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After 50 Events, Sunday Streets Director Departs to Spread the Word

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Sunday Streets on Valencia Street yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Susan King is moving on from her position at Livable City as director of SF’s Sunday Streets, after hosting the 50th open streets event yesterday in the Mission. King plans to bring open streets events to cities across the state by establishing the California Open Streets Network (CAOS).

Susan King yesterday speaking with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin (right) and Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“I feel great that this program is so solid and successful, and there are really fantastic people pushing the ball forward,” said King.

To help other California cities learn from King’s experience in spearheading a nationally-renowned model for open streets, CAOS will provide services like a “calendar, shared resources, peer-to-peer advocacy, one-on-one trainings, regional trainings, webinars, and advocacy on the state level for a framework that addresses some of the barriers,” she said.

When Sunday Streets was first proposed in collaboration with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in 2008, it saw resistance from merchants who believed that their businesses would be hurt by opening streets to people and closing them to cars. The 50 events since have shown the opposite result, providing a boon for both business and public health. Merchants have since clamored for the event to bring customers to their neighborhoods, with as many as 75,000 regularly attending Sunday Streets in the Mission.

Today, San Francisco has held more major open streets events than any other American city, and Sunday Streets is “mundane, it’s part of everyday life,” said King. “That’s a good thing to create — as a fabric of what a livable community looks like.”

For today’s youngest San Franciscans, the ability to play in car-free streets may even be taken for granted, as a generation grows up with a fundamentally different experience of city streets. King told an anecdote about a woman who said her five-year-old grandson “didn’t know what life was without Sunday Streets.”

“I’m supremely proud to think about the generation that’s going to lead us, that are still in school and growing up in this city with the expectation that Sunday Streets is just part of city life,” said King. “The next generation really has a different idea of how we use and interact with our city streets.”

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Personal Garages Become Cafes in the Castro, Thanks to Smarter Zoning

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This used to be a garage. Photo: Tom Radulovich

Three new cafes and restaurants in the Castro have been created in spaces formerly used as personal parking garages. Driveways and dark garage doors on 18th Street have been replaced with storefronts and inviting patios filled with people.

A few years ago, this would’ve been illegal.

Reveille Coffee Company and Beso, a tapas restaurant, were able to move in and convert these garages this year, thanks to changes in the SF Planning Code’s zoning laws in 2011 proposed by Livable City and former Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. The provision to allow garages to be converted into shops, housing, and service spaces in “Neighborhood Commercial” zoning districts was part of a package of parking-related reforms.

In addition to the first two garage-to-business conversions on 18th, a third is currently under construction nearby.

“These new businesses are helping make a more walkable (and sittable), vital, and convivial 18th Street,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. He pointed out that the curb space in front, formerly reserved to ensure private garage access, have also become public street parking spaces.

The idea seems to be spreading: Radulovich said the Ocean Avenue Merchants this week endorsed allowing conversions of garages to storefronts in their district, which is zoned as “Residential.”

Radulovich said the 2011 ordinance “also allows the addition of a single [residential] unit to an existing residential building without a new off-street parking space, so long as that unit meets the other requirements of the code, including density limits.”

The entrance to Beso. Photo: Tom Radulovich

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Eyes on the Street: Buffered Bike Lanes for Students on Ortega in the Sunset

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This school year, Ortega Street offers parents a safer street to walk and bike their kids on in the Outer Sunset, as seen here at 40th Ave. Photo: SFBC

The SFMTA has installed new bike lanes and traffic calming measures on Ortega Street in the Outer Sunset, bringing a safer commute for parents and students in time for the start of the school year. Ortega runs along Sunset Elementary School and AP Giannini Middle School, which occupy the four blocks between 37th and 41st Avenues.

The improvements, funded in part by a Safe Routes to School grant, include a bike lane with a buffer zone in the uphill direction on the stretch along the school, and a conventional bike lane in the downhill direction. Ortega also has new pedestrian islands, speed humps, continental crosswalks, daylighting, and sidewalk bulb-outs to calm car traffic and make it safer to cross the street. They were previously expected to be installed by the end of 2012, with the bike lanes in by summer of last year, and it’s unclear why the project was delayed.

The safety upgrades were championed by Nik Kaestner, the director of sustainability for the SF Unified School District, who bikes his kids to school on “a heavy Dutch cruiser,” he told the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Asked about the benefits of these projects, Kaestner pointed out that “walking school buses and bike trains also build community and allow students to arrive at school ready to learn… Ensuring that students have a variety of ways of getting to school means that students from disadvantaged areas have the means to get to the school of their choice.”

See more photos after the jump.

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Car-Free Households Are Booming in San Francisco

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Image: Michael Rhodes

San Francisco is quickly adding residents, but very few cars.

Between 2000 and 2012, the city has seen a net increase of 11,139 households, and 88 percent of them have been car-free. That’s according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Michael Rhodes, a transportation planner at Nelson\Nygaard and a former Streetsblog reporter. One net result of this shift is that the proportion of San Francisco households who own zero cars increased from 28.6 percent in 2000 to 31.4 percent in 2012, the fifth-highest rate among large American cities.

The stats show that the city’s average car ownership rate is declining, even as the population is growing. The data don’t distinguish where specific households are foregoing cars, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that the residents of all the new condo buildings going up are car-free. But the broader effect is reverberating throughout the city, whether car-free residents are moving in where car-owning residents previously lived, or residents are selling their cars.

This finding flies in the face of complaints from NIMBYs who protest new housing developments that forego parking, based on a faulty assumption that new residents will own cars anyway and take up precious, free street parking. That’s one of the arguments heard from proponents of the cars-first Proposition L, who complain that “the City has eliminated the time-honored practice of creating one parking space for every new unit.”

“A lot of people who are moving here are choosing it because it’s a place you can get around without a car,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “People will self-select. If convenience for an automobile is their criterion, there’s a lot of places in the city and elsewhere” to live.

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Feast Your Eyes on Beautiful Trip Data From Year-Old Bay Area Bike Share

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The constellations of Bay Area Bike Share traffic in SF, as visualized by Bjorn Vermeersch [PDF].

Bay Area Bike Share fans created some pretty dazzling images and videos to visualize the system’s first six months of data, showing how this transportation system connects commuters’ dots in SF and four other cities down the Peninsula. BABS’ first birthday is approaching on August 29, and while the system isn’t growing as fast as many would like, it has certainly matured into a normal part of downtown streets. The system has seen over 250,000 trips so far, most of them in SF.

The visualizations were submitted for an “Open Data Challenge” contest sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which has taken over BABS management from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. From the MTC website:

In March, Bay Area Bike Share released a large, detailed set of anonymous data collected since the launch of the pilot program in August 2013. Users were invited to take the data, which included trip times, locations and bike numbers, among other information, and present it in a visually compelling manner. What resulted were 35 innovative and interactive entries. Five winners were awarded for best overall visualization, best presentation, best analysis, best data exploration tool and best data narrative.

One of the most informative and mesmerizing creations came from Bjorn Vermeersch. He won the “Best Data Narrative” award by painting bike-share trip patterns in various patterns: as a solar system, constellations, and inkblot patterns which resemble things like birds.

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Ocean Ave to Get Spruced Up, But Real Transformation Will Have to Wait

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Ocean and Geneva Avenues, outside the City College Main Campus. Photo via the SF Planning Department

City planners are shaping up plans for Ocean Avenue, following public workshops that will help develop a vision for both near-term and long-term improvements. The near-term plans, for the commercial stretch of Ocean west of Phelan Avenue and the City College campus, are far along in their development. Meanwhile, a long-term plan for the remainder of the avenue, stretching eastward to the Balboa Park BART Station, is still in its earlier stages.

Thus far, no major changes have been proposed on Ocean. Most of the street has narrow sidewalks, no bike lanes, and heavy car traffic turning from 280 — making the street dangerous to cross and snarling Muni. A separate plan is in the works to remove and re-configure those ramps years down the road, but a redesign of Ocean could present the opportunity to free up room for walking, biking, and transit.

On Ocean between Manor and Phelan Avenues, the near-term plans — set for construction next spring — include a handful of bulb-outs, new sidewalk greenery, seating, and other street fixtures at three “key” T-intersections: Ashton, Capitol, and Granada Avenues. At those intersections, Lily Langlois, the Planning Department’s project manager, said “the street dead-ends at Ocean, so there’s this kind of focal point, and an opportunity to build on that street pattern by creating those community gathering spaces.”

Community members have already taken proactive measures to improve the public realm on Ocean. Today, an event was held to celebrate a mobile parklet that was developed, designed, and built by high school students from the Youth Art Exchange. It will be placed in front of at least five different local businesses, six months at a time, starting at Fog Lifter Cafe.

Alex Mullaney, publisher of the neighborhood newspaper The Ingleside Light, said he helped push the Department of Public Works to create a plan for streetscape improvements on long-neglected Ocean, and created the Ocean Avenue Association’s Street Life Committee.

The near-term streetscape improvements “will go a long way to modernize Ocean Avenue, and bring it up to speed with a number of other neighborhoods,” he said. ”The new landscaping and amenities will improve quality of life and slow down traffic. Ocean Avenue has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city, along with three extremely dangerous intersections. I have zero doubt that the near-term project will turn around those two issues.”

A mobile parklet now sits on Ocean and will be moved every six months. Photo: Youth Art Exchange via Facebook

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SFMTA to Create Sansome Street Contra-Flow Lane for Muni’s 10, 12 Lines

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A new contra-flow lane for transit and commercial vehicles on Sansome would eliminate a detour for Muni’s 10-Townsend line [PDF]. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA plans to install a contra-flow transit lane for three blocks of Sansome Street near the Financial District, providing a faster and more direct route for Muni’s 10-Townsend and 12-Folsom bus routes.

The new southbound lane would be reserved for transit, bicyclists, and commercial vehicles during daytime hours, and eliminate a detour that Muni buses must currently take along Battery Street, one block away. It’s expected to save an average of three minutes for Muni riders, according to Sean Kennedy, planning manager for the SFMTA Transit Effectiveness Project.

The project received preliminary approval at an SFMTA engineering hearing today, and is set to go to the SFMTA Board of Directors for final approval on September 2. It’s expected to be installed by spring 2016.

Currently, the three-block stretch of Sansome between Washington Street and Broadway has two traffic lanes, both one-way northbound, with parking lanes on either side. The project would convert that stretch to two-way traffic, similar to the configuration that already exists on Sansome south of Washington, but the newly-converted southbound lane would be prohibited to cars between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day. All of the existing metered parking spaces on the southbound side would be converted to metered loading zones, according to Kennedy, and most of them would be replaced on cross-streets by converting other loading zones to parking spaces.

Sansome, looking south toward Pacific Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The new southbound lane would be similar to the existing part-time lane on the east side of Sansome. On the eastern curb, parking is currently banned between 3 to 6 p.m., when the curbside lane becomes a moving lane for transit and commercial vehicles.

The project will also upgrade the traffic signals along Sansome with transit priority detection, “daylight” some corners, and the crosswalks will be upgraded to “continental” or ladder-style, said Kennedy. American Disabilities Act-friendly curb ramps and blue zones for disabled parking will also be added.

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Muni Plans to Launch “Double Berthing” in October, a Year Behind Schedule

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Muni still hasn’t launched double loading of trains in its metro stations, a.k.a. “double berthing,” but says it could finally happen in October — a full year after the original launch date.

“The project is still in testing, to debug issues with the platform signs and trains,” said Muni Operations Director John Haley. “According to our project manager, they are progressing and hope to have it installed in October.”

Last September, Haley had told us that the train control software had been upgraded, and that computer-only simulations of allowing two trains to board passengers in a station simultaneously proved successful. The tests had “been positive with no bugs or glitches found,” Haley said at the time.

When they ran the live field tests, however, Muni managers apparently found some bugs.

Muni did, however, successfully start running a three-car train to make short runs in its metro stations last October, as promised.

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Embarcadero Bikeway Hugely Popular, But Deliveries May Pose a Challenge

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One vision from the SFBC (not the city) for a protected bikeway on the Embarcadero. Image: SFBC

At its first community meeting, a proposed protected bikeway on the Embarcadero seemed popular with just about everyone, though accommodating port deliveries could pose a challenge for its design.

Despite the green paint added last year, the existing Embarcadero bike lanes are routinely blocked by delivery trucks and private autos. Photo: SFBC/Twitter

“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” said SFMTA project manager Patrick Golier. “We’ve had a number of conversations with a variety of stakeholders, all with different interests in the Embarcadero, and everyone seems to feel the same way: The Embarcadero’s oversubscribed, it’s an incredibly popular and iconic place, and there are ways to make it safer and more comfortable for everyone.”

Under the status quo, the conventional bike lanes — striped between parked cars and moving cars — are often blocked by cars. Meanwhile, the wide north sidewalk along the waterfront, shared between bicyclists and pedestrians, has become increasingly crowded. The proposal to upgrade the street with a physically protected bikeway seems to have enthusiastic support from the Port of San Francisco, which shares jurisdiction with the SFMTA over the street.

The north sidewalk’s mixed traffic “is a historical characteristic of the waterfront — where horse-and-buggies and trucks and people and trains all shared the promenade edge. We never changed that when the promenade was created” after the fall of the Embarcadero Freeway, said Port Planning Director Diane Oshima. “It’s really been within the last couple of years that the volumes of people have grown, to an extent where we recognize that we need to be planning for a refreshed way to accommodate bicyclists in a safer way.”

But Oshima did say that delivery vehicles still need direct access to the piers, and that the street should be designed to accommodate both loading zones and occasional truck traffic that would safely cross the bikeway and promenade.

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Supes Approve Wiener’s Population-Based Transit Funding Measure for Ballot

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The Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 today to put on November’s ballot a charter amendment that would increase the share of general funds devoted to transportation, based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure as a backup plan to generate transportation revenue — 75 percent of which would go to Muni, 25 percent to pedestrian and bike upgrades — after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot this year. If passed by a majority of voters in November, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year by retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Annual funding increases, commensurate with population growth, would follow.

“For too long, City Hall has been slow to prioritize transit funding,” Wiener said in a statement. “We are a growing city, and we need to take firm steps to ensure that our transportation system keeps up with that growth. Improving transit reliability and capacity, and making our streets safer, are key to that goal.”

The six supervisors who voted in support of the measure were David Chiu, London Breed, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and Jane Kim. The votes against came from Supervisors Katy Tang, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, and Eric Mar. Supervisor John Avalos was absent.

At a recent committee hearing, Supervisors Tang and Yee voiced their “discomfort” with the measure, because it could siphon off general funds that could be used for other city services. Tang also said asking voters to pass the measure, in addition to the $500 general obligation bond for transportation, may be too much of a burden. According to reports from staff at City Hall, Mayor Lee also opposed it for those reasons.

When asked for comment on the supervisors’ approval of Wiener’s measure, mayoral spokesperson Francis Tsang only said, “Mayor Lee’s transportation priority for November is for approval of the City’s first ever $500 million general obligation bond for transportation.”

Wiener’s measure includes a provision that would allow the mayor to nix the charter amendment, if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016.