$388 Million Streetscape Measure Could Deliver Complete Streets — or Not

San Francisco complete streets advocates have an opportunity tomorrow to ensure that the city prioritizes bike route repairs and sidewalk enhancements if voters pass a proposed street safety and streetscape improvement bond measure this November.

bike.route.pothole.jpgA safety hazard on bike route 40. Photo by Michael Rhodes.

The Department of Public Works is proposing a $388 million bond measure to fund street resurfacing and streetscape improvement projects for the next five years. The proposal currently includes $209 million for street repair and rehabilitation, $113 million for streetscape improvements such as corner bulb-outs, sidewalk widening, and pedestrian lighting along commercial corridors and other high-use areas, $24.9 for street structures repair and improvement, $30.6 million for ADA curb ramp repair and construction, and $10.1 for sidewalk repair.

The Budget and Finance Subcommittee of the Board of Supervisors will be discussing a resolution in support of the measure, sponsored by the Mayor and Supervisors Chiu, Dufty, Mar, Alioto-Pier and Campos, at its 10 a.m. meeting tomorrow.

In its current form, DPW’s bond proposal calls for the “presence of transit vehicles and bicycle traffic” to give a street “higher priority for maintenance.” The San Francisco Bike Coalition would like a more detailed, explicit commitment to repairing the bike network, and it is urging the Board to include language that would allocate 30 percent of the resurfacing funds for streets with existing bicycle facilities such as bike lanes or sharrows on them.

Neal Patel, SFBC’s community planner, said he views this as an opportunity to solidify DPW’s commitment to prioritizing the bike route network, and he was optimistic about increasing the proposal’s funding “from around 20 to 22 percent” for bike route repair to 30 percent.

Pedestrian advocates also found much to like about the proposal. “This is a historic opportunity to get a lot of funding for pedestrian improvements,” said Manish Champsee, president of Walk San Francisco.

Some complete streets advocates viewed the measure with greater concern, however. “Borrowing money when you’re in a structural imbalance can be a financial road to hell,” said Livable City’s Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “You’re not only deeper and deeper in terms of your infrastructure deficit pileup, you’re paying interest costs on the money you borrowed, so there’s actually less money available.”

“The logical way to pay for street improvements is the pay-as-you-go system, so the income you’re bringing in every year matches your expenditures over the long term,” said Radulovich. “It looks like a solution, but in reality is actually is digging us further into the hole.”

In addition to his concerns about finding sustainable sources of income for complete streets, Radulovich said that in the absence of finalized complete streets standards, the measure could lead to auto-oriented projects. “We have these horrible street standards in San Francisco – skinny sidewalks, wide roadways, no pedestrian amenities – our concern is that … they won’t be rebuilding incomplete streets as complete streets, but they’ll be rebuilding these auto-oriented, skinny sidewalk, dangerous streets as the same thing.”

Radulovich cited the repaving of Divisadero Street as a cautionary tale of. “Divisidero would be a great candidate for a road diet: take out that median, do one lane in each direction, then you could have wide sidewalks, you could have bike lanes, you could have all kinds of amenities,” said Radulovich. The median greening and repaving, he said, “mean quite likely when they put them in it actually took us further away from implementing a complete Divisidero solution.”

Still, SFBC and Walk SF view the bond as likely to go forward regardless, and thus as an opportunity to set a complete streets standard in practice that can be replicated in future projects.

Also at issue is a revision to the original proposal that adds $20 million in streetscape improvement funding to be used specifically for utility “undergrounding,” the process whereby pole-mounted, overhead wires are placed under the street to improve aesthetics and reliability. DPW would like to establish a policy in the bond that “any major streetscape improvement project will include undergrounding (where overhead wires exist),” according to its revised draft proposal. While utility undergrounding is popular with property owners for aesthetic reasons, the SFBC is urging the Board not to include this provision, since it could slow down safety-enhancing projects and increase their costs.

The proposed bond measure has strong support from the Board of Supervisors. So, regardless of their views on what Radulovich calls the “boom and bust cycle” of funding that bonds can create, advocates will want to make sure it doesn’t turn into a one-time infusion of money towards rebuilding roads to antiquated, auto-oriented standards.

Budget and Finance Subcommittee discussion of Safe Streets and Road Repair General Obligation Bonds, Wednesday June 17, 11 a.m., City Hall Room 250.

  • Isn’t PG&E obligated to underground a certain amount of its utilities over time at its own expense? Hopefully someone with time to check can look into why that’s not happening.

  • marcos

    Bonds are the most fiscally irresponsible way to approach maintaining the streetscape which is the most predictable and well known capital system.

    Debt and the over reliance on it is what got us into this financial mess that is destroying the real economy, and we should resist the temptation to “charge it” and transition to pay as you go model.

    To float debt to pay for streetscape is a fool’s errand, only palatable to politicians with a shelf life shorter than that of the bond repayment period.

    If bonds are floated for 20 years, and streetscape repairs last for 10 years maximum (if done well which is a whole other story) then we will find ourselves in the last half of the bond repayment period with crumbling streets and heavy debt as the bank for the buck had long since been depreciated, remembering how nice our streets were for those ten years ten years ago.

    Indeed, if new, more complicated capital systems replace existing generic streets, then they will add even more burden on maintenance, an ongoing burden which we obviously cannot meet without going deeper into hock. As government grows, so does the clamor for more development to pay for it all (which it won’t) and with it goes the unique character of San Francisco.

    Instead of focusing on the goodies to be reaped from this bond, as temporary as they might be, we should focus on an economic sustainability plan for our capital systems, especially the predictable well known ones like streets where systems failure means degrading Muni service and dangerous conditions for cyclists.


  • The SF good roads legislation is based upon legislation from Oregon that actually had standards and was enforced by Oregon advocates to the State Supreme court. This information was given to Livable City. Radulovich moved legislation through without speaking to other advocates that had no standards. Now there are no standards. Surprise.

    In Oregon, it was based upon road size, a road that carried a certain amount of traffic was required to include basic ped/bike facilities upon re-surfacing It would have been good to have similar requirements in SF. Also the Bike Plan, until it was privatized by the SFBC was going to develop safety standards for all streets and an inspection system to find dangerous conditions. Numerous public comments called for such work but by then it had been removed from the planning process and was “outside the scope of work” aka ignored.

    The organized advocates of the City, all of which belong essentially to the same group, often wonder a loud about things they have done to themselves, such as the Bike Plan lawsuit, etc. I would suggest having another rally, releasing another press release and passing more symbolic, unenforceable legislation as it seems to have been very productive in the past.

    If you do manage to get yourselves together to try and do something standardized an actual ordinance would be best. Such an ordinance could be based upon the assertion that as encouraged foreseeable roadways user bicyclists/pedestrians have a right to move in reasonable safety. You could even justify such an ordinance with the various legal authority that supports it. But you can’t do that if you have been busy working to keep such information out of the public dialogue.

    Linking the ordinance to road re-surfacing and to the intersections with the most ped/bike crashes would also seem to make sense. However there is no way to effectively present such ideas as the public place to do so was taken away and turned into a disaster (the bike plan) and your organizations have no interest in systematically addressing the issues they face.

    So hopefully you will get the 30% and next time the issue comes up you can fight the same battle all over again. Keep up the good work. Soon you may even get portions of your 1997 Bike Network.

    The other projects, the ones that conflict with auto capacity maybe you will even get those ? As you know the TA has been hard working for many years in the also specifically private all consultant/agency/funded advocate purgatory that you started when you took CEQA issues out of the Bike Plan.

    They even have apparently come up with a viable replacement to LOS. But will it go anywhere even though specifically authorized by the Supervisors, hmm hopefully….

    But maybe not because the City is busy ignoring the will of the Supervisors and ignoring want the people want. And they are able to continue to do this because your organizations work against people actually speaking. The all administrative/agency speech of your organizations parallels the all agency speech of street design. That’s why these overarching problems continue…because you are the problem. Your lack of legislative thought and tendency towards privatizing speech makes these problems unecessarily continue.

    But soon 45 projects initially planned in 1997 may actually be finally realized and a bunch of roads that need bike lanes and aren’t on the network will be re-surfaced in their all their 1950’s killer glory. And another bike to work day will come…


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