Blog: August, 2011
Did the 1966 Market Street Design Report Invent Bus Rapid Transit?
SPUR’s basement archive is a treasure trove of vintage planning reports and books. To make these documents available in digital format, we are daylighting the more interesting artifacts on our blog. Today’s find: Market Street Design Report Number 4, published May 9, 1966.
This 50-page report (which was probably considered detailed back in those days), written for the City of San Francisco by Mario J. Ciampi & Associates and John Carl Warnecke & Associates, addressed how to accommodate the anticipated rise in pedestrian, public transit, service vehicle and automobile traffic on Market Street after the completion of BART, then under construction. (Interestingly, in 1966 bike circulation was not taken into account when attempting to improve mobility on Market Street.) Just like today, the Market Street of 1966 was not living up to its potential. In fact, the report quotes then-Mayor John Shelley, who asks, “Why cannot we have a Great Market Street… a place people will come from all over the world to see?” Forty-five years later, San Franciscan are still asking the same question, as we do in the current issue of the Urbanist.
So what was the vision for Market Street after the completion of BART way back when? The report offers five different designs, or “circulation plans,” all of which call for widening sidewalks and reducing roadway widths. One of the five caught our eye: It called for two traffic lanes, one pedestrian island and 2 lanes for the exclusive use of buses. Sounds an awful lot like bus rapid transit, (BRT) doesn’t it?
In fact this may be the earliest BRT plan on record. As the urban planning/public transit historians among you know, the first BRT system was implemented in Curitiba, Brazil in 1974 — eight years after the release of this report.
This circulation plan with dedicated bus lanes favored public transit and pedestrian circulation, but unfortunately it was not meant to be. Forty-five years ago, dedicated bus lanes would have made traffic conditions worse on Market Street. “How could this be?” you might ask. According to the report, this was the only plan that was not able to accommodate 1966 traffic circulation, so the anticipated traffic increase resulting from BART would have overwhelmed Market Street. The report also went on to say that any spillover of private automobiles and buses would have diverted too much traffic to the already overburdened adjacent streets. In addition, the report offers a lackluster (but perhaps true) reason for not embracing a Market Street that would favor public transit: “…bus operations are still questionable.” Plenty of people today still have the same exact sentiment.
New Map Shows NYC's Potential for Solar Power
Across the country, cities have realized the urgent need to invest in renewable energy sources. Solar panel installations in San Francisco have grown from 551 in 2007 to more than 2,400 today, largely due to city, state and federal incentives for residents and businesses. New York City hopes to have the same success by launching the New York City Solar map to help people understand the benefits of going solar and taking advantage of available incentives.
The map was created by the City University of New York (CUNY) using airplanes equipped with lasers that gathered images and data. The laser setup, which is called Lidar, was able to determine the size, shape and angles of every roof in all five boroughs of New York City. The map also calculates any shading that each roof could experience due to trees, buildings or others fixtures, which may impact where the solar panels should be placed. New York residents can type in their address to see their house’s solar potential, how big a system they should install and their expected monthly savings in energy and money. CUNY says that 66.4 percent of the buildings in the city have rooftops with the potential for solar panels. If all of these rooftops harnessed energy from the sun, about half of the city’s energy demand during peak hours would be met. This map — along with more incentives and public awareness — is a step closer to replacing the city’s dependence on fossil fuels with solar energy.
San Francisco has had a solar map since 2007. The San Francisco solar map, like the New York City one, shows existing solar panel systems throughout the city as well as solar water heating systems. When a resident types in their address, not only can they find out if the building is a good candidate for solar panels, but also for solar water heating. Solar water heating is an especially good choice for multi-family buildings — so predominant in San Francisco — because the owner of the building usually has only one water meter. Solar electric panels may be more complicated because each unit in a building pays a separate electric bill, raising the question: Who benefits from solar generated on the limited rooftop area of a multi-unit building? Changes to state regulation may soon allow for virtual net metering, which can credit multiple meters with the output from solar panels. The SF Department of the Environment is also looking at how community solar programs could allow residents in multi-family buildings, or simply homes without good solar access, to purchase a stake in solar systems off-site and have their portion of the system’s output credited to their account.
In addition to state and federal incentives, the City of San Francisco offers local rebates for going solar. The San Francisco solar map is helpful because it provides a visual of all possible incentives and how much the home or business owner will need to pay for the system. The highest level of incentives are reserved for people who use a solar energy company based in San Francisco that partakes in San Francisco’s workforce development program. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development provides a list of certified installers. Between incentives and these new maps depicting property-tailored information, U.S. cities can make an environmental difference by tapping into their solar energy assets, and look to San Francisco and New York as models.
A Walk Down Market Street
For the July issue of the Urbanist — on how to transform Market Street — we asked Jeffrey Tumlin, principal at transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard, to take us on a tour of Market Street's history. To learn about plans for Market Street today, read the July Urbanist.
In 1847, Captain John Montgomery’s band of occupying forces gave the scruffy Mexican settlement of Yerba Buena a new name, San Francisco, claiming the town for the United States and bringing its population to just under 500 souls. California wouldn’t officially be part of the United States until the following year, yet its citizens had ambitions. Despite the lack of a freshwater source or year-round overland connections, San Francisco’s leaders decided they needed a new street and block plan to accommodate the slow but steady stream of new immigrants. They hired hard-drinking Irishman Jasper O’Farrell to do the job. One of O’Farrell’s challenges was to resolve the north-south street pattern established by the Spanish with the southerly settlement of Happy Valley, whose streets branched off Yerba Buena Cove at a northeast-to-southwest angle. His solution: Market Street, named in honor of William Penn’s Market Street in Philadelphia. Certain that San Francisco would one day be grander than bustling Philadelphia, O’Farrell made our Market Street 120 feet wide — 20 feet wider than Philly’s. Platted for only six blocks, Market aimed ambitiously across the sand dunes for Los Pechos de la Choca, “the Breasts of the Maiden,” which we now call Twin Peaks.
With the discovery of gold in 1848 and a huge influx of immigrants in 1849, San Francisco boomed, and the overscaled 120-foot grand boulevard became less absurd and more practical, connecting the Ferry Building to growing neighborhoods via horse-drawn streetcar, then four clattering cable cars. But growth was interrupted in April of 1906, when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck two miles offshore. After three days of raging fires, an estimated 250,000 people were homeless and 514 city blocks were destroyed. Almost everything on Market Street burned, from Van Ness Avenue to the Embarcadero. Lotta’s Fountain, one of the few remaining structures on Market Street, emerged as a gathering place and bulletin board where the lost and dispossessed left notes in hopes of reuniting with loved ones.
San Franciscans quickly rebuilt their beloved city after the disaster, and Market Street grew as the center of action like never before. The horse-and-buggy era faded, and electric streetcars replaced cable cars on Market Street. By the1920s, Market Street was renowned as one of the great streets in the world.
But the 1950s and ’60s were disastrous for cities throughout the United States, and while San Francisco suffered less than most, Market Street went into decline. Suburban attitudes oforder, separation and automobile accommodation were inflictedupon Market Street, unintentionally worsening conditions forurban success. In 1963, the grand Fox Theatre was destroyed to make way for the bleak, empty, windswept spaces of Fox Plaza.
As the decline continued, every decade saw a radical new plan for “saving” Market Street, including SPUR’s 1962 plan for monorails and sunken hanging gardens down the middle of the street.
One of those grand ideas, the BART system, opened in 1972 after six years of disruptive construction tore up Market Street.
The construction of the Embarcadero Freeway, perhaps San Francisco’s most unfortunate piece of transportation infrastructure, compounded Market’s troubles in the late 1950s.
But the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake gave the city the opportunity to rethink this choice and replace the unfriendly overpass with a public plaza.This urban-planning success story offers inspiration for future transformations that could restore Market Street to its proper stature.