Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bicyclists Beware: Hazards During Construction on Baker and Grove in NOPA

Baker bike lane southbound: curb to curb to be paved in weeks ahead

Grove bike route pavement construction hazards, between Baker and Lyon

Two to three inch trench after initial PUC work on Grove

Defined edges like this should have asphalt shoved up to them for safety

UPDATE, Wednesday, March 30, 5pm
This afternoon Ms. Dadisi Najib, DPW Public Information Officer, reviewed the street conditions and hazards for bicyclists on Grove and Baker. She followed up within hours of being alerted to the problem. She confirmed that curb-to-curb repaving is planned for Grove between Baker and Lyon and for the blocks of Baker recently worked on. She also said she would find out about DPW's or the construction firm's interim plans for reducing risks for bicyclists by shoving asphalt along the edges ("cutback") of the construction lip.

The Public Utilities Commission is replacing sewer lines under North Panhandle streets, and that's a good thing. The city's aging infrastructure -- above and below ground -- needs all the attention it can get. But the construction itself is creating problems with a lack of attention to safety precautions and warnings to bicyclists.

Grove street between Baker and Lyon has been plagued with the tell-tale signs of sewer problems -- large sinkholes and many fill-ins -- for years. Now the sewer lines have been replaced but the temporary surface has been left two to three inches below grade with hard-edged trenches. Baker between McAllister and Fell has similar trenches. None of the drop-offs have asphalt shoved against them to smooth travel along the block, and, in a few areas, the trenches cut directly across the Baker bike lane and Grove bikeway.

Once all the sewer work is completed, the city will repave the blocks curb-to-curb. Although it's more economical to resurface the blocks at the same time, it's unnecessarily hazardous to leave the trenches as they are and not post warning signs. The city will likely address the risks, but, in the meantime, bikers beware, especially at night if you're unfamiliar with the street conditions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

North Panhandle Eyesore Remains, City Renews Permits for Fire Escape That’s Never Completed

Scaffolding has become an unwelcome fixture on NOPA street

On Lyon street towering over Golden Gate Avenue for years

Wire strung through structure to utility pole

Scaffolding leans against exterior but not secured

The extent of secured footing for scaffolding on Lyon street

Although the structure on Lyon Street at Golden Gate Avenue re-purposes parking spaces and attracts attention to the sidewalk, no one would point to it as one of the new parklets sprouting all over the city with the spring rain. Instead the barely-secured scaffolding meant for temporary use remains as a persistent blight in the North Panhandle neighborhood that the city continues to allow year after year. City staff suggest there’s nothing to be done.

According to a Department of Public Works inspector who most recently verified the permit for the scaffolding at 800 Lyon Street, “There’s not anyone who can do anything about it.” She added, “They have a legal right to be there as long as they’re doing work there.” She mentioned in January of this year that on her last visit she “saw someone scraping paint.” But after years of no apparent, substantial work or improvements, the series of six-month renewals appear to reflect inertia and permit gridlock rather than effective inspection, oversight or resolution.

The scaffolding is in place as the result of a long struggle between building tenants, the property owner, and city agencies. The three story structure was installed to serve as a fire escape for a tenant who resides in an illegal unit at the top of the building. In October 2010 the city approved plans to allow the addition of new fire escapes on the Golden Gate and Lyon street sides of the corner apartment building. Presumably these would be standard installations that would not obstruct the parking lane or the sidewalk.

When BIKE NOPA first reported on the Lyon structure in January 2010, the building owner’s attorney, Andrew Zacks of Zacks & Utrecht, said his client was sympathetic to neighbors’ concerns. “The owner understands this is a blight on the neighborhood,” he told us. In January of this year Zacks said he would provide an update on the situation but no information was forthcoming, and he stopped responded to inquiries.

A close look at the scaffolding reveals a structure barely secured to the building exterior, loose footings, and electrical wires strung through the apparatus to a nearby utility pole. The 800 block of Lyon features a steep grade with head-in parking on the same side of the street as the scaffolding. Residents in the building told BIKE NOPA that they worried about a vehicle hitting the scaffolding and bringing it all down on the sidewalk and street, disconnecting electrical wires in the process. Beyond the safety issues and blight, the structure also occupies two to three parking spaces around the clock in a neighborhood where many residents complain about the lack of available parking.

After several years of the status quo, might the city finally resolve the issue at 800 Lyon and make the block safer and more attractive? Several neighbors have indicated they are ready to petition the city for resolution of the eyesore they've lived with much too long.

Lyon Street Scaffolding Stats
800 Lyon Street at Golden Gate, 40 feet of curb space
DPW permit for scaffolding: # 1227100
Permit type: major encroachment
DPW permit office: 415 554 5810
Online Permit and Complaint Tracking for this address

Monday, March 28, 2011

Masonic Proposal Refined to Include New Parking; Interim Measures Await Clear Skies

Masonic residents and neighborhood associations support Masonic re-design

Extra-wide Turk looking west from Lyon intersection

Ample space for angled parking on Turk and a measure to discourage speeding

City planners have refined the Masonic Traffic Calming Project to include new angled, on-street parking along the north side of Turk Street east of Masonic. The changes come as part of an internal review at the Municipal Transportation Agency prior to submitting the proposal to a MTA hearing officer at a public hearing expected in May. Interim traffic calming measures – primarily re-striping cross walks and faded lanes and adding new 25 MPH
advisories on the roadway surface – are ready for implementation but have been delayed during this month’s wet weather.

Last year community members encouraged adding new parking to the Masonic proposal and suggested the north side of Turk east of Masonic between Central and Baker. These two blocks are especially wide and, along the north side, do not have curb cuts or driveways. In addition to mitigating the impact of parking removal on Masonic, back-in angled parking on Turk could calm traffic on a street that neighbors often complain is too dangerous for crossing. Angled parking would present drivers with less of the open freeway appearance that Turk now provides without actually reducing traffic lane width. Motorists backing up their vehicles would be another visual cue to other drivers to proceed with more caution.

Javad Mirabdal, the MTA Project Director for the Masonic re-design, said last week the proposal has been reviewed by two internal “task groups.” Part of that process is to determine whether the plan raises red flags among police, fire, and ambulance services over adequate access and travel during emergencies. Then another, larger group of 40-50 planners will review the plan before a public hearing is scheduled.
We’re moving forward to a public hearing. We’re shooting for it to be in May. We’ve done some fine-tuning and we’re working on the environmental clearance.
Mirabdal said he hopes there won’t be problems with the environmental clearance, and so far there haven't been. Other observers of the process explained that bicycle and pedestrian improvements as well as parking have been removed from environmental reviews required by the state. Basically, no definition or threshold for what it or isn’t acceptable in these areas exist, and thus the changes cannot be determined detrimental on an environmental basis.

If the many supporters of the Masonic proposal – especially those who live on or within a block of the corridor – testify at the public hearing, the hearing officer will likely feel confident about approving the plan, according to Mirabdal. He said he remained optimistic and hopeful for the project.
If we get this through, Masonic will be a good case for the city. It will show that we can redesign a street and get so much more from it.
For other articles in the A Better Masonic series, check here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bike Education Part of Livability Programs at St. Cyprian's

SFBC Bike Ed instructor Bert Hill and community meet at St. Cyprian's

35 people introduced to urban bicycling strategies

St. Cyprian's - 50 years on Turk and Lyon
Photo: Nathan Frankel

Take the lane and Avoid the door zone. According to Bert Hill, bicycle education instructor for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, these are two of the most important lessons to learn for new cyclists in San Francisco. He shared these and other tips-of-the-road with 35 people -- many of them new to bicycling -- during a four-hour classroom session last Saturday at St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church.

St. Cyprian's isn’t new to livability programs. Last year the congregation hosted a similar bike ed class and participated in Sunday Streets in the North Panhandle. In 2009 St. Cyprian’s pastor Rev. Will Scott and associated clergy Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer offered a popular bike blessing during the neighborhood’s BIKE THE BLOCK party. Long before that the church hosted the after-party for a neighborhood tree planting effort. This spring, however, St. Cyprian’s will pick up the livability pace with a set of programs and initiatives.

A new series -- Dinner & Conversation at Cyprian's* -- continues this week when Elizabeth Stampe, Executive Director of Walk SF, joins community members for a simple meal followed by an interview and discussion of pedestrian safety concerns in San Francisco. In the following weeks, other neighborhood groups will discuss their projects for a better, more sustainable city:
  • March 30, Dale Danley, leader of the award-winning Panhandle Park Stewards
  • April 13, University of San Francisco students on permeable, landscaped sidewalks for St. Cyprian's along Turk and Lyon streets
  • April 20, Lenore McDonald and Michael Helquist on "Bicycling for Community" featuring the NOPA VELO biking group and BIKE NOPA
In the realm of safer, friendlier streets, St. Cyprian's has applied to the Municipal Transportation Agency for installation of bike parking. The congregation hopes to get crosswalks re-striped and better lighting at Turk and Lyon streets, and the church plans to undertake sidewalk improvements. The latest features are sidewalk benches along Turk – built, of course, from recycled scrap wood.

Dinner & Conversation at Cyprian's
2097 Turk at Lyon
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
For information and reservation: Will Scott,
Accessible via Muni #31, #24, #5, #43
Donations for dinners appreciated

Note: I serve as coordinator of special events at St. Cyprian's, including the new music venue Cyprian's

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Secret Life of Bikes

Photo: MC Cyclery

Perhaps you think of your bike as your best friend. Many cyclists do. You share so many times together, ride through the storms of the city (and of life) and celebrate the bright, clear patches. Like all good friends, you spend time apart. You're busy with meetings, study, work, dinners, films, music. Your steady, stalwart bike waits for your return. Or does it?

A new video from Sydney captures the times when your bike is on its own. You may have more to share than you realized.

The Ride Sydney Experiment - Prelude from MC Cyclery on Vimeo.

Thanks to Ron Richings of Vancouver, BC for alerting local cyclists to this phenomenon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bicycle Commuting Trends Across the United States

A University of Oregon student, Kory Northrup, has completed an interesting set of graphs to depict trends in bicycle commuting in every state of the union. For an advanced cartography class at the Eugene campus, Northrup analyzed data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources to depict a comparison among states and rank the top ten cities with the highest bicycle commuting rates among the 70 largest U.S. cities.

The UO student reports that bike commuting has surged 150% since 2004 and suggests that even more people will take a bike for their commute if more funds are invested in better, safer, and more extensive bikeways.
Half of the trips in the United States could be traveled in 20 minutes or less via bicycle and a quarter of the trips could be walked in 20 minutes or less.
Northrup also tracks the declining trend in number of bicycle fatalities, the bike commuter gender split, and the increase in funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

Thanks to Shane MacRhodes of for reporting the results of Northrup's study and the graphics.

This week at the National Bike Summit the University of Oregon received a silver level award from the League of American Bicyclists in recognition of the 17% of people at UO who commute by bike.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mayoral Candidate David Chiu Takes District 5 Transportation Tour, Backs Cross-town Separated Bike Lanes and the Boulevard Design for Masonic

Dennis Yee of Martini Cleaners is on board with Chiu campaign

Chiu noted Divisadero's unfortunate "skinny sidewalks," toured with Dan Nguyen-Tan

Chiu assured Walt Bell of Black Dog Trading Company he wanted to help small businesses

Chiu with Remy Nelson at the city's first parklet outside Mojo Bicycle Cafe

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu launched his second week as an official mayoral candidate with a “transportation tour” today of District 5, stopping in Japantown and along Divisadero. In the few hours squeezed between meetings at City Hall, Chiu walked, biked, and took Muni to meet local merchants and residents. He described his transportation choices as part of his message to city voters, telling BIKE NOPA, “I am absolutely committed to sustainable transportation in District 5 and all the districts as part of a more livable city.”

Chiu said his transit-first vision for the city includes a safer Masonic Avenue, and he strongly endorsed the Boulevard design developed by city planners with support from several neighborhood groups. “We should make Masonic one of the great streets of this city,” Chiu said. He recognized that “creative financing” will be required to pay for the traffic calming changes proposed for the corridor.

Without hesitation, Chiu also backed the cross-town separated bikeways proposed in an initiative developed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and supported by Mayor Ed Lee and the SFMTA Board of Commissioners. In District 5, these changes would include bikeways on Fell and Oak streets between Scott and Stanyan. “This is how we start building a more sustainable transportation system in the city,” he said. “When you improve travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users,” Chiu added, “motorists benefit as well.”

Taking his mayoral campaign around the city without a car still has its challenges, as Chiu found when he waited for the #22 Fillmore bus from Japantown. With the clock ticking on his time away from City Hall, he jumped on his bike to reach his next stops on Divisadero. Later he commented on the state of the MTA. “Muni is dysfunctional, for many reasons. MTA management has frustrated many of us. We need the transit union to support needed changes. And several parts of the Transportation Effectiveness Project lack implementation.”

The condition of city streets rounds out Chiu’s concerns for transportation policy. He said he looked forward to further consideration of a streets bond measure to secure funds to repair and maintain city streets. Several district supervisors initially backed a streets repair bond measure for the November 2009 ballot before determining that the recession and public sentiment made passage unlikely. City planners are now looking to November 2012 for a similar streets measure, although Chiu said it might appear in the current election cycle instead.

On his tour of Divisadero, Chiu met with three popular merchants. Dennis Yee, proprietor of Martini Cleaners, told Chiu he was generally satisfied with the city in his dealings as a small business owner. After his visit with the supervisor, Yee said he was ready to back Chiu for mayor. “For my dollar, he’s been doing the work the city requires. We need someone who knows the operation going in.” Yee didn’t hesitate to take a campaign sign for his window.

Walt Bell, owner of Black Nose Trading Company, reported that his business was doing well. Six employees work with him in the dog specialty store that offers doggy day care, a dog walking service, and a huge assortment of dog grooming and care products. Bell is also a member of the Divisadero Merchants Association. “Our biggest concerns are the eleven to twelve empty storefronts on the street and the city’s permit process that gets ridiculous.” The complaints are familiar with anyone who has tried to start a business or make changes in operations. As Bell noted, permit expediters are used by those who can afford them because the process is so convoluted and difficult.

Chiu made his last stop before spinning back to City Hall for a budget meeting at the city’s first official parklet, outside Mojo Bicycle Café. In response to another reporter’s question, the candidate said he was “totally in favor” of the city’s several mini street and sidewalk parks. “Parklets represent the formation of community.” Mojo’s owner Remy Nelson reiterated the concerns of his colleague Walt Bell about keeping Divisadero viable for local businesses.

Chiu’s car-free campaign has booked nine more neighborhood tours in March.

Panhandle Park: New Video Shows How Good It Will Get This Year

The Panhandle Park keeps grabbing attention and for good reason. The block-wide green expanse is a city treasure and a neighborhood delight. It calms edgy urban folks, muffles the roar of Fell and Oak traffic, cleans the air, offers great picnic and frisbee grounds, and features a prime path for strollers and bicyclists. And then there's the kids' playground, the basketball court, and everyone's meeting place, the McKinley Monument.

Now the Panhandle Park Stewards has released a new YouTube video to tout the capital improvements coming to the park later this year. Written, narrated and produced by Dale Danley, leader of the park group, the video describes the new features expected in the central area of the park, specifically between Ashbury and Clayton Streets. Last year Danley's group was awarded a Community Opportunity Fund grant to upgrade paths, install new irrigation, re-design entries and exits, and include new landscaping and bike racks.

"I hope this video helps improve perceptions about the Panhandle Park by people across San Francisco," Danley commented with the launch of the video. The Neighborhood Parks Council ("Revitalizing Communities, Park by Park") likes the new video so much that it features the production on its site as well.

Every month the Panhandle Park Stewards welcomes neighbors and friends to join them for a morning of park-care. Next workday: this Saturday, March 12th, 9-11:30 a.m. See the group's site for more details.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Grove at Divisadero Gets Right Turn Only Signs Except for Bicyclists; New Signals Set for Spring 2012

Only one way for motorists to travel on Grove at Divisadero

Westbound on Grove at Divisadero, right turn only

New Right Turn Only signs installed on either side of Grove at Divisadero make travel on the corridor safer, at least once motorists become familiar with the directions. The SFMTA added the turn signs as interim measures “to simplify the intersection” until the proposed signal light project is made operational in the spring of 1912.

Previously, motorists wanting to cross Divisadero at Grove either edged into the crosswalks to see oncoming traffic or sat in the middle of the intersection waiting for an opening in the traffic. Now, neither option is available. Turns are required either to the south on the NOPA side of Divisadero or to the north from the Alamo Square side. Bicyclists, however, are allowed to cross Divisadero from either direction on the Grove Street bike route.

Mike Sallaberry, SFMTA traffic engineer, wrote in a late February email that a contract for the new intersection signal will be advertised this spring with construction to follow a few months later. “The new signal should be operating in April/May 2112,” he said. He also explained that a signal at Grove was anticipated as part of the completed Divisadero traffic calming project.
Much of the underground infrastructure for the future signal (conduits and pull boxes) was installed in 2009 ahead of the Divisadero paving and streetscape improvements. This advance work will reduce the impact of the construction of the new signal as we will not need to cut trenches into a newly paved street or damage newly constructed curb ramps.
In a previous article, Sallaberry explained that the standard time period for planning, preparation, and installation of a new signal is three years. He added that temporary tape striping is used on a street, like Divisadero, to avoid ripping into the new asphalt surface when the signal light is ready to place.

Friday, March 4, 2011

NOPNA Board Votes Strong Support for Masonic's Boulevard Design

The Board of Directors of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA) has added its support to an extensive re-design of Masonic Avenue dubbed the Boulevard option. Jarie Bolander, NOPNA President, informed city planners this morning by email, that the board decided to support the Boulevard option "because that's what the majority of our neighbors want." The NOPNA board's decision is based on a recently completed survey the group presented to NOPA and Masonic area residents.

Bolander noted the data from that survey revealed a preference for the Boulevard treatment by more than 87% of respondents compared with nearly 54% for an alternative, less extensive option. Especially persuasive to board members was the striking 86% support for the Boulevard among paid NOPNA members. The board's official decision for NOPNA now places the association among other neighborhood groups who support the safety and re-design measures for Masonic as well as the majority of residents who supported the same proposal in a SFMTA survey last year.

Bolander guided the association board's discernment of the Masonic-related issues through a thorough and sometimes contentious process that reached resolution only with the additional evidence of strong support from the neighbors that the NOPNA survey provided. He noted in his letter to the city that the board's decision was not unanimous.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

SFMTA Hopes to Put Masonic Traffic Calming Steps in Place by End of March

Lanes to be re-striped, crosswalks upgraded at several locations along Masonic

Median with signal light and pole is prone to damage from motorists and will be removed, new signal will be placed at the sides of Masonic

The SFMTA expects to implement another round of traffic calming measures by the end of this month, according to traffic engineer Manito Velasco. During a telephone call last week, Velasco said he had placed work orders with the paint shop and sign unit in late January of this year and he hoped all the changes will be completed this month. Several of the improvements were requested by Fix Masonic late last year.

Velasco identified specific locations for the upgrades and changes:

  • Crosswalks will be re-striped at Anza/O’Farrell, Grove, and Hayes
  • Sections of center traffic lanes will be re-striped the length of the corridor
  • 25 MPH will be painted on north bound traffic lane surfaces at Fell and at Fulton and on southbound lanes at O’Farrell and Fulton
  • Warning signs for motorists to merge into the adjacent lane will be posted at Fell and at Hayes
  • Signals at Anza/O’Farrell will be upgraded as well as pedestrian signals at Turk
  • Median signal and pole at Anza/O’Farrell will be removed (Velasco said this was a maintenance issue as the pole is frequently hit and damaged by vehicles and the agency prefers “side-mounting” signals)

Fix Masonic had also requested that the SFMTA seek a “double fine zone” along Masonic and change the corridor to a school zone. Both measures require legislative approval, and Velasco said the agency is considering legislation. Another recommendation by the group has been to obtain greater enforcement of the 25 MPH speed limit. Velasco said the SFPD Traffic Company will increase its monitoring for speed violations.

The SFMTA recently helped complete a final report that recommends a re-design of Masonic Avenue between Fell and Geary to reduce speeding and increase safety for all road users. The proposal, dubbed the Boulevard, has received the support of neighborhood associations and a significant majority of residents in the Masonic area.

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

My regrets for mis-spelling Manito Velasco's name in the original version of this article.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

World's Fairs and Celebrated Author All in One NOPA VELO Ride

Palace of Fine Arts

Gail Sheehy (2nd from right) joins NOPA VELO ride

Ready for the World's Fairs

After last Saturday’s wet and chill, Sunday’s brisk and sunny morning was a treat for the sixteen riders gathered for NOPA VELO’s first bike ride of the year. With a Lions-to-Maidens World’s Fair tour in mind, cyclists met up at Central Coffee, Tea and Spice, a prime neighborhood spot to meet, greet, and power-up.

Then with a flourish of pink, the day’s Celebrity Rider appeared. Noted and influential author, journalist, and lecturer Gail Sheehy rolled up with her good friend and regular NOPA VELO rider, Steve Hershoff. (Check Sheehy's interview talking about her latest book, Passages in Caregiving). Gracious and poised, Ms. Sheehy said she happened to be in the city and the morning’s ride seemed “so San Francisco.” Besides, she added, “I haven’t been on a bike since last summer.” She lives mostly in New York, and we know about the weather back East.

Soon enough riders spun their way back in time to the site of the 1894 California Midwinter Exposition in Golden Gate Park. The Music Concourse got its start when Michael H. de Young, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, persuaded the city to sponsor a world’s fair on the undeveloped park land. An astute and calculating fellow, de Young managed to lure many of the exhibitors from Chicago’s celebrated “White City” World's Fair the year before to transport their exhibits to San Francisco. Seventeen countries and most of the states showed off their wares, and more than 1.3 million people attended during the six-month run of the fair.

NOPA VELO riders checked out the exposition’s remnants including the two sphinxes in front of today’s de Young Museum, the Japanese Village (now the Japanese Tea Garden), and the Cider Press statue.

After a spin around the concourse, riders zipped 21 years forward to the Palace of Fine Arts and the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Fair enthusiasts have their favorites, but the PPIE, as it became known, was truly San Francisco’s most extravagant and wildly successful presentation to the world. The Tower of Jewels alone, a 43-story building glittering with more than 100,000 colored-glass ornaments, suggests the flamboyance of the fair. The Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck and the prized remnant of the celebration, beckoned riders for self-guided tours before heading back to NOPA for lunch at Ziryab restaurant, a jewel in itself on Divisadero.

Next NOPA VELO ride set for April. To get the news first join the NOPA VELO Google Group.