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Should SF Streets Go Car-Free to Make Room for Nightlife?

Vancouver’s Granville Street, seen here in 2013, is regularly closed to cars on weekend nights. Should SF do the same with its nightlife streets? Photo: Aaron Bialick

Editor’s note: This article is from our S.F. sister site, but it begs the question: what Southern California nightlife streets would make sense to close at night?

Polk, Valencia, Castro, Broadway — when bar patrons crowd these streets at night, should they go car-free?

While the idea may be novel to San Francisco, many other cities have done it. Up the coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, downtown Granville Street is often closed to cars on bustling weekend nights for people to roam the roadway, extending the street’s permanent pedestrian mall, which is several blocks long.

In a new report [PDF], city agencies recommend taking a look at nighttime car-free hours to improve streets for patrons and workers.

“Streets are the living room of our cities, where people meet, interact, and socialize,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who requested the report. “We should consider opportunities to foster these urban connections for the sake of supporting nighttime activity and advancing pedestrian safety.”

“So many of the events that really define San Francisco, both for locals and visitors, are events that happen when the streets are shut down and the people are in them,” said Tom Temprano, owner of Virgil’s Sea Room bar on Mission near Cesar Chavez Street, and a member of the city’s Late Night Transportation Working Group, which developed the report. “From Sunday Streets, to Pride, to Folsom Street Fair, to Bay to Breakers, these are all really events that are core to San Francisco’s identity and happen when we take cars off the road and let people have a good time.”

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Alameda’s Second Parking-Protected Bikeway Takes Shape on Shoreline Drive

Alameda’s Shoreline Drive was just striped with a new, 1.8-mile parking-protected bikeway. Image: Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay

The East Bay’s island city of Alameda has laid down its second parking-protected bikeway along Shoreline Drive.

The paint has barely dried on the 1.8-mile, two-way bikeway, but Alamedans are already using it. The city is adding finishing touches before a ribbon cutting set for March 7. Bike East Bay Education Coordinator Robert Prinz, a former Streetsblog intern, captured the below time lapse video showing a roll down the bikeway.

It’s one of only a handful of parking-protected bikeways in the Bay Area, and the first to be installed since SF’s John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park was striped in 2012.

“We really think of this as our first complete street,” said Lucy Gigli of Bike Walk Alameda. “There’s vehicle travel, there’s wonderful bike lanes now, and the path and sidewalk are so much more comfortable for people walking.”

Like other parking-protected bikeways in cities like New York, the Shoreline project uses paint and concrete islands, with a car parking lane between the bikeway and the motor traffic lanes. A buffer zone allows for room to safely open car doors. The curbside bikeway runs along Alameda’s beach and next to a major shopping center (surrounded, unfortunately, by a giant parking lot). 

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After 50 Events, SF Sunday Streets Ciclovía Director Departs to Spread Word

Sunday Streets on Valencia Street yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Susan King is moving on from her position at Livable City as director of SF’s Sunday Streets, after hosting the 50th open streets event yesterday in the Mission. Sunday Streets is San Francisco’s open streets program, very similar to Los Angeles’ CicLAvia. King plans to bring open streets events to cities across the state by establishing the California Open Streets Network (CAOS).

Susan King yesterday speaking with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin (right) and Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“I feel great that this program is so solid and successful, and there are really fantastic people pushing the ball forward,” said King.

To help other California cities learn from King’s experience in spearheading a nationally-renowned model for open streets, CAOS will provide services like a “calendar, shared resources, peer-to-peer advocacy, one-on-one trainings, regional trainings, webinars, and advocacy on the state level for a framework that addresses some of the barriers,” she said.

When Sunday Streets was first proposed in collaboration with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in 2008, it saw resistance from merchants who believed that their businesses would be hurt by opening streets to people and closing them to cars. The 50 events since have shown the opposite result, providing a boon for both business and public health. Merchants have since clamored for the event to bring customers to their neighborhoods, with as many as 75,000 regularly attending Sunday Streets in the Mission.

Today, San Francisco has held more major open streets events than any other American city, and Sunday Streets is “mundane, it’s part of everyday life,” said King. “That’s a good thing to create — as a fabric of what a livable community looks like.”

For today’s youngest San Franciscans, the ability to play in car-free streets may even be taken for granted, as a generation grows up with a fundamentally different experience of city streets. King told an anecdote about a woman who said her five-year-old grandson “didn’t know what life was without Sunday Streets.”

“I’m supremely proud to think about the generation that’s going to lead us, that are still in school and growing up in this city with the expectation that Sunday Streets is just part of city life,” said King. “The next generation really has a different idea of how we use and interact with our city streets.”

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Facebook Billionaire Sean Parker Bankrolls Free Parking Ballot Initiative in SF

Sean Parker spent $100,000 to support Mayor Ed Lee’s 2011 election bid, and $49,000 on a 2014 ballot initiative to maintain free parking and build new garages in SF.

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook and a major contributor to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, has spent $49,000 of his personal fortune to propel a ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine free parking as city policy, according to the SF Chronicle. Parker gave $100,000 to Lee’s mayoral campaign in 2011.

The ballot initiative, which proponents frame as an attempt to “restore balance” to city transportation policy, first surfaced in April. While the measure would be non-binding, if it passes it could further slow much-needed policies to prioritize transit and street safety in San Francisco. One stated goal of the campaign is to kill Sunday parking meters for good. The SFMTA Board of Directors, which is appointed entirely by Mayor Lee, repealed Sunday metering in April, after Lee made unfounded claims about a popular revolt against the policy.

Mayor Ed Lee with Facebook-founding billionaire Sean Parker (right) and Ron Conway (center), both major campaign donors. Photo: The Bay Citizen/Center for Investigative Reporting

Several veteran opponents of transportation reform in San Francisco are aligned with the ballot initiative. And, in addition to the backing from Parker, another $10,000 for the measure reportedly came from the San Francisco Republican Party.

Parker’s funding for the ballot initiative apparently helped pay petitioners to get out and collect the 17,500 signatures submitted last week to place the measure on the ballot. Two Streetsblog readers reported being approached in Safeway parking lots by petitioners who falsely claimed that the SFMTA had not repealed Sunday parking meters. A flyer distributed for the campaign [PDF] claims the measure calls for “restoring free parking at meters on Sundays, holidays and evenings.” Campaign proponent and previous Republican Assembly hopeful Jason Clark told SFist that the allegations were “hearsay,” but that the non-binding resolution would “ensure [SFMTA] can’t” bring back Sunday meters.

Parker has a reputation for selfish extravagance at the expense of the public realm. In February, he denied accusations that he had workers bulldoze snow from in front of his $20 million home in New York City’s Greenwich Village onto the street. The snow was reportedly cleared so a high-speed internet cable could be hooked up to the home. Last year, he was fined $2.5 million for damaging a Big Sur redwood grove that served as his wedding backdrop.

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“Closing” Lombard Street: The Language of Taking Cars For Granted

Crooked Lombard Street is being partially closed to cars, and mainly opened to people. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the headlines. Photo: SFMTA

A peculiar thing tends to happen when we talk about streets and transportation: We don’t talk about cars. Seriously — listen to conversations, read news headlines, and you’ll start to notice that even when cars are the main subject, people will, consciously or unconsciously, fail to explicitly mention them.

This phenomenon was particularly apparent to me this week, with media coverage of the SFMTA’s proposed (and subsequently approved) trial to restrict cars on world-famous crooked Lombard Street. The headlines started pouring out hours after I broke the story with this headline: “SFMTA considers restricting cars on crooked Lombard Street.”

Clearly, cars are the key subject of this proposal. It will restrict car access on two blocks, and nothing else. Non-”local” drivers will be banned for some hours on some days over a few weekends, but access for people not in cars — the vast majority of people on the crooked street — will actually be made safer and more enjoyable.

Yet from reading headlines found in other news sources around the country, you’d think the street is simply being closed to everyone. Cars are vaguely mentioned, if at all, while the whole “temporary trials on some afternoons” thing often gets washed over, with Lombard deemed simply and totally “closed.” Here are a few typical examples:

  • Washington Post: “San Francisco to close off iconic Lombard Street to tourists”
  • USA Today: “S.F. to temporarily close ‘world’s crookedest street’”
  • SF Chronicle: “Lombard Street to close on 4 busy weekends this summer”

Put simply, unfettered access by cars is equated with “access.” If one cannot drive there, one cannot go there. And as those important distinctions are blurred, we lose sight of what we deem important uses of our streets.

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A Rising Tide for Walking and Biking in California and Its Cities

Long Beach may not have a ciclovia style open street event, but Vice-Mayor Robert Garcia is front and center when the Long Beach Grand Prix allows cyclists to use its closed course the day before the race. Image: ##http://lbpost.com/news/2000003501-the-return-of-the-grand-prix-ciclovia-of-long-beach#.U2Qmr61dUs0##Long Beach Post##

We’re #3! Long Beach may not have a ciclovia style open street event, but Vice-Mayor Robert Garcia is front and center when the Long Beach Grand Prix allows cyclists to use its closed course the day before the race. Image: Long Beach Post

This week, the League for American Bicyclists released its nationwide “benchmarking” report on the state of active transportation throughout the country. The report contained good news for those working to make California a more safe and attractive place to bicycle. California rose ten spots to #9 in the state to state comparisons, scoring nearly 54 points out of a possible 100.

“We are excited and encouraged to see real progress in states like California, Minnesota and Utah,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “Overall, we still see a lot of opportunity to realize the huge potential of bicycling to promote health, economic development, and quality of life.”

The news was even better for some of California’s major cities.  An earlier report listed the most “bicycle friendly cities” in America. Two of the top three cities, and six of the top twenty cities for bicycling are in California: San Francisco (#1), Long Beach (#3), Sacramento (#11), Fresno (#12), San Jose (#16) and San Diego (#20). Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: SF Polk Contra-Flow Bike Lane Nearly Ready to Ride

Here’s a little change of pace from the bad news this week. The Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane, connecting Market Street northbound to Grove Street and City Hall, appears almost ready to go. A Department of Public Works spokesperson said the agency is shooting for a tentative opening date of May 2 or 5 and plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Officials at the SFMTA and DPW seem proud of the project — and rightly so. Photos of the bikeway and median planted with native succulents were tweeted by DPW Director Mohammed Nuru and Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy. DPW surprisingly jumpstarted construction on the bike lane in late January after years of delay, promising completion by Bike to Work Day on May 8.

The project also comes with a couple of bonuses. DPW is installing bulb-outs at the wide intersection of Grove and Polk, and completed one at the northwest corner last week. The pedestrian island and “bike chute” on the north side of Market at Polk were also reconfigured for more practical maneuvering for southbound bike riders. See photos after the break.

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Chevy: What Better Way to Explore the Divisadero “Microhood” Than by Car?

The marketers at Chevy totally have this urban millennial thing nailed down. The car manufacturer sponsored this promotional video for a Divisadero Microhood Art Walk held last week, along with the website The Bold Italic.

In this virtual tour of the microhood, local business owner Erin Fong gets into one of Chevy’s electric Volts, driving an entire five blocks from the east side of Alamo Square to Divisadero. The drive is shown in a time lapse from the windshield. (Not shown: the hunt for a parking space.)

If the video leaves you puzzled and thinking, “That makes no sense whatsoever,” you’re not alone. Watching a video about driving is the complete antithesis of actually getting immersed in a microhood, an activity for which walking might be the best mode of transport. Perhaps that’s why the event is called an art walk.

Apparently, this campaign to market cars to urban millennials is no isolated incident. It’s part of General Motors’ Drive the District campaign, targeting major cities around the country, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, Portland, and Washington, D.C.. It’s certainly no coincidence that these cities are both seeing an influx of young people, and also making it easier to get around without a car.

Perhaps Chevy doesn’t know how out of touch they appear, trying to sell cars to young folks in one of America’s most walkable neighborhoods. As this generation loses interest in owning and driving cars, auto industry advertising only seems to become more clueless.

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The Case for Evening Parking Meters, Graphed

In many neighborhoods, blocks are more likely to be full of parked cars — and cruising for an open space spikes — after meters shut off at 6 p.m. (1800).

Every day at 6 p.m., San Francisco’s parking meters shut down. But in many neighborhoods, motorists continue to seek parking, and without the turnover brought by meters, the streets become clogged with drivers circling around for a spot.

The big mismatch between meter hours and actual demand for curbside parking spaces in SF was demonstrated in a new study of SFpark [PDF], which found that the program has cut cruising times for parking by 50 percent in the areas where it’s in place. The study, featured yesterday in Next City and The Atlantic Cities, was conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz, Carnegie Mellon University, and Nelson/Nygaard, who used data on parking occupancy from the SFMTA to model the effect of SFpark on driver behavior.

The study re-affirms the findings of a report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association last May [PDF], which showed that pricing parking according to demand is effective in reducing cruising. But as Donald Shoup, parking guru and one of the authors of last year’s study, told Streetsblog in August, the successful SFpark program goes to waste after 6 p.m. due to SF’s outdated meter hours, which were crafted in the mid-20th century when fewer businesses were open past that time.

“I hope San Francisco will ask, ‘Why is the right price at 7 p.m. on Union Square $0?,” Shoup said. “We have the equipment, all the software, and we just put it to sleep at 6 p.m.”

As the graph above shows, the biggest spike in evening cruising is in the Inner Richmond, a non-SFpark neighborhood studied as a control sample. Cruising there peaks at about 8 p.m. In every area except downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf, the daily peak in traffic caused by was after 6 p.m..

If Mayor Ed Lee wanted, he could nudge the SFMTA to simply extend meter hours to cut traffic on the streets in the evening. But rather than fixing SF’s traffic problems, Lee has been more inclined to use his influence to move the city in the opposite direction by undoing Sunday parking meters.

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Watch: “People Behaving Badly” Consults Streetsblog SF on Bike Lane Safety

Stanley Roberts asked me to come out yesterday for one of his “People Behaving Badly” segments and help explain how drivers should legally make a right-turn, since CBS 5 didn’t get it quite right. Roberts still didn’t touch on the point that CBS got wrong — drivers can’t just jump in front of people on bikes because they got to the intersection first — but it’s good to see him devote attention to the issue.

Hopefully, I’ll have fewer jitters the next time I’m in front of a camera.