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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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Chiu Bill Would Let Muni Cameras Ticket Drivers Cruising in Transit Lanes

Los Angeles editor’s note: This Streetsblog S.F. story seems applicable to L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard new peak-hour bus-only lanes. The “Wilshire BRT” lanes project fully opens next Tuesday, April 7. Eastern portions of the project have been open since 2013, but major bus speed improvements appear elusive, because cars do not always respect the peak-hour restrictions. Part of the problem may be enforcement. How can L.A. speed up buses on Wilshire Boulevard? Should Metro perhaps try to tag on to the San Francisco camera enforcement bill? 

Muni could get greater authority to ticket drivers violating transit lanes like this one at Third and Howard Streets under a new bill proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Assemblymember David Chiu has proposed a bill to give Muni greater authority to keep transit-only lanes and bus stops clear of cars using the enforcement cameras that are now on every bus.

Assemblymember David Chiu today with his successor, D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen (right), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and SFTRU’s Thea Selby. Photo: Aaron Bialick

AB 1287 would allow Muni to issue citations to drivers who delay transit riders by cruising down transit-only lanes, parking in bus stops, and blocking intersections. It would also make the camera enforcement program permanent, as it’s currently a pilot program due to expire at the end of the year.

It’s the first transportation bill at the state level from Chiu, who was elected to the State Assembly in November after serving as District 3 Supervisor.

Camera enforcement “is about making dedicated space for buses work as well as possible,” Chiu said at a press conference today. “We all know that Muni is simply too slow, with an average speed of 8 mph. Transit-only lanes are critical to letting Muni do more than just crawl through our congested streets. For bus-only lanes to work, they can’t have cars double-parked or driving in them.”

Currently, Muni can only use cameras to ticket drivers who park in transit lanes, as spelled out by the bill that established the pilot program in 2007. Moving violations must be enforced by the SFPD, and drivers who park in bus stops and transit lanes, or block intersections, can only be cited by police or parking control officers on the scene.

Chiu’s bill would allow the SFMTA to send out tickets for moving violations captured on camera. Drivers caught cruising in a bus lane would get a $110 parking citation — which costs less than a moving violation.

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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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