Blog: September, 2010
Valencia Streetscape Improvements [Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
Bike Sharing Expands in Washington: The nation's capital is setting a positive transit example with its rapidly expanding bike-share program that has grown tenfold over the past couple of years. Influenced by DC's success, neighboring cities are now adopting similar bike-share programs.
Garbage Mountains Slowly Morph into $160 Million New York Park: One of the country's largest landfills may someday become one of New York's greatest parks. Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, which served as city waste-center and eyesore for more than half a century, is slowly being converted into what will eventually be the second largest park in NYC.
A Rift Over Transit-Housing Plan: Long Island developers are turning to transit-oriented development (TOD) as a way to cure the Island's "suburban woes" as well as making the area appealing to younger and lower-income residents. However, local opposition against density is keeping plans such as these from taking shape.
Cities Lead the Way in Action to Halt Climate Change: Author Michael Coren suggests that cities and local governments will be much more effective in halting climate change than federal or international government, because the rate of growth and change within a city can allow for serious climate innovation, and timely implementation.
Paris Offers Water with Bubbled, but No Bottles: In an ongoing attempt to green Paris, the city has now installed free sparkling-water fountains with the hopes of curbing residents' bottled water consumption.
PARK(ing) Day 2010
PARK(ing) Day 2010 was a resounding success -- at SPUR, in San Francisco and around the world. SPUR's PARK(ing) spot used milk crates, giant wooden spools, house plants and a colorful painted canvas to transform two parking spaces in front of the Urban Center into a delightful urban park. Friends of the Urban Forest kindly donated trees; Rebar lent us Bushwaffle and a section of their Walklet (both featured in our current exhibit, DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change). Stay tuned for our time-lapse video of the event.
All photos by Colleen McHugh.
Parklet Request for Proposals Announced by SF Planning Department
The Divisadero Street parklet in front of Mojo Cafe.
Last Friday at a noontime forum at SPUR, the San Francisco Planning Department announced the release of a Request For Proposals for parklets, due October 18. Anyone interested in installing a parklet in front of your business or institution should download the application and program overview here. Pass along the information to businesses and other institutions that you think could be good parklet hosts. October 18th is right around the corner!
Spearheaded by the Planning Department's Pavement to Parks Program, parklets offer a unique opportunity to widen a sidewalk, providing public space for people to sit and relax. The SPUR forum was designed to help business owners and other potential applicants learn more about the parklet RFP.
- To learn more about existing parklets, click here.
- To learn more about the impact of parklets, click here.
For any questions or information, e-mail Kit Hodge at kit AT sfgreatstreets DOT org. The SF Great Streets Project is a collaboration between SPUR and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
If a parklet isn't the right fit for you, consider a bike parking corral, which provides on-street bike parking in front of businesses and organizations that expect significant bike traffic. The City installs corrals at no cost to the applicant, but you are expected to provide ongoing maintenance. Download the simple application here. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency accepts applications on a rolling basis.
Datablog: What it Takes to Get There
Click to enlarge Commute times to zip code 94105 (SOMA) in San Francisco
To the dismay of many a futurist envisioning the world in 2010, the vast majority of people commute significant distances to their jobs. Although the recent recession has led to reduced vehicle miles traveled, the average American still commutes 46 minutes a day. And while we don't always have a choice about where we work and live, commuting reflects both the successes and limitations of our transportation network and our housing supply. This interactive map, created by Harry Kao, uses the familiar google maps layout to shed light on commuting times across the nation.
How to use it: This commuting map is simple. Before starting you are prompted to enter the zip code of where you commute. With that basic information, a screen displays multiple red dots, each dot represents another zip code, with the size of dot corresponding to the percentage of commuters. If you click on the dot you are informed as to the average commute time from that destination and, how long it takes for people to commute to that destination.
The data: This project used data that was gathered from the 2000 Census. While the American Community Survey data is more recent, Kao needed more detailed figures to produce this map. Routes and transit times are taken directly from the google maps API.
What it is: At its core, this map reflects the theoretical distance/time that it takes to travel to work by car. It is however, unable to capture a key component of real commute time, traffic. According to Kao, "the census dataset has detailed stats on when people leave and when they arrive but there's not quite enough information to link the times with the endpoints." By assuming travel during non-peak hours, Kao concedes that most commute times are underestimates. This fact cant be ignored because driving, the mode of travel selected in this interactive map, feels the marginal impact of traffic more than the other modes of transportation.
Sample zip codes:
Chicago: 60601 (City Hall)
New York: 10005 (Wall Street)
San Francisco: 94105 (SOMA)
Houston: 77019 (Downtown)
- Chicago and San Francisco have a relatively similar commuting time pattern, with a few zip codes that register miniscule times and a significant disparity in time for the outlying neighborhoods.
- Commuting times stay considerably more consistent in New York
- It takes 70% of commuters to the 94105 zip code (SOMA) less than the average commute time.
- 57.5% of people travel less than the average commute to Houston's downtown
Cars and Cities: The removal of the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle has the potential to pave the way for transit innovation. However, its proposed replacement, an underground freeway, would leave little room for new transit ideas, and might reinforce car dependence.
Once Celebrated Ambassador Hotel Finds New Life as a School: The Ambassador Hotel, a Los Angeles landmark, is now being converted into six different state-of-the-art schools for inner-city students.
Waco Embraces Growth and New Urbanism: Tired of being known as "Texas's largest bathroom break," the formerly planning-conservative town of Waco is now embracing "new urbanism" in the form of increased walkability and green building to reawaken its sleepy downtown.
Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity to build 5,000 Green Homes: Habitat for Humanity and the Home Depot have paired up with the hopes of building 5000 green homes in under five years. With 1,800 houses already built, and 2,400 to be constructed, the partners are well on their way to completing their goal.
Perks for Pedaling: Knowing that a good worker is a healthy one, many companies in Oregon have started offering hefty benefits to employees who bike to work, rather than drive.
PARK(ing) Day is Tomorrow! Print out our Map of Participating Sites
PARK(ing) Day is a yearly, worldwide event that encourages urban residents to transform parking spots into temporary public spaces.
SPUR's PARK(ing) Day map includes particpating PARK(ing) sites, as well as a detailed list of spots. Download the pdf here to print out your own copy.
Crosstown Bicycling Could Become Realistic Option for San Francisco Residents Aged "8 to 80"
What would it take to transform San Francisco into a world-class bicycling city? More bike racks? More designated green lanes? Fewer hills? San Francisco is already one of the premiere biking cities in the country: bicycling has increased over 50% since 2006, and last year saw over 8,000 bicyclists on the city's streets. San Francisco was recently ranked the sixth most bike-friendly city in America.
But most San Francisco residents are not riding their bicycles. Last week's lunch forum, "Crosstown bikeways," hosted by Andy Thornley and Renee Rivera of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, posed the question: "What is it going to take to get your neighbors, boss, coworkers and in-laws to ride bikes?"
The SF Bicycle Coalition publicly debuted its "Connecting the City" campaign at SPUR last week, featuring routes that would allow residents to cross the entire city by bike. Borrowing a slogan from Gil PeÃ±alosa, the visionary livable city advocate (as well as former Parks Commissioner of BogotÃ¡, Colombia), Rivera and Thornley spoke of improving the city's bike network to make bicycling across town a real possibility for citizens aged "eight to 80."
Appealing to families, senior citizens and children, (not necessarily the dominant demographic in urban bicycling), the SF Bicycle Coalition made a strong case for creating new bikeways and elevating the existing routes with improvements like green paint and soft barriers against traffic. As Thornley pointed out regarding the overwhelming enthusiasm for Market Street's new experimental green lanes, "a little bit of space designation goes a long way."
Among the proposed priority bikeways are the "Bay to the Beach" route, extending from the Ferry Building, continuing down Market Street, through Golden Gate Park to the coast, and the "Bay Trail," which extends around the entire shoreline from Hunters Point to the Presidio.
A suggested improvement of the Valencia Street bike lane would move the lanes from the curbsides to the middle of the street, allowing bicyclists to avoid idling vehicles and other obstacles. The Coalition also proposed a bridge extending around Black Point in Fort Mason, so that bicyclists and pedestrians alike could avoid climbing the steep hills there.
But perhaps most essential to the Connecting the City campaign is its vision of a bike network as a multi-layered system that includes transit, pedestrians, and even cars. A representative from the SFMTA cited the need to "get out of the bikes versus cars talk" and "reframe the debate" as necessary for pushing through a city-spanning bike network. Most car advocates probably haven't considered that more bicycling means fewer cars on the road — and less traffic.
Although the SFMTA voted to adopt the 2009 San Francisco Bike Plan, a five-year master plan adding 34 miles of new lanes and 60 overall improvement projects, the Connecting the City campaign focuses on routes that would allow San Franciscans to bike from one end of the city to the other.
By next year the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hopes to make three miles of "eight to 80" bike lanes available to the citizens of San Francisco, with the entire crosstown route completed by 2012, and 10% of trips in the city made by bicycle.
A rendering of proposed bike lanes down the middle of Valencia Street.
A bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians around Black Point.
[All images via San Francisco Bicycle Coalition]
San Jose Then and Now
Many who joined the latest SPUR study trip to San Jose were impressed to see how much the city has changed physically in the past few decades. These changes have helped accommodate considerable population growth - San Jose grew from under 100,000 residents in 1950 to 460,000 in 1970 to nearly 800,000 today. According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, San Jose will add approximately 400,000 more people from now until 2035, which will no doubt result in even more dramatic physical changes in the city. Many of these changes also reflect the city's attempts to transform itself from a suburban auto-oriented place to a vibrant, dense, transit rich city.
Santa Clara Street at Fourth looking East, 1975 and 2006. [All photos via Buena Vista Neighborhood Association]
Market Street at San Fernando looking southeast, 1975 and 2006. The Circle of Palms and the Fairmont Hotel are in the background.
Market Street between San Carlos and San Fernando looking east down the Paseo de San Antonio, 1975 and 2006.
For those of us who can't make it to San Jose or don't remember what it used to look like, The Buena Vista Neighborhood Association has compiled side by side "then and now" photographs from 1975 and 2006. This is a great website to explore for anyone interested in San Jose, transportation infrastructure, or historic preservation. There are links to other websites which show then and now photographs of aerial views of the city, its homes, and public buildings. Also be sure to check out the City of San Jose Planning Division Envision San Jose 2040 website to see how they are planning to address future growth.
And of course, check out "Retrofitting suburbia -- San Jose style," written for the August Urbanist about lessons learned from the San Jose Study trip!
Exploring future job centers of the Bay Area: Mission Bay as urban tech park
Across the Bay Area, only one in 10 commuters takes transit to work each day. And half of those transit commuters go to one job center: downtown San Francisco. But since most work is outside of downtowns, SPUR is trying to understand a little more about emerging suburban and non-downtown job centers. This post is the first in an occasional series that will look at the Bay Area's evolving and emerging business districts. For each employment district, we will ask four main questions:
The Location: Where is this place located? How far or near to major transit? And how large from one end to the other?
The Plan: What was the planning vision for this place? Was it master-planned? Did it grow up organically?
The Market: What kinds of jobs and companies are located there?
The Commute: How are workers getting to their jobs each day and why?
In this first edition, we will take a closer look at San Francisco's Mission Bay, an emerging neighborhood and job center surrounding a new UCSF campus.
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
The Location: Mission Bay takes up about 303 acres of land along San Francisco's eastern waterfront just south of AT&T Park. Most of the jobs are about half a mile or more from the 4th and King Caltrain station and over a mile and a half from the Powell Street BART station in downtown. The neighborhood is being built on former Southern Pacific rail yards, and is bounded by the I-280 freeway on the west, King Street on the north, Mariposa Street on the south, and the San Francisco Bay on the east.
[This post will focus largely on the neighborhood's job center, which is located in the southern part of Mission Bay]
This area is served by Muni's T light-rail line, which connects it to Bayview in one direction, and the Market Street Corridor (and BART) in the other. There is also access to Caltrain, with the 4th and King terminus about a half-mile away from the center of the development.
The Plan: Mission Bay is a master-planned development. The site's design, zoning, and layout are detailed in plans approved by the City's Redevelopment Agency, and the private developer, Catellus Development.* Over the 303 acres, the plan lays out the maximum development figures:
- 6,000 residential units
- 4.4 million square feet of office space
- 2.6 million square foot UCSF campus
- 500,000 square feet of retail, and a 500-room hotel
- 41 acres of public open space, both along Mission Creek and along a boulevard in the development's center
In all, current plans for office space in the area should accommodate about 14,000 jobs, in addition to 9,100 expected at the UCSF campus. This means that the entire development will house about 76 jobs per acre.
The Market: The ability to design and implement a master plan also allows the Redevelopment Agency to influence the types of jobs brought to Mission Bay. Many planned job centers target a variety of industries, but Mission Bay's focus is very clear: biotech. In fact, 92% of the office space in the area is planned to be used by biotechnology companies, though there are other large tenants, such as Gap Inc., (whose Old Navy subsidiary has made 285,000 square feet in Mission Bay its headquarters).
The biotech sector got its start in the Bay Area, largely due to UCSF's presence, but South San Francisco, home to Genentech, had long been the dominant location for firms and jobs. The sector has begun to grow in the city, however, and San Francisco is hoping that offering its amenities along with access to the region's three large research centers (UCSF, UC Berkeley, and Stanford) will build on this growth.
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
There are two main factors leading to the emergence of biotech in San Francisco, and Mission Bay specifically:
- Having the UCSF Mission Bay campus as an anchor tenant: UCSF has long acted as a biotech magnet for the region, and the new campus puts the university's research activities within walking distance of firms moving into Mission Bay, a level of access that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. The UCSF presence also has the advantage of giving the neighborhood a substantial population and public center early in its development.
- Passing a biotech tax incentive: In order to compete with other centers like South San Francisco and Emeryville, San Francisco passed a seven and a half year payroll tax exemption for biotech firms in 2004, and this year modified the legislation to allow firms to qualify for the exemption regardless of when they apply for it. This exemption is relatively cheap, costing just under $1 million in foregone taxes between 2004 and 2008, compared to total payroll tax receipts of $1.63 billion.
The City's strategy has met with some success, as noted in a December 2009 report from San Francisco's Office of the Controller:
In 2000, San Francisco had only 1.3% of the total life sciences occupied building base in the Bay Area. The figure declined during the recession in the early part of this decade, but did not begin to rise until 2005, after the exclusion went into effect in September 2004. Subsequently, the percentage has risen each year, peaking in 2009 at 6.1% of the regional total, approximately a five-fold increase over the city's share in 2004. Estimates suggest there could be 2,750 life science jobs in San Francisco, up from only 500 in 2004.
The Commute: As discussed above, Mission Bay has direct access to Muni's T-Third light rail, which runs through the center of the development. Additionally, workers in the neighborhood have access to Caltrain at the development's northwestern edge (the 4th and King station can also be accessed via Muni). While the 280 freeway acts as a barrier to walkability, the area is connected to the rest of the city via the street grid, allowing some commuting via walking and cycling.
But as in most job centers, many workers arrive via car. Parking allowances are higher than those in the downtown core; for example, a 250,000 sqft office building in downtown would have about 100 spaces, compared to 250 for a similar office building in Mission Bay, or 500 spaces for a biotech office building.
Precise commute data for Mission Bay is not available yet. But projections from UCSF for its campus indicate a possible mix of modes, with about half of faculty, staff, and students expected to arrive via auto, compared to 32% on transit, and 14% walking or biking. While the driving rates are higher than downtown San Francisco, they are lower than many other job centers in the region.
As we continue this occasional blog series on Bay Area job centers, we'll see how those other places stack up.
*Catellus Development is a real-estate spinoff of the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation, the railroad company that owned the railyards that now comprise Mission Bay.
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]