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!

Jan 17, 2013

What's Going On in Panhandle Park?

Update: The project is now seemingly complete, though improvements have been quite meager. I'm liking the new seating area and rain garden (as long as I'm not bothered by drug solicitors) and some key paths have been widened for better service vehicle access. But I still think Panhandle Park deserves more, especially with how popular the park gets when the sun pokes through the fog. Someone suggested painting poetry or song lyrics on the multi-use path, what ever happened to that idea?

As Uppercasing reported yesterday, there's some problems going on in Panhandle Park. A project to revamp the central parts of the park is indefinitely on hold due to possible funding issues. One nearby neighbor says Rec & Park is out of money and what's complete is all we're going to get for now. Well, if you take a look at the site today, things look far from finished. Fencing is still up, there's piles of dirt everywhere, and the grass hasn't been restored, amongst other issues. This is leaving us all asking what's going on?

In addition to new seating, bike racks, and some upgraded landscaping, a huge portion of this project is to widen certain paths so service vehicles don't tear apart the turf when they drive through.  As you can see in the photos below, the park looks worse than ever – construction crews have caused a lot of damage to the grass and it's unclear whether they widened the paths as they were supposed to.

We just passed two parks bonds (one in 2008 and the other last fall), how do we not have money to complete these very minor upgrades? A several million dollar revamp to Glen Park Canyon Park just started this month and is moving along quickly, so I don't see why this little project should be a problem.

I guess we'll see what happens.. I'm looking forward to the fences coming down and the completion of the upgrades this park and neighborhood deserve.

The turf surrounding the pathways near Ashbury are in worse shape than ever.

A few workers appeared to be working on a curb ramp this afternoon. Hmm...

Jan 14, 2013

SFize 2.0

If you haven't noticed, SFize has been on hiatus for the past several months. I decided I needed some time to settle into grad school and think about where I want to take the blog. While I don't think I'll ever be able to truly "settle" at UC Berkeley, I have had the opportunity to think about new directions. So, starting today, SFize is back online and all posts are viable once again. Over the next while I'm going to make changes to the blog's design and layout – it is 2013 after all – and after that I'll begin posting once again. My plan is to write shorter but more frequent posts on a more diverse range of topics. They'll be plenty of talk on bicycling, but I want to broaden the conversation to consider other important topics at the nexus between urban transportation and the public realm. Less reporting and more open-ended discussion – look out for changes coming very soon!

One other note – while this blog does follow in the name of the famed bastion of bicycle culture, Copenhagenize, I do not intend to write a blog discussing ways to SanFranciscoize the world. We're doing some great things over here (as well as some not so great things), and I want to cover it all. If some of our most successful experiments (like parklets) are replicated elsewhere, that's great, but I'm not pushing San Francisco's superiority to anywhere else. I wrestled with the idea of changing the blog's name or trading it away (as the mind behind Portlandize recently did), but I like the name too much and I know I can adapt it.

So here's to a Happy 2013 and an open future for SFize!


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 21, 2012

Bay to Breakers – Party in the Streets

Yesterday was the Bay to Breakers – the annual footrace (now in its 101st year) which takes participants from the Financial District all the way across the City to the finish line at Ocean Beach. Known more in recent years as a party complete with costumes, floats, and (gasp!) alcohol than an athletic endeavor, residents in the neighborhoods affected by the event have moved to subdue it. Floats and alcohol are now explicitly prohibited and there's a much stronger police presence.

But anyone who's lived in this city long enough knows you'll never control the San Franciscan spirit. I was happy to discover yesterday afternoon that the lively spirit of B2B still carries on. Thousands of people packed Panhandle Park, Fell Street, and JFK Drive yesterday, dancing to music, socializing with friends (and meeting new ones), and engaging in some festive libations. A perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon, I'd say.

Guess what? All went smoothly. Groups of people scavenged the park for recyclables they could exchange for cash refund, portable toilets were set up and used, and nearly everyone was well-behaved. It just felt right to be partying in the streets on a warm weekend afternoon. I mean, what great city doesn't have a few days each year were people take to the streets to celebrate something – even if it's just because we're so happy to live in such a gorgeous city!

A true party in Panhandle Park. Live music & DJs, food, and yes San Francisco, drinking.

More after the break.

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!!