Sunday, January 31, 2010

NOPA VELO Launches with Patty Hearst/Presidio Ride

33 meet at Central Coffee, Tea & Spice for NOPA VELO's First Ride

NOPA VELO Ride Leaders: Rick Boardman & Lenore McDonald

More than 30 North Panhandle cyclists and their friends gathered around a popular local cafe Sunday morning for the inaugural NOPA VELO ride through the neighborhood, into Golden Gate Park and through the Presidio. "We're excited so many riders turned out," said Patty McDonald, one of the organizers who was in full Patty/Tania Hearst attire for the special themed ride. The NOPA area cycling group will offer special "NOPA Lore" for each of its monthly rides. Sunday's outing commemorated the 1974 kidnapping of San Francisco heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical organization that held her captive in a NOPA area apartment for several months.

Each NOPA VELO ride will also introduce cyclists to the neighborhood's fine eating and drinking spots with power-up starts at one location and cool-down drinks and lunches at another. Sunday morning riders met at Central Coffee, Tea, and Spice at Central and Hayes Streets. Riders kept gathering for a full half-hour before the ride began. One neighbor, Michael Varner, changed his leisurely Sunday morning coffee ritual at the cafe and instead dashed home to get his gear and join the ride. Long-time Central Coffee owner -- known to all simply as "Alli" -- beamed at the number of riders. "I didn't think so many would show up!"

First stop for NOPA VELO was the site of Patty Hearst's captivity, 1827 Golden Gate Avenue near Baker Street where Lenore McDonald recounted highlights of Hearst's life. The 19 year old Patty was the daughter of the wealthy editor of the San Francisco Examiner* and grand-daughter of the legendary publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. (His story was the inspiration for Citizen Kane, the classic 1941 film by Orson Welles). Patty was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment on February 4, 1974.

The SLA demanded, and received, more than $2 million from the Hearst family to buy food for the poor. But, during her captivity, Patty was either brainwashed, as she later stated, or radicalized and adopted the name Tania after a protege of Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary. Tania joined SLA members in an armed robberty of a Hibernia Bank branch at 1450 Noriega. She later posed wielding the rifle she used in the hold-up. (Thus the infamous poster of Tania which NOPA VELO's expert designer Rick Helf re-imagined as Tania wielding a threating ... bicycle).

The FBI placed Patty Hearst on its "Ten Most Wanted" list, and the search for her became a national fixation. FBI agents captured her at a Mission District house and charged her with armed robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Famed attorney F. Lee Bailey represented Hearst -- none too well she later claimed -- and a jury found her guilty. Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison. President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence in 1979 after she had served two years. President Bill Clinton pardoned Patty Hearst at the end of his terms in office. Two months out of prison, Hearst married her bodyguard and they settled in Connecticut where they raised two daughters.

Patty Hearst wasn't out of the limelight yet. Filmmaker John Waters was impressed with Hearst's story after seeing the film of her life, Patty Hearst, with the late Natasha Richardson playing the part of the heiress. He cast Patty herself in his film Cry Baby in 1990, followed by appearances in three more of his movies: Serial Mom, Pecker, and Cecil B. Demented. Patty later reflected on her life, "There's always been this fascination with what happened to me."

That's this month's NOPA lore; now back to the ride. The skies cleared, the sun appeared, and Patty/Tania/Lenore led the riders into the Panhandle and onto JFK Drive bound for the Great Highway. Co-organizer Rick Boardman assumed the sweeper role at the back of the pack. Everyone handled the moderate climb up the Great Highway to the Cliff House, including 6 year old Benjamin Stevens who accompanied his father, Peter. Afterwards Benjamin said going up that hill was his favorite part of the ride. Benjamin has been bicycling for three years, and tomorrow is his birthday.

The Presidio was chilly with morning fog, and a stop at the Warming Hut at Crissy Field came just at the right time. After the uphill ride to Inspiration Point, National Park Service volunteer Dale Danley, aka Ranger Dale, provided an update on the removal of Army-era landfills in the Tennessee Hollow. The group left the park via the Arguello Gate with half the riders stopping for drinks and lunch at Jannah restaurant in NOPA where owner Yahya Slih greeted them with special seating, great Middle Eastern/Californian food, and complimentary desserts with puffs on a hookah. He was thrilled to see many new faces. "Now people are getting used to us in the neighborhood," Salih said. "We're no longer the strangers here."

Look for news of upcoming NOPA VELO rides here on BIKE NOPA. Cyclists can also encouraged to join the NOPA VELO Google group for email updates on the rides: .

* A touch of irony, perhaps, that Friday's edition of the San Francisco Examiner featured the NOPA VELO ride with the poster of Patty/Tania Hearst wielding a bicycle. What might William Randolph Hearst think of that?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

NOPA VELO to Roll Sunday Jan. 31

Image by Rick Helf

Seen while walking NOPA: Patty Hearst returns

The Patty Hearst / Presidio Ride spins through NOPA this upcoming Sunday, Jan. 31st. Meet up at Central Coffee, Tea and Spice for Ali's finest brews and a brief account of the travails of Tania/Patty Hearst by NOPA's own Lenore McDonald. Kick off from there for a stop at the
Golden Gate Avenue apartment building where the heiress-turned-radical was held captive in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

With thoughts of life in a small closet, NOPA VELO cyclists and friends will then glide through Panhandle Park and onto JFK Drive for one of the first group rides on the repaved section of the park boulevard.

Ranger Dale will accompany the cyclists and present an update on recent changes in the Presidio including the national park's ambitious habitat restoration program. A stop at the Warming Hut for a quick break and then everyone returns to NOPA for a hearty welcome at Jannah, NOPA's new restaurant offering exotic Middle Eastern/Californian specialties at good prices, on Fulton Street for drinks and/or lunch.

Can't pedal the whole route? Check out the route map in this previous post and meet us at the start, along the way, or join us for celebration at the end. Patty/Tania and Park Ranger attire encouraged.

Ride stats:
Meet 9:30 am at Central Coffee, Tea & Spice, corner of Central & Hayes
Begin ride at 10:00 am
Return to NOPA and stop for drinks & lunch at Jannah, 1775 Fulton, between Central and Masonic at 2 pm
About 15 miles, two moderate climbs
All biking abilities welcome, walking the climbs is more than fine
Kids with own bikes and an adult guardian welcome to join us
Questions? contact Lenore at

84.7% Increase in Cyclists at Fell and Scott in Three Years; 34,000+ Ride Fell Each Month

NOPA resident Mariana Parreiras tallied bicyclists in the SFMTA 2009 Bike Count Project

Fell Street bike lane approaching ARCO at Divisadero

The route bicyclists use most to reach NOPA and points further west at the end of the workday registered an impressive 84.7% increase in number of riders over the last three years, according to a new San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) report. In the last year alone the count increased by 23.5.% During its annual one-day bike count, MTA interns tallied 375 cyclists passing through the Fell and Scott Streets intersection using the Wiggle bike route, a huge jump from the 202 bikers counted at that location in 2006 and a more than respectable bounce from last year's count of 302.

The bike count occurred between 5 pm and 6:30 pm during August of last year. The analysis compares numbers of cyclists counted at the same location and during the same time period since SFMTA began the counts in 2006. The Fell and Scott intersection is among the top ten busiest sites for bike traffic included in the study that also looked at 33 other locations in San Francisco. Based on the counts at all these sites, bicycling in San Francisco increased by 53% since 2006. The SFMTA explained that the annual bike count helps establish trends in bicycling over time and does not purport to count the total numbers of cyclists on city streets overall.

However, a pilot project on Fell between Scott and Divisadero does register all cyclists at all times. This smaller study found that the total number of cyclists using the Fell Street bike lane ranges from 34,000 to 41,000 a month. Not surprisingly, the better weather months, August through October, see the highest use. The total 24/7 count is obtained from an automatic counter, an “inductive loop counter,” embedded under the roadway a few inches. Each time a bicycle passes over the loop the system adds it to the total count. The loop is capable of distinguishing between bicyclists and other users of the road. And, good news for the cash-strapped city, the counters require little maintenance and operate on batteries that last for ten years. The SFMTA expects to enhance its annual bike counts by installing additional automatic counters throughout the city.

The significant numbers from the manual and the automatic counts emphasize even more the need for safer passage on Fell Street. Recent bike improvements, including the new bike box at Scott & Oak Streets and the center bike lane on Scott between Oak and Fell, have improved the safety for the high number of cyclists using the Wiggle bike route. Yet high speeds by motorists on Fell and the traffic tangle on Fell at the ARCO service station remain hazards to cyclists and pedestrians. As reported in BIKE NOPA here, the SFMTA intends to re-time traffic signals on Fell Street to 25 mph by March, but the agency has been slow to experiment with traffic design changes on Fell near the ARCO station. However, this week SFMTA began forming a working group to develop improvements at this location and provide feedback on any trial changes implemented.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Bike Racks Sprout in NOPA

All of a sudden new bike racks are appearing on NOPA streets. After three years of the injunction-induced bike parking drought, the ever-humble and practical inverted U's are blossoming like the plum tree outside Mojo Bicycle Cafe. From Fulton near Masonic and along Divisadero, we spotted seven new bike racks. NOPA received two of the first racks installed in the days after a partial lifting of the bike injunction, one at Pacific Primary School and another on Divisadero near Oak. Now with at least nine new racks, there's greater chance to stow your bike outside stores and cafes and homes without blocking sidewalks and without risking losing your wheels altogether.

Know of other new bike racks in NOPA? (The new ones have a city SFMTA message stenciled on the sidewalk to help position the installations). List others here in comments.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Two Days, 137 Miles, 60,000 Breaths"

Spirit Rock by Jodene.

Photo by Jodene on flickr. Spirit Rock Meditation Center

In 2002 a group of Buddhist friends and “cycling meditators” embarked on a journey – a pilgrimage as it turned out – from a meditation center in Marin County to a monastery up the road in Mendocino County. At the end of their second day, the 80 riders, accompanied by 40 volunteers, completed what was probably a first in the Buddhist world: a pilgrimage by bicycle. They’ve been doing it every summer since.

The Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage (BBP), as the ride became known, has settled into a familiar route. Riders gather at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in west Marin County and then follow freeways, small roads, and bike paths through towns and cities on the way to the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery near Willits in Mendocino County. Riders stop briefly at different monasteries or Buddhist centers, such as the City of 10,000 Buddhas, for spiritual talks and meditation. Monks travel with them, but so far only in the vans. The average age of riders is in the mid-30s, and most have has previously gone on retreats or belong to a meditation house. But not all.

NOPA resident Leon Sun has biked in the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage for eight years, and the ride has become part of his personal practice. He doesn’t have a teacher or belong to a sangha, however, as other Buddhist practitioners often do. “I’m wary of religious groups,” he explained over tea in his Turk Street home recently. “I’m kind of an anarchist in that way.” Instead, he mostly reads books about Buddhist teachings and practices meditation on his own.

In the first part of this profile published in an earlier post, Leon described the spirit of mindfulness he tries to bring to his everyday activities, including bicycling in San Francisco. “Being mindful while biking helps me get into personal, inner change,” he said. Leon found that bicycling itself often helped him with personal development. “I work out personal issues, or “inner demons.” He explained that as a boy, he lived in very sheltered surroundings in which sports was discouraged and studying was exalted. Only later did he discover that he was good at athletics with a natural ability, strength, and endurance. But even then he found that “you can go overboard in proving yourself.” Today biking and meditating help him maintain a balance on his personal journey. "Cycling lends itself to being in the moment; a long ride is like a pilgrimage,” he observed.

How is the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage (BBP) different from other weekend recreational spins or benefit rides? Leon explained that BBP cyclists see the pilgrimage as a spiritual ride. “It’s not a sporting event,” he said, “where the cycling machismo often kicks in.” He added, “Our ride isn’t about performance. We’re not trying to do our personal best times or get in better shape. It’s more like a tour, a time to appreciate our surroundings.” Another difference for the BBP is the group’s decision to not charge any fee or require any fundraising obligations for those participating in the ride. Instead riders donate what they choose in appreciation for the event. Each year the pilgrimage covers its costs and donates the remainder to the monasteries that host them.

This year’s ride takes place on September 25 and 26; registration opens August 20. For more information, visit the BBP site: DharmaWheels: Turning Our Wheels for the Dharma. From the perspective of these wet winter days and nights, a mindful summer spin through Northern California seems just the thing. Leon Sun encourages newcomers. I asked how well someone who practiced yoga and meditated on their own might manage the pilgrimage. Leon’s ready response: “They’d fit in very well.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

MTA Updates NOPA on Traffic Improvements; Fell/Oak Traffic Signals Timed to 25 mph in March 2010

Anyone with a garage big enough to store the Oak Street SFgo Sign?

The Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) expects to re-time the signal lights on Fell and Oak Streets to 25 mph as part of traffic calming measures in the North Panhandle and Alamo Square neighborhoods. Cathal Hennessey of MTA's Division of Sustainable Streets, SFgo Section, confirmed in an email today that MTA expects to implement the plan in March 2010. Traffic calming advocates generally support the change, but several want MTA to go further. Michael Smithwick of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association (ASNA) wants the posted speed limits to also be lowered to 25 mph. "That may help dissuade drivers who start at the back of the pack and accelerate to 40 mph as is currently the case," Smithwick noted in an email to BIKE NOPA last month. Hennessey will discuss the traffic signal measure along with other street safety issues at the January 21st meeting of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA).*

Hennessey also wrote that the MTA will support the decisions about the SFgo "variable message signs" reached by stakeholders at a January 29th City Hall meeting organized by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's office. That gathering will include representatives of District 5 neighborhood associations, the MTA, and the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, the Academy of Sciences, and the de Young Museum. The neighborhood associations met last November to discuss the controversial signs on Fell and Oak Streets near Divisadero. Once MTA disclosed that the primary purpose of the Fell Street sign was to advise motorists when the Concourse garage was full, the neighborhood representatives strongly suggested that the concourse and museum authorities be engaged directly in further discussions. While many NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors have resisted the "freeway-style" SFgo signs, Inner Sunset neighbors want the city to use such signs to direct the overflow traffic away from their streets when the museum garage is closed and motorists seek street parking. Hennessey also restated that the MTA intends to remove the Oak Street SFgo sign. He wrote that the agency is "currently seeking a site capable of storing the sign."

The red light camera promised for installation at the Fell/Masonic intersection is still in the works, although the cameras at that dangerous intersection are "at least one year away," according to Hennessey. "The design is almost complete," he explained, "but the MTA needs to find a contract to tie this project to." He noted that the agency might also include the Fell/Masonic cameras in the new red light photo enforcement contract due for signing later this year.

Finally, the traffic tangle on Fell Street at the ARCO service station appears to have received the least attention of all measures since MTA proposed a solution prior to the September NOPNA meeting. On that occasion MTA backtracked on the one idea -- removing parking spaces to allow for a queue of vehicles awaiting access to the gas station -- and instead reviewed the several options that might improve the dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. Hennessey wrote that his understanding is that the MTA Bicycle Project staff "will contact stakeholders with alternatives to address the situation."

The MTA Bicycle Staff has admittedly been busy implementing new bike improvements in the city, but the intent "to contact stakeholders", expressed by Hennessey who works in a different unit, is similar to what the MTA Bike staff told NOPA and Alamo Square neighbors last September. Neighborhood traffic calming advocates and staff of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition have urged the MTA to experiment now with one or more of the already much-studied options, including installation of soft-hit posts as bike lane dividers similar to what the MTA recently placed on Market Street. Andy Thornley, SFBC Project, expressed the frustration felt by cyclists who take the route daily. "It's time -- it's long past due to defend the bike lane and the thousands of people who travel in the bike lane."

*NOPNA Meeting: Thursday, Jan. 21, 7:30 pm
Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton, btw Masonic & Central
Everyone welcome.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NOPA VELO Spins Out with Inaugural Ride

Design by Rick Helf

NOPA VELO, the North Panhandle’s new bicycling group for neighbors and friends, will launch its inaugural monthly outing on Sunday morning, January 31. Ride organizers announced that each ride will accommodate bikers of all levels with an emphasis on exercise and fine times with neighbors and friends. In addition, the outings will begin and end at NOPA's cool cafes and restaurants, making it one of the few neighborhood-focused, regular rides.

NOPA VELO also creates its own niche among the dozens of specialty bike rides in San Francisco by including NOPA LORE with each outing. What might that mean? Consider the inaugural excursion: “NOPA VELO’S Patty Hearst Presidio Ride” that starts with a brief recounting of NOPA's most famous captive-turned-revolutionary followed by a stop at the Golden Gate Avenue building where Patty/Tania Hearst was held hostage in 1974. Later in the ride NOPA’s own Ranger Dale will give an insider’s view of habitat restoration and new developments at the Presidio. Patty/Tania or Park Ranger attire encouraged for the ride.

Ranger Dale restores Presidio habitats

Future NOPA LORE will feature the neighborhood’s three historical landmark buildings with a story of how NOPNA helped keep one of them from becoming a Burger King outlet; a bicycle re-creation of President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1903 visit to NOPA, and the residence of the woman companion of Portland’s "Queen of the Bolsheviks."

NOPA VELO organizersLenore McDonald, Rick Boardman, and Michael Helquist – were inspired by the enthusiastic turnout for the Bike, Meet, and Mingle events sponsored by NOPNA, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), and BIKE NOPA last September and December. On both occasions, bicycle networking spun off toward NOPA-focused biking.

Lenore and Rick are veteran cyclists with experience organizing rides. Before finding her current home on Golden Gate, Lenore organized century rides in Marin. BIKE NOPA profiled Lenore in this previous post. Rick is originally from the UK but has been living, cycling and working in the Bay Area for five years. In London, he led the Hammersmith and Fulham group of the London Cycling Campaign for several years. He especially enjoyed leading sometimes muddy, but always fun rides along the Thames.

For ongoing info about the rides and more, join the NOPA VELO Google group here. News and photos will also appear regularly at BIKE NOPA.

View Larger Map

The first ride announcement follows:

NOPA VELO's Patty Hearst Presidio Ride ~ Sun., Jan 31 10am - 2 pm

Meet: 9:30 @ Central Coffee, Tea & Spice @ corner, Central & Hayes for NOPA lore on the Patty Hearst kidnapping and captivity in NOPA.

Depart: 10:00 am for swing by Patty Hearst building and then into the Panhandle

  • Stops along the way: the newly repaved JFK Drive west of Transverse Drive
  • new viewpoint above Sutro Baths
  • quick break at the Warming Hut near Crissy Field and brief update on Presidio habitat restoration from Ranger Dale
  • Yoda Fountain at Lucasfilm
  • Return to NOPA via 15th Avenue
2pm: Drinks and lunch at Jannah Restaurant, across from Lucky's on Fulton Street

All level riders are welcome and no rider will be left behind. Kids who can ride this distance on their own bike are welcome, if accompanied by a guardian.

The ride is approximately 15 miles with one medium climb to Sutro baths and another medium climb heading home on 15th Avenue. Heavy rain cancels ride, otherwise we're on! Next ride: Feb. 27 or 28.

Questions? Contact Lenore at 415-300-6744, or Rick at 650 714 7425,

Monday, January 18, 2010

JFK Drive: One Smooth Ride to 30th Avenue

From Lindley Meadow/30th Av to Transverse Drive: JFK is smooth!

An MLK Day Run on a Smooth JFK Drive

Just waiting for a group ride

Next repaving to begin after four dry days

Before the rains began last Saturday, construction crews applied new smooth asphalt on JFK Drive from Transverse to 30th Avenue. The first bicyclists to glide and spin on the rejuvenated expanse marvelled at the lack of gyrations, bone-rattles, and artful dodges required.

John Rogers, a local video producer, grabbed a chance to ride JFK to the ocean Sunday. "After decades of doing that bumpy ride, it was mind boggling." Lynne Howe, veteran SFBC Good Roads rider has spray painted and reported her share of potholes on JFK. She braved the rain Saturday, happened to get a flat tire, and still loved wheeling a safer JFK Drive. And first reports of the repaving came from Rick Boardman, one of the organizers of NOPA's new biking group. He can't wait for NOPA riders to include JFK in their first excursion.*

Completing the rest of the resurface will take awhile. Crews need four dry days before they can begin work again and require two days more of clear weather to grind off the old asphalt and follow that with a new layer. The project manager told BIKE NOPA he expected
the full west-end of JFK to be completed in four segments. Let's get some heavy rains for the snow pack and then dry spells for a smooth trip to the ocean.

* Check back this week on BIKE NOPA for details on the NOPA riders group and its first outing on January 31st.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pothole Injury Slows BIKE NOPA Posts

Another pothole-related bicycle injury

Since BIKE NOPA started in late June of last year, there have been almost daily posts. This last week my pace has slowed due to a bicycle injury. Last Saturday morning I hit a pothole and lost my grip while biking on Mississippi Street. (The hole was one of those smooth dips in the pavement, a not readily noticed depression). I fell and in the process fractured my right elbow. I'm fortunate that it is a simple break, likely to heal in a few weeks. But I'm also right-handed and that makes writing difficult. My orthopedist advises fifteen minutes at the keyboard followed by long breaks. I'm learning to write faster.

A bit of irony about my pothole-induced injury: it occurred while I was riding with other cyclists who volunteer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Good Roads Campaign. For the last two years a group of us has undertaken monthly "pothole patrols" throughout the city to identify and report the many cracks, holes, utility cuts, and sunken manholes that appear on bike routes. To date, we've reported more than 1,300 of these surface defects. But new potholes appear and the temporary repairs wear away. Biking in San Francisco is safer and smoother as a result of the Good Roads work -- and the usually quick repairs by the Dept. of Public Works -- but too many hazards remain and too many injuries and liabilities are the result of insufficient funding for our streets. Cyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable users of our roads, and their safety must become a higher priority, even in difficult economic times. You can help increase safety for everyone -- pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists -- by reporting potholes to 311 by phone or online at And be ready to support later this year the best proposals to finance safer streets.

For the next ten days or so, my fifteen minute stints at the keyboard will limit me to a BIKE NOPA post every other day. This week and next look for news of NOPA's new bicycling group, a feature on the Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage, updates on the Fell Street/ARCO traffic mess and those still-standing SFgo freeway-style signs, and a call to pledge "Pedestrians First."

A special thanks to the Good Roads crew who helped me through last week, the SFBC staff for all their support, friends and neighbors for good cheer, elephant-shaped cookies, walnut applesauce bread, cherries, grapes, cake and ice-cream. See you on the streets -- not soon enough for me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Divisadero -- Makeover Nearly Complete But Gets Omitted From Sunday Streets; New Signal for Grove Street Crossing

Improvements at Grove and Divisadero

Sidewalk treatments along Divisadero

Grove @ Divisadero: currently no traffic or pedestrian lights

Westbound on Grove from Alamo Square park

The Divisadero Corridor is almost ready for its close-up. After several months of streetscape improvements from Waller Street to Geary Boulevard, the revitalization of Divisadero is expected to be completed by March of this year. "The trees are going in, the landscaping will follow, and the street lights are supposed to arrive within a few weeks," according to Ellyn Parker, Manager of the Divisadero Corridor project for the Mayor's Office of Economic Workforce and Development. She added, "Everyone is getting anxious for the work to be completed, but no one wants to get too far out in front with predictions." For one thing, she cautioned, there's the rain. "With the lighting to be installed yet, we have to get some dry weather."

Once the last street tree has been planted and the final street pole capped with its new fixture, NOPA neighbors can tick off the full list of improvements to this long-neglected thoroughfare:
  • median greening
  • new street tree locations and replacement of dying or damaged trees
  • streetlight upgrades (good riddance to the cobra lighting)
  • sidewalk bulb outs at bus stops
  • pedestrian countdown signals at crosswalks
  • bus stop removals to improve service at Ellis and Fulton
  • pedestrian refuges at medians

And don't forget the curb-to-curb repaving of one of the city's previous candidates for worst road surfaces on a thoroughfare. Thank federal stimulus funds for the repaving of Divisadero. With the smoother and safer asphalt, BIKE NOPA has noticed bicyclists now braving the tight traffic lanes of the corridor.

But, sometimes getting all dressed up for the party doesn't snag an invite. Although the much-touted Sunday Streets celebration will course through the Western Addition and NOPA this year, Divisadero will not be part of the route. According to event planners, the two MUNI lines on Divisadero are the sticking points. The disruption of regular service is difficult enough for the MTA, but the apparent lack of logical re-routes for the two lines is especially troublesome. However, Sunday Streets will interact with Divisadero at two points: the route will extend on Grove to meet up with the Farmer's Market and will cross the spiffy new corridor on Golden Gate Avenue. (The hunch at BIKE NOPA is that a little creative outreach will pull Sunday Streeters along Divisadero and into the great shops and restaurants).

(The following segment revised 11:00 a.m. following further discussion with SFMTA).
The improvements keep coming. The Grove Street intersection at Divisadero has always been an anomaly: the only cross street to not merit a signal light or pedestrian crossing light. That's scheduled to change. Although not part of the Divisadero Revitalization project, the underground wiring for the Grove traffic signal was completed during the current corridor work and new signal lights will be installed in approximately two and a half years.

Michael Sallaberry, Associate Traffic Engineer for SFMTA, explained that the standard time period for planning, preparation, and installing a new traffic signal is usually three years. In the interim, the crosswalks at Divisadero and Grove will be upgraded with temporary tape striping to increase visibility. Sallaberry said a more substantial striping -- ladder or zebra patterns -- would normally be installed at an intersection similar to the "uncontrolled" situation at Grove and Divisadero, but to avoid ripping into the new asphalt when the signal light project moves forward in the near future, the MTA will use temporary markings for now.

Expect a huge celebration -- organized or spontaneous -- once Divis has finally gotten its due.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Street Eyesore Takes Up Residency in NOPA

Public street space claimed by private fire escape on Lyon at Golden Gate

"a blight on the neighborhood"

There are few simple stories in San Francisco, and the saga of the over-sized fire escape on Lyon Street near Golden Gate is one that isn't. But it does offer up the usual suspects of conflict: landlord/tenant relations, land use arguments, the city permit process, and 50 years or more of creative, non-code building practices.

The three-story metal structure has sidled along the turn-of-the 19th century apartment building since last summer. It provides an emergency exit for a few residents, but passers-by might wonder, "Why not just install a regular flat-against-the-exterior fire escape?" Indeed, why not? Instead this metallic behemoth disrupts sidewalk use, displaces 4-5 parking spaces, and offends neighbors who can't help but notice it.

The emergency structure was installed as a compromise, the result of a quirky arrangement decades ago for the adjacent properties on the northeast corner of Golden Gate and Lyon. A previous owner built a wooden fire escape from a unit in the Lyon building onto the roof of the Golden Gate building and then into that property's back yard. A wooden fire escape: there's a problem. Onto the roof of the adjacent house: seems like another. This unorthodox and dangerous set of circumstances remained until four years ago when a city housing inspector wrote up the building for code infractions and an illegal housing unit. The city's Board of Permit Appeals apparently saw things differently and ruled the unit in question was legal, but both bodies agreed the old wooden fire escape had to go. No one agreed, however, about where a standard, up-to-code substitute should be installed. The compromise reached among the city groups and the owner and contractor is the ungainly scaffolding hogging street space on Lyon today. No one is pleased with the outcome, including the owner of the Lyon Street building, according to his attorney, Andrew Zacks. "The owner understands this is a blight on the neighborhood," Zacks told BIKE NOPA.

Now this post began with a simple inquiry to the responsible construction firm about when this "blight" would be removed. (The current notice, posted on the scaffolding, lists February 27, 2010 as the end of the permit period). I never intended to conduct an investigation of one more example of the seemingly arcane routes of building code administration in the city. I simply hoped to find that the safety of the tenants would be assured with access to standard fire escapes and that the neighborhood would be spared the ugly, overbuilt scaffolding.

Patrick Buscovich, owner of Patrick Buscovich & Associates Structural Engineers, told BIKE NOPA that a safe and more attractive solution may be near at hand. "One standard fire escape will be installed on the Golden Gate side of the building with another, separate escape on the Lyon Street side for one "land-locked" apartment," he explained. Everyone seems to agree with this outcome: the owner, the Fire Department, the Planning Department, and, perhaps, the tenants. Buscovich thought he would receive a permit for one of the structures in two weeks, with the other to follow. Realistically though, NOPA neighbors might expect a few more months to pass before this formidable building from 1899 stands free of its unsightly accompaniment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Underground Tours Available

In September 1000s will be walking, biking, partying here for Sunday Streets

NOPA has waiting-to-sink holes like this on several streets

A particularly large crater on Grove Street between Baker and Broderick appeared within the last few days (now temporarily repaired). Unfortunately temporary repairs is all Grove Street residents can expect for an indefinite number of years unless the city finds new sources of revenue to keep its streets from worsening (at ever-greater cost to reconstruct and repave in the future).

Monday, January 11, 2010

JFK Drive Repave Finally Underway

This time, really. The resurfacing of JFK Drive from Transverse Drive to the Great Highway has finally begun...perhaps just in time for a winter rain to halt operations for a few days. Monday, Jan. 10, construction crews began grinding off the old asphalt of the "parking" lane along the curb on either side of the road from Transverse to 30th Avenue near Lindley Meadow. According to construction company foremen, the parking lane areas will be scraped today and then the crews will wait out the rain storms expected tomorrow. If the surface dries enough by this Friday, crews will then resurface with new asphalt -- not only the parking lane but the traffic lanes down the middle.

Rather than remove all the asphalt curb to curb, the project will simply pave over the pitted, rough, surface, creating a slight crown effect across the road. The foremen assured us it would hardly be noticeable, and the measure was probably a cost-saving tactic. The construction is expected to be undertaken in four to five segments to reach the final stretch before the Great Highway.

Bicyclists were riding JFK through the construction area today, giving shouts and cheers that the bone-rattling, pothole-filled, dangerous roadway will finally become a thing of the past. For related stories on the JFK resurfacing saga, search "JFK" or "JFK Drive" in the search box to the right.

Start thinking of a blowout celebration and a smooth ride to the beach coming up in several weeks!