SFMTA oversight

from SF Chronicle letters, 10/27/16 – excerpt

While walking down to Polk Street yesterday, I stopped to read a flyer taped to a pole and was once again reminded of the absolute power that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency holds over the city. This flyer urged people to vote for a number of measures that The Chronicle has given a thumbs down to. One is Muni oversight.

After participating in a process of meetings and hearings on the Polk Streetscape Project, I was completely disheartened. The people of the neighborhood were barely heard. I was left with the impression that the SFMTA was going to do whatever it wanted, regardless. Now, they have big plans for Van Ness Avenue.

This elaborate plan is happening without question. Hundreds of trees will be cut down to enable this work. This act is a devastating tragedy in itself. I am afraid to think of how many more parking spaces will be eliminated. But this is part of the SFMTA’s Transit-First policy.

Forcing people out of their cars is a big agenda. The feeling I get is of a powerful city department that can ride roughshod over the people, devastate neighborhoods and the environment, answerable to no one. Scary. SFMTA needs oversight.

– Carol Drobek, San Francisco

Vote Yes on L!

When you compare the SFMTA Board meetings to the SF Planning Commission Meetings, you can see the difference having a more balanced board makes. The SFMAT Board meetings always end the same way. Whatever staff suggests is what the Board votes unanimously to do, regardless of what the public says. All members of the SFMTA Board are appointed by the Mayor. Proposition L would change that and at least 3 members of the Board would be appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

According to the Public Press, if proposition L passes, a new board would take form in June 2017. This is really important because there appears to be a plan to merge Planning and Transportation, meaning all the tricks the SFMTA has been playing with (or I should say on) the public, will be visited on us by the Planning Department soon if we don’t act now to stop it.

This is why huge amounts of money are being spent to stop DHL+M. But, we know better, don’t we? We are smarter than that. We are going to help spread this video:

We are are going to let people know they can vote for change at City Hall and take back our city and our streets! We are going to support Muni riders not contractors. We are going to bring back the service Muni riders want and ditch the techie gizmos SFMTA is buying instead. We are going to overhaul the entire program by putting people into office who will service us not tax and spent on programs we object to.

Castro Merchants Talk Demand-Responsive Parking Meter Pricing, Set To Roll Out Citywide In 2017

by Shane Downing : hoodline – excerpt

Demand responsive pricing will come to Castro parking meters early next year.

Over the past few years, seven San Francisco neighborhoods have served as a testing ground for SFpark, an SFMTA-initiated project that adjusts parking meter prices based on the time of the day and the day of the week.

Originally piloted with 25 percent of the city’s parking meters, SFpark’s demand-responsive pricing will roll out to the rest of San Francisco’s parking meters early next year—including in the Castro.

Parking is a product like anything else, and some spots are more valuable than others,” SFMTA parking policy manager Hank Willson told the Castro Merchants at a meeting this month. He argued that if people know where parking is available and how much they can expect to pay before they pull out of their driveways, it will reduce the amount of circling and unsafe driving practices…

According to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, the pilot program was a success. It decreased parking search time by 43 percent, and average meter and garage rates actually went down, by 11 cents and 42 cents an hour, respectively.

SFMTA says the program also helps businesses sell more, because potential customers are able to find a place to park. Between 2010 and 2013, sales tax revenues for businesses in non-SFpark areas increased 20 percent, but in SFpark neighborhoods, they went up by more than 35 percent, indicating that consumers were spending more in those neighborhoods…

Which neighborhoods saw the increase is revenue? Were they neighborhoods that did not receive the complete streets treatment? Did they get the full treatment of parking and traffic lane reductions or did they just the meters?

Another Castro merchant was curious as to how people are supposed to look up parking prices on the SFpark app while also driving and (hopefully) searching safely for a spot…

Are these people nuts or do they think we are? If the price changes all the time how will you know how much you are going to pay and what has this got to do with parking availability? These people are nuts.

The idea that you will drive a block further for cheaper parking is crazy because you can’t tell how much the parking is until you park and get out to look at the meter, even then, you don’t know until you start feeding it.




Game-changer bus for San Francisco’s notoriously slow Muni system nears its debut, but not everyone’s on board

By Lauren Hepler : bizjournals – excerpt

After 13 years, the rubber is (almost) ready to hit the road for Bus Rapid Transit. Advocates say it’s like getting a new train service at a fraction of the cost, but detractors worry that everybody else will get taken for a ride.

A new kind of bus, heralded as a game-changer for San Francisco’s notoriously slow Muni system, is closer than ever to making its debut.

On Oct. 24, construction crews are set to begin laying the groundwork for the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit project on a two-mile stretch of Van Ness from Mission to Lombard streets. Essentially public bus service on steroids, the $159 million project promises to cut travel times by a third.

With exclusive lanes for buses, coordinated traffic signals and new elevated stations in central medians of major thoroughfares, BRT is designed to speed things up in a city where buses travel at an average of just 8.5 miles per hour. The aim is to add more frequent buses on BRT routes, and put them on a timetable that reflects reality…

Not far behind Van Ness, which is projected to start serving passengers in 2019 for the same regular $2.25-a-trip fair as existing bus lines, are projects on Geary and Geneva streets…

A 9-mile project from Oakland to San Leandro is also on the cusp of breaking ground. The $178 million project slated to be up and running in late 2017 is projected to serve riders at an operating cost of $8 per passenger, compared to $31 per passenger for light rail, said Robert Del Rosario, director of development and service planning for AC Transit.
BRT’s economics have transit agencies around the region moving full steam ahead to map out more routes, cobbling together funding and predicting major development implications near new bus stations.

“All of the cities are really focused on in-fill development,” Del Rosario said. “They’re hoping it’s smart development that doesn’t bring more cars.”…

However, the budding BRT boom has reinforced a familiar Bay Area adage in a big way: Planning something isn’t the same as building it. BRT has taken 13 years just to get to the brink of construction in San Francisco; many residents, businesses and commuters are less optimistic about the benefits than transit planners, and have sometimes used the political process to throw sand in the gears.

Familiar concerns about parking and ease of travel by car, plus logistical challenges like a widening scope of work, have plagued the Van Ness BRT project and others. So have more obscure obstacles, such as a successful last-ditch effort in September to halt work so that historic beige and gray trolley poles in the area could be preserved…

One predictable reason it’s been slow going is consistent backlash from car owners since San Francisco voters in 2003 approved the Proposition K sales tax hike to fund transit improvements like BRT.

Giving up two lanes of traffic and losing turning privileges on central arteries like Van Ness aren’t appealing — but they’re necessary, McCarthy argues. Areas targeted for BRT are also already high ridership for transit, with the 47 Van Ness and 49 Mission/Van Ness bus routes serving an estimated 16,000 customers per day, making them prime opportunities…

The report also estimates that 19-34 percent of auto traffic will likely be displaced by BRT to parallel streets, other times of day or alternate modes of transportation. Intersections around Gough and Hayes streets, as well as Franklin and O’Farrell streets, were projected to see the most noticeable delays starting at 30 seconds per car…

Look no further than San Jose for a real time example of how projects can be derailed in progress. Last September, the South Bay’s Valley Transportation Agency had to fire its contractor on a $114 million BRT project after a busted gas line, cost overruns and permitting issues.

In the Mission, meanwhile, a step toward BRT with so-called “red carpet” lanes for both buses and taxis have drawn the ire of local businesses and residents cut off from the lanes this spring.

“The changes look better on paper than in practice,” Supervisor David Campos said in an April statement, citing complaints from car owners in his district…

The area around the Van Ness corridor, zoned for a mix of high-density combined residential and commercial usage, is projected by the county to gain 12,208 households by 2035, or a 28 percent increase from pre-2000 levels. Planners are hoping to capitalize on that momentum by making it easier to move through the area, particularly given its dual appeal as a tourism connector…

Features of the new BRT corridor on Van Ness Avenue include:

  • Dedicated transit-only lane, for use by Muni and Golden Gate Transit buses only, that is physically separated from mixed traffic lanes
  • Enhanced traffic signals optimized for north-south traffic with Transit Signal Priority that keeps buses moving by holding the green light
  • Low-floor vehicles and all-door boarding for quicker and easier loading
  • Safety enhancements for people walking including shortening crossing distances with sidewalk extensions and median refuges, zebra-striped crosswalks that make people more visible, audible countdown signals and eliminated most left turns from Van Ness Avenue (except northbound at Lombard and southbound at Broadway)
  • High-quality boarding islands at consolidated transit stops located at key transfer points.




Dissenting view: Yes on Prop L

By Pratima Gupta and Phil Chin : sfchronicle – excerpt

Proposition L holds the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency accountable by encouraging a balanced oversight body. Its board of directors oversees a $1.1 billion budget and directs the policies and projects that determine whether the city sees increased traffic gridlock or streamlined bus transit — or whether another pedestrian is killed.

While the majority of city commissions have seats reserved for neighborhood representation, the SFMTA board members are accountable only to the mayor. Prop. L creates a split-appointment process that finally gives neighborhoods a chance to be represented. It would also allow the Board of Supervisors to amend the SFMTA’s budget with a majority vote.

When a Lowell student was killed on Sloat Boulevard in 2013, the community had been demanding pedestrian safety improvements for years. When the SFMTA moved to shut down lower Stockton Street for designer retail chains, the increased congestion was a death knell for the Chinatown community. When San Franciscans asked the SFMTA to regulate giant luxury shuttle buses, the SFMTA responded by charging them a mere $1 per day per stop (since raised to $3.55), even in narrow residential streets. The SFMTA’s idea of community outreach is holding a meeting to talk at stakeholders about their plans — not asking for input or listening to concerns.

Investing in our transportation system only works with meaningful input, oversight and accountability.

Pratima Gupta is vice chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party. Phil Chin is a transit advocate…

The Chronicle’s View

Insulating transit planning from political meddling buys a degree of independence. That’s especially needed in a city plagued by traffic wars, jammed transit and costly employees…

SFMTA has gone too far with the narrow streets. Not only are they slowing down fire trucks, engines and emergency responders , but the buses can barely turn the corner. I watched a relatively small Muni bus attempt a turn at Harrison and 11th Street today. Given that half the street was closed off, the bus was forced to wait for the traffic to clear in the opposite lane before it could proceed. even though the bus had the green light.

It looks as if Prop L has already had some good results. After years of requests for more shuttles to extend the service during rush hours and for various reason, now that the SFMTA is feeling threatened by Prop L, they are suddenly adding shuttle buses to the busiest routes. Maybe if we keep pushing them, they will bring back those routes they killed on Valencia and other streets that Muni riders miss.

New Marina Parking Restrictions Targeting Car-Dwellers Upset Homeless Activists

: sfist – excerpt

Another in a long line of SFMTA measures restricting large vehicles from parking overnight on certain San Francisco streets was approved on Tuesday, this time focusing on the Marina. The Examiner reports that the rules, which effect vehicles over 22 feet long and 7 feet tall, are specifically designed to address a safety hazard some residents allege is caused by people living in their cars.

The ban prohibits parking on specific Marina streets from 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., and has homeless activists crying foul. “We are very concerned about the possibility of expanding this failed strategy,” the Coalition on Homelessness’s Kelley Cutler told the paper…

Perhaps in response to those criticisms, the SFMTA is now floating a scaled down version of an idea first proposed earlier this year by then “homeless czar” Sam Dodge. SFMTA senior analyst Andy Thornley told the Ex that one possible solution to the perceived problem of people living in cars would be to identify vacant lots and allow parking overnight in those spaces. However, in Thornley’s mind, each morning the RVs would need to head back out on the streets to find parking for the day — likely an extremely time consuming affair as anyone who has every tried to park a truck in the city can attest.

At this point Thornley’s idea is just that, an idea, and no apparent moves are being made to make it a reality. Interestingly, however, this may be the last new ban on overnight parking we see for a while. Gwyneth Borden, who sits on the SFMTA board of directors, said that she will not approve any additional overnight restrictions. “We won’t be entertaining these issues in the future,” she said — words which might allow some RV-dwellers to sleep just a little bit easier…(more )

Banned From Numerous SF Streets, Homeless Czar Now Wants RV Park For Homeless Vehicle-Dwellers

Prop. L would divide City Hall influence over Muni and streets

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

Some city supervisors want more say over Muni and San Francisco’s streets.

To that end, Proposition L on the November ballot would split the appointments on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, between the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors.

Currently the mayor makes all seven appointments. If voters approve Prop. L, three of those appointments would go to the supervisors.

Also under Prop. L, the Board of Supervisors would need only a simple majority of six members to approve or veto SFMTA’s budget; now it needs seven.

The measure was authored by Supervisor Norman Yee, and is seen as one of a suite of other measures that would chip away at the power of the Mayor’s Office…(more)

We are hearing rumbles of discontent all over town, from Muni riders being ticketed for not knowing they needed a transfer to prove they paid, to standing Muni riders being tossed around on the hills on crowded buses. Many are irate over the seat and stop removal plans. Drivers have been annoyed for years and now SFMTA has gone too far in ignoring their riders as well. Why are we paying more for less service?

Cutting service, removing traffic lanes and parking, was already cutting into business, and now the SFMTA wants to raise sales tax, further pissing off the merchants and people who still try to buy from local shops. The voters are SMART ENUF to figure out that the SFMTA is the one that needs to go away.

SFMTA spends their time lobbying for money for “innovative transportation solutions” when Muni riders just want more buses, not innovations, pilot projects and “experiments” like the Red Lane treatments. By the way, how many people were told that the Red Lanes are an experiment? If that experiment fails, they have to be removed.

Thanks to the SF Examiner for supporting Proposition L and No on K.

D, H, L, and M Props Supporters United

We are in it to win it!

4 for Reform – Vote Yes on DHL+M

D is for Democratic elections for open seats on the Board of Supervisors
H is for honest government to create a public advocate
L is for less gridlock to improve Muni and traffic
M is for more affordable housing

Muni officials: Despite ‘rare’ glitch, buses are safe

By Jerold Chinn : sfbay -excerpt

Despite a computer glitch that led a Muni 3-Jackson trolley bus to crash into a parked vehicle late Monday morning, transit officials say the trolley buses are safe.

Initial reports said Monday’s crash, which occurred near Jackson and Scott streets, was caused by failing brakes. However, a memo obtained by The San Francisco Examiner states the incident was actually caused by a malfunctioning computer system on the bus that was unable to communicate with the brakes.

John Haley, director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, wrote in the memo to Mayor Ed Lee and the directors of the SFMTA board that when the operator applied the foot break, it should have sent a signal to the traction motor to decelerate, but it did not.

Haley continued to cite in the memo that when the operator activated the parking brake valve, it should have also activated the same traction motor to reduce power, but that did not happen either…

One Muni operator who spoke to the Examiner under anonymity said it’s not uncommon to lose steering and the ability to break while in restrictive mode. According to the operator, this has happened at least 10 times and is a “danger for you and your passengers.”

Other operators reiterated the same story, reported the Examiner. Brake failures are another problem operators said they experience on the trolley buses.

However, Rose said if a trolley bus has battery power, steering should continue to work. He countered that the bus does not lose the brakes in restrictive mode, which transit officials confirmed with SFMTA mechanics Friday morning.

The transit agency looked at recent incidents involving restrictive mode and found that none of them involved a collision or put passengers at risk, said Rose….(more)


Muni to replace malfunctioning buses after computer error led to crash

By sfexaminer – excerpt

A computer error that cut signals to the brakes was found to be the culprit in a Monday morning Muni bus crash, and the San Francisco Examiner has learned that other braking problems may be widespread in the same type of bus, the most decrepit in Muni’s fleet.

Such revelations were highlighted in a document obtained by the Examiner and based on the experiences of Muni drivers who spoke under the condition of anonymity…

The cause of the crash was revealed in a memo leaked to the Examiner. The SFMTA later provided the memo to the Examiner following inquiries based on its information…(more)


As Bus Rapid Transit Construction Begins, Prepare For Van Ness To Become A Daily Nightmare

Construction kicks off this month on the long-awaited, much-debated Van Ness BRT (bus rapid transit) project, in which the heavily trafficked boulevard is going to lose the two center lanes of traffic to bus lines. The move is a reversal of what happened in the middle of the last century, when the two center lanes had been used by streetcars, whose tracks were removed to make way for more automobile traffic. And as the SFMTA explains, both Van Ness and nearby Polk Street will be undergoing multi-year construction projects within weeks, which will mean the shutting down of two center lanes on Van Ness and a lot of sluggish trips up both streets if you make the mistake of letting your Uber/Lyft driver take them.

The traffic lane closures along Van Ness, which will allow for construction equipment and the removal of the median as well as 193 trees, will primarily occur between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, the SFMTA tells us, however there will be night and weekend work at various times too, because: traffic. Also, most left turns off of Van Ness will be disallowed.

The Polk Streetscape Project doesn’t involve the closing of any traffic lanes, but will involve a large amount of daytime upheaval and construction all along the street — in addition to the removal of 106 parking spaces along the corridor and 28 on side streets, essentially meaning you will never park near here again. It’s good news for pedestrians and cyclists, however, as the improvements include “sidewalk corner bulb-outs, to shorten the crossing distance, ADA-compliant curb ramp upgrades; Muni bus stop optimization, such as bus stop consolidation or relocation, bus bulb-outs for easier boarding, and left and right turn lanes to improve traffic flow; raised cycle tracks, green bike lanes… high visibility crosswalks, [and] better visibility at crosswalks.” They also promise a “well-lit plaza atmosphere, widening of the existing sidewalk, decorative asphalt, raised crosswalks, traffic calming measures, and [the] planting of palm trees.”

Meanwhile, it seems like the fight is likely over for preservationists making a last-ditch effort to save the crumbling, history trolley poles/lampposts along the corridor, which were installed in 1915 and were once known as the “Ribbon of Light” (see historic photo here). All but a couple of the poles are set to be removed and replaced with modern steel-tube urban lamps…(more)

If this upheaval doesn’t convince people to vote Yes on L and No on J + K nothing ever will.