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Weekend Roundup: Crowded Sidewalks, Shared Streets, and Shiny Trains

San Francisco apparently is missing the point of sharing streets. Photo: Walk San Francisco.

Streetsblog San Francisco will be taking a much-needed vacation next week, returning after the 4th of July holiday. Headlines, syndication and some 'light publishing' will be done by other California editors. Before signing off we wanted to leave you with a couple of shorties to start out your summer.

Walk San Francisco calls out city's "shared space" retail program.


Cities throughout the world are allowing coffee shops, restaurants and other retail establishments to set up tables in parking and traffic lanes, to enable customers to safely distance. However, the advocates at Walk San Francisco are calling out San Francisco's "shared space" program for kinda missing the point.

From a joint open letter written by Walk SF's and disability advocacy groups:

When Mayor London Breed announced the new Shared Spaces Program to allow the use of public space to support local business activities such as outdoor restaurant seating, we thought this was a great idea to boost economic recovery… with one exception.

Sidewalks with insufficient space should not be used. It’s already hard enough to navigate sidewalks safely with social distancing, and we need to be sure there’s clear passage for people using wheelchairs. Instead the City should prioritize restaurants that use street space, like parking spots.

Furthermore, the city application page specifically prohibits establishments form using traffic lanes. The advocates want that to change: "We ask that the Shared Spaces program prioritize businesses proposing to use street space -- parking spaces and travel lanes [emphasis added] over those requesting to use sidewalk space."

In other words, if the idea is to promote social distancing, squishing everyone together on the sidewalk, as in the lead photo, isn't a solution.

Meanwhile, Oakland latest to open street space to retail.

La Frontera Mexican Restaurant on International Boulevard with new, outdoor seating. Photo: city of Oakland
La Frontera Mexican Restaurant on International Boulevard with new, outdoor seating. Unlike San Francisco, Oakland will allow this kind of scene on vehicular lanes eventually. Photo: city of Oakland
La Frontera Mexican Restaurant on International Boulevard with new, outdoor seating. Photo: city of Oakland

As the Bay Area attempts to re-open the economy (despite increasing COVID cases) the need for more space for social distancing has never been greater. It's tough to keep track of them all, but Oakland, an early adopter of using streets for something other than cars during the pandemic, formally added "Flex Streets" to the mix on Thursday, to facilitate outdoor dining and other activities on the public right of way.

From a City of Oakland release:

In support of outdoor dining and retail, the City of Oakland launched the Flex Streets Initiative to streamline the permitting process for sidewalk, parking lane, and roadway encroachments. The goal is to spur equitable economic recovery by making it easier for retailers, restaurants and other allowed businesses to use larger portions of the sidewalk, parking lanes and streets.

The program launch announcement was made yesterday afternoon at the La Frontera Mexican Restaurant, 4481 International Boulevard (at the corner of 45th Avenue), pictured above and among the first businesses to apply for Flex Streets.

To apply for a permit, hit Oakland's "Flex Streets" application page. Unlike San Francisco, traffic lanes are on the table (or maybe it's more accurate to say tables will be on the traffic lanes). For that there will be a few additional hoops to jump through for obvious safety reasons; the city's Flex Streets page says that "...engineers are developing a roster of potential street closures that represent what our engineers feel may be suitable to maintain transit access, traffic flow and emergency response."

Oakland, also has its "essential places" program which sets aside more room and makes safer road crossings for people to socially distance as they wait to get into grocery stores, etc. And they continue to add to their "slow streets," program. The latest one, as seen in the above tweet from Bike East Bay's Dave Campbell, is from Oakland's Chinatown. That brings the total count to 20 miles of these types of soft closures around the city.

And new trains coming off the Caltrain assembly line are all wet

A new Caltrain set undergoing testing at the production facility in Utah. Photo: Calmod
Not a rendering. Not a picture from Europe. That's a real electric Caltrain set undergoing testing at the production facility in Utah. Photo: Calmod
A new Caltrain set undergoing testing at the production facility in Utah. This train can share tracks with Amtrak, ACE, and HSR. Photo: Calmod

As the Bay Area economy continues to open up, Caltrain riders who have endured years of clanging around on the Peninsula railroad's museum-piece gallery cars will soon be in for a treat--the first "Electric Multiple Unit" (EMU) sets are starting to roll off the production line. The latest: the trains are being put into a tent where they are soaked with water.

From a Caltrain release:

At the Salt Lake City facility, production was moved to a split shift arrangement during spring to facilitate social distancing. To conduct the water tightness test, Stadler crews built a special tent with an array of piping and high pressure nozzles for spraying vast amounts of recycled water onto each vehicle to assure it's watertight.

The idea, of course, is to make sure the roof and windows don't let rain water leak onto passengers once they start zooming between San Jose and San Francisco. Check out Caltrain's CalMod page for more.

Meanwhile, earlier in June Caltrain began ramping up service in response to the easing of COVID stay-at-home restrictions: "On June 15, we increased service to 70 trains per weekday and introduced a new skip-stop "Limited" service to reduce travel times and increase passenger flow for high-traffic stations to avoid crowding," wrote the railroad in the announcement.

Again, Streetsblog will be on vacation next week, so there will be "light publishing" and headlines, and a few original posts. We'll be back in full swing with all things Streetsie Tuesday, July 7, Don't forget to remain vigilant and safe this 4th of July! 

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