Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Write the Letter, Make the Difference for Better Biking on Fell and Oak

One block of green-striped bike lane is not enough -- not when cyclists of all ages are inches away from motorists often traveling 30-45mph. We can all make cycling safer on Fell and Oak with separated bike lanes that benefit the whole neighborhood as traffic calming measures.

The SFMTA, the SF Bicycle Coalition, NOPNA, ASNA and other community groups have weighed in on the importance of safer cycling between the Wiggle bike route and the Panhandle. Changes to the current configuration of traffic for all users will be necessary, but safety and the city's commitment to alternative transportation must become priorities.

Please take a few minutes and jot a few thoughts in support of a safer bikeway along Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker -- three blocks that can give a huge boost to safety and livability in the city. Send you message to the Mayor and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Urge them to follow-through on his commitment to safer biking for San Francisco with real, specific actions. Get a few tips about your letter here.

Add your experiences with biking this routes, and why changes are needed. Urge Director Reiskin and his staff to not get overly sidetracked by the resistance from a few about possible parking removal.

Add your voice today: SFMTA is close to closing public input for this phase of the planning process. Send your message and help improve biking conditions along this essential route.

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.