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A Note of Caution on Tech and Privatizing Transit

Is our new ride-hale tech tempting us to repeat past mistakes? Driveless cars has been a dream of road planners since the Interstate Highway System was first envisioned. Image source unknown.

Driverless cars have been anticipated by road planners since the Interstate Highway System was first envisioned. But is the near-realization of this dream tempting us to repeat past mistakes? Image source unknown.

At a recent SPUR meeting, an audience member asked why cities continue to invest billions in long-term projects, such as the Central Subway, when ride-hail services such as Juno, Lyft, and Uber Pool have rendered urban rail more or less obsolete. This sentiment is reflected in a recent piece in the Atlantic by former Los Angeles Times writer Alana Semuels, entitled: “The End of Public Transit?” She wrote about her experience riding Chariot instead of Muni:

Why should anyone use public services if the private sector can provide the same service more efficiently? On an individual level, after all, the private bus was much more pleasant and not much more expensive. On the government level, privatization could save money. Privatizing public bus services could save $5.7 billion a year, according to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in March.

The piece brings up some interesting thoughts, which have been discussed in Streetsblog as well. It’s worth a read–certainly, transit agencies such as BART and SFMTA should be, and are, discussing collaboration with private transportation providers.

Read more…

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French Flair and Bullet Trains at Rail~Volution’s California Day

The Strasbourg TGV Station was offered to the Audience at Rail~Volution as Inspiration for Designing HSR Stations in California. Image By Diliff-wikimedia

The Strasbourg TGV Station was offered at Rail~Volution as inspiration for HSR stations in California. Image By Diliff-wikimedia

The Rail~Volution conference at the San Francisco Hyatt concluded yesterday with three hours of presentations and break-out meetings about California High-Speed Rail. The focus: how to build the communities we want around HSR stations in Los Angeles, San Jose and Fresno. An important part of that was to learn from the experts: the French designers who have already developed and built beautiful, place-making stations in Strasbourg, Lille and other cities in France.

From the Rail~Volution guide:

High-speed rail has transformed cities and regions around the world. Now it’s our turn. California has begun its ambitious investment in high-speed rail. How our we building our high-speed rail stations? What can we learn from France and other countries? How can we put those ideas to work in Fresno, San Jose and Los Angeles? Hear from national and global experts on issues related to design, governance and balancing major new transit infrastructure with the land use and development opportunities created by high-speed rail.

Before heading to the breakout sessions for details on the planned California stations, attendees heard from some domestic experts. Robert Cervero, Professor and Chair of the Department of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, said that HSR has its biggest impact on certain economic sectors, including “…finance, business services, consulting firms, architects, engineers–those who depend on face to face contact,” he said. And that, he explained, means HSR will have the most impact where those types of firms cluster, such as the central business districts (CBD) of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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Panel Asks: How do We Get More Diversity in Bike Advocacy?

SFBC director Brian Wiedenmeier introduced Janice Li, Renee Rivera, Lateefah Simon and Tamika Butler for a discussion about racial equity in the bike advocacy movement. Photo: Streetsblog.

SFBC director Brian Wiedenmeier introduced Janice Li (who moderated the panel), Renee Rivera, Lateefah Simon, and Tamika Butler for a discussion about equity in the bike advocacy movement. Photo: Streetsblog.

Yesterday evening, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) held a discussion about diversity as part of its “Bike Talks” series at the Sports Basement Grotto on Bryant Street. Janice Li, Advocacy Director for SFBC, moderated a panel comprised of Lateefah Simon, President of the Akonadi Foundation, Tamika Butler, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Renee Rivera, Executive Director of Bike East Bay.

The formal discussion about the lack of diversity in the bike advocacy community was preceded by a social with snacks and drinks. “I’ve been very up-front that issues of racial and economic justice are important to me personally, and I am interested in how the SFBC’s work can reflect those values,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, in a conversation with Streetsblog. Wiedenmeier, in several presentations, has stressed his wish that the SFBC broaden efforts to increase the diversity of its membership. “We have a strategic planning process we’ll be kicking off this fall and I think this event is a great way to begin that conversation with our members,” he said.

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SPUR Talk: Gabe Klein on Technology and Past and Future Cities

Transportation guru Gabe Klein presents to an audience at SPUR in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog.

Transportation guru Gabe Klein presents to an audience at SPUR in Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog.

Gabe Klein, entrepreneur, writer and former head of transportation for Chicago and Washington DC, spoke yesterday afternoon at the Oakland office of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) about how technology can be guided to shape the future of our cities.

He put up a slide with a chilling number on it: 1.24 million–the number of people killed in car wrecks every year globally. That number will reach 3.6 million by 2030, as driving becomes more prevalent in the developing world. He wondered why people tolerate so much carnage. “We [the US] lost 35,000 people on the road last year–an increase of 10 percent because gas was cheap and people were driving more.”

Sadly, those alarming numbers don’t even account for deaths from automobile pollution or rising sea levels and other effects of global warming. “The transportation sector is spewing out more [greenhouse gas emissions] than everything else,” Klein said. Global warming “…is man made. We’re the only country with people who think it’s not real; convenient if you’re a Koch Brother, but not for the rest of us,” he quipped.
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Bay Area Transit Agencies Build on Parking Lots

202 housing units are now under construction on Caltrain's former San Carlos Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos

202 housing units are now under construction on the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos

Last Thursday representatives from Caltrain, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) presented [PDF] current plans for building housing and offices on top of station parking lots, at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose. Rail station parking lots offer the ultimate in “Good TOD” – Transit Oriented Development that guarantees new transit riders while providing housing and commercial space that can be conveniently reached car-free.

“There are many beautiful sites along Caltrain that could be ripe for development and become a revenue generating source for Caltrain,” said Caltrain Principal Planner Jill Gibson. “Often developers goals are in direct conflict with transit needs…so it’s imperative that we identify long-range transportation goals early on.”

Caltrain is working with those cities that have already completed station area redevelopment plans and adopted appropriate TOD zoning near stations to support mixed-use developments. The long-debated San Carlos Transit Village, now under construction, will bring 202 apartments to the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot along with 26,000 square feet of commercial space. The project was scaled down in multiple iterations from a proposed 453 apartments.

A long-term lease agreement is now being negotiated with Sares Regis Group to develop 100 to 150 apartments on the Hayward Park Station parking lot, along with at least 50 parking spaces available to Caltrain passengers, 29 electronic bike lockers, and space for six SamTrans buses.

BART and VTA are developing real estate at their stations on a much larger scale than Caltrain. BART has already built several major developments on its parking lots [PDF] and is “engaged in 18 transit-oriented development projects at its stations, representing over $2.7 billion in private investment” according to the agency’s property development website.
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Guest Editorial: Driverless Cars Could Wreck Livable Cities

This meme which floated around last week illustrates why driverless cars offer little progress towards building sustainable cities." width="580" height="435" /> A tweet by Jon Orcutt illustrates why driverless cars offer little towards sustainable cities.

A tweet by Jon Orcutt illustrates why driverless cars offer little towards sustainable cities.

Over the past year driverless cars have been promoted as a panacea for livable cities. The storyline is that driverless cars will help reduce car ownership, free-up urban space for walking and biking, and help reduce death and injury. The USDOT has joined the parade with its “smart city challenge,” awarding Columbus, Ohio a $40 million prize to implement a demonstration project that includes incorporating driverless cars.

San Francisco was among the finalists for this award, but it might be a good thing that the city fell short. San Francisco’s political establishment – the mayor, Board of Supervisors, and its proxies at the SFMTA and Planning Department – frequently talk up their sustainable transportation ambitions, but by and large, when it comes to decisions about San Francisco streets, they pander to motorists. With driverless cars and other “connected” vehicles, the pandering may intensify. We’ll see more, not fewer cars.

Here’s why. Read more…

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SF SPUR Talk: Dancing on the Grave of “Level of Service”

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Sarah Fine and Jeff Tumlin talked about the implications of the life and welcome death of “Level of Service.” Photo: Streetsblog.

Wednesday evening, SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, sponsored a talk entitled “Reconsidering Transportation to Create Better Urban Spaces” at their new downtown Oakland location. The talk focused on the history and damage done by the almost mindless adherence over the years to Level of Service (LOS) on urban spaces throughout California.

“We’re wearing black,” joked Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy with Nelson\Nygaard, “because we’re talking about the death of LOS.” LOS, for Streetsblog readers who might not be aware, is a way to measure traffic impacts of development projects that made its way into California environmental law. Although ostensibly designed to protect the environment, most livable streets advocates blame it for destroying urban spaces and actually making traffic and air pollution far worse.

Tumlin explained that LOS wasn’t originally part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). “It was something the courts came up with,” he said. “They fixated on this single metric that measures the average seconds of delay that a car experiences—just in the peak fifteen minutes of the peak hour.”

In other words, if an intersection is all but unused, but analysis shows that a project would cause delay during the most congested fifteen minutes of the busiest hour of the day, the project would have to do something to mitigate that delay—typically, widen the nearby intersection. The result is well known to livable streets advocates—the state is now littered with streets that are wide and unwalkable. Meanwhile, thanks to induced demand, traffic has only gotten progressively worse. Read more…

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Roger Rudick Is the New Editor of Streetsblog SF

(Welcome Roger Rudick! Roger is an excellent writer, a familiar name to SBLA readers, a steadfast livability advocate, and a friend. Also I welcome Streetsblog S.F. into the circle of the California Streets Initiative, the non-profit behind SBLA, Streetsblog California, Santa Monica Next and LongBeachIze. – Joe Linton)

Thanks for your patience, Bay Area readers. The blog posts will soon be flowing like you’ve come to expect, because after a competitive search, we’re pleased to announce that Roger Rudick is the new editor of Streetsblog San Francisco.

Roger poses in the bike tunnel under the Maas River in Rotterdam.

Roger poses in the bike tunnel under the Maas River in Rotterdam.

Roger is an experienced transportation journalist and activist who’s impressed us with his deep understanding of policy, lifelong commitment to better transit and safer streets, and superb writing.

As a reporter and producer, his transit coverage has appeared in the New York Times, PBS, and NPR. He’s filed dispatches on bike infrastructure from Rotterdam to Vancouver. And we’ve published his freelance work on Streetsblog USA, Streetsblog LA, and Streetsblog SF.

Roger currently splits his time between his home in LA and San Francisco, where he has worked as a freelance producer for KQED radio and TV. We are going to make the transition to his full-time stewardship over the course of the next few weeks, as he handles a permanent move to the Bay Area. During this interim period, Streetsblog SF will be updated regularly, with headline aggregation in the mornings and multiple original posts per week. We expect to reach full frequency, with daily original content in addition to headlines, in January.

We’re also going to be making a management transition, with Streetsblog SF moving from the organizational umbrella of OpenPlans, the nonprofit that publishes Streetsblog NYC and Streetsblog USA, to the California Streets Initiative, the nonprofit that publishes Streetsblog LA and Streetsblog California. We believe this switch will be advantageous for the day-to-day management of Streetsblog SF and allow for tighter coordination between all the California-based Streetsblog sites.

We’re excited about these changes and the future of Streetsblog SF. With the SFMTA starting to get into the swing of nimble street redesigns, the upcoming citywide expansion of Bay Area Bike Share, and the ongoing roll out of Muni Forward, the opportunity to transform San Francisco’s streets is as great as ever. The whole Bay Area is grappling with questions of how to handle surging growth while improving transit access, street safety, and housing affordability. Streetsblog SF has a major role to play in making the case for smart public policy to address these issues, and we’re thrilled to be working with Roger on this coverage.

As always, reader support is indispensable to Streetsblog SF. Reader contributions have kept the site going for several years now, and we’ll be starting up a pledge drive to give the site a solid financial footing in 2016. (You can give right now!) With your generous support, Streetsblog SF will be an influential voice for safer streets and effective transit in the Bay Area for years to come.

Ben Fried heads up OpenPlans and Damien Newton is the director of the California Streets Initiative.

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San Francisco Police Dept Harasses Bike Commuters

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford has made good on his promise: Officers were out this morning ticketing bike commuters who failed to comply with a strict application of the stop sign law on Page Street and the Wiggle. One bike rider said police justified her ticket by adding their own fictional flourish to the law.

Laura Kiniry, 41, said she canceled a doctor appointment she was biking to after receiving a $234 ticket (plus court fees) because she didn’t put her foot down after climbing uphill on Baker Street to make a left onto Page.

Kiniry, who has biked in the city for 18 years, said she saw two people on bikes already pulled over by police at Page and Baker. She assumed she wouldn’t receive a traffic citation for making a safe, practical near-stop after pedaling uphill at single-digit speeds.

“Maybe I didn’t come to a complete stop. I looked both ways,” said Kiniry. She said the officer told her, “‘You have to have at least one of your feet down.'” That supposed requirement appears nowhere in the California Vehicle Code.

Kiniry says she told the officer, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to bike. I’m not going downtown anymore. I’m terrified, I don’t know if I’m allowed to pull up next to a car, I don’t know what I’m allowed to do anymore. I can’t afford this.”

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Applying the Parklet Strategy to Make Transit Stops Better, Quicker

Planners are looking to use the parklet model to deliver bus bulb-outs at low cost. Muni and AC Transit (shown) are developing programs with different takes on the concept. Image: Ben Kaufman

San Francisco’s parklet revolution has broadened the possibilities for how curb space can be used. Now, city planners in SF and the East Bay are taking the idea in a new direction: using temporary sidewalk extensions to make transit stops more efficient and attractive.

Three different names for the concept have emerged from planners at three institutions where it was conceived independently — “temporary transit bulbs,” “multi-purpose parklets,” and “stoplets.” Those terms come from, respectively, SF transportation agencies, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit, and Ben Kaufman, a graduate student at the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

Whatever you call it, the method could allow transit agencies to much more rapidly implement transit bulb-outs — sidewalk extensions at transit stops — and reap the benefits at about one-twentieth the cost of pouring concrete, on average, according to Kaufman.

For his UCLA graduate project, Kaufman is wrapping up a stoplet design guide for AC Transit, which received a Safe Routes to Transit grant to study the idea.

Kaufman sees stoplets as a way to re-invent the bus stop. “Why can’t we create a space that people actually want to sit at, that would make people excited to wait for a bus?” he said. “Instead of being a waiting experience, it can be a relaxing experience.” Like parklets, stoplets would be “adopted” by merchants who want to improve bus stops in front of their storefronts.

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