SOMA Transportation and the Land Use Connection
SOMA Transportation and the Land Use Connection
Notably there are probably at least as many headlines about regional transportation problems as San Francisco transportation problems, focusing on increased traffic and commute times. In the larger region the discussion is about congestion and not parking, since outside of central San Francisco there is almost universal free parking. In this dichotomy between city and region lies the seeds of some important answers to our SOMA problem.
In an effort to address these very real problems and offer helpful advice to the city, SPUR convened a South of Market Transportation Task Force in 1999 to study the issues and make recommendations to the SPUR Board of Directors. Members of the SPUR Transportation Committee were invited to join the Task Force, as were members of other business and civic organizations and city agencies, totaling about thirty individuals. The Task Force met approximately 6 times, and agreed on some twenty recommended general policies to ensure mobility for land uses in SOMA. This paper presents the conceptual framework necessary to understand and diagnose SOMA transportation and land use issues (Section III), the regional and city-wide policy framework in which they need to be considered(Section IV), and then elaborates on the recommended policies (Section V). Section VI presents priority next steps to be taken.
Transportation and land use are inextricably connected, and any discussion of one must include the other. While the focus of the recommendations of this paper is intended to be on specific transportation actions, of necessity the discussion and the recommendations also include land use considerations.
Likewise, the city and the region and all the parts thereof relate to each other. And again, while the focus of this paper is intended to be specific to South of Market (SOMA), that district can only be understood within its greater city-wide and regional context.
San Francisco’s economy is in a growth mode today, and SOMA is the only area adjacent to downtown where an expansion of the business core reasonably can occur. It is the part of the city that, dealt with correctly, will make it possible for San Francisco to increase in prosperity and quality of life. To do so will take recognition that the district is and must emerge from being a support area to being the location of primary jobs and housing. To talk about SOMA, therefore, we must also talk about Proposition M (1986) and the office cap, issues of neighborhood gentrification, and the housing shortage. SPUR is presently preparing another paper on Proposition M and gentrification, and is already pursuing recommendations to increase the supply of housing in the city.
1. How San Francisco Grew
In order to prescribe solutions for the problems of the growing SOMA neighborhood (and the city in as a whole), it is necessary to understand how cities grow. Growth of land use and transportation are closely connected. Going back to ancient history, we know that cities sprang up along the spice routes in Asia. Paris and London both grew around intersections of important Roman roads. And most of the great cities of the world are located on water, having grown up around their ports and points of embarkation.
San Francisco grew initially along the Camino Real and its missions—and then with the gold rush, along the wharves where immigrants disembarked. In 1917 the Twin Peaks transit tunnel enabled development of the southwestern portions of the city, and in 1928 the Sunset transit tunnel led to development of that district. Many of today’s Muni routes – the 14 Mission, the F-Market, the 21 Hayes to name just three – grew from early stagecoach and steam rail omnibus lines. Not surprisingly, commercial and higher density residential uses followed these transit lines, putting the most people were the greatest access already existed. The lesson is that historically in San Francisco, like in virtually every other city, land development followed the development of the transportation infrastructure which led and guided that development.
In 1959 when SPUR was founded to reinforce the central city, the financial district had seen only one major new downtown office building since World War II. SPUR was given the charge of redirecting growth away from the suburban periphery and back into the urban core. The 1962 vote to construct BART had a major impact on downtown, enabling our high rise central business district to be built. Each day, 108,000 people exit BART at the four downtown stations.1 BART was a national exception at the time it was built: it was the first new American rail system in 40 years, on the heels of 20 years of rapid suburban expansion based on the automobile.
The millions of square feet of office construction which occurred during the 1970s and 1980s would never have taken place without effective regional public transit, since San Francisco, like every other American city, provides only a portion of the housing for workers in the city. The rest occurs in the suburbs surrounding the city. Of the approximately 629,000 jobs in San Francisco today, 54% (or 340,000) are held by San Francisco residents. This means another 289,000 commute in each day. Another 78,000 residents currently commute to jobs outside of the city.2
The U.S. as a whole has not been as fortunate as San Francisco. Unlike suburban expansion which occurred prior to World War II, where the majority of suburban development was based on rail systems (the development of Oakland and Berkeley focused on the Key System and the Peninsula towns focused on CalTrain stations were typical examples), the last 50 years of development in America was almost exclusively based on the automobile, subsidized by a national system of freeways. City after city destroyed their downtowns with a combination of urban freeways, suburban office parks, and block after block of downtown parking lots.
Even in the 1970s and 1980s when the next generation began to rediscover cities, the lack of transit caused further urban destruction as the Denvers, Phoenixes and Fort Worths of the country continued to destroy their urban fabric even as new urban development took place. For every new building that was built or old building rehabbed in these auto-focused cities, several others were destroyed to provide the necessary parking. Today we see the phenomenon of 16th Street in Denver lined with 30-story office blocks and a parallel 18th Street lined with 15-story parking garages, and nary a person on the streets. New preplanned developments such as Bunker Hill in Los Angeles are bringing back tens of thousands of urban workers, but despite the multi-million dollar plazas, real street life there is almost non-existent.
Destinations in most American cities are separated by so much distance because of having to fit in parking and freeways that no one can walk anymore. Workers drive alone from their air conditioned houses in their air conditioned cars into the high rise parking garages next to their office towers, without ever setting foot on the street or encountering another human being. No wonder driving while on the cell phone is so popular! Road rage occurs in an atmosphere lacking in any real human connection.
2. Why San Francisco is Special
Almost unique among American cities, San Francisco has spared itself this widespread urban destruction. Only in the Western Addition urban renewal areas and in the freewayesque Geary Boulevard through that neighborhood did we follow the 1950s and 1960s planners’ dictates of auto-oriented superblocks and destruction of full blocks of homes and businesses to provide a clear shot auto route into downtown. We also allowed the state highway department to begin the Embarcadero Freeway and the Central Freeway, but it is not surprising that these urban blights were stopped in their tracks and then demolished once San Franciscans saw what bowing to the auto meant in terms of city life. The results of this kind of planning can be seen across the country in Detroit, Saint Louis, and parts of Los Angeles, to name just a few.
For a variety of reasons, San Franciscans intuitively perceived the value of an intact urban streetscape. True, we have a wonderful climate and beautiful setting. But so did Los Angeles before it became overwhelmed in smog caused largely by the internal combustion engine. What really distinguishes San Francisco is that we have understood what makes a city – human interaction with others that occurs in the public realm – our sidewalks, our plazas, our parks, our universities, our theaters, and even Pacific Bell Park!
Urbanist Jane Jacobs taught us this in 1961 in her now famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, saying:
"The basic requisite…is a substantial quantity of stores and other public places sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used by evening and by night must be among them especially. Stores, bars and restaurants…"3
And in urbanist David Engwicht’s recent book Reclaiming our Cities and Towns, he defines the city as
"an invention to maximize exchange opportunities and minimize travel. These exchanges may be exchanges of goods, friendship, knowledge, culture, work, education, or emotional support. We choose to live in cities because we crave relationships, new ideas and stimulating surroundings. Cities are a deliberate concentration of such exchange opportunities in order to increase both their diversity and accessibility."4
Everyone who has been to a Giants game in the new Pacific Bell Park can attest to the great success of this facility as an urban institution, with its mixing of ages, of classes, of races all enjoying the common experience of “the home team.” And getting there on transit is part of the fun, whether on the “glamorous” ferry, on the high-tech light rail system, or on the “lowly” bus. While cocooning at home and watching television may well provide a better view of sporting events, it is the shared experience of being there that makes all the difference.
3. How our Downtown Works
San Francisco has one of the world’s great downtowns, both as a place to work and shop. Office buildings are cheek by jowl, each with thousands of workers arriving and leaving at more or less the same time. And at noon, we all walk to any one of scores of nearby restaurants to eat “together,” whether alone or with associates. We meet friends on the sidewalk, we walk to meetings at each others’ offices, we get our shoes shined on the sidewalk, we stop by any of dozens of ATMs, and we run errands at department stores and shops. And we do this all by foot, with over five hundred thousand other downtown workers on similar rounds.
How does downtown San Francisco “work”? It works because it is built around the human being, our needs and desires, with a lot of support from the common infrastructure it takes to live together in a city. It goes without saying that we share a common water system and sewer system, that we each “tap” into when we need it. There almost always is enough water and enough sewer capacity. When there isn’t we build more, grumble a little, and pay the taxes and fees to support them. Likewise, for commuting (that is, for that repetitive twice a day movement from home to work and back), the vast majority of us take transit most of the time. Muni carries over 700,000 trips per day, almost equivalent to the city’s population. According to a six year old report of the San Francisco Planning Department 61% of the commuters into the greater downtown take transit, 19% drive alone, 14% rideshare, and 6% use other means (generally walking or bicycles).5
In the downtown, we have provided parking for specialized needs – in particular for downtown shoppers and people going to business meetings. The municipal parking garages are one key to our vibrant and prosperous downtown, priced to encourage the short trip and discourage the all-day commuter in order to keep parking places open for people who need them. These municipal parking garages are also intended to serve the consultant who visits your office periodically; the salesman who comes and goes; for that day when you will end up at the opera or symphony or theater; those who are physically unable to get around without an automobile; any of those individuals who must be at many destinations in a day; those who are coming from or going to places not well served by transit; and those commuters who simply want to drive and can afford to pay the high tariff to park downtown all day. Downtown San Francisco “works” precisely because we have provided parking for these short-term trips and by and large not provided commuter parking; and at the same time, we have provided preferable or at least adequate local and regional transit for the vast majority of commuters.
The fact that downtown commuter parking has been severely limited is one important reason we have the high value office and retail downtown we have. It is why we have office building next to office building instead of office buildings separated by blocks of parking. It is one of the reasons downtown retail has held its own and surpassed the suburban shopping centers that have decimated other central cities. It is one reason so many of us want to live and work in San Francisco and not the suburbs. It is why we can accommodate a free flow of pedestrians without curb cuts to parking garages at every building. This is precisely the difference between San Francisco and most other American cities – we have given ourselves options to the single passenger automobile as the only way of transport. For the trip to work, most of us take one or more of those options – we travel by foot, by bicycle, by taxi, by bus, by trolley, by subway – and like it. And this is reflected in the high property values in the city, generally inversely proportional to distance from the center. This density of use has helped raise property values to where it is simply uneconomic to provide parking, a much lower value use than commercial or office space, in most new construction.
From 1968 to 1984, employment in the downtown core doubled, while vehicle cordon counts into downtown did not change – the increased number of workers arrived by transit. Major buildings like Citicorp Center (about 40 stories, at the corner of Market, Sutter, and Sansome) and the Grand Hyatt Hotel (also about 35 stories) at the corner of Stockton and Sutter) were happily not allowed to provide any parking. Most employees arrive by transit; the district is dense enough and mixed use enough that many visitors walk to and from those destinations; short term visitors who drive can park in city garages priced to benefit short term stays and discourage the daily commuter.
3.1 One example of how the parking strategy is working
In order to further understand how this policy works, it is useful to look at some specific examples of parking. Comparable data is kept by the city for the five area parking garages: Sutter-Stockton, Union Square, Ellis-O’Farrell, Fifth & Mission, and Moscone Center.6 Together, they have a combined capacity of 7,227 cars. Of this capacity, 1,626 spaces are reserved for monthly commuters and 5,601 for transient parkers. Over half (786 spaces) the monthly spaces are in the Fifth & Mission garage alone.
Of late, the Fifth & Mission garage has been the subject of considerable discussion, with the press suggesting the garage needs expansion because of overflow crowds. Data for the last quarter indicate otherwise. In March 2000, peak utilization of the 2,585 spaces ranged from 64% to 97%, with an average of 78%. Generally, peak utilization occurs at 1 or 2 pm on Saturdays. Average peak occupancy in April dropped to 74% and in May, 73%. This means that even at peak times, there were a minimum of 78 empty spaces (97% occupancy), which occurred only once. At the average 73% occupancy, there are 698 empty spaces. During the three month period, at peak times there were between 78 and 1,577 empty spaces. Only during the week of June 5, during the JavaOne convention, (along with MacWorld and the Auto Show, the Moscone events attracting the most auto drivers), did the garage “fill up” for even short periods of time. Even then, institution of valet parking takes care of overflow.
The Fifth & Mission garage has never filled up in the evening, and in evenings typically peaks at 70 or 75% full (75% full means there are 646 empty spaces). And during Giants games at Pacific Bell Park, vacancies have ranged from 181 (Saturday afternoon) to 1,183 (Monday afternoon) empty spaces.
Management of the Fifth & Mission garage reports that when a nearby 600 +/- spaces were eliminated in an adjoining lot and garage for the construction of Moscone 3 (at the corner of Fourth and Mission) there was no noticeable increase in parkers at the garage; people either went elsewhere to park, or came by transit. Likewise, when weekend parking began to get tight in the 1 pm to 3 pm peak period, parkers adjusted their schedules to come earlier or later. Similarly, last April when a $7/day early bird rate at Moscone garage was eliminated increasing rates, 140 spaces were freed up, with drivers either parking elsewhere or taking transit.
Since May 1999, the number of monthly parking spaces at Fifth & Mission has decreased by attrition by 29%, from 1,130. While a waiting list is maintained, it is city policy to encourage short-term parkers, not monthlies and to maintain the monthly slots at the lower number.
Thus despite reports to the contrary, data indicate that not only is there no parking crisis around Fifth & Mission, the garage is working just as it was intended, supporting local shopping and entertainment venues, and still has capacity to spare.
4. Some Recent Successes
As the city develops and changes there are both transportation successes and problems. First the successes:
• Embarcadero Freeway. When proposals were made after the Loma Prieta earthquake to build a boulevard to replace the seismically damaged Embarcadero Freeway, concerns were expressed that this would cause gridlock. The Embarcadero Boulevard is now built and functions well. Some evenings there is considerable congestion as drivers on the Embarcadero Boulevard destined for US 101/Bay Bridge try to get up onto that facility. But is important to note that this back up is primarily due to lack of capacity of the onramps and the highway itself, not due to the boulevard.
• Central Freeway. Likewise, concerns were expressed that demolition of the Central Freeway would cause widespread gridlock, causing untold financial problems to businesses in the Van Ness corridor and even downtown. Who can forget the headline the day after the Freeway was closed in both directions: “90,000 CARS DISAPPEAR” ? Those predicted traffic and financial problems never materialized. Today there is congestion in the vicinity of that facility, which is operating at half the capacity of the eventual Octavia Boulevard, since the remnant of the freeway exists only in the southbound direction as an exit from US 101 and to date the new northbound and southbound boulevard has not been constructed. However, when the new Octavia Boulevard is constructed, traffic is projected to move better than it did on the old Central Freeway.
• Metreon. This entertainment and retail facility opened about a year ago, amid predictions that there would be a parking crisis and gridlock for blocks around because no new parking was being provided. A year later neither gridlock nor a parking crisis has occurred due to the Metreon. The management of this facility provides an ideal example of public information by informing its patrons of the 32 transit lines serving its location and the 8,500 parking spaces within 1500 paces of its doors7. And in any case, peak Metreon patronage is at night which the Fifth and Mission garage has hundreds of vacant spaces.
• Pacific Bell Park. Never have there been such dire predictions: No one would take CalTrain; no one would be able to get on Muni, and if they did it couldn’t handle it.; everyone would drive and there would be gridlock for hours before and after; I-280 would back up to the city line; all SOMA and even Potrero Hill would be clogged with illegal parkers. Instead we find that fans are doing what any intelligent person would do – they are taking transit in large numbers just as predicted by the planners, and there have been no unsolvable problems for fans or other travelers alike. The 5,000 car parking lots have not been filled.8 According to the April 26, 2000 San Francisco Chronicle, “Muni Use to Ballpark a Success,” “The number of fans taking transit to Pacific Bell Park is running way ahead of expectations, so the Municipal Railway is looking to increase bus service to the Giant’s new stadium…about half of the 41,000 fans who went to each Giants game during the team’s first home stand…used transit.” The article goes on to say over 10,000 fans are using Muni; 5,000 BART; and 6,000 CalTrain. At the May 2, 2000 Parking and Traffic Commission hearing, DPT testified that “60% of ballpark fans are taking transit.”9 Personal observation on Saturday June 10, 2000, the day of the week patrons are most apt to drive thinking they will find a parking space, indicated that not only was the Giants lot not filled, but none of the independent commercial lots were either.
The Giants and the transit agencies have done a superb job. Yet we still hear “It won’t work – people will go back to their cars.” Three years later after its intelligent reliance on transit, Coors Field in Denver still works like a charm. And in that very auto oriented city, the 5,000 car parking lot does not fill.
People are smart. Given choices, they will find ways to get places that work for them. Where we get into trouble, it is largely because the choices are not available.
III. SOME OVERALL CITY-WIDE PROBLEMS AND
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TRANSPORTATION CHOICES
No simple or one-dimensional solution will work for SOMA. The transportation and land use issues are complex, and SPUR believes that only a comprehensive set of solutions will work. The solutions must start with the larger Bay Area and citywide context.
• Central city transit
• Regional bus service
• Interurban rail service
• Transit-supportive land use
• Economic incentives to use transit
Urban Transportation Goals:
• Congestion pricing
• Residential neighborhoods
• Mode choice and accessibility
• Noise and pollution
• Traffic calming
• Public education
• Keep the pressure up
• Find dedicated operating funding
• Develop a capital plan and funding mechanism
• In garages
• On the streets
Land Use Planning:
• Commercial street frontage
• Urban housing
• Mixed use
These recommendations are described in what follows:
1. Regional Considerations
We’re a small, dense transit-oriented city in the midst of an auto-oriented region. Jobs and housing are located throughout the Bay Area. While this maximizes choice to both individuals and businesses, it also requires effective transportation networks. Today, the volume of automobiles and trucks coming into the city or passing through the city is nearing the effective capacity of our highways and roads. This problem reflects fifty years of national policy subsidizing low density single family houses in the suburbs which are serviced by freeways and other roads. Much of this suburban development is at such low densities that it is not and cannot efficiently or economically be served by transit. According to ABAG’s (Association of Bay Area Governments) most recent forecasts, San Francisco is a city of about 800,000 in a greater region of nearly ten times that size. To the extent that individuals living in the suburbs commute in single passenger automobiles on US 1 or US 101 through or into San Francisco, these highways are reaching capacity. To the extent that the drivers have destinations in San Francisco’s employment centers, our surface streets and our parking facilities are reaching capacity. Unfortunately, ABAG’S projections and plans of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) predict conditions will only get worse. For instance, MTC’s 1998 Regional Transportation Plan estimates that peak-hour traffic congestion will increase for the region as a whole by some 250% between 1990 and 2020 despite the spending of billions of dollars on transportation projects.10
Recommendation: We must find a way to reduce the number of cars from outside the city that inundate our streets each day. This can only be done by making it easier for more suburbanites to commute by transit.
1. Invest in frequent and fast transit in central cities as a means of revitalizing urban cores and hich give employees cash for giving up their “free” parking spaces or providing free transit deflecting growth from auto oriented suburbs.
2. Create a regional express bus system.
3. Upgrade service on existing interurban rail lines.
4. Tie regional and state funding of transit infrastructure to the adoption of transit supportive land use plans.
5. Establish economic policy incentives to use transit, such as parking cashout programs, which give employees cash for giving up their “free” parking spaces or providing free transit passes instead of parking.11
2. Urban Transportation Goals
There is increasing competition for our limited right-of-way within the city. San Francisco is a 19th and early 20th century city. Our road pattern is largely limited by existing streets, buildings and sidewalks. It is safe to say that no additional freeways or Geary Boulevards will be built in San Francisco, either at the surface or elevated. It is also safe to say that after several decades of street widening and sidewalk narrowing, there will not be further sidewalk narrowings. Nor is it likely that on-street parking will be decreased to provide more or faster auto lanes, as this would both decrease parking (an already scarce commodity) and decrease the feeling of pedestrian safety. Thus additional movement of people will have to take place within the existing right-of-way. An approach must be found to equitably distribute this scarce resource, right-of-way.
In addition, over-reliance on cars doesn’t just degrade driving for those who make that choice, it also degrades the other choices. Increases in car traffic slow busses and threaten pedestrians and cyclists, eventually forcing more people to drive. Recommendation: Travel management in the city must comprehensively balance the surface movement of people by foot, bicycle, transit, shared van, taxi, private automobile, the movement of goods, and travel by subway. Goals for travel management should include:
1. Management of congestion by creative means such as congestion pricing of bridge tolls, parking, and transit fares.
2. Protection of residential neighborhoods from negative traffic impacts.
3. Promotion of mode choice and accessibility.
4. Limiting of noise and air pollution.
Starting in July 2002, the new Municipal Transportation Agency will be in charge of developing such a policy which will favor choice of modes rather than exclusive promotion of the single passenger automobile which has enjoyed the most favorable position in recent years.
3. Pedestrian Safety
Pedestrian safety has become a very serious issue throughout the city and in downtown and SOMA in particular. In the 1997 - 1998 time period, there were 2,200 auto-pedestrian collisions – 3 per day! And in 1996, there were 21 pedestrian deaths – a figure that grew to 30 in 1998.12 And every indication is that the situation is only getting worse. Each one of us – whether an automobile driver, a transit rider, or a cyclist – is a pedestrian for part of every trip, in addition to those whose entire trip is by foot. Steady, slow car speeds are better for both drivers and pedestrians than the jackrabbit pattern of acceleration and stopping at lights which the current street configuration and light timing favors in some locations. The more people who walk, the fewer who crowd onto transit and cars. Recommendation: For the city to remain livable, we must restore the social norm of pedestrian safety. This will require an interagency program to:
1. Change priorities to emphasize walkability.
2. Increase levels of enforcement of all modes.
3. Build examples of livable streets, including a commitment to funding traffic-calming measures, including slowing car speeds.
4. Conduct a comprehensive public education program.
4. Improve Muni
In recent years, Muni has not operated at an acceptable level of service and therefore is not the mode of choice for many travelers. During the late 1980s and up to about two years ago, Muni was systematically defunded. This led to low levels of maintenance, missing vehicles, a shortage of workers, missed runs, and general unreliability. It is no surprise from 1983-84 to 1993-4, Muni patronage dropped from 313 million riders per year to 219 million riders, a decline of 30%.. 13 Much of the automobile congestion today is caused by discouraged Muni riders who used to ride Muni on a daily basis and have given up. Thus one key to the accessibility problem is getting discouraged Muni riders out of their automobiles and back onto transit.
Fortunately, there are a number of signs that Muni will get better and it will be able to win the confidence of the riding public which it once enjoyed.
• There is a new professional General Manager of Muni.
• The voters passed Proposition E in November, 1999, the Muni Reform Initiative, giving broad powers to the new professional Muni manager to manage the system.
• Two-thirds of the fleet is being replaced and will be virtually new by 2002, including the diesel and trolley busses, and the LRVs (Light Rail Vehicles).
• Today’s good economy has added over $100,000,000 per year to the Muni’s budget, and Proposition E protects the Muni budget from the historic cutting which typically occurred.
• New service has been added, including the very successful F-line to Fisherman’s Wharf and shuttles to the ballpark; in addition, new and extended lines will begin serving SOMA shortly.
Muni management is currently developing performance standards as required by Proposition E. Once Muni is clearly on the way up, and the public has once-again gained confidence in the system, it should be possible to pass a dedicated source of capital funding that will assure Muni’s future. As long as Muni must run in traffic, it can never go faster than traffic, and cannot meet its potential of becoming the mode of choice. While Muni operations appear reasonably funded at present, capital improvements are not.
Recommendations: Continue to strengthen Muni by:
1. Keeping the pressure on Muni to meet high performance standards.
2. Establish a growing, dedicated source of operational funding for Muni.
3. Plan and fund capital improvements to extend exclusive right-of-way LRV/subway service so that Muni does not compete with automobiles on the street.
5. Parking Policies
The city is misusing valuable parking resources. When the city-owned parking garages were authorized and bonded, it was clearly stated that their purpose was to provide parking for shoppers and other short-time users. They have performed admirably in this role. Then, during the early 1990’s recession, the garages were losing so much money that the Parking Authority went to the Board of Supervisors and requested low monthly rates be instituted to encourage commuter parking and increase garage revenues. Now that the economy is good and downtown shoppers have returned, this temporary inappropriate use of city garages should now be stopped, as it increases commuter traffic and subtracts valuable short-term parking.
Parking is an important, valuable, and expensive resource which the city must allocate carefully and in coordination with comprehensive transportation policies.
Recommendation: Reinforce and clarify San Francisco’s long-held parking priorities, such as:
1. In city garages:
• the first priority is short-term parkers. Numbers of monthly parkers should be
allowed to decrease by attrition.
2. On streets:
• the first priority is to create a safe pedestrian environment.
• the second priority is to facilitate traffic flow, especially for transit.
• the third priority is deliveries.
• the fourth priority is short-term parking.
• the last priority is long-term parking; within this category, priority is given to
In line with the first priority listed above, the new Municipal Transportation Agency should enforce double parking regulations, particularly on transit preferential streets. It is also important to recognize that on-street parking plays a valuable role in pedestrian safety on the sidewalk, both actually and psychologically.
6. Land Use Planning
Arrangement of land uses is key to transportation problems and solutions. One of the reasons San Francisco works so well as a place to live and work and shop is its mixed land use pattern. In most neighborhoods, one has only to walk to the corner for the proverbial quart of milk. And not only does the shopkeeper provide goods and services to the customer, but, in the words of Jane Jacobs, the neighborhood merchant is the “eyes and ears” of the street. In downtown, our wonderful mix of ground floor commercial, offices above, and frequent restaurants and sandwich shops is a key ingredient in our walkable city, eliminating many trips that would otherwise have to be made by vehicle. At present, there are thousands of housing units under construction in and around downtown, which is exactly what should be happening.
SOMA is temporarily a different situation than downtown in its very partial state of development. Historically, SOMA was primarily manufacturing and warehousing activities. Today, these activities are being replaced with technology research and development and office uses and in some cases by loft development. However, the fine grain of mixed uses that occurs downtown does not yet exist in SOMA. In many locations, it is necessary to drive to lunch or on errands or to a meeting with an associate, both increasing traffic congestion and requiring a parking space at each end of the trip for every traveler.
Just as significantly the wide one-way streets make the environment extremely unfriendly to pedestrians. The core urban design problem for SOMA is to make it a place to be on foot. As the fine grain of mixed uses occurs in SOMA, the necessity for auto trips will decrease and pedestrian activity will increase. This must be accompanied by efforts to mitigate the large SOMA block sizes such by reinforcing a pattern of pedestrian alleys, and other pedestrian amenities. Recommendation: The Planning Commission and Planning Department must promote mixed use throughout the city and in SOMA in particular. Specific recommendations are:
1. Require provision for commercial uses on ground floor on main streets and street corners.
2. Encourage construction of thousands of housing units throughout the city and in SOMA.
3. Encourage mixing of housing with jobs, especially higher density housing so that workers have the option of living near their jobs.
4. Forbid the closing of alleys; require insertion of new alleys to break up large SOMA block sizes to encourage walking. Again, as Jane Jacobs said, the more and closer the corners and opportunities to “turn the corner,” the safer streets will feel and the more street life will be attracted.
IV. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS TO ENSURE MOBILITY TO AND WITHIN SOMA
With this important background, the SPUR SOMA Transportation Task Force has made a number of transportation policy recommendations to ensure mobility to and within SOMA. There are 20 measures divided into six categories. This list is not in priority order.
1 . Mid-Term Capital Projects
1.1. Fund and construct the Central Subway
1.2. Fund and construct improvements/extension of CalTrain
1.3. Fund and construct the Geary Subway
2 . Improvements to Muni
2.1. Implement exclusive Geary Boulevard transit lanes
2.2. Expand Muni service to SOMA
3 . Traffic Management
3.1. Enforce transit-priority streets
3.2. Establish new transit-priority streets
3.3. Put more PCOs on the streets
4 . Parking Enhancements
4.1. Better manage our existing parking resources
4.2. Better manage Caltrans retrofit of US 101/Bay Bridge
4.3. Develop a parking garage(s) under US 101
4.4. Develop satellite parking facilities south of US 101/Bay Bridge
4.5. Develop satellite parking facilities at East Bay BART stations
4.6. Develop satellite parking facilities at peninsula CalTrain stations
5 . Pedestrian Enhancements
5.1. Widen sidewalks, preserve alleys, make other pedestrian improvements
5.2. Turn one-way streets back into two-way streets
6 . Alternative Modes
6.1. Use car-sharing to make more efficient use of parking spaces
6.2. Increase the number and utilization of taxis
6.3. Complete a bicycle network
6.4. Provide bicycle parking
These recommendations are described as follows:
1. Mid-Term Capital Projects. Capital projects take a long time to implement, and when government agencies are operating in a crisis mode, they often seem “too far in the future” to deal with. But it is precisely because they take a long time that they are important to emphasize. Today, for the first time in many years, Muni has adequate operational funding and beginning to have the capacity to be well managed. It should devote considerable energy to planning for subway extensions. In 1989, voters approved Proposition B which identified corridors for new rail construction in San Francisco. Subsequently, the Four Corridor Plan in 1996 was prepared to develop a strategic approach to implementation and to prioritize these corridors. The Four Corridors were the Geary Corridor, the Bayshore Corridor, the North Beach Corridor, and the Van Ness Corridor. The Third Street light rail project, the southern portion of the Bayshore Corridor, is currently in engineering and is expected to be in construction in about 2002 and in operation in about 2004.
1.1 Recommendation: Fund And Construct The Central Subway. The northern end of the Third Street Light Rail project will be at about China Basin where it will connect with the E-line light rail (now being run as the N-Judah serving SOMA and Pacific Bell Park). The completion of this project in itself will provide a great boon to SOMA, giving a direct rail connection all the way from the city line at Visitation Valley to the Market Street Muni Metro/BART corridor and thus to the region. It will both serve existing residents and jobs in SOMA and also attract new activities especially at transit hubs. There will be four stations at Mission Bay (near King and Fourth; near the existing intersection of Third and Fourth; just north of 16th Street and between Ceasar Chavez and Islais Circle and stations at 15 other locations further south.
The San Francisco Planning Department is currently conducting a Specific Area Plan for the area generally west of Third Street/Illinois Street, an area of about 200 acres. (Figure 6). To the east, another 300 acres is under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco. These areas have the potential to become transit villages along the Third Street light rail line, providing housing and jobs well served by transit in the burgeoning SOMA area. It is this kind of development that will make SOMA more like north of Market and less like the transit outpost it now is, allowing many more people to take transit or walk to work.
But the best news is yet to come. Initial funding has now been identified for the Central Subway, which will extend from the vicinity of Pacific Bell Park up Third Street, dipping into a subway tunnel, crossing under Market Street at Geary and Kearny, going west on Geary and north on Stockton with a stop at Union Square and heading north toward Chinatown. By providing this direct connection and cutting travel times some 5 minutes over that provided by the E-line/N-line between the vicinity of the ballpark and Market Street, this will provide SOMA with an even stronger connection into the transit network of the region. Just as today few Upper Market residents would even think of driving to jobs downtown, in the future few residents living in walking or feeder bus distance from the Muni Metro would think of driving to jobs readily accessible to the Third Street rail line. The Transportation Authority must aggressively work to obtain continuing funding for this project.
1.2 Recommendation: Fund And Construct Improvements/Extension Of CalTrain. CalTrain serves some 32,000 passengers each weekday.14. Long considered a “sick man” of Bay Area transit, patronage has jumped in recent years as both SOMA and Silicon Valley have boomed. Governor Davis’ recent budget allocates $140 million for improvements to the line, including overcrossings and parallel rights of way so that express and local trains can be run at the same time. Media reports are projecting an astonishing 100% increase in patronage due to this expenditure.
Governor Davis has proposed this (but not the long discussed but unfunded extension of CalTrain from 4th and Townsend to downtown). And indeed, downtown is moving to CalTrain as the pundits have said. However, construction of the Third Street Muni Metro line as discussed above presents yet another opportunity – a “double-decker” tunnel just like on Market Street, for each CalTrain and the Central Subway which could bring both construction and operational efficiencies to a CalTrain extension.
In any case, recent improvements in daily CalTrain commuter patronage and experience with the ballpark (where first day patronage outstripped CalTrain’s plans and preparations) show that CalTrain can be an important and integral part of the SOMA access network.
1.3 Recommendation: Fund And Construct The Geary Subway. In 1999, Caltrans conducted a license plate survey of vehicles parked under US 101/Bay Bridge in the very cheap parking that has been available there since the Loma Prieta earthquake and the various demolitions which followed it. They found an astounding 43%15 of those were vehicles registered in San Francisco, a large number of which originated in the Sunset and Richmond districts of San Francisco. This is a clear message that Muni service from these districts is not competitive in terms of time, reliability, or convenience with the private automobile. It is in the interests of the city to free up parking spaces for people who must drive (e.g., those with origins in unserved suburban locations, those who need their cars for multiple trips per day, and so on) and get San Francisco commuters out of their cars and onto Muni.
Muni calls for light rail vehicles in a subway under Geary Street from the intersection of Market and Geary streets, coming to the surface on an exclusive right-of-way (much like the N-Judah) at about Octavia Street, where it naturally daylights due to topography.
The Geary bus lines (38 Geary, 38L, 38AX, 38BX) as well as parallel lines such as the 1- California (and 1AX, 1BX), 2-Clement, 3-Jackson, 4-Sutter, 5-Fulton, 21-Hayes, 31- Balboa (and 31AX, 31 BX), are some of the busiest in the city. The Four Corridor Plan rightly specified this corridor as a prime candidate for subway service. The effect would be comparable to when Muni Metro was put underground in the Market Street corridor; instantly distant locations from downtown will become close, and subway transit will become the clear mode of choice. The Geary subway will connect to the Central Subway/Third Street Subway and thus give the western part of the city a direct and fast connection with SOMA.
2. Improvements To Muni. In addition to these capital projects, which will take many years to effect, there are many short term operational improvements which Muni can make that will improve the level of service to SOMA.
2.1 Recommendation: Implement Exclusive Geary Boulevard Transit Lanes. Employers and workers traveling between the north western part of the city and SOMA needs improved travel times now, before the Geary subway is built. There are a number of improvements which can sequentially be made. The simplest operational changes are the addition of more and different express services.
The greatest limitation to service improvements is traveling in mixed traffic with automobiles, trucks, and service vehicles. Basically, the Muni bus cannot go any faster than the rest of the traffic. It is also subject to the vagaries of automobile accidents, refuse collection, double parking, street parkers especially in retail districts, and so on. This is of course ultimately why a subway is the preferred mode for fast travel. However, because Geary subway construction is more than a decade away, it would be beneficial to construct an exclusive busway on Geary.
2.2 Recommendation: Expand SOMA Muni Service. The last time Muni performed a wholesale route analysis, which resulted in a reconfiguration of many routes, and some departure from the radial in-and-out of downtown system and addition of more cross-town routes, was about twenty years ago. That route study was in response to the knowledge that San Francisco’s development pattern, and thus travel needs, were changing.
But at that time, SOMA was still a declining blue collar area, and little service was provided to it. Michael Burns, the new General Manager of Muni, has stated his desire to conduct an overall route analysis of Muni’s operations.16 However, in advance of that possibility, adopted a new South of Market Service Concept Plan in May of this year. The goals of the new service are to:
• make service legible (e.g., more straight lines and fewer turns)
• link additional neighborhoods with SOMA (priorities are the Inner Mission, Potrero Hill and Richmond
• consolidate service into high frequency, easily understood corridors
• increase connections to regional transit nodes (BART, ferries, Transbay terminal, CalTrain)
• improve circulation within SOMA
This will directly link the Inner Mission and SOMA, and provide a new regional BART connection. It adds new service to the Gift Center and Showplace Square. It also provides a direct link between the Inner Mission and PacBell Park.
The total cost of these improvements is estimated to be $4,000,000 - $5,000,000 annually. These changes are an important first step in developing SOMA as a transit intensive area, providing transit for those new workers and residents in this area.
3. Traffic Management. Surface transit can only go as fast as the automobile traffic in
which it travels.
3.1 Recommendation: Enforce Transit-Priority Streets. Transit priority policies
1. Give priority to transit vehicles based on a rational street classification system
2. Reduce, relocate or prohibit automobile facility features on transit preferential streets
3. Develop appropriate design standards
4. Develop transit centers
5. Place street furniture at transit stops
6. Provide priority enforcement of parking and traffic regulations on all transit streets,
particularly preferential streets
7. Prepare city-wide landscaping and lighting plan
8. Intensify transit service in the central area
Specific measures are:
1. Transit exclusive/priority lanes
2. Bus stop reduction programs
3. Stop sign placement/reduction programs
4. Traffic signal phase modifications
5. Traffic signal preemptions
6. Sidewalk bus bulbs
7. Improved traffic law enforcement
Observation shows that transit-priority streets simply are not well-enforced in San Francisco. If Muni is to become the mode of choice, thereby decreasing congestion, buses must be able to go at least as fast as auto traffic.
3.2 Recommendation: Establish New Transit-Priority Streets. The new Muni plan (South of Market Service Plan) calls for the Folsom-Harrison one-way pair to become a high frequency transit corridor. This would include improving service on the 12-Folsom, operating the 12-Folsom, 27-Bryant, and successor-lines to the 42-Downtown Loop on the Folsom-Harrison couplet from 11th Street eastward. A further potential route revision to the 12-Folsom would be to extend service east of Fremont (where it stops now) to the Embarcadero to make the Chinatown connection to the 83-Pacific, making a continuous service corridor the length of SOMA and connecting SOMA and Chinatown with the FStreetcar line. Service operating on Howard and Bryant would move to Folsom and Harrison, adding automobile capacity to those streets as it adds transit capacity to Folsom and Harrison. Folsom and Harrison would then have bus-only lanes and bus bulb stops. Other streets may be candidates for similar treatment: 16th Street, Townsend Street, and Second Street, and portions of 4th and 5th Streets are likely. And, as many of these streets are also planned for bicycle priority, plans for bike lanes and transit priority must be conducted with respect to each other.
3.3 Recommendation: Put More Parking Control Officers (PCOs) On The Streets. Anyone who has traveled abroad is used to the familiar sight of a traffic control officer, often standing on a mid-intersection platform, in major intersections throughout the city, whether it is London or Paris or Bombay. Major and minor east coast American cities long ago have realized the necessity of such traffic management. Can anyone imagine New York City working without stringent personal enforcement of traffic regulations and intersections? In San Francisco, we are just beginning to utilize PCOs to manage traffic along Market Street and in a few other select locations, and in a number of locations at times of games at Pacific Bell Park. Their effectiveness along Market Street cannot be denied. SPUR recommends that PCOs become an integral part of traffic management, particularly on heavily traveled streets and intersections along Market Street, the streets feeding the Bay Bridge/101, and at key intersections in SOMA. They are absolutely necessary for enforcement of transit priority streets.
4. Parking Enhancements. If there is any single thesis to this paper it is that the transportation problems of San Francisco’s evolving neighborhoods such as SOMA require a more multi-faceted approach than simply to increase parking. For this reason, we discuss the entire range of transportation improvements that, in concert, are necessary to support a workable city. Within this context, however, it is of course important to discuss parking policy as one aspect of an integrated solution.
Keep in mind the earlier discussion about how San Francisco grew: our city is walkable precisely because its various destinations are crowded together instead of being separated by large swaths of parking. Also keep in mind that in some places we have already exceeded the capacity of our street network to handle the volume of cars moving through it; we cannot simultaneously increase parking and reduce congestion. For these reasons, we need to be cautious about how and where we provide parking. The goal of a sensible urban parking policy is to provide access to the city without destroying the very urbanity that makes the city a desirable place to be.
4.1 Recommendation: Better Manage Our Existing Parking Resources. The city owns very valuable parking resources – primarily the curb space along streets and cityowned parking garages. The city also collects tax on privately owned parking garages and lots, which by City Charter, is largely dedicated to subsidize Muni. But deployment of parking is not just a fiscal resource, it is a valuable policy resource that helps determine how well our overall transportation policy works. There are two overall reasons to better manage parking resources, which were an important reason for including the merger of Muni and DPT in the November 1999 Proposition E:
1. The San Francisco City Charter specifies that parking revenues by and large are dedicated to Muni, and
2. How these resources are managed in part determines how many people drive in single occupancy automobiles and how many people use alternative means of transportation.
4.1.1 Collect 100% of Parking Revenues Due. First, the simpler issue of the two: parking revenues. Parking is a cash business and it is widely believed that 100% of tax revenues are not uniformly collected. Revenues from parking meters is dedicated to making effective collection doubly important. To the extent that collection of parking meter revenues and parking tax revenues can be increased, Muni’s overall budget can be increased without any legislation or increase in taxes.
4.1.2 Recommendation: Restore Municipal Parking Rate Structure. When the downtown parking garages owned and managed by the San Francisco Parking Authority were built, they were built to support downtown shopping, and had pricing schedules favorable to short term stays. This policy was in effect until the early 1990s when, during the recession, garages were losing so much money the Parking Authority returned to the Board of Supervisors and asked for revised rate schedules favoring monthly commuters. The reason for this change has long gone, and it in effect encourages people to commute via single passenger automobile, and makes parking in short supply for the short-term users for whom it is intended. Discount monthly rates should be abolished in downtown garages
4.1.3 Recommendation: Rationalize On-Street Parking Rates. Curb space is a valuable resource which the city does not always efficiently manage. Just as parking rates determine the demand for parking spaces in garages, they also do for on-street space. Like all public resources, they are called on to meet a variety of often conflicting objectives. However, when the statement is made, “there’s never a parking space on the street,” the question must be asked, “at what price?” Just as raising garage rates clears out some spaces, raising meter rates, or controlling spaces which are currently uncontrolled, will clear out spaces. If the city set curb-prices high enough to assure that there would always be vacant spaces (the same way any private parking operator sets prices in a garage or lot), any increase in demand for the fixed supply of curb spaces would increase their price, and shortages would not occur. It has been suggested that revenues raised from increased onstreet parking prices go into a local neighborhood improvement fund.17 If San Francisco is going to work on the parking and congestion problem, this subject must be addressed.
4.2 Recommendation: Better Manage Caltrans Retrofit Of US 101/Bay Bridge. Congestion and parking will both be affected by the projected retrofit of US 101/Bay Bridge. According to the April 26, 2000 Pacific Bell Commuter Parking Study referenced above, 3,800 parking spaces will be temporarily lost during the six year construction project.
Construction has been underway for a year or more on the Bayshore Viaduct seismic retrofit project, from about Eighth Street west and south. A total of about 1,500 parking spaces are temporarily impacted. Caltrans states that most or all of them will be returned sequentially as work is completed. However, observations indicate the retrofit method chosen by Caltrans has resulted in above-ground footing structures, which undoubtedly will eliminate some parking spaces. More input on this project by the city could have possibly influenced Caltrans to select an alternative without long term consequences. However, a much more serious impact will be felt further east, where the West Approach to the Bay Bridge will be replaced, requiring complete demolition and reconstruction of this reinforced structure. While the planned six year construction period is “temporary,” it is so long that travel patterns will have to be changed over a long period of time.
San Francisco has not historically managed construction impacts on streets very well. Private construction projects routinely block traffic lanes for years at a time. By way of contrast, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City police require an “appointment” to make a construction delivery, and time is strictly controlled.
Caltrans has been meeting regularly with city staff to plan a Traffic Management Plan (TMP) for the Bay Bridge west approach construction. The city should not allow construction to begin unless it is confident that enough traffic control officers are available, and that enough transit vehicles and operators are available. Additional service will be required on BART, AC Transit, ferries, and Muni. It will be crucial to decrease number of trips across the Bay Bridge for this six year construction period. If traffic on the west approach gridlocks, which is likely, traffic gridlock will spread across SOMA as the onramps are stalled, affecting commerce not only in SOMA but all of downtown.
Replacement of the 3,800 parking spaces will be discussed below. However, decreasing traffic on the Bay Bridge will be absolutely necessary, which will mean getting people onto transit, particularly ferries, for the trip between the east bay and San Francisco.
4.3 Recommendation: Develop A Parking Garage Under US 101. The Strategic Analysis Report on Traffic Impacts in SOMA recommends provision of between 2,000 and 3,000 net new parking spaces south of I-80/US 101. The PacBell Park Commuter Parking Study says 3,400. Both because surface streets are already congested in many locations and land in San Francisco is so valuable, efforts should be made to locate parking garages in locations where there is direct access form freeway to garage without traveling on city streets and also to use land under elevated freeways which has little economic use. Ideally, the land would be made available to the city at no cost. In Sacramento, for instance, there are multi-level parking garages under the freeways near the US 50/I-5 interchange and I-80 east of downtown. The latter also has commercial development at street level. Changing proper market-clearing prices will ensure that there is always a vacancy.
4.4 Recommendation: Develop Satellite Parking Facilities South Of US 101/Bay Bridge. (especially if already publicly owned) as well as the cost of the shuttle. The Planning Department already commissioned the study of commuter parking on the Pacific Bell Park lots, and the studies show it is possible. It is anticipated the Department will issue a Negative Declaration and that will happen. The city is also looking for other sites to pick off commuters from the south before they reach downtown, shuttling them to their destinations by bus (or even ferry). Such arrangements are particularly attractive because the parking fees could be set to cover the presumably low cost of outlying land
4.5 Recommendation: Develop Satellite Parking Facilities At East Bay BART Stations. Because of the impending demolition and reconstruction of the western approaches to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, lasting at least six years, it is crucial to get as much automobile traffic off the Bay Bridge as possible. Far more important than increasing parking in San Francisco is increasing parking in the East Bay and dedicating transit-only lanes on the bridge. BART has long had a policy of not providing paid parking at its stations, instead encouraging patrons to arrive by bus. We believe it is time to seriously reconsider that policy, perhaps offering both free and subscriber parking, for those who wish a reserved spot. However, because land around BART stations is too valuable (both economically and socially) for just parking, transit villages should be developed around those stations, which would include parking. The parking arrangement at The Crossings, a new urbanist transit-oriented development in Mountain View, might point toward a model. This development is located at a new CalTrain station, on the site of a defunct shopping center. Some parking spaces are shared between residents who drive to work during the day and train riders who drive to the underground parking garage. Different spaces are available at different hours of the day, and for different prices.
4.6 Recommendation: Develop Satellite Parking Facilities At Peninsula CalTrain Stations. The Crossings should provide a model both for additional transit villages, and also for locations to get San Francisco destination workers onto CalTrain. Recent experience with CalTrain commutes to Pacific Bell Park are an indication that many workers will choose CalTrain if they believe it is the better option.
5. Pedestrian Enhancements. To quote Jane Jacobs again, “Streets in cities serve many purposes besides carrying vehicles, and city sidewalks – the pedestrian parts of the streets - serve many purposes besides carrying pedestrians.”18 They of course are the public realm, that place where friends and strangers all meet. Continuing,
"A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, out of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities: First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space… Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street… And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers…
This is obviously what downtown San Francisco city streets do so well, and historically SOMA streets have not done. The challenge then is to make the pedestrian environment of SOMA as wonderful as other parts of the city. We should accept no less.
5.1 Recommendation: Widen Sidewalks, Preserve Alleys, Make Other Pedestrian Improvements. A study of old photographs of San Francisco shows that where one we had gracious, wide sidewalks, protected from moving traffic with a lane of parked cars, and in many locations, medians where pedestrians could safely rest, over the years we have widened and widened our streets to accommodate more and faster traffic. This might have made sense up to a point and might have made sense if we were not a city, but in a city, the prime method of transportation to nearby destinations must be by walking. Pedestrians are encouraged to walk where they feel comfortable and safe. The more pedestrians there are, the more comfortable and safe they all feel, and it is a self-reinforcing cycle, decreasing the number of automobile trips that must be made.
Because the north-south streets in SOMA have been seen primarily as access to and from the on and off-ramps of US 101/Bay Bridge, they have in many cases been narrowed to where pedestrians do not feel comfortable. Combined with the very large blocks, pedestrians are discouraged, not encouraged. A partial network of alleys exists in SOMA, and although its preservation is called for in the Master Plan, recent experience has not been good.
Traffic lights have been timed to move the maximum number of cars at the greatest speeds, and there are no pedestrian enhancements such as corner bulbs in SOMA. Street trees and street furniture are almost non-existent. None of this is surprising in a district that was laid out for manufacturing, where trucks were the primary vehicle. However, for pedestrian safety, for creation of lively streets, and to develop a district where foot travel is the preferred mode for short trips, not the automobile, a number of traffic calming and pedestrian enhancement measures must be taken.
5.2 Recommendation: Turn One-Way Streets Back Into Two-Way Streets Over the years, many SOMA streets have been turned into one-way streets. This is a 1950’s solution developed before it was clearly understood that traffic increases to meet the roadway supply. It is easier for the Department of Parking and Traffic (although the results are not necessarily better) to time traffic lights, control turning movements, and manage vehicular traffic on one-way streets. Traffic moves faster without turning movements and opposing traffic. However, the effects on pedestrian movements and hence the life of the streets are disastrous.
One way streets have the effect on driving behavior of causing motorists to perceive the street as an unobstructed “racetrack.” They are a design solution appropriate for singe-use auto-oriented streets, not for urban streets which must accommodate both cars and pedestrians graciously. One-way streets also discourage transit use (clearly a self-defeating effect) because it lengthens the walk necessary to reach the bus line. In addition, buses which have to stop every block do not benefit from the timed lights on one-way streets, and in fact prevent cars behind them from benefiting either, creating instead a hazardous pattern of lane changing. One-way street patterns can require bicyclists who obey the law to travel four blocks to go one block, or disobey the law at hazard to all. Turning streets one-way may have seemed acceptable when SOMA was thought of by traffic engineers as merely a place to drive through, but if it is to become a neighborhood in-itself, streets must be turned back into two way traffic, meeting needs other than just attempting to speed vehicles through.
6. Alternative Modes. Mixed modes, like mixed land uses, make the city more livable by giving individuals choices. In the suburb, we have little choice of housing types or neighborhood or means of transportation. The city has always been the place of choice, and today, more people are again choosing the city as a place to live and work. San Francisco has the largest concentration of jobs in the region and offers the walk-to-work option, which has great appeal to many people. Falling urban crime rates are luring more people into night-time entertainment districts. And the city’s reputation for poor schools is not universally true; it is also not relevant to the majority of households who have no school age children. Adults over child-rearing age are returning to the city looking for a more stimulating environment. All these suggest alternative transportation modes which can decrease the transportation problems in SOMA.
6.1 Recommendation: Use Car-Sharing To Make More Efficient Use of Parking Spaces. While the automobile can provide many advantages, it has the problem of requiring a storage space at both ends of the trip. And in San Francisco, an automobile spends 90% percent of its time in storage. A system of car-sharing, akin to time-share for condominiums, has developed in Europe which is proving very popular, and results in car being shared by 20 individuals. CityCarShare will be commencing operation in San Francisco this year, and has the potential to reduce the number of parking spaces in both residential and commercial locations. The Department of Parking and Traffic has agreed to contribute parking spaces in city garages, as have some developers.
6.2 Recommendation: Increase the Number And Utilization Of Taxis Taxis, another kind of shared vehicle, should be an integral part of our transportation system in San Francisco. Unfortunately because of institutional barriers, there are far few taxis than the latent demand. The Taxi Commission needs to sponsor a ballot measure to remove these barriers, and to gradually add taxis to meet demand.
6.3 Recommendation: Complete a Bicycle Network. Today in San Francisco, approximately 4% of workers who live and work in the city commute by bicycle. For the multi-media industry which is the prime new SOMA tenant, a recent poll of 250 employees showed 9% biked to work.
In 1999, when a bicycle lane was added to Valencia Street, the number of cyclists increased from 88 per hour to 191 per hour, a 117% increase. Valencia Street car traffic decreased just 12%, with traffic moving to adjacent streets, causing an increase ranging from 4% on Mission to 7% on South Van Ness. Guerrero Street experienced a 5% increase, but with changes in the light timing from 30 to 25 mph, the impact was minor. Pedestrian injuries decreased 25%.
6.4 Recommendation: Provide Bicycle Parking in Workplaces and Transit Stations. Bicycles can be stored in one-tenth the space of cars. Improvement in safety and secure bicycle parking that made it possible for just 2% of the non-bicycling population to rely on bicycles are projected to increase the rate of cycling from 4% to 6%, providing a door-to-door transportation option for an additional 12,000 people, in addition to the 25,000 who already rely on bicycling to commute in San Francisco. In addition, bicycles are an effective feeder system for transit. 7% of Caltrain passengers arrive by bike, despite the fact that demand exceeded capacity for bike storage on Caltrain three years ago.
All office buildings approved after 1998 in San Francisco must provide bike parking and showers, but older buildings should also be upgraded as they are remodeled. Parking garages, both old and new, are required to provide bicycle parking, although many are out of compliance. Secure bike parking at both ends of a Caltrain or BART rider’s commute and at the workplace would add thousands of transit riders on those systems and still provide door to door service.
While traffic congestion and parking may be the perceived problems south of Market, addressing either of those issues alone will not solve them, and may in fact make them worse. The answers, while not particularly easy or fast or cheap to implement, are simple in concept. We have only to look at our successful downtown to see the seeds of success: preserving, improving and extending the alley pattern in SOMA for smaller block sizes; requiring mixed land uses to lesson the necessity of vehicular travel within the district, including construction of housing; aggressive expansion of transit, better linking the district to downtown and the western parts of the city in particular; provision of remote parking to get commuters out of their vehicles before they contribute to gridlock in the urban core; managing our parking resources for short time parkers not commuters; and expansion of regional rail, bus and ferries.
It can be done. We have done it before. It takes, mostly, the civic will.
1Personal communication, BART Director Tom Radulovich, June 13, 2000
2Kent Sims “San Francisco Economy – Implications for Public Policy,” draft report prepared for SPUR,
June 1, 2000.
3Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, page 3.
4 David Engwicht, Reclaiming our Cities and Towns, 1999.
5 Downtown Monitoring Report, 1994
6Christopher Speers, Manager, Fifth & Mission Garage.
7personal communication, Kari Novatney, manager of the Metreon
8Personal communication, Alfonso Fillon, SF Giants manager of transportation, June 13, 2000.
9testimony of DPT engineer Bond Yee.
10World Class Transit for the Bay Area, Bay Area Transportation Choices Forum, 2000.
11Studies demonstrate that one of the prime considerations in whether people drive to work is provision of a “free” parking space. For instance, in seven case studies documented in a 1990 study, switching to driverpaid
parking (as opposed to employer-paid) reduced the number of cars driven to work by 19 cars per 100
employees. “An Opportunity to Reduce Minimum Parking Requirements”, by Donald C. Schoup, Journal
of the American Planning Association, Winter 1995, p. 14 et seq.
12Personal communication, Betsy Thagard, executive director, WALK SF.
13G. Richard Swanson & Associates, The San Francisco Municipal Railway: A Case for Constructive Change. July, 1985.
14Personal communication, Andy Nash, SF Transportation, June 13, 2000.
15Undated CalTrans memo, Table 1, page 6.
16Personal communication, June, 2000.
17“The High Cost of Free Parking”, by Donald C. Shoup, in ACCESS, Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, September, 1997.
18Jacobs, op cit., page 29.