Blog » transportation
- July 30, 2010BY JON ROGERS
Taking the guess work out of parking. That's what SFMTA's innovative new parking program, SFpark, aims to accomplish. When implemented, the program will dramatically change how drivers locate and pay for parking.
A new SFpark "smart meter" [Photo Credit: flickr user SFMTA_sfpark]
Here's a quick breakdown of how SFpark works:
- Sensors located in parking spaces and City-owned garages will track real-time parking availability
- This information will be uploaded to the SFpark data feed which will be publicly available so people can easily find an open space
- Drivers will access this information through smart phone applications, SFpark.org, and street signs
After drivers find an available parking space, they will find new parking meters that accept coins, credit and debit cards, or SFMTA parking cards.
SFpark is putting those sensors and parking meters to work for another good use: variable pricing. The more parking spaces available, the lower parking costs will be. The fewer parking spaces available, the higher parking costs will be. Basically, SFpark will use technology to direct drivers to park where there is a lot of availability and encourage shorter parking durations where available parking is more limited.
Aside from making it easier for drivers to find and pay for parking, SFpark promises a variety of other benefits. Circling for parking represents about 30% of driving in San Francisco. By reducing the need to drive around for parking, there will be fewer cars on the road. This will make our streets quieter and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, reduce air pollution, and speed up buses.
Despite these expected benefits, one area that may be cause for concern is decreased revenue from parking tickets. The city currently brings in about $17 million a year from tickets for expired meters. However, the new parking payment options will make it easier for drivers to avoid tickets, which will likely decrease ticket revenues. It remains to be seen if the new revenues from higher parking rates during peak times will be enough to offset the expected loss of expired meter revenue. Although not an explicit goal of SFpark, any decrease in revenues will be cited by SFpark's opponents given the city's current fiscal problems. This points to a larger problem with implementing any innovative program in today's economic environment: any policy will be judged through a short-term fiscal lens, even if the policy accomplishes long-term city goals.
Installation of 190 new parking meters in Hayes Valley will begin on July 27, 2010 -- the first step in implementing the SFpark program. All told, about 5,000 new meters will replace old meters in SPpark pilot areas, including Downtown, the Marina, the Fillmore, SoMa, the Mission, Civic Center, and Fisherman's Wharf.
Map of SFpark area:
[Map courtesy of sfpark.org]
SFpark will be testing its new parking management system at 6,000 of San Francisco's 25,000 metered spaces and 12,250 spaces in 15 of 20 City-owned parking garages. The pilot phase of SFpark will start this summer and run for two years.Tags: transportation
- Sensors located in parking spaces and City-owned garages will track real-time parking availability
- July 28, 2010BY EMILY EHLERS
As California lays the high-speed rail groundwork, SPUR continues its series on international precedents. While France built high-speed rail two decades after Japan and within a different state apparatus, the system had remarkably similar results: growth and concentration. France teaches us that a state investment in high-speed rail (HSR) can have major impacts on places that are isolated and suffering from lagging economic performance. The examples of Lille, an old industrial and mining center in northern France, and Nantes, south of Paris, are often cited as success stories.
Euralille [Photo Credit: flickr user savourama]
Lille is an important crossroads in the European HSR network with service to London, Paris and Brussels. Once a quickly depopulating and gritty industrial city, Lille has diversified into knowledge-intensive, service-producing activities. Euralille, the new retail, business and conference center designed by Dutch powerhouse architect, Rem Koolhaas and OMA, is illustrative of the makeover. Euralille straddles Lille's two main railway stations. A standalone city, it houses productive facilities as well as affordable housing. In 1994, Architectural Review dubbed Euralille the "Instant City."
Equally unrecognizable change has befallen Nantes. An industrial port city in the 19th century, in the past 30 years Nantes has developed into a major service sector hug. In 2004, Time magazine named Nantes "the most livable city in all of Europe." The TGV, France's high speed rail network, came to Nantes concurrently in 1981.
The success of the TGV cannot be separated from France's institutional and planning framework. The determination and capacity of a strong French state was instrumental. The nation owns and provides operational subsidies to SNCF, the HSR operator.
[Photo Credit: flickr user Julka2009]
However, this is not to say that localities have no role in high speed rail. In recent years, local government has played a more important role in France. Vis-Ã -vis joint development agreements and direct development subsidies, French localities have exerted pressure to densify around TGV stations. Cities also set the purchase price of land and assemble properties to facilitate development. Lille approached station area development with public private partnerships in mind. Part of the key to Nantes' and Lille's success is the not insignificant recent investment in transit feeder networks that connect high speed rail with outlying areas. Not including Paris, there are 20 light rail systems in France, most built after HSR. Of these 20 systems, 18 are in cities with HSR service. At least in France, the concentration of travel demand thanks to high speed rail and the urban location of most stations have generated a consequent demand for feeder transit, with the usual array of environmental and land use benefits.
All told, the public sector bet that HSR investment would be sufficient to catalyze urban growth and induce private investments. They were right.
- HSR in France is largely a product of the government's building, operating, maintaining the network.
- Local planning and development incentives can play a huge role in sparking station area development.
- HSR can transform decaying cities into the most livable in Europe.
- HSR ridership increases with robust feeder transit.
In the coming weeks, we'll look at "HSR" in the United States and United Kingdom drawing conclusions about what it all means in the California context.
SPUR's policy paper on high-speed rail is due out this fall.
- July 27, 2010BY ED PARILLON
Geary Boulevard runs almost the entire width of San Francisco, from Market to the ocean. The name of the street hides a lot of history — John White Geary was the first mayor of San Francisco post-statehood, and he would go on to govern Kansas during its "Bloody Kansas" period in the buildup to the Civil War. But that's a matter for another post though — this post is about forgotten transportation.
Today, the traffic on Geary reflects San Francisco's dual nature. On the one hand, this is a town that depends heavily on transit, and the 38-Geary is one of the busiest bus lines in the country (the busiest in the western half of the country by some estimates). On the other, the street's design, especially through the Western Addition, clearly prioritizes heavy private auto traffic, as evidenced by the two underpasses (below Fillmore and Masonica). Below is an east-facing picture from the Webster Street pedestrian bridge in Japantown:
[Photo Credit: flickr user flowertai]
Before the 1950s, though, Geary was home to a number of Muni streetcar lines, also with heavy ridership. Like a number of other lines throughout San Francisco, these fell victim to Muni's move to buses through the middle of the last century. So today there's no sign that Geary was home to some of the city's earliest Muni streetcar lines: the A-Geary ran from downtown to Golden Gate Park (at 10th Avenue), and the B-Geary ran to the ocean, terminating at Playland at the Beach, the former amusement park on Ocean Beach. The density found in even the western reaches of the Richmond today is thanks in part to these streetcars and the mobility they offered. Coming just six years after the devastation of the 1906 earthquake, they helped to hurry along the westward reconstruction of the city in the 1910s and 20s.
[Photo Credit: flickr user telstar]
Unfortunately for railfans, the city decided to switch over to cheaper bus transportation during the 1950s. Some streetcars like the H-Potrero serving Potrero Hill were canceled due to low ridership, but ultimately the city replaced almost all its rail, even on heavily trafficked Geary. The only lines that survived this switch were those with special rights-of-way, leaving us with the five Muni Metro lines we have today. Meanwhile, Geary was "upgraded" to accommodate the automobile, with additional lanes, underpasses on Fillmore and Masonic, and freeway-style exit ramps. As with elevated rail teardowns in New York, San Franciscans were promised a restored and improved form of rail transportation. During the 1960s, the plan was to construct a Geary branch of the BART regional system:
[Photo Credit: flickr user Eric Fischer]
These plans fell through when Marin County elected not to join BART. But plans to bring rail to Geary persisted, with proposals for a Muni Metro subway down Geary and streetcars down California and Balboa Streets appearing in planning documents as late as 1974.
[Photo Credit: flickr user Eric Fischer]
Unfortunately, failure to find funding and pass ballot measures doomed these proposals, and Geary (despite being a relatively dense corridor) was left with local and express bus service that -- though robust -- is limited in its capacity.
On the bright side, the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards transit in the Bay Area, among the plans getting a lot of attention is a proposal to build bus rapid transit along the Geary corridor. While this would not have the speed or capacity of a subway, it would still represent an improvement for getting to the northwestern reaches of the city. The plans currently call for a 2015-16 completion, but they're meeting some local resistance. In an additional ironic twist, the overpasses that made the street more like a freeway are also conspiring to make the BRT plans more complicated. According to Kamala Kelkar for the The Examiner:
Three options exist for dealing with [intersections with overpasses], which include Fillmore Street and Masonic Avenue: have the pedestrians cross three lanes of speedy traffic at a crosswalk underneath the bridges, have them exit on either end of tunnels and walk to their transfers and shopping, or have the buses stay aboveground, which could sacrifice up to 300 parking spots between Van Ness and 33rd avenues, according to documents from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the local agency in charge of the BRT.
Hopefully the city can see its way past these roadblocks and bring more transit to Geary — and maybe even a rail line in the medium-term. (Even the idea for a BART line underneath Geary resurfaced in a 2006 Regional Rail Plan alternatives analysis.) But in the meantime, the focus should be on bringing speedier transit, namely bus rapid transit. SPUR's take on the Geary BRT project is available here.
- July 15, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
[Photo Credit: flickr user Sam Williams]
Earlier this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) unanimously adopted new air quality guidelines related to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and particulate matter (PM 2.5) from land use projects. The comprehensive new guidelines, among the most stringent in the nation, address the impacts of air pollutants, as well as recent changes in state and federal air quality. The guidelines also include air quality significance thresholds and mitigation measures local agencies can use when preparing air quality impact analyses under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Some significant changes to the guidelines include:
- Single family housing projects of 56 dwelling units or greater, hotels with more than 83 hotel rooms and general office buildings with more than 53,000 square feet will all be considered to have a significant impact on GHG emissions under CEQA.
- Local governments are encouraged to adopt qualified GHG Reduction Strategies.
- New screening criteria and threshold levels have been set for extremely fine particulate matter emissions and toxic air contaminants. Projects which fall above these new thresholds will be required determine whether the project will result in a significant impact, including evaluation of emissions within a 1,000 foot radius of the proposed project.
Stricter greenhouse gas and particulate matter guidelines are a good thing, right? Not always, say some who argue that the new guidelines may inadvertently lead to more sprawl by making it harder to develop the denser parts of our region. Some worry that the new regulatory obstacles will drive up the costs of future affordable housing, infill, and transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. Developers and cities are concerned that the new guidelines will make compliance with SB 375, the State's law which requires compact development, more difficult.
The guidelines do contain a method for local governments to accelerate the CEQA review process for projects that are infill or transit-oriented. To do this, a city can prepare a GHG Reduction Strategy and have it approved by BAAQMD. Projects or plans consistent with these strategies could then be considered less than significant under CEQA, and therefore exempt from full review. With cities around the region reeling from the budget crisis, and in some cases cutting planning staff, however, resources to develop these strategies are in short supply.
San Francisco has already begun working on a GHG Reduction Strategy, so it is unlikely that the BAAQMD Guidelines will cause significant environmental review process changes for projects in the City; the new air quality standards will likely have more significant impacts on projects and plans in jurisdictions without GHG Reduction Strategies or detailed climate change related policies.
- July 14, 2010BY BEN LOWE
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
The San Francisco Department of Elections announced on Monday that the Fix Muni Now campaign had submitted enough voter signatures to qualify their Muni reform measure for the ballot.
The Department of Elections conducted a random sample of 2,248 signatures of the total 74,933 submitted and, based on this statistical sampling, determined there were more than the 44,382 signatures required.
The measure, if approved by voters in November, would require the Muni operators union, TWU-250A, to engage in direct negotiations for their wages and benefits, like every other public service union in San Francisco. Currently, operator wages and benefits are guaranteed in the City Charter to be, at a minimum, the second-highest in the country. TWU-250A is the only public service union in the city that has made no concessions during the recession of the past several years, opting instead to collect an automatic raise on July 1st, less than a month after Muni service was cut by ten percent.
By restoring collective bargaining as the method by which wages and benefits are determined, the City of San Francisco will be able to address inefficient operator work rules, which a recent audit by the City Budget Analyst estimates cost the city several million dollars per year.
- July 13, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
What are the most pressing issues facing California in the next 15 years and how should we deal with them? If only there were one comprehensive PDF document floating around the internet with all the answers.
Policy wonks across the state will now be thrilled to discover the Public Policy Institute of California's recently released CA2025 report, a "briefing kit" covering California's most important long-term policy issues. Outlining policies on topics ranging from water to transportation to the economy, the report acts as a kind of handbook for every major policy concern confronting the state today. While one might expect an insufferably dense document, the text is actually quite accessible, the graphics clear and informative. Some might crave more detail and in-depth analysis than CA2025 provides, but the report still serves as an excellent primer for the key issues facing the state, and presents compelling arguments for how our policy makers might tackle them.
[Graph courtesy of PPIC CA2025]
- July 9, 2010BY EMILY EHLERS
This Week: JAPAN
For evident selfish reasons, I like to tout the Golden State as the breeding ground for innovation. And as California attempts to build the first high-speed rail (HSR) network in the country, it's tempting to consider ourselves warriors heralding in a new day for transportation. Really, though, HSR has been successful for decades in Asia and Europe. Nations from South Africa to South Korea are doing precisely what California hopes to achieve.
Scheduled to break ground in two years, HSR in California is the single largest infrastructure investment since the days of Eisenhower's superhighways. HSR will transform the space-time dynamic, seamlessly connecting cities across the state. It presents enormous opportunities for economic development, mass transportation and transit-oriented development. On the flip side, the environmental, economic and social costs of screwing up high speed rail are equally great. To facilitate the former, it is imperative to analyze the experiences and operational context of our HSR predecessors abroad—which I'll conveniently take up in this blog series.
Let's start at the beginning: Japan
[Photo Credit: flickr user jamesjustin]
The case of Japan is particularly relevant to California because it simultaneously articulates the best and worst effects of HSR. Plus, even though Japan developed the world's first system in 1964, its system remains iconic. The sleek efficiency and glamour of the Shinkansen train streaming past at 200 mph is hard to deny.
Practically from the onset, HSR in Japan has turned a profit, repaying initial construction costs in just seven years. Acknowledging the transformative economic and social potential of HSR, the government-owned Japan National Railways (JNR) addressed both operational efficiency and development around the station. JNR operated all rail transportation in Japan, integrating local and regional transit with the Shinkansen HSR, which made transit more convenient and accessible. On the development front, in the wake of the Shinkansen, many station areas grew into active, high-density office and residential spaces. However, it's difficult to tell how much of this growth would have occurred anyway. HSR may have simply redistributed growth around the station.
The system certainly redistributed and concentrated growth within urban areas, but it had some of the most profound—if harried—effects on more rural areas. Inherently, HSR's speed and convenience has the potential to expose previously remote locations to development, mobility and job markets. And in Gifu, the new transportation system stymied economic development for decades.
[Photo Credit: flickr user kamoda]
When a new Shinkansen station was announced in 1964, speculation led to high land costs that quashed developers in the area. Without a strong link to Gifu, the station area for decades remained low density, and the viability of the Shinkansen station continued to rely on large customer parking lots. However, things have changed. Since 2007, just north of Gifu Station today stands a 43-story high-rise residential and office tower, the tallest building in the prefecture. In fact, recent construction centers on Gifu Station.
After twenty years as a national railway company engaged in both operations and station area development, the Japan Railways (JR) Group fragmented into seven regional, for-profit companies in 1987. These seven private entities have further diversified to incorporate—in addition to land development—hotel development, retail sales and tourism under their purview. The JR Group even has offices in Paris and New York to further promote tourist-use of the Shinkansen. The network continues to redefine itself.
Meanwhile, California grapples with alignment and ridership projections and local land use policies. So what can we learn from HSR in Japan?
- Planning is important for the coordination of station area economic development and operational efficiency
- Integrated regional transit and HSR is imperative to attract ridership
- Because HSR stands to transform rural areas the most, they warrant increased attention
In the coming weeks, we'll look at HSR in France and the United Kingdom, drawing conclusions about what it all means in the California context.
SPUR's policy paper on high speed rail is due out this fall.
- July 2, 2010BY BEN LOWE
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
For the past several months, SPUR has been working with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and the Fix Muni Now campaign to get Muni reform on the November ballot. Later today, the campaign will submit to the Department of Elections nearly 75,000 petitions—about 30,000 more than needed to qualify for the November ballot. The signature-gathering effort relied heavily on the help of hundreds of volunteers from throughout the city who, over the course of the past two months, brought in thousands of signatures gathered from friends, co-workers, and family members.
Now that signature-gathering is complete, the next phase of the campaign will involve reaching out to neighborhood organizations, advocacy groups, and others in San Francisco who benefit from good public transit—in other words, nearly every group in the city—and letting them know how critical it is that this reform passes in November.
Are you interested in helping the campaign? We're looking for volunteers to help do everything from knocking on doors and making phone calls to writing letters to newspapers and speaking on the campaign's behalf to groups volunteers are active in. If you are interested in helping out, please send an email to email@example.com.
- April 16, 2010BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
We are starting a new posting series with the hopes of engaging the creative points-of-view of the SPUR community. Each week we will feature a few photos from SPUR members and friends in a "Photos of the Week" blog. If you are interested in participating, please upload your images to our Flickr Group Pool. Include a caption, if applicable. For now, the theme is all things SPUR — San Francisco, public space, transportation, street culture, housing, sustainable development, etc. But in the future we may be asking you to share photos around a more focused theme.
To start things off, here are a few images from my own week:
Last Thursday the Fix Muni Now campaign launched with a slew of volunteers — along with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf — gathering petition signatures at West Portal. Here are a few images I snapped at the tunnel entrance, reminding me that sometimes a morning commute can be a beautiful thing. More photos from the campaign kick-off here.
A vacant lot down the street from the Urban Center at 524 Mission Street. The spring calendar at the Urban Center includes a series of forums discussing the use of stalled construction sites for public enjoyment. The next Leftover Lots forum is on May 5, with presentations from two projects in Hayes Valley.
A beautiful morning along the Embarcadero. The railings on the waterfront provide a picturesque frame for parked bikes, though they also suggest the Ferry Building may need to increase the capacity of their dedicated bike racks.
The corner of 3rd Street and Palou in the Bayview. A quote from Toni Morrison painted on this mural reads: "Part of this business of living in the world and triumphing over it has to do with the sense that there's some pleasure." And on that note, 3rd Street is hosting this weekend's Sunday Streets!
[Images: Colleen McHugh]
- March 11, 2010- posted by Esther
Don't be sheepish—try the new Google Maps cycling directions feature.
In response to years of requests for a bicycling option and over fifty thousand signatures on the “Bike There” petition, Google Maps has unveiled a new feature that helps cyclists find bike-friendly roads and while avoiding less-friendly streets.
In this Web 2.0 era, platforms like NextBus.com and 511.com have made it easier to make use of public transit: by using GPS and mobile applications to map routes, commuters are able to schedule trips with more ease. The new bicycle-route option on Google Maps will hopefully do the same by helping cyclists plan safer routes with fewer steep inclines.
The service is still in beta; in a recent interview on Streetsblog, Google Engineer Scott Shawcroft encouraged users to try the service and submit feedback to help Google improve the map system. As always, meanwhile, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition sells San Francisco cycling maps, with main bicycle routes and elevation changes marked for those cyclists who prefer a low-tech equivalent. Either way, knowing what to expect on a route will definitely make it easier for riders to feel confident about opting to cycle instead of drive.