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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

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...

Mayor Ed Lee Helps Unveil SF's First Parkmobiles

August 10, 2011 By Cole Armstrong and Micah Hilt
The Yerba Buena neighborhood already features museums, parks, an arts center and a convention center (as well as SPUR world headquarters), but starting this week there's something new to see: six new mobile parks, called “parkmobiles.” The first of their kind, the parkmobiles will be a shared resource in the community. Unlike the city's parklets, which are usually paid for by one business and stay in one location, the parkmobiles will rotate among many locations throughout the district. The project was sponsored by the Yerba Buena Community Benefits District (YBCBD), a consortium of local businesses and organizations (of which SPUR is a member), and completed with in-kind donations of materials and labor. Mayor Ed Lee helped unveil the first parkmobiles Tuesday, August 2, at the opening of SPUR’s new exhibition, Street Life | Yerba Buena : A Community Design Initiative : Street Life | Yerba Buena Opening with Ed Lee...

Did the 1966 Market Street Design Report Invent Bus Rapid Transit?

August 9, 2011 By Will Heywood
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...

New Map Shows NYC's Potential for Solar Power

August 5, 2011 BY JILLIAN BURNS
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...

Feathers Fly Over Backyard Farming Rules in Oakland

July 26, 2011 By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
It’d be unthinkable to ban dogs, cats, and many other types of pets in cities. But if you want to raise other types of animals (like chickens, ducks and rabbits) for their eggs or meat, you might run into a lot more regulation. How much more regulation was a hot topic at a recent community meeting about urban agriculture hosted by the Oakland Planning Department . Nearly 300 people turned out to debate the laws around backyard animal husbandry. Currently in Oakland, gardeners who want to sell what they grow must get a relatively expensive conditional use permit. And, by the planning department’s own admission, rules about raising animals for personal consumption are vague and contradictory. Oakland is in the process of updating its code. The cost and regulations of cultivating plants is moving toward a simpler, less-expensive regulation. But on the issue of animals, there was little resolution. Though...

Coastal Commission Slams Armoring at Ocean Beach

July 22, 2011 by Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
On July 13, the California Coastal Commission unanimously denied a permit application from the City and County of San Francisco for coastal armoring along the Great Highway South of Sloat Boulevard. The application was submitted by the City's Department of Public Works, which is responsible for the protection of city infrastructure, including the Lake Merced Tunnel, a 14-foot diameter sewer pipe under the Great Highway. DPW constructed rock revetments (i.e., linear piles of boulders) on the beach in 1997 and 2010 in response to erosion caused by severe winter storms. The permit would have 1.) retroactively approved the un-permitted 1997 revetment, 2.) made permanent the temporary emergency permit for the 2010 revetment, and 3.) added new armoring, extending revetments and adding tangent pile walls (made from reinforced concrete piles) behind the bluffs. The surprise ruling, against the recommendation of commission staff, is a significant victory for surfers and environmentalists, who...

Take a Virtual Tour of SPUR's Climate Change Exhibition, "Adapt!"

July 21, 2011 By Noah Christman and Karen Steen
Taking down a show at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery is always a sad moment. An exhibition is one of the best ways to de-nerdify our policy research and make it accessible to a wide audience. But once it comes down from our walls, we lose that public window into our work. So when we heard about Microsoft’s Photosynth technology , we got excited. Photosynth creates a virtual environment by collaging together hundreds of very high resolution photos. In short, it could allow anyone to visit our exhibitions from their computer any time — even days, weeks or years after the display panels have come down. Our current exhibition, Adapt! Climate Change Hits Home , provides a great chance to test out this technology. We're proud of the research behind it, and we want as many people as possible to know about the coming affects of climate change and the...

The Numbers: LA Cross-Town, 85% Longer for a Plane Than a Bike

July 19, 2011 By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
L.A.’s highly hyped “ carmageddon ” — the two-day closure of the 405 freeway — was not the apocalypse many feared. But it did provide a great showdown of transit alternatives. In the starting gates were: bikes, mass transit and a plane (chartered by gimmick-savvy Jet Blue). The “track” itself: Los Angeles. Specifically, a 40ish mile north to south beeline from North Hollywood to the shore of Long Beach. Approximately: Twin Peaks to Petaluma, the Ferry Building to Palo Alto, or Oakland International Airport to SFO. And, as Slate’s Tom Vanderbilt reported, the bikes and mass transit enthusiasts smoked the plane . By more than an hour! Based on times reported in Vanderbilt's article, the plane trips (including getting to and from the airports) took 85 percent longer than the bike ride. Yes, the bikers were a good step above your run-of-the-mill commuter. And, no, this experiment does not actually...

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