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29 Aug 20:04

Homeless on the Hairball Follow Up

by Roger Rudick

Streetsblog reader Dan Crosby reported some progress in clearing up the hairball bike bridge. Photo: Streetsblog.

Streetsblog reader Dan Crosby reported some progress in clearing up the hairball bike bridge. But how long will it last? Photo: Streetsblog.

On Tuesday, Streetsblog followed up on a report from Dan Crosby, a bike commuter who rides the hairball, about how the westbound bike bridge had become almost completely obstructed by the homeless. Streetsblog reached out to several agencies and the mayor about it.

And a day later the encampment that was blocking the bike lane, and most of the trash, was gone (see above photo)!

“…it was almost totally clear today. Two shopping carts, two people sitting, and one trying to ride a bike while rolling two others, but no tents. Kudos!” wrote Crosby of his commute on Thursday. Indeed, when Streetsblog set out later the same day to investigate, the bridge was even clearer than Crosby reported.

So what happened? Does the Mayor’s office respond that quickly to the staggering power of a Streetsblog report?

“No, we’ve been working on this,” explained Sam Dodge, Deputy Director of the Department of Homelessness & Supportive Housing  for San Francisco, who connected by phone with Streetsblog yesterday afternoon. “There was a neighbor who had been reaching out to us about this…we got some emails referred from Supervisor Campos’s office on August 16. I reached out to the homeless outreach team.” And as Dodge had explained in a previous email to Streetsblog: “We have been working in the area with Homeless Outreach regularly. We had noted the potentially dangerous situation and had been offering assistance to those encamping on the bike path and working with Public Works to help clear the right of way.”

As previously reported, the homeless encampment moves onto the bridge when Caltrans comes through to clean the grounds below. When Streetsblog did its follow-up reconnoiter of the area, there was, indeed, a Caltrans crew below the freeway.

A Caltrans crew was taking a break from cleaning the area around and beneath the hairball this morning. Photo: Streetsblog.

A Caltrans crew was taking a break from cleaning the area around and beneath the hairball this morning. Photo: Streetsblog.

The crew members were emphatic about not giving names to the press, but one of the workers who would only identify himself as “Joe Blow”–yes, seriously–explained that every Thursday they come in and clean up, which includes chasing the homeless off of Caltrans property. He confirmed the homeless often just end up moving to San Francisco property, where Caltrans doesn’t have jurisdiction. So the city’s recent efforts to keep the bike bridge clear may not stick. Although “Blow” did say they try to clear them off the bike paths as well, sometimes working with San Francisco Public Works.

That said, it’s apparent where the latest round of human “whack-a-mole,” as the homeless advocates call it, had sent the encampment.

Although the bridge is clear, the encampment along the northbound offramp has grown. Photo: Streetsblog.

Although the bridge is clear, the encampment along the northbound offramp has grown. Photo: Streetsblog.

And another homeless person set up camp on the street near this ramp, in what looks like an extremely dangerous area:

One small encampment is now on a the shoulder of a ramp. Photo: Streetsblog.

One small encampment is now on a the shoulder of a ramp. Photo: Streetsblog.

Dodge, meanwhile, is very familiar with the homeless situation on the Hairball and has been to the site several times. He said that, sadly, it has been pretty consistent over the past 16 years or so that he’s been monitoring it. He also confirmed the concerns of some Streetsblog commentators, that the area isn’t safe. “There’s been a lot of incidents of violence there,” he said. “People get into fights and end up rolling out into the streets.”

As to the suggestion, made by homeless advocates, that tents and security and water should be provided, along with counselling, Dodge said Caltrans has been emphatic that they don’t want residential communities on their property. He also isn’t convinced it’s the right solution. “I worked closely with Seattle and Portland and Eugene, and they’ve done some experiments with tolerated, supportive or legalized encampments. The advice I’ve gotten is it’s very hard; the success rate for people moving out of them are super low. It wasn’t a good program,” he said.

Dodge prefers that the city continue to expand its homeless “Navigation” centers. “We should really spend our efforts trying to find indoor locations with access to electricity and water,” he said. In the meantime, he said cyclists and the homeless will need to find ways to co-exist.

Caltrans, meanwhile, should be mindful that cyclists still need to use these paths even when they are cleaning them.

Caltrans workers piled trash bags on the east bound bike path. Photo: Streetsblog.

The homeless are cleared off the bike paths. But Caltrans workers piled trash bags on the east bound bike path. Photo: Streetsblog.


03 Feb 18:23

Today’s Headlines

by Roger Rudick
  • Developing Earthquake Warning System Could Avert Future BART Disaster (MercNews, LATimes)
  • Plans Solidify for Huge Residential Towers Near 19th Street BART in Oakland (BizJournal)
  • Tech Shuttle Decision Delayed (SFExaminer)
  • Reservations Needed to Take Rail to the Super Bowl (InsideBayArea)
  • Alleged DUI Motorist Hits and Drags Cyclist in Berkeley (InsideBayArea)
  • Plans for Tucking More Residential into Small Bayview Parcel (Socketsite)
  • More on Super Bowl Transit Security Precautions (KTVU)
  • Marin Civic Center Facelift will Include Train Station and Bike Lanes (MarinIJ)
  • San Rafael Decides on Grade Crossing Plan for SMART (MarinIJ)
  • Muni Drivers Not Down for Brown? (SFExaminer)
  • Columnist Discovers Doobies on BART (SFGate)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA
Get state headlines at Streetsblog CA

18 Jan 09:52

Justice Has a Waiting List in New Orleans

In Louisiana, being a good public defender is bad for business.

“Take a number.”

Though rarely pleasant words to hear, you tolerate them from a teller at the DMV or your butcher the day before the Fourth of July. They are not words you would ever expect to hear from your attorney if you have been accused of a crime. But that’s essentially what the New Orleans public defenders’ office in Louisiana has begun telling arrestees this week, as funding shortages and staff attrition have forced the office to place new clients on a waiting list for representation. The people the public defender is making wait in line are most at risk in our justice system: usually poor, often a person of color, and facing severe sentences. Yet, these are the people who most need the public defender’s help investigating the state’s case against them and quickly uncovering favorable evidence before it is lost.

This is why the ACLU and the ACLU of Louisiana yesterday filed a class-action lawsuit against the New Orleans public defender’s office as well as the Louisiana Public Defender Board for failing to abide by defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to legal representation.

But this is not a problem of the public defender’s making. It is the result of the state of Louisiana’s stubborn refusal to fund its public defender system adequately. And New Orleans is not alone. Fifteen of the state’s 42 defender districts have been driven to similar desperation, attempting to stave off insolvency with measures like firing staff attorneys and investigators, hiring freezes, and waiting lists. The state public defender board, which oversees the defender districts, has predicted that the system will collapse by the end of the summer, when most districts will simply run out of money.

The impending downfall of Louisiana’s public defender system is both ordinary and extraordinary. It is ordinary in that all too many states fail their constitutional obligation to provide competent representation to people who cannot afford an attorney. States from New York to Florida, from Mississippi to Missouri, and from Idaho to California have all faced severe public defender crises in recent years due to legislative neglect. Each of these dysfunctional states is dysfunctional in its own way.

Louisiana is extraordinary in that the primary source for public defense funding comes from fees defendants must pay if found guilty of a crime. That means public defenders can only guarantee their salary if enough of their clients are convicted of crimes. Acquittals are bad for business. Other states impose such fees, but only Louisiana requires its public defenders to feed off their clients’ guilty pleas to survive.

This is more than an abstract concern. Several district defenders have openly admitted asking local law enforcement to write more tickets to keep their offices afloat. This is because over two-thirds of the funding available for public defense comes from fees on traffic tickets. If this transgression seems mild, keep in mind that most Louisiana traffic offenses — yes, like speeding —carry up to 30 days jail time. Other districts have attempted to close the public defender’s budget gap by requiring that defendants awaiting trial cannot be released until they pay their public defender’s $40 application fee. Defendants in these districts may be forgiven if they have difficulty reckoning who their public defender works for: them or the district attorney’s office.

Just as Louisiana’s “user-funded” system leaves public defenders no choice but to risk jailing their clients to earn revenue, it places them at direct odds with reforms aimed at reducing the prison population. District defenders across the state have blamed funding shortages in part on their local prosecutors’ increased use of diversion, in which the prosecution agrees to dismiss the charges if the defendant completes a treatment plan. Diversion is increasingly popular for avoiding unnecessary convictions and incarceration. But the public defender does not collect a fee if her client is successful. She therefore has a powerful incentive to avoid diversion when her job is at risk. In a state with the highest incarceration rate in the world, this is inexcusable.

The solutions to Louisiana’s public defender calamity are simple, if by no means easy. The legislature must commit to fully funding its public defender office in New Orleans and across the state. Clients can no longer bear the burden, and they must never again be told to “take a number.” This requires hard choices in a state facing a massive budget deficit. But if Louisiana cannot afford to defend, it cannot afford to prosecute.

11 Aug 01:13

Modern Road Design in 7 Words: Cities Aren’t the Hoses, They’re the Gardens

by Michael Andersen

Austin, Texas.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Every bike lane believer has heard a variation on this concern: Won’t our cities grind to a halt if we redesign our streets to have fewer passing lanes for cars?

Last week, Minnesota writer Bill Lindeke offered a terrific response on his personal blog.

It was prompted to a letter from a person troubled by two of Minneapolis’s new protected bike lanes, which replaced passing lanes on 26th and 28th streets. The letter writer asked: won’t the traffic overflow, just as surely as a too-narrow pipe or hose will malfunction?

Lindeke’s reply is excellent. He begins with the story of a recent day when he turned on a hose for a friend watering a garden. At first he opened the valve all the way, but it was too much; his friend asked him to turn the flow down a bit so she wouldn’t damage the plants.

If our big goal as a city was to keep the most water flowing, then designing streets to maximize volume would be the obvious solution.

And in fact, that’s how traffic engineers have traditionally thought of traffic, as cars circulating like blood through corporeal arteries. Just like cholesterol clogging arteries, congestion was seen as inherent vice. A lot of money, public space, and social resources were spent on unclogging our streets to maximizing the “flow” of cars.

But the problem is that cities aren’t the hoses, they’re the gardens. Just like you don’t want to water your tomatoes with a firehose, you don’t want to maximize traffic flow in a neighborhood. We need to stop focusing on the water, and start focusing on the plants. How much water do they need to grow? At what rate? Are we flooding them?

In the analogy, the garden is the city. Neighborhoods, sidewalks, streets, and even dive bars with pulltabs require more than just a stream of cars passing by their doorstep. The require public spaces for socializing. They require people to be able to easily stop, park, and cross the street. They require access to ways of getting around that aren’t cars.

Now, the fact is that not every auto lane is actually useful at all. Very often, a three-lane street with a turn lane actually handles more traffic than a street with two lanes in each direction. Other projects simply make general travel lanes narrower, which makes people drive more carefully, which leads to fewer crashes and less congestion. That’s why Eighth Avenue in New York City saw average car travel times decrease after protected bike lanes went in.

But sometimes, it’s true that converting a passing lane to a protected bike lane would increase congestion. And Lindeke says that’s OK.

Lindeke’s argument is not that auto congestion is good. His argument is that the things that would reduce congestion — the things that would turn the hose of traffic up to full force — come at too great a price.

For cities to keep creating the economically valuable connections that they’re supposed to, they can’t prioritize vehicle speed and volume. Those can be fine goals in some cases, but not when they interfere with other things that cities need more.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

28 Oct 22:52

Sources: Alta Bike-Share Buyout a Done Deal; NYC Citi Bike Fleet to Double

by Brad Aaron
Volker Neumann

oh yay, finally!

The REQX purchase of Alta bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The buyout of Alta Bicycle Share rumored since July is finally a done deal. Alta — which operates New York’s Citi Bike, Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy, San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share, and several other cities’ systems — will be purchased by REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit.

The injection of capital from REQX is expected to help resolve lingering problems with Citi Bike’s supply chain, software system, and operations, which until now have prevented any expansion of the bike-share network.

The sale was reported Friday by Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, and Streetsblog has confirmation from two people with knowledge of the deal.

Rubinstein reported that REQX plans to double the size of the Citi Bike fleet to 12,000 bikes. Annual membership prices are expected to increase about 50 percent.

New management and an infusion of funds from REQX bodes well for all Alta bike-share programs over the next year after a stagnant 2014. Alta’s supply chain troubles have hampered system expansions in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, among other cities.

13 Oct 23:04

April 21, 2014

Hey Sacramento! I'll be visiting your public library!
03 Oct 00:40

Measurements for a 1x

by VeloOrange
by Clint

We've had some questions recently about setting up fixed, single, and other 1x's so I figured I'd shed a little light on the topic in this blog post.
Example setup: 130mm hub bumped up to 135mm with hub spacers.  Spacers and a cassette cog carrier on the freehub.

There are many factors to consider when setting up a 1x anything, but the one that can be particularly tricky is chainline, or getting a straight line from your chainring to whatever kind of gear you are using in the back. It's going to be less important if you're using multiple gears in the back.  In that case, you'll want to shoot vaguely for the middle of the cassette to get the smoothest range of speeds.

Frame Dimensions
If you don't have your hands on a frame already, here are a couple things to keep in mind when finding one to run as a 1x.
  • Rear spacing is going to vary for different frames. 130mm is common for road bikes, 135mm for mountain. 126mm is used on old 6- or 7-speed frames, 120mm on 5-speed.  You may encounter something else depending on the era and purpose of the frame.  
    • Fitting your frame to your hub - If you're using a hub that doesn't match up with the rear of your frame, you can often stretch or squish the frame to make it fit your needs. I can't guarantee this will work, but if you try it, just make sure both sides of the frame are repositioned evenly. Otherwise you'll have to get fancy with your wheel dishing. I'd also discourage you from doing this if you have anything other than a steel frame. The mismatched hub and frame can still work even if you don't permanently set the frame; however, it may take a little longer to get your wheel back in.   
    • Fitting your hub to your frame - Alternatively, if you're bumping up to a larger size from your hub to your frame and don't want to stretch your frame, you can sometimes put spacers in your hub (depending on your hub). I used a couple of spacers in my hub to bump it up from a 130mm to a 135mm. This isn't possible on all hubs.  For instance, our cassette hubs are set up for easy freehub body removal, so spacers would mess things up.  
  • Dropouts - As far as this blog post is concerned, dropouts fall into two categories: 
    • Horizontal dropouts allow for variation in the horizontal distance. I'm including semi-horizontal, forward facing, and rear facing in this category.  These dropouts are going to make adequate chain tension easy since you can adjust it by simply moving your wheel forwards or backwards.
    • Vertical dropouts  - With these, you don't have horizontal variation.  These are good for disc brakes or an aesthetically pleasing fenderline.  If you have vertical dropouts, you have two options:
      • Use a chain tensioner or a rear derailleur if using multiple speeds in the back. These aren't going to work for fixies.  
      • Do the math. Figure out the distance between your gears and use their diameters to calculate the length of the required chain. Make sure this length of chain is either a multiple of 1in if you're using a regular chain or .5in if you're using a half link chain. Next, pray that your chain doesn't stretch too much after a few days of use. Keep in mind that different gear combos can yield the same, if not close, ratio.  Park Tool has an approximation of the formula here.  Helpful hint: CAD programs can do the math for you.  
Calculate the required chain length (red) with these measurements.  

Hub Types
  • For a 1x multiple, just aim to have your chainline somewhere close to the middle of your cassette. Check the top and lowest gears to make sure your chainline isn't too extreme.  
  • For single speeds with a cassette hub, I'd recommend something like the Problem Solvers cassette cog carrier. You'll need some spacers and the threaded end piece of a cassette to line up and keep your cog in place. You can use bottom bracket spacers, spacers from an old cassette, or something else of a similar size.  
  • For fixed or free hubs, you won't be able to adjust cog/freewheel in relation to the hub (see #2 below).  
  • Note: With a spacer, you can use either side of our fixed/free hubs for a cog or freewheel.  Additionally these hubs come with spacers for different frames sizes.  
The Big Picture/Diagram

  1. Adjusted with dish.
  2. In a cassette setup, adjusted with spacers. In a fixed/free setup, this can't be adjusted.
  3. Adjusted using spacers or if the hub uses a cup and cone.
  4. Adjusted a little bit in the bottom bracket shell with the use of bottom bracket spacers.
  5. If using a crank intended for multiple chainrings, you can decide which position is best for chainline. Line up 3 with 5. 
  6. With traditional bottom brackets you can change out the spindle or rotate to get a different length. In modern cartridge style bottom brackets, you can experiment with different length spindles.  
In just about any situation with this many variables and unknowns, there's bound to be more that one solution. See what you can come up with.

RIDE FIXED OR whatever.


21 Aug 19:47

I Have Been Elected to Represent All Fat People Who Ride Bikes! Now Bow Down To Me! Plus New Pants!

by Gern Blanston

So…we just came out with these really neat pants.  They are pants for folks who ride bikes to live in.  Ride, not ride, sleep, camp, whatever. 

They have some extra layers in the crotchy area (sizzle) so the won’t be as easy to blow through down there from repeated hours in the saddle. 

They’ve got some handy other features, like snaps on the drive side leg, so you can get them away from your drivetrain (that way you can avoid the hipster rollup, or the old weird guy ankle strap.)(I use a junk strap). 

They have a holdy piece on the back for your U-lock. 

They have darts at the knees for better “on the bike feel”, and they ride great. They also look nice, not fashionable, but nice.  They have a looser fit than hipster pants (by quite a bit), though they aren’t nearly as roomy as Carhartts, which is what many of us ride in. They look fairly normal off the bike.  But then again, what the hell does normal mean?

This is our first foray into the world of pants, and we approached it much the same way we do our bikes.  We thought about what we want from a pair of pants, what we hate about all the other options out there, had some samples made and tested them.  Had some more made, tested those and then ordered them to see what the rest of the world thinks. These are the result of all of that hard work.

The pants are available in these sizes 30 & 32x 32 inseam, 34-40x 34 (but really it’s a 36 read below)

There is one thing about the pants that didn’t quite go as planned.  We have some really tall weird giants in this brand, each of who wears a 36 inseam in their trousers.  When we had our samples made, the 36 inseam was too long for Wood (our handsome seven-footer), but the 34 fit him perfectly.  So we went with that measurement, and that’s what we put on the tag in the pants. 

Of course they fit like most other brands 36s, in fact they are even longer than some 36” inseamed pants out there (I just coined the phrase “inseamed”).

So if you are a giant, then you should try the 34’s and if they look like capri pants on you, we’ll make sure that you can return them to us (but not after you get your stinky sweaty biker ass all over them)(so make sure you’re sure before you fill them with funk)(or anything else for that matter).

Now what does that have to do with me being the newly elected representative for all the fatso bikers out there? 

Because I am too fat to fit into a 40, we had some special pants made just for me, as an experiment (to see how they would fit and ride and all of that). And I’m quite the fan of them. (Mine are 44s by the way)

The experiment, then, is this:  Are there other folks out there like me who are fatsos, who ride bikes a lot, and would like to have a pair of pants that don’t make them look like a balloon animal?  If you are out there, you should send us an email with the word “fatsopants” in the subject line.  That way we have an idea of just how many obese abominations of nature (like myself) there are out there who ride bikes. 

You know who you are.  You’re like me.  When people hear that you ride a bike, they look at you sideways out of the corner of their eye quizzically, and say, “Oh, that’s great.” At least that’s what they say with their mouth, everything else says, “You don’t really ride your bike, at least not very much.” And by their standards that might be true. But in my experience it’s not. (Though I’ve actually had a Doctor call me up on the phone after my “blood work” came back from the lab to apologize for not believing me when I told him how much I rode my bike.  He told me that my cholesterol numbers confirmed that I was not lying to him.  Sweet guy, I brought him a helluva stool sample the next day.)

So fatsos you’re gonna have to wait for the pants fairy to shine down on you, everyone else, if you need them, we’ve got them.

15 Aug 23:54

Why Charging Transit Riders to Transfer Makes No Sense

by Angie Schmitt

Paying twice for a transit trip that requires two buses makes no sense, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: Flickr, Mynameisharsha

Paying twice for a single trip that requires two buses makes no sense, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: FMynameisharsha/Flickr

Los Angeles Metro recently eliminated the charge for transferring from from one transit line to another. Eliminating transfer charges is becoming more widespread among transit agencies, and at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker explains why that’s a very good thing:

The core of the Los Angeles transit network is the liberating high-frequency grid, which relies on the assumption that passengers can be asked to change buses once. Until now, the agency’s policy of charging passengers extra to change buses was in direct conflict with the foundational principle of its network design.

Once more with feeling; Charging passengers extra for the inconvenience of connections is insane. It discourages exactly the customer behavior that efficient and liberating networks depend on. It undermines the whole notion of a transit network. It also gives customers a reason to object to network redesigns that deliver both greater efficiency and greater liberty, because by imposing a connection on their trip it has also raised their fare.

For that reason, actual businesses don’t do it. When supposedly business minded bureaucrats tell us we should charge for connections, they are revealing that they have never stopped to think about the geometry of the transit product, but are just assuming it’s like soap or restaurants. Tell them to think about airlines: Airfares that require a connection are frequently cheaper than nonstops. That’s because the connection is something you endure for the sake of an efficient airline network, not an added service that you should pay extra for.

Walker says that in the past, some agencies charged for transfers in order to avoid abuse of the system, such as selling a discounted transfer to a new passenger. But current fare payment technology can eliminate that problem, he says. Transit agencies that still maintain a transfer fee might just be trying to raise extra revenue without raising base fares. But that just masks higher costs while detracting from the usefulness of the system, he says.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Reno Rambler pays tribute to Robin Williams, the cyclist. And Strong Towns explains how the prevalence of pedestrian flags illustrates the second class status of people on foot.

07 Aug 20:55

Journey Around Copenhagen’s Latest Bicycle Innovations

by Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Copenhagen just keeps finding fun ways to make it easier and more convenient to bike. On a tour with Mikael Collville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co, I was able to tour some new innovations that have been implemented since I was last in Copenhagen four years ago.

First: If you’ve seen my Streetfilm from the VeloCity Conference 2010 (yes, feel free to watch again here) there is a new busiest bicycle street in the world! The Knippelsbro Bridge boasts 40,700 riders per day! And speaking of bridges, Copenhagen is building six new bike/ped-only bridges to help its people get around easier.

Last month saw the debut of the Cykelslangen “Cycle Snake,” immensely popular with adults and kids alike. You’ll see loads of footage as we travelled back and forth over it. It is truly a handsome piece of infrastructure. Even going uphill seems easy!

You’ll see lots of other things in this Streetfilm that will make you happy — or angry your city isn’t doing more — including wastebaskets angled for cyclists, LED lights that indicate whether riders have to speed up to catch the green light, and a cool treatment for cobblestone streets that helps make biking easier.

31 Jul 22:17

Don’t Hate the Parking App Profiteers, Hate the Free Parking Game

by Stephen Miller

Haystack, the latest app allowing drivers to sell access to a parking space, blazed across the Internet this month after Boston Mayor Martin Walsh threatened to ban it. Valleywag called it a “scourge.” The Awl compared it to profiteering off access to clean water. The haters have it wrong though: The apps aren’t screwing over the public — local governments are.

Following on the heels of MonkeyParkingHaystack is a recent Baltimore-based entry that borrows heavily from car service Uber for its look and feel. If you’re new to the grey market of sell-your-parking-spot apps, take a look at the promotional video. The premise is simple: A driver about to leave a parking spot can use the software to sell the space to another app-using driver cruising for parking. Haystack also has a “make me move” feature where users offer to move their vehicles for the right price, even if they hadn’t planned on going anywhere.

The video itself is a bit much. Over cheery music, a smiling young woman about to drive around Baltimore says things like, “Together, we did our part to make our neighborhood a little greener.”

Go ahead and vomit at the smugness of the marketing campaign. But putting a price on curbside parking isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that these apps are a poor substitute for real public policy that manages the curbside parking supply for the public good.

The ability to store private vehicles for free on scarce public street space is not an inalienable human right, nor does it make cities more equitable. In fact, underpriced car storage has a whole host of negative consequences. In New York, for example, most parking is free or underpriced, so there usually aren’t too many open spots. That leads drivers to circle in vain, clogging the streets and slowing down transit. With a better system of curbside parking management, New York would have faster buses, better air quality, and safer streets — not to mention less double-parkingfraud, and maybe even physical violence.

And if cities actually charged the optimal price for parking, the value of curbside parking spaces would be captured by the public instead of being pocketed by a small population of app users. Governments could use the money to improve schools, or transit, or to make streets safer for walking and biking.

So far, most cities have demonized the apps without confronting their own broken parking policies. In a statement against Haystack, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said the app “may artificially inflate the cost of spaces.” But if people are willing to pay more for the ability to access a parking spot, local governments and the public they serve are the ones missing out on the benefits. The status quo that Walsh is defending is essentially a subsidy for parking that hinders transit and street safety.

It’s easy to get mad at parking-for-profit app makers. The object of derision, though, should be local governments and the political refusal to change policies that created an opening for these apps in the first place.

07 Jul 23:53


by Matt

Oh the irony . . . spotted in Amsterdam.


29 May 17:15

“Closing” Lombard Street: The Language of Taking Cars For Granted

by Aaron Bialick

Crooked Lombard Street is being partially closed to cars, and mainly opened to people. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the headlines. Photo: SFMTA

A peculiar thing tends to happen when we talk about streets and transportation: We don’t talk about cars. Seriously — listen to conversations, read news headlines, and you’ll start to notice that even when cars are the main subject, people will, consciously or unconsciously, fail to explicitly mention them.

This phenomenon was particularly apparent to me this week, with media coverage of the SFMTA’s proposed (and subsequently approved) trial to restrict cars on world-famous crooked Lombard Street. The headlines started pouring out hours after I broke the story with this headline: “SFMTA considers restricting cars on crooked Lombard Street.”

Clearly, cars are the key subject of this proposal. It will restrict car access on two blocks, and nothing else. Non-”local” drivers will be banned for some hours on some days over a few weekends, but access for people not in cars — the vast majority of people on the crooked street — will actually be made safer and more enjoyable.

Yet from reading headlines found in other news sources around the country, you’d think the street is simply being closed to everyone. Cars are vaguely mentioned, if at all, while the whole “temporary trials on some afternoons” thing often gets washed over, with Lombard deemed simply and totally “closed.” Here are a few typical examples:

  • Washington Post: “San Francisco to close off iconic Lombard Street to tourists”
  • USA Today: “S.F. to temporarily close ‘world’s crookedest street’”
  • SF Chronicle: “Lombard Street to close on 4 busy weekends this summer”

Put simply, unfettered access by cars is equated with “access.” If one cannot drive there, one cannot go there. And as those important distinctions are blurred, we lose sight of what we deem important uses of our streets.

The verbal gymnastics used to avoid mentioning cars are present not just in headlines, but in everyday conversation. In discussions about behavior on the streets, notice how often the operators of motor vehicles are described as just “people” — for example, “People are always flying down this hill.” Not that drivers aren’t people, but the mode of transport is a key distinction to make. People using other modes usually get explicit labels that posit them as “others” — people on bikes are “cyclists,” and people just walking around are “pedestrians.”

The Lombard Street car restrictions have roundly been deemed a “closure,” a term with negative connotations. The other side of that action, that of opening the area for people, is ignored — as is the fact that auto domination is the status quo on San Francisco’s streets. Any impingement upon that norm that is framed as a loss.

We’ve seen this with Sunday Streets. Especially at first, the event was universally described as a “street closure,” even though the streets are actually open more than ever, at least to the majority of people not inside a car at any given time. As Sunday Streets has become more normal, and people realize the benefits it brings, I’ve noticed that it’s less frequently described as a “closure.”

Another example: What might be most accurately called “car storage” is usually referred to as “parking,” and loosely conflated with general quality of life. At community meetings about street redesigns, I typically hear some argue that “the neighborhood” requires parking — even if they really refer only to that subset of people in the neighborhood who value private automobile storage more than bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

“Traffic” is also typically used interchangeably with “car traffic” (the “car” is omitted). In reality, there is also foot traffic, bicycle traffic, and transit traffic. But when we hear “traffic,” it’s assumed by default to refer to automobiles, while other means of getting around remain tacitly marginalized.

That usage popped up in the SF Examiner‘s headline about Lombard: “SF giving twisty Lombard a vacation from traffic.” What kind of traffic? Pedestrian traffic will continue to flow freely on the street, but we all somehow know that doesn’t count as “traffic.”

When the discussion is framed in ways like these, the role cars play is put behind the curtain. The conversation then takes for granted that most public space will be devoted to the private automobile, and most people will travel by car.

If we can’t explicitly talk about problems and their causes, we can’t talk about fixing them. And if we can’t acknowledge the subtle ways in which our lexicon is inherently centered around cars, we can’t talk about the ways in which we’ve adapted our lives, and cities, to accommodate their costs.

21 May 23:21

What If You Behaved Like an Obnoxious Road Hog at the Supermarket?

by Angie Schmitt

This PSA, produced by the Norwegian government, does a brilliant job reminding people that the way you act behind the wheel affects everyone around you. Wouldn’t it be nice if people observed the same decorum driving a car on city streets as they do pushing a cart in the grocery store aisles?
30 Apr 01:07

Spotted: Coyote crossing at 37th Avenue & Geary

by Administrator

Photo by Jennifer Anwaya

Reader Jennifer A. spotted a coyote on Monday night, but not in Golden Gate Park, the Presidio or Lincoln Park where they’re usually seen.

This one was crossing the street at Geary and 37th Avenue. Maybe he was on his way to the Balboa Theater to see Captain America?

Sarah B.

02 Apr 02:13

Someone Did NOT Want Another Sister

25 Mar 20:45

Arthursday is here: Shintaro Ohata

by m e l i g r o s a
So poetic! ♥ found via mi longtime cyber/IRL friend Dave:
「さよなら三角」/ ''SAYONARA SANKAKU'', 2008, panting, polystyrene based sculpture

–Screenshots for showing+admiration purposes only–
Please visit Shintaro Ohata for viewing his beautiful work.
25 Mar 18:29

Who Pays for “Free” Park-and-Ride Parking?

by Angie Schmitt
Volker Neumann

true costs

Park-and-ride lots, writes Matt Steele at, are the “darling infrastructure of the transit planning profession.” In exchange for providing a parking spot at no charge to suburban commuters, says Steele, transit systems can increase ridership.

Suburban Minneapolis park-and-riders don't pay to park here, but their spots aren't free. Photo:

Suburban Minneapolis park-and-riders don’t pay to park here, but their spots aren’t free. Photo:

But “free” suburban parking isn’t such a sweet deal for everyone. Steele writes that a Metro Transit park-and-ride expansion at the Maplewood Mall station, outside Minneapolis, cost around $24,000 per space to build. Meanwhile, transit riders in the city proper continue to be shortchanged.

In Minneapolis, we’re lucky to have anything more than a sign at our transit stops. We have plenty of room for improvement for our local service. But we instead choose to binge on ridership growth on the fringe, no matter how much money it costs us to “buy” those riders. Yet there are opportunity costs: For less than the cost of two Maplewood park and rides serving up to (2×580=) 1160 parked cars, we’re building a full Arterial BRT line on Snelling Avenue scheduled to open next year. Those improvements will serve an estimated ridership of 8,700. And, unlike additional parking spaces, these amenities serve all riders (not just the 3,000 new ones). This is 7.5 times more productive than the same investment in parking.

Taking maintenance, lighting and other upkeep expenses into account, and considering that many spaces go unused, Steele says Maplewood Mall commuters would need to pay a $9.50 parking fee to cover costs.

“Suburban park and riders are clearly not paying $9.50 to park before paying an additional fare to get on the bus,” writes Steele. “Someone else is paying to subsidize their car storage habits. And you’re it.”

Elsewhere on the Streetsblog Network: Bike Portland reports that Elly Blue’s “Wheelwomen Switchboard” is up and running; a guest writer for NRDC Switchboard surveys the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, after a 25-year absence; and Copenhagenize discovers that playing in the streets of Los Angeles is actually against the law.

21 Mar 06:06

Rock Star or Comedian? Donald Shoup Takes His Parking Show to Berkeley

by Melanie Curry

“Parking is the single biggest land use in any city,” said UCLA Professor Donald Shoup to a packed house in Berkeley last night, “and it’s almost completely unmanaged.” At the same time, “zoning requires a space for every car but ignores the homeless. In our cities, free parking is more important than affordable housing.”

Professor Donald Shoup, the stand-up comic of parking.

Shoup entertained the crowd of public officials, developers, students, and community members with his signature witty observations on the irrational ways cities plan and price parking.

“Parking is free for us only in our role as motorist–not in our roles as taxpayer, employer, commuter, shopper, renter, as a homeowner. The cost of parking does not cease to exist just because the motorist doesn’t pay for it,” he told the rapt audience. They had all come to hear the “parking rock star” talk about parking.

Given his polished delivery of dry one-liners skewering American parking policy that kept the audience chuckling throughout the talk, it’s more accurate to call him the standup comic of parking. But it’s his simple, rational, and yet radical-to-many approach to the storage of cars that has earned him a growing fan base of “Shoupistas” throughout the state and the nation.

The event was sponsored by Transform, an Oakland-based advocacy group working for rational land use and transportation planning in California. Transform has taken Shoup’s work to heart, using the principles he proposes as a basis for their Green Trip program that seeks to convince cities to allow housing developers to replace overbuilt, expensive parking with alternatives like car share, bike parking, and transit passes.

Shoup had a great time poking fun at pretty much everyone, including himself. He compared himself to a cat, sniffing and marking the tires of parked cars, while most transportation planners he likened to dogs, “running after and trying to bite at cars as they drive down the road.”

“I thought I could find something useful if I studied what cars do for 95% percent of the time, which is park,” he said.

He made fun of planners. “No planner can claim to have any training in parking policy,” he said. “Planners are winging it.”

The American Planners Association’s “Parking Standards” book lists parking requirements for land uses that look sensible at first glance—until you look at the connection to people, he said. As he spoke, a list of minimum parking requirements appeared on the screen behind him. Barbershop: two spots per barber.

“There seems to be some gender disparity,” he said [Beauty Shop: three parking spots per beautician]. “Even in religions institutions [Convent: ten parking spots per nun. Church: three parking spots per clergyman], and when you don’t have people, you have to base it on something” [Swimming pool: one parking spot per 25,000 gallons].

In many cities the size of a building is dwarfed by the size of its required parking lot. Minimum parking requirements “look scientific,” said Shoup, “but they’re not—it’s just pseudo science.”

The house was packed

He poked fun at the huge parking lot outside the building where he spoke, the Ed Roberts Campus on the Ashby BART parking lot. “Most cities would think that was a good place for transit oriented housing,” he pointed out. “Instead, it’s a cheap parking lot for downtown workers.”

On the screen behind him, “Parking at Ashby BART: $2. Parking in downtown Berkeley [one stop away]: $15.” (The roundtrip fare is $3.70.)

He also made fun of a local group that protested changes in parking policies under SFpark, San Francisco’s attempt to apply some of Shoup’s principles on the ground. “[This group] is against foreign wars but for free parking at home,” he said, to knowing chuckles from the audience.

But “free parking for everybody reduces municipal funds and therefore public services, and poor people are less able to substitute private services for public services. Subsidizing free parking for everybody is not the best way to help the poor.”

Shoup elaborated on his three recommendations for parking sanity:

  1. Remove parking minimums
  2. Charge for curb parking
  3. Spend parking revenue on neighborhood services

His basic advice to planners: get out of the way and allow developers to build the amount of parking that makes sense.

“Getting out of the way would solve a lot of the problems that we as a society face. [Replacing parking lots with housing] could be the largest land reclamation project outside of the Netherlands. These are unplanned land reserves in places where we want it most.”

He pointed out that such a policy would increase housing supply, shorten commutes, lessen the need for cars, use less fuel, and lessen congestion.

And, he said, everyone should be behind it:

  • Liberals, because “it creates opportunities for new public spending.”
  • Conservatives: “It relies on markets rather than government regulation.”
  • Environmentalists: “It would lower carbon emissions.”
  • Businesses: “Parking becomes their decision, not something dictated by a planner who never learned one single thing about it in planning school.”
  • Libertarians: “It increases individual choice, and reduces regulations on land use.”
  • Developers: Decreased building and permitting costs.
  • Neighborhood activists: “There’s a nexus between funds and what they’re spent on” when parking fees are used to improve neighborhood services.”
  • Local politicians: “There is no more need for city council meetings until 3 am arguing about whether to increase parking fees by 25 cents.”

We all need to be a little more rational about the impacts parking is having on our cities. “People address parking as a personal issue, never as a policy issue,” he said. “I think people’s level of thinking regresses to a lower part of their brain—the reptilian brain, that we use for marking territory and mating, when they talk about parking.”

14 Mar 04:16

Does It Take a Crime This Egregious to Hold Drivers Accountable?

by Tanya Snyder

A driver trying to avoid a police check for drunk driving killed at least two people last night in Austin’s SXSW festival. Photo: CNN

A lively night out at one of the year’s most popular festivals turned to carnage last night as a driver rammed through barricades into a pedestrian-only zone at the South By Southwest music-and-film festival in Austin.

In an attempt to avoid a drunk-driving check by a police officer, the driver — allegedly driving a stolen car — killed two people and injured 23 others. Two are in critical condition and three are in serious condition. The driver — identified by the Austin American-Statesman as 21-year-old Rashad Charjuan Owens of Killeen, Texas — tried to get away on foot after the car crashed.

It’s a grim reminder of how dangerous automobiles can be. People tend not to think of their cars  — mundane tools of everyday life — as deadly weapons when they’re driving. But motorists kill 92 people a day in the United States. Fifteen of them are struck while walking or riding a bicycle.

Owens faces two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle for the mayhem he caused last night. Unfortunately, it takes an event this over-the-top to get law enforcement to prosecute drivers who kill. Last fall, a cabbie who drove up onto a sidewalk in Midtown Manhattan, severing a tourist’s leg, got off without even a citation. The driver — a repeat offender — only lost his taxi license for six weeks and now he’s free to drive the streets again.

Of the two people killed last night in Austin, one was a Dutch man riding a bicycle. In his home country, drivers are far more likely to face consequences for injuries and deaths they cause with their cars.

The Netherlands applies a concept called “strict liability” to motorists who hurt pedestrians or cyclists. In their civil courts, the operator of the larger vehicle is presumed to be liable.

That would end the driver’s common defense of “she came out of nowhere!” attorney Bob Anderton of Washington Bike Law told an audience at the National Bike Summit last week:

When the bicyclist or pedestrian is on her way to hospital, or worse, who’s there to explain what happened? The driver. [And the driver says], ‘Well she came out of nowhere!’ It can’t be the fault of the driver; she just jumped right out; she must have been going too fast; she must not have been lights — who knows? But it’s those crazy bicyclists.

In the Netherlands, Anderton said, drivers are liable for a crash unless they can prove it was caused by a force majeure — an act of God. If a person on a bike or on foot is deemed to have half the blame, she still recovers 75 percent of her damages. And if the cyclist or pedestrian is 14 years old or younger, even if the driver can prove force majeure, it’s still the driver’s fault.

Denmark’s law isn’t quite as comprehensive, but drivers are found fully liable in 90 percent of crashes with bicyclists. Even Iceland, known for a car culture of long roads in wide open spaces, holds drivers responsible for damage caused by their motor vehicle, period.

These laws aren’t just punitive. “We need laws that motivate motor vehicle drivers to avoid these collisions in the first place,” Anderton said.

Strict liability isn’t as unthinkable as it may initially seem here, in a country that is so accustomed to giving drivers the benefit of the doubt.

“Can we really do it? It’s not crazy,” said Anderton. “There’s something called the following car doctrine — which is not a statute but it’s common law — and the basic rule is, if you’re driving behind somebody and you run into them, you’re presumed to be at fault.”

The same holds true with dogs. “The question isn’t, ‘were you negligent in controlling your dog?’” Anderton said. “The question is, ‘is this your dog?’ If your dog bit my kid, you’re responsible for it. That’s strict liability.”

Adults are often even held responsible for damage caused by their minor children, on the assumption that it’s the parents’ duty to keep their kids in line. Given that teenagers have minds of their own and cars don’t, it seems only reasonable to apply at least that level of liability to cars.

11 Mar 17:06

March 01, 2014

10 Mar 00:36

Watch: N-Judah Riders Lift Car Out of the Way of Their Train

by Aaron Bialick

Maybe Muni ought to start paying riders for getting cars off metro tracks.

Last night, the N-Judah train I was on with my fiancee (whom I happened to meet on the N) was approaching the east portal of the Sunset Tunnel when my fellow riders and I spotted a set of tail lights up ahead. We pretty much all knew what it meant — another driver tried to enter the transit tunnel.

We all got out to find the woman’s car lodged on the edge of the concrete. Pretty soon, another train showed up headed in the other direction, and she was blocking Muni’s busiest line, both inbound and outbound. Fortunately, some good Samaritans from our train decided not to wait for a tow truck — seven men lifted the front of the car back on top of the ledge, allowing the woman to drive the car away (I don’t know if she got a citation).

Despite all of the signage and even raised bumps signaling “Do Not Enter,” drivers — especially drunk drivers — try to enter Muni tunnels surprisingly often. Haighteration posted a photo of folks lifting a drunk driver’s car at this same spot last June. I didn’t exactly examine the driver in my case, but she appeared sober as far as I could tell (she simply apologized repeatedly).

This is also not the first time I’ve personally encountered N-Judah riders moving a stuck car out of the way of their train. In 2012, I saw a group push a pickup truck off the tracks on Irving Street — the driver’s girlfriend apparently threw his keys out, and he had gone to try to find them.

There’s got to be a better way. Does the Muni-riding experience really have to include occasionally moving private automobiles out of the way with your bare hands?

02 Mar 02:50

The Problem With Speed Cameras That Don’t Catch Most Speeders

by Angie Schmitt

A few miles per hour can mean the difference between life and death for a pedestrian who is hit by a motorist. Image: PEDS Atlanta

Residents of urban neighborhoods across the country are increasingly advocating for lower speed limits and automated traffic enforcement. As the above graphic illustrates, the stakes are high for pedestrians.

But in some jurisdictions where speed cameras are in use, motorists can drive much faster than the speed limit without penalty. In New York, for instance, state lawmakers allow New York City to ticket drivers only when they exceed the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour.

Matt Johnson at Greater Greater Washington says speed cameras in his community nab only the extremely dangerous drivers, while people going 5 or even 10 mph over the limit don’t get caught:

In Maryland, speed camera tickets can only be issued to motorists going at least 12 miles per hour over the speed limit. That severely blunts the effectiveness of the cameras for saving lives.

In my neighborhood on the east side of Greenbelt, the city has installed speed cameras on 2 neighborhood streets near Eleanor Roosevelt High School. One of the cameras is near a well-used, mid-block crosswalk that many students use. The speed limit in these areas is 25 mph, which means that drivers have to be going 37 mph before they get a ticket.

A collision at 25 mph would be less than 50% likely to kill a pedestrian. But a collision at 37 mph would bring an almost 90% chance of death.

On Monday, I witnessed a driver flying down the street, well above the speed limit. But I wondered if he was even going fast enough to get a ticket from the speed camera. Even on a quiet neighborhood street, drivers in Greenbelt can go fast enough to cause almost certain death for pedestrians without fearing a speed camera ticket.

That’s the real effect of Maryland’s speed camera restrictions: It allows drivers some leeway, but puts vulnerable road users at risk.

The 12 mph rule is even worse, Johnson adds, because engineers already determine speed limits according to the 85th percentile rule, meaning they observe how fast people drive and set the limit at the speed that only 15 percent of motorists exceed.

Elsewhere on the Network today: City Block looks at how strict zoning stifles new housing in cities across the U.S. The Oregonian’s Hard Drive blog shares a guest column from a writer who was terribly shaken after viewing the aftermath of a fatal collision involving an elderly pedestrian. And Beyond DC says the best place for NFL stadiums is in the suburbs.

01 Mar 21:12

Car Alarms: San Francisco’s Most Needless Nuisance

by Aaron Bialick

Going by the notes left on this car parked on lower Haight Street in 2003, its alarm wasn’t exactly serving its intended purpose. Photo: jennconspiracy/Flickr

You’ll have to forgive me if this post sounds cranky. I lost some sleep last night when I was woken at 3:30 a.m. by a car horn that continuously blared from my neighbor’s house for 20 minutes. It was probably triggered by debris blowing in the storm.

Car alarms are not an uncommon sound in my apartment, since my building has a parking lot instead of what could be ground-floor apartments and/or a backyard. My street is also lined with autos parked along the curb and in “driveways” (illegally), so my neighbors and I are surrounded by noise bombs that could be detonated by the slightest touch or glitch.

There are a couple of remarkable things about car alarms — one is how numb we’ve become to them, and the other is how utterly useless they are. The two are related.

False alarms account for as much as 99 percent of events in which automobile anti-theft devices are triggered, according to two studies published in the 1990s by the New York State Legislature and the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law. Car alarms are largely ineffective at deterring professional thieves who know how to work around them.

So no one’s actually alarmed by them. People are mostly just annoyed.  ”An audible system is really just a noisemaker,” General Motors spokesman Andrew Schreck told NYC’s Transportation Alternatives in a 2003 report. “Most people, when they hear an alarm, they just walk the other way.”

Banning them seems like a no-brainer, though the legislative hurdles are apparently not insignificant. A TransAlt campaign to ban car alarms in NYC resulted in the passage of a 2004 City Council bill that included only ineffective measures.

Like NYC, San Francisco could — and should — be a much quieter place. I know if it weren’t for sounds from cars, I wouldn’t hear much other noise in my home. It’s not just some natural fact of “city life” — it’s a completely unnecessary byproduct of private automobile ownership, one that we’ve allowed to become inexplicably prevalent and persistent.

25 Feb 09:03

The Next Breakthrough for American Bike Lanes: Protected Intersections

by Angie Schmitt

As protected bike lanes become more widespread in the United States, creating physical separation from motor vehicle traffic that makes more people comfortable cycling on city streets, advocates are starting to push for even safer bikeway designs.

One area where the current generation of American protected bike lanes leaves something to be desired is intersections. How can streets be designed so cyclists can safely turn from the protected lane across oncoming traffic? And what’s the best way to reduce conflicts between cyclists continuing straight and drivers turning across the bikeway?

Dutch intersections solve this problem with a mix of physical protection and clever signal timing. Portland urban planner Nick Falbo has adapted those ideas for the above video and an accompanying website. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland explains why this could be groundbreaking:

The problem with protected bike lane (a.k.a. cycle track) designs in America is that they disappear at intersections. The favorite treatment of U.S. planners has been to create “mixing zones” where people in cars and people on bikes share the lane just prior to the corner. This design creates a weak link in the bikeway right where it should be its strongest. In contrast, cycle tracks in Dutch (and other) cities have dedicated space for cycling all the way to the corner and then bike-specific signals to get riders through safely.

With his protected intersections for bicyclists, Falbo is trying to translate that Dutch design into an American context. As you can see in the image [above], there are four key elements to the design: a corner refuge island, bicycle-friendly signal phasing, a forward stop bar, and a setback bicycle crossing.

While he’s obviously enthused about the benefits of this design and committed to moving this idea forward, Falbo acknowledges there are some major challenges to overcome like large truck movements, auto capacity impacts, and how to make the design work well for people who walk and/or use a mobility device.

Falbo intends to tackle these challenges and post updates on his design to, which he hopes will, “develop into a clearinghouse for exploration, examples, images, references related to the Protected Intersection design concept.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Beyond DC explains why the Silver Spring transit center in suburban Maryland is a terrible place for a park. Cincy Map uses street configurations to create a heat map of the most connected places in the Cincinnati region. And as St. Louis explores bus rapid transit, Urban Review STL weighs in the the best places for the service in the region.

17 Feb 18:57

The More Space SF Uses to Store Cars, the Less We’ll Have to House People

by Aaron Bialick

The Fifth and Mission parking garage. Can SF afford to continue devoting so much space to personal car storage? Photo: Sirgious/Flickr

What if San Francisco stopped adding car parking? The idea might sound a little odd to the average person, but when you look at where the city is heading, the really crazy scenario would be to keep on cramming more cars into our neighborhoods. Under current policies, SF is poised to build 92,000 spots for personal car storage by 2040, consuming an ungodly amount of space in our compact, 7-mile-by-7-mile city. At what point does it stop?

“If we were really serious about” curbing emissions and creating a livable city, “we would just cap it at zero right now,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco,” at a forum this week on San Francisco’s parking policies.

Henderson took the figure of 92,000 projected spaces from Plan Bay Area, which is supposed to start the region on a path toward smart growth, but still foresees a heavily car-dependent future in 25 years. The SF Transportation Plan, created by the SF County Transportation Authority, projects “total gridlock” within the same time frame unless the city makes serious changes to its car-centric land-use planning policies.

Although the move away from policies like minimum parking requirements, which mandate a certain number of cars per household in new buildings, is often framed as an ideological shift, Josh Switzky of the SF Planning Department says it’s simpler than that — there are physical limits to cramming cars into the city. “It’s about geometry,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to accommodate people more efficiently.”

In other words, there’s a finite amount of space in the city. Does it make any sense to squeeze thousands of additional cars into San Francisco when we’re still struggling to create enough space to house people? What are the full costs SF will absorb if it continues to build more infrastructure for cars?

As studies have shown, building parking leads to more driving — if you build it, they will come. Yet the Planning Department has never seriously considered a citywide parking cap. In fact, the closest the city has come to the concept is a recommendation in the Transbay Center District Plan to study an absolute limit on parking within that portion of SoMa, which is set to grow around a major hub for regional transit and high-speed rail.

That study, however, has no timeline or funding behind it. And much of the rest of the city still has minimum parking requirements for new development, though progress in recent years has been made in the eastern neighborhoods on abolishing minimums and setting parking maximums.

There’s not even a parking cap in the Market-Octavia Plan, which encompasses the area around Hayes Valley. According to Switzky, that land use plan is looked to nationally as a model for limiting parking. Created after the removal of the Central Freeway spur a decade ago as a guide for the development of newly-opened land, it contains some of the nation’s strictest maximum parking ratios — generally, 0.5 parking spaces per housing unit.

But like the rest of the city, the Market-Octavia Plan allows the expansion of car storage to scale infinitely with housing growth. There is no overall limit on new parking.

Unless plans and the priorities of our leaders change (lately, some supervisors have actually pushed for more housing for cars and less for people), San Francisco is destined to have worse congestion, less effective transit, and unlivable streets.

The point was powerfully conveyed by a quote Switzky cited from Allan Jacobs, once the head of the SF Planning Department, and a former professor of city planning at UC Berkeley: “No great city has ever been known for its abundant supply of parking.”

Streetsblog won’t be publishing on Presidents’ Day.

13 Feb 01:01

Can Snow Inspire Better Streets? It Already Has.

by Angie Schmitt

In Philadelphia, a snowy neckdown at Baltimore and 48th Street in 2011 inspired permanent upgrades to the pedestrian environment at the intersection. Photo courtesy of Prema Bupta

Sneckdowns are having a big moment. In case you’ve missed the viral blog posts and major press coverage, sneckowns (a contraction of “snowy neckdowns” popularized by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. and Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek) are leftover snow piles on city streets that show space that could easily be reclaimed for pedestrians.

As a visual tool, sneckdowns can be powerful. At least one city has already used snow formations as the inspiration for better streets.

After a winter storm in Philadelphia in 2011, snow piles became the basis for a major pedestrian upgrade at Baltimore and 48th Street in the University City District, according to Prema Gupta, the district’s director of planning.

Gupta said her organization, inspired by New York City’s example, was already looking around for potential spaces for pedestrian plazas when a staffer produced the above photo. ”That very quickly made the case that there’s right-sizing to do here,” she said. At the time, no one had heard the word “sneckdown.”

“For us it was just a really compelling way of showing there was way too much street and not nearly enough place for people,” she said.

Based on the snow patterns, the city produced a plan to expand pedestrian space at the intersection:

The plans

The final design was implemented this summer:

The finished result

After the recent snow storms this year, Gupta says, her organization has continued to search for unnecessary pavement “because it’s so obvious that there’s need here.”

It’s possible that we’ll soon be hearing similar stories from places all over the United States. Public officials in places like Raleigh and Boulder are getting in on the #sneckdown hashtag, soliciting sites for potential road diets via social media. Chances are, there are plenty of good examples of this wherever you live. It’s definitely worth Tweeting at or emailing your your photos of #sneckdowns to local officials.

04 Feb 01:07

Long-Delayed Polk Contra-Flow Protected Bike Lane Jumpstarted by DPW

by Aaron Bialick

DPW crews at work today on the contra-flow protected bike lane at Polk and Grove. Photo: SFBC/Facebook

In a surprising development, the Department of Public Works broke ground today on a contra-flow, protected bike lane on the two southernmost blocks of Polk Street, from Market to Grove Streets (at City Hall), which are currently one-way southbound. By Bike to Work Day, two of the city’s busiest bicycling streets are expected to be linked with the first bike lane in San Francisco to be protected with a landscaped median, against the flow of motor traffic.

The short but vital connection, first proposed by the city ten years ago and included in the SF Bike Plan, was threatened with yet another year of delay due to poor coordination and a missed contracting deadline. But DPW Director Mohammed Nuru was apparently convinced by the SF Bike Coalition that the project should become a top priority. The SFBC credits Nuru with kickstarting construction, said Executive Director Leah Shahum.

“When they see there’s a problem, there’s often more they can do to get things back on track, and they were able to do it in this case,” she said. “I can’t emphasize how important these two blocks are for so many people. This is going to be a game-changer for helping people ride where they need to go in a safer, more legitimate way.”

Currently, bicycle commuters have no legal way to turn from eastbound Market onto northbound Polk, except to travel a block ahead to Larkin, a one-way, heavily-trafficked three lane street with no bike lane. They must then turn left onto Grove to get back on to Polk.

To access the new contra-flow bike lane, which will replace an existing car parking lane, people bicycling on eastbound Market will have a new bike box to wait in at the intersection with 10th Street before making the turn on to Polk.

“With all the new developments, this is going to be a great way to connect a whole new community in mid-Market with the businesses on Polk Street,” said Shahum.

It’s important to note that the contra-flow lane project is being managed separately from the contested plans for partial protected bike lanes for Polk north of McAllister Street.

The existing southbound bike lane on the southern stretch of Polk will also be widened with a buffer zone and plastic posts on teh block south of Hayes Street, said DPW spokesperson Rachel Gordon. Since that bike lane runs between a parking lane and traffic lanes, it’s unclear if parking will be removed on that side of the street. No southbound bike lane improvements appeared in the Bike Plan design as of 2012, and they appear to be a recent addition.

The plan for a contra-flow bike lane on Polk at Market. New improvements to the existing southbound bike lane are not shown. Click to enlarge.

16 Jan 17:44

Bam! The Pakistani Safe Driving PSA That Says It All

by Angie Schmitt

It’s official. Safe driving PSAs made outside the U.S. are far, far better than anything you’ll find in a domestic media outlet. This latest example comes from The Frontier Post, an English language Pakistani news site.

The image, which appears to have been made by the newspaper’s advertising arm, is going viral on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand anti-speeding commercial we featured last week is up to almost 7 million views on YouTube. So, perhaps the good news for Americans who are concerned about traffic safety is that messages as strong as these may no longer need a major media platform to reach a large audience.

11 Jan 00:12

Why Pedestrians Sometimes Do “Stupid” Things

by Angie Schmitt

People are often blamed for doing “stupid” things while walking, like “darting out in front of cars.” Why would anyone “dart” in front of a moving vehicle? Seems strange. But that’s the way it could seem, if you’re driving past pedestrian crossings at high speeds.

When road conditions are hostile for walking, pedestrians have no choice but to take some risks. Image: Project for Public Spaces

Nathan at Carfree With Kids explains how poor street conditions for walking can lead to situations where people have no choice but to do something that looks risky. Citing his experience crossing a street in Providence, Rhode Island, on his daily commute, he shows how pedestrians’ behavior could be misunderstood by people behind the wheel:

Cars on these busy four-lane roads are not expecting pedestrians. They are moving quickly (I’d guess the average speed when traffic is moving well is 45 miles per hour). Even if one car sees you waiting to cross and stops, granting you right-of-way, cars coming behind will honk at that car and whip around in the next lane. I’ve gotten to the point in navigating these crossings, where I will stand on the sidewalk, 8-10 feet back from the intersection, avoiding eye contact with drivers so that none will be tempted to stop for me, because I know for certain other drivers will not stop. My safety, and likely the safety of the considerate driver who may be rear-ended, will be compromised if I too aggressively attempt to cross at these crosswalks.

So I stand there, averting my eyes, waiting for a clear gap in traffic across all four lanes. I’ve learned that that gap eventually comes, but at rush hour in the early evening, sometimes I have to wait a long time (multiple minutes, far longer than any vaguely reasonable light cycle). I’m often tempted to overestimate my ability to cross safely.

I do wait. I do cross safely. But I’ve seen multiple near misses at these intersections. And in these near misses, I’m certain that the driver was surprised and shocked by how “stupid” the pedestrian was who crossed in front of them. But every pedestrian I’ve seen in this situation (a) had the right of way (we were in a crosswalk!) and (b) had attempted to cross safely in an extremely difficult situation.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Green Lane Project says bike-share is contagious — after a city opens a system, nearby cities tend to follow. Urban Indy reports that clearing the Cultural Trail of snow in Indianapolis is a duty the city takes seriously. And Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage reflects on bike advocacy’s progress in Alaska’s largest city after a cyclist was killed.