27 June 2012

BART's Powell Station now directs people to Powell

Although we love BART, its on time record, its spacious interiors, and its space age looks we've always found its signage and wayfinding seriously lacking. Tourists, visitors, shoppers and occasionally users are often found wondering where to go due to the poor signage. Most of the original 1970s signage is very sparse, and infrequent. At many decision points, where signage is critical, there is either no sign to help you, or the sign at hand provides inadequate or confusing information.
Original station wayfinding signage: sparse. Note the sign dedicated to "No Smoking".
The problem is most obvious at Powell Street Station where shopping, tourism, and conventioneers all pass through – the people who need wayfinding signage the most.

Case in point: although the station is named "Powell Street", not a single sign in the station directs people to Powell Street. Sure, there are signs directing you to Market Street, Stockton Street, 5th Street, 4th Street, Union Square and even Ellis Street and Yerba Buena Center (is that a medical marijuana dispensary?). What an irony that the street a station is named after has no signage directing people to it, even though it is directly below it.

Hallidie Plaza wayfinding sign. No signs point to Powell Street or Cable Cars
As frequent users of the station we know that one of the exits leads to Powell Street and the Cable Car Turnaround. However, the signage at this exit only points to "Hallidie Plaza". There are several problems with this:

  1. The sign is not located at the decision point, where you exit from the BART faregates. Instead it is halfway between the BART and Muni fare gates, and not near the natural path towards the light of Hallidie Plaza
  2. Although the "Exit" sign and arrows are lit, the "Hallidie Plaza" name is not lit, as shown in the images above.
  3. Although we're pleased San Francisco honors the inventor of the cable car with a plaza name, we do not believe most people say, "Meet me at Hallidie Plaza." In fact we believe most people, even locals, don't even know that the sunken modernist plaza is even called Hallidie Plaza.

Result: people get lost in the station and don't know where to go. Even if they guess correctly and are drawn the plaza's daylight (in the daytime - not nighttime as in images above) they'll only find out they are in the right space if they know the cable cars are on Powell and they lead to Union Square. That's too many "ifs" in our book. In the end you get a more anxious tourist who's already tired from a long journey and just wants to start off her trip with a nice rest in the hotel, but instead is full of fight or flight adrenaline due to not knowing where to go.

Luckily over the past few years signage has been improving. Modernizations of Embarcadero, Montgomery, and Civic Center have brought much improved wayfinding signage. Powell Street Station has had to wait a bit longer for its modernization, including signage update. Upon passing through the station today, we saw the new signage in its beautiful, helpful and informative glory. Thankfully, the signage now points to Powell Street (giving it the A1 exit title), along with Cable Cars and Union Square.

Now if BART would only provide the same type of signage on its platforms informing them that Muni Metro trains can be easily accessed.

Main exit from BART faregates to Powell Street. Note lack of signage.
New signage at exit to Powell Street from BART faregates.
Lucky for us, and especially for tourists and out of towners, the new wayfinding signage is up at Powell Street Station and we now have signage pointing people to.

More pictures after the break.

20 June 2012

World Skyline

"Global City" full of famous skyscrapers

Franklin Templeton has a fascinating TV commercial titled "Global Perspective" that shows an imagined city with all of the great skyscrapers of the world in one thriving city center, quite reminiscent of SimCity. Alas, the result is a slick look combining SimCity looks built on the base of Downtown Vancouver, with Granville Bridge, Burrard Inlet and North Shore Mountains.

The video starts at the street level and then rises, as if in a glass elevator, to show a city center/downtown with the likes of London's Big Ben, New York City's Chrysler Building, Kuala Lumpur's Petronis Towers, and Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Tower. The angle is, we have a global perspective and understand all the markets and cultures that are represented in this fictional city peppered with towers from the world.

Shot 4: Grand Skyline
Franklin Templeton television commercial "Global Perspective", source: Franklin Templeton
"Global City" with downtown shaped just like Downtown Vancouver, minus Stanley Park's peninsula.

Interesting points:
  1. A. P. Giannini Plaza, in front of San Francisco's Bank of America Building (555 California St) is used as the street level plaza. Incidentally, this is the same plaza that was used for The Towering Inferno. Note that the Banker's Heart sculpture has been removed from the plaza and that all the nearby buildings are actually in San Francisco. The people shown in the opening shot are from a great diversity of cultures and races. 
  2. The Bank of America Building has also been shortened to about 15 stories to allow for the skyline to appear as the shot rises above Giannini Plaza.
  3. At the end of the ad, the camera flies into a satellite view of the city. The city center is clearly shaped like Downtown Vancouver Peninsula. It's less clear what the other land areas are based on.The give-aways that it is Vancouver are the shape of the land (minus Stanley Park), the domed stadium (in white), and the bridges crossing False Creek along with Granville Island.

  4. Downtown Vancouver satellite view, courtesy Google Maps.

    Satellite view of Downtown "Global City" from Franklin Templeton TV ad.
  5. A collection of the greatest and most striking buildings and towers make up this "Global City".  We noted the following buildings or structures making an appearance (roughly in order of appearance):
    1. Big Ben (London)
    2. Chrysler Building (New York)
    3. Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur)
    4. Arc de Triomphe (Paris)
    5. Oriental Pearl Tower (Shanghai)
    6. Bank of China Tower (Hong Kong)
    7. Transamerica Pyramid (San Francisco)
    8. Taipei 101 (Taipei)
    9. Burj Khalifa (Dubai)
    10. Shanghai World Financial Center (Shanghai)
    11. Sydney Opera House (Sydney)
    12. Gherkin (30 St. Mary Axe) (London)
    13. Willis (Sears) Tower (Chicago)
    14. Burj al Arab (Dubai) 
    15. In addition, Mt. Fuji (Japan) is shown, as is a long cable stay bridge the Bandra-Worli Sea Link Bridge (Mumbai) leading west from the Burj Khalifa.
If you'd like to see all the buildings next to each other, click this link to Skyscraperpage.com

Of course, in many ways, Vancouver is the big star behind the scenes.

More pictures after the jump. Even more geeky analysis and research after the pictures. 

14 June 2012

The Desert Gap

Building high speed rail in America is no simple endeavor. Really it's quite complicated anywhere, but in America, where it doesn't yet really exist (no Acela is not HSR in our book), the resistance to it is tremendous for many American reasons. Accordingly, the first HSR service may end up being located not in the most logical location (SF-LA, or Northeast Corridor), but instead where a combination of boosterism, lack of political backlash, and open land is more readily available. That project may well be the DesertXpress, now named the XpressWest.

Image: Xpress West
Planned as a link between Las Vegas and Southern California, the original plan has been to run the high speed tracks from Las Vegas to Victorville, a Mojave Desert city north of San Bernardino along I-15. The hope was Angelinos would drive to Victorville, hop on a train and get to Las Vegas much more quickly than driving, but leave their car in a large desert parking lot during the Vegas excursion. Understandably, many doubted this project due to the parking requirement. Effectively, there was a gap between Victorville and the LA Basin that would dissuade most from using the train.

Luckily, the project looks to have found a solution to the gap problem. Per the Victorville Daily Press, the "$6.9 billion DesertXpress train from Las Vegas to Victorville have entered into talks with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to explore a Victorville-to-Palmdale extension." In other words, high speed tracks would not end in Victorville, but in Palmdale, which happens to be one of the stops in the California High Speed Rail System." Suddenly project could have a one seat ride from LA to Vegas, or at least a ride from LA to Vegas with a transfer in Palmdale.

DesertXpress "GAP"

08 June 2012

25 feet sea level rise map: San Francisco

With the production of the San Francisco Archipelago Map by Urban Life Signs and Burrito Justice (here and here), showing 200' sea level rise, it's time to produce a more likely map of what San Francisco would look like with a 25' sea level rise. This could actually happen in our lifetimes if the ice sheets in Greenland or Western Antarctica completely melted. We'd get 50 foot sea level rise if both melted.
Now you can put one of these images on your wall as a poster!
Below is a blow up of northeast San Francisco showing how Yerba Buena Cove and Mission Bay would return to their watery origins. The Marina would become a shallow bay, and Yerba Buena Island would split in two.

12x12  $15

16x16 $20 ON SALE FOR $19.05 today! Make sure to select Semi-Gloss.

24x24 $29

48x48 $61

For 200 foot sea level rise maps (a.k.a. San Francisco Archipelago Map, go here.

For good old 0' sea level rise maps of San Francisco, go to Urban Life Signs store at Zazzle.

Just make sure to keep the maps dry as the sea rises.

07 June 2012

San Francisco Archipelago Posters

Urban Life Signs and Burrito Justice have teamed up to bring a refined, high detail San Francisco Archipelago Map for you. It's official. You can get your very own San Francisco Archipelago Map poster on Zazzle.com. The lovely maps showing what San Francisco would look like if sea level rose 200 feet.

Burrito Justice has also produced an AP article update. Check it out over at Burrito Justice. If you'd like to see a more likely sea level rise map,  the 25 foot sea level rise map of SF is here.

You can get the map in three sizes:

24"x24" - $29

16"x16" - $20

12"x12" - $15

Here's a closeup of northeast San Francisco where Telegraph Hill becomes Telegraph Island, and the Western Addition becomes Divisadero Harbor.

The fun doesn't stop there. We'll be producing neighborhood maps, gradually. A rough cut of the Bernal/Glen/Noe area is in current production.

04 June 2012

Goodbye parking lot - hello housing?

View from 19th St.;Valencia St on right corner Image: Alain Pinel Realtor
On our near-daily stroll to move the parked car for street cleaning, we walked past the parking lot at Valencia and 19th Street. Lo and behold, the lot is "closed". The simple printed sign reads:


Not sure if the exclamation points are meant to call alarm to lost parking or excitement over the real estate transaction.

The lot is divided into two parts and has been used for years by City CarShare and Mission Pet Hospital and possibly other parking user. In addition, it's a very popular site for street merchants to sell their wares - whether t-shirts, used books, or jewelry.

Upon research of this site, 3500 19th Street, we find SocketSite reported 1 1/2 years ago that the lot had been approved for  

"Conditional Use authorization for a five-story building with 17 dwelling units, 17 parking spaces, and 2,958 square feet of retail" 

We welcome more housing development. However we wish they'd hope they will build less parking. How about 50% or 75% parking per unit (9 or 13 spaces) instead of 17 spaces. The space could be used for more retail space or an extra back unit. Plus, it would reduce the cost per unit and make our lovely city more affordable in the long run. We can hope.

Now let's hope City CarShare and Mission Pet Hospital have other options. Cherin's parking lot, are you there? or do I need to talk to the Farina Brothers?

UPDATE: the fencing around the property has been covered in blue tarping. No more signs as shown above. Maybe the project is moving along quickly. That would be unusual for San Francisco and its slow housing approval-locals fight housing-developer finally gets approval process. At lease we're not Marin.

UPDATE October 2012: Construction has reached the 2nd Floor. Read more, see pics, and see the political connection in "2nd Floor Reaches Elections."

Image: Alain Pinel Realtors

02 June 2012

S-curve light: meet a chicane

Traffic calming measures can take many shapes and have varying results. 

  • Classic speed bumps slow cars down, but only at the bump. Speed humps do the same but have a slightly higher maximum speed limit, and are easier on your derrieres.
  • Bulbouts or curb extensions slow traffic due to a perceived street narrowing. (they also shorten the crossing for pedestrians.
  • Chicanes achieve traffic slowing like a speed bump or speed hump, but through staggered mini curb extensions that force cars to turn slightly. The slight turning requires slowing down.

New chicane on Elgin Park Street just north of Duboce Street (looking north).
We've seen very few in America and none in San Francisco until now. Elgin Park Street, a narrow one-way street between Market Street and Duboce Street in Mint Slope (or Northwest Mission or Mint Heights, or Deco Ghetto) now has a new and modest chicane. After nearly 10 years of discussing the idea through planning associated with Octavia Boulevard and the Central Freeway, then neighborhood has successfully advocated a traffic calming wish enough for the city to implement it.

The chicane was added due to concerns and the street attracts many drivers "passing through" trying to get from Market to the Freeway, and use the street in hopes of entering the freeway via Duboce. As shown in the photo, the street only has parking on one side, and is posted at a 15 mph speed limit. Our experience shows that many cars travel over the 15 mph limit on these streets, so a chicane is a very good thing.

If only traffic calming wishes and advocacy didn't take 10 years to enact, our city would be in a much "calmer" and safer state.  Let's see how well it calms.