A Visit from ConnectSF

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Graham Satterwhite, Howard Wong, Bob Feinbaum

Graham Satterwhite, Howard Wong, Bob Feinbaum

Graham Satterwhite of ConnectSF came to the June SaveMuni meeting to tell us all about his organization. ConnectSF is a long-range transportation planning project that aims to consolidate and coordinate all transportation in the city under a 50-year plan, or more aptly, a set of alternate plans. It tries to identify future scenarios with respect to demographic, economic, environmental, and other factors, and develop viable transportation plans for each possibility. It is a collaborative project between SFMTA, the Planning Department, CTA, Economic and Workforce Development, and the Mayor’s office.

ConnectSF comprises three interacting “streams” of activity. Input from the public is derived from neighborhood meetings and townhalls. There are task forces of key decisionmakers and specialists who often come from opposing points of view, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Greenpeace; “people who would not normally be communicating with each other.” Lastly, there is the city staff “stream,” which is generally more of a technical resource. The meetings of the last two are not open to the public.

The type of scenario planning ConnectSF will implement has been utilized successfully by the Port of Vancouver. Participating organizations ranged from ones that wanted no development of the port, to ones that wanted lots of development of varying kinds. At some point it became generally recognized that if the port were not modernized to some degree, Vancouver would evolve into a “lifestyle city” for the upper class. A “growth and sustainability” model was agreed on.

Another way ConnectSF communicates with the public is through “pop-up” events, where they talk to people on the streets about what excites them and what needs improvement. They also sponsor “co-learning” events, where people get to experience electric bikes, etc..

The organization has already been doing public outreach of various sorts for several months, and will soon be summarizing their findings. In September they will be doing a detailed study of indicators as to where the local economy and development are heading. The end goal is to inform the Transportation Element and SFMTA planning.

SaveMuni will have two people participating in the task force.

Could we get serious about traffic, please?

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According to the “TomTom Traffic Index of 2017,” released on February 21, San Francisco is the 3rd most congested city in the United States. To anyone who has witnessed recent traffic conditions in San Francisco this will come as no surprise. Let’s face it, City Government has dropped the ball on traffic congestion.  Here are a few of the more obvious problems in need of solutions:

            1.)  The daily inflow of vehicles from the Peninsula will soon hit 300,000 cars and trucks a day.  (More than from the two bridges combined). And yet no one seems to notice.   There are ways of moderating this daily inflow.

            2.)  San Francisco’s transportation capital program is mostly a disaster.  While there are some bright spots here and there (e.g. Red Lanes, DTX conceptual design, new buses), much of the City’s transportation resources seem to get spent on enterprises of small consequence.   Needed is  a better and more analytical way of establishing transportation capital priorities. 

            3.) Lyft and Uber are privately owned computer-dispatched vehicles that many have found to be convenient.  Failing to anticipate the problems that  such services would  cause  in San Francisco, City Hall initially sanctioned and even encouraged their development.  We are now seeing the results.  The estimated 45,000 Lyft and Uber vehicles currently operating in San Francisco are both further clogging city streets and cutting into Muni ridership. 

City Hall does not appear to understand is that if people in San Francisco start abandoning collective travel in favor of individual conveyances….especially Lyft and Uber….the traffic will get gradually increase until congestion itself becomes the limiting factor….and no one is going to like that very much.

A Supervisor has suggested that a $0.20 tax per trip be imposed on Lyft and Uber travel.  She’s shooting too low.  The tax should be at least $0.20 a mile.  In fact the tax or other disincentives should be sufficient to hold the number of computer-dispatched automobiles operating in San Francisco to a predetermined City-established limit, below 45,000 vehicles.  

As San Francisco develops and becomes more populated, it becomes increasingly necessary to get smarter about how we plan and develop the accompanying infrastructure.

F Line Extension

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FLineCar

The F line currently runs along The Embarcadero and terminates at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a very popular line, not only with tourists but also with San Franciscans headed for neighborhoods in the northeastern part of town.

For decades activists have proposed an extension of the F line to Fort Mason, using the abandoned rail tunnel that once served the Beltway Railway. But the MTA has never pushed the extension and neighbors living on Marina Blvd have lobbied against the idea fearing obstruction of views and other problems.

Now however thanks to the availability of federal funding from the National Park Service (NPS), the MTA has taken an interest in extending the F line. In mid May, the MTA applied for a $1.1 million Federal Lands Access Program grant to plan and engineer the extension to Fort Mason.

Save Muni supported that application with a letter to the Acting Director of the National Parks Service on June 10. The letter emphasized our willingness to work with the MTA and the NPS to extend the F line to better serve the transit needs of tourists and residents alike.

~ Bob Feinbaum

Save Muni’s Objectives for 2017

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(1) Rededicate itself to making extending Caltrain to the new Transbay Transit Center San Francisco’s Number One transportation improvement priority.

(2) Increase Muni’s speed, reliability and ridership.  Implement and enforce transit only lanes, at least during the morning peak commute period.  Raise Muni’s on-time performance to 85 % by 2020.  Restore comprehensive service to all neighborhoods and increase weekend and evening service by at least 15%.  Cap patron transfer wait times at one-half the headway of the least frequent line.

(3) Double the Market Street tunnel’s Muni Metro passenger-carrying capacity by taking the steps needed to operate 4 and 5 car trains in the subway, including modernizing the subway signaling system, developing a successful way of coupling and uncoupling rail cars at the portals and creating unimpeded LRV surface operations.

Continue Reading

Transportation Crisis in San Francisco

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In an article entitled “SF wants less car-friendly development ” (Examiner 11/29/16), Joshua Sabatini provides a nice summary of what the City’s transportation planners want to do to reduce traffic congestion in San Francisco.  The problem with their plans is that they won’t work.  What is being proposed is akin to trying to fly an airliner using just the ailerons.  (Not a good idea, especially if you’re in the airplane).  What’s currently in vogue in San Francisco illustrates what’s wrong with City Hall’s response to its growing transportation crisis.

Most transportation planning is left to people who are well-intentioned but inexperienced.   As a result the proposed solutions tend to be half-baked and over-simplified.

o   “San Franciscans drive too much; we must walk more”.  (Sounds good)

o  “The restraints on parking will ease traffic”.  (Given Lyft and Uber, how exactly does that work?)

o  “More people should ride Muni”.  (Unless Muni gets better, why would they?)

o  “We need more bicycle lanes”.  (Or is it more bicyclers?)

o  “Putting new development near transit and automating our cars will solve the problem”.  (Both actually add traffic)

All of the above warrant discussion and consideration.  But none comes even close to fully addressing the real problem.  If people are to leave their cars at home there will have to be non-automotive travel alternatives that work.  Here are five considerations that tend to get shoved under the rug:

Continue Reading

EIR’s and the Damage They Cause

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(Updated September 8 2017)

In the mid-20th Century, brutally insensitive highway-building and other big projects were ripping California to shreds. If you’re too young to remember this, take a trip across the Bay and observe what Highways  24, I-880, I-580, I-80 and I-980 did  to Oakland.

In 1970, to protect California cities and countrysides from the wanton destruction being caused by highway-builders, destructive public and private developments and the pollution industry, the California Legislature passed the California Environmental Quality Act.  In principle this made good sense.  The idea was that all elements of a highway or other major project would be described, publicized and evaluated ahead of time…..before the bulldozers arrived.

Unfortunately this spawned a whole new industry of eager Environmental Impact Report (EIR) writers, often unschooled in the complexities of major engineering enterprises. Despite being managed by technically-challenged planners, the EIR soon came to be regarded as a convenient place for locating all aspects of a conceptual design.  In the ensuing years this led to many major design errors and distortions of fact.  EIRs were and still often are poorly-organized, poorly-written, and full of irrelevancies and redundancy.  More importantly, key design elements such as surveys, geotechnical analyses, structural engineering, traffic counts, ridership projections, construction schedules and the all important capital and operating cost estimates are often buried among thousands of pages devoted to profusely describing virtually everything imaginable about the candidate projects.

Time has shown that an important technical specialty buried in a two-thousand page EIR does not carry the same weight as a well-publicized, stand-alone document.  To make matters worse, key technical assignments are often doled out to sub-consultants who lack the qualifications and experience needed to successfully complete their assignments.  The inevitable result of this careless approach to the technical aspects of major projects often leads to major design mistakes, unrealistic schedules and unsupported “low-ball” cost estimates.

In the past it was not this way.  Geotechnical reports, long recognized as vital to the success of projects, were prepared with care and given close attention.  Engineering firms had control over and were 100% responsible for all elements of their engineering designs.  The checking of drawings and other design elements was rigorous and comprehensive.  Cost estimating was a careful and exacting process.

This highly disciplined approach is still used today….by competitive bid construction contractors for whom guess work and carelessness would soon put them out of business.

When buried in EIRs, critically-important engineering design, cost and scheduling elements of large projects often do not receive the attention, scrutiny and evaluation they deserve.

Muni K & M Line Changes – Rebutting the MTA’s Plan

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subwayNewTrains

The SFMTA has been developing its plans for the K and M Lines for many months.  The SFMTA’s plan can be found on its website. Here is SaveMuni’s alternative plan for the K and M lines:

Between the West Portal and 15th Avenue, the K and M-Line tracks would remain on the surface but be slightly separated from other West Portal Avenue traffic by being placed in a 3 inch raised median.  South of 15th Avenue, the tracks would descend into subway and pass under the St. Francis Circle Intersection.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the K-Line tracks would ascend to the surface in the median of Junipero Serra to join the existing tracks.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the M-Line tracks would remain depressed under Ocean Avenue (with a depressed station at Ocean) and the northbound lanes of 19th Avenue to the median of 19th Avenue where they would ascend to the surface and join the existing tracks.  North of Holloway the tracks would descend into a depressed station at Holloway.  The new Holloway Station would be easily and safely pedestrian-accessible from both sides of 19th Avenue by wide and well-lighted depressed walkways.  Plenty of bicycle storage would be provided at all stations, including in particular the Holloway Station.

South of Holloway the M-Line tracks would remain in subway along today’s alignment.  After passing under the 19th/Junipero Serra intersection and Sargent Street the tracks would ascend to grade and join the existing tracks.  The M-Line terminal would remain at Balboa Park and efforts would be made to reduce the M-Line trip times between Holloway and Balboa Park.

Previous SFMTA plans to:

o  build a new subway along the west side of 19th Avenue,

o  locate a M-Line subway station and underground train storage yard in the eastern part of the privately-owned Parkmerced development and,

o  truncate M-Line at Park Merced

would be dropped.

It is estimated that SaveMuni’s plan would cut at least a billion dollars from the cost of the SFMTA’s plan.  Under SaveMuni’s plan residents in all parts of Parkmerced and S.F. State University students would be taken to and from the Holloway Station by inexpensive shuttle buses.   The cost of the shuttle bus service would be shared among the riders, Parkmerced and S.F. State University.

The SFMTA’s plan to run four-car trains to the end of the M-Line would also be dropped. Running four-car trains (at roughly $5 million a car) to the ends of lines when only one or two cars are needed would be a very poor use of tax dollars.

SaveMuni believes that the above-described changes would better and more cost-effectively serve southwest San Francisco, especially if better and more regular LRV surface operations allowed K, M and L trains to be efficiently joined into longer trains at West Portal.

Gerald Cauthen,
For SaveMuni

Vote NO on Props J, K

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Prop J/K:  BAIT and SWITCH… 

Those behind san Francisco Props J & K have used the understandable desire on the part of many to aid the homeless to divert more than $100 million from cash-strapped city services to the SFMTA, a huge agency to which we have already given billions of dollars in sales taxes, bonds, fares, parking fees and fines.  For the following reasons, SaveMuni strongly opposes this deceptive set of local ballot measures.  Vote No on Props J and K:

  • Despite the State law requiring that tax raising measures pass with at least a 2/3rd vote, Prop K, because of its unique pairing with Prop J, would pass with only a simple majority vote.
  • Despite the fact that under State law it is illegal for a State proposition to cover more than one subject, the sponsors of Prop J have chosen to incorporate no less than four distinctly different subjects involving four different City departments.
  • Instead of more sales tax revenues to be wasted or otherwise misspent on vaguely-defined pet projects, there should be better management of the City’s bloated $9.6 billion annual budget, which already exceeds that of many states and small countries.
  • Despite San Francisco’s already-in-place $241 million a year homeless budget, its homelessness problem continues to expand and get worse. 
  • Despite the billions of dollars already spent on Muni “improvements” Muni’s average vehicle speed has dropped by 13%, it’s schedule adherence over the last year has hovered around a dismally low 60%, its per capita ridership has declined and San Francisco’s traffic congestion problems have gotten worse.  Yet only 12.6% of the Prop. J/K sales tax increase would go toward fixing Muni.

What San Francisco needs is smarter priority-setting and better decision-making, not more taxes.  Vote No on Props J and K. 

Transit First at Last

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SaveMuni has often been critical of the SFMTA. However this time it has earned our thanks and commendation. But first a little history.

On March 19, 1973, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors adopted one of the country’s first “transit-first” policies. In those days idea of “transit-first” was virtually unheard of. However to harried Muni riders whose jammed buses continually crept along in congestion, it sounded like manna from heaven. Henceforth Muni’s bus loads of people were to be given a higher priority on crowded city streets, and the riders cheered.

But nothing happened. Decades went by with little change on the clogged roadways where it was most needed. Continue Reading

RAB Discussion at CSFN

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On Tuesday June 19th, at a meeting of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods (CSFN), San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim and SaveMuni’s Gerald Cauthen presented the arguments for and against Mayor Edmund Lee’s “RAB Study” (which is geared to facilitating the full build-out of Mission Bay).   Mr. Rahaim believes that now is the time to look at Mission Bay in a comprehensive and long-term way.    He noted that he personally would not support any plan that delayed the downtown extension of Caltrain (DTX) for more than two years.

Mr. Cauthen stressed the importance of the DTX project and pointed out that 30 months of RAB planning have produced no definitive proposals, no cost estimates, no traffic counts and no hint of how many years or decades RAB would delay DTX.  Cauthen also questioned RAB’s desire to remove the north end of the I-280 freeway and asked that the streets destined to bear the brunt of 8 lanes of freeway traffic be identified.

A resolution currently before the CSFN would give RAB planners until September 15th to conform their plans to the DTX project as currently configured and aligned.