Monday, January 31, 2011

City Completes Final Masonic Report, Proposes Bold Changes to Reduce Risks and Increase Neighborhood Livability

Final report contains images of each block with proposed new features
(note: the directional arrow should indicate right-to-left for North)

A possible re-design of Masonic Avenue for safer use by everyone took a significant step forward last week when city planners completed the final report for the corridor. The account follows a six-month community planning process that included three public meetings attended by more than 200 Masonic area residents. Participants evaluated various options for a better Masonic and narrowed their preference to one dubbed the Boulevard as the best value for a complete set of traffic calming improvements. Features of the proposal include a landscaped median, bus bulb-outs, 200 new street trees, a new plaza at Geary, and separated bike lanes. City planners previously described the Boulevard option as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Mark Christiansen, a former Masonic resident and founder of the grassroots group Fix Masonic, has worked on getting a better, safer street since 2003. He dreamed of a green median the length of the corridor with no speeding. Back then, he decided, “That’s never gonna happen.” When Christiansen sold his house a few years ago, he told potential buyers that the neighborhood was one of the safest in the city – “except if you try to navigate that street!” His daily experience of going out onto Masonic motivated him to seek changes. “Every time I thought, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this.’”

Christiansen concluded at the time that Masonic had all the design features that promote speeding and risky street use:
  • Lanes that merge mid-block
  • Wide intersections
  • Tow-away zones along the curb that open the street even wider
  • Blind turns against uphill traffic
  • A posted bike route with no striped bicycle lanes
He foresees a “quieter, calmer Masonic” if the Boulevard proposal is implemented. “I think it may be an amazing change. We’ve seen other streets in this city take on a completely different feel after being revamped. We know from the plans we see that it will happen here.”

Safety has been a primary concern for many Masonic residents. One father of two young sons told BIKE NOPA last summer that he never allowed his boys to play or stay on the sidewalk outside their residence. When they walked out the front door, he immediately ushered them into the family car. Several months earlier his Cherokee Jeep was parked in front of the house on Masonic. A speeding driver struck it with enough force to push it more than 100 feet into the intersection. Another resident said a motorist struck her car while she was nearing her home at Golden Gate and Masonic. The car was totaled; she was fortunate to have sustained few physical injuries. That collision occurred just one week before Yannick Linke was allegedly struck and killed by a motorist at Masonic and Turk.

The 63-page Masonic report details the process used by city planners* to reduce the street’s traffic risks and transform the corridor into a more livable space. They considered various design options that would help the city meet numerous local, state, and federal standards for “complete streets” that serve all users and enhance community life. The goals and objectives of the process were ambitious and appear to reflect residents’ complaints about the current street design:
  • Improve transit
  • Enhance pedestrian access to transit
  • Make crosswalks safer for pedestrians
  • Increase compliance by motorists of rules and regulations
  • Reduce the number of vehicular collisions, especially with pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Increase quality-of-life features to make Masonic more inviting and accommodating
Leah Shahum, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, believes the new Masonic proposal is one that community members and city staff “should feel really proud of.”
“It prioritizes neighborhood safety, livability, and mobility. Thanks to these efforts, families will be able to move around more safely and enjoy their neighborhood more fully. This is a good example of the community speaking up for better streets and the City listening and responding.”
The next steps for the Masonic proposal involve ensuring that it meets environmental requirements, conducting a public hearing, and presenting the recommended design to the SFMTA Board of Directors. Staff will also seek funding and complete the project design. Javad Mirabdal, SFMTA Project Manager for the Masonic study, said “all the next steps will move forward at the same time.” The most optimistic estimate for taking the proposal to a public hearing is by the end of June this year. (The SFMTA will provide a two-week notice prior to the public hearing).

Even those who have followed Masonic developments closely will find the report enlightening. One new feature is a detailed illustration of the traffic calming measures for each block of Masonic between Fell and Geary. Individual addresses are noted along with location of new street trees, new sidewalk landscaping, bulb-outs, and separated bicycle lanes. (See pages 41-48 of report).

* The Masonic Avenue Street Design Study is an undertaking of the San Francisco Planning Department, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), and the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Next NOPA VELO Ride Sunday Feb. 27: Think World's Fairs, Maidens and Lions

NOPA VELO riders ready to roll

NOPA VELO, the North Panhandle's own neighborhood biking group, will spin off on its first ride of 2011 on Sunday February 27th. For newcomers to NOPA VELO: we started last year with monthly rides for neighbors and friends from all over. We meet mid-morning on the last Sunday of every other month at a local cafe to power-up and then head out for a special theme ride, pursuing an eclectic mix of tall tales, histories, and haunts -- we call it "NOPA lore." And sometimes we do it in costume.

Last year saw riders re-enact the deadly duel between a U.S. Senator and a Supreme Court Judge at Lake Merced with a nod to our NOPA street named for Senator Broderick. We stopped by the NOPA building where Patty Hearst was held captive, toured the tall trees of the Panhandle and Presidio, and scarily spotted the ghostly maiden of Stowe Lake for our Halloween Ride. Cyclists can expect even more surprises this year as we tour the city's World's Fairs, honor this year's California Woman Suffrage centennial, and much more.

NOPA VELO welcome all level riders, and most outings are easy to moderate. Kids on their own bikes are encouraged if with a guardian. Pets on leash or on partner's bike join us all the time. Only heavy rain deters us.

NOPA VELO encourages all riders with a romance-seeking bent, to check out the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's fave party Love on Wheels Feb. 9th ( . If all works out well for you and someone new, join us for our Feb. 27th ride. (And if not, maybe someone special with NOPA VELO is waiting to meet you). Thanks for the nod to BIKE NOPA this morning, Michael Tanner of SF Chronicle.

For more information: Lenore@ 415-300-6744,

Join the NOPA VELO Google Group:

Check here for pics and stories of previous NOPA VELO rides.

Please do visit BIKE NOPA regularly for ride announcements and more about biking and livability in San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boulevard...and You Can Too

I'm already there with support for the Boulevard proposal to transform Masonic Avenue into a safer transportation corridor. After seven months of attending community meetings, studying options developed by city planners, discussing concerns with neighbors and traffic engineers, I'm confident that the make-over will be become something accepted by neighbors and valued by future generations of Masonic residents.

There's a lot to like about the Boulevard plan:
  • a landscaped median running from Geary to Fell
  • 200 additional street trees
  • bus bulb-outs at select intersections for easier access and more reliable, on-time buses
  • new paving for a street that hasn't been re-surfaced for so long no one can remember when
  • new signal lights and lane re-design to keep traffic flowing steady but safely within the speed limit
  • a separated bicycle track that will making biking safe for anyone aged 8 to 80
  • and, often overlooked, a chance to link neighborhoods along Masonic
I'm not alone. A majority of the hundreds of Masonic residents who accepted repeated invitations to express their opinions believe the Boulevard option will suit them better, as reported here.

Others aren't so sure. Below are responses to questions most often posed by neighbors concerned about the Masonic proposal:
  • What's the source of money for this project and why should we decide its merits before funds are secured? People involved with the Divisadero revitalization project remember that the city set a limit on the funds available and advised neighbors to plan accordingly. The Masonic project is different. The money for it will likely be a mix of regional, state and federal funds. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission bundles financing for projects like these from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to special grants received for categories like Safe Routes to Transit, Safe Routes to School, and others. A percentage of sales tax that is designated for bike improvements will be another source, but very little "car money" will go to the Masonic project. Why support now? The strongest proposal competes the best for limited transportation funds, and universal support from the community makes a proposal more competitive. Divisadero itself benefited from being "shovel-ready" when federal stimulus funds became available. Waiting to design or deferring support weakens the chance for obtaining funds.
  • Why is the Boulevard proposal so expensive? Each of the preferred proposals is expensive, and they're both complicated, significantly more so than Divisadero. Much of the expense will go to underground improvements from sewer upgrades to roadway base reconstruction. On the surface, a new wide median, the landscaping, new trees, widened sidewalks, bulb outs, lighting and signal upgrades, and the cycle track all add up. Plus at $20 million, this project is actually cheap compared to many other road projects like the $1 billion Doyle Drive replacement or the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project at about $200 million.
  • Why do bicycle lanes need to be on busy streets? Why can't cyclists use a different route? When it comes to Masonic, bicyclists want to ride on it for the same reason motorists do: it's the only direct north-south route between Stanyan and Divisadero. It's the flattest, most direct way to get from our neighborhood to the Presidio or Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco officially encourages alternate transportation including biking. Opponents can mount a campaign to change the city's Transit First policy, but it's our guide now.
  • Why not rely on enforcement to stop speeding instead? There's no way SFPD could afford to monitor traffic and issue tickets along Masonic to the degree required to change motorists' speeding. Former Capt. Teresa Barrett of SFPD Park Station agreed when asked about enforcement for this previous report.
  • Why doesn't the MTA install more traffic calming to stop speeding instead of redesigning traffic and removing parking? There are a few more measures the MTA can and should adopt (reported here), but most of the traffic calming tools have already been used or aren't possible on a road like Masonic. The reason the city has worked with the community on this proposal is mostly because the current traffic calming simply has not reduced collisions, red light running, and injuries.
  • Won't the proposed Target store at Geary and Masonic bring motorists who will occupy street parking in the Anza Vista neighborhood? No one wants to park on the street when there are six large parking lots positioned much closer to the stores at the San Francisco Center. The whole point of driving to Target will be for convenience and proximity of parking in the several hundred spaces in the lots.
  • Won't the Masonic project make it harder to enter and exit Ewing Terrace? No, it will become easier because the MTA agreed to add a new signal at this intersection at the request of Ewing Terrace residents who attended the community meetings.
  • Why haven't the neighbors and residents most affected by the removal of parking on Masonic been heard? They have. As previously reported here with a residency map, over 100 neighbors attended the community meetings, and a majority of them live on Masonic or within one block of the corridor. Nearby residents were invited to the meetings repeatedly by the MTA, NOPNA, Fix Masonic, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition with fliers and emails. They were also encouraged to contact the MTA directly. We don't force people to vote in this country.
  • Why can't the proposals make Masonic safer without removing parking? The first goal of a street should be to move people in a safe, efficient manner. Parking should come second to safety and traffic flow. Masonic is a very tight space and to make it safer for all users, something has to give. But the MTA has also indicated a willingness to consider new parking on nearby streets to alleviate the changes on Masonic, possibly with angled parking along the north side of Turk. At some point, advocacy for a safer Masonic coupled with a refusal to make inconvenient changes become nothing more than empty, feel-good lip service. Do those who resist the changes want to tell the families of people killed or injured from collisions on Masonic that safety on the corridor is not important enough to walk an extra 100 steps for parking?
For previous articles in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

A nod to Stanley Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bike People Who Want Safer Streets: A Richmond District Family

A new video from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition makes safer streets real, immediate, and important. This family in the Richmond: these are the "bike people" who want a better city.

You can help; info here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pedestrians First: Keep It Simple, Make It Absolute


Last year two broken elbows forced me to rely on walking to get around the neighborhood and city. I had to forgo the daily bicycling and occasional driving, and I hesitated to rub shoulders, much less elbows, on packed Muni buses. Walking was the remaining, affordable option, and it seemed a reliably safe way to reach my destinations -- until I started doing it.

Twice a week I made the half-hour trek to and from physical therapy, and I walked to visit friends, shop for groceries, and get to cafes. But what I found is that the North Panhandle is no haven of safe street crossing. When I used crosswalks -- entering with a green light and the right-of-way -- drivers often pushed through too close in front or behind me. Others raced to stop signs with little indication they would slow down in time. Some only stopped once they had blocked the crosswalk all together, especially with those narrow pedestrian crossings now along Divisadero. Too frequently others would yell at me to get out of the way. Many were holding cell phones while driving.

Usually I walked in the late morning or early afternoon, and I didn't encounter many bicyclists. But occasionally I didn't know what cyclists spinning toward me at a good clip would actually do: hit me in the crosswalk or maneuver around me. Other times cyclists took corners so fast I didn't think they could see me crossing. The problem intersections weren't just those along the traffic corridors like Divisadero, Fell, Masonic or Turk. The local, neighborhood streets posed problems as well, just often enough to make me wary. Granted, sporting a broken arm had me feeling vulnerable, but the risks from other road users were pretty damn real and more frequent than I had expected.

The several weeks of walking for transportation made me more aware of pedestrian safety. How could I be more pedestrian-aware when I'm on wheels? How can those travelling around me avoid intimidating or hitting and injuring pedestrians? I'm not suggesting constant threats and mayhem exist on our neighborhood streets and at our intersections, but ask people who walk here and elsewhere in the city regularly -- and especially people with an injury or physical disability -- whether they feel motorists and cyclists frequently put them at risk.

I know that better street design and traffic calming measures are essential to stop the speeding that leads to collisions and threatens people on foot. I think greater enforcement and new legislation are needed to convince motorists and cyclists that dangerous use of the road will cost them dearly. But while we wait for -- or work for -- structural change, better bike facilities, better laws to protect vulnerable users of the road, and better campaigns to influence behavior, the most effective intervention is our own resolve.

For me, the easiest way to stay pedestrian-aware now that I am on wheels again is to adhere to my own basic rule of the road:
Pedestrians First -- Keep It Simple, Make It Absolute
Call it a resolution, a reminder, or a mantra. It requires careful, mindful driving and biking all the time. It means anticipating risks, always being sure an intersection is clear before rolling through it, not cutting in front of or closely behind someone in the crosswalk, and staying behind the stop line at a red light. It means keeping priorities clear. Pedestrians can be unpredictable, slow, careless, or clueless, but they don't deserve to be intimidated, injured or killed because of their behavior.

Pedestrian advocates may counter that my resolution is already the law of the land, but the laws don't seem to be working, not with the pedestrian injury and death statistics as high as they are in San Francisco. A pedestrian first code sets a higher standard, a commitment to do no harm to people who cannot or choose not to travel on wheels. And those of us biking or driving should protect ourselves: do we want to live with the fact that we damaged or ended someone's life because of our distracted, careless, or aggressive behavior?

Sometimes we need to adopt our own code of safe behavior. In my opinion, now is one of those times.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

California Pacific Adds More Bike Racks at Davies Campus, Recognizes Biking as Better Option for Transportation and Health

Five new bike racks (foreground) at Davies Campus bike-friendly garage

Responding to requests, CPMC/Davies increases number of racks to 18

Bicyclists who want to ride to their jobs, doctor's appointments, or outpatient sessions at the Davies Campus of the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) will find bike parking even more plentiful with an additional five new bike racks. CPMC recently increased the number of racks from 13 to 18 at the Duboce and Castro streets campus after cyclists reported an increase in demand. Each rack can accommodate two bikes.

Kevin McCormack, CPMC Media Relations Manager, wrote to BIKE NOPA that encouraging bicycling was a natural choice for the institution.
As a hospital one of our priorities is promoting healthy lifestyles. With improved bike lanes nearby, we realize that cycling is clearly becoming a better option for transportation and for maintaining good health for more and more people in San Francisco. Thanks to BIKE NOPA and others, we realized that one easy way to make it easier for people to cycle to our campus was simply to install more bike racks.
Located along the #24 bus route and near the N Judah streetcar line, the Davies Campus has one of the highest rates of public and alternative transportation use of any business in San Francisco, according to McCormack. Bicyclists find ideal parking accommodations at the medical complex: easy-to-find racks just inside the parking garage, protection from rain, and security with a garage attendant a few steps away.

The addition of new racks represents the second time in 14 months that CPMC has increased bike parking. In November of 2009 administrators authorized a set of five racks after a story posted here a few months earlier. At that time a hospital representative wrote, "Thanks for being a squeaky wheel."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunday Streets to Return to NOPA, Western Addition in September

In 2010 NOPA found all sorts of new things to do on car-free streets

Impromptu parklet with the Wigg Party on Central Avenue in 2010

Sunday Streets -- the celebration of open streets for walking, dancing, strolling with the kids, and biking -- will return to the North Panhandle on September 11th this year. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office announced last Friday that the “safe, fun, car-free” event will begin in April and continue on the second Sunday of every month through October. In a press release Newsom hailed the success of the program begun in 2008. “Sunday Streets has opened up miles of City streets, connected our neighborhoods and brought thousands of families and visitors out to play.”

The Sunday Streets route will once again connect NOPA with neighborhoods to the east, including Alamo Square, Japantown, and the Fillmore. Although the specific route has not been determined, changes to this year's route can be expected. In 2011 the route will more directly engage the Alamo Square neighborhood with an east-west street like Fulton rather than last year’s choice of Golden Gate Avenue. Western Addition residents can also expect the specific route to be announced much earlier this year with more outreach to merchants, churches, and neighbors.

Last year Sunday Streets organizers were surprised (and dismayed) when the normally warm and sunny September weekend turned to a cool and damp drizzle through the day of the street fest. Even still, thousands of people took to the wide-open streets.

The 2011 Sunday Streets schedule (subject to change):

  • March 20: kick- off event along the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to Mission Bay
  • April 10: Great Highway and Golden Gate Park
  • May 8: Mission route, including 24th and Valencia
  • June 12: Bayview, Mission Bay, and Dogpatch
  • July 10: Great Highway route #2
  • Civic Center and Tenderloin route
  • September 11: Western Addition with NOPA, Alamo Square, Japantown and Fillmore
  • October TBD: Mission route #2

Sunday Streets is managed by the non-profit Livable City. For more information, check the Sunday Streets website here. Volunteers are essential to the success of each Sunday Street, and it’s a great way to help people celebrate San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Taxi Driver Complains about New Signal Timing on Masonic: Best Indicator of Change

Southbound drivers on Masonic may notice change in signal light timing

No good reason to speed traveling north on Masonic

When a taxi driver complains that it's no longer possible to exceed the speed limit, you know traffic signal changes are working. That's what seems to be happening on Masonic Avenue after the southbound signals were adjusted late last year to keep traffic moving at the 25 mph speed limit. Javad Mirabdal, city traffic engineer and project manager for the Masonic Avenue Street Design Study, said the complaint was one indication that the changes were having an impact. "Taxi drivers basically know every street," Mirabdal observed. "They know when changes are made." The driver called the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and reported he was hitting red lights while travelling southbound on Masonic.

With the change in timing, motorists travelling south from Geary to Fell will find generally that when they exceed the 25 speed limit, they'll get more red lights. Mirabdal said the agency adjusted the signals in the southbound and downhill direction because that's where drivers tend to go faster. He added, "Timing will control the platoon of traffic, but it doesn't control speed for the ending (those drivers at the end of the pack)." Mirabdal explained that those in the back may have an opportunity to catch up with the traffic flow and momentarily exceed the speed limit. "It depends where you are in the platoon."

Only the southbound signals have been adjusted since two-way traffic, as on Masonic, poses too many traffic engineering problems to make bi-directional adjustments. "Once you push one direction, you limit what you can do with the other," Mirabdal said. One-way traffic roadways are the ideal candidates for the best outcomes from signal timing changes.

The signal adjustments were one of several traffic calming measures that Masonic area neighbors have asked the SFMTA to study and implement during the period before the full treatment for a better Masonic begins. The SFMTA has yet to respond to the other interim measures. Mirabdal said the final report with recommendations for comprehensive traffic calming on Masonic would likely be completed by the end of next week. The report will be posted on the SFMTA website.

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

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Trouble with Pedestrians

They want to cross the street without getting hit

They want motorists to stay out of their crosswalks

They want bicyclists to walk not ride through crosswalks

Yes, pedestrians.

All those people who walk neighborhood blocks, cross the streets, hurry around commercial districts on foot, and stroll on park paths. Everyone who walks for pleasure, exercise or because it's the only means of transportation they can afford.

They can be trouble. Because of what they do.
  • They cross streets without looking both ways
  • They use crosswalks while texting, listening to music, and talking with friends
  • They sometimes travel in large groups, spread across the sidewalk, and refuse to walk single-file
  • They enter crosswalks against the light or with only a few seconds left in a countdown
  • They cross streets mid-block with a saunter or a dash
  • They travel with small children who tend to get curious and stop to stare at something on the sidewalk or wander off to look at a leaf or a bug
  • They persist in using crosswalks even when motorists clearly want to drive past them or when bicyclists really don't want to slow down for their little ones
  • Invariably, they all have stories to share -- especially at public meetings -- about almost getting hit by motorists or bicyclists
But the real issue with pedestrians is they act as if they have a fundamental right to safe passage while on foot. They seem to believe they deserve deference from motorists and bicyclists when using the streets, crosswalks, paths and sidewalks.

The trouble is they're right. They do deserve safety and they should expect vigilance from people operating much larger, heavier, and faster vehicles and swifter bicycles.

People on foot are the most vulnerable users of paths, sidewalks, crosswalks, and roadways. For that reason alone we all need to make walking much safer in the North Panhandle and in all San Francisco neighborhoods. We are all pedestrians at some point during the day, and we deserve safe behavior from one another. When we take to wheels -- in vehicles or on bikes -- we need to retain enough pedestrian consciousness to not make ourselves the trouble.

WalkSafe: A series about walking safely in NOPA and San Francisco

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NOPA Cyclists: SFMTA Is Counting You From Underground

Bike counters under surface of Golden Gate bike lanes

Marking the Baker Street bike lane for counter placement

You're getting counted every time you pass over the diamond

Every time bicyclists spin along the bike lanes on Golden Gate Avenue and Baker Street through NOPA, they get counted automatically. Late last year the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) installed underground counters in the 1900 block of Golden Gate, between Lyon and Baker, and the 700 block of Baker, between Golden Gate and McAllister.

The sensors are placed from one to three inches under the road surface and can distinguish between a bicycle, a pedestrian, or a vehicle passing over them. The system records a count once it detects an "electromagnetic signature" from the bicycle. The counters require a minimum of maintenance and are cost-effective, using batteries that last a year. All that is visible from the street is a diamond shape in the bike lane and a line connecting it to a similar sensor in the opposite bike lane across the street. The SFMTA first experimented with the automatic counters in March 2009 on Fell between Scott and Divisadero. The agency found the system accurate when compared to manual counts undertaken during the same time period.

The bike sensors in NOPA are among the 22 that the SFMTA intends place at 13 locations in the city by the end of the year. Eventually, the agency hopes to position the sensors at all 33 key intersections now included in the annual citywide bike count conducted by interns. The automatic counters will provide city planners with continuous and more comprehensive understanding of bicycle traffic patterns, use of specific lanes, and fluctuations in frequencies of trips during different time periods and weather conditions.

The 2010 bike count found a 3% increase in the number of observed cyclists since 2009, as previously reported. Other locations in and near NOPA also saw increases from 2009:
  • 10% rise at Fell and Scott
  • 26% at Golden Gate and Masonic
  • 7% at Masonic and the Panhandle Path
Another automatic counter is planned for the Panhandle Path approaching Masonic.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Bright And Gold(en) New Year

Holiday good cheer prompted someone to enliven NOPA for the start of the New Year. Right in the center of the neighborhood and, for the occasion, a top hat as well.

BIKE NOPA has big hopes for 2011 in the North Panhandle and in San Francisco. I especially look forward to
  • a new commitment to pedestrian safety
  • a revitalized Panhandle Park
  • planning for an east-west cycle track through NOPA
  • a better Masonic with approval and funding for the Boulevard design
  • a safer, friendlier Bay to Breakers celebration
  • full-on sunshine for the return of Sunday Streets to NOPA (with Divisadero included)
  • a second year of NOPA VELO bike rides
Let the opportunities and challenges begin!