Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"A Multi-Vitamin Viagra Pill for the Urban Landscape"

What can bicycling be for our environmentally- beleaguered cities, including our own little NOPA niche? Mikael Colville-Andersen, the Copenhagen-based bike blogger (Copenhangen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize) recently offered his Vitamin V prescription for making our urban spaces more livable through more bicycling.

During a talk at Columbia University (covered today by Sarah Goodyear in today's Streetsblog), Colville-Andersen described how "visionary urban planning" and "visionary political decision-making" transformed Copenhangen into a city where 37% of commuters travel by bikes and two-wheel spinning accounts for 55% of all trips in the city. (San Francisco's commuter percentage hovers at 6% while the city's percentage of bicycling continues to leap every year with a gain of 53% over the last three years).

When is a bicycle like a vacuum cleaner? When it becomes simply a tool, a means to an end, according to Colville-Andersen. Not a sub-culture for only the fast and furious, but simply an excellent way to get from Point A to Point B. Streetsblog provides these and other notes from the Danish bike blogger's "pretty spiffy, though low-key" approach to advocacy. A final favorite here: Cyclists in Copenhagen are simply people. On bikes.

Note: Copenhagen's city planners updated Oakland audiences Tuesday night about the Danish city's experience with implementing bicycle and livability improvements. We hope and expect Streetsblog to give us the highlights. (Pic below from copenhagenize blog site)  - The Copenhagen Bike Culture Blog

A Blessing for Our Bicycling Times

A celebration, an invocation, a moment for those interested to reflect on our neighborhood diversity, commitment to more livable communities, and love of bicycling. Will Scott, Associate Pastor of St.Cyprian's Episcopal Church, and Rev. Dr. Sue Singer of the Divinity School of the Pacific joined the bike festivities at NOPA's BIKE THE BLOCK party this last Sunday to share these thoughts:

"Blessing of the Bicycle"

Present in a world groaning under the excesses of consumption, we acknowledge the inherent goodness of non-motorized human-powered transportation and give thanks for the simple beauty of the bicycle.

Hear our prayers and hopes.

Present in a community filled with children, we pray for those learning to ride. Keep them smart, safe, and visible on their neighborhood roads.

Hear our prayers and hopes.

Present in a community filled with strife, we pray for the victims of road rage and bike theft. And we ask for the strength to forgive mean people.

Hear our prayers and hopes.

Present in a world of work, we pray for those who build, repair, and clean our bikes an dthose who rely on bicycles to earn their living. Bless those who choose to not drive to work and those for whom driving isn't even an option.

Hear our prayers and hopes.

Present in a community of beautiful diversity, we ask your protection and blessing on all who ride: pedi-cabbies, weekend warriors, athletes, homeless folks, students, children, eco-warriors, bike co-op anarchists, messengers, and all the others who take to the San Francisco streets, bike paths, parks, and mountains. Keep us safe as we ride.

Hear our prayers and hopes.

Prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber, adapted by and for the people of NOPA, and shared by St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church located at Turk and Lyon Streets. For more info: . Thanks to Bill Rivers for the video recording.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Volunteers Rocked BIKE THE BLOCK

Neighbors bike forth! NOPA's BIKE THE BLOCK party last Sunday spun forward with the help of dozens of neighbors and friends of NOPA. Their overlapping affiliations with community organizations helped tie the groups together even more in a shared committment to a more livable neighborhood and city. A few examples:
  • Max Poletto and Kara O'Keefe are bicyclists, NOPA residents, and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) members. Max helped with bike repairs while Kara worked the bike decorating table.
  • Mollie Poe serves on the Board of Directors for Pacific Primary School and is a huge supporter of NOPNA. She helped the bike block party in so many ways, along with her husband, Declan Hickey, and her brother KJ Johnson.
  • Rose Johnson works with YBIKE and guided kids through the skills course Sunday; she's also a member of the SF Bicycle Coalition and an advocate of sustainable living in NOPA.
  • Nathan Frankel is an avid vendor at weekend farmer's markets, a prime bike parker for SFBC, and long-time NOPA neighbor. He set up the bike parking operation for us.
  • Sarah June Crockett co-organized the block party; last school year she and her husband, Sandy Crockett, biked with one of their kids to his classes at Pacific Primary. Both Sarah and Sandy are SFBC members.
Lots of kudos for these other great volunteers: Doug Diboll, Jim Cowan, Tom Brown, Suzanne Cowan, Jen Grant, Dan Nguyen-Tan, Jarie Bolander, Janel Sterbentz, Justin Connolly, Marc Caswell, Chris Hogg, Lenore McDonald, Matt Dove and Lily, Kareem, and Raquel of the YBIKE team, Kathy O'Brien, Leela Gill, Holly Ames, Leigh Culpepper, Kyle Brunner, J.P. Collins, Meligrosa!, Will Valentine, Cliff Courrier, Robbie Socks, Jerry Kirwan, Larissa Zimberoff, Jane Catherine Zimmerman, Bill Rivers, and Dale Danley (who helped with everything).

A salute to the individuals behind the C0-Sponsorships:
  • Belann Giarretto, Executive Director of Pacific Primary, for tables, art supplies, the essential Porta-Potty, and so much enthusiasm for the event;
  • Ben Caldwell, Bike Program Coordinator at the Presidio Community YMCA, for his rapid response to our request for a skills course with great staff help;
  • Kevin Rafter, NOPNA President, and all the NOPNA board members for approving the application fee payment, and their day-in, day-out work for our neighborhood;
  • Neal Patel, SFBC Community Planner, for bike ed materials, event promotion, and sharing SFBC's experience and commitment to greater livability.
An enthusiastic round of applause to:
  • Len Rogers, owner, Electric Bicycle Outlet, for bringing his cool rides for neighbors to try;
  • Ali, superb owner of Central Coffee & Tea, for keeping neighbors fortified.
  • Amy D'Auria of Pink Buttons Patisserie, for keeping neighbors sweet.
  • Rev. Will Scott and Rev. Dr. Sue Singer for the best bicycle blessing.
  • Remy Nelson, owner of Mojo Bicycle Cafe, for cool raffle t-shirts, and bike service gear.
  • Kash for the generous loan of bike parking gear from Warm Planet Bikes.
  • Dmitrius Spartos, manager of the Divisadero Farmers Market, for our "cross pollination" of events.
  • Beth Byrne, a superb graphic designer, who gave BIKE THE BLOCK its great poster and printed all the copies at her office -- with her boss's enthusiastic approval.
"I was thrilled with the turnout and so happy to help a little." Kyle Brunel.

"It was amazing to see the diversity and all the families turn out for our mini-Sunday Streets on one NOPA block." Dan Nguyen-Tan.

Let's all keep Biking the Blocks and celebrating NOPA livability.

Monday, September 28, 2009


"This has been awesome," Matt Dove exclaimed, "This has been one of our most successful events." Matt and three other staffers from the Presidio YMCA Youth Bike Program, YBIKE, guided more than fifty kids through a skills training course full of STOP and YIELD signs, "watch out" door zones, and twists and turns during NOPA's BIKE THE BLOCK celebration on Sunday. "My son just learned about yield signs," one NOPA mother gushed a few minutes after arriving at the bike-themed block party.

While YBIKE anchored one end of the block, fun-ready folks lined up for a spin on the seven-person party-bike at the other. Dan Nguyen-Tan steered singing, waving, laughing neighbors on spins on NOPA streets with hardly a refueling stop in between. "Real trooper duty," one block resident proclaimed seeing Dan smiling and sweating through a perfect San Francisco summer day. Dan picked up riders from the Divisadero Farmers Market and plucked a few from the Panhandle Path, but the party pedalers who seemed to have the most fun were the women in their Sunday church finery rocking to Michael Jackson.

Cyclists especially appreciated the free bike parking and tune-ups from volunteer members of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC). Max Poletto grinned and showed his chain-greased hands after three hours of expert bike care. "I worked on about a dozen bikes." Max worked alongside Justin Connolly and new NOPA resident Marc Caswell at one of the busiest bike stops on the block.

Confirmed walkers as well as cyclists took their first rides ever on electric bikes provided by Len Rogers, owner of a San Francisco electric bike outlet. Cliff Courrier, NOPA neighbor and electric bike owner and enthusiast, teamed up with Len to advise riders on how to get a power boost during their tryouts. "Almost too much power," commented Will Valentine, but then Grove is one very flat street.

"This is fantastic to have have so many options for kids," Jodie Howe concluded. "This helps us start planning for biking for our ten month old." Nearby Kara O'Keefe helped kids make a flurry of ribbon, streamers, and flowers before displaying their bedecked rides. Younger kids took a hand at drawing and stickering anything that could be stuck.

How much more could one city block offer on a sunny bicycling day? Chris Hogg wowed the crowd with gravity-suspended stunts on his BMX. So amazed were the onlookers that no one even said, "Kids don't try this at home." Next to Chris' twirls and balances, Sarah Crockett, BIKE THE BLOCK co-organizer, and Lenore McDonald displayed bike trailers for all kinds of hauling. We overheard Sarah explain to another mother of young ones what it's like transporting kids on a bike. "You know what they say about riding a bike: 'it's just like riding a bike.'"

In the late morning, Reverend Will Scott, Associate Pastor of NOPA's St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church extended a Bike Blessing with a prayer written by Nadia Bolz-Weber and adapted by and for the people of the neighborhood. When was the last time a prayer extolled "the simple beauty of the bicycle," the needs of "victims of road rage and bike theft," and protection for "eco-warriors, bike co-op anarchists, and messengers"?

Khalil, a neighbor from Fell Street, offered his summation of the day. "Today is an example of how we can envision a more sustainable world and provide examples of our diverse cultures and ethnicities and all come together."

BIKE THE BLOCK was all about kids riding safely on a neighborhood street, parents enjoying their kids taking the block, and everyone else celebrating a fine day of bike-themed fun events. SFBC Community Planner Neal Patel beamed once he spun onto Grove Street. With an experienced eye, he judged today's event included about 300 people.

An enthusiastic collaboration of generous sponsors made the NOPA bike party possible: our progressive neighborhood association, NOPNA; bike-friendly Pacific Primary School, superstar YMCA/YBIKE, inspiring and dedicated SFBC, and BIKE NOPA. Special thanks as well to Mojo Bicycle Cafe for free t-shirts and tune-up gear, Central Coffee and Tea for the coffee and pastries that kept us going, Warm Planet Bikes for bike parking gear, Electric Bicycle Outlet (everyone loved the rides!), and Amy D'Auria with her dessert wonders from Pink Buttons Patisserie.

On behalf of the event sponsors, a special thank you to the residents of the 1500 block of Grove for sharing their part of NOPA with so many others.

BIKE THE BLOCK posts later this week: "BIKE THE BLOCK Volunteer Roll" (more pics),
"The Blessing of the Bicycle" (with YouTube video), and "Tool Kit for Block Parties: Transforming Our Public Spaces."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Divisadero Week Two: from 64 to 16 Weeks

Instead of a year and a quarter of construction on Divisadero, how about just 16 weeks? The city allotted sixteen months for the Divisadero makeover, but the crew working for Synergy Project Management expect to complete the heavy construction in fourteen weeks. Add another two weeks for the landscaping of the median and planting of new street trees. Less dust, noise, and disruption; NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors are all for that. (The quicker pace construction doesn't indicate poor planning on the part of the Department of Public Works, DPW; they must allow for contingencies for a project this size).

To ease the strain on Divisadero merchants, DPW and its contractor are not only switching the work from one side of the street to the other as noted here last week. The workers also tear up and complete only two contiguous blocks at a time. "It's one of DPW's regulations," explained Neal Patel, Community Planner for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Patel is currently trying to ensure that similar work on Valencia street from 15th to 19th retains safe and adequate passage for cyclists during the construction.

This week's work opened up the west side of Divisadero from Oak to Page, getting it ready for median widening and resurfacing. Also, a new and better NW corner at Grove was smoothed over Friday morning, making passersby sigh a bit that the sidewalks themselves would not be replaced.

Pedestrian and livability advocates resort to more than a sigh, as noted in Friday's Streetsblog post by Michael Rhodes. Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, and Manish Champsee, President of Walk San Francisco, express regret that the renewed Divisadero will see no end to its "90 year legacy of skinny sidewalks."

Friday, September 25, 2009

BIKE THE BLOCK: Kids Stuff Too

Eighty blog posts ago, on July 7th, we suggested that a "NOPA Play Block" might be just the thing for kids to get to ride their bikes in the street...safely. We later learned that several parents ride with their kids through NOPA regularly, although not so many as to be a common sight.

This Sunday all that changes. Kids on Bikes on Grove Street. For three hours kids and adults can ride, walk and enjoy the neighborhood while they sample rides, decorate their bikes, watch bike stunts, and ride the funcycle.

The dedicated staff of YBIKE, the youth bicycling program of the Presidio YMCA will offer tips at the kids' cycle course -- whether on Skuuts, tricycles, or bicycles. Kids can also ride their bikes the length of Grove Street, between Lyon and Baker.

For exercise, for fun, for the sheer joy of biking. Kids on Bikes. Sunday.

Bike the Block party
Sunday, Sept. 27
10 am to 1pm
Grove, between Lyon and Baker.
Kids events on the Baker end of the block.
Bike art, bike decorating, bike stunts, bike T shirt raffle, bike stickers.

Party-on-Wheels at BIKE THE BLOCK Sunday

"It's not just a bike. It's a Party on Wheels,"* and it's coming to a neighborhood near you. Actually the seven-person circular funcycle will be right in and cruising around NOPA this Sunday as part of BIKE THE BLOCK's three hour, non-stop, all-things-bike block party.

NOPA's own Dan Nguyen-Tan will be at the wheel of the funcycle, ready for anyone who can pedal and be a little silly (or a lot). In just a few months, Dan has taken the odd-looking bike to Sunday Streets, Bike-in Movie Nights, Park(ing) Day, the LGBT Pride Parade, and all over town. Look for him Saturday at the Tour de Fat extravaganza in Golden Gate Park and the next Chinese New Year will be in for a surprise participant on wheels.

Initially marketed as the "Conference Bike," an effective ice-breaker for corporate team-building, the silliness of the ride has taken hold instead. In Dan's view, "You can have a meeting with up to seven people to discuss organizational bylaws..., but who wants to discuss that while enjoying a lovely day outside on a seven-person bike."

Dan found that music was the key component to any truly fun ride. He rigs two 150 watt speakers with an inverter powered by a car battery on the rear basket to play music from his iPod. "I sometimes add a disco ball or an inflatable fish on the back to add to the silliness," he adds. For other rides, he uses a wireless microphone to sing karaoke and talk with people on the street.

"It's one of the few times when I'm on a bicycle when car drivers actually slow down or smile when they see a bicyclist, or more accurately, seven bicyclists," Dan notes.

Anyone can ride the funcycle, although it does require pedal-power. Just hold on and do the spins. Nguyen-Tan reports that he has also taken many kids for a ride, although they need to have both hands on the bar in front of them and their legs need to reach the pedals (the seat is adustable). A responsible adult or parent must ride with the kids.

Stop by BIKE THE BLOCK for a ride you've never had before. Sunday, Sept. 27, 10 am to 1 pm. Grove Street between Lyon and Baker. The funcycle will depart from the Lyon end of the block. But save time also for the free raffle of Mojo Bicycle Cafe t-shirts at 12:30, a bike service station stop, electric bike demo, bike stunts, bike decorating, kids training course, bike art, even a bike blessing at 11:30. Really: it's all-bike all three hours.

(Please do watch the video of Dan and friends at the recent Parking(day) on Valencia).
With these great sponsors: NOPNA, Pacific Primary School, YBIKE/YMCA, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, BIKE NOPA, and Mojo Bicycle Cafe.

Note: Dan's FunCycle has been loaned by the bicycle rental company, Bike and Roll.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MTA to Reconsider Oak & Fell SFgo Signs, Will Listen to Mirkarimi

MTA Executive Director Nat Ford and MTA Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck will reconsider the SFgo signs currently placed at Fell and Oak Streets west of Divisadero, according to two of the participants in a meeting yesterday with the transportation authority representatives. Ford and Fleck also said they welcomed input about the SFgo signs from nearby residents and they would look to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to guide their decision.

Manish Champsee, President of Walk San Francisco, and Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, met with Ford and Fleck yesterday as part of their regularly scheduled sessions to discuss livability issues. Champsee said the two MTA reps seemed particularly ready to reconsider the Oak Street sign if the community objects to it. Radulovich said he recalled them saying that "if there are objections to the sign, they will drop it." He added, "They indicated that they are looking to the supervisor to guide them, to help them filter community input."

The Fell Street sign poses different challenges to the MTA than its twin on Oak. The MTA feels it has an obligation to the Concourse Authority in Golden Gate Park to erect some kind of sign structure on Fell Street to alert motorists when the concourse garage is full and to direct them to other parking options. While the Concourse Authority may be concerned about frustrated customers -- and lost ticket sales -- Richmond, Sunset, and Haight neighbors have voiced their frustration with motorists flooding their streets looking for parking, creating both congestion and risky driving by distracted drivers.

But even the Fell Street sign might not remain at its current location, or with its current design, if NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors mount a campaign against it, as several neighbors have discussed since last week's meeting of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association. Both Champsee and Radulovich said Ford and Fleck appeared open to a more appropriate and more attractive sign that was a better fit for the neighborhood. And they might consider moving it from the Divisadero intersection. Again, the two MTA representatives suggested they would look to the supervisor for guidance.

In effect, the MTA directors appear to be granting Supervisor Mirkarimi -- and presumably other supervisors who might find the freeway-style signs riling their own constinuents -- the option to say no to SFgo, or at least to the "visual message displays."

The challenge for District 5 neighbors will be to recognize the legitimate concerns raised by those further west (in the Haight, the Sunset, and the Richmond) as well as those further east (in NOPA and Alamo Square). A review of the location of the Fell Street sign as well as the design and scale of any display may identify a solution mostly satisfactory to all. To this end, Vallie Brown, Supervisor Mirkarimi's aide, said tonight that she has scheduled a meeting to be held within the next two weeks for the supervisor to specifically discuss the SFgo signs and traffic calming measures with Nat Ford and Jose Luis Moscovich, Executive Director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Brown has encouraged all neighbors to summarize their concerns and suggestions and send them to her at . She will compile their messages for Supervisor Mirkarimi to review prior to his upcoming meeting.

Harvey Milk on Neighborhoods

Sometimes one picture does say it all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pedal-Powered Hauling @ BIKE THE BLOCK

See it happen and you're impressed. Do it once and you're converted. Hauling by bike is cool, inspiring, motivating, and easier than you might think. NOPA cyclists bike their kids, their groceries, their desks, their apartments, really, most everything you can imagine -- and some you never would.

Newbie haulers start with paniers on the side, or they mount a front basket, or bungee their stuff on a rear rack. When they're ready for some real human-powered transport, cyclists switch to cargo bikes, xtracycles, and the trailers for when you forego the U-Haul for the U-Bike.

All kinds of hauling gear and bikes will roll onto Grove Street between Baker and Lyon this upcoming Sunday for NOPA's BIKE THE BLOCK, a three-hour bike-themed block party. Trade tips about what works best, find a neighbor to invest in a bike trailer together, and take a few trial spins. Be sure to get a copy of the SF Bike Coalition's "Schlepping, shopping, hauling, lugging, moving, bike" pamphlet.

Sunday, Sept. 27
10 am to 1 pm
Grove Street, between Baker and Lyon

3 hours non-stop, all-bike splurge in NOPA.
(But you don't have to be a cyclist to have a good time).

  • Kids skill course
  • bike decorating
  • bike service station
  • electric bike demo
  • show'n'tell bike trailers
  • 6 person funcycyle (you have to ride this with your friends and neighbors!)
  • Coffee to power you up compliments of Central Coffee & Tea
  • Free Raffle of Mojo Bicycle Cafe T-shirts
  • Ever-popular Free Walk or Bike Ride to Divisadero Farmers Market
(See tomorrow's post for a profile of the Dan the DJ and his partybike).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beyond NOPA: SFgo Signs Across the City; Mirkarimi Worked to Get Fell Sign Placed

NOPA and Alamo Square aren't the only neighborhoods slated to get SFgo signs.
Franklin and Gough are next in line for the freeway-style SFgo standards and LED message displays, according to Cathal Hennessy, deputy manager of the traffic management program of the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA). During last week's North Panhandle neighborhood meeting, Hennessy told the audience that the signs currently operating in SOMA as well as the not-yet-operational Fell and Oak signs are simply the "first installment."

"In time, yes, there will be other streets," Hennessy responded to an inquiry from the audience. "We're barely ten years into the project. Next to get fiber and signs are Franklin and Gough." The SFgo rep was referring to the underground fiber optics that link upgraded traffic signals and new above-ground traffic cameras with a traffic communication center. Asked whether Pine and Bush would also get signs, he replied, "We already have fiber on Bush."

SFgo signs are already up and operating in SOMA at four locations: on 9th near Howard, on 10th at Mission, on the Embarcadero just south of Mission, and on King east of 2nd. In an email to a NOPA neighbor, SFgo director Cheryl Liu wrote, "The signs in SOMA have been well-received."

Also from the NOPNA meeting:

The money game. The city's current infrastructure (signal lights, traffic cameras) date from the 1950s. Jack Fleck, San Francisco traffic engineer, explained the financial aspect of the SFgo program: "To get federal funding for transit and other projects, we have to use cutting-edge technology, not our 1950s system." He added, "SFgo allows us to apply for funding; it helps us get in the money game." Current funding for SFgo comes from Prop K, the ballot measure approved by city voters in 2003 to fund transportation improvements.


Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's office helped get the SFgo sign placed on Fell Street. Vallie Brown, an aide to Mirkarimi, told the audience at last week's North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) meeting, that the District 5 supervisor has been working with Inner Richmond, Inner Sunset, and Haight residents since 2006 to address the impact of motorists seeking on-street parking when the underground garage at the Golden Gate Park Concourse is full. "The motorists seeking parking in the neighborhoods - when the garage is full - causes safety hazards because drivers are not paying attention as they drive the streets," Brown said. She referred to the 2006 Concourse Traffic Calming Plan that detailed neighbors' request for one sign on Fell and another on 19th Street.

Fell at Masonic was the first choice for an SFgo sign to alert museum visitors with a "garage is full" message, according to Brown, but the neighbors later decided it should be placed in NOPA at Divisadero because "that's where the bottlenecking starts."

Brown said Mirkarimi convened a town hall meeting four months ago. "They discussed having one electric sign close to Divisadero, but the only messages could be the garage is full and safety messages like 'watch for bikes' and 'watch for pedestrians.'" Brown concluded, "Our office has been working on that basis since 2006." In response to criticism about the signs at the NOPNA meeting, Brown said other locations for the Fell sign might be possible but "a huge number of neighbors have worked on this for several years."
While Supervisor Mirkarimi's office worked closely with his westernmost constituency on this issue, his staff apparently neglected to inform his NOPA and Alamo Square constituents about plans for the SFgo sign in their neighborhood. Neither NOPNA nor the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA) were notified by Mirkarimi's office, according to NOPNA president Kevin Rafter and ASNA Transportation Committee Chair Michael Smithwick. MTA also did not inform the two associations; instead, as required, notices of a hearing were posted near the new signs, but the obscure description -- "variable message displays" -- hardly informed residents of the actual structures proposed.

As noted in our previous post, a solution to this traffic calming conflict was proposed at the NOPNA meeting. Inner Richmond, Inner Sunset, Haight, NOPA, and Alamo Square residents might all support a display sign if the standard were placed at the end of the Central Freeway to alert museum visitors of the status of the garage in Golden Gate Park. ASNA's Michael Smithwick suggested the freeway sign was not only more appropriate at the freeway but that location is where the information would be most helpful to motorists on their way to the park.

Monday, September 21, 2009

MTA Really Wants -- But Can Get By Without -- Fell & Oak Signs, According to SFgo Manager

Cathal Hennessy, Deputy Director of the SFgo program for the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA), conceded after a long and heated neighborhood meeting last week that the controversial message display signs on Fell and Oak streets are not crucial to the success of the system.

Both Hennessy and Jack Fleck, city traffic engineer, had already described to the neighbors the most important components of the SFgo program. Fleck explained, “The primary and biggest part of SFgo is infrastructure replacement.” Many of the city’s current traffic signals and corresponding technology date from the 1950s, according to Fleck, and an upgrade of the system was necessary to apply computer technology to traffic management. Hennessy added that an underground network of fiber optics connect with upgraded signal lights and new overhead traffic cameras to funnel information to a central communications center. From this command post, MTA expects to manage traffic to reflect conditions on the city's streets.

“The fiber optic cables are already in place at Fell and Oak, and they are essential links to other locations in the city,” Hennessy said in a separate conversation after the meeting. With this essential component of the system already secured, Hennessy reluctantly agreed -- with a nod and a "yes" -- that dismantling or moving the Fell and Oak signs would not cause a major disruption to the program. He stressed that the work was already under contract, but shrugged at the suggestion that contracts are re-negotiated all the time.

During the sixty minute discussion at a meeting of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) last Thursday evening, both Hennessy and Fleck emphasized that the purpose of SFgo has always been to help implement San Francisco’s “Transit First” policy through better traffic management. Yet Hennessy also told the group that the Fell street sign had a different purpose. And it had nothing to do with transit priorities.

“The primary message for the Fell Street sign is to tell about garages that are full at the de Young and to direct motorists seeking parking to alternatives like the UCSF garage,” Hennessy said referring to the underground garage in Golden Gate Park that serves visitors to the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. He explained that the MTA wants to keep museum-goers from circling streets in the Inner Richmond and Inner Sunset in search of parking when the concourse garage is full.

No one in the audience dismissed the "full garage" message, but they objected to the Fell street location being used for that purpose. Several neighbors complained that the SFgo sign would be a distraction to motorists exactly at the point where drivers need to be most alert to bicyclists and pedestrians. The Fell and Divisadero intersection is already hazardous with entry and exit to the ARCO service station regularly blocking the bike lane and sidewalk and with motorists' tendency to speed once they clear Divisadero. Others complained that the SFgo signs added a visual blight to the Divisadero Corridor which only this week the city began to tear up for physical improvements and visual enhancements. None of these comments appeared to have any impact on the MTA representatives. Hennessy, who introduced himself as a NOPA resident and cyclist, simply declared, “These signs are not distracting.”

Michael Smithwick, long-time Alamo Square resident, voiced some of the strongest sentiment against the Fell street sign, but he also offered a solution. “Put the sign at the off ramps of the freeway.” Smithwick suggested that motorists using Fell to get to the deYoung Museum and the Academy of Science are primarily coming off the freeway and that was when they should receive a “garage is full” message because then they would have a real chance to change their route.

The SFgo sign on Oak street just west of Divisadero was equally criticized by the neighbors. Michael Khavul said he hoped to develop property at Baker and Oak streets into a mixed-use complex but the SFgo sign would effectively prohibit it. “We are looking to have twelve bedrooms that will face that sign, (but) we cannot have anyone sleep there with those signs.” MTA regulations prohibit placing SFgo signs outside any second or third floor windows, and the managers chose the sidewalk along the Dept. of Motor Vehicles building with that in mind. Apparently MTA did not consider the impact on any new development at the site or existing buildings across the street.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has already objected to the Oak Street sign, according to his aide, Vallie Brown, who attended the NOPNA meeting. He told the MTA “no way,” she said, but apparently the MTA took little note of his objections. Brown explained, “We found out when you did about the sign going up on Oak Street.” Earlier in the day Mirkarimi told Streetsblog that “Nobody’s made a good case to me on Oak at all.”

The bottom line for the neighbors. No one objects to SFgo plans for infrastructure upgrades, the underground fiber cables, the above-ground traffic cameras, or the communications center. But the Fell Street sign creates a traffic hazard instead of preventing one, and it could better serve its real purpose – the garage parking issue – at a different location. The Oak Street sign would provide traffic messages, but few outside the traffic management world of MTA believe it will provide an essential service.

And the surprising thing is, one of SFgo's directors believes the program will do just fine without either sign.

For previous posts on SFgo in NOPA and Alamo Square, see these for 9/18, 9/17, 9/14, 9/09, 8/11

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Divisadero Renewal: Week One

Grove, Fulton, McAllister intersections -- all received some of the action on Divisadero this first week of reconstruction and renewal for NOPA's physically tired and worn corridor. The east side of the two-block stretch from Grove to McAllister was getting resurfaced Saturday morning. The re-cast curbs and pedestrian crossing islands at the median were set, and medians were getting prepped for better lighting and landscaping.

The makeover plan calls for the construction and lane disruption to shift regularly from one side of Divisadero to the other to ease the burden on local businesses and residents. No need to shop elsewhere or grab a meal in some other neighborhood; businesses are open and ready to serve more than ever.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

PARKing Day: Next Year in NOPA

Why should the east side of town have all the fun on PARK(ing) Day?

Today was PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco and all over the world.

First launched in 2005 by Rebar, a local art and design collective, PARK(ing) Day is a one-day, once-a-year celebration of creating park spaces out of metered parking spots in the city. The temporary transformations dot city streets with mini-parks from Des Moines to Issaqua, Brighton to Lisbon, Canberra to Florence.

As the PARK(ing) Day 2009 site explains, "Anyone can participate ...though it is strictly a non-commercial project, intended to promote creativity, civic management, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play."

San Francisco's PARK(ing) Day 2009 included a solar-powered water fountain on Mission street (stand in front of the panel to block the sun and the fountain stops), a lush oasis on Valencia, an outdoor hangout including DJ in front of the urban planning institute SPUR, and NOPA neigbors Nathan Frankel and Dale Danley taking sun in the Mission.

So, next year, NOPA. Although the neighborhood is not as urban, not as dense as the east side locations, some of our streets could flourish for a day with some creative PARK(ing) Day attention.

Friday, September 18, 2009

NOPNA Meeting: Speeding on Oak and Fell

The pedestrian fatality on Fell earlier this week has rekindled concern, frustration, and anger of NOPA and Alamo Square residents over speeding on Fell and Oak streets. Once news of the death of Melissa Hope Dennison circulated among neighbors, the gathering storm over the SFgo signs in the neighborhood took on another aspect: the failure of the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) and SFPD to effectively deal with dangerous driving on these "residential freeways."

"I wish you were with me every morning when I have to run with my three kids to get across Oak Street safely," Lisa Zohner told representatives of MTA and SFPD at Thursday night's meeting sponsored by the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA). One resident who lives on Fell complained that the city has a record of ticketing cars on the street 100% of the time for street-cleaning violations but only something close to 1-2% for ticketing speeders. "Your engineering solution (for Oak and Fell) does not reflect real life experience," charged another neighbor. These and similar comments received a round of applause from the more than 60 neighbors gathered for the meeting.

Lt.Lon Ramlan of SFPD Park Station spoke to the NOPNA gathering and said the department "really tries to focus on speeding" in the district's traffic corridors. "We're trying to do more uniform enforcement; we're trying to create a safe, civil community." However, Ramlan disturbed some at the meeting when he commented on the death of Melissa Hope Dennison. "It was an accident; it was not manslaughter," he said. He then advised pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to take extra caution when travelling early mornings or evenings when others may be more distracted. Ramlin commented further on protecting one's home against burglaries.

I asked Ramlan if it was now the official SFPD position that the death of Dennison "was not manslaughter." (Lt. Lyn Tomioka, SFPD spokesperson, was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner Wednesday as saying the investigation is ongoing). Ramlin backtracked and said "there is no determination that it was manslaughter." Given the apparently uncertain outcome of the investigation, it might also be stated that there is no determination that it was not manslaughter. SFPD has also told the media that there was no evidence of speeding by the motorist who killed Dennison, although the force of the impact leads others to question that conclusion.

Jack Fleck, SFMTA Traffic Engineer, offered a more forthcoming assessment of the traffic death. "Speeding is a factor in any fatality like this," he told the westside neighbors. He said he decided to attend the NOPNA meeting once the department heard about the tragic loss.
"If a car is stopped, as a motorist you should assume the car stopped for a good reason," Fleck said. "Green does not mean 'go'; it means you cannot proceed if a pedestrian is in the way."

Fleck reported that the number of pedestrian deaths in the city remains far too high but the count is nevertheless dropping to the point that 2008 saw sixteen pedestrian fatalities, appreciably less than previous years. "The thing we have to conquer is the speeding issue," he emphasized and said MTA believes the city needs more "automated enforcement" -- red light cameras -- because "the police can't do it all." He added that MTA will place a red light camera at dangerous Fell and Masonic intersection, although he did not provide a date for the installation. In response to comments that neighbors have had to fight every step of the way to get MTA to slow traffic on Fell and Oak, Fleck said "I will commit to looking close at Fell and Oak. When, Kevin Rafter, NOPNA President, asked Fleck if he would report back to the association about the matter, the engineer replied, "I don't think I would have any choice."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was unable to attend the NOPNA meeting, but earlier in the day he told Streetsblog reporter Michael Rhodes that "Fell and Oak is a freeway, for all intents and purposes." He added, "Unless we are willing to radically calm Fell and Oak down, then we're just dancing around the edges" with the more incremental "patchwork" changes that MTA proposes periodically for the corridors.

Proposals for taming Fell and Oak include returning the streets to two-way traffic, further reduction in the speed limit, adding a full bike lane, much-increased enforcement of the speed limit by SFPD, and adding bulb-outs at the corners to improve pedestrian safety. The SFgo program has stoked concern about MTA priorities and whether the freeway-style signs will only add to the speeding problem, not tame it. Few neighbors left the NOPNA meeting feeling assured that MTA or SFPD were going to be aggressive in implementing the full-system traffic calming and speed control that many feel is a must. Those who don't want the issue to be sidelined in the days ahead can register their ongoing concern with:
  • Mayor Gavin Newsom:
  • Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi:
  • SFMTA Board President Tom Nolan @ SFMTA, 1 So. Van Ness, 7th Floor, SF 94103
  • SFMTA Director, Parking & Traffic, Bond Yee:
  • SFMTA Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck: SFMTA,
  • SFPD Chief George Gascon, 415 553 1551
  • SFPD Park District Captain Teresa Barrett, 415 242 3000.
NOPNA is also assembling an interest group of neighbors who want to work on slowing Fell and Oak speeding; contact through Please comment here on BIKE NOPA as well to add to the neighborhood discussion.

Readers' Note: check next Monday's post in BIKE NOPA for a review and analysis of the discussion about SFgo at the NOPNA meeting. One highlight: now it seems the Fell street SFgo sign has little to do with traffic calming -- and certainly not with transit management.

The NOPNA Meeting on Traffic Fatality & SFgo

A note to readers: BIKE NOPA will present the highlights of the North Panhandle neighborhood meeting mid-day today, after a bit more time to absorb the information and interactions of the sixty minute discussion. (Full disclosure: by midnight last night, sleep was more enticing than reviewing meeting notes).

The meeting was revealing with a few surprises. Expect a post mid-day (in case you're accustomed to the usual full 7 a.m. post).