have either declined the challenge or haven’t responded to Streetsblog’s request for comment.

The 22 days represent the 22 years since SF voters approved Prop AA, an advisory measure which stated that “city officials and full-time employees [shall] travel to and from work on public transit at least twice a week,” according to SFTRU:

22 years later, this policy agreement has never been acted on, and now is a chance to make up for lost time!

When they regularly ride public transit, city officials better understand the rider’s daily experience and prioritize funding and planning a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it. This is an opportunity for our city officials to promote their own commitment to public transportation, showcasing that they care about the future of Muni.

Here are SFTRU’s guidelines for the challenge:

Participating officials will tweet while riding, walking to, or waiting for transit every day for those 22 days, posting it to Twitter with an optional photo using the hashtag #OnBoardSF. If they don’t take transit for one of those days, they will tweet their reason why with the same hashtag.

Supervisor Wiener said he’s been a daily Muni rider for 18 years. “I’m lucky that I live in the Castro,” where “we have really strong transit access.” But he plans to up his game and “try some of the lines that are a little bit more challenging.”

“I should assume everyone is doing [the challenge] unless otherwise stated,” Campos said on Tuesday. “So count me in.”

Supervisor Kim said she “will be participating,” but that since she lives within walking distance of City Hall, “it would actually be very hard for me to take Muni versus walking. So I will do my best to go take Muni for a stop.” Supervisor Christensen said she walks and takes Muni most days. “In addition to riding Muni, I’m also trying to expand it,” presumably referring to her push to extend the Central Subway.

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SFMTA Postpones Expansion of Bike Parking in City-Owned Garages

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The SFMTA has held off on installing mandated bike parking in seven city-owned garages due to “very low usage,” as SocketSite reported this week. Bike advocates say the parking hasn’t been advertised well.

Photo: SFMTA

Photo: SFMTA

Under an ordinance approved in 2013, bicycle parking requirements were increased for new development as well as city-owned and -leased buildings and parking garages. “We want the city to be a model in providing bicycle parking,” a Planning Department staffer said at a City Hall hearing at the time.

The SFMTA has installed “significantly more bike parking” in its garages since 2013, said agency spokesperson Paul Rose. But after a six-month study which found that, “in many cases,” less than 25 percent of available bike parking spaces were used, the SFMTA requested “permission to delay full implementation in certain garages of bike-parking increases required.”

According to SocketSite:

The Union Square, Sutter Stockton and Civic Center garages are among those facilities for which reductions in the number of bike parking spaces required to be installed have been requested, with observed average daily utilization rates of 26.5 percent, 48.1 percent, and 14 percent for their existing racks respectively.

Keep in mind that businesses and buildings which have installed private racks, such as Twitter, Dolby and City Hall, have impacted the demand for publicly-accessible bicycle parking.

But many people just don’t know that there are bike racks in city garages, said SF Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Tyler Frisbee. “There hasn’t been great signage and awareness. Let’s give this bike parking a fair shot before we decide it’s not working.”

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All Meters Now SFpark-Ready — More Demand-Based Parking Pricing to Come

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Image: KPIX

The SFMTA recently upgraded all of SF’s 29,000 parking meters to “smart meters” that are enabled for demand-based price changes throughout the day, a la SFpark. Now, the SFMTA plans to expand its smart pricing program that has curbed car traffic to more existing meters.

“SFpark showed that demand-based pricing can improve parking availability without increasing double parking, congestion, or parking citations,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “Our next challenge is to figure out the right mix of pricing and real-time information to make SFpark work in every neighborhood in the city. We’ll be working with stakeholders to find a win-win that creates less frustration, smarter travel choices, and fewer citations for every neighborhood.”

Under SFpark, the SFMTA has used “demand-responsive” pricing at about a quarter of the city’s meters since 2011. During a two-year pilot phase, the federally-funded program proved that by adjusting prices to demand, enough parking spaces could be made available to eliminate the need to circle for a spot.

Once the SFpark pilot phase ended, the in-ground sensors used to measure parking occupancy were shut down. But the SFMTA can still measure occupancy using the smart meters, albeit with slightly less accuracy, since they transmit payment data.

By all measures, SFpark successfully proved Professor Donald Shoup’s theory. At the meters included in the program, cruising for a spot was cut was cut by 30 percent, and meter-related parking tickets cut by 23 percent, according to the SFMTA’s report. Average on-street meter rates dropped by 4 percent, and double parking dropped 22 percent (compared to 5 percent in control areas).

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Why Townsend Street Needs Protected Bike Lanes at 4th and King Station

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Anyone who uses Townsend Street’s eastbound bike lane to commute to Caltrain is sure to run into a litany of obstacles: Taxis, shuttles, private autos, and Muni buses obliterate the poor bike lane in the fight for curb space. (Much of the curb is reserved as a taxi stand.)

Sam McCandlish sent in this video, filmed by a friend of his, showing the chaotic scrum faced by bike-to-Caltrain commuters. The often-impassable conditions cause some people to resort to riding on the sidewalk. In 2011, the SFPD targeted sidewalk riders at the Fourth and King station while ignoring drivers blocking the bike lane.

In the video, a few Bay Area Bike Share users can be seen walking their bikes in the bike lane in the opposite direction to get through the mess. Fourth and King is the busiest bike-share hub in the city at peak commute hours.

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