Jun 12, 2013

Hidden Innovations

Over the past few years, San Francisco has seen a lot of innovation in street design and traffic engineering. Green paint, red paint, separated bikeways, special traffic signals, parklets – these are only some of the new features that have hit our streets over the past few years. These sort of next-generation designs together have made for safer walking and bicycling, a more efficient Muni, and more enjoyable public places.

Many treatments are bold and eye-catching (indeed some have even made headlines), but there are also a lot of other lessor-noticed innovations that have popped-up recently...

A directional sharrow points the way to the McCoppin shute.

A first for SF and appearing just this week – directional sharrows. These angled shared lane arrows help to guide people along a bike route. In this case, riders are guided off Valencia St onto the McCoppin shortcut leading to Market St and Octavia Blvd. I can think of many locations where this would be useful – perhaps we should get in the habit of placing these just before any intersection where the bike route changes course?

Here's a similar (and older) example at the Shrader Valve.

The "Denver Dude" icon (which is used to mark dedicated bike lanes) can also be modified to provide way-finding. Here such a stencil directs cyclists diagonally across the intersection at Fell St & Shrader St to a buffered bike lane waiting on the other side.

Many more streets are seeing closely-spaced sharrows.

Short of striping green-backed "super" sharrows, closely-spaced sharrows do a great job of enhancing the visibility of bike routes. Here on the just-repaved Market Street, sharrows are placed about every 50 feet. Still, for a street with this much bike traffic, these should have been green!

Bike boxes are popping up everywhere – helpful for those hairy left turns.

Glad to see that the SFMTA is growing more comfortable with bike boxes. While not necessary at every intersection, they are very useful for assisting with making left turns and for when heavy cues of people on bikes are expected. This is also new at McCoppin & Valencia (same intersection as the first photo).

Has anyone spotted any other small innovations that make a big difference? Let us know in the comments.

Jun 2, 2013

Bay Area Bike-Share – Does Color Matter?

Last Thursday the SFMTA held an open house at City Hall to showcase their work over the past few months to bring a bike-share system to the Bay Area. Besides outlining the planning process behind the system, proposed station locations, and other details, they also presented a front-running color scheme for the bikes.

Sea Foam / Bianchi Celeste is the color, and while I don't totally hate it, I think we could do better.

Photo: Aaron Bialick, Design: SFMTA / Alta

The Celeste color is rather muted – for safety and encouragement purposes, these bikes should stand out. They're bright red in Washington, D.C., a bold blue in NYC, and even florescent green in Minneapolis. Montreal's grey and black Bixi Bikes look comparatively dull (not that I don't like a good big black bike).

And besides perhaps the Bay, this color doesn't really speak to anything particularly "Bay Area". Not to mention, and I'm going to be blunt here, they just kind of look like little girls' bikes. We're trying to encourage macho, suit-wearing businessmenpeople to ride these things and I just don't think these are going to do it. All they're missing are the pom-poms!

Many readers of Streetsblog have suggested instead using International Orange – the color of the Golden Gate Bridge – so I played around in Photoshop to see what the bikes would look like in this scheme. I used the official color specified by the GG Bridge District (some history here).

Bay Area Bike-Share Bike in International Orange

Besides alluding to the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Giants, bikes this color would be very visible on the streets and help keep new bike-sharers safe. Also, as someone already noted, it looks similar to a color used by SF's own Public Bikes. What's not to love?

Since I already did all the dirty work in Photoshop, let me know in the comments if there are any other colors you'd like to see rendered and I'll post them here. Also, be sure to contribute to the SFMTA's bike-share station crowd-sourcing map and tell the planners where you'd like to see a station in your neighborhood!

Jun 18, 2012

Bicycling in Old Contra Costa County

I spend a fair bit of time in the East Bay in the cities in and around Walnut Creek since I have a number of friends who live over there and it's also where my girlfriend grew up. For a city boy like me, I really enjoy being able to leave the concrete jungle behind for awhile and move a little bit closer to nature. What's nice about central Contra Costa County is that much of the area feels more rural than suburban in nature. Danville, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, and the older parts of Walnut Creek have this sort of rustic charm that is absent through most of the exurban Bay Area. Many neighborhood streets in these towns lack sidewalks, but people mostly feel welcome walking right on the road. There's also lots of protected open space and the over century-old downtowns of these Contra Costa towns are largely preserved.

Given the folly of not bringing BART directly into downtown Walnut Creek and the lack of proper public transit in the area, I'll usually bring my bike with me when I travel east. If you've never explored the central East Bay by bike, you're in for a pleasant surprise, especially if you're looking for a nice recreational ride. Miles of trails connect the many cities which dot the East Bay valleys and people driving are quite respectful of sharing the road with bicycles. This isn't to say that bicycling in the East Bay meets the 8-80 standards of accessibility, connectivity, comfort, and safety, but these cities have surely been making some great strides in recent years. I've been meaning to document the state of bicycling in the East Bay for awhile now, so here you go – the good and the bad of bicycling in central Contra Costa County.

Let's start with the good, as I believe it's generally best to give credit and encouragement rather than criticism. We'll start in Walnut Creek where my journeys usually begin – the BART station. The City of Walnut Creek (likely in cooperation with BART) recently installed a grade-separated cycle track (gasp!) connecting the station to the nearby intersection of Oakland & Trinity. Though it only covers a short stretch, what was built really represents a perfect road system – there's a defined and comfortable place for people to walk, bicycle, and drive. It's a great use of the previously-unused BART right-of-way too.

Heading now over to Lafayette, since quite honestly there's not too much to praise Walnut Creek for, let's take a look at some signage. We've been ogling over Oakland [official design guidelines], Berkeley, and Portland's new bike route signs for awhile now, but few know that the City of Lafayette has some spiffy way-finding signs of their own. While they don't show estimated travel times as in Portland (admittedly, a difficult measure to estimate), they do provide excellent way-finding to diverse categories of destinations, including BART stations and parks. These bike route signs have proven very useful for me, since I'm honestly still not too familiar with many neighborhoods.

Continues after the break.

May 22, 2012

Bike the Long Muni Shutdown!

As part of the on-going construction on Duboce, Church, and Carl Streets, the SFMTA will be shutting down and rerouting Muni service in the affected areas for 10 days starting this Friday. The biggest news is that the N - Judah Metro line will not be operating at all – special shuttle buses will attempt to pick up the slack. Also, the J - Church Metro line will only operate to Market & Church, where riders will have to transfer to trains underground. Extra Metro service will operate in the Market Street subway and will also run along the Embarcadero to 4th & King. Detours (some major) will additionally be in place for the 22, 37, 43, and N - Owl Muni bus lines. Even if all goes goes according to plan, next week is going to be quite a mess.

All of the details for the long shutdown are available here on the SFMTA's project website.

So, instead of fussing with shuttle buses and transfers, why not ride your bike to get where you're going? With all the recent improvements to the Bay to Beach route, you've got a pretty pleasant ride all the way from Ocean Beach to Downtown. To help you pedal along, the amazing folks at the SF Bicycle Coalition have drawn up some recommended bike routes parallel to the affected Metro lines. I helped create the map below detailing the various alternatives to get around by bike. Traveling by bike is competitive to Muni on a good day, so just imagine how much stress you'll be saving yourself next week.

Suggested bike routes parallel to the N - Judah and J - Church Muni Metro lines.  Click to enlarge.

In addition to helping people get around by bike on their own, the SF Bicycle Coalition has also set-up morning bike trains for Tues through Fri of next week (May 29 – June 1) following both the J and N lines. Detailed information for these rides, including departure times and stop locations, can be found on the SFBC's website.

Also important to know, especially for those of us already riding our bikes regularly, is that there will be a detour for the Wiggle route around the construction zone. The Duboce Bikeway will be closed, as will many streets surrounding the intersection of Church & Duboce. Thankfully, the SFMTA and the SF Bicycle Coalition have worked together on a pretty straightforward detour for reaching the Wiggle. Detour signs will be in place.

This is the detour for the Wiggle. Red = closed, orange = suggested detour route, green = open.  Click to enlarge.

I wish everyone traveling along these routes the best of luck next week. Keep it slow, stay alert, and relax. We'll all get where we need to go with just some small changes to our routine. And when the shutdown is all said and done, we'll have more reliable Muni service on the J and N lines, an improved streetscape on Duboce and Church Streets, and even a mini cycle track! It's always nice to look forward to something.

May 17, 2012

Green Super Sharrows... Meet The Wiggle

San Francisco's most beloved bike route, the Wiggle, is now officially marked in green. The SFMTA started work last week on upgrading the route's sharrows from boring white to bright, eye-catching green. Given the Wiggle's often-confusing nature of alternating right and left turns to avoid hills, these new markings should help to keep everyone (especially new travelers) on track.

The green sharrows will be placed over all existing sharrows along the Wiggle route. All intersections are now complete and crews are now working on Waller Street. Remaining sharrows should be upgraded in the coming weeks and, once construction is complete on Duboce, super sharrows will be installed there as well. In no time, the entire Wiggle, all the way from Market to Scott will be dotted in green.

More after the break.

May 11, 2012

Happy Bike to Work Day!

Hope everyone enjoyed all the Bike to Work Day festivities yesterday! A huge thank you to the SF Bicycle Coalition, our many city agencies, and, most importantly, the hundreds of volunteers who all helped make this event a huge success. With so many energizer stations, commuter convoy rides, and other bikey activities, it was a quite a feat to pull of!

If you thought it felt a little like Amsterdam or Copenhagen yesterday, you weren't mistaken – the SFMTA reports than 73% of all traffic on Market Street during the morning commute was bicycles. With just a little bit more energy put towards building "8-80 friendly" bikeways, we can soon feel like this every day!

Check out our best photos from yesterday in the SFize Bike to Work Day 2012 Flickr set.

May 9, 2012

Oh How Far We've Come

This map I produced for the SF Bicycle Coalition shows the amazing progress we've made in just the past few years towards building out San Francisco's bicycle network. Click to enlarge.

Happy Bike to Work Day everyone! I hope you're all out on two wheels today enjoying this beautiful weather and the company of thousands of people riding their bikes together. If you take a look around this morning, you might just trick yourself into believing you're peddling through Amsterdam or Copenhagen for a moment or two – data from the SFMTA shows that bicycles made up about 75% of all traffic on Market Street on Bike to Work Day last year. We expect to break that record this year. Market Street, after all, is said to be the busiest bicycling street west of the Mississippi!

I helped produce the map above, which shows the development of SF's bicycle network over the past three years. It's really amazing to see the lines start to connect up. What was once a very disconnected network of narrow bike lanes and a few paths is now starting to resemble something much more comfortable, continuous, and useful. There are especially a lot of new connections in the eastern half of the city. Just look at how the new lanes on Townsend, Division, Potrero, and 17th St link up. And on the west side of town, fresh bike lanes on 7th Ave, Laguna Honda, Portola, Claremont, and Clipper have finally brought much-needed facilities to a part of town previously devoid of bicycle goodness.

Regrettably, this map also shows that we have a long way to go to fully connect our city – our bike network is still quite bleak north of Market Street and in the City's northwest and southeast neighborhoods. The current Bike Plan won't do too much to change this, so clearly we have our work cut out for us in the years to come. But we should still feel quite proud of our city's rapid progress over the past few years. There are a lot of green lines on that map! One day soon I'll post another map of the remaining bikeways coming as part of the Bike Plan, as well as others which have been proposed. An inverse of this map might also be informative – showing those portions of the bicycle network which have no facilities whatsoever. After all, connectivity is key for achieving "8-80" status.

But alas, there's always tomorrow to continue pushing for making bicycling better in San Francisco. Today, we celebrate! Have a splendid Bike to Work Day, San Francisco!!

May 7, 2012

Scenes from Sunday Streets: The Mission

You couldn't ask for a better day than yesterday! The sun was shining (and still is, by the way), temperatures were well into the 70s, and Sunday Streets gave San Francisco miles of car-free space on Valencia and 24th Streets. Saying yesterday's event was popular and an absolute success would not be doing the day justice – thousands of people packed the streets wall to wall, reclaiming the usually auto-dominated streetscape for more enjoyable and diverse uses. It all really reminded me of my recent trip to Madrid and how Madridians enjoy their weekends, socializing in the streets.

This year, Sunday Streets will be visiting the Mission District four months in a row – the first Sunday of May, June, July, and August. The idea is to show people what a more regular event in the neighborhood could feel like. I honestly don't think there's any debate that Valencia and 24th Streets could be car-lite most weekends. Local businesses were booming, neighbors were out getting to know each other, locals and out-of-towners alike were coming together, and people were socializing and being active. Even after the event officially ended at 4pm, the foot traffic didn't suddenly go away. The Mission was more alive than usual on an especially warm evening – everyone basking in the afterglow of Sunday Streets.

This week's photos are through the lens of Laura Peterson. I'm definitely fond of the new angles and perspectives on our streets. Hope you all enjoy too! The complete collection is available on Flickr.

Both 24th and Valencia Streets were packed with people as far as the eye could see. I'm in absolute awe of 24th Street's beautiful tree canopy!

Even more lovely photos after the break!

May 4, 2012

SF's Next Generation Bikeways

It's time to celebrate – earlier this week the SFMTA finished construction of San Francisco's first parking-buffered cycle track! People in Golden Gate Park finally have a dignified place to ride their bikes without having to even think about auto traffic. This new bikeway is truly a facility comfortable for bike riders of all ages and abilities, hopefully opening up the bicycle to even more people in San Francisco. Cycle tracks, or separated bikeways as some have come to call them in this country, take on many different forms, but the main quality is some form of physical separation from motorized traffic. This could be a planted median, soft hit posts, a raised curb, or, in the case of JFK, a row of parked cars. Which design works best for a given street depends considerably on its unique context.

JFK Drive has had its fair share of criticism since the start of construction. Where am I supposed to park my car now? How do I make a left turn? I feel "boxed in"! I can't ride as fast as I used to! I don't like having to look out for people getting to and from their parked cars. These are only some of the many complaints people have made about the new facility thus far. While I'm happy to see that, despite some noted trouble spots, most people seem to have gotten the floating parking concept down, many of us are still having trouble navigating this new bikeway design. Since it was a surprisingly smooth transition to park away from the curb, we now have some work to do with getting people used to how to actually ride in cycle tracks.

Riding in a cycle track is a little different from riding with auto traffic.

At the root of the problem, I believe, are ingrained vehicularist habits and ideals that are incompatible with the next generation of bicycle facilities. You're not riding with car traffic anymore so you no longer have to bike so fast. No one is going to honk at you if you don't ride single-file. And the old way of making a left turn (like a car) isn't necessarily the best way to turn anymore. There's also a lot more coordination involved – not with cars, but with others bicycling and people on foot.

Truly, this is all good news! We're finally reaching a point where the routines of bicycling need not be defined by what works best for the automobile. Riding in a cycle track is a different kind of bicycling from riding with traffic and it requires correspondingly different behaviors.

Continues after the break.

May 1, 2012

Parking Above All

Auto parking is clearly more important than an open sidewalk.

Most of the neighborhoods surrounding West Portal were built just around the time when the automobile was first gaining popularity. People were definitely thinking about car ownership, but not everyone had one and the custom was still one vehicle per family. Many homes were not originally built with a garage (some are still without one) and most of our streets are pleasantly narrow. Fast forward to today where everyone and their kid has to have their own car – the suburban lifestyle imposed on San Francisco – and we have a serious problem of where to store all of these vehicles. The solution, after filling up your one- or two-car garage, has typically been to park along the street. The custom has become so intrenched that people now perceive of free street parking as a god-given right.

So what happens on our neighborhood's streets which are too narrow for curbside parking? People park on the sidewalk, of course! I took some photos over the weekend along Kensington Way, a street I regularly walk down to reach West Portal. Even though residents of this street have garages and many also have large carports accessible from a rear alley, many still feel privileged to take up half the sidewalk as well. I feel sorry for parents trying to weave a stroller past the maze of stored cars and couldn't even imagine how someone who uses a wheelchair could navigate the space. One home on Kensington has a wheelchair lift leading to the front door, so clearly the challenges must be close-felt.

More after the break.