Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Wishes for More

Decorations from the Tree of Hope

BIKE NOPA extends the best of holiday wishes to readers. May we end this year more engaged with our community, more aware of how we use public space, and more willing to listen and learn, inspire and embolden.

Thank you for your interest and support this year. I'm taking an end-of-year break starting today. Look for updates and new stories beginning January 4th.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Majority Who Voted for Masonic Re-Design Live On or Within One Block, Data Indicate Immediate Residents Are Informed and Engaged in Planning

Image: SF Planning Department
The 109 respondents reside on both sides of Masonic with a majority within a block

Image: SF Planning Department
Only a handful of survey respondents live outside the Masonic area or beyond the Western Addition

A majority of respondents in a recent survey of preferences for a Masonic Avenue make-over will be directly affected by the traffic calming features in the proposal. During the September 30 Masonic community meeting, 109 individuals completed the survey that rated primary features of the Boulevard proposal and the less-ambitious Gateway option. The survey asked where respondents reside. Of the total, 62 -- or 57% -- of the neighbors indicated they either lived on Masonic or within one block of the busy corridor. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) released the findings yesterday.

The data are important because they dispel concerns from a few individuals that the people who live on Masonic were either uninformed of the meetings and the proposed changes --especially the removal of parking -- or that they don't support traffic calming changes to the street. (The city notified by mail -- with more than 1400 postcards -- every household on Masonic and those within one block of the street about the September 30 meeting when the survey was conducted). In addition, the residency data suggest what many who actually attended the three community meetings noted: there were far more nearby neighbors present than the handfuls of members from transit, pedestrian, or bicycle advocacy groups.

Those who took the survey live on both sides of Masonic. On the westside, the Ewing Terrace and the University Terrace neighborhoods are well-represented among survey respondents. Those to the east of Masonic in the North Panhandle and Anza Vista neighborhoods indicated more scattered residences, but all are close enough to experience the proposed changes for the Masonic corridor. University Terrace neighbors participated as well in a separate survey, using the same instrument, following the SFMTA September 30 meeting. They supported the Boulevard proposal with a hefty majority, 60 to 40%.

In the Masonic survey, over three-quarters (76%) either "strongly liked" or "somewhat liked" the Boulevard package with its landscaped median the length of Masonic, 200 street trees, a mini-park at Geary, new street lighting, bus bulb-outs, a separated bike lane, and full repaving of the roadway. City staff expect to complete a final report with recommendations by December 31st.

For previous articles in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bike Counts in Three NOPA Locations Surge in 2010 Citywide Survey

Counting bicyclists at Masonic and the Panhandle Path for the 2009 Bike Count

Mariana Parreiras, an SFMTA intern at the time, counted bikes for the 2009 count

Three locations in or near the North Panhandle saw significant increases in the number of people on bikes during the 2010 Bike Count conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).
  • The Golden Gate and Masonic intersection registered a 26% increase over last year's count during the evening commute, 5 - 6:30 pm
  • At the intersection where the mixed-use Panhandle Path crosses Masonic, the number of riders jumped 7% , from 228 to 244, during the morning commute, 8 to 9 am
  • The third location at Fell and Scott streets reflects much of the bike traffic that originates in NOPA or travels through the neighborhood. That pivotal intersection saw a 10% increase from 2009, registering 410 bicyclists during the evening commute.
All three NOPA locations saw a greater number of riders than the citywide jump of 3% for 2009. The SFMTA report cautions that the bike count reflects a snapshot of ridership during specific hours on a given day.

Two of the locations experienced remarkable increases when compared to the 2006 count:
  • Masonic and the Panhandle: from 152 riders in 2006 to 244 in 2010, a 61% difference
  • Fell and Scott: from 202 riders in 2006 to 410 in 2010, a 103% change.
On a city-wide basis, the percentage difference of cyclists from 2006 to 2010 is a rocketing 58%.
These high percentages are especially significant since the bicycle injunction kept the city from making virtually any improvements for biking in the city from 2006 through most of 2009. (The injunction was partially lifted in November 2009 and completely removed in August 2010).

The SFMTA conducts the annual bike counts in August when the weather is expected to be dry with moderate temperatures. This past August was unseasonably chilly, however, especially on the days of the bike counts. In NOPA the temperatures were in the low 60s with wind and fog that seemed "almost raining" to the SFMTA intern counting the bikes. How much the weather affected bike ridership is uncertain.

All three NOPA bike count locations are under scrutiny by neighbors, road users, and park advocates:
  • Golden Gate and Masonic sits at midpoint of the corridor that neighbors and the SFMTA hope to re-design to better accommodate all road users. The Masonic community review process culminated in selection of the Boulevard design option to keep traffic at the posted 25 mph speed limit while also enhancing transit, bicycle, and pedestrian uses.
  • The Panhandle Path at Masonic has been the site of collisions between motorists and cyclists. In addition, strollers using the path complain of sharing space -- and near-misses -- with high-speed cyclists, and cyclists counter that walkers often wander from their side of the path. In addition, Panhandle Park advocates and neighbors have called for installation of a new, separated bike lane on Fell Street to increase the safety for walkers and casual bikers on the multi-use path. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has proposed a preliminary design to Connecting-the-City with an east-west Fell Street component.
  • The block of Fell between Scott and Divisadero has been the site of protests against the Arco service station and the traffic configuration near Divisadero. At the same time, the SFMTA experimented with several design changes that seem to have reduced the traffic tangle and the blocking of the bike lane.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Panhandle Upgrade In Early 2011; City Chooses Proposal From Panhandle Park Stewards

Three of the turf mounds to be replanted and upgraded

Central area in the west-end of the Panhandle to be focus of improvements

Modernizing irrigation and drainage systems will help prevent frequent path flooding

The Panhandle Park will see new turf, new pathways, more native plants, and upgraded irrigation and drainage early in 2011 as part of a capital improvement proposal selected in a competition conducted by the Recreation and Parks Department (RPD). During a December 2 meeting, RPD commissioners approved the funding of several proposals, including one submitted by the Panhandle Park Stewards, a group of volunteers who live around the Panhandle and participate in monthly work days caring for the park. RPD agreed to finance the $89,000 proposal, and staff have indicated that they expect the implementation to begin early in the new year.

Dale Danley, leader of the Panhandle Park Stewards, said the proposal focused on the area near the basketball court, restroom, and children's playground to get the most impact from funds available. "Improving the central area is the best way to make the park a gathering place for neighbors, and will further improve people's perceptions of our neighborhood park," said Danley. (See this previous post for an aerial view of the project area). Danley said the work will also include a seating wall situated near the basketball courts, bike racks, and a new wood chip path leading to the Kevin Collins' Children's Garden and playground.

Park regulars know that the turf along several pathways frequently has deep ruts caused by service vehicles too large for the paths or operators not careful enough to stay on them. A key repair aspect of the project will be to re-route the trucks onto other, wider paths. The south side walking and jogging path requires upgrades along much of its length from Baker to Masonic streets, but Danley explained the funds available for the projects were insufficient for such a large undertaking. The multi-use path along the Fell street side of the Panhandle has become overwhelmed with users, both walkers and bicyclists. With a continuing surge in bicycling in the city, the most likely solution for the over-crowded multi-use path is an on-street, separated track for people on bikes.

Danley envisions greater community involvement for the betterment of the neighborhood park. On his website, Panhandle Park Stewards, he encourages more neighbors to join the monthly workdays and for the group to conduct more outreach to neighbors and park users. He also hopes to engage neighbors in the implementation phases of the upgrades by documenting the work, identifying the plants selected, and proposing re-use of materials removed from the park. The Panhandle Park Stewards received an award last month as the outstanding park volunteer group of the year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Panhandle Path Notes: Hazard Repaired, Trouble Remains

For months Panhandle Path has bulged here close to Cole Street

When a driver blocks the crosswalk before stopping, it's never a good sign

Ignoring the red turn light and prompting the driver behind to follow

Not to be deterred no matter how many cyclists and pedestrians are in the crosswalk
And the license plate: CA 6LRE494

This afternoon was a good time to get away from the office for a quick bike ride. One of BIKE NOPA's "eyes-on-the-street"* alerted me earlier in the day that a tall pole was being installed on Masonic at Hayes and that a patch of the Panhandle Path was being repaired. Holiday lights were going up on the giant Monterey cypress outside McLaren Lodge too. All good reasons for an outing. Here's what I found.

A new, tall utility pole was already in place when I arrived. The towering tree nearby had been trimmed for the arcing mast over the travel lane, and a new and larger set of signal lights had been installed. The signal light replacements, reported going up at other locations here, are intended as another safety improvement along the Masonic corridor.

Tree roots had buckled the pavement of the Panhandle Path in the west end of the park just east of Cole Street for several months. Perhaps the Recreation and Parks Department delayed this repair given its slashed budget. Crews started the job a few weeks ago but then the work stalled. With the friendly prodding of the Panhandle Park Stewards (coincidental or not), work resumed and today the pathway is flat and smooth.

I decided to save the city's holiday tree for a night-time visit and chose instead to stake out the Fell/Masonic intersection. I hoped to report that the new shield on the bike light was working as intended and that people driving west on Fell and wanting to turn left on Masonic no longer confused the red stoplight and the green bike light for crosswalk users. I stood through two full signal changes, and all went smooth and safely although one cyclist cut the digital countdown for the crossing pretty short. Not the third time though. A clear sign of trouble ahead is when a motorist rolls into and then completely blocks the crosswalk on Fell before stopping for the light. When the Panhandle light turned green for people on bikes and on foot, the driver ignored the red and edged into the intersection ready to push right through the flow of crosswalk users. Which he did. The driver behind him followed suit. Both traveled slowly through their infractions of the traffic code. (Do take note of the license plate number).

This isn't a bicyclist / motorist conflict, in my mind. The situation seen all over the city is simply too many motorists not respecting the rights and vulnerability of someone using the crosswalk. The intrusions happen every day in all parts of the city, sometimes with people getting hit and occasionally killed. One driver nearly hit me this week on a clear, sunny morning. I was crossing Golden Gate Avenue at Lyon street in the crosswalk. Her excuse after slamming on the brakes,"I didn't see you!" My reply, "Then you weren't looking." Before peeling around me and driving on, she shouted, "Get out of the road." When do we -- walkers, drivers, bicyclists, San Franciscans -- say "Enough" and then do something about it?

*Thanks again, SN. Now I wish I had added the Holiday Tree to my ride.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SFMTA Releases Masonic Survey Results: Residents Favor Complete Streets Design for a Better Transportation Corridor

Improvements proposed for all Masonic corridor users and residents

Boulevard plan expects to keep vehicles and transit moving smoothly and safely

Bicycle improvements were considered in both design options

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the Planning Department, and the Department of Public Works released survey results this afternoon that confirm the preference of Masonic area residents for a full package of traffic calming measures along the corridor from Fell to Geary streets. The much-anticipated results indicate that more than three-quarters (76%) of the respondents either strongly liked or somewhat liked the Boulevard street design. More than half (55%) strongly liked it. The survey included another design treatment, the Gateway option, with fewer traffic calming measures. The data show that it was "a less desirable compromise" among the survey respondents with 64% of whom either liked or strongly liked it. Only 19% registered a "strongly liked" position. The survey data will help shape the final report and recommendations that city staff will complete by December 31st.

The Boulevard proposal includes streamlined traffic flow, pedestrian enhancements, Muni improvements, a separated bicycle lane, and a landscaped median. The new design will also remove round-the-clock street parking on Masonic, although SFMTA staff will propose creation of up to 80 new parking spaces nearby as a mitigation. In the survey, respondents favored the individual elements of the Boulevard design:
  • transit facilities (53% strongly liked the features and 31% liked them)
  • travel lane configuration including a median (47% strongly liked, 35% liked)
  • lighting fixtures for roadway and pedestrian areas (66% strongly liked, 24% liked)
  • raised bicycle track (54% strongly liked, 20% liked)
  • parking removal (42% strongly liked, 17% liked)
  • street trees (64% strongly liked, 21% liked)
In all the above categories, survey respondents favored the Boulevard treatments over the Gateway features. Written comments indicated the preferences were largely due to the extra enhancements in the Boulevard option. For example, a landscaped median the length of the Masonic blocks seemed to tip preferences for the travel lane configuration over the Gateway plan with intermittent medians.

The cycle track for bicyclists in the Boulevard design was much more popular than the striped bike lane proposed under the Gateway option. In the latter, only 15% strongly liked the lesser lane treatment with another 40% indicating they liked it. Not surprisingly, the removal of parking proved to be the issue that divided respondents the most. But, according to the report, "a stronger and larger majority (are) in favor of removing all parking." Even so, many respondents expressed strong reservations. The Gateway proposal contained removal of parking on just one side of the street, but 17% strongly disliked the idea and another 29% disliked it. The greater number of street trees proposed in the two plans (200 for the Boulevard, 125 for the Gateway) easily swayed the strongly liked response for the Boulevard.

Javad Mirabdal, project manager for the Masonic study, explained the process that led to the results released today.
This is basically what the community told us. We worked with the community during three community meetings and narrowed the options to these last two, the Boulevard and the Gateway. The majority are in favor of the Boulevard option, and we will include the data in our final report and recommendations.
Mirabdal added that the next step will be to legislate the proposal with public support. "Then we have a project," he said. With the approval in hand, city staff will complete the design, seek environmental review if needed, and begin the challenging task of securing funding.

For related stories, see the A Better Masonic series.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fix Masonic Group Seeks Interim Safety Measures on Busy Corridor

Small median island with traffic sign -- add 25 MPH sign too?

Northbound Masonic: traffic lanes and crosswalks faded

Hayes to Fell southbound faded as well

Fix Masonic wants the city to install interim traffic calming measures on Masonic Avenue during the long lead-up to the more comprehensive changes envisioned for the street. The grassroots group submitted a list of ten safety enhancements to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in mid-November. The agency is researching the proposals, a few of which would require legislative approval. The proposed changes range from re-striping faded traffic lanes to establishing a double-fine zone for speeding. Fix Masonic is comprised of Masonic area residents who use the corridor for all modes of transportation and who want to stop the speeding that regularly occurs on the street.

SFMTA staff expect to complete a final report for the Masonic Avenue Street Design Study by December 31st. The planning document will recommend a transportation design that incorporates many of the features of the Boulevard proposal supported by a majority of Masonic area residents during a series of three community meetings earlier this year. Next spring the proposal will be considered at a public hearing before a SFMTA hearing officer, followed by presentations before the SFMTA Board of Directors and the Board of Supervisors. Once approved, city planners will conduct an environmental review, if needed, and seek funding for the $20 million proposal. The full process from completion of the final report to start of construction could require two to three years. Construction will likely continue for 12 to 18 months.

Fix Masonic, individual neighbors, and parents with children at the San Francisco Day School are urging the city to undertake safety measures during the long waiting period for project implementation. On November 17, Fix Masonic submitted the following requests for interim measures to Ricardo Olea, SFMTA Livable Streets Manager:
  • Re-paint crosswalks at intersections and upgrade crossings with zebra stripes as needed
  • Re-stripe travel lanes on several blocks where paint has faded. Masonic's narrow traffic lanes might discourage speeding if they were more visible.
  • Paint 25 MPH on traffic lanes at several locations in both travel directions
  • Paint School Zone at appropriate locations near the several schools along Masonic
  • Re-define traffic lanes at specific locations where lanes currently widen or end abruptly
  • Install a thumbnail median -- or use existing island medians -- and post a 25 MPH sign
  • Install the long-discussed and promised red-light camera at Fell and Masonic
  • Add an additional block -- Fell to Oak -- to the current project
  • Seek a double-fine zone for the Masonic corridor to discourage speeding
  • Post notices along Masonic on existing poles that indicate the number of speeding citations given during a specific time period (for example, "33 citations during December")
For more stories in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

Readers' note: I am a member of the group Fix Masonic.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks To You All, Happy Holiday Weekend

Thanks for your interest, support, ideas, and tips.

See you again on Monday, November 29.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fix Fell Group Ends Protests, Leader Reflects on Impact & Activism

Stuart Matthews at BP/ARCO protest earlier this year

Weekly demonstrations attracted 10 to 100 individuals upset with oil spill and oil addiction

Fell traffic problems prior to additional traffic calming measures

Last spring when the country was reeling from news of the environmental disaster in the Gulf, local advocates for sustainable living organized the first of many weekly protests outside the BP/Arco service station at Fell and Divisadero. The activists named their group Fix Fell and announced their intent to continue the protests until the BP oil spill was stopped and the city designed a much safer westbound bike lane on Fell between Scott and Divisadero. Every Friday afternoon demonstrators appeared on the Fell sidewalk with signs calling for an end to oil addiction, protection of the country's natural resources, and a re-thinking of how the cheaper gas at Arco helps create a traffic maze that endangers bicyclists. On several occasions protesters blocked motorists from entering Arco. A few clashed with the station owner and police arrested several.

The oil leak has now been capped, and the city installed several traffic and bike lane changes that were in the works before the protests began. Nearby neighborhood associations, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and individuals had pushed for safety improvements at Fell and Divisadero for several months prior to the bike lane improvements. Fix Fell's protests added to the review -- and criticism -- of the changes. Few observers have been wholeheartedly satisfied with the current traffic design, but an initial study suggests some improvements have resulted. Although Fix Fell members believe the street remains dangerous for cyclists, they ended the protests after 14 weeks.

BIKE NOPA interviewed Stuart Matthews, one of the leaders of Fix Fell, last September about the group's intentions and viability. I asked him recently to explain why the protests stopped. His reply follows. Matthews also reflects on the realities of taking direct action -- a term activists have employed for 100 years to protest political, social and environmental injustice.
I have been appealing, through actions and words, both written and
spoken, for more folks to get involved in direct action. Direct action
can't be sustained when only five people are willing to risk arrest and
deal with the legal consequences.
People in a privileged class - whether it is white, middle/upper class,
male, American - need to take more responsibility for their class's
destruction. Folks in our city and around the world suffer because of
our excesses, and we need to use our privilege for good and make
sacrifices to work to fix the destructiveness of our culture.

So, what I am saying, is that we will continue to work on this issue,
and there will probably be more direct action. But we could do so much
more if more folks felt compelled to take their responsibilities to the
world seriously.
We all have better things to do - that is true. Myself, for instance, I am busy taking care of my Mom, protecting civil liberties at my day job, and taking care of myself. If we had more folks in our movement that were willing to do the things that are needed, it would be a lot easier to keep our protests going at a high level.
BIKE NOPA asked Matthews about the accomplishments of Fix Fell. He believes the greatest impact of the protests have been to influence the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) and the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).
The SFBC has launched their Connecting the City campaign, with its
first priority being Fell/Oak, and their vision for Fell and Oak is a
good one. They didn't consult us on this, so I can't know for sure how
much of an impact we had on this, but I can't imagine it is a complete

The MTA has been paying more attention to the problems in that area (Fell Street between Scott and Divisadero), although clearly they haven't made any additional changes since the various paint treatments that they did.
For the future, Matthews anticipates a return to more visible advocacy.
The shift to behind the scenes stuff basically means that this is all
we, as a group, can afford (as far as time/energy) to take on right now.
In the new year we will be implementing an updated strategy and should
be able to invest fresh energy in it. It'll include more street
actions/direct action.
For additional stories on Fell Street changes and advocacy, search BIKE NOPA for Fell ARCO.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Majority in SFMTA Masonic Avenue Survey Favors Boulevard Design

Boulevard design "is going to be a major improvement" for Masonic

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced that a majority of Masonic area residents favor the more complete Boulevard street design for the corridor. The package of traffic calming measures in the plan is expected to make Masonic Avenue safer for all road users and improve the visual appearance of a ten block stretch from Oak to Geary streets. Implementation of the Boulevard design awaits a final report due by the end of the year, followed by an approval process and a search for funding. Actual on-site construction is unlikely to begin for at least two years. BIKE NOPA presented details of the Boulevard option in a previous story. Masonic Avenue residents who attended a September 30 community meeting took the survey to give their preferences between two design options.

Javad Mirabdal, SFMTA Director for the Masonic Traffic Calming Project, told members of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) on November 18th that survey results indicated a solid preference* (see note below) for the more ambitious and more complete street design. "This is the better option," Mirabdal said. "It's going to be a major improvement and it will re-shape Masonic Avenue, creating a better feeling for driving and walking."

More than 50 NOPNA members attended the bi-monthly meeting; only two expressed concerns about the Masonic project. They cited the proposed removal of parking, the installation of a bike lane "on a busy street," and the extent of outreach leading to the community meeting where the survey was conducted. Mirabdal replied that to make Masonic safer, changes have to be undertaken and "something has to give" to allow space for the center median, the Muni bus bulb-outs, and a separated bike lane. He noted that in a SFMTA daytime parking study, 60% of the parking on Masonic was for less than two hours. He believes these short-term users are students from the nearby USF campus and not Masonic residents. "Less than 20% park more than four hours." He added that the Boulevard project will also create 50-80 new parking spaces to partially mitigate the loss of Masonic parking.

Mirabdal emphasized that the traffic calming package for Masonic "is not a bike project." During other public meetings he has added that Masonic is the only direct north-south route in the area for bicyclists, just as it is for motorists. Regarding the adequacy of community outreach, Mirabdal described the door-to-door distribution of meeting notices prior to the first two Masonic community meetings and a mass mailing of 1400 notices for the final meeting. The announcements included information for how to contact Mirabdal directly.

Masonic Avenue and NOPA residents have, in fact, received a continuous stream of information about the Masonic project in addition to what the SFMTA distributed. Jarie Bolander, NOPNA president, confirmed that notices of the Masonic meetings and project updates have been included in several previous association newsletters that are distributed to 5000 individuals. The meetings were also announced in email blasts to 800 members and other interested parties, and speakers have regularly discussed the Masonic project at NOPNA meetings. Neighborhood blogs and city-wide media have also covered the traffic calming proposals.

In addition to NOPNA, Mirabdal said he has talked with other neighborhood groups in the Masonic Area, including the Ewing Terrace Neighborhood Association, the University Terrace Neighborhood Association, the San Francisco Day School, and Fix Masonic.

The SFMTA expects to release a full report on the survey findings within the next two weeks.

For detailed project information:
Contact project manager, Javad Mirabdal:
(415) 701-4421

For previous stories in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

* November 3o note: Javad Mirabdal requested a change in my report of his description of the degree of support for the Boulevard plan. He believes his statements indicated to the NOPNA audience that there was a "preference" rather than a "solid preference" for the proposal. Today's post reveals the actual data which indicate that 76% of survey respondents "strongly liked" or "liked" the Boulevard option while 64% favored the Gateway alternative.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Panhandle Park Stewards Honored As "Outstanding Park Volunteer Group"

Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of SF Recreation & Parks Dept. (l), and Dale Danley,
Leader of Panhandle Park Stewards

Morgan Fitzgibbons (l) of Wigg Party nominated Panhandle Park Stewards for Award

Dale Danley with NEN Award, interviewed for NEN broadcast

August 2010 Workgroup, Panhandle Park Stewards

Volunteer groups help care for nearly 225 neighborhood parks in San Francisco, and last night one of them was honored for its exemplary work. The Panhandle Park Stewards received the 2010 Outstanding Park Volunteer Group award from the citywide Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN). Dale Danley, leader of the Panhandle volunteers, accepted the award during a City Hall ceremony that also honored eleven other community projects and recognized individual achievements.

Earlier this year Danley reinvigorated a lagging volunteer effort to care for the Panhandle. He organized monthly outings that now attract up to 20 neighborhood volunteers to work in the Panhandle with the park's city gardener. Accepting the award for his group, Danley said, "We want a park that's clean, green, safe and cool, but we're not there yet. We'll keep working until it is." Morgan Fitzgibbons, leader of the Wigg Party, nominated the Panhandle group for the NEN award. Last night Fitzgibbons applauded Danley's leadership with the work crews, his Panhandle web site, and his appreciation for the history and care of the Panhandle trees.

Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, hailed the work of the Panhandle Park Stewards and the efforts of all volunteers who help care for San Francisco's parks and recreation facilities. "We simply cannot do it alone anymore," Ginsburg told the audience of more than 200 community activists and city officials. "We need neighborhood volunteers." Last year volunteers citywide logged more than 129,000 hours working with the department.

The North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) continues to be a primary supporter of efforts to improve its "neighborhood park." Last month Danley worked with NOPNA and several other neighborhood groups adjacent to the park on a proposal to upgrade the central area of the Panhandle. The Recreation and Parks Department is currently reviewing the application. The next work day for the Panhandle Park Stewards is scheduled for Saturday, January 8th.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

City Smooths Streets with Recycled Tire Product, Gets Cost Savings & Paves More Blocks

9th Avenue on either side of Balboa with new Flex Seal treatment

Darker color with Flex Seal but some residents describe surface as bumpier

The San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) is experimenting with a new street paving treatment that re-uses old tires and leaves surfaces smooth and, reportedly, safer. Flex Seal, according to its manufacturer, is a "revolutionary asphalt emulsion" that mixes the recycled tires with asphalt, polymers, and other agents. The new product is less expensive and helps stretch DPW's under-financed street repair budget to repave many more blocks. In San Francisco Flex Seal has been tested primarily on dozens of local, neighborhood blocks that receive less wear and tear. These blocks appear much darker than others with regular asphalt applications, and the surfaces are expected to retain their color longer. The Flex Seal blocks have a more textured feel than just-applied asphalt, and a few residents think the surface is bumpier than with asphalt.

The lower costs of the treatment are persuasive, but Flex Seal paving has won high marks from public works departments in other California cities for the product's effectiveness as well. In Los Angeles and San Clemente, street repair directors have found that the product yields significant protection from sun and water damage. The rubberized material inhibits oxidation of oils that give pavement surfaces their flexibility and deters the development of cracks. Keeping water from entering into cracks and seeping into the street sub-base is essential to preserving the integrity of the surface and preventing further damage. The pavement protection has a five-year life cycle, according to the manufacturer's marketing promotion. Although San Francisco is currently testing the treatment only on less-used streets, two other types of Flex Seal have been developed for use on busier collector streets and on high-volume traffic corridors.

The verdict is out on Flex Seal for use in San Francisco, but the treatment does seem to yield additional benefits:
  • traffic on road surfaces with the new seal are reportedly less noisy
  • the dark surface yields a greater contrast with lane striping, possibly resulting in greater safety
  • surfaces seem to give tires a better grip, even when wet
  • 100 discarded tires are re-used for each mile of product application, putting a slight dent in the 273 million tires that get tossed every year
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is encouraging its members to take test rides on streets with the new treatment to determine rideability and degree of tire grip when the surfaces are wet. Check the SFBC Good Roads page for a list of streets. We will report further on the surfaces and provide a more extensive list of city blocks with the Flex Seal treatment in the days ahead.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Resounding YES to Sunday Streets by NOPA: 96.9% in Survey Want Car-Free Event in 2011

Kid-friendly blocks for biking, bike decorating, face painting and more

"I was blown away by how many people showed up to enjoy car-free space even in the rain."

Eleven car-free blocks an inconvenience? Not at all for 84% in NOPNA survey

Nearly 97% of survey respondents from the North Panhandle want the car-free Sunday Streets celebration to return to the neighborhood next year. The NOPA residents hailed the event that opened neighborhood streets to walking, biking, live music, and games on September 19th. One resident who identified herself as "Diana (driver, cyclist, pedestrian, citizen)" added a comment: "I support community use of the streets, and the more reason to come together the better." The online survey was conducted by the North Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) last month and sent to members. Thirty-two completed the survey. The survey was emailed to several hundred neighbors.

NOPA neighbors have been supportive of Sunday Streets ever since the prospect of bringing the event was first proposed early last year. In addition, Jarie Bolander, NOPNA president, said the association received only one complaint about the removal of parking and the restricted street access. Eleven blocks along Central, Grove, Baker, and Golden Gate were closed to parking from 11pm Saturday to 3pm Sunday. In the NOPNA survey, 84% said the removal of parking caused no inconvenience while 12% said the situation was manageable. NOPNA helped arrange for 200 free parking spaces for residents along the route, but only 20 of those were actually used. Similar high percentages of neighbors said they were "very satisfied" about event promotion, behavior of participants, and the quick and thorough clean-up.

Respondents suggested changes for next year's Sunday Streets in the Western Addition:
  • devise a less-fragmented route, perhaps from the Panhandle to Fulton to Fillmore streets
  • include Divisadero for a mix of residential and commercial activity
  • add more activities along the connection between NOPA and Fillmore
  • allow more food stalls and food trucks
  • add even more live music and give the route a music theme
  • get neighborhood more involved and inform neighbors that they can hold garage sales
  • "more sun next time please"
  • post No Parking Signs earlier-- 8 days rather than the 72 hours required -- as a courtesy to those neighbors who use their vehicles infrequently
One neighbor concluded, "Sunday Streets will get even better during the second year." All the routes for the 2011 program have yet to be determined, but a return to the Western Addition is definitely anticipated according to event organizers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Masonic Boulevard Plan Promises Park and Plaza to Make Masonic Neighbors Proud

Mini-park at Geary and Masonic: a forlorn bus stop of a green space

That's a lot of concrete and asphalt for a mini-park to balance

From the street it's all about hard surfaces and vehicles crowding along all three sides

New Masonic Boulevard plan will broaden the park, add trees & amenities
Image: San Francisco Planning Department

Right where Masonic and Geary tangle their traffic on the south side sits a little triangle of a park that really needs some attention and care. A grove of hardy New Zealand Christmas trees adds a touch of green to the otherwise all-concrete plaza. A bus shelter clings to Geary and offers some respite from the wind blasts from the west. No one has lunch there. No one says, "Meet me at the plaza." Entering or leaving the often dark and gloomy space is not for the faint of heart: double-checking the traffic flow is a must. But it doesn't have to be this way, and it won't once the city adopts the Boulevard design for the Masonic corridor.

As part of the Masonic Traffic Design proposal, the uninviting triangle at Masonic and Geary will be transformed into a welcoming spot for strollers, Muni riders, shoppers and anyone needing to stretch their legs after too many mahi mahi tacos at Hukilau across the street. Concrete will give way to trees, shrubs, and grasses and permeable surfaces that will cover 11,000 square feet. Benches will permit a rest. And public art will give the site the distinction it now severely lacks. Crosswalks will be upgraded and the street will be re-paved. Vehicle access to residences and businesses along the short stretch of westside Masonic will remain, but a quieter space and more attractive view will greet merchants and customers, homeowners and renters.

Strategic plantings will take advantage of the wind shadow created by the buildings on the west side of Masonic, and new trees will be selected to help block the wind. A full median of newly planted trees and addition street trees along the sidewalk will complement the new plaza. The greening of Masonic can begin right here.

City staff working on the Masonic Traffic Calming Project will complete a final report -- including the design for a revitalized plaza and art park -- by the end of December. Then Masonic area neighbors will get another chance to endorse a new green transportation corridor from Geary to the north and the Panhandle to the south.

For other stories in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Bike Light Shield at Fell & Masonic: Small Change Might Reduce Crashes

With the shield, drivers see the no-turn arrow but not the green bike light to the left

The bike signal lights are obscured from the view of drivers in turning lane

Previously, drivers saw both red and green lights at the same time

Enforcement needed here: some drivers ignore all signals (1pm Nov. 9)

Without fanfare or even an announcement, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has installed a shield to the bike light at the intersection of Fell and Masonic. The small adjustment may reduce the risk of collisions for travelers who use the intersection. The shield -- actually metal slits within the housing of the bike light -- obscures motorists' view of the bike signal so they don't think a green bike light allows a left turn from Masonic even with a visible red no-left-turn arrow.

Several collisions occurred at the crossing involving motorists and bicyclists and motorists and pedestrians before the bike light was installed in September 2008, and crashes continued to happen afterwards. Pedestrian and bike advocates have suggested that motorists may get confused by the combination of a red turn arrow and the green light meant only for bicyclists using the crosswalk. They began urging an adjustment within weeks of the initial light installation. Two years later, cyclists noticed the new shield on Monday of this week.*

A stop at the intersection early this afternoon indicated that drivers waiting in the left turn lane were unable to see the bike light. (I asked two motorists waiting for the light since I traveled by bike and did not approach the intersection in a vehicle). However, as happens frequently at the intersection, a truck driver did not see or ignored the red turn signal and nearly hit two cyclists crossing with a green light. As much as the new light shield may reduce collisions, the real solution for safe passage for bicyclists and motorists is to install separated bikeways on Oak and Fell for east-west travel.

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the date of the bike light installation as January of 2008; the light was installed September 2008.

* Thanks to Marc Caswell, Fix Masonic coordinator, Masonic resident, and SFBC staffer for sharing his sighting of the new shield.

For other stories in the A Better Masonic series, check here.