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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…

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Plans and Programs Committee Crunches Numbers on Street Improvements

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Emily Stapleton, general manager at Bay Area Bike Share, updates the Supervisors on the Committee. Photo: Streetsblog.

Emily Stapleton, general manager at Bay Area Bike Share, updates the Supervisors on the Committee. Photo: Streetsblog.

This morning in City Hall, SF County Supervisors London Breed, Mark Farrell, John Avalos, Aaron Peskin, and Katy Tang heard updates on bike and transit projects from the SF County Transportation Authority, SFMTA and Bay Area Bike Share (they also heard a bit from the usual public-meeting gadflies, but that goes without saying).

With Tang as its chair, this panel makes up the Plans and Programs Committee of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board. First on the agenda was filling two vacancies on the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project. Clearly, residents are keenly interested in the goings on, as there were 31 candidates who threw in for the voluntary position, although only a handful showed up to address the committee directly. Ultimately, the decision on who would fill the open spots was tabled and the committee went on to hear about allocations of Prop K and AA funds.

Anna LaForte, Deputy Director for Policy and Programming for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, talked about the spending they want to do from the Prop K transportation sales tax and the Prop AA Vehicle Registration fee. Prop K, approved by San Francisco voters in November 2003, currently generates about $100 million annually. On the agenda this morning: the “Treasure Island Mobility Management Program” which will study building a new ferry terminal on Treasure Island to give residents an alternative to the bus and Bay Bridge. She went over seven projects including adding bulb-outs at 25 intersections at priority locations on “Pedestrian High Injury Corridors” as identified under Vision Zero. The idea here is to add permanent, concrete bulb outs in places where there’s currently only paint.

The SFCTA wants to authorize more expenditures on "Bulb-outs", or curb extensions, like this one at 7th Ave. and Irving Street. Image: Google Maps

The SFCTA wants to authorize more expenditures on bulb-outs, or curb extensions, like this one at 7th Ave. and Irving Street. Image: Google Maps

Now, even for the most die-hard transportation policy wonk, committee meetings set up to discuss the minutia of funding allocations can be dry. But Streetsblog readers should be glad for this work, because without the bucks and staffers at the different agencies crunching the numbers on all these specific disbursements, we’d get no bulb outs, no bike lanes, and no street improvements.
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How to Get Vision Zero Working: a Talk with Walk SF’s Nicole Ferrara

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Supervisor London Breed and Nicole Ferrara address volunteers at a Walk to Work Day Event in Hayes in San Francisco, California - Photo: Walk SF/Jonathan Fong

Supervisor London Breed (red skirt) and Nicole Ferrara (red shoes) address volunteers at a Walk to Work Day Event in Hayes in San Francisco, California – Photo: Walk SF/Jonathan Fong

A little less than a week ago, Walk San Francisco held its fourth annual “Walk to Work Day” events. The idea is to get people more aware of the health benefits of walking. From Walk SF’s promotion:

Walking at least 15 minutes of your commute counts! Start your healthy walking habit and get rewarded at one of the Walk to Work Day “hubs” across the city. Stop by for a FREE Clipper Card, totes, coffee, or breakfast snack, and much more!

While there was reason to celebrate walking in San Francisco, this year’s event came shortly after a sobering piece in the San Francisco Chronicle listed a spate of road deaths in early 2016:

In addition to the six pedestrian deaths, three people in a car were killed in a Super Bowl Sunday crash on a city street, and a cable car operator hit by an allegedly drunken motorcyclist in June 2015 died of his injuries in January.

As the article made clear, people just keep getting hurt and killed despite San Francisco’s efforts to make its streets safer. The Chronicle cited safe-streets advocates as putting the blame on a system that prioritizes parking availability over safety; a critique Streetsblog has levied for some time:

Vision Zero, San Francisco’s ambitious program to eliminate traffic deaths, is off to a rough start this year — with six people in crosswalks struck and killed by cars and accusations that the Municipal Transportation Agency is protecting parking instead of pedestrians. [emphasis added]

After the story came out, Streetsblog sat down with Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk SF, and a leading activist for safer streets, to ask if she agreed with its conclusions and, if so, why she thinks Vision Zero isn’t having a more tangible effect.

Streetsblog: So you saw the Chronicle story. Is it right to conclude that the Vision Zero efforts, so far, have failed?

Ferrara: It’s been a little over two years since we started Vision Zero. There are a couple of things that point to certain treatments that are working–the SFMTA has started to evaluate and they are showing positive results in terms of yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk. That, plus speeding, are the top two causes of death and serious injury. However, I think we don’t have a ton of projects in the ground that are comprehensive yet.
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Do Paint and Lights Really Make Folsom at Essex Intersection Safe?

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A new phased signal makes Folsom and Essex a little less crazy to bike across. Source: SFMTA.

In theory, a phased signal makes Folsom at Essex a little less crazy to bike across. But maybe only in theory. Image: SFMTA.

SFMTA announced this weekend that it has finished installing a new phased signal and lane markings to make it easier for cyclists to cross the intersection at Folsom at Essex. From the SFMTA release:

Last week, we installed a curbside bike lane and bike signal on eastbound on Folsom, between 2nd and 1st streets. That eliminates the need for people on bikes to make a harrowing maneuver to merge across two lanes of heavy vehicle traffic turning right towards a freeway on-ramp. People walking also now have a dedicated signal phase to cross the intersection before right-turning vehicles get a green light.

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SFMTA Votes for a Surcharge on Cash Fares for a Faster Bus

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Want to pay cash? Get ready to pay more. Photo: SFMTA

Want to pay cash? Get ready to pay more. Photo: SFMTA

SFMTA’s proposed budget for 2017-2018 was passed yesterday by its board. Next stop, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Included in the budget, a 25 cent fare hike for cash fares. And this fare hike is really for the good of the riders–seriously.

A few decades ago, if you boarded one of London’s iconic double-decker buses, you didn’t line up and pay at the door. You entered front or back and a conductor, not the driver, came around and collected your fare while the bus was in motion. The result was the buses didn’t wait at each station while people lined up to pay. Over time, with cut backs and changes in bus design, the decision was made to have drivers also collect fares. Thus, London buses, like buses everywhere else, started to have interminable dwell times. It’s a ridiculous system that makes riding a bus a slow, plodding experience (well, slower than it needs to be).

Now, of course, computers, smart phones, and pre-paid cards (“Oyster” in London or “Clipper” here in the Bay Area) can replace the old conductors for fare collection and allow everyone to scramble onto the bus at once, which is already speeding up commutes, with the added bonus of centralizing fare collection and making transit more seamless, at least in theory. And Streetsblog has long supported the idea of an all-in-one transport card that will work on everything from buses to car-hailing.

The problem is some people take the expression “cash is king” a little too literally and are reluctant to move on, especially seniors who aren’t always comfortable in the digital world. So they keep lining up to pay at the fare box. And we keep waiting for them to unroll bills and push them into the little machine. That’s why the SFMTA board wants to give people an incentive to get them over their Luddite tendencies; the aforementioned 25 cent surcharge for  paying a fare with cash.
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Crash on Valencia Displays Failings of Safety Compromises and Half Measures

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Yesterday, Streetsblog reader Adam Long was riding along Valencia when he heard screeching brakes and commotion behind him. He had his camera on his helmet and, although he didn’t catch the actual collision, it’s pretty easy to see what happened from the video he put together and submitted to Streetsblog’s tips line:

Once again, the video demonstrates the utter folly of engineering bike lanes between street parking and moving traffic on a busy street. No amount of driver training is going to fix this entirely. There are always going to be cars swerving obliviously into and out of the bike lane. There will always be doors flung open. Double parked cars will always block the lanes. In fact, Long has an entire video channel dedicated to that bit of futility. As to enforcement, everyone’s seen police officers roll right past cars and trucks parked on bike lanes. And on those rare occasions when there aren’t regular trucks and cars in the bike lanes, the enforcers themselves block them.
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Guest Editorial: The Time Has Come To Rebuild BART

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Is BART's infras ready for a top-to-bottom revamp? Image: Wikimedia Commons

Is BART infra ready for a top-to-bottom revamp? Image: Wikimedia Commons

When BART was built in the late 1960s, it was the most advanced subway system in the world. But what was once state of the art technology is now almost obsolete and unable to cope with the ever increasing demands made on the system by booming ridership.

BART trains still run on a 1967 computer system which causes 25 percent of BART’s major delays and limits how many trains BART can run per hour. The basic infrastructure of BART’s electrical system has remained unchanged since it was first installed in the late 1960s, and the failure of which has caused the recent shutdown of Pittsburg-Bay Point station. Many of BART’s escalators date back to the start of the system, and can no longer handle crush loads, inclement weather, or even heavy regular usage.

BART’s decaying infrastructure is the result of decades of underinvestment and a culture that had focused on costly and imprudent exurban expansion over maintenance of the core system. But over the past few years, a new generation of leadership has come to power at BART. This leadership was elected by Bay Area voters with a mandate to fix the existing infrastructure first, before spending money on glitzy new extensions.

As a result of this new leadership, over the past 10 years BART has transformed how it maintains its train fleet, nearly doubling the number of miles each train car can travel before it experiences a breakdown. Last year, BART even led the country in the proportion of its train fleet that was operational and ready to ride on the average weekday morning.
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