Friday, May 29, 2009

Keep Hope alive

I take sick pleasure in reading posts like this. They keep alive a dream that will almost certainly be dashed by the intellectual giants at the SFCTA.

One point that The Overhead Wire touched on that I think is important is that a proper setup for this corridor involves grade separated rapid transit (subway) in addition to an improved surface line.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The SF Chamber of Commerce's New Clothes

Rachel Gordon reported last week that the SF County Transportation Authority has decided not to pursue a car-free Market Street, favoring instead a plan to "discourage" driving by "managing traffic." That management amounts to restricting some turns at a couple of intersections.

(The SFCTA is the same institution of brilliance that's pushing a 'shovel ready' Doyle Drive replacement and maybe Geary BRT in, well, not your lifetime)

According to Gordon's piece, the meek plan is in response to concerns that "businesses don't suffer" (Quote from Ken Cleveland, director of government affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco. Apparently he's qualified to discuss this because Market Street is a building).

This pro-car = pro-business attitude is nothing new, so why bring it up? because it was apparently enough to sway the Transportation Authority's decision makers despite the TA's own study, which proved that cars traveling down Market are not major contributors to economic activity.

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Intersection Sucks

Despite the streets being wider than those of Paris, I am required to walk on narrow strips of concrete, where any slip or missed step would cause me to tumble into a road where a passing car would undoubtedly decapitate me. ... Any contact with another pedestrian involves invading their personal space and requires that someone yield to the other. This means you cannot walk side-by-side with another person, taking away all the pleasure of walking. -Mathieu Helie
When I read that quote in the blog Emergent Urbanism I immediately related to my experiences walking around San Francisco. While some neighborhoods in this city have held onto luxuriously wide sidewalks, they are almost all dissected by arterial roads. That is, streets that were re-engineered after the rise of auto-centrism to serve as expressways for large volumes of car traffic. Since these streets tend to be not much wider than average, the extra road space devoted to cars usually comes at the expense of pedestrians.

The intersection of Potrero Avenue and 16th Street is one of the worst. This is a major transfer point for several Muni lines (37,572 people ride the 9, 22, 33, and 53 lines every day). As people dash between buses, McDonalds and the Potrero shopping center, they jostle for limited space with each other and with speeding traffic.

The layout of the intersection hampers pedestrian flow and lowers the quality of this space. This broad square enjoys lots of sunshine and great views of downtown and Twin Peaks. This is a historic spot, where Joe DiMaggio played with the San Francisco Seals. But it's a miserable place, to be avoided even by those who pass through out of necessity; and it doesn't have to be that way.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Richmond District Town Hall Meeting

District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar is hosting a town hall meeting to discuss pedestrian and street improvements in the Richmond District. I've added it to the Important Dates in the sidebar. For more information visit the Facebook event page

Deets after the jump for those poor Facebookless souls

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Next Sunday Streets

This year's third Sunday Streets route has been announced! On June 7th 2.3 miles of streets in the Mission District will be closed outright and another 2/3 of a mile will be open only to local access.

The route will connect Dolores and Garfield Square Parks with Rolph Playground. Activities along the route haven't been announced yet, but there should be little doubt that this route will be interesting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We All Need a Laugh These Days

The Infrastructurist has a funny series of posts showing cleverly defaced road signs. Check it out:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Preview of the Next Pedestrian Plaza

Burrito Justice has some great links to the plans for the next Pavement to Parks project. The new plaza at San Jose Avenue and Guerrero Street has a couple different options planned, according to the San Jose/Guerrero Neighborhood website.

I'm instinctively hesitant of option #1's plan to "Narrow west-side sidewalk to allow a 14-foot median." Narrow sidewalks are inherently bad for pedestrians and wide medians make cars drive faster, which is also bad for pedestrians. The site does, however, include a good discussion on the differences between the two options.

But both plans include a large amount of reclaimed space where San Jo meets Guerrero at an oblique angle.

Quote of the Day

In a post about the predictably pro-car news coverage of a fatal crash, Streetsblog NY quotes Fighting Traffic, a book by Peter D. Norton, who is in turn quoting 'A St. Louisan:'
‘We hear the shameful complaint of jay walkers, to console jay drivers,’ he wrote. ‘It is the self-conceited individual who thinks people are cattle and run upon them tooting a horn.’ ‘Make every machine stop and wait,’ he demanded, ‘until the road is clear, and give precedent to people who are walking. The streets belong to the people and not to any one class, and we have an equal right, in fact more right than the automobile.’
Sadly, 'jay driver' never caught on as an insult (or much of an infraction).

SFMTA's 'Planned Emergency'

There's an interesting piece on Beyond Chron today. Marc Norton reports on some SFMTA memos from 2005 in which then-chief Michael Burns (currently at Santa Clara VTA) describes potential plans for a $2.00 fare by 2010. That would seem to run counter to present SFMTA chief Nat Ford's claims that the currently proposed fare increase is the necessary result of the fiscal emergency in which the agency has declared that it finds itself.

In related news, Paul Hogarth's Facebook status reads:
Supes vote 7-4 to schedule a special meeting on the 27th to consider rejecting MTA Budget ... Sophie [Maxwell] voted with us; keep it up!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Castro Plaza Facebook Group!

Someone has created a Facebook group devoted to the new pedestrian plaza on 17th Street at Castro and Market. Be sure to check it out and add your own commentary and photos. From what I can tell from the photo gallery, the warm weather made the plaza a pretty popular neighborhood amenity in its first weekend:

According to a Wall post from Lynn Valente, there will be three free concerts in the plaza. The first will be July 4 at 1:30 pm. I've added it to the list of Important Dates in the sidebar.

For more information visit

Friday, May 15, 2009

BART Moves OAC Forward, Apparently at Staff's Request

Rachel Gordon reports that the BART Board of Directors has approved the funding plan for the Oakland Airport Connector. The OAC has come under fire from transit riders and community groups because its price tag ($552 million) might better be spent avoiding cuts to service. Gordon reports:
The decision came after a five-hour public hearing at BART headquarters in which more than 70 people - split almost evenly for and against the project - testified. -Rachel Gordon (via SF Chronicle)
But how many of those who testified for it were BART staff?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pedestrian Plazas: Next in Line:

With the successful construction and opening of the Castro pedestrian plaza under their belts, DPW and the "Pavement to Parks" program is already looking ahead to its next projects. Meet the next three plaza locations after the jump

Where's Gavin?

The N-Judah Chronicles has a letter from an anonymous group of Muni riders announcing my kind of contest.

The first person to take a picture of our Spokesmayor actually, you know, riding Muni wins a free Fast Pass. Everyone else who snaps a real photo gets a free round of drinks!

Visit for details, announcement letter after the jump.

Ode to Pedestrians

Streetsblog SF has an Ode to Pedestrians with some nice photos of walk signals. Add to that this one I took yesterday of the 'Stop' hand at Market and Castro, which you can now ignore.

BOS Hail Mary to Save Muni by Rejecting its Budget

As promised, here's more from Paul Hogarth about another attempt by the Board of Supervisors to reject Muni's badly flawed budget.
David Chiu may have cut a deal with the Mayor’s Office on the MTA budget, but the Full Board never actually voted to accept it. All they did at the May 12th meeting – by a 6-5 vote – was to “table” Chiu’s motion to reject the MTA budget, but the City Charter still gives them until May 31st to act. -Paul Hogarth (via Beyond Chron)
Yesterday the Budget Committee (John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, Carmen Chu, David Campos, Bevan Dufty - B Duft and C Chu dissenting) voted to send the Muni budget to the full Board with a recommendation to reject it. Bryan Goebel of Streetsblog reports that the Board will take the matter up at its next meeting on Tuesday.

Similar results can be expected from repeating this process unless David Chiu and Sophie Maxwell see the error of their ways. One wonders how feasible it would be to plaster Muni buses and shelters with posters saying "Fares will go up to $2 unless you call David Chiu (554-7450) and Sophie Maxwell (554-7670)"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Look at Castro Plaza

I made an extra trip out of my way just to see the newly opened pedestrian plaza at Castro and Market Streets. The first impression when popping out of the Muni station is how much more intimate the corner seems to be now.

What was an expanse of asphalt a week ago is a manageable and inviting corner today. (I'm speaking of the shape and perception of safe pedestrian space. The spiky plants in narrow planters placed so closely together are visually jarring - an effect that should be avoided in future 'experiments')

Asked And Answered

New York Times blog wonders if it's possible to go car-free, and what that really means. They ask seven Experts what they think and get a familiar spate of tepid answers.
  • "A more realistic goal for most Americans would be a semi-carless community"
  • "Walkable urban development is not for everyone..."
  • "I love the idea of carless towns or cities. Most of the successful ones I’ve heard about though, are vacation communities."
  • "The goal should not be car-free, but car-appropriate."
And those are the supporters!

I don't necessarily disagree, but I hardly think that's where the heart of the argument lies. Nobody anywhere (even me) is suggesting a ban on cars. But a community can fairly be considered to be car-free if trips by car represent a single-digit minority of overall trips. I live car-free. It's possible.

There was one expert who was unwavering and unapologetic in his advocacy for the car-free, and this quote mentions all the right things about how car-free life works:

Fare Hike Fight Not Over?

Beyond Chron Managing Editor Paul Hogarth's Facebook Status update has some mysteriously good news:
WOO-HOO!! Budget Committee voted 3-2 to send Muni budget back to the full Board, with a recommendation to REJECT!!
Does this mean the fight's not over yet? The BOS Budget Committee consists of
John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, Carmen Chu, David Campos, Bevan Dufty.

Details as they become available.

Today's Bike Count

Today on my roughly two-mile walk to work through SoMa I counted:

3 bikes riding legally in the street (You go!)

4 bikes riding illegally on the sidewalk (Y'all know how I feel about that)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Board of Supervisors Accepts Muni Fare Hikes

After negotiating with the Mayor's office, Supervisor David Chiu abandoned his objection to the SFMTA budget in exchange for a $10 million reduction in costs to riders, according to Stephen T. Jones. (Update: more detail from Paul Hogarth at Beyond Chron)

By a vote of 6-5 the Board voted to accept the SFMTA budget, which includes a 50¢ fare increase and a $10 increase in the cost of a Fast Pass. Chiu changed his position after SFMTA chief Nat Ford agreed to shift some of the budget pain by:
  • Paying $2.8 million less in work orders to other departments (which have their own budgets)
  • Avoiding $8.6 million in previously proposed cuts
  • $6.5 million in salary reductions
  • $1 million in new revenue from increased parking meter enforcement (after a 90 day study, naturally)
  • Delaying Fast Pass increases for youth, disabled and seniors by six months
Chiu also supposedly got some promises that Ford and the MTA would "immediately complete MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) negotiations with the SFPD to finally explain why the MTA is giving them millions of dollars every year."

Monday, May 11, 2009


That's how much more it costs to drive a car in San Francisco than it costs to take the old BMW (BART, Muni and Walking) according to the American Public Transportation Association.

That's well above the $8,600.00 national average. Sf residents stand to gain the third most by giving up the car, after Boston ($12,632.00) and New York ($12,589.00)

From the press release:
APTA calculates the average cost of taking public transit by determining the average monthly transit pass of local public transit agencies across the country ... APTA then compares the average monthly transit fare to the average cost of driving. The cost of driving is calculated using the 2009 AAA average cost of driving formula ... The savings assume a household gives up one car.

Castro Pedestrian Plaza is Go!

Just caught this photo on Streetsblog SF's Flickr pool.

More than just planters and chairs, the temporary pedestrian plaza at 17th and Market Streets will be (or is now, I should say) defined by yellow paint. Color and texture differences on the asphalt in similar trial plazas in New York - on which this space is modeled - have proven surprisingly successful in delineating the plazas as safe pedestrian space.

Streetsblog reports that the plaza will officially open on Wednesday morning with a press conference with our Spokesmayor. It's on our Important Dates in the sidebar in case you want to attend.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Streets Recap

I spent Mothers Day with my own mother on Third Street in this year's Bayview Sunday Streets. There may have been fewer people at this event than last month's Embarcadero closure, but not by much. The route was longer and the weather was perfect.

The businesses along Third Street set a very different tone for this month's event than the last. Many merchants offered special promotions or publicity programs, adding a level of engagement that was not so present on the Northern waterfront.

It was also a great excuse to see the construction progress in Mission Bay. The streets still haven't reached a level of connectivity that makes it easy to explore, and the oversize scale of the buildings makes it somewhat overwhelming. But mandates for public art in and around the straight-outta-Santa Clara commercial buildings provide some fun discoveries.

The segment along Dogpatch is layered in history. The old shipyard awaits restoration and redevelopment across from brand new apartments, which are already occupied.

I still don't understand why the route turned off of Third Street ad Islais Creek. The two events last year used this same route, and there were clear problems with the abandoned tracks along Illinois Street. Third is not especially heavily traveled between Islais and Mission creeks, and Illinois is a very wide road. Cars could easily be diverted onto Illinois if the capacity of Third was a concern.

There will be four more Sunday Streets events this year - one per month until September.

Chance to Preserve Rare Character in Mission Bay

Did you go to Sunday Streets today? If so you may have seen the small group of folks organizing to preserve the Bluepeter Building at Mariposa and Illinois Streets.

This relic of WWII-era shipbuilding on what was then the shore of the San Francisco still stands out, even as massive suburban-style office parks have popped up around it. Given the large scale and bland look of the entire Mission Bay area, the Bluepeter building is a rare piece of character. One that would improve the feel of Mission Bay if it wasn't slated to be torn down.

A group of neighbors has begun the process of lobbying the city to change its plans, however. They would like to see the building preserved and used to enliven the park that will be built on this block. They are encouraging folks who want to help save the Bluepeter Building to contact Supervisor Sophie Maxwell's office and make their concerns known. If you would like to help organize, you can send an email to pier70sf at hotmail dot com.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Newsflash: BART Riders Live in the Bay Area's Urban Core

BART has released its one-a-decade census of rider activity. Transit geeks rejoice. BART is even encouraging the statistically-inclined among us to show them things they haven't discovered buried in the data.

Two points from the official intergovernmental web page on the report:
  • More walkers and bicyclists. Compared to 1998, more customers are walking or bicycling from home to BART. (The percentage coming to BART by car stayed the same, and the percentage using other transit to connect to BART went down.)
  • Access modes vary considerably by station. The percentage of passengers driving alone from home is highest at North Concord/Martinez (72%) and lowest at Powell (1%). Walking from home is highest at 16th St. Mission (81%) and lowest at Orinda (3%).

Friday, May 8, 2009

These Are Newsom's Cuts

I brought up this quote from our mayor before because I was appalled that he could really be so short on ideas for balancing Muni's budget:
I hate the idea of raising fares. I don't want to cut Muni service. But I ask (critics), 'What ideas do you have that do not eviscerate public safety and health and human services?' -Gavin Newsom (via SF Chronicle)
But the more I think if it the more shocked I am that he's so brazenly trying to make this connection.

His threat is probably effective, nobody wants to cut health or public safety programs. But it raises the question: why should Muni's budget and potential fare increases/service cuts affect health or public safety?

They shouldn't!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

San Francisco's Exurban Values

I stumbled across this article on two contrastingly walkable exurbs of Washington DC. It's a well written explanation of what makes a place pedestrian-friendly or, more often, doesn't.

In his critique of the archetypically suburban-minded Leesburg, Virginia Bed Adler says:
The problem of pedestrians attempting to cross these roads in Leesburg is so severe that the town government has taken up the issue. The main strip-mall shopping area -- home to a Wal-Mart and outlet stores -- sits on a six-lane highway bypass with vast distances between pedestrian crossings. People who live directly across the road have been known to run across the street rather than hike to the nearest crosswalk. The town decided to curb this threat to public safety not by making it safer to cross but by putting up a roadside fence. So now people jump over the fence to get to the Wal-Mart across the street. -Ben Adler
Sound familiar?

BART Officially Kicks Off New Car Project

BART has officially launched a project to replace its current fleet of almost 40-year-old cars with 700 new ones. The project won't wrap up for over a decade (!) so details are in short supply, but a couple of things are already clear:
  • The cars will include electronic destination signs and automated voice messages.
  • The cars will include a third door
  • Floor and seat materials will be durable and easy to clean. Read: no carpet or cloth seats
  • The next generation cars will look different than the ones we've become used to

Proposed Project Timeline

  • 2009 - Initial Public Outreach
  • 2010 - Rail Car Manufacturer Bid and Selection
  • 2011 - Rail Car Design and Public Design Input
  • 2012 - Full Scale Rail Car Mock-ups Available
  • 2014 - First 10 Rail Cars Arrive for Pilot Testing
And the best part: they have concept drawings!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

His Kingdom for Some Ideas

According to Rachel Gordon, Gavin Newsom really just doesn't have any ideas to balance the SFMTA budget without raising fares and cutting service:
I hate the idea of raising fares. I don't want to cut Muni service. But I ask (critics), 'What ideas do you have that do not eviscerate public safety and health and human services?' -Gavin Newsom (via SF Chronicle)
Well, lay them on him. Let the mayor know what he and the SFMTA board should do to solve Muni's financial problems for good and without simply passing them on to riders.

I'll start with two really obvious ones:

Reign in the work orders that other departments are using to pass their cuts onto the MTA (saves around $60,000,000)

Implement congestion pricing in accordance with the study done wearlier this year (brings in $30,000,000 to $60,000,000 per year)

Budget hole closed. Muni service improved. Public Safety increased. HHS negligibly affected. That wasn't very hard.

F-line Plaza Coming Soon

SFist reports that mid-May is when we can expect the new, temporary pedestrian plaza in the Castro to be open and ready to use. Presumably the short time frame for construction is the result of the JSK-style trial nature of the plaza. All it will take is some planters and granite blocks to close this section of 17th street at Castro/Market to cars, creating the plaza.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bicycles South of Market

Today, on my two-mile walk to work through SoMa I saw five people riding bicycles. That's great; according to the SF Bicycle Coalition the number of cyclists in SF has swelled in the last few years.

The problem: all five of those bicyclists were riding illegally on the sidewalk. I saw zero people riding their bicycles legally on the street.

Bicyclists and pedestrians ought to be natural allies in the move toward complete streets. I find it so disappointing that these bicyclists chose to risk injuring or alienating the pedestrians on those narrow SoMa sidewalks.

Monday, May 4, 2009

SFCTA Prefers Wrong Option for Geary

What a week for any agency called SF_TA!

The Examiner reports that the SFCTA (San Francisco County Transportation Authority, not to be confused with the MTA) has surprised nobody and chosen center-lane BRT as the preferred option for the Geary corridor. I'm inclined to agree with what The Overhead Wire says about this conclusion: that it's based on unrealistically high estimates of the cost of rail, and unrealistically high estimates of the ridership of BRT.

It evokes a point frustrated transit advocates repeat like a mantra - Why is building a road with extra room considered to be planning for the future, whereas building a transit route with extra capacity is considered a waste of money?

Transit is just as susceptible to the if-you-build-it-they-will-come of induced demand as roads are. If you build a robust, rapid rail line underneath Geary, you will get more riders than you think (as Phoenix did) and your investment will pay off as population and retail activity along the corridor increases.

Fingers Crossed, BOS Just Might Reject MTA Budget

Sources in-the-know say it looks likely that the SF Board of Supervisors will find enough votes to reject the SFMTA's budget, which is badly flawed. This as Beyond Chron reiterates its opposition to the current budget and new-and-already-awesome blog adds its voice to team 'No.'

They should do just that and I'd like to encourage you to contact your supe of you haven't yet done so.

There are so many good reasons to reject this budget that have been put forth by so many sharp minds in the transit advocacy and progressive community:
  • Raising fares and cutting service hurts ridership
  • This budget balances the deficit on the backs of Muni's poorest users
  • In creating this budget, the SFMTA board has shown an inclination to avoid making drivers pay their fair share of road costs
  • This budget represents a sharp departure from the goals and promises of the much-touted TEP

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Urge Your Supervisor to Reject the Flawed SFMTA Budget

The SFMTA's proposed budget includes $23,100,000 in increased financial costs to riders in addition to service cuts. The consensus among the riding public is that this budget must be rejected.

The SF Bay Guardian points out that raising fares and cutting service could actually increase the deficit next year.

Beyond Chron notes that the service cuts and fare increases are disproportionally skewed to hurt the lowest income riders.

Streetsblog SF is appalled that the SFMTA board rejected a $9,000,000 increase in revenue because it would have meant more parking enforcement, calling it a missed opportunity to avoid cuts in service.

Friday, May 1, 2009

BOS Should Reject the Badly Flawed SFMTA Budget

Rachel Gordon reports that the SFMTA board has approved a budget that balances a $129,000,000 deficit (~$80,000,000 of which it absorbed from other departments for no good reason) almost entirely on the backs of Muni riders.
  • Adult fares will go up 50¢ to $2.00
  • Senior/disabled/youth fares will go up 25¢ to 75¢
  • Adult Fast Passes will go up to $55.00 in July (already scheduled) before reaching $60.00 in January
  • Senior/disabled/youth Fast Passes will go up by the same amount, to $15.00 in July and $20.00 in January
  • The following lines will be canceled:
    • The 4-Sutter
    • 7-Haight
    • 16-Noriega morning express
    • 20-Columbus
    • 26-Valencia
    • 53-Southern Heights
    • 74X-Culture bus
    • 89-Laguna Honda
  • And to quote Ms. Gordon, "Dozens of other lines will have their routes modified or hours cut back."
Private motorists' share of the pain:
  • Meter rates will go up 50¢ an hour and operate on all holidays except New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Sound fair? Not to me.