Saturday, October 31, 2009

Seen While Biking: Fewer Street Trees

Sometimes it's a win some, lose some proposition. With the happy prospect of new trees along the Divisadero Corridor, NOPA nevertheless lost five on Fell one block away. Seems sewer replacement work is required on the north side of Fell just west of Broderick, and the towering Ficus made the job too difficult.

Divisadero doesn't have anything over Fell when it comes to skinny sidewalks, and these five trees did appear awfully cramped in the little space allowed them. And now they're gone; only stumps remain as evidence of their once leafy presence.

The city is responsible for trees planted along Fell, and perhaps new street trees will be planted once the below-ground work is completed. Seems awfully empty there now....and perhaps noisier without their buffering effect.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ghoulish (& car-free) Grove Set to Spook NOPA

Forget more livable streets this Saturday unless you're thinking streets of the "living dead."
NOPA opens its blocks to ghouls, spooks, and ghosts in the late afternoon and into Halloween night for the annual scary NOPNA block party.

Spooky times begin at 4 pm for the Kid's Halloween Party at Green Chile Kitchen, McAllister and Baker Streets. Dancing, games, snacks, and surprise guests await costumed kids. And little ones especially decked out definitely want to enter the costume contest at 5:15. Afterwards, everyone gets to join the neighborhood parade led by D5 Supe Ross Mirkarimi with a take-off from the restaurant to head up Baker to McAllister and then proceed west to Lyon before returning.

And there's more scary fun. After the parade, two blocks of Grove Street (from Central to Baker) and two blocks of Lyon Street (Fulton to Hayes) will be car-free and open for the Ghoulish Grove Street Block Party for trick or treating and swapping ghost stories.*

Last year 75 kids joined the devilish fun, and BIKE NOPA has learned that the Haunted Garden at 1635 Grove will be bigger and scarier this year. Kids, you've got to bring a parent with you.

Chief event organizer Leela Gill invites everyone to join the fun, including single adults without kids of their own. "Providing a safe, car-free place for children to trick or treat for a few hours -- all within walking distance of their homes -- is just one more way we can come together as a community. Parents don't have to get into their cars and drive to another neighborhood. Kids enjoy seeing their neighborhood friends. And adults of all ages can't help but smile when they see the little ones walking down the street in their costumes. Simply put, it's fun for everyone!"

NOPNA's annual Halloween Party (and block party)
Saturday, Oct. 31, starts 4pm, extends into the night
4pm: meet at Green Chile Kitchen, 18o1 McAllister @ Baker (formerly Cafe Proust)
5:15: costume contest at restaurant
5:30: parade from McAllister to Lyon and back
Post-parade party into the night on Grove (Baker to Central) and Lyon (Fulton to Hayes)

Trevor Logan and his staff at Green Chile Kitchen will be ready to serve great burritos (for purchase) for all hungry ghosts and goblins and even their uncostumed friends. Jennifer Rosdail will provide treats for kids after the party.

* Several years ago when I interviewed NOPA residents for a series of "Historic House Profiles" many confided that they shared their homes, willingly or not, with spirits.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunday Streets Comes to Central City: Western Addition, Alamo Square, and NOPA Prime Candidates for 2010

Sunday Streets on 24th in the Mission by larrybobsf.

photo by Larrybobsf from Flickr

For the first time the wildly popular Sunday Streets will grace the thoroughfares of the Western Addition including the sights of Alamo Square and NOPA, if current planning holds through the decision process. Cheryl Brinkman, President of the Board of Livable City, and one of the primary organizers of Sunday Streets, reported that a Central City route will be included in next year’s street celebrations.

“The Civic Center and Tenderloin streets remain uncertain,” Brinkman explained, “but a western loop through the Western Addition, Alamo Square and NOPA has been outlined as a strong possibility.” Although she cautioned, "there's no done deal yet," the plans now call for the loop to include segments of Baker, Fulton, and Steiner Streets and Golden Gate Avenue.

The Western Loop: Beginning at the western end of the route, Brinkman said they hoped to link up with the Panhandle Path at Fell and Baker. From that point walkers, bikers, neighbors, and visitors will continue north on Baker for three blocks to Fulton, turn right and continue east crossing Divisadero to Steiner. From Steiner the route heads north to link up with the Kimball Playground at Geary before returning on Steiner to Golden Gate for a return to the Civic Center. Of course, Sunday Streeters can start at either end of the route or anywhere in between.

Brinkman said the organizers are encouraged that residents in NOPA and Alamo Square have expressed interest in having the street festival include their neighborhoods. As a result, she said, “We’re working to make it happen.” Brinkman added that part of the Divisadero Corridor might be added if merchants are interested and other factors permit it.

The Central City route with its western loop brings new attractions and features to Sunday Streets: hills, for one. Sooner or later the summer festival had to include San Francisco’s basic vertical realities, and Fulton Street west of Webster will add more cardio to the walk or ride. The western loop will also include many more residential blocks than have previously been part of the mix.

After two years of experience, the organizers are adept at anticipating difficulties and calming concerns. For instance, the western loop will permit a drive through for McAllister Street traffic, including the #5 Fulton bus. With a Sunday event, planners must also consider the impact on churches with services that day, but Brinkman said this hasn’t been a significant problem.

“In the Bayview and in the Mission our routes this year passed many churches. But we worked with them and found that if we gave them enough notice and a chance to inform their congregations, there was no problem.” Brinkman added, “Some of the churches kept their doors open during services and a few held services outdoors for all.”

Parking problems? Somehow it’s never as bad as many fear. Organizers for last year’s Bay to Breakers run, for example, secured free parking at the Department of Motor Vehicles lot on Fell Street to address concerns from NOPA motorists. When the time came, only three vehicles were parked in the lot.

Baker and Divisadero Street merchants will likely find Sunday Streets a real boon to their businesses. Earlier this year Valencia Street merchants couldn’t wait for the second round of Sunday visitors after the first Sunday Streets included their blocks.

Central City festivities will likely occur in August and September or September and October of next year, according to Brinkman. Sunday Street routes are usually repeated on two consecutive months. “There’s just too much work to do a separate route for each Sunday event.” In 2010, organizers expect to launch nine Sunday events with five routes.

Brinkman encourages residents along the routes to send their suggestions for activities they’d like to have on their neighborhood blocks. In the past Sunday Streets has featured exercise classes, yoga, hula hooping, bike skills courses for kids, rental bikes, bike repair stops, lots of bands, and, of course, non-stop people watching. Send ideas and requests to .

For NOPA neighbors: Brinkman will present Sunday Streets plans at the November NOPNA neighborhood meeting. (Thursday, November 19, 7pm social, 7:30 meeting at Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton between Masonic and Central).

Note: Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed Sunday Streets an annual celebration and made the Municipal Transportation Agency the official sponsor. Livable City manages day-to-day operations, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition handles the volunteer program under contract. Volunteers are needed for marketing, social networking, and a range of other activities. (The organization really wants help upgrading its website!) Contact .

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Greater Livability With More Block Parties: How San Francisco Can Encourage, Not Just Regulate, Neighborhood Events

San Francisco, with all its neighborhoods and micro-communities, hosts relatively few block parties, just 73 in 2007. The events that do occur contribute so much to the vitality, social cohesion, security, and livability of neighborhoods that we might expect city leaders to promote block parties and streamline the approval process. In fact, livability advocates are working with city departments to do just that.

The San Francisco Great Streets Project is currently developing a framework for how San Franciscans and city departments can work together to improve our streets and our livability in the process. The project is a collaboration of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Livable Streets Initiative, SPUR, and PPS, the Project for Public Spaces. San Francisco's Livable City is also contributing to this effort, bringing Sunday Streets know-how into the mix. Great Streets Executive Director, Kit Hodge, explains, "We're working on ways to incentivize block parties in San Francisco."

This year the North Panhandle neighborhood sponsored its annual block party on Lyon Street, a Fourth of July party on Golden Gate Avenue, the BIKE THE BLOCK party on Grove Street, and an upcoming Halloween Party on two blocks of Grove. Not bad for a 30 square block neighborhood: four car-free events opening streets for walking, playing, biking, music, and games. As a result of preparing for these parties, neighborhood event organizers have developed a good working relationship with the MTA office responsible for reviewing applications and granting permits.

My first involvement with the process was to organize NOPA’s BIKE THE BLOCK party in September. The experience was positive and Cindy Shamban, Special Events Coordinator for the MTA and my primary staff contact, was friendly and helpful. Yet the overall process might have been confusing and frustrating if I had not been familiar with city departments from previous experience.

Below are my own observations and suggestions for improving the system; some of these are considerations also detailed by the Great Streets project* in their review of the permit process:

  • Most importantly: the city should actively encourage and welcome block parties. Its websites and printed material should guide people through the permit process and every step of the application and permit process. The process now suggests an old-guard Parking and Traffic culture tempered by helpful staff. The initial contact online, however, makes applicants feel that the city will consider our request if we really must have a block party but only if we jump every hoop just right. And beware anyone who misreads or misunderstands – they may forfeit their residency (or so it seems). The process relies far too much on all caps, bold print warnings such as “FAILURE TO COMPLETE THE APPLICATION FULLY…INCLUDING COMPLIANCE WITH ALL REQUIREMENTS…WILL RESULT IN REJECTING…” Lighten up, MTA, it’s a block party not an assault on a city street! There are ways to enlighten residents about city regulations without leaving them feeling intimidated, confused, or repeatedly rolling their eyes.
  • MTA needs a more welcoming website overall. Maybe it’s just me, but the black-and-white slash design seems harsh and off-putting for an agency whose mission is to inform about transportation and encourage new modes of travel.
  • Make the block party section of the MTA web site easier to locate. Fortunately, others told me who to call at MTA and where to find the info needed. If you know to search for, you can find your way to block parties sooner or later, but a Google search will be frustrating.
  • Separate the block party information from the larger, more complex events on the site. No one needs to know how to apply for something like the Bay to Breakers when they only want to open one neighborhood block for a car-free event. One of my first questions was, “What? I have to provide proof of $1 million insurance coverage for a block party?” (Answer: no, but you have to ask, presuming you aren’t discouraged enough to stop there). The filing document runs 14 pages and covers events of all sizes; the info for block parties specifically might require half as many.
  • Reduce the filing fee. The city can get serious about promoting and encouraging block parties by not charging from $150 to $450 for them. Staff time is required for reviewing applications, answering questions from applicants, adding the request to a committee hearing, sending out notices, etc. But the application itself is just 2 to 3 pages and one-block parties do not require much oversight. There’s not much equity in a system that requires block party applicants to pay as much in filing fees as those who sponsor much more complicated and time-consuming income-generating, multi-block street fairs or music festivals.
  • Again, reconsider the tone of information. How many times do citizens need to be told that they must abide by the instructions and file “a declaration under penalty of perjury”? Evidently, any time they post or remove a “Notice of Public Hearing” on the block. Does this still feel like a fun event?
  • Evaluate instructions about the No Parking Signs. Applicants might want to post “No Parking/Tow Away” signs on the block, but the requirements and procedures for doing so are confusing and some are not explained adequately. Event sponsors might easily be uncertain about the differences between having a permit and being registered with the police, about posting the no parking signs but not acting on them without police registration, etc.
The Great Streets Project is studying whether a private organization might help advise block party applicants and relieve the MTA of some of the responsibility, especially if the city decides to more actively promote neighborhood events. New York set up such a service with BlockpartyNYC, an online resource that guides anyone interested in block parties through the city permit system and offers tips for staging a successful event. Transportation Alternatives (TA), the premiere New York livability advocacy organization, sponsors the service. Julia De Martini Day, Planner/Advocate for T.A., explained that BlockPartyNYC also helps promote individual events, and more than 100 organizers have listed their parties since the site began in 2008. T.A. encourages others to see the potential of block parties to advance livability goals, and it awards mini-grants to event organizers who want to develop livable streets campaigns for their neighborhoods.

In preparation for this post, I telephoned MTA’s Shamban and asked what she thought the agency might do to make the process easier for applicants. She paused and I think she chuckled before she answered. “I think our process works really well. Once you’ve done it once or twice and have become familiar with it especially.” I imagine the process has worked well enough. Applicants sooner or later figure out what must be done, and, if they're not shy about making repeated inquiries by phone, staff will readily provide the information needed. But the “well enough” status for the past won’t suit the near future when San Franciscans – hopefully with the robust endorsement of the city – envision more blocks “open” for new uses rather than simply “closed” to car traffic. The first suggests more encouragement; the second reflects status quo regulation.

* Thanks to Jeremy Shaw, Great Streets Project intern, for providing background information about efforts to streamline the city’s permit process.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lance & Levi Set to Bike NOPA

2008 Tour of California - Stage 2 by BikeRanger.
photo by BikeRanger on Flickr

Isn't it a bit soon to have the world's top cyclists choose NOPA for a premiere tour? Have our 30 square blocks of bikes and prime livability generated that much buzz already? Ready or not, NOPA will give up several blocks of Fell Street for Stage 3 in the Tour of California set for May 18, 2010. Considered the most prestigious and important bike race in the United States, the eight-stage tour will include 16 host cities and will feature several firsts:
  • first time to be held in May instead of February to include more diverse terrain
  • first mountain-top finish in race history (stage 6 at Big Ben Lake)
  • first time to ride through Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Nevada City and Thousand Oaks
  • first time to announce host cities, stages, and dates via Twitter
Seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, will ride with the newly formed Team RadioShack in his second consecutive year with the California event. Three-time defending champ and Santa Rosa resident, Levi Leipheimer, recently signed on with RadioShack as well for the 750 mile tour.

Last year the Tour of California cyclists raced across the Golden Gate Bridge, but in 2010 the San Francisco stage begins at the Embarcadero and follows the Bay-to-Breakers course to the Great Highway. Thus, the race on Fell Street. Perhaps NOPA will host a few cycling spin-off events as well.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More Bike Party Pics -- Four Weeks Later

Our good neighbor Nathan Frankel not only parked bikes at the NOPA BIKE THE BLOCK party last month, he also snapped some great action shots..and a few really nice still ones. Here's a few extra views. And a preview note: look for a profile of Nathan here soon.

NOPA Bike Block Party 25 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 11 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 13 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 08 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 20 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 06 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 14 by NathanSFNOPA Bike Block Party 07 by NathanSF

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dan Nguyen-Tan: Creating Community, One Ride At A Time

DJ Dan does Tour de Fat

Community Spin on Valencia

Bike service! @ Fell & Masonic

Dan Nguyen-Tan recently celebrated his 35th birthday with his closest 300 friends. Presumably the other few hundred were unable to attend. Dan is that kind of guy, eager to meet new people and make connections among them. His sociability is certainly driven by enjoyment of others’ company, but there’s something more. Dan is committed to community-building.

Dan spent his early years in Chico, a 3 ½ hour drive from San Francisco. He liked the college town well enough to return there after finishing graduate school at Harvard University. “I dabbled in a lot of activities in Chico,” Dan recalled, “mostly efforts to make my hometown an even better place than when I grew up there.” He served on the City Council and chaired the Finance Committee. He also joined several boards of non-profits and worked as President of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization and the Northern California Regional Land Trust.

San Francisco’s dynamism,its better year-round weather, and the proximity to his family drew Dan to settle here two years ago, and he chose NOPA for his home. He chose the neighborhood because of its central location, proximity to the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, and especially because of its biking convenience. “I can bike to almost any other neighborhood within 15-20 minutes or less,” he said. “For example, I can get to North Beach in 18 minutes on my folding bike in the middle of the night. I timed it.”

Dan’s been on a bike since he was a boy with experiences that reflect a kind of Norman Rockwell past. He managed two paper routes by bike – the Sacramento Bee in the morning and the Chico daily in the afternoon. He also biked to school through his junior and senior high years. He continued on two-wheels in college and grad school. But, he reports, biking only became integral to his day-to-day life when he moved to San Francisco.

“The strong, positive bicycling culture and community in the city, plus the practical aspects of city living, reinforces the choice for me to bicycle as my preferred everyday transportation.” For getting around, Dan has quite a few choices. “It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I’m one of those avid bicyclists who own several bikes for very different functions.” Several, as in six:

  • an Xtracycle long-haul bike for transporting cargo and people
  • a Specialized Allez road bike for long rides to Marin or even longer rides, like the AIDS Lifecycle Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that Dan rode earlier this summer.
  • a mountain bike for the off-road jaunts
  • “a crappy old Dahon folding bike” that Dan bought for $50 off Craigslist that most bike mechanics refuse to fix.
  • His beat-up pink Beach cruiser, Dan’s “perfect playa bike” that he takes to Burning Man every year
  • a new upright Live 3 Globe Bike that he uses for his everyday rides. He wanted something sophisticated enough to match his attire when he attends a fundraiser or gala.

And then there’s his now-signature ride, the seven-person funcycle that made its NOPA debut during September’s BIKE THE BLOCK party. The circular, single-gear bike is powered by all the riders pedaling while Dan steers and DJs the rolling sing-a-long. Initially, developed for more corporate purposes – think ice-breakers and conferences – the funcycle, at least in San Francisco, has found its niche as a prime party bike.

The funcycle is a perfect match for Dan’s interests: he easily meets new people attracted to the odd-looking contraption, he enhances any community event he rolls into, and he encourages people to give cycling a try.

Dan hopes his varied interests will challenge the stereotype about bicyclists in the city. “Some people think bicycling enthusiasts like me are anti-car,” he notes, “but I own a car that I use mainly for out of town trips.” Dan simply finds cycling the best option for transportation. “I can get places faster and I don’t need to find parking.” And then there’s the dessert factor cited by so many cyclists: eat all you want and then burn off the calories.

It didn’t take Dan long to get involved with local nonprofits. He readily joined the board of directors for both NOPNA, the neighborhood association, and SFBC, the bike coalition. He raves about both. “I believe in their missions. They’re both …focused on community-building and making the city a better place to live.” He adds, “In both organizations, I’m surrounded by people whose dedication and service regularly inspire me.”

Before my interview with Dan, I wondered, along with many others who so often see him on the funcycle, whether he kept the party bike at home. Answer: yes, he does, in his garage. Almost immediately, everyone’s second question rolled forward: will Dan run for the District 5 seat on the Board of Supervisors when it opens? No answer yet for that. Does he have the qualifications? He certainly has a solid foundation. In his own words: “I’m a civic-oriented person at heart. I believe that one person can make a difference and that a community with shared values and interests can accomplish a lot together.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trees Out, Trees In, Trees Die

Expect to see 250 new street trees on Divisadero from Haight to Geary when the revitalization of the Divis Corridor is completed. A few of the existing trees will remain -- truly, the survivors of harsh circumstances -- but others already display a "Notice of Tree Removal" shrink-wrapped around their struggling trunks. The Division of Urban Forestry of the Department of Public Works has deemed these trees in such poor condition that replacement is the only option. Reasons posted for the removals include "not getting established, contorted by wind" and "struggling young tree, stressed and not growing." (Geez, wouldn't a call to Social Services be more appropriate?)

(Actually the "stressed and not growing" applies to Urban Forestry itself, battered by budget and staff cuts -- so much so that the "Dying Trees on Turk Street" continue to ....die...for lack of a watering plan, unless waiting for last week's downpour was the plan).

The proprietor at 834 Divisadero was properly watering the tree outside his business when I pondered the reason for the this specimen's imminent plucking: "reverse trunk taper, no leader." His hunch was the tree leaned into the street and often took swipes from delivery trucks. But "reverse trunk taper"? I'm going to leave that one alone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

JFK Drive West of Crossover Drive to be Resurfaced, Finally

JFK Drive west of Crossover

No Repaving for MLK Drive

After much delay, San Francisco will finally resurface the western end of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park. Sometime this month a contractor will grind down the badly-worn roadway between Transverse Drive and the Great Highway and replace it with new, smooth asphalt. Rick Thall, Recreation and Parks Department Project Manager, confirmed that the contract has been awarded and the long-awaited work should be completed by the end of November.

Anyone who has walked, biked, or driven this pitted, pocked, cracked, and shredded pavement from Transverse Drive to the Great Highway can appreciate the need for an asphalt makeover. But none of this is news to the city. The 2003 Golden Gate Park Bicycle Improvements Study* recommended repaving the length of JFK Drive "prioritizing the section west of Transverse in the westbound lane." The east end was repaved but not the western segment.

More recently RPD expected to award a contract this past April and begin repaving the rest of JFK Drive in June with funds from Prop 40, the 2.6 billion dollar bond measure passed by California voters in 2002. But then the state budget crisis led to a fiscal freeze and another delay. Now, unless new difficulties appear, the work is about to get underway.**

The JFK Drive contract involves pavement renovation but no replacement of sidewalks. The eastern end of JFK from Crossover to Stanyan Street currently includes a solid stripe outside the parking lane that suggests a biking lane without actually installing one. The new paving further west may include a similar stripe but the narrower lanes won't permit either an adequate biking area or a dedicated bike lane -- unless parking is removed (sometime in the future).

Plan for a huge celebration when the repaving is completed, and bicyclists -- as well as motorists -- can enjoy one vastly smoother and much safer ride the length of the city's premier park. (Actually I intend to gather with friends on JFK when the work begins!)

* The study was prepared for the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority by Leah Shahum and Joshua Hart of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
** Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Drive -- also in unsatisfactory condition in many areas -- will not be resurfaced at this time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MTA's Bond Yee on SFgo, Fell/Oak Speeds, Possible Bike Lane on Fell

Bond M. Yee, Director of Traffic Engineering for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), provided NOPA and Alamo Square residents last week with an update on the agency's plans for a range of neighborhood concerns centered on Fell and Oak Streets. As previously reported here, SFMTA will undertake no further installation of the SFgo signs, as Yee wrote in the October 16th email, "until there is further discussion with the Supervisors and, we hope, a mutually agreed solution." Yee affirmed MTA's resolve to work with Supervisor Mirkarimi's office to "engage the community" to discuss alternatives to the signs.

Yee also detailed agency plans for increasing pedestrian and bicyclist safety and for slowing traffic along the Fell/Oak corridor:
  • The Oak Street SFgo sign will be removed, but Yee provided no date for doing so.
  • MTA will consider a smaller, more neighborhood-friendly SFgo sign for Fell Street with a new pole structure as well as other alternatives.
  • MTA will "evaluate travel speeds and potentially reduce traffic signal cycle length during evening hours in an attempt to address the speeding concerns." MTA's intentions here are unclear: Will the evaluation only be directed at later evening hours, after the commute, and, if so, why focus on the time period with the fewest number of pedestrians and bicyclists and motorists using the Fell/Oak corridor? Was Yee proposing to look at the evening commute and not the morning commute? No timeline was provided for when this evaluation will be undertaken.
  • MTA will "evaluate the possibility of removing a travel lane on Fell Street between Baker and Shrader Streets and replace it with a bicycle lane to alleviate the current congestion at the shared pedestrian and bicycle path along the Panhandle." This option will certainly require MTA to "engage the community" as it touches so many other issues: the need to upgrade the current Panhandle Path, improvements to the southside Panhandle Path, removal of a traffic lane, and the need to slow traffic overall.
  • As previously announced here, MTA "plans to install a new red light camera at Fell and Masonic." MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck informed neighbors of this decision at NOPNA's September 17th meeting. FIX Masonic and other advocacy groups, including the SF Bicycle Coalition, have urged installation of a red light camera at this location for several months to alleviate motorist's confusion with the bicycle/pedestrian light. Yee did not provide an installation date.
We have requested clarification from Yee's office about these issues and timelines.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to Move by Bike

Precarious Load by theoelliot.
Flickr photo courtesy of theoelliot

You could pack up your car if you have one, borrow your friend's truck, get a loaner from CityCarShare, or move by bike. Lots of bicyclists ride simply because it's the best, most direct way to get from Point A to Point B, and that holds for the big moves in your life too. Moving your apartment or office stuff with sturdy bike trailers has become the rage in some circles -- and you know what that means, many more of us will take it up sooner or later.

A Portland group of bike-lovers posted hot tips on how to manage a bike move on their blog SHIFT here . Scroll through the many move-by-bike endeavors underway in Portland, including last May's "Theo's Lumberjack Move-by-Bike" -- overalls, flannel shirts, and bears encouraged (but not mandatory) with vegan chili, cornbread, and beer at the destination. OK, maybe not a lumberjack clothing theme in San Francisco; tweed perhaps?

Thanks to Streetsblog San Francisco for alerting locals to SHIFT via Big Green Boulder .

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rock the Rumble in NOPA

When the Big One comes, we'll be each others' first responder. Remember how it was in '89 with your neighbors on the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. An afternoon of films, photos, stories, and tips on how to be ready for whatever disaster may strike.

Saturday, October 17th
4pm to 6 pm
Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton Street

Friday, October 16, 2009

Seen While Biking: Crosswalks for Vehicles

Every school day this is how it goes: parents and/or guardians drop off and pick up kids at San Francisco Day School (SFDS) on Golden Gate between Masonic and Central. The vehicular line-up often fills Golden Gate, extends up Central, and onto Turk Street. Many motorists are aware that they should not idle astride crosswalks, especially when the SFDS monitor stands at the corner. Others are apparently oblivious to the idea that they are waiting to pick up their own kids while blocking someone else's kids from safely crossing the street.

SFDS has improved the situation immensely during the last few years. The school instituted more vigilant monitoring of the line-up with crossing guards at the intersections, staggered times for kids leaving school, and reminding parents to be more considerate and more safety-minded. But the waiting motorists continue to block the bike lane and too often straddle the crosswalks. Pedestrians must walk into the street which is overly congested with the queue of waiting motorists. And bicyclists: forget the bike lane on that side of the block; its full of vehicles.

The situation is better than it was before, but if you're a parent, a kid, or even simply a neighbor who wants to cross the street using the crosswalk, "better" falls short of safe enough.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bike Your Block Too: Tips for Bike-Themed Block Parties

Presidio Community YMCA at their best

Electric bike station

the fun-cycle!

bike service stop

and the stunt man!

An hour into NOPA’s popular BIKE THE BLOCK party last month, a few neighbors announced, “We’ve got to do this next year” and “We should do this every month.” But the comment that grabbed our attention the most was “I wish we could do this in my neighborhood.” Well, you can!! Here are some suggestions for bringing a BIKE THE BLOCK party to your street.

Keep it Simple. Everything about your block party will be easier – from obtaining a permit to programming events – if you keep your first time out basic and simple. First, select ONE block that has as many of these features as possible:

  • no MUNI line
  • not a major thoroughfare
  • no businesses on the block that depend on car parking
  • no churches on the block that use the street for double parking if you’re planning a Sunday event
  • mostly flat with decent pavement surface
  • good social interaction among neighbors on the block
  • several households with kids of biking age
  • previous experience with hosting block parties
  • a supportive neighborhood association.

Next, Recruit Neighbors to Help. A great many neighbors can be recruited to help, especially if you’re enthusiastic and sell the idea. Emphasize how cool it would be if kids could ride bikes safely in the street, how important it is for neighbors to get to know each other better, how we can all get more exercise, and how there will be events for kids AND adults. Other tips for getting volunteers and support:

  • Go door to door and visit neighbors on the block. It’s not that hard and nothing beats the face-to-face contact for presenting your block party idea
  • Get tangible support from your neighborhood association, such as a mini-grant for the permit fee or the porta-potties. Ask to use its email list and newsletter, contact its parents’ group, and propose and publicize the party at neighborhood meetings.
  • Join the SF Bicycle Coalition (if you haven’t already) and request help meeting cyclists in your neighborhood. Cyclists will be a very supportive group and may help with the planning and programs.
  • Get your local pre-school, elementary and/or high school involved and ask students and their parents to help.

Program Wisely and Moderately. Once you have a location, a date, and a few key volunteers, start to program your party. With the popularity of cycling, it won’t be difficult. Part of our motivation was simply to open the block for kids to bike safely in the street. We also wanted to offer several special attractions that were new and interesting and were likely to create a buzz. Plan on several bike stations spaced the length of the block with more of the adult activities on one end and kids’stuff on the other. Here are some possibilities, from the adult to the kid stations:

  • Bike repair: do this and cyclists will love it. Services can be pumping air in tires, a quick lube job, a polish, or more expert wrenching and adjustments. SFBC members are great for doing this. Recruit your nearby bike shop for gear and volunteers.
  • Bike showcase: show ‘n’ tell for bikes and accessories, especially bike trailers for kids and/or cargo.
  • Bike parking: if you expect a big turnout, talk with SFBC about the best way to provide bike parking.
  • Bike stunts: we were lucky to get a volunteer and folks loved it.
  • Kids skill course: you could do-your-own, but working with the Presidio Community YMCA Youth Bike Program was a huge plus for us. These are great bike people who work well with kids and parents.
  • Bike decorating: all ages but kids really get into the stickers, ribbons, flowers, streamers, and balloons. A bike parade lets them show their bike finery. You can find a variety of stuff at Scrap ( for under $10.
  • Bike art: younger kids love it and allows them to have their own activity too.
  • Bicycle businesses: We were lucky to have a neighbor who works with a local electric bicycle outlet and they joined the fun. See who’s nearby in your neighborhood: bike portrait photographer, bike balloonist, etc.
  • Information table: promote sponsor organizations and provide bike-related info and free bike stuff like tire patch kits and stickers
  • Fun-cycle: if you can book this seven-person circular bike, you’ve got a hit! Fun-cycles can be rented at a few bike outlets in town.
  • If you’re the main organizer, do yourself a favor and don’t assign yourself to one job or location. Allow yourself to roam so you can answer people’s questions and show some on-the-spot appreciation for the volunteers and welcome visitors.

Publicize Your Event. Use every means of publicity and promotion you can. Your block can accommodate hundreds of people. Don’t worry that too many will join the fun.

  • Design an attractive poster. Recruit a volunteer graphic designer. Then mount the poster in every legal place in the neighborhood (not on utility poles).
  • Ask the sponsor organizations to mention the party on their websites.
  • Use all the social networking at your command.
  • Ask bike bloggers to promote your event.
  • Ask your supervisor’s staff to include your event in the district newsletter.

A few more program notes:

  • We found 3 hours was enough time for all the events. Allow for one hour before for prep and one hour after for clean-up.
  • A block map designating specific locations for each activity will help you in so many ways from planning to set-up on the day of the event.
  • Keep it a bike-themed block party with bike-only events.
  • For us, it was easier to have all-free events, even the coffee and pastries provided by a local café and volunteer baker. We wanted a new niche as a bike party (not a street fair).
  • Our party was on a Sunday and we started at 10 am (not too early for residents but about the time kids are ready for action).
  • Recognize and thank everyone repeatedly, especially the organizations and vendors that helped. Part of our goal was to encourage collaboration among the local neighborhood association, the YMCA, a local school, and SFBC.

A bike-themed block party is first and foremost a block party. To keep this post from becoming even longer, a future post will cover basic block party issues: how to negotiate the permit process, neighborhood notification, parking, and city requirements.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MTA Proposes Fix for Fell Street/ARCO Hazard

Traffic Mayhem on Fell Street near Divisadero

The Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) is ready to remove parking spaces along Fell Street just before the ARCO gas station to reduce significant hazards for bicyclists traveling in the bike lane. James Shahamiri, Bicycle Program Assistant Engineer, said the proposal is to remove three parking spaces to create a queuing space outside the bike lane for motorists waiting to enter the gas station. MTA expects to implement the change once the bicycle injunction is lifted. That relief from the court is expected in early November.

The current situation just before the Fell and Divisadero intersection pleases no one. Pedestrians find motorists straddling the sidewalk waiting to enter the ARCO station. Bicyclists find motorists blocking the bike lane awaiting their turn at the lot and are forced to veer into the often speeding Fell Street traffic to get by. And drivers must back up traffic in the lane or endanger pedestrians and bicyclists by blocking their safe passage.

The dangerous location has been well-known to the MTA, yet action like the current proposal has languished. Andy Thornley, Program Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), recalled, “We have repeated for so long that this was a very dangerous situation.” Advocates have also warned that the site is such a well-known hazard that the city risks an expensive outcome if an injury or fatality occurs.

The MTA did not include the Fell and Divisadero proposal in its earlier request to the court to permit safety improvements even while the bike injunction was in force. “We didn’t try this one for relief,” Shahamiri said. Others have suggested that a proposal like the current one could easily be pursued by MTA as a traffic mitigation without permission from the court.

A pedestrian was struck and killed by a motorist on Fell Street last month at Broderick Street, a block from the ARCO. The death of Melissa Dennison spurred neighbors to push MTA even more to address the speeding that is a regular feature on Fell and Oak Streets. The two neighborhood associations on the east and west sides of Divisadero have launched a campaign to get MTA to finally slow the traffic on the two residential streets that motorists often treat as freeways. Neighbors contend that enforcement and education are necessary, but many believe real change will come only with structural changes such as re-timing the signal lights to ensure slower travel.

“We are very eager to see this dangerous condition addressed,” SFBC’s Thornley said. “This is a solution similar to what was implemented along the Trader Joe’s lot on Masonic Avenue. We should try this and see how it goes.” He advised that parking removal won’t be enough on its own. “The police and perhaps Parking Control Officers will need to enforce the new lining up outside the bike lane.”

As soon as the bike injunction is lifted, MTA intends to roll out a great many bike improvements, and Shahamiri was uncertain how soon the Fell Street changes would be enacted. Advocates have reason to lobby MTA once again, this time to place the proposal at the top of the list of enhancements, given the dangers at the ARCO site.

Shahamiri anticipates objections about removing the three parking spaces, but he notes the spaces are technically illegal anyway given their 12 foot length. He also said more ambitious improvements such as a colored bike lane or placement of a bike lane along the curb with parking serving as a buffer against traffic could not be implemented without further study and changes in traffic engineering guidelines.

For comments to MTA and to request urgency in implementing the proposal, contact Shahamiri at .

Thanks to Janel Sterbentz for news tip about MTA plans.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shake & Roll: Put A Bike In Your Disaster Kit

Fault Lines (USGS photo)

1906 Earthquake Aftermath

William McKinley by Roman Eye.

McKinley Monument in Panhandle Park (Roman Eye flickr photo)

Riding a bike will often be the best way of moving around when the Big One strikes. With the damage and disruption expected from a major earthquake, arterial streets may be closed to non-emergency vehicles, leaving side streets clogged. Public transit may be limited or stop functioning altogether. Walking will be the only option for safe passage if too many obstacles disrupt the streets and sidewalks, but being on foot allows for very limited hauling of supplies or travelling greater distances quickly. San Franciscans with bikes may not get from Point A to Point B as easily as they do now, but having a bike may be critical to their welfare and that of their friends and family.

NOPA managed well during both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, and it may luck out once again. But anyone with bicycles will likely have an easier time checking on family and friends who live in more vulnerable and damaged areas of the city. In fact, anyone who can travel with first-aid kits – and know-how – may become life-savers around town.

In the 1906 disaster, Western Addition residents transformed the McKinley Monument in Panhandle Park at Baker Street into a meeting place and bulletin board for finding others or leaving contact information. In the aftermath of the next disaster, land lines, cell calls, emailing and text messaging may all be disrupted, and the city’s thousands of bicyclists may create a new kind of social networking on wheels, carrying messages to others desperate to know the condition and whereabouts of loved ones.

Leela Gill, mother of two young sons and a long-time NOPA resident, gives one more use for bicycles during a disaster: a way for her family to get out of town. With that in mind, she and her husband and two sons have made bicycles part of their overall disaster plan.

Bicycling won’t be without its own limitations and hazards. The City of Sausalito cautions (note: this is a pdf link) that disaster riding will be far different from recreational jaunts around town. The streets may be littered with debris and sharp tire-puncturing objects. People may throng the streets, and confused, erratic movements are likely. Fires may block routes and fill the air with smoke, impairing visibility. Bicyclists should consider a few precautions now: getting puncture-resistant or airless tires, and also strong rims that can withstand rough terrain. Hauling gear – from bike baskets and panniers to trailers – could be critical accessories.

To help get you disaster-prepped – but will they mention bicycles? -- San Francisco hosts “The Big Rumble,” a jumble of disaster education, remembrance, and entertainment in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. First up is a statewide “Shake Out Drill” on Thursday, October 15 at 10:15 a.m. Millions of Californians will participate in the drill, and so can you. Register at . The city is also sponsoring Big Rumble Resource Fairs in four neighborhoods – the Mission, the Bayview, the Sunset, and the Marina – on Saturday, October 17, 11 am- 4pm.

Stay in NOPA, if you choose, for our own “Where Were You in ’89?” party on Saturday, October 17th, 4 – 7 pm at Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton, between Masonic and Central. The neighborhood gathering will feature films and photos of the 1989 quake, disaster prep materials and a chance to win disaster prep safety kits. Perhaps most important: the event will give neighbors a chance to discuss their own disaster plans, recognizing that we will be each other’s first-responders in the immediate aftermath of the Big One.