12 December 2014

Mission Bay Rising

Two-hundred feet sea level rise is a high elevation (and a lot of extra water in our seas - thank you Antarctica Water Bank). However dramatic 200 feet sea level rise is, a 25 foot rise is much more likely. Plus you have to get to 25 feet rise before getting to 200 feet. 

So, last month Burrito Justice and I wrote a new chapter in the San Francisco Archipelago - Sea Level Rise story. Written as an article for the neighborhood newspaper The Potrero View, the Mission Bay Rises Again covers the period from near future times to ~2036, when sea levels rise to 25 feet above current sea level. 

The piece coincided with their most excellent history and map issue from November 2014. 

Enjoy the piece below.

Mission Bay Rises 

by Brian Stokle and Burrito Justice
Images by Brian Stokle

The past 10 years have been both cruel and kind to the Bay Area. A decade ago, 15 million people were jolted awake by the magnitude 7.7 Claremont Earthquake that devastated much of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda and San Francisco. No one slept well for months afterwards. 2028 was a dark year, but as our homes and offices swayed, few suspected the quake would trigger an economic boom.

The rebuilding rivaled post-1906 San Francisco and even China after the 2019 Shanghai quake. Much like the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, the San Francisco Olympics of 2032 proved to the world that we were back.

25 foot sea level rise in San Francisco. Image: Brian Stokle

Sea levels had only risen eight feet by 2028; thankfully the earthquake hit at low tide. While “new” seawalls and engineered bay marshes kept most of the City safe, the breaches in the Mission Bay and Embarcadero seawalls were some of the most frightening moments of the City’s history. But the Herculean effort of San Francisco Department of Public Works crews and ordinary citizens filling sandbags kept the Muni and Bay Area Rapid Transit tunnels from flooding, and saved the University of California, San Francisco-Mission Bay hospital. Who knew the old Breda light rail cars would prove so useful? And few will forget women in labor being shuttled to the UCSF emergency room in canoes.

01 August 2014

My Parking Dances are Morphing into Uber Confusion

A few days ago, while parking my car on Valencia Street, I was mistaken as an Uber or Lyft car. In those short moments of trying to back into a parking space, I wondered if this was going to happen a lot more often now that taxis don't always look like taxis anymore.

Firstly - I'm neutral on the issue of the 21st Century taxis - the Ubers, Lyft, Sidecar and other taxi-like "rideshare" or "start-up taxi" services. The other night, on a weekday around 10pm, I was doing my "parking dance" (more on that later) looking for a parking space. I found a space in front of The Chapel on Valencia Street - a legitimate parking space that was not a passenger loading zone space that many restaurants and businesses take "control" of during parts of the day. In that short moment when I was stopped, switching from forward into reverse, I was approached by a well dressed 40-something inebriated woman from the curb asking if she and her friends could "get a ride" and "get us out of here".
Image: Jeff Chiu, Associated Press
For the first moment I was confused, wondering why someone was tapping on my car window. I rolled down my passenger window to improve communications. The first gal walked away as her friend (who looked similar enough to be a sister) walked up, somewhat more coherent, asking why I wouldn't let them in.

My reply: "I was trying to park - right here - for the night."

She responded, "That's hilarious." and walked away from the car back to the sidewalk.

All this while I had been blocking either the vehicle traffic lane or the bike lane (I can't remember which). Luckily there was little bike or vehicle traffic, and all of this transpired over 20 seconds.

As I pulled my car into the space I overheard their male seemingly non-drunk friend say something about, "He's not an Uber car."

For full disclosure, I drive a boring looking nearly black Subaru Impreza, which looks similar to a boring looking Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. I didn't know that it would be mistaken for a web-based start-up rideshare-ish 21st century taxi car. In addition, I have no mustaches on my grill, orange colored rear-view mirrors or a glowing icon on my windshield.

I just wonder how often this is going to happen. I'll keep you posted.

Lastly, is there an app for telling folks that I do not pick up forlks? I didn't think so.

Image: Urban Life Signs

Parking Dance

Every few days I do the parking dance - the dance my family performs to park our car on the street. Here are the moves.

  1. I'm at home with the baby. My wife is about to drive home. 
    1. We don't have a private garage space. We park on the street.
    2. We also don't have a washer/dryer, dishwasher, or good place to park our bikes.
  2. My wife arrives in the neighborhood and looks for parking at 6pm.
  3. After 10 minutes she parks at a nearby hydrant - calls me to do a swap
  4. I come down with the baby - hand it to my wife, and then I get in the car.
  5. I look for parking for 5-25 minutes. I will take any legal space whether metered, loading, or neighborhood on-street space. It's all available after 6pm (except those passenger loading zones in front of restaurants and some music venues.)
  6. Often I park at a place that has street cleaning the next morning. As mentioned earlier this doesn't matter at night so I come home and have dinner with my family.
  7. Since the car is often parked at a 6am street cleaning space, I have to go back out, sometime between 9 and 11pm, and move the car - effectively reparking it. This is better than moving it at 5:45 am when the streets are empty.
  8. Finding a space in the late evening is pretty easy since most folks have left the restaurants so more spaces have opened up in our parking crowded neighborhood.
  9. Repeat the next day my wife drives to work - which could be two days later since she walks 1/2 the time.
If you know of any variants or trick moves that would help make a better dance, please pass them along.

(Regarding the term ridesharing and companies like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, etc, who am I sharing my ride with? the driver? That either means classic taxis are rideshare since you "share your ride with a taxi driver, or these new services are simply taxi services, but with new operational models using new online tools. Ridesharing is a form of carpooling whether its a vanpool, carpool, or even taxipool, but to me it implicitly means that you're arranging to share a ride with folks to either get to or come from a specific regular location, not a requested A-to-B drive like taxis. Maybe I'm missing something, or folks just haven't come up with a new term, such as "taxi" or "neuvo-cab service".) 

29 July 2014

California HSR "Assured" and "Ordinary" in Kids Book

Can a children’s book have an affect on transportation policy? Can it give a push to create California High-Speed Rail? Elisha Cooper’s Train may just achieve that in its own quiet way.
View of California High Speed Rail train crossing from Oakland to San Francisco. Image: Elisha Cooper
Having a two-year old child means reading books to her. I often go to the library to check out books. Some are good. Some are boring but colorful. But once in a while the book is both good for kids, and has a bigger message beyond kids.

Train (2013), by Elisha Cooper is a story that takes us on a train journey across America from New York to California. We start off at a Grand Central Station inspired commuter rail station, and arrive at a suburban station. As commuters get off the train, an Amtrak train passes by, which we then follow. As the story progresses, we cross the country switching types of trains, from commuter to passenger long-distance, to freight, to overnight passenger, and finally high speed rail.

The book grabbed my attention for showing a high-speed rail train in a book that treated the train as regular as any other train. Many perceive high-speed trains as futuristic, or fantasy – but placing it in a children’s book as just another train made it feel so normal. It felt as if we should expect the train, just like we expect new construction at an airport, or expect the next technological advancement.

"Train" cover. Book by Elisha Cooper.


30 June 2014

Say goodbye to Guerrero Street's Median Concrete

Back in 2005, the earth beneath Guerrero Street's narrow median saw the light of day - on a short stretch somewhere south of Cesar Chavez Street, close to where the street changes names to San Jose Avenue. Thanks to Greening Guerrero, Gillian Gillett and community donations landscaping marched north up until 20th Street, save the block between 22nd and 23rd streets. Guerrero Street's speed limit was also reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour. San Jose Avenue also went a 6-lane speedway to a 4-lane street. Regarding the block not landscaped, the holdup was partially due to fact that property owners, not the city, had to agree to pay for the landscaping.

Image: SF Public Works
Well earlier this year, the block between 22nd and 23rd streets got landscaped through funding made in part by the developer of the former Palm Broker site.

Housing located where Palm Broker formerly sat. Image: Urban Life Signs
I had assumed that landscaping north of 20th Street was a lost cause because most of these buildings are rentals, and we all know that renters "don't care about the value and well being of their home or neighborhood like homeowners do."

New tree plantings and plants on Guerrero at 18th St, looking north. Image: Urban Life Signs

02 June 2014

No Sea of Parking on the Waterfront

Over the past several months there's been a lot of talk about San Francisco's waterfront - the waterfront along The Embarcadero from Fisherman's Wharf down to Mission Bay. Much of the talk has been about luxury housing, walls, arenas, protecting our city, and providing affordable housing. But what do we actually have? a wide boulevard with a series of piers on the bay side, and a mixture of short buildings and parking lots on the land side.? Is that what protecting the waterfront is about?

Parking lot across from Exploratorium. "Wall" of Embarcadero Center and Golden Gateway (back). Image: SF Planning Department
The June 2014 Proposition B (Prop B) calls for a citywide vote by the public if any development proposals on Port of San Francisco land should go over height limits zoned for this land. The height limits currently vary, but range from 40 feet (3-4 stories) north of Broadway, and up to 84 feet (6-8 stories) near the Ferry Building. Until now, the planning and approvals process for construction on the waterfront (and in most places) must go through a series of planning procedures, including public input, planning commission approval and sometimes board approval and eventually permitting.

Proponents of San Francisco Proposition B and the earlier Prop B that halted the 8 Washington St development, are saying we should protect the waterfront and stop a "wall on the waterfront". "Let the voters protect the waterfront", by letting them decide if a development would be allowed to go above current height limits. As quoted in their flyer (that I received in the mail):

"Prop B requires voter approval before building height limits can be raised on San Francisco's publicly-owned waterfront. It gives voters, not just developers, a voice on the waterfront that belongs to all of us." - Kate Lobby, Sierra Club

(Emphasis added)

Sounds compelling - who wants a wall on a lovely waterfront? Why would requiring a city-wide vote on height limits be a bad thing. However, thinking critcally and asking more questions I reflect? I didn't realize that the waterfront was governed by an oligarchy of developers? I thought, and know, that the waterfront land use and regulations are governed by the Port of San Francisco and by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. 


Image: SF Planning Department
But let's step back and get away from the technical stuff. Let's get to the bread and butter and emotional stuff. Let's also get away from the name calling and do or die rhetoric. Let's ask two important questions:

1. What exactly is the "waterfront"? 
2. What's at the waterfront today?
3. What are we trying to protect?
4. What do we want our waterfront to look like?

Defining the Waterfront 

Answering this question is easy. Although the waterfront, and the area covered in Prop B covers the shoreline from Fisherman's Wharf down to Hunters Point, for the sake of argument here we'll consider the "waterfront" to follow Embarcadero (street) from King Street near AT&T Park in the south to Jefferson Street in Fisherman's Wharf in the north; the waterfront zone consists of all the water and land from the bayside edges of the piers to 1-2 blocks landward of the Embarcadero. Most of this land is owned and under the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco.

Today's Waterfront Development and Uses

Stepping for a moment into history, let's remember that the waterfront was a much less desired place to spend your time recreating prior to the 1990s, and especially prior to the 1960s. Reason being it was an active port with many warehouses, the Belt Line Railroad running through the middle of Embarcadero, and the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway looming overhead.
Image: San Francisco Public Libary

Image: San Francisco Public Libary
The water/bay side uses of the waterfront have changed dramatically in the 22 years since the Embarcadero Freeway was removed. The Ferry Building has blossomed, the Exploratorium just opened, and even the shopping pier, Pier 39, added vitality to the waterfront.

However, the land-side uses are virtually identical to what they were 30 years ago in the 1980s! So why no change? I honestly don't know why? One thought is that it's not worth buying or leasing a super expensive property that can only go up 3 stories and be built as a boring office building away from where most offices want to be.

Image: SF Planning Department

22 May 2014

The Two Sides of Dolores Park


As many know and have experienced, Dolores Park is effectively shrunk 50%. No more soccer field. No more tennis courts or roller hockey. The only thing going on in the northern half that is anything park-like is the mini-grove of dinosaur era looking trees at the corner of Dolores and 18th streets.

The Dolores Park Improvement Phase 1 began March 10 and is in full swing now. The entire northern half is a 6-year-old’ dirt pile dream realized. With piles up to 25 feet high, backhoes, tractors, and super long dump trucks, the place looks nothing like a park.
Dolores Park seen from 19th Street Bridge looking northeast. Image: Urban Life Signs
Dolores Park historic "promenade" under construction. The Clubhouse is to the left. Image: Urban Life Signs.
Luckily the southern half is still open, but a bit more crowded.  While taking these shots, a group playing soccer was very close to the playground. I’m sure they didn’t launch balls towards the playground, mainly because their tiny field (with beer cups to mark the boundaries) was postage stamp sized for a field, but also the playground is dramatically fortified by a thick row of vegetation and concrete berms.

I had a Facebook-reaction-from-out-of-town-friends-who-love-Dolores-Park moment when I posted the picture above. My friend was horrified that the park was being demolished and removed. Luckily it only looks that way. We still have the northern half as shown below.
View from 20th Street looking northeast. Image: Urban Life Signs
So after all the debate about what the park should be and construction staging, what are we actually going to get? Will we notice a change? Based on the maps, Rec & Park descriptions, and many SF blogs, it appears the most needed thing being added is “new restrooms with expanded capacity” (emphasis added). Updating and adding toilets was critical to any park restoration. The current “clubhouse” only had 4 toilets and was notoriously overused and consequently disgusting. The building will be demolished, although the project map quietly states, "return to turf" for the clubhouse site.
The north restroom building will be located near 18th St & Church above the Muni stop, and the south restroom building will be tucked into the hillside just east of the playground. Based on building renderings, “expanded” actually means:

14 women’s toilets (7 north, 7 south)
5 men’s toilets (3 north, 2 south) and 8 urinals (4 north, 4 south)
4 new private unisex restrooms (2 north, 2 south)

This does not include the new pPods to go near 20th & Church.

12 April 2014

The Endless Concourse?

It looks long but it's actually longer, you just can't walk the entire length.

You are greeted with this hypnotic-somwhat beautiful view after stepping out of the 16th Street Mission Station platform elevator.

In fact the concourse does not run the 700 foot length that the platform does. Rather there is a large empty room above the northern end of the concourse. There are two doors that lead off from the concourse that are locked to the general public.

The longest concourse may actually belong to Powell Street Station, whose concourse goes from west of Fitfth Street and just east of 7th Street.

21 March 2014

Tunnels Never get the Post Card Treatment

Here's a picture of the Holland Tunnel ramps entering the tunnel from Manhattan I took this February from high above in the Trump Soho Hotel.


I like the shot for it's fan-shaped spread of roadways in a field of snow surrounded by earthy toned old warehouse towers.

Incidentally I was visiting with my little daughter. She was apparently more interested in the taste of the window than the view.

It made me think (the tunnel thing, not the baby) - how do you photograph a tunnel? You can't look at it from the shore of a river like you can of a bridge. You can take a shot will driving through one. (Or take one while walking through one - no fun stroll as I found from walking through San Francisco's longish Broadway Tunnel.) But you're so closed it - you can't grasp the entire tunnel all at once.