Number-Crunched: For LaVonda Atkinson, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt

Soft Corruption Blues: In San Francisco, Some Wrongs Are Too Big to Make Right

Last week, on the very day the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency ginned up a campaign to charm voters on a $500 million Muni bond, LaVonda Atkinson and her husband signed a clutch of papers, and mailed them off.

It was their declaration of bankruptcy.

The former cost engineer for Muni’s Central Subway project took a leave of absence last month out of frustration that the agency is “ripping off the taxpayers.” In an April SF Weekly cover story and a whistle-blower complaint with the city controller’s office, she elucidated just how…

In her personal life, making the numbers add up requires more than retroactively doctoring the spreadsheets and entering zeroes in the right columns.

Atkinson — employed by a subcontractor to a Muni subcontractor — was spurned in her attempts to stay attached to the Central Subway project and keep an eye on things. Instead, she last week returned to work, part time, and perused BART-related finances.

In the future, Atkinson says she hopes to pen an academic monograph on the sorrow and the pity of the Central Subway. She’d also like to write a study of the effects whistle-blowers have had in righting the course of wayward capital projects.

Time will tell how her own chapter unfolds… (more)

SFMTA claims crime is down on Muni, but it appears to be rising on the Central Subway project, if these claims of cooked books are valid.

There are a few brave souls out there who are trying to Fix the MTA. Let’s hope that LaVonda pens a best-seller. We all can benefit from closer scrutiny on the city agency with the largest most fungible budget. Concerned citizens are uniting to challenge the beast at the ballot box. The lastest effort kicks off on Saturday: Support the November Ballot initiative: Restore Transportation Balance


Even the SFMTA is confused by those crosswalk countdown signals

No wonder everybody’s confused by those countdown clocks at crosswalks that alert pedestrians to how many seconds remain before the solid red “don’t walk” hand lights up. Even the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency can’t get it right.

We asked the agency’s spokesman, Paul Rose, to clarify matters after a spate of letters to the editor in The Chronicle debated whether pedestrians are allowed to enter the crosswalk throughout the countdown or not.

Rose told us in Sunday’s City Insider column that the countdown is “an awareness tool” for pedestrians and that they cannot be ticketed for entering the street as the countdown clock flashes, even as it approaches zero.

“They can start whenever they want,” Rose said.

Shockingly, just because a government official says something doesn’t mean it’s right.

Sure enough, several readers e-mailed to say Rose had it flat wrong and that pedestrians cannot legally start crossing after the countdown clock has started. They may only enter the crosswalk when the walking person is illuminated in white lights, but can finish crossing if they’ve already entered when the countdown begins.

Rose acknowledged his flub. “I passed on wrong information,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

One city official who does know the in’s and out’s of crosswalk signals is Commander Mikail Ali of the San Francisco Police Department, who e-mailed to say pedestrians cannot enter the crosswalk after the countdown has begun — or risk a citation or being struck by a vehicle.

One thing isn’t so clear: whether countdown clocks work. Ali said some studies show they’re helpful for pedestrians, while others show they contribute to erratic behavior on the part of walkers such as trying to sprint across the street with two seconds left on the clock.

Pedestrians behaving erratically in San Francisco? There’s something we can probably all agree on…. (more)

We finally have something everyone agrees on. Lack of consistency does not make the streets any safer. It breeds confusion, which leads to erratic behavior.

There are state laws on the books which could be followed if we all agreed to abide by them and quit trying to create exceptions.

The SFMTA has avoided following state laws by setting up quasi-legal exceptions under the guise of pilot programs and now we see the results. Different driving patterns and changing lanes from one street to another has added to the confusion and the stress levels.

Elected officials should take note of this and restrain the SFMTA from any further deviations from state laws. That way we could all go back to following the same set of rules.

Next, we need to communicate more clearly with the public what the state rules are.

Traffic signals are designed to do more than start and stop traffic. They should give us the ability to predict the behavior of everyone else on the road. When no one knows the rules you have a lot of stressed people acting erractically. How do we get back to the point where everyone knows the rule?

We start by agreeing on what they are.

Let’s start by following the state laws and limit the number of “exceptions to the rules”.

  • Yellow lights should be timed so that a pedestrian crossing the street has enough time to reach the other side before the light turns red, not set for a couple of seconds to catch cars running red lights. 
  • Countdowns should be treated like yellow lights. Maybe the countdown color should be yellow instead of red and the hand should go away.
  • Everyone should stop at red lights, and stop signs.
  • Whoever is in the intersection first should have the right of way to pass through it regardless of how they got there. Civilized behavior is the safest approach.

Clipper Card Upgrade Could Bring Seamless Regional Travel, Or Not

by : sf.streetsblog – excerpt

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will soon renew its contract for Clipper, the Bay Area’s “all-in-one transit card.” Transit advocates are urging MTC to use the opportunity to create a more seamless fare system, and remove barriers that could allow Clipper payments on both the region’s transit agencies and “first-and-last-mile” trip services.

Transit riders can currently use the Clipper card to pay fares on the Bay Area’s seven largest transit agencies (Muni, BART, AC Transit, VTA, Caltrain, SamTrans, Golden Gate) and the San Francisco Bay Ferry, and it’s set to include several other smaller transit agencies by 2016. While using a single card is certainly more convenient for customers whose trips take them across seemingly arbitrary transit agency service boundaries, it hasn’t made those trips faster or more affordable.

“Take the trip from U.C. Berkeley to Stanford: important destinations that are both inherently walkable places with daytime populations in the tens of thousands,” SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin wrote in a blog post last week. “It’s logical to think they’d be linked by high-quality transit connections. But even during the morning rush hour, this trip takes nearly two hours.” It also costs $10.10, or about $400/month for a weekday commuter.

“In other regions where transit works better, you don’t have to think about what brand of transit you’re taking or who operates it,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “And you don’t pay a lot extra to take different brands.”(more)