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KTVU Stays Classy With Fearmongering Segment on “Bike Yield Law”

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What KTVU’s sensationalistic bike coverage lacks in integrity, it compensates for in consistency. The Fox affiliate’s segment on the proposed “Bike Yield Law” yesterday kept the bar low in manufacturing controversy, featuring a bedside interview with a single mother recovering from injuries after being hit by a bicycle rider earlier that day.

KTVU’s segment on the “Bike Yield Law” featured a single mother who was injured by a bicyclist, but the crash had nothing to do with the proposed policy. Image: KTVU

KTVU reporter Amber Lee glossed over the fact that the bicyclist who hit 36-year-old Virginia Melchor “wasn’t going through a stop sign” when the crash occurred in Golden Gate Park. The segment introduces Melchor immediately after showing Supervisor John Avalos explain that under his ordinance, people on bikes who fail to yield “will still have to be held accountable.”

Melchor’s crash is as tragic and unacceptable as any. But it has nothing to do with the ordinance. That didn’t stop KTVU from exploiting it.

KTVU didn’t bother to consult any experts on traffic law and street safety, but did feature SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford and his binder full of complaints about bicyclists.

Sanford cited anecdotes, not traffic injury data, to justify his crackdown on innocuous bike violations at stop signs last month, which he called off after protest at a community meeting. Although Sanford’s views seem to be evolving, he told KTVU that “giving cyclists the opportunity to roll through stop signs can be very dangerous.”

But the point that continues to be missed by Sanford, KTVU, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, and Mayor Ed Lee is that failure to yield to pedestrians would remain illegal. The ordinance would simply codify the idea that SFPD should not direct its enforcement resources toward the vast majority of people on bikes who slow down and yield at stop signs. They are not the ones injuring people like Virginia Melchor.

Police data does show that drivers hit about three pedestrians a day, on average. And the number of people injured in traffic who need to be hospitalized for more than 24 hours is much higher than previously thought. Health Department researchers recently found that those cases occur every 17 hours, on average.

Those stories don’t make the cut at KTVU. Instead the news team is all about harassing bicyclists without helmets and hyping scandals like bike-share, 27-cent parking meter fees, and the re-purposing of handfuls of parking spaces. Improving public safety on SF streets doesn’t rate.

You can see why KTVU might be threatened by an ordinance like the Bike Yield Law. If San Francisco’s laws actually aligned with the safe, common-sense way that most people bike, there would be one less thing to sensationalize on the evening news.


Majority of Supes Back the “Bike Yield Law” to Be Introduced Tomorrow

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The “Bike Yield Law” proposed by Supervisor John Avalos is poised to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Avalos, Breed, Wiener, Kim, Mar, and Campos have all signed on as sponsors of the "Bike Yield Law." Photos: SF Board of Supervisors

Supervisors Avalos, Breed, Wiener, Kim, Mar, and Campos have all signed on as sponsors of the “Bike Yield Law.” Photos: SF Board of Supervisors

The ordinance urges the SFPD to let bicycle riders safely treat stop signs as yield signs. Avalos plans to introduce the ordinance tomorrow, and it has support from six supervisors — the majority needed to vote it into law. It’s unclear if it has support from SFPD officials.

The latest endorsements come from Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar, joining early sponsors London Breed and Scott WienerThe six co-sponsors plan to hold a press conference at City Hall before tomorrow’s board meeting.

At the event, SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick will speak about “the need to provide SFPD the direction and clarity that they deserve in order to achieve Vision Zero and safer streets overall,” according to an SFBC press release.

While local legislation cannot supersede the state’s stop sign law, Avalos’s ordinance would set a “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority.” In essence, it would legitimize the safe, practical way that people on bikes normally treat stop signs, which has been legal in Idaho for 32 years.

Avalos announced his plans to introduce the legislation last month after SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford called off his letter-of-the-law crackdown on bike commuters rolling stop signs. In an interview with Streetsblog, Sanford seemed hesitant to support the bill, saying that police already use discretion in prioritizing limited enforcement resources.

Support from the SFPD will be crucial for the non-binding ordinance to hold sway over police traffic enforcement priorities. The SFPD’s lagging compliance with its own “Focus on the Five” campaign against the most dangerous driving violations is evidence of how difficult it is to change police practices, even when it’s official department policy. Most SFPD stations have only begun to move toward the enforcement target set in January 2014.

The press conference announcing the “Bike Yield Law” ordinance will be held tomorrow on the steps of City Hall at 12:30 p.m.


Northern Station Leads Rise in SFPD “Focus on the Five” Citations

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Image: SFPD via SFGovTV

SFPD traffic citations issued for “Focus on the Five” have hit an all-time high of 32 percent, as the SF Examiner reported earlier this week.

The rate of tickets issued for the five most dangerous driving violations in this year’s second quarter was up 34 percent compared to the same quarter last year, according to stats presented by SFPD Traffic Company Commander Ann Mannix last week. The numbers show a dramatic improvement over last year’s period, when tickets to people walking and biking increased at a far faster rate.

While Richmond Station’s “Five” rate of 63 percent is still the only one to exceed the SFPD’s 50 percent mandate, several other stations are leading the way. The largest increase was seen at Northern Station, where “Five” tickets jumped 125 percent to a rate of 41 percent.

Northern Station Captain Greg McEachern doesn’t seem to share Park Station Captain John Sanford’s fixation on addressing complaints about innocuous bike violations. In a July interview with Hoodline, McEachern explained his take on the situation Page Street, a popular bike route which runs through both districts:

I’ve gotten feedback from the community about traffic concerns in the Page Street area, but not in particular about bicyclists coming through. What I always tell my officers when we do our enforcement is that we don’t target any specific entity of traffic—pedestrian, bicyclist or a vehicle. What we do is we respond to a location and we look for what violations are occurring.

We don’t focus on any one specific thing—what we’re trying to do is save lives. I think everyone would agree that there are violations of traffic laws by everyone; we’d be naive if we thought that it didn’t happen by all groups. We focus on what we feel we need to focus on to make sure that collisions go down, and that we reach the Vision Zero goal of reducing fatalities by 2020.

It’s worth noting that the officers who reportedly cited bike commuters passing to the left of the car queue on Page were part of SFPD’s Traffic Company, not Northern Station.

Three other stations have reached “Focus on the Five” rates above the average: Ingleside is at 38 percent (a 30 percent increase from the same quarter last year), Taraval is at 40 percent (a 94 percent increase), and Bayview is at 33 (a 10 percent decrease). The Traffic Company’s rate rose by 100 percent, to 31 percent.

Sanford’s Park Station increased “Five” tickets by 41 percent, to 28 percent, and reportedly issued no tickets to bicyclists during the quarter from April to June, which preceded his bike crackdown.

Read more…


SF’s First Parking-Protected Bike Lane Outside a Park Opens on 13th Street

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SF’s first parking-protected bike lane outside of Golden Gate Park is open for business on 13th Street. The lane runs westbound on 13th, connecting existing bike lanes between Bryant Street and Folsom Street, underneath the Central Freeway.

The new bike lane runs along the curb with a buffer zone separation from parked cars, which provide protection from motor traffic.

SFMTA crews are still adding finishing touches, like green-backed sharrows in the “mixing zones” where turning drivers merge into the bike lane, left-turn bike boxes, and more visible crosswalks.

SF’s first parking-protected bike lane was installed in 2012 on John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park. Now that people are getting more familiar with this type of safer street design, hopefully the SFMTA will make it the norm on dangerous streets like the wide thoroughfares of SoMa.

Photo: Jessica Kuo

Photo: Jessica Kuo


Human Life Wins: Masonic Ave Redesign Survives Tree Removal Appeal

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The Masonic Avenue safety overhaul will move forward after the SF Board of Appeals upheld tree removal permits protested by a handful of neighbors at a hearing yesterday.

Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV

Ariane Eroy. Image: SFGovTV

The project calls for the removal of 49 trees. Even though each tree that will be removed will be replaced with three new trees, neighbors filed an appeal to preserve all the mature trees.

“When one considers that trees are living members of our communities, one must recognize that they also have rights,” said appellant Ariane Eroy. “They cannot merely be removed without damaging us as a community.”

The Masonic project was initiated in 2010 after a “grassroots campaign from residents,” noted Tim Hickey, president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. “It is unfortunate that trees have to be removed, however we are looking forward to the greater number of trees, and we are more concerned about the safety of the street overall.”

Elroy, who complained that she wasn’t made aware of the tree removals, said she didn’t live in the neighborhood when the community outreach meetings were held.

While she passionately defended trees, much of Elroy’s testimony consisted of downplaying the danger on Masonic that threatens human life, even though her sister was killed by a driver who ran a red light. “There have been some injuries and some fatalities” on Masonic, she said, but “thousands of cars move safely and smoothly on a daily basis.”

The city has seen “a rise in impetuous, if not reckless, driving,” Elroy admitted, then said “it’s naive to think that the Masonic Avenue Streetscape Project will improve safety.”

“To claim that the city could effectively reduce one of its busiest throughfares of six lanes to two and diminish the rate of fatalities on this strip of Masonic seems fantastical.” (The lanes will be reduced from six to four, and raised protected bike lanes and a tree-lined median will be added.)

Nine trees on a concrete triangle at Masonic and Geary Street will be replaced with a plaza with many more trees. Image: DPW

The appellants focused on nine trees that will be removed to create a plaza, where many more new trees will be planted, at the southwest corner of Masonic and Geary Street. Elroy said that filling in the roadway, which has a right-turn traffic lane and two parking lanes that separate the sidewalk from the existing concrete triangle, will somehow lead to an “exponential increase” in injuries.

Among Elroy’s other talking points: Police say there are “a hundred hit-and-run accidents on a daily basis now,” and “buses, bus routes, and bus stops are some of the most dangerous vehicles and sites on our public thoroughfares.”

Members of the Appeals board did ask follow-up questions after some of these claims, but none seemed to seriously consider upholding the appeal.

Department of Public Works landscape architect John Dennis told the board that moving the redesign forward is key to “the saving of human life as the highest priority.”


SFMTA Board Approves McAllister Muni Upgrades, Traffic Circles

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McAllister and Fillmore Streets, where bus bulb-outs and more visible crosswalks were recently added. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA Board of Directors today approved a package of upgrades on McAllister Street to improve pedestrian safety and speed up buses on the 5-Fulton line as part of Muni Forward. Among the changes, two stop signs will be replaced with transit-priority traffic signals, and two others will be replaced with traffic circles.

The project is expected to shave 20 percent off travel times along the route, which goes from the Outer Richmond to downtown, according to the SFMTA. That added speed will come on top of the boost given to the route two years ago, with the launch of 5-Fulton Rapid service and street upgrades like bus bulb-outs.

The changes approved today include traffic signals that give priority to buses where McAllister intersects with Scott Street and Broderick Street. The original proposal called for signals at five intersections but the plan changed after protests from neighbors. But at two of those intersections — Lyon Street and Steiner Street — McAllister will get traffic circles to calm motor vehicle speeds, the first such treatment on a bus route in SF.

An SFMTA report [PDF] noted that “a number of residents” at a July hearing “voice[d] their feedback that traffic circles do not, in their view, provide adequate pedestrian safety.”

“SFMTA staff believes that this is, in fact, not true,” the report said, citing examples in other cities. Sacramento, for instance, saw a 70 percent drop in crashes “at locations where they implemented a traffic circle.”

Read more…


In 1954, Turning Market Street Into a Parking Lot Seemed Like a Good Idea

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How some envisioned a “better Market Street” in 1954. Image via SFMTA

In an alternate universe, the streetcar tracks that line the center of Market Street would have become car parking.

That was an actual proposal in 1954, put forward by Supervisor Marvin Lewis. The plan [PDF] was recently dug up by SFMTA staff from the agency’s archives. Today it’s an appalling idea, but back then it was typical. The conventional wisdom among city planners and elected officials held that the answer to traffic congestion in downtown SF was to tear it apart with freeways and parking spaces.

While the plan to turn Market into a parking lot was never realized, the pursuit of abundant parking left its mark on downtown SF. The dense urban core is dotted with massive parking garages, including the country’s first underground parking structure, under Union Square. It could have been worse — the Fifth and Mission Garage, for example, was envisioned to be five blocks long, with exterior car ramps.

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other U.S city, successfully resisted many of those would-be disasters. The city’s identity would be very different today if SF had torn up its neighborhoods and iconic streets, like Market, to create parking lots.

While SF fought off the worst impulses of 1950s-era thinking, the plan for Market Street is a reminder that for all the “bullets we’ve dodged,” as one SF planner put it, players at City Hall were indeed able to dramatically reshape the city around the car.

Our streets are shaped by deliberate public policy decisions, and the way they are currently designed is not the natural order of things. Every curbside parking spot that opponents of change cling to so fiercely today was at one point bestowed by policy makers, who decided to reallocate street space from general public use to private car owners.

As we revisit streets like Market in 2015, let’s remember: It’s an era for new possibilities.

Ah, iconic Market Street. Image via SFMTA

Ah, iconic Market Street. Image via SFMTA


If Trees on Van Ness Matter So Much, Good Thing They’ll Double With BRT

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Image: SFMTA

After the construction of bus rapid transit, Van Ness Avenue will have more than twice the number of trees it does today. But the SF Chronicle and local broadcast news reporters didn’t let that get in the way of blowing a story about tree removal notices completely out of proportion.

Reports from the Chronicle, which kicked off the media fracas yesterday, as well as ABC, KTVU, and NBC featured misleading headlines like, “San Francisco officials to cut down nearly 200 trees.” The whole manufactured controversy, which the Chron doubled down on today, depends on glossing over the fact that the BRT project involves planting about 400 new trees to replace the 193 trees set for removal.

Media outlets would have their audiences believe “dozens” protested the dastardly replacement of trees as part of the BRT project, but none provided an actual count of the speakers at the Department of Public Works hearing on permits to remove the trees. So here it is: There were 26 speakers; 16 against, five in support, and five who were neutral but expressed concerns about the importance of urban trees. Those numbers are from Bob Masys, a senior engineer for the SF County Transportation Authority (not the SFMTA, as the Chronicle reported).

The last-minute complaints don’t seem to pose a serious threat to the construction of Van Ness BRT. DPW’s approval of tree removal permits is a late and minor step for the project, which has already been severely delayed. After launch was originally scheduled for 2012, it’s now on track for 2019.

None of the sensationalist coverage bothered to consult transit advocates for the story.

Read more…


Upper Market Street Gets First Phase of Safety Upgrades

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The SFMTA has completed its first wave of safety upgrades on Upper Market Street. The changes include painted sidewalk extensions (a.k.a. “safety zones”), high-visibility crosswalks, and signs prohibiting drivers from turning right at red lights.

SFMTA officials and Supervisor Scott Wiener held a press conference today to mark the completion of the improvements between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street.

The 10 newly-installed safety zones narrow the roadway and reduce crossing distances, which should help calm motor traffic at the three Market intersections where they were installed: 16th/Noe, 15th/Sanchez, and 14th/Church Streets.

Most of Upper Market’s intersections converge with two other streets. The legacy of cars-first design at these complex six-point intersections is a disaster for public safety. Pedestrians must traverse long stretches of pavement in crosswalks regularly blocked by drivers, while drivers often speed up to beat the light.

Upper Market has six wide traffic lanes and a median strip that seems to encourage speeding. Walking and biking were an afterthought in its design.

From 2007 to 2012, motorists injured pedestrians in 27 crashes and injured bicyclists in 32 crashes on Market between Octavia and Castro, according to the SFMTA. During the same period, an additional 102 crashes involved only motor vehicle drivers and passengers.

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SFMTA Approves 2nd Street Protected Bike Lane Redesign, Ponders Car Bans

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Second Street will get raised, protected bike lanes, sidewalk extensions, and Muni boarding islands with a redesign approved yesterday. But SFMTA Board members wonder if car restrictions are needed, too. Image: DPW

The SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday unanimously approved a redesign of Second Street which will remove traffic lanes and add safety upgrades like raised, protected bike lanes and sidewalk extensions. After years of delay, SFMTA Board members and some attendees at the meeting said it may not go far enough, and that the agency should consider car restrictions to prevent private autos from clogging the street.

The redesign [PDF] will remove two of Second Street’s four car traffic lanes and bring one of the city’s first routes with raised bike lanes protected from motor traffic by curbs and parked cars. Muni boarding islands will also be installed to allow buses to make stops in the traffic lanes and passengers to alight without conflicting with bike traffic.

The approval is “a resounding victory for safer SoMa streets,” wrote SF Bicycle Coalition Business and Community Program Manager Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, in a blog post. The SFBC submitted support letters from nearly 100 residents and a dozen businesses on the street, Cosulich-Schwartz told the SFMTA Board, noting that it’s the only north-south bike route in that area of SoMa.

Walk SF’s new policy and program manager, Cathy DeLuca, also lauded the plan. In addition to safer crossings (including removal of dangerous double-turn lanes at Harrison Street), and more room for pedestrians, she noted that the protected bike lanes will “make it easier for pedestrians and motorists to navigate” Second, which is “in the heart of such a fast-growing part of our community.”

The redesign “will give the residents, employees, local business, and visitors who use Second Street the great street they deserve,” Davi Lang, an aide for D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, told the SFMTA Board.

DeLuca noted that the plan for Second is the first street redesign to come out as part of the citywide Green Connections plan.

Second’s redesign has been delayed for years. Most recently, completion was pushed back a year from its previous schedule, to fall of 2017, apparently due to delays in completing the environmental review. Before that, the year-long construction was scheduled to be finished by the end of this year.

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