Tuesday, November 29, 2011

USF Campus Bike Plan To Be Unveiled December 1st

Photo: usfca.edu

San Francisco’s bikes-for-transportation momentum gets another boost on December 1st when the University of San Francisco unveils its Campus Bicycle Transportation Plan. This past semester more than 600 students, faculty and staff registered their concerns and ideas for building a strong bicycle culture on campus in a study conducted by Stephen Zavetoski, PhD and his students.

Primary concerns on campus include a lack of bike parking in convenient locations, lack of covered, secure bike parking, and too few facilities such as showers and changing rooms. Respondents also registered support for safer, protected bike lanes along the primary streets used to reach USF, including Fell and Oak between the Wiggle bike route and the campus which lies just west of Masonic Avenue. The San Francisco Transportation Agency is currently studying proposals for safer bike travel on Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker, an essential link for cyclists traveling east-west. A proposal for traffic-calming and safety enhancements on Masonic Avenue has already cleared a public hearing and is now under environmental review.

According to Zavetoski, the presentation on December 1st will include a full set of recommendations for increased bicycling at USF based on the study data. “These will include improvement of on-campus amenities as well as recommendations for information and education campaigns that can lower some of the perceived barriers around traffic safety and hills.” Zavetoski is the Sustainability Director in the USF College of Arts & Sciences. For more information, see USFpedals.

USF Campus Bicycle Transportation Plan Presentation
Dec 1 2-3:30 pm
Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall

University of San Francisco Campus map

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Funds Approved for Masonic Avenue Environmental Review

This morning the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Board approved funding for an environmental review of the Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project. None of the board members expressed hesitation or concern with the proposal to transform Masonic with a "Complete Streets" re-design, including a landscaped median and landscaped sidewalks, bus bulbouts, and a pair of raised, separate bike lanes.

A few audience members -- including Andy Thornley of the SF Bicycle Coalition -- were ready to testify to the merits of the proposal and affirm the extensive public outreach that accompanied the project design process, but none seemed necessary. None of the board members commented on the project and no audience members expressed opposition. Although he raised concerns a week earlier -- possibly due to a lack of briefing about the project -- Supervisor Scott Weiner supported the project this morning. He responded by email to BIKE NOPA yesterday afternoon, writing that he that he thought Masonic was "a good project."

As a result of today's vote, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) will receive $41,000 to oversee and fund the environmental review which will mostly be conducted by the city's Planning Department. The study will be underway for six months, according to SFMTA staff. In June 2012 staff expect the proposal to be submitted to the SFMTA Board of Commissioners with a recommendation for approval.

For more stories about the Masonic project, check here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

County Transportation Authority Board To Consider Funds for Masonic Project

Masonic residents favor a safer, more user-friendly corridor for all
Photo: Michael Helquist

The re-design of Masonic Avenue could move one step closer to implementation Tuesday morning depending on the vote of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). The Authority's board will consider approving $41,000 of Prop K funds for an environmental review study for the Masonic Streetscape Improvement Project. The board will consider the proposal without a recommendation for action from a committee that reviewed the measure earlier. (The full San Francisco Board of Supervisors serve as the SFCTA Board).

Last week two members of the SFCTA Plans and Programs Committee -- Supervisors Scott Weiner and Carmen Chu -- expressed considerable concern about the removal of parking from Masonic as part of the design plan. They also questioned whether the public had been adequately notified of the project and whether the public was engaged in the planning process. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi assured them of the comprehensive outreach undertaken, but the two supervisors apparently remained unconvinced and the committee sent the funding request to the full Authority board without recommendation.

Questioning whether the public has been adequately informed can be a legitimate inquiry from someone unfamiliar with developments for a major transportation corridor. Or it can be a knee-jerk reaction to any alteration to public use of public space, especially when parking is involved. For the Masonic improvements, the record of public outreach and notification is so overwhelming that the full Board has little reason to repeat the hesitations of a few committee members.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) conducted one of the most thorough outreach efforts to date to engage the public with plans to make Masonic better and safer for all users. The MTA convened three community meetings over several months with attendance reaching more than 100 for the third one. Participants reviewed every facet of four different designs, refining some and rejecting others. For each meeting Masonic residents and those on nearby blocks were contact door-by-door. For the last meeting the MTA also mailed notices to more than 1400 Masonic households and to those who reside one block away.

The previous Masonic project manager, Javad Mirabdal, now retired, met personally with each of the nearby neighborhood associations to discuss the project. Members from the Ewing Terrace, University Terrace, Anza Vista, and North of the Panhandle groups all discussed with him the impact of design changes -- including removal of parking.

The neighborhood associations also got the word out. The North Panhandle's NOPNA distributes its newsletter to the more than 3500 households located between Masonic and Divisadero, Turk and Fell. Several issues provided updates on the Masonic proposals. Advocacy organizations like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition with 12,000 members, WalkSF, Fix Masonic and others repeatedly informed its membership of the design options.

Various websites tracked each development of the Masonic plan, including Streetsblog and BIKE NOPA. This site alone published more than a dozen articles about the planning process -- as well as covering the pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities that occurred on Masonic in the last two years.

In addition to neighborhood associations, the Masonic plan received a vote of support from the San Francisco Day School, located at Masonic and Golden Gate, and the Blood Centers of the Pacific at Masonic and Turk.

The degree of public engagement with the Masonic proposal has been remarkable and a testament to the public's desire for safer, traffic-calmed, user-friendly thoroughfares. The SFCTA staff has recommended approval of the funding request and has submitted a full accounting of public outreach at tomorrow's meeting. The argument for approval is persuasive.

San Francisco County Transportation Authority
Tuesday, 11 am
City Hall, Room 250

Check here for the series of articles on A Better Masonic.

Correction: The earlier version of this story mistakenly listed Supervisor Jane Kim as one of the committee members who voiced concerns about the Masonic Project. My apologies to Supervisor Kim.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's Gone At Last: Lyon Street Eyesore Removed after 3+ Years

The NE corner of Lyon and Golden Gate hasn't been clear like this for a very long time

Just after the morning downpour, the scaffolding was dismantled

New and nearly completed emergency exits on Golden Gate side of building

All this structure for a fire escape the last three years

At the end of the day it was simple: remove the ungainly, ill-suited scaffolding eyesore and replace it with standard regulation fire escapes. For NOPA neighbors it was the blight that wouldn't go away. Until today. Now at last the Lyon and Golden Gate corner is clear of the obstruction. The sidewalk is safer for pedestrians, two spaces are open for street parking, and, most importantly, the apartment building residents have a safer exit from the building should a fire strike.

BIKE NOPA has been covering this story for more than a year, beginning with a post in January of 2010. Three more followed to urge a resolution and mobilize neighbors who had really had enough of what came to represent frustrations with the city's permit approval process and, apparently, reluctance of the owner to foot the bill and do the right thing.

Sometimes a more livable street comes about from what's removed, not what's added. Time for a celebration all around.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

BIKE NOPA Takes A Break -- Book Deadline Prompts Shift

Dr. Marie Equi, 1872-1952 Oregon Historical Society #23491

Dear Readers,

The time has come for a break and to shift more time to another passion: completing a biography begun a few years ago.

I started BIKE NOPA more than two years ago to increase awareness in the North Panhandle about the feasibility of bicycling for everyday transportation. Part of my impetus resulted from the initial hesitation of neighborhood leaders to endorse more bike lanes through NOPA in 2009. (In that case it was lanes for McAllister and Masonic -- proposals that were later dropped from the city's bike plan). I thought neighbors were perhaps unaware of how many cyclists live in NOPA and need safe routes for travel or of the diversity of neighborhood riders.

I started a gradual campaign, taking notice of the streets around us and profiling the cyclists who live next door or nearby. I launched the series Women on Wheels and Dads on Bikes. I interviewed older and younger riders, professionals and entrepreneurs, women as well as men, marathon riders and crosstown commuters.

I never expected that NOPA would generate so much content. With just 30 or so square blocks, this is a small neighborhood. But bordered by four vehicle-dominated thoroughfares -- Fell, Oak, Divisadero and Masonic -- and sporting an essential link in the city's cross-town bike travel, NOPA's realities reflected many of the top questions San Franciscans face about how to use our public spaces.

In two years NOPA has seen a slew of developments that led to dozens of stories here:
  • a partial re-design of Divisadero that revitalized the corridor
  • a successful push-back of city plans for freeway-style signs (SFgo) on Fell and Oak
  • a surge of advocacy for a safer approach to Divisadero on the Wiggle bike route
  • the launch of the first neighborhood-based block party all about bikes (BIKE THE BLOCK in September 2009)
  • start-up of the first neighborhood-based monthly bicycling group, NOPA VELO
  • the arrival of Sunday Streets to NOPA in September 2010
  • a push for a safer Masonic for all road users, a grass-roots campaign that few expected to succeed until last May when the plan cleared a public hearing
  • an effort to reclaim Panhandle Park as a destination for neighbors and visitors, one that deserves capital improvements and better stewardship
  • a vision to transform Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker (and then beyond to Stanyan) for safer transportation with new separated bike routes
Everyday journalism requires a huge amount of time. To get the story right, to earn the trust of public officials and advocates, and to help push an agenda of enhanced livability demand a responsibility I take seriously. For this work I think it's essential to develop a voice and a point of view -- one that readers approach with confidence whether they agree or not. I've really enjoyed the challenge.

Now I'm shifting my time to the story of Dr. Marie Equi, a woman of conscience and conviction who never let social or political norms keep her from the pursuit of her passions. She worked in New Bedford textile mills as a teenager in the 1880s, fled to Central Oregon a decade later to homestead with her female companion, managed to scandalize a rural outpost by horse-whipping a local minister in the streets, studied for medical school in San Francisco and became one of Oregon's early woman physicians. She kept her ties to the Bay Area and joined a doctor train from Portland in April 1906 to help earthquake-stricken San Franciscans, earning her a medal from the U.S. Army. (Her homestead companion had married and settled her family in one of NOPA's landmark houses along Fell).

Marie became publicly identified as a lesbian in Portland after her passionate affair with a young heiress led to front-page stories of a family dispute over her new companion's inheritance. From the personal to the political, Marie engaged the times. The public tumult of the early 20th century led Marie on a course from hearty progressivism to staunch anarchism. She championed the rights of the underpaid and the unemployed, of women in need of birth control information. In labor disputes, she often wrestled with cops and refused to follow court orders. She developed a reputation. The birth control advocate Margaret Sanger once wrote that Marie was "a rebellious soul -- generous, kind, brave but so radical in her thinking that she was almost an outcast in Portland."

Marie objected to the capitalistic motives that led the U.S. to enter World War One, and for this she was tried by the government as a subversive and sentenced to three years at San Quentin prison. Through all this, Marie remained so devoted to her profession that friends referred to her simply as "Doc."

How could I not want to tell the full story of Marie's life and times? She died in Portland in 1952, but 60 years later her struggle to be politically active, romantically involved, and fully engaged in her profession is spot-on relevant to many of us today.

My deadline approaches (please don't ask when). I'm fortunate to have a wonderful editor at Oregon State University Press. She is a huge supporter of my bike advocacy. (OSU Press published "Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities" by Jeff Mapes). But she'd also like to get the story of Marie Equi on the market.

I'm not abandoning BIKE NOPA. There are stories I'm too committed to following, like the implementation of the Masonic Re-design. I'm sticking with it until San Franciscans can stroll and bike and live along a transformed corridor made more livable for all.

I have been blessed with great readers and sources, allies and friends while writing BIKE NOPA. I hope you all know how much your interest and support have meant to me. One request: as I pursue greater dialogue with my keyboard and monitor, please do suggest coffee breaks and lunches. (The isolated nature of writing bugs me).

Curious about Marie Equi, the "stormy petrel of the Pacific Northwest"? Here's some of what I've written about her:
For Lesbian To The Rescue: Marie Equi and the Oregon Doctor Train, a slide and lecture first presented in San Francisco for the 2006 earthquake centennial, expect a repeat on April 18th of 2012.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Masonic Avenue Redesign Fading As A City Priority

Bryan Goebel, editor of Streetsblog, and Michael Helquist

Image: SF Planning Department's City Design Group

On Bike to Work Day last May, Mayor Ed Lee told Streetsblog that he would look into speeding up funding for a sorely needed redesign of Masonic Avenue, one of San Francisco's most notorious arterial streets. The project seemed to be a priority for him, especially in the wake of two high-profile collisions that took the lives of Nils Yannick Linke and James Hudson.

“It’s very deserving of attention, particularly when it comes to pedestrian safety," Lee told Streetsblog on May 12.

“It’s time we take back Masonic Boulevard,” Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi proclaimed that same day at the Bike to Work press conference on the steps of City Hall. "It’s time that we actually step up the city’s game in making sure that Masonic is safe for bicyclists and pedestrians."

Now, nearly four months after the Masonic redesign was approved at an SFMTA engineering hearing, the plan is plodding its way through the vast city bureaucracy, its funding is uncertain and it is in danger of winding up on the shelf like so many other good projects unless City Hall puts some political muscle behind it.

The project hit a snag recently when the SFMTA was denied a $700,000 grant from Caltrans to pay for the design costs. A $41,000 request to complete an environmental impact report (EIR) is expected to be approved by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority soon. But a funding source for the biggest chunk, $18 million for construction, has still not been identified.

"The SFMTA is working with the Department of Public Works to refine the design cost estimate, and will apply to another funding source for design funds. A funding request made for construction funds is still pending. Meanwhile, other construction funding sources are being evaluated," said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

That doesn't sound particularly hopeful.

Advocates who have been pushing for a safer Masonic for more than seven years now have widespread neighborhood support for the redesign, which would dramatically re-engineer the street, adding a landscaped median, bus bulbs, a 6-foot wide raised cycletrack and other amenities to benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.

Just a few years ago a safer, more livable Masonic was a project that pedestrian, transit, and bicycling advocates – along with city officials -- wanted to see implemented, but few thought possible. At first Masonic was part of the citywide bike plan that the SFMTA is now implementing, but the vital north-south corridor was dropped from the proposal, partly because it seemed unlikely to get broad public support. Yet nearby residents have surprised city officials with significant backing for a transformed street.

As early as 2008 more than 500 Masonic Avenue neighbors petitioned the city for a traffic corridor that worked better for all users. They ranked a dozen priorities to increase safety, traffic flow and improve the appearance of the street. The grass-roots group Fix Masonic rallied neighborhood associations, parents of kids at nearby schools, and district supervisors to support the plan. Together with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and other advocacy groups, Fix Masonic helped secure funding for a feasibility and design study. By June of 2010 the SFMTA started a series of three community meetings to get public input and support for a revitalized Masonic, employing many of the traffic calming strategies proposed two years earlier. By October of last year, Masonic project manager Javad Mirabdal described the Masonic design as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Although some westside residents preferred a less ambitious version for a changed corridor, the majority who participated in SFMTA and neighborhood association surveys preferred the Complete Streets option known as the Boulevard.

If implemented, the Masonic proposal could transform city neighborhoods, ensure a safer, more attractive means of transportation for all users, improve environmental impacts along the corridor, and boost property values and city revenue. The re-design of Masonic could reflect a determination by the city to step up to a higher level of livability in San Francisco.

It's time for Mayor Lee, and others at City Hall, to put their words into action, and for new Director Ed Reiskin to use the visionary and political skills that got him the job at the SFMTA to ensure that the Masonic Avenue redesign gets implemented soon instead of it getting mired in city bureaucracy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summertime Weather Swells Turnout for NOPA's Sunday Streets

This time the weather was perfect -- sunny, warm and only a slight breeze -- for Sunday Streets in the Western Addition, NOPA, Alamo Square and the Fillmore. Today thousands of neighbors and friends from all over San Francisco gathered on several blocks open to walking, biking, games, painting, live music, dancing and claiming a sofa seat in the middle of the street.

Thanks to the organizers -- the amazing Livable City with Sunday Streets director Susan King, program coordinator Beth Byrne, the hundreds of volunteers with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and collaboration with the SF Municipal Transportation Agency -- for an amazing event where everyone could enjoy public spaces and envision a safer, more equitable way to share our streets.

For views of Summer Streets in NOPA 2010, check here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sunday Streets Returns to NOPA: Block-by-Block Route & Programs

Only once a year can you see nine blocks of NOPA like this -- streets wide open for walking, biking, painting, live music, kids events, dancing, more live music, bike rental and repair, hanging out with neighbors in the middle of the street and much more.

This Sunday, September 11, Sunday Streets returns with hopes for even better weather than last year's drizzly debut. From 11am to 4pm blocks of Central, Grove, Baker, and Fulton will be free of vehicles. Check out the info here (pdf) about the route and all the events in NOPA and to east in Alamo Square and the Fillmore.

Advisory for those with vehicles: don't park on any of the nine blocks along the route through NOPA after 11pm Saturday night. Cars will be towed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Green Sidewalk Thriving: Lessons Learned

Photos: Michael Helquist

The concrete’s gone, the plants are in, purple spikes and yellow blossoms flash along the sidewalk. Once it starts raining, the permeable aspect – letting the rain water reach the aquifer instead of the sewer – begins. It’s green, healthy and just the start of what we can do together for a more sustainable future.

Any good project deserves reflection and evaluation. What went really well, what surprised us, what might we have done better, and how well did the city permit process work?


  • For a large project, get input from friends and neighbors – we held a Design Lab last fall to exchange ideas
  • Attend the city’s Grey2Green workshop
  • Enlist the help of a landscape architect* to prepare drawings to-scale, select materials and plants, order at wholesale outlets and guide the planting
  • Have several pairs of eyes read the city’s sidewalk use restrictions
  • Host an event to present plans (and a fundraiser, if needed, to cover costs)
  • Remember to plan for every stage – including removal of the dirt
  • Make it a work party – so much better with music and food provided

From Grey2Green

  • Expect concrete cutting and removal to cost at least $5.50 per square foot
  • Schedule the concrete work to coincide with street cleaning hours and avoid the risk of damaging vehicles parked nearby during demolition
  • Expect to remove a lot of dirt – it will be sand or clay
  • Prep the required edging a few days before – the workday will be busy enough
  • Place new plants with soil and mulch one inch below the sidewalk or curb surface – this will help contain the rain water and irrigation

After the Planting

  • Celebrate and post photos online, thank everyone
  • Depending on the season and weather, water frequently to get plants thriving

Now We Know

  • Really do plan for dirt removal – we thought of everything but this
  • Read the city regs one more time – especially about the edging & courtesy paths
  • Do the prep work with the edging materials ahead of time – we rushed to saw 4"x6" beams and drill holes right before the workday started
  • Keep at the fundraising – unexpected costs will occur
  • Work can proceed in two phases – we left another stretch of sidewalk for the future

Working the System

  • City staff are friendly & enthusiastic,** but sometimes difficult to contact initially
  • You can’t get begin the work without a permit; allow 2-4 weeks
  • An initial inspection is required
  • Be sure to get a final inspection – the city sign-off increases liability protection
  • City website – DPW Bureau of Urban Forestry -- needs to be more user-friendly

How Much Did It Cost?

  • We removed 160 square feet of concrete at $5.50 per square foot
  • We purchased almost 100 plants and shrubs – we bought more mature plants
  • Plants and soil were obtained from a wholesale firm through our landscape architect
  • Total cost: approximately $3400
  • Total donations: approximately $3400***

Was It Worth It? Stop by Turk & Lyon and then start plans for your own Grey2Green project

* James Munden, senior landscape architect, at Marta Fry Landscape Associates/MFLA Studio, made all the difference to the success of this project

** Thanks to Markos Major, DPW Bureau of Urban Forestry for getting us through the permit process

*** Huge thanks to major donors Rev. Sally Bingham; Oz Erickson, President of the Emerald Fund and all those who supported this project from start to finish and at points in-between

Note: article first published at Green Turk & Lyon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday Streets Set for Western Addition/NOPA September 11th

Adding more pink, Sunday Streets NOPA 2010 Photo: Michael Helquist

Which bands will play outside Matching Half Cafe this year?
Photo: Michael Helquist

Western Addition/NOPA Route for Sunday Streets Sept. 11, 2011

No sooner did the "clear the streets" call come at the close of the Civic Center/ Tenderloin Sunday Streets yesterday than organizers shifted into gear for the September 11 street celebration in the Western Addition, NOPA, Alamo Square, and the Fillmore. (Perhaps it was low-gear with a day or two off).

A few route changes accompany this year's event after the successful, if drizzly, debut in the area in 2010:
  • the west-end still begins in the Panhandle and travels north on Central and then east on Grove to Divisadero with a spur up the Baker hill to stop at McAllister. This year the crossover street, the east-west transition, is Fulton. Still a hill to ride and walk but not the steep slalom Golden Gate presented last year
  • Alamo Square will be more directly involved -- hello neighbors! -- with Fulton sidling Alamo Square park
  • Fillmore defines the east-end from Fulton to Geary but the route doesn't extend further north or further east
The new route is more compact, manageable and focused. Programs and scheduling are largely left to the wishes and initiatives of residents, local businesses and organizations. But Sunday Streets will provide the usual kids activities, dance, exercise sessions, skate time, bike programs and lots of music.

More information to come but Save the Date and plan your events.

Sunday Streets Western Addition
Includes North Panhandle, Alamo Square and Fillmore neighborhoods
September 11, 2011
11 am to 4 pm

Parking Restrictions
Sunday Streets works so well because it opens the streets to walking, biking, people-watching, bands and kids play. But that means no parking from 11pm Saturday September 10th until 4pm Sunday September 11th. Remind yourself, remind your family and friends. Vehicles will be towed and who needs that?

Friday, August 12, 2011

One Year Ago: 22-Year-Old Yannick Linke Struck and Killed by Speeding Motorist on Masonic Avenue

Yannick Linke's grave in Berlin. Photo: Petra Linke

"We are stardust. Billion year old carbon. We are golden." -- a favorite lyric for Yannick Linke

Flowers placed on Masonic sidewalk at Turk by Petra Linke
in honor of her only son. Photo: Michael Helquist

One year ago Yannick Linke, a 22-year-old German college student and visitor to San Francisco, was struck and killed by a speeding motorist while riding his bicycle on Masonic Avenue. He had arrived in the city a few days earlier to visit friends as part of a holiday trip to the United States. On August 9th, four days before his death, Linke celebrated his birthday.

Petra Linke, Yannick's mother, visited San Francisco for the first time three weeks ago and stopped at the site of her son's death. Amid the roar of the traffic and afternoon fog, she laid flowers at the same location where her daughter Sophia had placed candles a few months earlier. City crews long ago removed the ghost bike locked to a utility pole at the site and the wind chimes placed to commemorate the young man at a memorial two weeks after his death. For that occasion, more than 100 bicyclists and community members gathered in grief to pay their respects at Masonic and Turk. For her visit, Petra Linke requested the company of bicyclists who had participated in last year's memorial when she walked to the intersection.

Petra Linke had timed her visit to coincide with a preliminary Superior Court hearing for the charges brought against the motorist who struck and killed her son while driving south on Masonic. (Lawyers for the Linke family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver, 36-year-old Joshua Calder in January). He has been ordered to stand trial for vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run, and driving under the influence. As reported in the San Francisco Examiner, Assistant District Attorney Todd Barrett stated in court that Calder had the alcohol equivalent of seven drinks in his system in addition to THC from smoking marijuana. The defense attorney, Daniel Barton, argued that although Calder had been drinking, his alcohol blood level was within legal limits. Calder has pleaded not guilty. Soon after the collision, he posted the $500,000 bail. Judge Newton Lam ordered the defendant to return to court for a formal arraignment on September 1st.

Petra Linke wrote from Berlin last week of her plans on her son's birthday:
I would like to say I miss Yannick and the whole family does. It is very hard to live without his funny and very much interesting view on music, travelling, his studies. I will go to his grave on Tuesday, his birthday, and I will put shells from Florida and New Jersey. And a birthday candle. I hope for justice.
Yannick Linke, traveller Photo provided by Sophia Linke

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What to Expect of the New Target Store and the City Center Upgrade? Is Better Enough?

Image: studioneleven

Change is coming to the City Center complex at Geary and Masonic, and most everyone seems to agree it’s good. A new Target outpost will bring a lot of color – heavy on the red – to the space once claimed by the bland Mervyn’s department store. The City Center campus will undergo a make-over as well with a new “refined color palette” for the exterior. Anza Vista residents and those from nearby neighborhoods want a more attractive and vibrant complex. Some welcome Target specifically; others just want the gaping Mervyn’s spot filled. Both Target and City Center received a positive nod from the Planning Commission last month, with a few reservations. On Thursday, August 11th City Center will return to the planning board with modifications on outdoor design treatments.

Here’s what neighbors and shoppers can expect in March 2013 when Target is expected to open its second San Francisco store:

  • Target will fill 106,135 square feet on two levels – a combination of the old Mervyn’s and Good Guy’s spaces
  • Office Depot is downsizing significantly – shrinking its footprint by 14,000 square – and Target might expand into the vacated area
  • All 601 parking spaces will remain; bike parking will increase just a bit from 28 to 42 spaces plus a bike storage area
  • New signage – 15 foot directional signs in the parking lots -- will help rescue shoppers now bewildered by the trek to and from stores
  • Ten months of full construction
  • A more-noticeably branded center with outlet names showcased on the exterior
  • A proposed soaring sign tower -- from the current 20 ft to 35 feet -- unless the Planning Department requires a scaling back, as expected
  • A moderate amount of new landscaping to green some of the perimeter and parking lots

City Center will not be improving the ivy-covered blighted median along its Geary side. “We haven’t gone outside our property,” Adam Miller of City Center explained to a July 15 gathering of interested neighbors. And there won’t be much greening of the parking expanses since designers are reluctant to dig very deep on the multi-layered lots. Motorists can expect green walls – vertical landscaping – along the Geary exterior.

The Planning Department and the Municipal Transportation Agency negotiated two neighborhood investments from the development: new signal lights on Masonic. One will guide southbound left-turn traffic at O’Farrell to improve access to the rear parking lots. And one at Ewing for the small Ewing Terrace residential area. The projects represent a $500,000 expenditure. Target is considering financial assistance to the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, the Jewish Vocational Services, and other local organizations – but no word on helping GLBT groups, even after the ongoing controversy over financing anti-gay candidates in Minnesota and trying to block same-sex marriage advocates from sidewalks along a few of its California outlets.

Once it clears the Planning Commission, Target and City Center will seek building permits and approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And At The Other End of the Block: Lyon St Eyesore Still Set To Come Down

For years this structure has loomed over the sidewalk and claimed two parking spaces

It has nothing to do with scaffolding for painting; it's a "temporary" fire escape

Now that the corner of Lyon and Turk boasts new green, landscaped sidewalks, what about the opposite end of Lyon, down the hill at Golden Gate Avenue? Will neighbors on the 800 block of Lyon and passersby ever be relieved of that eyesore of a scaffolding posing as a fire escape? Apparently, yes, according to Pat Boscovich, a developer working for the property owner. As previously reported, Boscovich has been pushing to get this job completed for the owner, the neighbors, and to be done with the project altogether. He confirmed on Tuesday that the work is on track again.
I have received a copy of the contract between the property owner and the construction firm hired to install the new fire escapes. This should have been done two months ago, but evidently the first contractor hired went out of business.
Boscovich explained that the manufacture of the two new structures -- one for the Lyon street side of the corner apartment building and one for the Golden Gate side -- are being completed now, and he expects the first one, along Golden Gate, to be installed within two to three weeks.

At the top of the Lyon hill

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Green Turk & Lyon L(a)unch Saturday July 23, Huge Success

More than 40 people made San Francisco a greener city Saturday by turning grey to green at the corner of Turk and Lyon in NOPA. Friends, neighbors, and members of St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church came together for a long day in the dirt -- digging out sand and, unexpectedly, clay from below the newly exposed concrete sidewalk strips, adding 40 bags of new soil, settling in nearly 100 plants, and topping the new beds with fir bark. From start to finish a solid 8 hour day for those who remained to celebrate the tapping down of the last Berkeley sedge. A green lunch fueled volunteers mid-day along with live music.

St. Cyprian's Church and NOPA neighbors initiated the project last year during a Design Lab that developed proposals for how the church and community might work together more closely on neighborhood projects. One of the ideas was to green the sidewalks, making the corner where St. Cyprian's is situated more inviting and sustainable. In the months that followed students from the University of San Francisco undertook research of the city's permeable sidewalk permit process. This spring the Green Turk & Lyon Project was launched to take the project to completion.

Neighbors pitched in right away. James Munden, Senior Landscape Architect with Marta Fry Landscape Associates, developed drawings of how the Turk and Lyon might look a bit more green. Intrigued with the possibilities, more than 60 people contributed to a fundraiser at Chile Pies restaurant in May while others donated in the following weeks. St. Cyprian's completed the city's application process, paid the permit fee, and received permission to get the project underway in mid-July. Last Saturday volunteers pushed the project to completion.

Of the many who made the Green L(a)unch possible, special thanks to Marta Fry Landscape Associates, Duncan Ramsay for the terrific poster image, The Wigg Party, Yerba Buena Community Accupuncture, John Dennis, San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, Department of Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry, the California Jug Band Association, Erich Sylvester, Will Greene, and Kelsey Schleusener.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

B2B Efforts Help NOPNA Snag Meeting with the Mayor, New District 5 Alliance Forming

Mayor's Newsbox 2

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was so impressed with neighborhood organizers who helped deliver a less rowdy but festive Bay to Breakers footrace this year that his office invited the North Panhandle Neighborhood Association to host his first district-wide meeting on July 21. The mayor requested the meeting to discuss two measures due on the November ballot: pension reform and the $248 million streets repair bond.

Jarie Bolander, President of NOPNA, said the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services asked him to organize the meeting along with leaders of nine other neighbors and merchants associations. "It seemed like a natural follow-up," Bolander said, referring to the successful collaboration among the many groups who worked for months to improve the Bay to Breakers after widespread complaints followed the 2010 race.

Bolander also described the formation of a new District 5 organization, tentatively named the District 5 Merchants & Neighborhood Alliance. The new group will include representatives of ten existing neighbor and merchant groups and would serve as a link between them on district-wide issues. Bolander said they would likely seek non-profit status in the months ahead and function with shared leadership on a rotating basis.

For the July 21 meeting with the mayor, Bolander will offer a brief introduction and serve as moderator. The mayor will discuss the two ballot measures and solicit feedback from participants. Representatives from several city departments will also be present at the meeting.

Pension reform has, of course, become an issue nationally. In San Francisco, much of the "city family" of elected officials and business and community leaders have agreed on one strategy to go before the voters, but there remains the possibility that Public Defender Jeff Adachi will advance an alternative proposal. No one disagrees with the need for extensive reconstruction and repair of city streets, but the prospect of paying for the work through a bond measure continues to trouble some observers.

NOPNA/District 5 Meeting
Thursday, July 21
7pm - 9:00 pm
SF Day School
350 Masonic @ Golden Gate (enter on Golden Gate)
Secure bike parking available
SF Day School is on Muni line #43 Masonic and is one block from #31 Balboa and the #5 McAllister

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Man for Masonic: James Shahamiri, New Project Manager for Troubled Corridor

Photo: James Shahamiri

Image: SF Planning Department

James Shahamiri, a civil engineer, thought he’d be designing buildings or bridges by now. Instead, he found his “true passion” lies with transportation. He credits a remarkable internship with the City of Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program for the discovery a few years ago. Shahamiri has been a transportation engineer with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) for three years where he has worked on several projects, including his favorite, the re-design of 7th Avenue and Laguna Honda Blvd.

I remember riding that route every weekend back in my youth. Coming back and improving those streets for bikes was pretty cool, and definitely something I never would have thought I’d have a hand in when I was younger.
Bicyclists and motorists who use the western end of Fell street ride through one of Shahamiri’s other projects, the partial re-design of traffic and bike lanes between Scott and Divisadero and along the ARCO station. In the midst of much contention over parking removal, global oil politics, and the right to safe travel, he helped SFMTA install what no one, including himself, considers perfect, but most have come to agree is a decided improvement. Shahamiri is completing work now on the new bicycle lanes on Phelan Avenue by City College. Although he’s been enjoying his new bicycle, Shahamiri is not a bike-only guy. He relies mostly on Muni to get around the city and sometimes skips the bus to walk instead.

Earlier this month Shahamiri became manager for the Masonic Streetscape Project following the retirement of Javad Mirabdal who led the community design process for Masonic through a successful public hearing. The following excerpts are from his first interview since taking the new position.

You’ve been involved with the re-design of Masonic for some time, including work with the grassroots group Fix Masonic.
My role during the initial Fix Masonic meetings, going back to 2008, was to provide input and support for the community at the early planning stages for a larger project that eventually became the Masonic Streetscape project.

Last year you helped develop different options for a re-design of Masonic. How did the Boulevard plan with removal of all on-street parking become one of the alternatives?
The Boulevard option became one of the four possibilities based on community feedback we received during the first Masonic Streetscape meetings. People really wanted a new look and feel for Masonic, something to transform it from the urban freeway it is today into not only a safer place to walk, bike, or drive, but also a more pleasant place to be.

Were you surprised that there was little organized opposition to the Boulevard proposal leading up to the public hearing in May?
To be honest, yes, it was a bit of a surprise. In a city like San Francisco, parking is a difficult thing to remove. The Boulevard option was a bold proposal, but the community has been asking for dramatic improvements to Masonic for many years now. Through the community process, I think everyone understood that in terms of priorities, parking was toward the bottom of the list.

The Masonic study was a collaborative effort among city departments that historically have not worked together closely. Is a new norm developing for how to tackle large re-design projects?
Interdepartmental collaboration is becoming the norm. Having a design team composed of members of various city agencies really helps the city deliver the best possible project. Each agency brings their experience and expertise to the table. This enables the design team to consider ideas and solutions that might not have been apparent if each agency worked in isolation.

After the public hearing last month, project staff said 4-6 months would likely pass before the SFMTA Board of Directors would consider the Masonic plan. Why such a long time to get this legislated?
Because this is a full streetscape project and not simply a restriping of the roadway, environmental review needs to consider many items. Aside from the traffic analysis, things like air quality, noise and construction impacts also need review.

But the bicycle and traffic design changes were covered in the environmental review that preceded the lifting of the bicycle injunction. Why additional review now and who is conducting it?
The options for Masonic that were analyzed and cleared in the Bicycle Plan review are not identical to what the Boulevard option proposes. Because there are differences, further analysis is needed. … The environmental review is being conducted by the Planning Department.

What has to happen before design changes appear on the street?
After the project is environmentally cleared, it will go to the SFMTA board for the legislative approval necessary for the parking and traffic changes needed for the project. Once this approval is received, detailed designs and construction can begin.

Are you and the SFMTA staff seeking funding now before the project has been approved?
Yes, SFMTA is seeking funding for both detailed design and construction through several sources right now.

Others interested in the Masonic project suggest that an initial phase could involve the landscaped median, removal of parking, and bike lanes striped but without a cycle track treatment or the bus bulb-outs and sidewalk landscaping.
We’re assessing our implementation strategy. It really depends on how the funding works out. The complete build-out of the Boulevard proposal will cost about $18 million, which could be challenging to secure all at once. That said, we’re trying to get the project built as quickly as possible.

Waiting two years or more for actual changes on the street frustrates everyone who feels the street remains unsafe. What more will be done by the SFMTA to improve safety in the meantime?
I think we’ve done a good job implementing measures on Masonic to increase compliance with existing traffic laws and regulations. We’ve heard many great ideas from the community, and we’ve implemented most of them. We’ve lowered the speed limit to 25 MPH, installed radar speed signs, re-striped the lane lines and added “25 MPH” markings, and re-timed the traffic signals for 25 MPH progression. In the near term, we’ll also be upgrading several traffic lights to add pedestrian signals and improved signal visibility for motorists.

I won’t say there’s nothing else we can do, but there aren’t many more low-cost improvements to be made. The next step is really the re-design of the roadway itself, to make it self-enforcing in terms of user behavior. That’s the track we’re on now.

In your experience as a traffic engineer, how much enforcement – and how frequently scheduled – is needed to stop the speeding on Masonic?
I really can’t speak for SFPD. I know they have stepped up their enforcement of Masonic Avenue in the past year.

I’m a big fan of the “three E’s”: Engineering, Education, and Enforcement. Without all three, it’s difficult to change people’s behavior. Streets need to be designed for the expected behaviors, users need to be educated on how to use the street, and lastly, the expected behavior needs to be enforced. If one or more of these steps is missing, it’s tough to get to the goal of safe, inviting streets for all.

Masonic area neighbors and livability advocates want to help push the project forward. How do you see them helping?
I’ll start by saying that the Masonic Streetscape project is a direct result of the efforts by community members and livability advocates. Without all their hard work and pressure, Masonic would not be the priority it is today.

There is still a lot of work to be done before the project goes on the ground. The community and advocates need to keep doing what they’ve been doing: maintaining a collaborative, unified vision of how they want Masonic to look and feel. It’s this community-driven vision that’s ultimately moving this project forward.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Families For A More Livable City: Pedal Power Projects & Bike DIY

Reptilian projects await...and pedal-powered ice cream too
Photo: The Ecology Center of San Francisco

One more family outing in the city this weekend: The Ecology Center of San Francisco (ECOSF) hosts a free monthly event called Bakers Alley at its School Farm site to learn and trade ideas about sustainable living skills and urban farming.

Kids -- and parents too -- gather for a community potluck and bake pizzas in an earthen oven this Saturday while they talk about bikes and bicycling in the Bay Area. Group leaders will demonstrate DIY bike repair and encourage folks to consider their bike's potential as a pedal power machine. The larger context is ECOSF's commitment to work with groups and organizations that seek more a livable (bikeable and walkable) urban infrastructure for San Francicsco. Who doesn't want to know how to make smoothies and ice cream while pedaling a bike?

ECO-SF's Bakers Alley: Bike Maintenance & Pedal Power
Saturday, June 25, 11 am to 5pm
@ The School Farm, 555 Portola Dr, San Francisco
Enter campus via O'Shaugnessy Blvd & Portola
"And more location details from ECO-SF:
Next to the athletic field at the School of the Arts and the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Close to 36, 44, 48, and 52 Muni lines. From the parking area on O'Shaughnessy, walk down the hill to the right towards the athletic field. Limited parking is available further down driveway at loading dock, just keep driveway clear and please do not park on the grass. We'll be on the farm the behind the bleachers across the field."

Info: Davin, (415) 846-8164

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sweet Sailing Through The City

Mission Bicycle Company from 4SP Films on Vimeo.

I meant to post this film from Mission Bicycle Company months ago. When I ran into Jefferson McCarley, Mission Bike store manager, last week at The Summit in the Mission, I remembered how much the film expresses the sheer joy of bicycling. Jefferson tells his own bicycling story so well that his enthusiasm and appreciation make Connecting the City a no-brainer. I first met Jefferson at a SF Bicycle Coalition event a few years ago when I was a new member, and I thought this is a very cool organization to have someone like him as a really active member.

This short documentary about "self-expression and freedom on two wheels" is partly about a great bike shop in the Mission, not in NOPA, that I like to visit. But it also tells the story of two cyclists and what being on two wheels means to them. There are clips of biking in the Panhandle and NOPA so there's the neighborhood connection (if you're wondering). These are beautiful bikes, some hand-crafted with take-notice colors. Check out the one cyclist Jake Swartz built at Mission Bike.

"As long as I'm riding my bike and at least I have that one moment by myself...there's just me sailing through the city." I'm there.

Photo: Mission Bicycle Company