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Eyes on the Street: Polk Contra-Flow Bike Lane Nearly Ready to Ride

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Here’s a little change of pace from the bad news this week. The Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane, connecting Market Street northbound to Grove Street and City Hall, appears almost ready to go. A Department of Public Works spokesperson said the agency is shooting for a tentative opening date of May 2 or 5 and plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Officials at the SFMTA and DPW seem proud of the project — and rightly so. Photos of the bikeway and median planted with native succulents were tweeted by DPW Director Mohammed Nuru and Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy. DPW surprisingly jumpstarted construction on the bike lane in late January after years of delay, promising completion by Bike to Work Day on May 8.

The project also comes with a couple of bonuses. DPW is installing bulb-outs at the wide intersection of Grove and Polk, and completed one at the northwest corner last week. The pedestrian island and “bike chute” on the north side of Market at Polk were also reconfigured for more practical maneuvering for southbound bike riders. See photos after the break.

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SFMTA Announces 24 Vision Zero Bike/Ped Projects for Next 24 Months

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At this morning’s Walk to Work Day press conference, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin announced a plan to implement 24 bike and pedestrian safety projects over the next 24 months [PDF]. This is the most concrete safety plan unveiled so far, ever since city leaders pledged to pursue Vision Zero.

Nicole Schneider presented Walk SF’s “Street Score” report card for pedestrian safety in SF today, alongside Supervisor Malia Cohen (left). Photo: Aaron Bialick

The projects (listed below) include bulb-outs, traffic signal changes, road diets, turn restrictions, and even a conceptual “raised cycletrack” on upper Market Street. Half the projects are funded (one “partially”), and the SFMTA hasn’t assigned an order to them yet. Some of the projects have already been in planning, like the Second Street and Polk Street redesigns, and at some locations the “WalkFirst improvements” have yet to be designed.

Vision Zero “is something that we’re united around as a city family,” said Reiskin on the steps of City Hall, surrounded by a full roster of elected officials and department heads, minus Mayor Ed Lee.

The 24-project list wasn’t heavily discussed at the city’s second official Walk to Work Day press conference, where city leaders re-iterated the urgency of Vision Zero — the goal of ending traffic deaths within 10 years. Every member of the Board of Supervisors and other officials walked to City Hall, starting at points around the city. The furthest trekkers included Reiskin, who walked from west of Twin Peaks; Supervisor Eric Mar, from Arguello Boulevard; and Supervisor John Avalos, from the Excelsior.

Walk SF also presented a “report card” grading pedestrian safety in San Francisco:

  • Overall progress towards Vision Zero: C+
  • Walkability: A+
  • Pedestrian Safety: D+
  • Funding: D+
  • Engineering: C+
  • Enforcement: B
  • Education and Outreach: B-

“We have the fabric of a walkable city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “But unfortunately, we have a relic of an older generation with our transportation system. We have streets that were designed for speed and not for safety… This isn’t something that our current administration came up with, but it’s going to take a lot of funding and a lot of work to change.”

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Six Months for Killing Hanren Chang: Even Drunk Drivers Get Off Easy

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Lowell High School student Hanren Chang. Image: ABC 7

It’s hard to imagine a more egregiously clear-cut case where a driver deserves a harsh prison term than when drunk driver Kieran Brewer ran over and killed a minor inside a crosswalk. Surely, unlike other cases where sober drivers killed pedestrians and faced few consequences, these circumstances would spur the judicial system into action.

Yet Brewer was sentenced to just six months in jail for driving drunk and killing Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard last year, as she was returning home from celebrating her 17th birthday.

Kieran Brewer. Photo via CBS 5

Brewer’s total sentence includes six months in jail, six months in home detention, five years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a nine-month treatment program for people who have driven under the influence, according to the SF Chronicle. Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy also ordered Brewer to pay the family more than $4,700 in restitution.

In addition, Judge Conroy struck down a bid from the prosecuting attorneys to apply the state’s “three strikes” law in this case. Prosecutors argued that Brewer inflicted great bodily injury, a crime that counts as a strike under the law.

“I don’t think the interest of justice will be served if Mr. Brewer gets this strike,” Conroy said in court, according to the Chronicle. “He has been consistently remorseful and cooperative with law enforcement.”

Remorse and cooperation apparently go a long way in court. So, too, does committing manslaughter with a car rather than a gun. As pointed out in a blog post by GJEL Accident Attorneys, a Streetsblog SF sponsor, “Involuntary manslaughter shootings usually result in sentences of years, not months”:

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Mapping San Francisco’s Most Speeding-Plagued Streets

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Urban cartographer Stephanie May used engineering and traffic surveys collected by the SFMTA between 2004 and 2010 to piece together this map of speeding. The darker the segment, the higher the average speed. Fatter segments represent streets with a higher incidence of speeding.

A new online map begins to show which San Francisco streets have the worst speeding problems, according to data from SFMTA engineering and traffic surveys. The map was created by Stephanie May, who works for the SF-based organization Urban Mapping and teaches cartography at SF State University and history at Stanford, according to her Twitter page.

Ideally, a map like this could show people where they should advocate for safety improvements, and where city agencies ought to focus enforcement and traffic calming efforts. This map is a start, but the available data has a lot of gaps, since speed surveys are typically done only in response to complaints from residents, May said. The data is also a bit dated, collected between 2004 and 2010. It would be interesting to see how road diets and other traffic calming measures implemented since then have changed the picture.

On Twitter, May said she thinks “the real message of the map is that @sfgov needs to monitor traffic speeds more systematically (and report).”

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The Case for Evening Parking Meters, Graphed

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In many neighborhoods, blocks are more likely to be full of parked cars — and cruising for an open space spikes — after meters shut off at 6 p.m. (1800).

Every day at 6 p.m., San Francisco’s parking meters shut down. But in many neighborhoods, motorists continue to seek parking, and without the turnover brought by meters, the streets become clogged with drivers circling around for a spot.

The big mismatch between meter hours and actual demand for curbside parking spaces in SF was demonstrated in a new study of SFpark [PDF], which found that the program has cut cruising times for parking by 50 percent in the areas where it’s in place. The study, featured yesterday in Next City and The Atlantic Cities, was conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, and Nelson/Nygaard, who used data on parking occupancy from the SFMTA to model the effect of SFpark on driver behavior.

The study re-affirms the findings of a report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association last May [PDF], which showed that pricing parking according to demand is effective in reducing cruising. But as Donald Shoup, parking guru and one of the authors of last year’s study, told Streetsblog in August, the successful SFpark program goes to waste after 6 p.m. due to SF’s outdated meter hours, which were crafted in the mid-20th century when fewer businesses were open past that time.

“I hope San Francisco will ask, ‘Why is the right price at 7 p.m. on Union Square $0?,’” Shoup said. “We have the equipment, all the software, and we just put it to sleep at 6 p.m.”

As the graph above shows, the biggest spike in evening cruising is in the Inner Richmond, a non-SFpark neighborhood studied as a control sample. Cruising there peaks at about 8 p.m. In every area except downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf, the daily peak in traffic caused by cruising was after 6 p.m..

If Mayor Ed Lee wanted, he could nudge the SFMTA to simply extend meter hours to cut traffic on the streets in the evening. But rather than fixing SF’s traffic problems, Lee has been more inclined to use his influence to move the city in the opposite direction by undoing Sunday parking meters.

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Detailed Polk Street Designs: Plans for Safe Bicycling Still “Lackluster”

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Polk will get a raised bike lane, but only northbound from McAllister to California Street. Images: Planning Department

The SFMTA and the Planning Department presented detailed plans for Polk Street at the project’s final open house meeting yesterday. The new aspects include specific locations of bulb-outs, dedicated bicycle signals, left turn prohibitions, loading zones, and new trees and landscaping. Plans to improve bicycle infrastructure are still composed of a mix of protected, buffered, conventional, and part-time bike lanes, depending on the stretch and side of the street.

In a blog postthe SF Bicycle Coalition wrote that it is ”deeply troubled” that the SFMTA and Supervisor David Chiu have stood bythe lackluster design,” in which protected bike lanes were largely cast aside to preserve parking spaces for a vocal minority of merchants.

Noting the inconsistencies between officials’ Vision Zero rhetoric and the watered-down proposal to improve safety on Polk, which sees the second highest number of crashes of any corridor in the city, the SFBC announced it is launching a David Chiu/MTA Polk Street Body Count clock, a tracker that will count the number people hurt on Polk going forward.

Luis Montoya, project manager for the SFMTA, characterized the compromised safety plans as an appropriate balance. ”I think people see that we’ve stuck to what we’ve said the project goals were of improving safety, addressing the specific crash patterns that we see, balancing the needs of the street,” he said.

Polk at California, where the configuration for bike lanes changes.

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Bayshore Blvd Gets Buffered Bike Lanes, But “Alemany Maze” Still a Barrier

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Bayshore, seen here looking north near Bacon Street, had four traffic lanes reduced to two to make room for buffered bike lanes. Photo: Brian Coyne

The SFMTA extended the buffered bike lanes on Bayshore Boulevard earlier this month from Silver Avenue south to Paul Avenue, reducing four traffic lanes to two. The street now provides a calmer, safer bicycling link for Bayview residents all the way up to where Bayshore ends, at Cesar Chavez Street and the “Hairball” freeway interchange.

The bike lanes were originally slated to go on San Bruno Avenue, which runs parallel to Bayshore on the opposite side of 101, according to the SFMTA website:

This project was originally planned for San Bruno Avenue as part of the 2009 San Francisco Bicycle Plan. However, due to potential conflicts with planned Muni improvements along San Bruno Avenue, the SFMTA has determined that a more appropriate north-south bicycle route between Paul and Silver Avenues would be Bayshore Boulevard because it connects directly with existing bikeways north of Silver Avenue and does not conflict with transit operations.

Traffic analysis was completed that showed that there was not a need to keep four travel lanes.

Chris Waddling of D10 Watch describes: “Pedestrians dash across eastbound Alemany at San Bruno Ave. on their way to the farmers market.” Photo: Chris Waddling

Yet the benefits of the bike lanes and taming speeds on a traffic sewer are largely lost at the “Alemany Maze” – the tangle of looping freeway ramps where 101 and 280 intersect. As D10 Watch author Chris Waddling pointed out, the interchange presents “outright hostile conditions for pedestrians and cyclists,” cutting off access between neighborhoods for those traveling without a car:

Say you want to get from Bayview to a Glen Park BART by bike. Riding the new lanes on Bayshore are now great, but get from Bayshore to the separated bike lane on Alemany at Putnam, and you’re sharing the road with freeway-bound vehicles.

Or say you want to walk from the Portola to the Alemany Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. You either cross illegally at the top of San Bruno Ave or walk an extra 1/4 mile each way to get to the light at Putnam. And if you need one, it’s too bad there’s no ADA ramp for you when you get there.

The benefits of increasing pedestrian and bike access in the area are many: reduced car traffic on Saturday mornings in and around the Alemany Farmers Market; safer access to the Farmers Market for Portola residents; greater access to amenities in the Portola by residents of Bernal Heights; safer access to BART for Portola residents; an opportunity for beautification of the median.

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Bixi Bankruptcy Delays Bay Area Bike Share Expansion Until Fall at Best

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The expansion of Bay Area Bike Share into the Mission, the Castro, Hayes Valley, and Mission Bay planned for early this year won’t happen until fall at the soonest, due to the recent bankruptcy of Bixi, the company that supplies hardware and software for several American bike-share systems.

Heath Maddox, the SFMTA’s bike-share program manager, broke the news to an SF County Transportation Authority Board committee this week. He said the expansion would come in the fall “if everything went very well.”

“Our main technology and software provider is actually for sale,” said Maddox. “We should know what becomes of that sale later this month. Hopefully, it’ll be bought by our current operations and maintenance provider [Alta Bicycle Share], and they could just move, without a hitch, and once again fire up production.”

Maddox said after the sale and re-organization is completed, “it takes five to six months to produce the equipment once it’s ordered.”

In response, Supervisor John Avalos, the SFCTA Chair, said the expansion was supposed to have happened “yesterday,” and asked Maddox to “meet offline to talk more about it.”

The discussion took place after a presentation on the SFCTA’s “Strategic Analysis Report” on Bay Area Bike Share, which provided recommendations to guide the system’s expansion. One of those recommendations is to re-structure BABS’ administration to allow the SFMTA more independence to facilitate a swift expansion within San Francisco, which sees 90 percent of the system’s ridership.

The latest delay is one of too many to count for bike-share in SF. San Franciscans’ appetite for bike-share was first whetted in 2009, when even a tiny pilot of 50 bikes was dropped after Clear Channel backed out of a partnership with the city. Bay Area Bike Share was first promised in summer 2012 (though it didn’t have a name until May 2013), and was supposed to include 500 bikes and 50 stations in San Francisco, with the other half of the system in four cities along the Peninsula.

But only 35 of SF’s stations were put on the ground (and another 35 on the Peninsula), when the initial cost estimates proved to be too optimistic. The other 15 stations were promised within a few months. Now those stations (plus two more) will be coming in the fall, at the earliest.

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SFCTA Report: Expand Bike-Share in San Francisco ASAP

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The SF County Transportation Authority issued a new report Monday to guide the expansion of Bay Area Bike Share, which sees 90 percent of its rides in San Francisco, despite the city encompassing half of the system’s bikes and stations.

Among the recommendations in the “Strategic Analysis Report” [PDF] is giving the SFMTA greater independence to plan and manage bike-share in San Francisco while other Bay Area cities work on their own expansions of the system.

“This SAR makes smart recommendations: embracing a regional system while not waiting to expand in San Francisco,” said Kit Hodge, deputy director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “Now it’s up to the city to really move forward. San Francisco residents and businesses have been very clear in their call from every corner of the city for more bike-share.”

The report notes that SF’s bike-share expansion is crucial to the system as a whole, given the high usage in SF by commuters who live in other areas: “As an indication of the regional demand for bike sharing in San Francisco, Alameda County has the second highest number of memberships in Bay Area Bike Share, even though there are currently no bike sharing stations or bicycles in the East Bay.”

The SFCTA also recommends that Bay Area Bike Share operations, currently overseen by the Bay Area Quality Management Distict, should be re-organized using “a hybrid model where a non-profit associated with or managed by a public agency administers the program and contracts with a private-sector operator.”

Here are the report’s full recommendations on bike-share expansion in San Francisco:

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SFPD Traffic Citations Increasing Towards “Focus on the Five” Goals

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The SF Police Department is issuing more traffic tickets, and a greater share of them are going toward the five most dangerous violations, according to early SFPD data on traffic citations issued so far this year.

This week, a driver was cited for hitting a child and his babysitter in a crosswalk at Fulton Street and 37th Ave. SFPD is issuing more of its citations to the top five causes of traffic injuries. Image: CBS 5

With a new, more efficient database, the SFPD began posting monthly citation data on its website starting in January [PDF] (monthly data on crash reports still isn’t available). The citation reports provide an easy way to track the department’s progress toward meeting the goals set in the “Focus on the Five” campaign, which prioritizes limited traffic enforcement resources for the five violations most commonly cited as the cause of crashes on the streets, all of which are driver violations.

So far, progress on “Focus on the Five” appears promising.

In January, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali announced a goal of having at least 50 percent of traffic citations going toward the top five violations: running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, turning violations, and speeding. Last year, 22 percent of citations were issued for those infractions. In January, the share increased to 33 percent, according to the new data posted from that month.

As the SF Examiner reported today, the SFPD is also dramatically increasing the number of tickets issued overall:

From January 2013 to January 2014, the Police Department reported 43 percent more citations citywide, and from January 2013 to preliminary numbers for last month there was a 54 percent increase, Police Chief Greg Suhr said.

“All the stations are up. Across the board, they are writing more tickets,” Suhr said. “Whereas we might have been exercising more discretion and some sort of counseling, now there’s less counseling and more citation issuing.”

Catching traffic violators has become highly emphasized at all 10 police stations, regardless of what other individual issues they face, said Cmdr. Mikail Ali, who works with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“In every unit, every officer has been given the directive that transit safety is a priority,” he said.

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