28 March 2012

BART 70's Space Age Tiles

While passing through BART's Powell Station yesterday, we took a few shots of the 70's space age futurama utopia hex bubble dome tiles. While trying to find a somewhat clean set of tiles, which is a true challenge (should have brought some 409), we noticed that there are some faux hex dome tiles! The walls surrounding the BART Police Station have wallpapered tiles! Heavens to Betsy! The horror!
Classic Hex-Domed Tiles
Flat faux hex domed tiles (left), real hex domed tiles (right)

We don't know when the Police Station was added to Powell, and we're pretty sure it wasn't part of the initial design of the station. We could be wrong.

Might BART been unable to afford the tiles at the time? Were they not available? Did George Lucas take all of the remaining tiles when he filmed THX-1138 in the BART system? Who knows.

What we do know is that the domed tiles put some pizazz into both Powell and Montgomery stations, even after 40+ years of service. Just please have them washed when the modernization is complete. To rephrase Don Draper in Mad Men's first episode the other night, "Just because you see a futuristic white tile in a magazine doesn’t mean it’s practical.”.  Here's to hoping BART doesn't go uber practical and replace the station with wallpaper versions of the hex-dome tiles.

They just need to call up our friends at Subway Ceramics, who have the great url subwaytile.com. The planned Farina pizzeria spinoff most likely ordered their tiles from these guys.  They sell those same snazzy hex-dome tiles, as "specialty" tiles. Just ask for the 33HD00's if you want the domed ones. Now that's a futuristic name!

The price isn't readily apparent but it appears the hex tiles (probably the flat ones) cost $5 a piece. Maybe BART can get a discount since they'd be buying so many, and the two stations are virtual ads for Subway Ceramics.

Subway Ceramics web site SubwayTile.com, with the Hex Dome Tile. Courtesy Subway Ceramics

27 March 2012

The Atlantic Cities has done a piece on my transit map work with SPUR. Allison Arieff, who is also the editor to SPUR's Urbanist publication, interviewed me for the piece titled "A Fantasy Transit Map for San Francisco".
Courtesy Mary Ellsworth

In the piece, I described how to make the best map of a complex transit system. "Finding the 'Goldilocks' point, not too schematic, not too geographic, but highly legible is how a final map should look..."

Thanks to the multiple English authors who crafted the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" throughout the 1800's. The story's repeated use comparison for finding the right point ("not too cold, not too hot, but just right", or "not too hard, not too soft, but just right) has proven quite powerful for us in the 21st century. Whether you're talking about the location of planets adapted for life, or describing the best price to set parking meter rates, Goldilocks is there to help you out with the perfect in between point.

Thanks to Allison for putting the article together.
Courtesy nytimes.com
Courtesy sfpark via npr.com

24 March 2012

Graffiti Art Marketing: A new Valencia Indian Restaurant

Valencia Street has seen a lot of changes over the past 10 years. Many businesses have come and gone. Over the past 2 years, since the street was redesigned with wider sidewalks and more trees, a wave of new eateries have opened. These include: Pica Pica, Venga Empanadas, Limon (now Limon Rotisserie), Thai House 530, Locanda, Wo Hing General Store, Mission Cheese, Tacolicious, and Grub. In addition, other establishments such as Et Cetera, Mosto, Live Fit, FSC Barber, and the 780 Cafe (former Summit Cafe) have opened.

Many many are in the pipeline, but we here at Urban Life Signs wonder if and at what the point of restaurant over-saturation is. One of the soon to be open restaurants is Amber Dhara. While walking the street a few days ago, we noticed someone spray painting on the wooden construction boards surrounding the restaurant. At first we thought it was an ambitious graffiti artist, guerrilla painting his rather attractive word art. Alas, a day later it became clear (after the paint dried) that graffiti spelled "Amber Dhara", promoting the upcoming restaurant with a "Coming in May!" to whet our anticipation.

The Amber Dhara web site indicates that the restaurant is "Coming Soon, May 2012" They are currently hiring (March 28)

The artist is Jonathan Matas, who even signed the piece. His Amber Dhara art is already up as his Facebook banner. He also has two photos of the piece, one for "Amber" and one for "Dhara". With 120 and 111 "likes" at this point, I can only guess that 9 more people think the "Amber" piece is better, or that he has 120 friends - 9 of who couldn't get to clicking "like" for Dhara", or he may have 231 friends. Either way it's looks great, and does his other work, including a piece on The Underground Railroad in Ithica, and a recent painting for Facebook's new digs (see time lapsed video at bottom.)

As reported in SF Gate's Inside Scoop, Vijay Bist, who also owns Amber India in downtown SF, opened an Amber Dhara in Palo Alto last fall as "a new concept." He was reported then to be opening "the same concept in the Mission in the coming months." Well a few months have passed, and we're still under a year so he has a few more months to play with. The place will apparently be a bar/tapas/small plate restaurant. "Chef Vittal Shetty’s contemporary menu centers around vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis." We look forward to the opening of the restaurant's opening. Based on previous "opening in <insert date>" we'd put my money on it opening in June or July. 
Courtesy 4president.org

As commented in Mission Mission, "It seems like this place has been boarded up for years, because it has," it made us wonder when it was last occupied. To our incomplete recollection of the past 12 years, the last establishment to occupy 680 Valencia was none other than the "Ralph Nader for President - 2000" campaign offices. Now that's change.

21 March 2012

When the floods come to San Francisco

UPDATE: you can get posters of Flooded San Francisco (aka 25 foot sea level rise) Maps here.

I've been working on my San Francisco topographic map over several years. The one in the earlier post is actually a rough copy. The final version will have text, much in the vein of a classic atlas.

Burrito Justice put together a great post San Francisco Archipelago, which used my SF topo map as a base. The combination of the imagined future news report on San Francisco, coupled with the flooded SF map is a true delight. In addition, Bernalwood's piece on how the flood would affect Bernal Heights was great. The photo is priceless. In fact, Bernal Heights would fare very well with 200 feet of sea level rise. All of the Cortland Street commercial district would remain, as well as Holly Park and Reservoir, and Bernal Peak of course. The only loser would be Cutting Edge Salon, since it sits at about 195 feet above current sea level.

Ironically, I'd been working on a 25 foot flooded SF map. So, I'm posting what a 25 foot flood map would look like. I'll leave the news article fiction to Burrito Justice. Not quite as dramatic as the archipelago with its 200 foot flood (or the 300 foot flood). That said, a 25 foot sea rise could happen in many of our lifetimes, especially if we lose the Greenland or West Antarctica ice sheets.

Please note that the elevations noted are based on 2012 sea level. Subtract 25 feet to determine updated elevations.

UPDATE 2/23/2013: To see the same map but with STREETS, see my "Streets of Flooded San Francisco" post.

20 March 2012

Street Design of Valencia Street

Back in 2010, Valencia Street got a redo along 4 blocks, between 15th Street and 19th Street. Sidewalks were widened, bike lanes widened a foot, trees planted, bike parking, repaving and much more. In fact, Valencia Street has gone through many iterations in its 100+ year history. Below is a history of the various street configurations, including streetcars down Valencia! Now that would have been nice.

The Cable Car Years: 1883 - 1906
Horsecar train tracks on Valencia were put in around 1860 according to When Steam Ran on the Streets of San Francisco. The street was converted to Cable Cars in 1883, which were damaged in the 1906 earthquake, according to The White Front Cars of San Francisco. Horsecars, the oft forgotten first mass transit on rails.

Horsecar on Howard Street (now S Van Ness) from SF Public Library via Landscapes of Mobility

Source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection - photos of Valencia Street

The Streetcar Years: 1906 - 1949

The Great 1906 Earthquake and Fire devastated San Francisco, including the northern half of the Mission.  Note that in the photo below, we see the warped cable car tracks with their tell-tale middle gap allowing access to the cables. Also note that between the tracks, the street was paved in bricks or cobble stone. Kind of like today's redone tracks paved in cement, with asphalt for the majority of the road.

After the earthquake, the transit service reopened as the "9 Valencia" with electric streetcars on November 1, 1906. Unlike the old "26 Valencia" bus, the "9 Valencia" went from the Ferry Building to Noe and 29th Street, and on to Mission and Geneva during peak periods. The "26 Valencia" went from 5th and Mission down Mission Street to Valencia, then ended at San Francisco State University via Balboa Park Station.

Valencia St between 17th and 18th streets after the 1906 earthquake, looking north (Call Building on right in background.)
photo: Source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

Map courtesy of Octoferret via Burrito Justice

18 March 2012

What would you do in 20 years?

Many of you may have seen this shot before, but it's still potent.

Shanghai 1990 vs. 2010
My favorite things about these shots (apart from serious thought provoking elements):
1990: density of barges, and the clouds.
2010: the variety of color in lighting, and the scale and audacity of the "I ♥ SH" sign.
Lastly, the fact that the scale and the time of day are different do not matter. They actually enhance the point of the comparison without exaggerating it.

These two pictures, first from Shanghai in 1990 and the 2nd from 2010, brings up so many thoughts and questions.

How did China change the city so quickly?
Is Shanghai and China better for developing this quickly?
What was lost or destroyed? What was gained?
Why can't we, in the USA, move more quickly and nimbly, but also wisely?

Thanks to Daily What for the great comparison shots.

15 March 2012

New Valencia Pizzeria bubbles with BART spirit

Back in 2010, a new apartment building went up at the corner of Valencia and 18th streets. The plan was for ground floor retail. Back then, Eater SF reported that the new restaurant would be a spinoff pizzeria of Farina Restaurant (only 1/2 a block away.) The name given then was Antica Pizzeria Napoletana. Farina's website says that the pizzeria will open in 2011. That was back in February 2010. During the intervening 2 years, the wooden walls around the building saw more advertising posters. The only folks eating high class pizza were those who got take out at Delfina Pizzeria a block away.

Finally, 2 years and 1 month later, it looks like the restaurant is actually taking shape. Wall tiling is being applied this week. More importantly, and in a strange transportation connection, the wall tiling being applied is identical to the BART station hex-globe tiling at Montgomery and Powell street stations. Yes, that strange 1970s futuristic bubble tiling you see everywhere in those two stations.

Word is that it will also be on the 18th Street facing wall and inside the restaurant. Will that be tile bubble heaven or hell. We'll have to wait and see. No news on the name of the restaurant, but considering all that labor and cost to put in BART style tiling, I don't think it will be a $1 a slice kind of pizzeria.

View of tilled outside wall with bar inside of pizzeria.

Application of tile

14 March 2012

Bay Area Transit Map: A Possible Future

SPUR just published it's new Urbanist (March 2012) with the title: Navigating a Better Future for Transit. The cover has my map depicting current Bay Area transit (rail and rapid buses). Inside, there's also an article on "A Possible Future" with an article and map showing potential future rail and rapid and BRT buses like Geary BRT, and El Camino BRT. I specifically made the map for SPUR. The map shows what is possible, but is also offered as a discussion piece to help determine which projects are most important and what mode might be the best for certain corridors.

Note that the majority of the projects, routes, and modes reflect current Bay Area planning. However in some cases, the mode or route has been changed. In other instances, some new routes have been suggested. For example, BART to Livermore and Dumbarton Rail are two projects that are not included in this map. Instead, access to Livermore from BART is provided by bus rapid transit, and the Dumbarton corridor is served by rapid bus service. New projects that are not currently part of planning, or are in their early phases include projects like the Oakland Emeryville streetcar down Broadway, Capitol Corridor crossing at Vallejo, and 101 Rapid in the Peninsula.

The map shows all major rail, light rail, streetcars, and rapid bus lines. Each mode is differentiated by their line width. Colors vary to show each mode of transit.  All rapid bus lines are marked in light green, BRT is light blue, metro commuter rail is orange, and metro subway is red. You can see these maps and some of my map photography at my flickr account.

If you would like to have a larger version of the map, which shows much more detail, send me an e-mail at brian.stokle@caa.columbia.edu.

Close Up of Oakland and Berkeley

12 March 2012

Bay Area Transit Map: Current

SPUR just published it's new Urbanist (March 2012) that has my map depicting Bay Area transit (rail and rapid buses) on its cover. The map shows all rail and buses that are rapid and frequent like the Muni 38L, and the Tri-Valley Rapid between Livermore and Stoneridge. I specifically made the map for SPUR. Actually, it's been my long term goal for the Bay Area to have a map designed for transit riders that is highly legible, and can be used throughout the Bay Area.

The map shows all major rail, light rail, streetcars, and rapid bus lines. Each mode is differentiated by their line width. Colors vary to show each transit line. All rapid bus lines are marked in light green, while local bus lines are in grey and provided for reference.

If you would like to have a larger version of the map, which shows more detail, send me an e-mail at brian.stokle@caa.columbia.edu.

Close up of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley
Close up of the urban core of San Francisco, Oakland, and parts of Berkeley, San Leandro, and Hayward. Also note new rail and ferry routes (Central Subway in San Francisco, and the Oyster Point Ferry)

A close up of the San Jose rail and bus network.

Walking to Work

My brother was in town a few weeks ago. He's a photographer, so while he was here he met up with his friend Ashley and took pictures of her on her way to work. She's got her own blog, Fancy Fine, and mentioned that she walks 45 minutes (over 2 1/2 miles) to work 4 days a week in her post of his shots.

This got me to thinking, "How far do folks walk to work in San Francisco?"  I used to walk to work, my wife walks to work 1 to 2 days a week and I have other friends who walk to work. I also wondered how the distance, street experience, and type of work play into their decision to work. In the transportation planning world, the 1/4 mile or 1/3 mile walk are considered the furthest distance people are willing to walk to a train station or bus stop to get to work.

What we don't hear is how far, how much time, and what environments affect people's decisions to walk the entire journey to work.

Based on my short unscientific survey of folks I know who walk to work (and when I used to walk to work), I found two basic groups: the short walkers and the long walkers. Short walkers take 10-20 minutes to get to work, while the long walkers take 40-50 minutes. The short walkers walk between 0.5 to 1 mile one-way while long walkers walk an amazing 1 to 2.75 miles! What motivates them? I'm not quite sure yet, but many factors go into walking instead of biking, taking transit or driving. Some factors are attractors to walking while others are detractors from other modes.

Walking Attractors:
100% reliable - no need to wait for a bus, get stuck in traffic, or even have a bike break down
Direct route that may be more direct than driving or taking transit
Economical - it's free!
Health - other than biking, walking to work is healthy and an easy way to exercise

Other Mode Detractors (often the same forces as attractors but negative):
Unreliable - buses and trains don't always show up when they're supposed to
Some routes don't have a transit route
Parking and transit costs can be high or just add up over time
Buses and trains can be crowded and uncomfortable due to a bumpy ride
No health benefits

Paul Heckert at Running & Marathons Suite 101 notes the following top 10 reasons to walk to work:

  • It saves gas and money.
  • It reduces greenhouse emissions.
  • It saves money on parking fees.
  • It's good exercise.
  • Walking helps you lose weight.
  • It might be faster than driving (in major cities).
  • Shoes are cheaper than tires.
  • Food is cheaper than gas (you need to burn calories to walk).
  • Walking gives you time outside to think.
  • It takes longer to get there, what's the rush?
Finally, I've found is that for those longer walks of 40+ minutes there is a resistance to taking so much time. However, when you actually do the walk, overcoming a dismissive reasoning to something you may have never tried, that as long as you schedule appropriately you actually really enjoy the walk to work, and are more ready for work when you arrive since you have arrived fully awake, refreshed and ready to get going for the day.

01 March 2012

San Francisco Topography

I made this map several years ago. After failing to find a real topographic map of San Francisco that wasn't cluttered with streets, freeways or buildings,  I was compelled to make one myself. Meant to show what San Francisco's hills really looks like, the use of atlas style colors enhances the legibility of the map.

I've updated the map twice now. Once on March 23, 2012 (as shown below) and more recently the v.2 map in December 2013. The December 2013 map has more labeled peaks and named features on the land. The border of SF is shown in brown dashes at the bottom. I haven't included Marin in this 2012 version, but the Headlands coastline would be between the north arrow and the scale.

Purchase a Poster and other gear

You can see the older unlabeled original map at the bottom. The "Atlas" "Clean White" styles of the maps are now available for purchase as a poster, mug, t-shirt, etc. at my Urban Life Signs store at Zazzle.

Related Links

You can also find maps of San Francisco with 25 foot sea level rise here and here and with a 200 foot sea level rise here and here. Also known as the San Francisco Archipelago Map, Burrito Justice and I collaborated on the map and newspaper "story" about the 200 foot rise, as if it were written in 2072. Read the three articles here, here and here.

Interested in San Francisco's less than famous hills? Learn more in my "Forgotten Hills" series. Click the links to find out about Hunters Point Hill, Black Point at Fort Mason and La Portezuela.

Atlas Style of San Francisco Topographic Map

"Clean" style with with white background

"Clean" style with frame and blue background