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Streetsblog Talks With SF Bicycle Coalition Incoming Director Brian Wiedenmeier

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BriansmilingEarlier this week, the SF Bike Coalition announced it is tapping its development director, Brian Wiedenmeier, as its new executive director. Wiedenmeier takes the reigns from Margaret McCarthy, who had served as the organization’s interim director during a search to replace Noah Budnick, who resigned last year.

Streetsblog sat down with Wiedenmeier to find out more about him and his goals for the organization.

Streetsblog: So why bike advocacy?

Brian Wiedenmeier: I associate cycling with joy and freedom, I began riding a bike as a child and as someone who grew up in a small town in the Midwest. It’s not cool after 16, so I bought a car to get to my job. But when I went to college at the University of Minnesota a car was not something I could afford, so I started biking again out of necessity. But then I realized what a freeing, amazing thing it was–this simple machine that let me experience the city in a new way.

SB: Tell us about cycling in Minnesota.

BW: Minneapolis is a great city that’s blessed with a network of fully separated bike paths that run through parks. And they have the midtown Greenway which is an old piece of rail infrastructure, a freight line that ran in a trench through the city. It’s been re-purposed exclusively for the use of bicycles and pedestrians. It’s a magic thing with bicycle on-ramps and off-ramps that get you cross town in no time flat.

SB: But you decided to move to San Francisco. How was that, cycling-wise? Read more…

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San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Names New Executive Director

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Say hello to Brian Wiedenmeier, the SF Bike Coalition's new executive director. Image: SFBC

Say hello to Brian Wiedenmeier, the SF Bike Coalition’s new executive director. Image: SFBC

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Board of Directors has selected Brian Wiedenmeier as the organization’s next executive director. Wiedenmeier is not a newcomer to the SFBC. He spent the last two years as the organization’s development director. “Brian’s professional accomplishments and experience really stood out throughout this hiring process,” said Brianne O’Leary Gagnon, president of the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Board, in a prepared statement. “He’s committed to people biking and the city of San Francisco.”

From the SFBC’s announcement:

Wiedenmeier moved to San Francisco ten years ago from Minneapolis, where he went to college, and joined the SF Bicycle Coalition as a member the following year. He bikes both as his primary means of transportation as well as for recreation. In addition to the long rides Wiedenmeier often takes on mornings and weekends, he just completed his second 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles last week.

“It’s really important to me not only that we continue improving biking in San Francisco, but that we do so in every single neighborhood of our city,” Wiedenmeier said, in the coalition’s announcement. “If you live in the Tenderloin, the Bayview, or the Excelsior, I want you to know that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is here to help improve your streets to meet your hopes and needs.”

Readers will recall a few months ago Streetsblog did a Q&A with the SFBC’s interim executive director, Margaret McCarthy, when she was appointed after Noah Budnick’s departure amidst a contentious board election. McCarthy resumes her role as program director through July. Afterwards, she plans to leave the SF Bicycle Coalition’s staff.

Streetsblog will be conversing with Wiedenmeier soon to get details on where he hopes to take the organization. We wish him the best of luck in the new gig. Given the challenges of bringing safe bicycle infrastructure to San Francisco, he will have his work cut out for him.

His official start date will be Wednesday, July 6.

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Balboa Park Station Open House

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BART Planner Tim Chan explaining station plans and hearing comments from morning commuters at Balboa Park Station. Photo: Streetsblog.

BART’s Tim Chan explained station plans and took comments from morning commuters at Balboa Park Station. Photo: Streetsblog.

This morning from 7 to 10 am BART officials, consultants, and even a legislative aide for Supervisor John Avalos’s office answered questions and heard comments from the public about plans to modernize Balboa Park Station, one of the busiest in both BART and Muni’s networks.

From BART’s webpage on the project:

The goal of the project is to develop and prioritize potential station improvements to upgrade and modernize the station’s function, safety and security, capacity, sustainability, appearance, and improve the customer experience. BART is also partnering with the City to identify plaza improvements to support the Upper Yard Affordable Housing Project.

It would be hard to argue that Balboa Park station doesn’t need improvements. A confluence of three Muni trains, seven buses, and the southernmost transfer station for four BART lines, it seems an obvious place for intense transit-oriented real estate development. But with I-280 on one side and a Muni Light Rail maintenance facility on the other, developing the area is challenging. “It doesn’t work for cars, pedestrians, or cyclists,” said Frances Hsieh, the legislative aide for Supervisor Avalos.

“It’s an aging station desperately in need of an upgrade,” said Tim Chan, manager of station planning and development for BART.

Members of the public who stopped by seemed to agree.

“It’s generally dirty and it feels unsafe,”  said Edward Anaya, a lawyer who commutes through Balboa Park from his home in Excelsior. “There are walkability and safety issues competing with the traffic from I-280.”

Jennifer Heggie takes the bus from Sunnyside to pick up BART at Balboa. She said the station has already improved and it used to “smell like urine,” but she wishes there were a shelter on the Geneva side for people connecting to buses there. “It’s cold at night.”

Chan said that’s one of the things they want to fix, by adding “more weather protection” for people transferring between BART and Muni. They also want to “extend the canopies at the ends of the BART platforms” so people don’t have to bunch up when it’s raining.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development is working on the Upper Yard affordable housing project, planned across from the old car barn and powerhouse. It’s currently used as a parking lot.

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Why are More Facebook Workers Driving to the Office?

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Protesters block a "Google Bus." Data from Facebook suggests more people are driving as a result of SFMTA restrictions on Tech Shuttle routes. Photo: Chris Martin

Protesters block a “Tech Shuttle.” Data from Facebook suggests more people are driving, perhaps in anticipation of SFMTA restrictions on shuttle routes. Photo: Chris Martin

As Facebook prepares to expand its West Campus in San Mateo County, it is presenting environmental reports to groups such as the Menlo Park Transportation Commission. Commissioner Adina Levin brought this to Streetsblog’s attention from the report: apparently more Facebook employees started driving in the past couple of months to the social media giant’s headquarters in Menlo Park. From a post by Levin in the Friends of Caltrain Blog entitled “San Francisco shuttle changes increase car traffic:

Facebook disclosed that their car commute trips had spiked in recent months, adding about 400 more cars to San Francisco streets, due to new San Francisco rules changing shuttle stops.

Reviewing the the next expansion of their Menlo Park campus, Facebook shared results of their successful transportation program, which had about 50 percent of employees refraining from driving alone – until SFMTA changed shuttle stops as a result of resident protests. The drive-alone rate, which had been about 50 precent, increased to 54 percent of Facebook’s 10,000 workers.

Napkin math suggests about 400 additional Facebook drivers on San Francisco streets and highway 101 following the shuttle changes. Facebook’s driving rate is still much lower than the 80 percent plus drive-alone rate at typical suburban office parks. But the extra cars are surely not what San Francisco’s policymakers and activists were hoping for.

The SFMTA rules changes she’s referring to started in February of this year. Some of them were designed to, according to SFMTA’s material, improve labor relations and help the environment by mandating newer model buses. However, it also included the following change:

  • Commuter shuttles over 35 feet long must stay on Caltrans arterial street network.

“Recent changes to the program were in direct response to what we heard from many in the community and from elected officials,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesman. “Shuttle companies can still use those smaller neighborhood streets. They just need to use shuttle buses that are more appropriate for them–buses that aren’t over 35 feet long.”

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SPUR Talk: The Election and the Bay Area’s Future

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David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics and Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting Discuss the Election. Photo: Streetsblog.

David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics and Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting discuss the election with a packed house at SPUR SF. Photo: Streetsblog.

Wednesday afternoon SPUR sponsored a discussion about the previous day’s election and what it could mean for the Bay Area. The panel consisted of Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting and David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics. It was attended by some seventy people, with at least ten more standing in the back.

First, Clemens gave his initial impressions. “In the greater scheme of things this was a crap election,” he gibed. Turnout, their charts showed, has fallen from a historic high of forty percent in 2008 to thirty percent in more recent years “which we should all be rightfully ashamed of,” he said. But, he added, perhaps the low turnout shouldn’t be a huge surprise. “We had five local elections that had no opposition, [and] a presidential race and a state senate race that won’t get decided until November.” Latterman explained that turnout figures would improve as the final counting is completed. Read more…

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Not Voting for Buses? Bay Area Transit Study Open Thread

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Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to a an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Election day is a good time for a discussion about a recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) study that seems to show that Bay Area residents are using their transit choices to, in effect, vote for rail, ferry, and ride-hailing, but not for more buses. From an East Bay Times look at the study:

The problem is that buses, by far the biggest piece of the transit puzzle, saw ridership drop 15 percent from 1991 to 2014, more than canceling out the 63 percent surge in train and ferry use, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. With private tech shuttles transporting employees from home to office and the proliferation of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, are buses merely outdated behemoths ready to go the way of the dinosaur?

Is it really true that Uber and Lyft are responsible for declining bus ridership? Are tech shuttles really pulling people from city buses?  With ride-hail, it depends which study one consults. According to a March study from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ride-hail works hand-in-glove with transit:

A survey of 4,500 people across the US confirms that people who routinely use “shared modes” of transportation (e.g. bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesharing) were more likely to use public transit. These individuals were less likely to drive, more likely to walk, and saved more on overall transportation costs.

But an earlier study from the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley shows the opposite.

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Bay Area 2040: Envisioning the Future of the Bay Area

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SFMTAs Liz Brisson at the Plan Bay Area open house. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA’s Liz Brisson at the Plan Bay Area open house. Image: Streetsblog.

Who says you can’t have everything?

Well, when it comes to transportation infrastructure and planning, economics and tax payers do, for starters. But Thursday evening’s Plan Bay Area 2040 open house wasn’t about holding back. Instead, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) asked the public to chime in and help envision a transportation and planning future for the entire Bay Area. The open house is part of an ongoing effort to create a catch-all road map for agencies throughout the region.

Held at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter Auditorium across from the Lake Merritt BART station, the open house consisted of half a dozen information stations, with representatives from a gaggle of area transportation planning agencies, including AC Transit, BART, Caltrans, Caltrain, MTC, and SFMTA, not to mention consultants, who heard public comments and discussed priorities for the Bay Area.

Among them was Liz Brisson, Project Manager, Urban Planning Initiatives Sustainable Street Division for the SFMTA. She was answering questions at the “Core Capacity Transit Study” station, a study project she’s working on. “Transit is bursting at the seams,” she said, adding that means it’s essentially working. But it has to work better to accommodate growth. “We know what we have to do.”

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Litter and Livable Streets

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Why are some neighborhoods covered in litter? Photo: Streetsblog.

Why are some neighborhoods covered in litter? Photo: Streetsblog.

A few weeks ago, I found an apartment in the Outer Mission. It had a view of Twin Peaks, plenty of room, and it was in my price range. It is a short bike ride to the great transportation links at Balboa Park Station. It also was a half-block from a stop on the 14-Mission bus. There’s a nice cafe down the street, a couple of small markets within a few blocks, and pretty much everything a Livable Streets advocate could ask for, except for bike lanes, but hopefully those will come.

As I negotiated with the owner, I started hanging out in the area as much as possible, to see how I liked it. Almost right away, I noticed a lack of pedestrian traffic. Despite Lincoln Park and the Cayuga Playground, both a few blocks away, a large supermarket on Alemany, and some nice restaurants, and a fair amount of car traffic, I saw virtually nobody out walking.

And there was a whole lot of trash. At first I thought it was because of the powerful winds that came through a few days prior; perhaps they had blown over some trash cans. But the litter stayed. Nobody swept up in front of their shops. As I explored further, I noticed even more trash.

What struck me even more was the stark contrast with the neighborhoods on the other side of I-280. Less than two miles to the west I could find litter if I looked for it, but I wasn’t tripping over it. On the weekends, I saw people outside cleaning up their front yards and sidewalks with rakes and brooms. Same with graffiti: to the west of I-280, it’s there, but harder to find. East of I-280, it’s pretty prominent.
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SFSU Students Study How to Un-Suck Biking to BART

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Professor Jason Henderson's "Bicycle Geographies" class explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: ???TK

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class (seen with additional university staff in this photo) explores how infrastructure could make cycling from BART to class safe and fun. Photo: Nolen Brown

Professor Jason Henderson’s “Bicycle Geographies” class wants the ride from Daily City BART to San Francisco State University’s campus to be comfortable and fun.

And why shouldn’t it be?

After all, it’s only a 1.6 mile trip that should take even a novice cyclist about 15 minutes. Given the proximity to BART, this should be a no-brainer. But thanks to some harrowing intersections, high-speed traffic lanes, and oddly placed and timed “safety measures,” it’s anything but.

“That route probably felt quite calm in a big group with 40-plus people in a group ride,” said Joshua Handel, one of five students in the class, during a presentation to administrators at the school. Handel is referring to a Bike to Work Day ride done earlier this month with staff and students.

“But when one does it alone, there’s a lot of traffic stress,” he continued.  Read more…

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A Time to Remember

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DylanMitchellThree years ago today, 21-year-old Dylan Mitchell was riding his bike east on 16th Street when a garbage truck traveling in the same direction turned on South Van Ness and collided with him. He died at the scene–a scene where flowers were left during Thursday night’s “Ride of Silence.”

Mitchell was one of almost fifty cyclists killed while riding the streets of San Francisco who were remembered that evening. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when one tries to sum up the pain caused by San Francisco’s deadly combination of unsafe streets and twisted priorities, where street parking is given weight over human life and limb.

Riders started to assemble in the Sports Basement on Bryant around 5:30 Thursday night. Despite the nature of the meeting, spirits were generally high. People were there to enjoy the company of other survivors, it seemed, as much as remember the dead. Devon Warner, the event organizer, stressed that everyone “gets used to close calls” riding a bike in San Francisco. Every rider knows it’s just a matter of luck who gets killed and who survives.

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