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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

How Can We Reclaim Market Street?

September 1, 2011 Gretchen Hilyard
San Francisco’s Market Street has a long and fascinating history: from its ambitious beginnings as an over-scaled boulevard, laid out by Jasper O’Farrell in 1847, to its heyday as the city’s vibrant theater district in the early twentieth century. Market Street rose to prominence after the 1906 Earthquake, survived a series of urban planning experiments in the mid-twentieth century, and absorbed the important yet disruptive insertion of BART beneath its surface in 1972. Today, Market Street displays the varied, accumulated layers of intervention. How can we remedy the vacant storefronts, improve pedestrain and traffic circulation, and reduce crime and other issues that prevent Market Street from being a true civic spine? Several city agencies, including the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, the Transportation Authority and the SFMTA, along with residents, merchants and community groups, are trying to answer these questions with the Better Market Street...

BART of the Future

August 31, 2011 By Jennifer Warburg
Forget what your mother told you about "it's what’s on the inside that counts.” In the case of BART trains, it’s all about what’s on the outside. BART’s new fleet of cars is on track to begin service in 2016. This month, BART provided a first look at the concepts for the new train cars , holding a series of forums for the public to weigh in on the design of the interiors of the future. The most important change in the new fleet, however, is one made to the exteriors: the addition of 50 percent more doors for boarding and off-loading. In our recent video “ Crossing the Bay ,” SPUR recommended adding more doors to BART trains as a crucial step to reduce loading delays and make for faster and smoother commutes. BART currently carries more than 750,000 riders between San Francisco and the East Bay each week...

Food Desert No More: New Grocery Store Opens in the Bayview

August 30, 2011 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
In many neighborhoods in San Francisco, the opening of a new grocery store is notable. But in the Bayview, a new Fresh & Easy store that opened on August 24 filled a full-scale grocery store gap that had persisted for more than 15 years. “It’s all about health, about neighborhood vitality, about jobs, and about fulfilling old promises,” explained Mayor Ed Lee at the opening. “That is what this store represents.” The store opening , planned since late 2007, marked the success of a partnership between Fresh & Easy and a number of city agencies and advisory groups. In 2007, the Southeast Food Access Working Group, which is supported by the Department of Public Health, released a survey showing widespread support for more grocery options in the Bayview. Responding to this desire, staff at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) reached out to many established grocery chains...

Election 2011: How Did SF’s Pension Problem Get This Bad?

August 26, 2011 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
With two different pension-reform measures on the upcoming ballot, it’s no secret that pension reform will have a significant impact on the November election. But how did the city get to the point of having a problem of this magnitude? Clearly the recession has played a big part, but what about the many negotiated increases in benefits over the course of the last decade? While there has been much discussion here at SPUR about the magnitude of the pension crisis in San Francisco , scant attention has been paid to the many decisions that brought the city to the brink. In a recent article, the Examiner’s Josh Sabatini finally cast a light on the elephant in the room: “Among the factors leading to skyrocketing costs is a political culture that routinely rewards public employee unions with little thought about the future.” These increases have taken many forms, but with little...

High-Speed Rail's Plan B Is A-Okay

August 22, 2011 by Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director
For the most part, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has done the right thing on the basic question of where its trains will go. But as we move from idea to implementation, things get messier. Residents along the Peninsula are understandably concerned about noise impacts and eminent domain. Last spring the High-Speed Rail Authority actually voted to stop work on this segment until the Bay Area could sort out what it wanted to do. But recently a Plan B has emerged that may even bring down the cost of the project and make it more likely to happen.

SPUR Announces November Ballot Positions

August 22, 2011 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
The ballot for the upcoming November 2011 election has finally been set. After five measures dropped off, we’ve ended up with the shortest ballot in a mayoral election in at least 50 years. The remaining measures address some important financial topics in a difficult economy, when voters may not be in the mood to talk about money. Pension reform, bonds to pay for schools and roads, and even a sales tax increase — all on the same ballot. Times are still tough for local government, and that the city is taking on some difficult issues in spite of the state of the economy. For example, there is wide agreement that the city’s pension system requires attention; unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities totaling $4.3 billion need a payment plan; the school district needs bond funding to complete its 10-year capital renovation program; and the city’s roads desperately require investment. To a certain...

How Will 1.7 Million More People Cross the SF Bay?

August 16, 2011 By Jordan Salinger and Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
The San Francisco Bay Area is expected to grow by 1.7 million people in the next 25 years. SPUR has a few ideas. Our short animated film illustrates a few simple things we can do today, as well as one big idea for the future. SPUR's first forray into video animation enjoyed coverage from Fast Company and Streetsblog .

Hackathon! Coders and Civil Servants Unite to Fix SF

August 15, 2011 BY PETER ENZMINGER
A grown man napping on his laptop case. Daily visits from SF mayoral candidates. Keynote addresses from the Wigg Party, MIT's SENSEable Cities Lab, the Rebar Group, and the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Cold pizza after midnight. More than a hundred adults sitting around tables on the 5th floor of a Mid-Market office building on a Friday night. This is what ground zero of the open government movement looks like. From July 22 through 24, the Gray AreaFoundation for the Arts hosted Urban Innovation Weekend 2: Sustainability, Energy and Transportation, the second "hackathon" in its Summer of Smart series, sponsored by SPUR and other local organizations. The hackathons are an open casting call for ideas on how technology and digital information can help government work better. Respondents ranged in age from their 20s to mid 50s, with specialities in everything from architecture to speech software. Think Wikipedia, only...

The Lessons of Carmageddon: Could L.A. Embrace Carlessness?

August 15, 2011 By Micah Hilt
It came and it went, but Los Angeles as we know it did not come to a terrible end. Carmageddon — the 52-hour, 10-mile shutdown of the 405 freeway last month —passed quietly into history, becoming one of L.A.’s lightest traffic days ever. Angelenos stayed off the freeways; bicyclists challenged a Jetblue flight to a race — and won; people used trains and buses to get around or just stayed in their own neighborhoods. The predicted gridlock simply didn't happen. Most Southland residents are no doubt thankful nothing apocalyptic happened and ready to forget about it, possibly writing the whole thing off as hype. But could the lack of a nightmare scenario from a major freeway closure signal Angelenos' willingness to reclaim their city from the automobile? We asked ourselves what it might look like if L.A. adopted some of the solutions that SPUR regularly advocates for the Bay Area...

Market Street Poster Series Celebrates Cycling Culture

August 11, 2011 By Casey Jung
A glimpse into biking through San Francisco debuts this week on Market Street. As part of its Public Arts program , the San Francisco Arts Commission will display its second installment of the popular Market Street poster series, which puts art in select bus shelters. With the aim of providing workers, residents and visitors easy access to contemporary art, this year’s series captures the city of San Francisco from atop a bicycle. Designed by the San Francisco-based artist Ian Huebert, The Golden Spoke features six scenes from across the city that invite the public to experience the everyday joys and difficulties of riding a bike through this small but hilly city. Biking is Huebert's primary mode of transportation, and the posters convey the reality of dealing with all the city's obstacles, from fog to rain to the most infamous of hills. The posters could not be better suited to their...

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