29 May 2012

ParkScore - SF top's chart

Ever wondered which cities in America have the best parks, the best coverage of parks or the most playgrounds. You're in luck if you've been searching for this thanks to the Trust for Public Land and its Center for City Park Excellence. In "The Best City Park Systems in America", The Atlantic Cities describes that the Center has worked over a year to compile data from cities across the country.

Fresno's Woodward Park. Image Luux.com
The rating system, ParkScore, rates five factors:
  • median park size
  • acreage as a percent of city area
  • percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park
  • park system spending per resident
  • number of playgrounds per 10,000 residents
Through GIS data analysis of spatial information, and months of work, ParkScore gave San Francisco the highest score with 74.0 points out of 100. In last place is Fresno, California at #40 with 21.5 points.
The ParkScore web site, provides great maps, and summaries of all 40 large cities it analyzed. The most useful feature is the "Park Need" layer. Orange indicates a "high" need, while red indicates a "very high" need. Anything better than that is in a pleasantly light green.
Portland, OR ParkScore map. Courtesy ParkScore

26 May 2012

Trains Decorated like Chateau Versailles

The French know how to do trains. They're comfortable, go everywhere, and are always on time. The French also appreciate art and decorating their metro stations, or use ghost stations as hypnotic promos for movies. Well, they've done it again. This time the SNCF has worked with the Chateau Versailles to decorate the interiors of 5 commuter trains just like rooms in the Palace of Versailles. Although the train cars are actually 15 to 20 years old, their ceilings and walls have been decked out with images of famous and less famous rooms of the chateau. Rooms such as the Library, Hall of Mirrors and even areas of the Gardens of Versailles have been placed throughout the train cars.

The RER C line, which provides service from Paris to Versailles, will have the decoration for two years! The vinyl lamination used is even resistant to vandalism. Being the very popular RER line with tourists, the bright and detailed images will spruce up the trains that have seating that looks it's 15+ years of age.

Image courtesy France 3
According to the France 3 tv news report, it's a "train musée" train museum. With over 100,000 daily riders, many being tourists, the decorated trains will be seen by millions. It's fascinating how many people interviewed were tourists, and English speakers, but that speaks to how popular the line is for tourists going to Versailles from Paris.

Our favorite comment is from a tourist, the second woman in the video who says,

"It reassures me that I'm on the right train. We know that we'll get there." 

We agree with here. Wayfinding is not just about signs, it's also about creating spaces and designs that show people they are going the right way to their destination. Just imagine, other trains around the world that decorated their trains: New York's F Line decked out with Coney Island imagery, or Boston's Newbury/Rockport Line decked out with Salem Witch Trial imagery.

23 May 2012

United Stats of America

What influences or helps shape where we live? Social influences like proximity to family, jobs and cultural factors play a large role. Physical, governmental and transportation factors also play a large role. The new TV show, United Stats of America, looked at where we live and why through charting the influence of seven inventions.

Hosted by the Sklar Brothers, the show presents lots of statistics in a fun way, thanks to the brothers' comedy and lots of effective graphics and funny situations. The first episode was about living and dying. The second episode, which aired last week, describes the 7 inventions that most affected why and where we live.

Contrary to popular visions of America, we haven't always lived in single-family home suburbs, miles away from city centers.  Before the 1920s, most people lived in rural areas, while a smaller group of us lived in dense city environments. Most cities had 2-5 story buildings. The show goes through a countdown of the inventions helped change how and where we live.

The Sklar Brothers are identical twins, and nicely introduce the show with this intro:
"Numbers are everywhere. But unless you know how to decode them, they're just numbers. That's where we come in. We're the Sklar Bros. We started life as a cool stat. We're twins. 1 egg, 2 babies, a 3 in 1,000 occurrence. Does this give us special powers? Hell yeah!"

Full disclosure, I am a twin, and my wife knew the Sklar Brothers back in their high school years.


Below is a nice video introducing the Sklar Brothers.


7 Inventions

The show actually covered most of the inventions that affect where we live. However it did not cover the policies, government incentives or economic and social factors that have also influenced where we live. Understandably the show kept it simple and we have a hunch describing the policies and economic factors would not be as fun to describe. We'll describe some of the policies and social factors later, but let's get to their list first.

19 May 2012

Urban Life Signs reaches 10,000 pageviews

At approximately 6:18pm Pacific Daylight Time, Friday, May 18, 2012 (01:46 GMT, May 19, 2012), Urban Life Signs passed the milestone of 10,000 page views.  While we've only really been around since February 2012, we never imagined the interest and support we would get in three short months.


When we started this blog, we just wanted to give a perspective, sometimes serious, sometimes light, on urban life and transportation with a good dose of images, maps, and diagrams. Fortunately our perspective has found an audience.

For the record, the top 11 posts since the beginning go down like this:

  1. Hollywood Ads, meet Ghost Metro Stations   –   2,358
  2. When the floods come to San Francisco   –   1,991            
  3. San Francisco Topography   –   1,316
  4. Street Design of Valencia Street   –   907
  5. The Mission's Less Famous Playground   –   605
  6. Bay Area Transit Map: A Possible Future   –   417
  7. The High(Low) Speed Rail Tango - Part 2   –   275
  8. Bay Area Transit Map: Current   –   182
  9. The HighLow Speed Rail Tango - Part 3   –   168
  10. Playground with a View (and need of stroller valet)   –   167
  11. New Valencia Pizzeria bubbles with BART spirit   –   166

18 May 2012

Hollywood Ads, meet Ghost Metro Stations

We live in a world surrounded by advertising. However, we don't often see advertising in underground "ghost" stations. These are stations that have been abandoned but we don't normally notice since they're not lit. New York has them. Paris has them. Many older metro/subway systems have them.

Sometimes they are used as storage, but sometimes not at all. Essentially the abandoned station becomes a section of tunnel between stations.
In a great "re-use" of a station, the Paris Metro and 20th Century Fox have come together to install a "Prometheus" film promotion in the "phantom" Saint-Martin station along Metro Line 8 & 9. According to Golem13, the station was closed in 1939 at the start of World War II. Although reopened after the war, it was soon closed due to only being 100m from the Strasbourg-Saint Denis Station.

The folks promoting the new Ridley Scott film "Prometheus", which is a sort of prequel to "Alien", have gussy upped the station to promote the film, to great effect.  They've even inserted the promo on the train's station line map above train doorways! as if it were a new station.

Courtesy "Aloisia" at via.com
The images below, from Golem13 and the French version of the Huffington Post, show that Paris' metro stations and tunnels aren't all that different from the tunnels in Prometheus.

Image: HuffingtonPost.fr via Golem13

15 May 2012

The Mission's Less Famous New Playground

Much attention, and deservedly so, has been given to Dolores Park's new Helen Diller Playground. Sure, it's got a view, amazing slides, and an amazing view. However, for many Mission residents, it's up a hill and in a park that's simply crowded much of the time. Lucky for residents, the Mission Pool and Playground Renovation will provide a playground in the flats of the Mission and possibly spread out playground use between the new playgrounds.

Final Design Review, 2009. Courtesy SF Recreation and Park Department

Although a medium sized recreation area, the Mission Pool and Playground has historically felt like multiple distinct and unrelated pieces.
1) Mission Pool, the only public outdoor pool, faces 19th Street.
2) Entry Park to the pool at Linda Street
3) the soccer field, basketball court and tennis courts are tucked behind the pool building along Linda Street.
4) a playground we never knew existed due to not facing a street
5) the entry plaza facing Valencia Street.

12 May 2012

The HighLow Speed Rail Tango - Part 3

Now that the first planned California High Speed Rail (HSR) segment will go from Merced to Palmdale, we analyze the implications of having "enhanced" speed tracks rather than high speed tracks in Northern California. Enhanced speed tracks will allow trains to travel from 75 to 90 miles per hour (mph) as opposed to high speed tracks for speeds of 150-200 mph.   In Part 1 of the High Low Speed Rail Tango (HLSRT) we looked at the Blended Plan overall, while Part 2 examined HSR travel times compared to driving and flying. In Part 3 we will have a final look at alternatives to the blended plan, examining the alternative travel times.

Firstly, and more importantly, we look at how trains will reach the Bay Area now that the Bay Area will not see HSR tracks for decades due to the selection of the Tehachapi segment (Merced to Palmdale) to be first constructed. What the Bay Area will see is HSR trains; actual sleek fast modern looking high speed trains with electric caternary systems to connect to electric wires. The questions is how trains will enter the Bay Area without using the Pacheco Pass route. Secondarily, what service routes will be selected and which are optimal to the overall Bay Area needs, but also work with scheduling and political pressures.
HSR train passing through Altamont Pass. Courtesy California High Speed Rail Authority

High Speed Rail Terms

HSR                  High Speed Rail. HSR describes the overal service and infrastructure. Both the special tracks and overhead wires that support high speed tracks, the HSR train vehicles, and stations that service HSR trains.

HSR Tracks      The actual HSR tracks that are on the ground, i.e. HSR rail infrastructure

HSR Trains       HSR trains are the actual train sets or train vehicles that go at high and low speeds. Vehicles include locomotives, passenger cars and specialty cars such as cafe cars or other services such as mail cars.     

HSR Service     Includes scheduled routes and associated stops. E.g. The current San Joaquin train runs from Oakland to Bakersfield with coach bus service on to Los Angeles. The train route and the coach bus route are the overall service for the San Joaquin train. If a train is express it will not make all the stops along a route, but a local train makes all station stops.

Bay Area Rail Routes for Enhanced Speed Trains

Under all of the the options described below, it is assumed that high speed train sets would travel the entire distance from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Although only traveling at high speed from Merced to Palmdale, the trains would travel at "enhanced" speeds of between 75 and 100 mph between the Bay Area to Merced, and from Palmdale to Los Angeles. To achieve this upgrade to tracks between Merced and the Bay Area are required as the plan describes. The major question is where to make those improvements, especially for achieving a one seat ride between California's two larges metropolises. 

"Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" 

Service to San Jose with Caltrain connection to San Francisco
If the train route were selected today, and only moderate upgrades were made to existing rail corridors as proposed in the Revised 2012 Business Plan, Altamont Pass would likely be the choice for entering the Bay Area. If upgrading rail on the the San Francisco Peninsula to 90 mph speeds were deemed too high and/or opposition to such upgrades were strongly fought by locals, HSR train service might terminate in San Jose. Such a scenario would require passengers originating in San Francisco to take the Caltrain commuter train down to San Jose Diridon Station. There they would disembark and board an HSR train vehicle which would travel all the way to Los Angeles. 

San Jose with Caltrain to San Francisco Option - trains enter the Bay Area via Altamont Pass
Some may say this scenario is unlikely or even illegal because Proposition 1A required the initial HSR service to be between San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, when considering political opposition to HSR trains on the Peninsula, and likely fiscal restrictions on construction, this option could end up happening. Some HSR trains could start in San Francisco and pass through San Jose. However this would require the train to backtrack in "Y" turnaround in San Jose (not shown in map) requiring a longer stopover in San Jose, further lengthening the journey time. (A "Y" turnaround here would be similar to the same maneuver performed at trains passing from through San Francisco Int'l Airport instead of terminating there.) Even if some trains did travel from San Francisco to San Jose, under this scenario, there would be very few, while most HSR trains would start in San Jose.

The San Francisco via Caltrain option would only become viable if Caltrain offered "connecting" service to HSR scheduled routes. Such service should include luggage services, a short layover in San Jose (~10-15 minutes depending on the distance between trains), and special train cars dedicated to HSR passengers. Cars might be specially appointed with higher quality seating, and more services, while a simpler version would simply have a dedicated car or two for HSR passengers that would not be accessible to regular commuter rail passengers.

Even if "connected" comfortable service were offered on Caltrain, the need to change trains would likely discourage many potential passengers. Instead, this scenario might have headlines reading, "Silicon Valley steals 49ers, now they steal HSR". Joking aside, without HSR directly accessing the largest office district in the Bay Area would be a major misstep, and would not bring many of the touted benefits, both economical or environmental to the overall Bay Area.

Highway 4 Delta Blues

Service to Oakland and San Jose via the Delta (SF via bus)
The Delta Option would possibly be even cheaper than the San Jose Caltrain option. Upgrades from Stockton to Martinez could be make over this largely flat land. The route from Martinez to Richmond is more circuitous. Although it could be upgraded, it would only achieve higher speeds if trains could tilt like the Acela. An alternative would have new tracks, including bridges and tunnels, built along Franklin Canyon from Martinez to Hercules following the BNSF alignment. Closer to San Jose, an alternative route starting in Fremont could follow existing freight alignments just east of I-880 and into Diridon Station. Such a routes could be straighter and save some time, but would be more costly, and may have environmental challenges.

07 May 2012

Landfill = $ for sea level rise protection

Lo Lo Ma. Sounds like Yo Yo Ma or a Chinese lullaby. Well in fact it's an idea of creating a "6th borough" in New York City off the tip of Manhattan. The proposal comes from a group of graduate students at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (and Real Estate) (GSAPP). Through a collaboration of architecture and real estate development students, they propose extending Manhattan south beyond the Financial District. The idea would address two NYC challenges: lack of real estate in Manhattan, and vulnerability to large tropical storms and hurricanes like 2011's Hurricane Irene.

Most news reports here and here and from NY Times, have concentrated on the ambitious nature of the proposal, it's immense real estate and office opportunities, and the shear novelty of a 6th borough. WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show (an equivalent show to KQED's Forum), discussed the environmental elements and the implications to Governors Island.

The project would help protect Manhattan to storm surges and even sea level rise by using dredge from the harbor and creating a land bridge from Manhattan to Governors Island as well as barrier islands further south into the harbor.


Courtesy GSAPP via archpaper.com

Full disclosure, Urban Life Signs attended the same school at Columbia University in the Urban Planning department. What we wonder is, how would such a proposal affect the current plans for Governors Island, which is hoped to become a new parkland in the harbor. As you see the photo below, the Governors Island Plan would even have a hill added to the island.

Courtesy Trust for Governors Island

The genius element of the project is that it would all be paid through the real estate purchases of the new land. Subway extensions, bridges and the whole project would be paid by the real estate sales. Of course there are many complicated elements to putting this forward and deciding whether it would be a good idea. It also forces the discussion of how do we actually protect our existing cities, especially downtowns, in a world of sea level rise. If the San Francisco Bay Area, the bay is now considered sacred. Might that attitude change when planning for sea level rise, or would we only consider adding to the bay once the Financial District was flooded 5 times in a year due to storm surges and sea level rise?

We'll be keeping an eye on the Lo Lo-Ma or Lo Lo proposal and the Governors Island project as they progress.

Courtesy GSAPP via archpaper.com


03 May 2012

Moving: Rainy Day on the 33

The 33 Stanyan bus is one of the most scenic Muni bus routes. You travel through the Mission, Castro, Twin Peaks, Haight, and on to the Richmond. This includes going over a mountain, passing through three business districts streets (Mission St, 18th St at Castro, and Haight Street) while passing the Valencia and Clement corridors and ending close to Laurel Village at California Street.


Most famously, the route includes one of the most dramatic u-turns an electric trolleybus takes in San Francisco. Whether climbing up Twin Peaks, or coming down, when the bus passes through the intersection of Market Street and Clayton Street, as shown in the image below, you always wonder if the driver will pull off the turn without the trolleys falling off. Orange arrows are going uphill towards the Haight, while yellow arrows show the path of where the 33 Stanyan bus goes downhill towards Eureka Valley and the Castro.

Image courtesy Google Maps
The video below shows the journey as viewed out of the back of the bus from Ashbury Street just above Frederik, up over the 17th Street saddle onto Clayton, loop a "u" at Market & Clayton, down to 18th Street, past Dolores Park and finally ending (rather abruptly) at Valencia Street. Note the following moments:
  • Bus makes the big U-turn from Clayton to Market at (0:30).
  • While the bus stops early on, Sutro Tower makes a full appearance as the clouds clear a bit, just as the guitar makes its big riff. (0:40)
  • Long stop at 18th and Castro Streets (1:04)
  • Traffic along 18th Street
  • How many double parked vehicles does the bus have to drive around?

The music is from the film Run Lola Run. Kind of makes you believe Muni really can move fast!

01 May 2012

San Francisco Topo Map (The Posters)


Voila! After more than 4 years in the making, the Topography Map of San Francisco is available as a poster! There are available at the Urban Life Signs Store (through Zazzle). Two formats are currently available:

Atlas Style
Designed in the classic atlas style with coloring, geographic references, names and title.

12"x12" for $12, 16"x16" for $18, and 24"x24" for $29.95.

Atlas Style



White Style
A more simplified with a white background and a simple San Francisco Topography title at the bottom.

12"x12" for $12, 18"x18" for $20, and 24"x24" for $29.95.

If you have any questions, requests, or custom changes, feel free to contact me at urbanlifesigns@gmail.com.

http://www.zazzle.com/urbanlifesigns*


Browse other gifts from Zazzle.