Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free Transit in Sydney?

Could be on the horizon in Australia's largest city. It seems to be part of a bid to win elections (note to SF, CA, and US pols), and it seems to be an attempt to appeal to suburban voters who are sick of paying more for the system. But what really stood out was this gem:
Every major Australian city already has a free CBD tram or bus service.
If I could pass another note on to our civic leaders: everybody's doing it!

Tampa Gets It

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority has a plan to build a network of hundred of miles of light rail and commuter rail lines.

This is Tampa, Florida.

If they get it, shouldn't we be ashamed that we don't?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

BART to Accept Translink Sometime This Month

SFist and the SF Chronicle Comical report that early testing of Translink on BART has been a success, with no major glitches. Starting May 8th riders can sign up to test the smart card on the BART system. Barring any problems in that phase, full implementation could come within a month of that date.

This great news; Translink is something everyone should have in their wallets, and everyone is predicting that BART will be Translink's killer app.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday Streets, April 2009

After walking over seven highly enjoyable miles along a street crowded with pedestrians, joggers, bi-, tri- and multi-cyclists (where my unicyclists at?), skateboarders and scooter-ers, parents and children, I'd be shocked if anyone tried to describe Sunday Streets as anything but a huge success.

Running this year's first installment of SF's version of the ciclovia down the Embarcadero from the ballpark to Fisherman's Wharf was a smart move. I heard many people, particularly along the more crowded stretch North of the Ferry Building, remark with pleasant surprise on the event, which they clearly hadn't yet heard of. These folks are in luck - there are five more Sunday Streets events left, one per month until September.

Before leaving my house I was worried that the chilly air would dampen turnout for the event. When I arrived at 3rd and King there was a fairly small crowd entering the closed Northbound lanes from this endpoint. But as I walked along the sun-soaked boulevard toward the Ferry building the crowd grew denser.

It was a bit of a trip to walk lazily in the center of San Francisco's breathtaking waterfront boulevard. One certainly doesn't get many chances to pass under those Canary Island Date Palms, right up against the demonstration runs of the proposed E-Embarcadero line.

By the time I passed under the Bay Bridge (an amazing public space in its own outsized way) the street was full of everything-but-cars. And once I passed the Ferry Building the crowd was noticeably thick with BART riders, tourists and farmers market-goers.

It was remarkable how many kids were out with their parents. Most of these kids were on big wheels, trikes, and tiny bikes with training wheels. These kids were using this new civic resource to learn how to ride their bikes, a rite of passage that cul-de-sac dwellers take for granted.

Once I got to the wharf the crowd of San Franciscans speaking at least three different languages was impressive. I'll let the wharf businesses' receipts speak for themselves, but if I was a business owner I would be thrilled to have such a parade of recreators at my doorstep.

There was the Dolores Park boombox-bike guy (who I learned today through Streetsblog SF is SF Bicycle Coalition Board Member Amandeep Jawa). As he progressed through the route this betricycled pied piper attracted quite a crowd of cyclists behnd him.

There was also the FunCycle, a ring of pedalers who also had a speaker setup complete with disco ball. When I passed them at the Ferry Building on my return trip, they were stopped, singing karaoke-style along with the song that was playing - they tweaked the words to match a Sunday Streets theme (see photo in the slideshow above).

The only downside to the morning came after leaving the closed-off route. As I walked through South Beach/SoMa I encountered three bicyclists on the sidewalk (one per block). I happen to work in the area and I can attest that this is a fairly common occurrence along SoMa's narrow sidewalks. As a pedestrian I recognize the natural alliance between bicyclists and pedestrians, but it's unfortunate that so many (any is too many, IMHO) cyclists choose to alienate the most vulnerable road users by speeding through the only protected pedestrian space.

It was a regrettable ending to an incredibly encouraging day.

The next Sunday Streets event will be through the Bayview neighborhood. The route has yet to be announced, but it will likely follow a similar path to last year's alignment.

With "Friends" Like These...

A group called the "Friends of Mason Street" has formed to protest the potential closure of a tiny block of Mason Street at Columbus Avenue in North Beach

View Larger Map

The section of street above would be converted to open space and the library moved into an expanded facility at the corner, where the weird little triangle island currently sits. In their poorly-formatted web page, the 'Friends' paint a bleak picture:
Imagine over 5,000 additional vehicles pushed onto surrounding streets daily, battling for space with other cars, MUNI buses & cable cars, school buses, neighborhood delivery vehicles, patrons of neighborhood businesses,neighbors and their guests, tourist buses, taxis, bicycles, and pedestrians of every type - from school kids to senior citizens. -Friends of Mason Street
Clearly these 150 feet of asphalt are key to preventing the pedestrian paradise that is North Beach from being overrun by thousands of cars. Oh wait...

Personally, I wonder how the apparently silent majority of North Beach residents who aren't dependent on cars would appreciate the slower traffic and increased open space. If you're interested, you may want to vote in their totally neutrally-worded "Community Survey."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Speed Lines

In Virginia they're painting zig-zag lines on the road. The idea is to visually overwhelm drivers as they approach a busy intersection and bike/pedestrian path, causing them to slow.
VDOT says similar programs have been successful in the United Kingdom and Australia. The transportation agency will study the zig-zagging lines for a year and see if they actually reduce speeds.
Sounds good to me!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yes We Can

Immediately after clicking 'publish' on that last post I received a Facebook message from a friend, linking me to this inspiring charticle from Good magazine. Unsurprisingly absent is any Bay Area project, but we can still hope.

A Rail Is Not a Rail Is Not a Rail

In Utah they're planning a streetcar network to feed their light rail system.

SFMTA planners might be forgiven for being confused about the difference between the two systems. Here in San Francisco the mention of "light rail" evokes the N-Judah or the T-Third. We think we have light rail and we think that "light rail" means a rail car that has to straddle the competing restrictions of an underground tunnel and on-street operation.

In my opinion, Utah is doing it right. Build a robust rapid rail system (Utah's TRAX) and then a completely separate feeder system. Tailor each system to fit the role it fills.

San Francisco has done it wrong, we've built a system that switches from unreliable rapid rail downtown to overbuilt local feeder service at its extremities. Because the same equipment must fill two completely different roles, it's encumbered by 'features' that may be advantageous in one mode but reduce efficiency in the other.

Muni recognized the problems of transitioning its LRVs from high-platform underground stations to surface-level boarding and operation in mixed traffic. Their solution was to build every station on the T-Third line with high platforms at a massive expense and to separate train platforms from passengers on the sidewalk by lanes of auto traffic. Neither of these solutions do much to improve the system, and the T-third has had a tepid reception at best.

Given my druthers, San Francisco would have a rapid rail network that was built to be just that, and would serve the parts of town with a demand for a rapid network. Augmenting this network would be another network or feeder lines. Those lines, like the ones proposed for the Beehive State, would be
An electric rail car that can run through a lane of traffic. In many ways it's similar to TRAX, [UTA's assistant general manager Mike] Allegra said, but it's lighter, so laying the tracks doesn't require such fortification. The result is a lower price tag, partly because underground utilities aren't affected.
A car on this network would be
Low to the ground and requires no station platform -Salt Lake Tribune
If you're following along I expect you'd be wondering if I've ever noticed Muni's bus network. Our (arguably unmatched) bus network serves this role for most of the denser parts of the city. Along the Market Street tunnel and BART line, Muni's busiest bus lines filter residents from their homes to the rapid rail stations and back every day, many all day.

But a bus is not a streetcar. The 38-Geary and 14-Mission are frustrated by private auto traffic and long dwell times at stops. Buses can only be so long, so if you need to carry more passengers you need more buses - and more drivers. The diesel and electric trolley buses that run down these lines endure a beating from uneven streets and must be replaced much more frequently that a typical streetcar. The bumpy, jerky, slow and unpredictable service these workhorses provide is a turn-off for a large chunk of people who would otherwise ride them.

Running buses on these routes costs Muni in maintenance and operating costs in addition to the opportunity cost of potential riders (many of whom drive instead, competing for space and compounding the problem).

Don't get me wrong, buses fit an important niche in a transit network. Buses can reach into low-density neighborhoods and run less-frequent local service cheaper than a streetcar, especially in hillier parts of San Francisco. But where buses are run like streetcars, they fail to perform as well.

Furthermore, the lack of differentiation between a rapid network, feeder network and local network leads good people to make generalizations about transit service that I fear hurt its image, reduce expectations and ratchet down service in the end. Gripes about slow bus lines could be more easily rebutted if we all understood that bus lines were slower, more infrequent, and more local whereas grade-separated rail lines are fast, frequent, but require a longer walk or connecting ride.

It's a sad state of affairs when Muni can't get funds to expand service or make capital improvements because the average San Franciscan doesn't trust Muni with the money. That's a death spiral. Poor service begets lower budgets beget service cuts. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

We need leaders to imagine and realize a future for Muni, like they have in Utah. And if our leaders won't do it then we need to do it ourselves.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Berkeley Mayor Takes the Bus

SF Chronicle Comical reporter Carolyn Jones reports that Berkeley mayor Tom Bates has given up his Volvo to ride the bus. The article itself is very uncritical of other local mayors' attempts to greenwash their transportation mode of choice.
Mayor Gavin Newsom rides in a hybrid police car for city business, and on weekends he drives his all-electric Tesla Roadster.

He also rides Muni incognito, disguised in a baseball cap, and walks when he can, said his spokesman Nathan Ballard.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed both drive hybrids. Reed traded in his Explorer for a Prius two years ago, and McLaughlin drives a city-owned Honda hybrid.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is chauffeured in a Lincoln Town Car, according to press reports. A 2009 Town Car gets 19 miles to the gallon, according to Edmunds auto guide. -Carolyn Jones

The photo caption, however, get's it right:

And those mayors with hybrids thought they were so green. ... Berkeley's Tom Bates has traded in his car for AC Transit. -SF Chronicle
think if more of our civic leaders actually took Muni (like the 700,000+ people they claim to represent) we would see doomsday scenarios like the one we currently face far less frequently.

The school of thought that sees Muni as a superfluous public service - one that ought to learn the virtue of making do with less - holds too much sway in this town. We hear nearly unanimous agreement that parking meters are underpriced and traffic enforcement is too lax, but when faced with a budget deficit what do we do? Certainly not increase parking meter rates or traffic fines or enforcement. No, we do what we always do: balance the budget on the backs of the politically impotent riders.

If fares go up to $2 per ride, they will be twice what they were in 2003. Can we say the same thing about parking tickets or meter rates? Have we even considered trying to actually collect those meter revenues?

And for all my bellyaching about Muni, AC Transit is even more chronically underfunded. By taking the bus around the East Bay, Mayor Bates is far more likely to appreciate the problems other riders face. That's a great thing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cesar Chavez Street Update

Just got this update from the C Chav Design Team at the Planning Department:
Thanks to all of you who either attended one of our Cesar Chavez community workshops or sent us an email (or both) over this past year. We appreciate your dedication and concern and willingness to participate in this important community planning process.

As many of you already know, a final design concept was selected by the community late last year. The City then presented final concept drawings earlier this Spring that applied that design concept to the entire corridor. Generally, the design calls for a wider, planted center median, large corner sidewalk extensions at most intersections, bike lanes (per the Bike Plan), two through lanes of traffic, and left turning pockets where left turns are permitted. The street design also aims to be as green as
possible, integrating stormwater planters and other elements to allow stormwater to permeate into the ground instead of flowing into, and overburdening, the city's sewer system.

The Planning Department, the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) are now working on developing construction drawings, identifying and solving logistical issues, and aligning the capital program. We will continue to advance the design through this process.

As we move through the Summer and into Fall, we hope to finalize our budget and finalize the scope of the actual improvements, and identify, should it be necessary, a phasing program.

There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming months to voice your opinion on the evolving design. We'll keep you updated as opportunities arise.

There will also be formal opportunities to voice your opinions on this
project as it weaves its way through the approvals process at the MTA Board
and the Board of Supervisors. We'll also keep you all updated as these
events are scheduled.

At this point, we are looking to begin construction at some point next year.

Again, we thank you for all your participation. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.


The Cesar Chavez Design Team

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sunday Streets 2009 Lineup Announced

This year we get six(!) Sunday Streets events. The lineup is as follows:

  • Sunday, April 26: Waterfront Route running along the Embarcadero–from AT&T Park to Aquatic Park.
  • Sunday, May 10: Waterfront Route in the Southeast Sector, highlighting the San Francisco Bay Trail, which is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in May. From AT&T Park to the Bayview Opera House, along the Bay.
  • Sunday, June 7: New route for 2009 through the Mission, engaging new neighborhoods in the Sunday Streets movement.
  • Sunday, July 19: New route for 2009 through the Mission, engaging new neighborhoods in the Sunday Streets movement.
  • Sunday, August 9: Great Highway Route. Connecting Golden Gate Park to the San Francisco Zoo, along Ocean Beach.
  • Sunday, Sept 6: Great Highway Route. Connecting Golden Gate Park to the San Francisco Zoo, along Ocean Beach.
◄ April 26th route

President Obama on HSR

What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century ... Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city, no racing to an airport and across a terminal. No delays, no sitting on tarmac, no lost luggage. No taking off your shoes.

Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles per hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.

Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America. -President Barack Obama

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dear Mayor's Office of Greening...

The Overhead Wire points out these great examples of streetcars whose tracks are laid into grass rather than ugly concrete. He shows the T-Third as a particularly ugly example of a concrete rail bed. The closest we come to those pretty green trains here in SF is the section of the J-Church that runs down the San Jose Avenue traffic sewer, where the tracks lie on gravel and ties rather than in a concrete bed.

Tear Down This Wall

In a thinly-veiled attempt to make me love it, the Transbay Blog has a great article on how to get rid of the Central Skyway. That makes the Transbay Blog the latest voice calling for San Francisco to finish the good job it started when we knocked down the elevated structure North of Market Street.

I've called for this, and Streetsblog SF reported that the MTA has agreed to consider studying alternatives to the elevated skyway at the urging of superheroesque Tom Radulovich. Well, Transbay blog has an alternative worth considering.

I've got my own fantasy map that I'm working on polishing up, and I'm sure there are smart folks out there with their own great ideas for this miserable waste of space.

This is an issue that's important to me, and I hope it takes off!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

No Really, We Care About Your Opinion

The Chronicle Comical published a letter to the Editor today by Virginia Newhall of Greenbrae.
Compared with other cities around the world, Muni's fares have been too low for a long time, but neither Newsom nor his colleagues on the MTA has mustered the political courage to initiate an increase until now, when necessity demands. -SF Chronicle
Newhall apparently forgets about the two fare increases we had four and five years ago. One assumes from her tone she would like to see Muni's budget woes solved at the expense of its riders yet again. One also assumes that her opinion is based on the fact that she's from Marin and therefore is not one of the afore-mentioned riders. Lastly, one assumes that she feels the work orders responsible for $80M of Muni's budget deficit are the "necessity" that demands that action.

Ms. Newhall's thoughtful contribution to the debate not withstanding, one wonders what happened to the Doyle Drive fare proposal.

Make Up Your Mind

At $1.96 per call, should Muni really be encouraging folks to call 311? What's more, the message refers riders to 311 for questions about the MTA budget and its impacts on service...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Who Will Hold the MTA Accountable?

The emerging scandal over the SFMTA's budget deficit - specifically the $80M chunk of it caused by other departments off-loading their cuts onto Muni - looks like it could get hot.

D6 supervisorial candidate and Beyond Chron editor Paul Hogarth, and D5 supervisor Ross Mirkarimi are making noise about making the MTA's governing board an elected body. Currently, MTA directors are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors.

If Muni’s not going to fight for the money it needs to run a decent public transit system, I believe that an elected MTA Board makes sense.
From Streetsblog:
[Mirkarimi] said he cautiously supported Proposition A, which gave the MTA Board more power, and wonders whether it wouldn't be better for MTA directors to be elected rather than appointed by the Mayor to enhance independence and accountability, a statement that drew applause from the audience [of the April 8th Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee].

Pedestrianism Vol. 4

Pedestrianism Vol. 4 from Josh Bingham

This edition is HD by Vimeo's standards. I recommend viewing it full-screen with HD on and scaling off.

This walk circumnavigates one of San Francisco's ugliest warts: the tangled maze of on- and off-ramps that connect Potrero Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street to Highway 101 while separating the Mission and Bayview Districts for car-free residents. Other liveable streets advocates have taken to calling this monstrosity the "hairball," and I'll use that term here as well since my own name for it is unprintable.

We start at Muni's Potrero trolly yard and maintenance facility, recipient of some much-needed Federal stimulus funds and end at the Flowercraft garden center on Bayshore Boulevard. Since the hairball cuts off the most direct route, down Potrero, across C Chav and on to Bayshore, I cut across 101 at the 18th Street Pedestrian bridge and over Potrero Hill into the Islais Creek industrial area of Bayview.

Things to note in order of appearance:

  • The steep slope of Mariposa between Potrero and Utah Street results in steps for a sidewalk.
  • 18th Street pedestrian bridge
  • Potrero Hill community garden is planted on former Caltrans land
  • McKinley Square park with its formal Victorian lawn and panoramic views
  • The section of Vermont Street adjacent to McKinley Square is curvier than Lombard, but far less famous
  • The lack of pedestrian crossings on C Chav, even east of the hairball, forces pedestrians to go out of their way around Kansas and Marin Streets, past the KOFY TV20 studios and Beronio Lumber
  • The Bayshore Boulevard traffic sewer with its merge turns and narrow sidewalks encourages motorists to drive recklessly. Note the failure to yield at 2:18
  • The Old Clam House is a San Francisco institution; a relic of the days when this area was wetlands surrounding Islais Creek
  • The old Whole Earth Access and Goodman's Lumber buildings. Locals remember these places fondly; the latter is the site of the ever-controversial and endlessly reincarnated proposed Big Box Home Center store

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What is a Liveable Street?

Carly Clark and Aaron Naparstek of the Liveable Sreets Initiative (the folks behind Streetsblog) have a great piece in Good magazine that eloquently explains the concept of a complete street.

Speak Out Against Muni Service Cuts and Fare Hikes

Transbay Blog and SBSF have good writeups of yesterday's SFMTA Board of Directors Meeting at City Hall. The next meetings where you will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed changes to Muni's budget are Tuesdays the 14th at 9am and 21st at 2pm. These meetings have been added to the list of Important Dates in the sidebar.

For those of you, like me, who cannot attend a multi-hour-long meeting in the middle of the week, please use any means necessary to contact the SFMTA and leave your comments.

Tell your friends, post fliers, organize groups to attend the meetings. This is a big freaking deal, people. The basic Muni service we all rely on is in very real danger of being cut to the point where it becomes useless. The number of Muni trips in a day roughly equals the population of San Francisco - and there's no place else for us to go!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Transit Race Followup

SBLA has a great followup to the transit race they told us about a couple months ago.

I have to reiterate what a great experiment I think this is. The organizers and participants apparently all learned something new about LA's transit network. Mr. Newton at SBLA is already forwarding suggestions for the next race, which I hope is in the offing.

I'll hold off on my inate Norcal/Socal rivalry to advocate that this be an idea we appropriate from our quaint southern neighbors. Who's coming with me?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool!

LOL @ Transbay Blog ... A well-written piece that might have a wider impact than even the most astutely critical, but satire-free essay.