Monday, November 30, 2009

Scott St/Wiggle/Bike Box: All To Get Improvements Dec. 1st: first major bike improvements in 1259 Days! Time to Celebrate.

The SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) has selected Scott Street for the first new bike lane striping in San Francisco in 1259 days. The MTA announced its decision today after last week's partial lifting of the bicycle injunction that kept all bike improvements on hold for more than three years. Marc Caswell of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition confirmed the plans for tomorrow's activities.

A press conference scheduled for Tuesday morning, Dec. 1st will kick off the lane work and the festivities for the day. The paint crews will begin work at the conclusion of the official remarks by striping the new lanes (white, of course) and also painting the bike box at Scott and Oak GREEN in a six month trial. Spontaneous DYI celebrations will occur throughout the day and then start up again officially in the late afternoon and evening. (5 pm UPDATE: the press conference has been postponed until Thursday; all other events are on for the afternoon. -- I guess it works if it's AFTER the event).

Highlights of tomorrow's activities:
In the morning: Paint crews begin the work: stripes and paint

5-7pm SFBC Outreach at Duboce/Market and at new GREEN bike box

5:30-6:30 pm NOPA Bike Mingle at On the Corner Cafe, Oak and Divisadero, (happened to land on the same day; let's do this and then go to the all cyclist party at Duboce Park Cafe with a stop at the Green Box along the way!)

5:30-8pm: SFBC and all cyclists party at Duboce Park Cafe, corner of Duboce and Sanchez -- the party we've all been waiting for!

And there's more:
  • MTA will install a temporary on-street bike parking corral at Bean There Cafe, 201 Steiner @ Waller. Check out what the next generation of bike parking looks like. And quick: it's up just for the day.
  • Other bike racks along the Wiggle (locations still being determined)
  • Bike sharrows for shared-use traffic lanes
  • Unanswered question: Will temporary improvements on Fell near the ARCO station join the other improvements?

Take a Last Look at the Scott Street Bike Shuffle

With new bike improvements on the way for Scott Street, the artful dodging of motorists and cyclists approaching Oak and Fell from Scott may finally change for the better. A brief visit to Scott Street during our warm, dry and breezy weather Saturday yielded pretty typical views of some safe and some risky driving ... and biking too. Only the pedestrians seemed to get it right all the time.

In no particular order, here's what transpired during a fifteen minute visit:
  • bicyclist eased into the bike box and stopped waiting for the light to change (just as intended)
  • motorist decided to "share the box" and the traffic lane, straddling both for right turn on Oak
  • truck driver at mid-block on Scott saw the light at Oak change to yellow and floored it just in time to reach the intersection on a full red...and continued through (not shown with pic)
  • US Postal Service truck parked in the red zone at the SW corner of Fell and Scott, partly blocking the crosswalk
  • motorist travelling south from Hayes on Scott suddenly turned left onto Fell and then gunned it up the hill ... against the traffic
  • two bicyclists approached Fell on Scott and veered off to the left onto Fell ignoring the red light
  • pedestrians maneuvered around the postal service truck in the crosswalk
  • Fell Street traffic was no faster than usual but ...
Will all this change when the Municipal Transportation Agency stripes new bike lanes and a new bike box on Scott? Even harder to say than usual since the particular bike lane configuration has not been announced. Will MTA actually inform motorists -- and bicyclists -- about the bike box? All may be revealed today along with a schedule of implementation: which bike lanes get striped first, where the sharrows will be painted, and what sites get badly needed bike parking first.

NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors might be among the first to enjoy new bike improvements and hopefully better traffic management. Only nine new bike lanes were permitted under the partial relief from the bike injunction (see that story here), and Scott Street is one of the shortest and easiest to implement with few, if any, parking spots to be removed. Another plus: the blocks between Page and Fell were recently repaved. Bring on the stripes and box!

Whenever the changes occur, expect a celebration, either organized or spontaneous. And if that party happens to land on Tuesday, December 1st in the late afternoon and early evening-- the very same day and time as the NOPA BIKE, MEET, & MINGLE -- we're doing BOTH!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Design Notes, Great Coffee, Brew & Bites Light Up Baker & McAllister

Owners Lauren Alameda-Reddell and Jason Wahlberg

Sleek and bright with natural light throughout

(In case you missed this post earlier during the Tday rush):

Open only a month, the Matching Half Cafe sports a brisk, caffeinated business bursting with good bites and fine brews at the corner of Baker and McAllister, part of NOPA's revitalized Baker Street Beat. Owners Jason Wahlberg and Lauren Alameda-Reddell designed much of the bright and smart space themselves, and their pride of ownership infuses the cafe with a cheery earnestness.

NOPA's newest business claims the southeast corner of Baker and McAllister Streets, site of the long-time One World Cafe -- a cozy, jumbled old-style coffeehouse with its primary focus at the far end of the room. That's all changed with the Matching Half. Wahlberg and Alameda-Reddell started negotiating for the corner spot last February and drafted plans for the design and layout. Their backgrounds served them well. Wahberg was busy with construction and remodeling while Alameda-Reddell worked at an architectural firm before they were both laid off last year.

"We wanted to open the space and keep a good flow through it," explained Wahlberg. He and Alameda-Reddell installed a full-length bar as the cafe's central feature, emphasizing the spaciousness and orientation to the full windows on both the McAllister and Baker sides. The cafe offers a crisp, pleasing environment with airy high ceilings and slick pine floors and sleek tables the owners designed and built themselves.

Patrons have a choice of chatting up the baristas while seated at the counter, grabbing one of the clutch of tables for twos and fours, or taking charge of the large table for six. Everyone gets a great view, indoors and outside. These last several bright November days have found dog-walkers, cyclists, and strolling neighbors making a stop at one of the four outside tables and benches. Wahberg said they definitely wanted to have outside seating. "This is such a wide sidewalk."

"We like the cafe culture in the city," Wahlberg added. "We like how the Velo Rouge Cafe (located on Arguello at McAllister and a few blocks from an entry to Golden Gate Park) gets the bike traffic and so many people walking to and from the park." (Did he suggest they would welcome bike traffic? NOPA bicyclists are looking for regular meeting spots for monthly rides).

Great that the Matching Half looks and feels so good and the owners and staff are so friendly, but what's to eat drink and eat? A morning stop for the premium drip coffee (roasted by Verve of Santa Cruz) makes the workday ahead seem manageable. A bottle of Lost Coast, Blue Moon, or Momma's Little Yella Pils takes the lunch-time edge off those morning meetings. And the House Red (Mas North Coast Red Blend) or a Tomei Cellars Zinfandel (Shenandoah Valley) smooths out the afternoon's rough spots nicely. Morning sweets and sandwiches all look great, but they await my next visit. Don't wait; find out yourself and welcome our newest neighbors.

Matching Half Cafe, 1700 McAllister at Baker, 415 674-8699
Open 7am weekdays, 8 am weekends
till 6pm Sun & Mon; 8pm Tuesday to Thursday
till 9pm or 10pm, Friday and Saturday

Music at the Market: Every Sunday Something New

Parisian Michel Saga and Dmitrius Spartos

Grove Street: Right Bank or Left Bank?

Support the Musicians

Great produce and local foods, best use of public space in NOPA, warm, friendly service, and free live music. It must be Sunday at the Divisadero Farmers' Market. Sample the autumn vegetables, visit the new vendors, say hello to Dmitrius Spartos the manager, and take some time for these upcoming performers:

G Randall Wright Nov. 29 Musician, actor, poet, director, model, acrobat. Listen to his music here and be sure to stop by Sunday.

Dennis Campagna Dec. 6 (sorry can't find a listing online); don't let that stop you.

Monkey Banana Band Dec. 13 (return engagement) here's a chance for more fun with this zany, talented, cool band. Take a look and listen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

SF Examiner Picks up the SFgo, Fell/ARCO Issues

A not so busy moment on Fell; other times 4-5 motorists line up in the bike lane

The San Francisco Examiner reported recent developments for two of NOPA's several transportation, livability, and safety issues. Staff writer Will Reisman covered the problems with the traffic tangle on Fell Street at the ARCO service station and the freeway-style SFgo signs still standing on Oak and Fell Streets in a Friday, November 27 article. More extensive updates on the recent meetings related to SFgo and Fell/ARCO appeared here and here in BIKE NOPA. A few new items about the Fell/ARCO trouble spot in the Examiner article:
  • SFBC Community Planner Neal Patel suggested "soft-hit posts" would be the most effective way to keep motorists from entering and blocking the Fell bike lane
  • A NOPA neighbor -- that would be me -- suggested ARCO should help manage traffic trying to enter the station (currently an ARCO sign advises motorists to not block the driveway without mentioning the sidewalk and the bike lane)
  • MTA spokesman Judson True assured Examiner readers that the agency "will continue to work with stakeholders to identify a possible solution" (note: NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors as well as the SFBC identified possible solutions and discussed them with MTA reps at the NOPNA meeting November 19th)
  • Solutions that explicitly involve bike lane improvements may have to wait until the bicycle injunction is fully lifted by the SF Superior Court in June 2010 (note: but perhaps traffic management and pedestrian safety might get a nod from the court)
  • Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's office is seeking an opinion from the City Attorney about possible code enforcements to encourage ARCO to address the problem the business helps create
  • In case you wondered, gas prices at ARCO are the ninth cheapest in the city
The Examiner piece described the problem with the SFgo signs without providing new information to readers who have been following the issue.

The North Panhandle and Alamo Square neighborhood associations continue to meet with city officials about both these matters as well as the the speeding that occurs on Fell, Oak, and Masonic Avenues.


Closeup of our bikes by webcompanion.
Holiday bike photo by luckhardt on Flickr.

NOPA bicyclists, here's a chance to meet, mingle, drink, and find out about a monthly NOPA ride. The North Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA), the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), and BIKE NOPA are teaming up to co-sponsor a bike-the-holiday celebration on December 1st at On the Corner Cafe.

(Update 12 Noon Dec. 1st: NOPA party still on for 5:30; see note below. Two parties in one night!)

The first SFBC NOPA Mingle in September was hugely successful with a gathering of more than 60 neighbors who bike. Many found they live just a few blocks from one another, and several followed that event with group rides, coffee dates, and beer stops. More than half of the volunteers for the popular BIKE THE BLOCK party in October were recruited at the first Mingle. Holiday cheer is the plan for the December meet-up, along with some talk about having a regular ride beginning and ending in NOPA. And there are perks with the party:

Holiday bike decoration by webcompanion.
All lit up photo by luckhardt on Flickr

SFBC is offering a special discount to NOPA cyclists who become members at the Mingle: $10 off the regular membership of $35. With all the cool stuff that comes with a membership -- discounts at dozens of bike stores, cafes, and Rainbow Grocery -- the $25 fee easily pays for itself. And you get to support the great SFBC advocacy for better, safer bicycling.

Don't overlook NOPNA, our feisty and diverse neighborhood association that keeps an eye on all things North Panhandle. For the good of our community, join NOPNA at whichever level suits you best. Take a look at the award-winning web site: .

Christmas Bike by JohnCalnan.
johnCalnan photo on Flickr

Stop on your way home from work or spin on over from wherever you are:

NOPA Bike, Meet & Mingle
Tuesday, December 1st, 5:30 - 7:30 pm (although at 6:30 we may all head over to the OTHER bike party at the Duboce Park Cafe, Duboce & Sanchez, to celebrate the new bike lane and box on Scott St.
On the Corner Cafe, 359 Divisadero @ Oak Street
Free entry, no-host coffee, beer, delectables and sandwiches.
You will be decorating your bike, won't you?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Seen While Biking: NOPA NEON

Ads and Art, Day and Night. What will you see during the Art Walk?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Judge Grants Partial Bicycle Injunction Relief

In the future: expect something more like this "bike corral" outside the Main Library or at least the utilitarian inverted U locks where cyclists need them.

Instead of this current option for bike parking found in NOPA and all over the city.

Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch ordered a partial lifting of the three-year old injunction prohibiting bicycle improvements in San Francisco this afternoon. The court order allows the "most easily reversible" projects to be implemented while still holding back the more extensive improvements designed to complete the city's bike network. The limited relief allows the city to implement bike projects for the first time since the injunction was issued in June 2006, a period of 1254 days.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) submitted a list of twelve "most easily reversible" bike enhancements to the court earlier this month. Judge Busch accepted nine of the twelve plus installation of bike racks, painting sharrows (the shared-use chevron-like pavement markings), and other innovative improvements to make bicycling safer in the city.

The nine approved projects include bike lanes on the following streets: Howard, Otis, Scott, Mississippi, Kansas, Clarendon, Clipper, 7th Avenue, and JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park. (The three projects denied by the judge were those intended for Fremont, Kirkham, and the Great Highway).

SFMTA has been anticipating implementation of bike improvements -- while remaining within the limits of the injunction -- and anticipates moving forward with projects as soon as the court permitted them to do so. Bicyclists and livability advocates can expect the first installations within the next week or two, weather permitting.

The most immediate benefit for NOPA bicyclists is the Scott Street Bicycle Lane, Fell street to Oak Street. The project involves the installation of a dedicated, striped bike lane (a Class II bike lane) northbound on Oak between Fell and Oak. Two design options have been under consideration.

According to the SFMTA description of the project, "Option 1 would add a northbound Class II left-turn bicycle lane by removing the left-turn lanes on northbound Scott Street approaching Fell Street and on southbound Scott Street approaching Oak Street." Under Option 1, no parking spaces would be removed.

"Option 2 would add a northbound Class II left-turn lane bicycle lane by narrowing travel lanes and removing approximately three parking spaces from the west side of Scott Street between Fell and Oak Street." SFMTA adds: "the existing left-turn lanes approaching Fell Street and Oak Street would not change under Option 2."

SFMTA staff have presumably decided upon one of the two options, but representatives have yet to announce their choice. (Although a variation of Option 1: removing the left-turn lane and adding two parking spaces is a serious contender). This summer the neighborhood associations for both the North Panhandle (NOPNA) and Alamo Square (ASNA) issued letters of support to bicycle improvements on Scott Street.

San Francisco officials expect a June 1, 2010 start date for a court hearing of the lawsuit that originally resulted in the Bike Plan injunction. Bicyclists and a good many San Franciscans frustrated by the delay in improvements hope the lawsuit will then be dissolved and the injunction lifted.

Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, commented on the court decision in a press release today. "Interest in bike commuting is surging in San Francisco, and it's really heartening to see so many new people on the streets, despite the three-year absence in improvements," Shahum said. "There's definitely an excitement that San Francisco could become one of America's most bicycle-friendly cities once the injunction is fully lifted."

For a full reading of the court order, see the pdf here, posted on

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Supervisor Mirkarimi: Concourse Authority and Golden Gate Park Museums Must Step Up to Help Solve Traffic Problems

One option for Sfgo at the DMV site on Fell Street: not as bad as this
photo-shopped version. See below and our apologies to MTA SFgo staff.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told representatives of District 5 neighborhoods that the Golden Gate Concourse Authority, the California Academy of Science, and the deYoung Museum should be sharing responsibility for finding a solution to the traffic congestion caused by overflow crowds and limited garage parking. "They have to help us with alleviation of this problem," Mirkarimi said. "They haven't stepped up yet." He added that the three organizations wanted the city to erect the SFgo signs to alert motorists when the concourse garage is full, but "they don't help with the cost."

Mirkarimi's comments came toward the end of a Monday afternoon meeting held in City Hall with representatives from five neighborhood associations.* The group gathered to review "alternative options" to the unpopular SFgo signs that first appeared on Oak and Fell Streets last August. Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck, SFgo Manager Cheryl Liu, and Assistant Manager Cathal Hennessey presented the different ways of retaining some version of the SFgo program on Fell Street. They proposed moving the current Fell sign further west alongside the Department of Motor Vehicles near Baker Street, and they suggested a more decorative pole rather than the smooth, harsh "freeway style" treatment.

The real differences appeared with the size of the message board and the placement on the pole:
  • one option has the board cantilevered over the parking lane and 18 feet high
  • the other possibility mounts the board at the center of the pole just 10 feet high
An improvement for both is the reduction in message board size. The previous model -- and the type used in SOMA -- is large enough for four lines of text; the options above permit only two lines and are less intrusive as a result.

The change that no one would likely object to is the decorative design. We previously suggested here that the DMV site would be an unsightly welcome to Panhandle Park. Even with the reduction in size of the message board sign, the location still seems a poor choice. (And the NOPNA Board of Directors oppose having the SFgo sign anywhere on Fell Street). The other pole with the message board would be placed in the middle of the sidewalk. (Good luck getting ADA clearance, and is't it a bit ironic that a Transit First city might block a sidewalk with a traffic pole?) But don't dwell on these options. The third option is the one likely to be adopted on an experimental basis.

A portable sign much like what appears for special traffic situations was proposed for the DMV site. It has the advantage of being less intrusive and can be used as needed, but its visibility may be blocked by vehicles and it requires one parking space. The sign would be configured for wireless operation and to display variable messages. Mirkarimi judged the portable sign as the only one that would work for the situation at hand.

Much of the discussion among the neighborhood reps centered on more creative solutions to the traffic congestion problems. Susan King of Livable City and a Haight resident, Michael Smithwick of Alamo Square, and other neighbors suggested a range of possibilities including a surcharge on Academy and Museum tickets, a prompt to request text messages about available parking when ordering tickets online, and a pre-paid Muni fare attached to each ticket purchased as ways to increase revenues and encourage transit use.

Others pointed out that neither the Academy nor the deYoung encouraged members to use the Culture Bus when it was still operating. Although the Academy website still advises visitors that "parking is located throughout Golden Gate Park and the neighboring areas," online visitors are strongly encouraged to use Muni or the park shuttle. Patrons who walk, bike, or take public transportation are given a $3 discount.

Supervisor Mirkarimi announced that another meeting would be held next month. That gathering, he said, would include representatives from the Concourse Authority and the museums. "They should have been here today," he said, "we will ask them to be here before January."

A few other items:
  • Observers have previously commented that placing a SFgo sign on Octavia Street at the exit of the Central Freeway might be more useful and appropriate. The MTA has judged this location too distant from the Concourse destination to capture motorists' attention and suggest it would fail to alert drivers approaching by Gough Street.
  • Richmond District representatives declined participating in the meeting because the Concourse traffic and parking problem was not a significant issue for them.
  • Craig Dawson stressed how congested Inner Sunset blocks were more and more of the time, not only when the concourse garage is full but whenever JFK Drive closes. While NOPA and Alamo Square deal with motorists who are often speeding on their way to the park, Inner Sunset neighbors cope with drivers traveling at slower speeds endlessly looking for parking and clogging their neighborhood.
  • MTA proposes removing the Oak Street SFgo sign and placing it on 19th Avenue near Ortega Street.
  • A request to others at the meeting: please do comment and add more details on your very good ideas for dealing with this problem.
* In addition to NOPNA, the other organizations represented at the meeting were the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, Cole Valley Improvement Association, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, and the Inner Sunset Neighborhood Association.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Frequency, Service Changes Set for NOPA MUNI lines

Click to enlarge map; black line indicates dropped segment of 21 Hayes

Perhaps you missed the report of changes to NOPA’s Muni lines in the midst of so much other transportation news affecting our neighborhood. But Saturday, December 5th, the 5 Fulton, 21 Hayes, and 31 Balboa will all see frequency and service changes. Here’s what you can expect:

5 FULTON: Frequency increased/evening service extended. Frequency on the 5 Fulton will increase during peak periods. Evening service on the 5 Fulton will be extended from Jones/McAllister streets to the Transbay Terminal. Owl service will begin earlier, at 12:45 a.m. and the Owl terminal will remain at Market and McAllister streets.

21 HAYES: Segment eliminated/service hours reduced. The segment of the 21 Hayes between 6th Avenue and Stanyan Street will be eliminated. The last bus to Downtown will depart at 11:50 p.m. and the last bus from Downtown will depart at 12:30 a.m. Nearby Muni Service: Muni’s 5 Fulton provides similar service.

24 DIVISADERO: No changes.

31 BALBOA: Frequency and service hours reduced. Frequency on the 31 Balboa will decrease during peak periods to every 12 minutes. The last bus to Downtown will depart at 11:55 p.m. and the last bus from Downtown will depart at 12:40 a.m.

31AX Balboa ‘A’ Express: No Changes

31BX Balboa ‘B’ Express: No Changes

43 MASONIC: No changes

For the full listing of all MUNI changes see the brochure here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NOPA Meets: Yes on Sunday Streets, No on SFgo, Let's Talk on Fell/ARCO Tangle

A North Panhandle view: a balance to the streets talk at NOPNA meeting.

More than 60 NOPA neighbors gathered last night
to consider a range of livability and transportation issues. The bottom line on the hot agenda items:
  • enthusiastic support to bring next year's Sunday Streets celebration into the neighborhood
  • big thumbs down to the SFgo signs, both of the freeway-style signs on Fell and Oak
  • "not so sure with so many options" judgment on MTA's plans for the Fell/ARCO traffic mess
The November meeting of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) offered a packed agenda for members, visitors from the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA), and reps from city agencies and various non-profits.

Deemed the big draw of the evening, Cheryl Brinkman of Livable City graciously awaited her last-on-the-agenda speaking slot. She told the audiience how much Sunday Streets organizers are looking forward to having a route through NOPA next year. Although it's too early to confirm actual streets and dates for the walk-bike-enjoy-the-streets celebration, Brinkman did confirm September was the month for the NOPA area ride. "Yours will get the best weather." A call for how much support exists for the proposal brought a round of applause.

The unpopular SFgo signs discussed extensively here already (search "SFgo") received little attention, but NOPNA Board President Kevin Rafter restated the association's stance. After confirming that the Oak Street sign will come down, he commented on the Fell sign. "NOPNA's position is that we should not have a sign there at all." Can't get much more clear than that.

Mike Sallaberry, Associate Traffic Engineer for the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) tackled the problems with Fell Street at the ARCO station. Sallaberry and his MTA colleague, traffic engineer James Shahamiri, distributed a two-page list of eight different options (with pros and cons for each!) for how to manage the often conflicting needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists at this busy spot. Sallaberry first developed these options more than two years ago -- an indication of MTA's awareness of the conflicts here on Fell. None of the eight options are clear and obvious standouts for implementation, but even in an imperfect traffic engineering world, choices must be made with the daily safety risks at the site.

Sallaberry emphasized two important considerations for any discussion of this block of Fell Street:
  • nearly every width on that block is already at its minimum, so there is no chance to narrow -- or widen -- a travel lane, a bike lane, a parking lane, or a sidewalk.
  • immediate implementation of several possible options must wait until after the court injunction against the Bicycle Plan is lifted.
He also noted, in a handout, that the long-term option might be "to encourage a different land use on that lot with a different (or no) driveway design." The other short-term possibilities include the three that received the most attention:
  • Remove three or more parking spaces in front of the ARCO driveway "to create a lane for ARCO-users to wait to the left of the bike lane". The pros: motorists would be more likely to wait outside the bike lane as well as the travel lane and it would be cheap and easy to install. The cons: residents may oppose and the parking lane would be more narrow than ideal for turn lanes and motorists would likely move into the bike lane to make the turn into ARCO.
  • Create a two-way bike lane along the curb by moving parked cars away from the curb by 5 feet, or, alternately, remove all parking on southside Fell and build a two-way bike path. Pros: cars would block the vehicle lane and not the bike path; cyclists might feel safer with this physical separation from moving vehicles; and a two-way path also improves the east-bound bike traffic, encouraging cyclists to use it rather than Oak Street. But the cons: two-way paths "have design and safety challenges" (the handout did not explain these further); parking changes would likely be opposed but might be mitigated by opening other nearby spaces; and motorists still might block the driveway at ARCO.
Michael Smithwick of ASNA strongly encouraged MTA to devise a plan that was equally sensitive to pedestrians and bicyclists. Smithwick's proposal was featured in this earlier post; it entails (a) a bike lane where it is now but with a permanent structure (a tree, a bike rack) right before the ARCO driveway blocking any passage by vehicles, and (b) flexible barriers separating bike and vehicle traffic. Motorists awaiting their turn at ARCO would have to remain in the travel lane. MTA suggests that the trouble with a proposal like this is that motorists might still block the driveway and barriers make it more difficult for cyclists to leave the lane when necessary.

Almost everyone agreed that signs advising motorists to do or not do something at this location would be ineffective. The deft phrasing of traffic engineer suggests, "The effect of signage on adusting behavior is limited."

Next steps: MTA reps will consider the input from the NOPNA meeting and then propose further discussion with "stakeholders" before settling on a final plan. The fact that MTA originally proposed bringing one proposal to the NOPNA meeting and then presented a review of eight without stating their own strong preference suggests that they clearly listened to the concerns and ideas put forward by NOPNA, ASNA, and SFBC. Marc Caswell, SFBC Program Manager and NOPA resident, is the Bike Coalition's point person on the Fell Street challenge. We look forward to updates from him and the MTA to move the Eight Options to One Solution.

For those readers who want even more detail, check here for a PDF of the full document of various options. Note: this is not an official MTA document and is not posted on the MTA web site. But, after distribution last night at the NOPNA meeting, it's now public. (And, it presents a good overall analysis).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mixed Outcome for Bicycle Blocks in San Francisco's New Paving Plans

Patch paving of mid to lower Market Street earlier this year.

The recently repaved intersection of McAllister and Van Ness.

Part of the Divisadero Corridor makeover and repaving now underway.

The grinding of the old asphalt before the filling with new.

The streets most-used by San Francisco bicyclists fared generally well -- with some serious exceptions -- in the city's slashed Five Year Paving Plan. A combination of the Department of Public Works' commitment to the city's Transit First policy, advocacy by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and the already poor condition of the streets that cyclists share with motorists helped keep many priority bike blocks in the resurfacing schedule.

After City Hall dropped the streets repair bond just before it was to appear on this month's ballot, an overhaul of paving plans was undertaken, often stretching street work from five years to fifteen years or more. The result for all street users is more than wear and tear. What's going on for hundreds of our untended streets is structural damage that will worsen and become increasingly more expensive to repair. In the reconfiguration of the paving schedule, priority bike blocks took a hit, but it could have been much worse.

By Fiscal Year (July 1 to June 30), here's some of the repaving cyclists can expect-- but always with the caveat that the projects are subject to available funds and coordination with utility construction. These aren't all the bike blocks to be repaved, but they are the ones most used.

FY 10-11
Wiggle bike route (two of the roughest surfaces in or near the Wiggle): Steiner between Waller and Duboce; and Sanchez between Duboce and 14th. (Note: the current utility work on these blocks is not part of the eventual repaving).
Bosworth, from Diamond to O'Shaughnessy
Holloway, from Harold to Junipero Serra
Howard, from Stuart to 2nd, and from 3rd to 4th
7th Avenue, from Hugo to Noriega

FY 11-12
2nd Street, from Market to King
17th Street, from Pennsylvania to Potrero; from Bryant to Valencia. (Note: The Potrero to Bryant repaving has been advanced to the current fiscal year)
Cesar Chavez, from Guerrero to Hampshire
Parnassus, from Clayton to 5th
Point Lobos, from 42nd to the Great Highway

Kirkham, from 7th to 12th, Funston to 15th, 19th to 37th, and also from 37th to the Great Highway with a less expensive surface treatment
Columbus, from Union to Beach
Silver, from Bayshore to Palou
And, at long last, Market Street, from Main to South Van Ness

FY 13-14
Eureka, from Market to 23rd Street
Polk, from Bush to Beach
20th Avenue, from Lincoln Way to Pacheco

FY 14-15
Polk, from Market to Bush
17th Street, from Valencia to Ord

Note: A full list of streets to be repaved can be found on the DPW web site here. Select the "Proposed Paving" for the 200 page PDF.

Which paving projects were delayed that might most concern bicyclists?

Folsom, from 6th to 10th, now scheduled for FY 16-17
Arguello, not so bad now but can it wait for repaving until FY 19-20?
Potrero, Alameda to Cesar Chavez, now set for FY 19-20 and FY 20-21
8th Street, Market to Townsend, no paving planned

Folsom is especially important as a major bike route today, but it will likely see even more bike and vehicle traffic in FY 12-13 when Market Street undergoes its major makeover. Repaving Folsom before then becomes even more important.

Resurfacing Folsom is complicated not only by lack of funds. Like all streets in San Francisco, Folsom can only be torn up once every five years. Repaving projects must be coordinated with the construction schedules of the various utilities in the city. As a result, the Five Year Paving Plan becomes an intricate dance of many partners.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition already works with DPW staff to identify priority bike blocks that might be advanced in the paving plan, but the scarcity of funds for the city's infrastructure severely limits the possibilities. Obtaining the financing for essential street repair requires political leadership and public willingness to accept some of the financial burden. For now, bicyclists can appreciate the high percentage of bike blocks scheduled for repaving.

Related information:
In the "2008 Survey of Bicycling in San Francisco," 185 respondents (representing 10% of the total) said they had a serious fall while riding a bicycle in the last two years due to broken or irregular pavement or potholes.

See this recent post for a longer discussion of the withdrawn streets bond measure and the impact of dwindling street repair funds on one San Francisco neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NOPA Notes Not to Miss

The not-so-lovely rear view of a SFgo sign in SOMA.

Traffic engineering that works for no one.

Five trees down on Fell Street at Broderick.

It's easy enough to speed along and lose track of previously reported, but unresolved, issues.
Here's an update:

Pedestrian Fatality
  • Two months have passed since Melissa Dennison was struck and killed by a motorist while crossing Fell Street at Broderick. The District Attorney has yet to determine disposition of the case, i.e. whether the motorist will be charged.
SFgo Signs on Fell and Oak
  • They're still standing although MTA has agreed to remove the Oak Street sign and seems generally inclined to at least move, if not remove altogether, the one at Fell just west of Divisadero. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's staff has researched options for placement and design and are now ready to present their findings in a meeting scheduled for next Monday, Nov. 23rd. Two representatives from each of several neighborhood associations, including NOPNA and Alamo Square, have been invited. To date there is no public hearing scheduled.
Speeding on Fell and Oak Streets
  • Chief Traffic Engineer Jack Fleck assured NOPNA neighbors on Sept. 17th that his office would conduct further studies for traffic slowing on the Fell and Oak couplet. MTA Director of Parking and Traffic Bond Yee made a similar committment to the neighborhood on October 20th that the agency "will evaluate travel speeds and potentially reduce traffic signal cycle length during evening hours" to address concerns about speeding. So far, no further word from the MTA.
Sunday Streets through NOPA
  • See this previous post and map for the proposed route of Sunday Streets through the NOPA and Alamo Square neighborhoods. Find out the latest developments from Cheryl Brinkman, President of Livable City, at the next NOPNA meeting this Thursday, Nov. 19, 7:30-9:00 pm, at Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton at Masonic. (Visit with your neighbors prior to the meeting, 7-7:30 pm).
Traffic Tangle on Fell near ARCO Station
  • Several possible solutions have come forward since this earlier post: partial parking lane removal, vehicles limited to waiting in the traffic lane only, and a longer-view consideration of dedicated bike lanes to serve both Fell and Oak. Join the discussion at the next NOPNA meeting (see above) when James Shahamiri of the MTA presents one of the proposals.
Street Trees
  • The Dying Trees of Turk Street. Condition not much better; these trees give all the appearance of now being dead. No water management plan and now a much-reduced Urban Forestry staff to get the work done. Last Friday a third of the city's tree maintenance crew were laid off, as noted in SFGate here. (Good News from a very limited perspective: the Mayor's goal of planting more than 25,000 trees has been reached).
  • Removal of Trees from Fell Street. They're gone, the five Ficus on the north side of Fell at Broderick, to make way for needed sewer work below. No replacements yet.
  • The Battered Trees of Divisadero Corridor. The city intends to remove 34 battered and misshapen trees along Divisadero between Haight and Geary and replace them with Flowering Pear and American Plane trees. NOPA neighbor David Tornheim desired more public review of the process and obtained a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 23 rd, 5:30 pm, City Hall, Room 416. (for more info, contact ). My own walk-by and examination of at least a dozen of the trees slotted for removal suggested the city was responding to those trees too damaged to retain. A better question for DPW is what tree maintenance plan will be in place once the corridor is completed and the trees need care and watering?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nathan Frankel Parks Bike and Much, Much More

Free bike parking and a big smile.

Making bike parking easier and safer.

Bike parking space soon to be full at Tour de Fat.

Central Avenue neighbor Nathan Frankel has found a way to live comfortably in San Francisco while doing what he loves. Make that the several things he pursues with passion. If you catch Nathan at any one of his part-time endeavors, his glowing smile confirms how much pleasure he takes from being right there in the moment.

When Nathan first moved to the city in 1996 at age 23, he worked with an engineering firm. With his degree in industrial engineering he went from a temporary to a permanent position and was able to pay off debts accumulated during school. That gave him the freedom to take a job in the music industry, first in a record store and then at an internet radio station in the lower Haight.

"That was a dream job," Nathan recalled outside Central Coffee and Tea at Central and Hayes Streets. The station,, was based in Seattle with satellite offices in San Francisco and London. "We were very cutting edge. We provided streaming audio and video live to people's worksites." Nathan was a DJ for ten years, worked in clubs around town, and ran a small label with 500-1000 vinyl. "We sold to stores for DJs playing in clubs to use."

Next he returned to office work and designed layouts of office furniture, a job that held little interest for him and left him wanting to make more of a contribution. "I'd rather be doing a lot of things that I love rather than one I was indifferent to at best," he explained for why he left the job more than a year ago. "Now it's difficult for me to answer when someone asks what work I do. I can't give a simple answer -- like an accountant, lawyer, electrician, or teacher -- it's more complex for me since I'm always working at multiple endeavors."

Bicycling has been a major part of Nathan's life ever since he moved to San Francisco. He got involved with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in the late 90s. "The staff was so pleasant and professional and good to be around," he said. "I was excited to be involved with so many other cyclists in a common cause." He started with SFBC's streetside outreach program, and showed up for volunteer nights, and then took on valet parking. "Now I like to think I've become one of the core of 100 or so volunteers who help regularly. I like being one of the go-to volunteers that the office contacts when help is needed." He added, "SFBC is a major nucleus of my social life; it's a way many of us find our community."

Nathan landed a contractor position with SFBC as a manager of the bike valet program, and now coordinates the service for events during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. With so many bicyclists in San Francisco -- and a 53% increase over the last three years -- providing free valet parking at events is a huge service that SFBC provides. Last year SFBC valets parked more than 2,500 bikes at the Outside Lands festival. As a valet manager, Nathan supervises volunteers, coordinates with the organizers, deals with outreach supplies and equipment and stays for the full period of the event. (Most volunteers work for 3-6 hour periods and then get free access to the event).

"I love being part of the parking solution, and I love it when I leave my bike with the valets and don't have to worry about security. The parking gives SFBC recognition, and it makes biking a real transportation alternative." Nathan hopes to see improvements with the parking for some special events like the recent Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. "At that event we can only park a fraction of the bikes that are brought to us. The organizers gave us only one-third of the space we requested for parking, and it was uncomfortable having to turn away so many cyclists."

"It's not a glamorous job," Nathan added, "but I'm really happy to be part of it." He especially likes the gratitude that people express. "Someone suggested to me that if you could buy a house with gratitude, all bike valets would live in mansions." A different kind of benefit came to Nathan in the course of his valet stints. At the Outer Lands festival this year he met a woman who was volunteering as a bike valet. They've been dating for the last several months.

Yes, there's more: Nathan, the photographer!

When he's not parking bikes, Nathan is often behind a smoked salmon stand. "I'm a farmers' market groupie," he remarked. "I began going to markets as soon as I moved here, two to three times a week. I really like the community aspect of it." Nathan now works two locations, one at the UCSF campus on 3rd Street and one at the Crocker Galleria in the financial district. "I've met a lot of really good people at the market, hardworking, stand-up people."

Nathan adds a few more pursuits to the mix. He works a few hours a week as a consultant and provides assistance with autoCAD, the software that engineers and architects use to create blue prints. He fits in political organizing for socialist and left-wing groups on both local and big picture issues. Somehow he finds time for classes in website development which he hopes to use in helping non-profits and small businesses.

"When I left my job, I thought I'd have more time off, but now I'm busier than before and my schedule is packed." Nathan remarked, "I'm still looking for the pause button on life." After three semesters at school, he's taking just such a pause in January with an extended trip in Central America.

Not everyone wants to manage several jobs at once, although today's economy often gives them little choice. Nathan explained how he makes it work for him financially. "The key is to minimize consumption. I've learned I don't have to make money if I don't spend it. I can do this especially since I don't own a car. It's amazing that I can live in this expensive city and be happy without making a lot of money."

For Nathan, the money aspect is the practical concern. The larger picture is what sustains him. "My philosophy is to appreciate the little things. Sometimes everyday interactions are so important."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Walk in the Park: Buena Vista's New Eastside Path

Those of us who live in NOPA get so accustomed to "the Park" or "our Park" being the Panhandle and the Golden Gate that we forget another green treasure just a few blocks up the hill. Buena Vista Park is a perfect outing for these November days with just enough sun to counter the chill in the air. Check out the new eastside path in Buena Vista Park, an ambitious undertaking to making the park more accessible to all neighbors.

Keep a little history in mind as you approach San Francisco's first park in the city's publicly owned park system. Known as "Hill Park" in the 1860s when the Committee on Outside Lands selected the nearly 600 foot high, 36 acre hill for public use.* By the way, those "Outer Lands" that civic-minded San Franciscans discussed is right where NOPA is situated today along with the rest of city blocks west of Van Ness Avenue.

Buena Vista Park rivals Golden Gate for its history and reputation: colorful certainly, controversial for its earlier thick-brush activities, and inspiring for the dedication of neighborhood organizations -- the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association and the Friends of Buena Vista -- the Recreation and Parks Department, and the Neighborhood Parks Council to protect and make this somewhat wild expanse more accessible.

Don't settle for an armchair visit, but North Panhandle resident Dale Danley provides a preview of what you'll see with the new eastside path at Buena Vista. Take a look at Dale's Scene here. What do you think of the path: a huge improvement or a bit overbuilt? Leave your comments on Dale's blog or here too.

* For more history of the park, see this summary provided by Jeanne Alexander of the Neighborhood Parks Council and for a cool 1948 overhead view of the BV area, see this other article written by Alexander. (Be sure to note the roadway the length of Panhandle Park in this shot).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Really? "Taking Kids by Bike: Faster, Less Stressful, and A Lot More Fun"

Mum with two kids on one bike by Dee Railer.
photo courtesy of busbozo on Flickr

Surely this isn't just a Florida phenomenon,
but a mother in Orlando touts a discovery that makes transporting her two young daughters to school followed by her own commute to work a whole lot simpler.

For readers without kids to transport, "Angie" gives a quick rundown of the routine on Commute Orlando Blog. NOPA parents with little ones might not have time to commiserate, especially those with kids who have places to go. But they know the drill. According to Angie, "Any parent that has had to run errands with kids in tow knows how frustrating it is to buckle, drive, stop, unbuckle, ad nauseum."

Parents at the tipping point of trying bicycles-for-transport might appreciate the encouragement and information that this converted Florida bicyclist offers. She compares the time and effort for moving kids around in a car and on bike, and whether it's school, play dates, or errands, bicycling wins feet down. She also offers tips on the advantages and disadvantages of using bike trailers for kids -- she doesn't like them -- and how utility bikes work better for her and her husband.

KidsOnXtracycle1 by bikinpolitico.
photo courtesy of bikinpolitico on Flickr

Angie's ringing endorsement is hard to beat: "The time and energy we save by running errands by bike has completely changed our quality of life; this kind of life improvement is priceless."

Friday, November 13, 2009

NOPA Streets Take Hit from Recession, Lack of Repair Funds

Work on Divisadero Street will proceed on schedule.

Repaving of Baker Street will be delayed 18 months until Spring 2011.

Elections have consequences. So do decisions to keep issues off the ballot. As a result of the tanking economy and political maneuvering, San Francisco voters did not decide last week whether to approve a 30 year, $368 million streets repair bond measure. As a result, plans to keep the condition of our streets, sidewalks, and public stairs from deteriorating even more have been re-calibrated to reflect slashed budgets. Considerable delays in resurfacing the city's prime traffic corridors and neighborhood streets -- sometimes a 10 year postponement -- are the result.

For more than a year city officials refined what they considered a reasonable and necessary request of the voters: approve a bond measure to rescue our streets and sidewalks and public stairs from years of delayed maintenance. The Board of Supervisors approved preliminary versions of the bond and guided it through all the required hoops to put it before the voters earlier this month. And then, with only a few days remaining to meet the deadline for getting the bond on the ballot, city leaders withdrew it. Their reasons were not especially transparent, but insiders cited a mix of differences among the supervisors, resistance from business interests, and perhaps most importantly, voter research that suggested the worsening recession was no time to seek huge capital investments no matter how worthy the project.

North Panhandle residents will share the pain as they find repaving for a few of their streets delayed even longer, as much as seven years. A casual observer on foot, bike, or four wheels might easily travel through NOPA's thirty square blocks and think, "Well, not so bad, these streets." But according to the city's own inspection and ranking of our blocks*, the picture is anything but smooth:
  • 24% of our blocks require major repair or reconstruction
  • 43% of our blocks need resurfacing before they worsen
  • 20% need preventative repairs before the surfaces degrade further
  • 13% are fine for now, due mostly to recent re-surfacing
With the first two categories combined, fully two-thirds of our blocks need basic and extensive make-overs. For the status of each NOPA street, check this earlier post.

The specific impact of the reduced funds reflects what other neighborhoods will experience as well to varying degrees. How big a hit for NOPA? Take a look:
  • Central Avenue was previously scheduled for resurfacing in 2013; now, 2021. Several of Central's blocks are plagued with recurring sinkholes, and waiting until 2013 seemed much too long -- until now.
  • Hayes Street was also set for 2013, but look for relief no sooner than 2025 if the city's streets budget isn't resuscitated before then. Hayes, along with Central, were both rated in the "red zone" of structural and surface defects.
  • Baker Street fared somewhat better with only an 18 month delay, from October of this year to a start date of May in 2011.
Fortunately, the long-awaited makeover of Divisadero is secure, and the resurfacing of Broderick will move forward in fiscal year 2012/2013 as planned. Please note these dates are part of the Department of Public Works' Five Year Paving Plan with emphasis on the "plan." All the resurfacing dates are subject to funding availability -- things could get worse -- and other factors.

We'll take a further look at the city's "state of the streets" in upcoming posts. In the meantime, consider this: how would you have voted on the $368 million bond measure? And, yes, there likely would have been a "pass through" clause allowing renters to help absorb the costs.

*DPW inspectors conduct regular assessments of street surface conditions. Each block in the city has been ranked according to a Pavement Condition Index score. San Francisco streets now average a score of 64 on a scale of 1 to 100, a dismal borderline rank that hovers between streets that can just get by with preventative maintenance (filling cracks and seams and fixing potholes) and those that need full resurfacing (new asphalt) or reconstruction (replacing the concrete base). As might be expected, streets that slip into severe disrepair are significantly more expensive to repair. It's a straightforward choice for voters: pay a lot now or pay much more later.

A final note: Critics of the bond measure argued that basic street work should be financed through the city's general fund, not a 30 year bond measure that voters will be paying off even after some of the resurfaced streets have worn out once again. Advocates countered that major street reconstruction is a capital investment that requires sums of money that only a bond measure might provide.