30 August 2013

Image of the Week: Cubist Truck

Where: Valencia Street at 18th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA
When: August 2013
What: Sysco truck unloading materials for a local business. Truck in background is another Sysco truck.
Comment: Using the Apple panorama feature, I took this photo while crossing Valencia Street, while walking in a straight line and not turning my camera.
Related Posts: Street Design of Valencia Street, Amber Dhara Plants a Tree

Image: Urban Life Signs

28 August 2013

Espresso Cup-Sized Caffe

Can I have a double espresso. Make that for here, in a porcelain, er a ceramic cup and I only want to stand. I'll have it with a waffle and a salad too.

San Francisco has a lot of coffee places. But does it have an Italian inspired stand-up bar cafe that serves Belgian waffles from a well-known chef?

Future Linea Caffe S.F. sign. Image: Urban Life Signs
Well now it will now with Linea Caffe as I found out when I passed the long closed (make that "never opened") business space at the corner of 18th Street at San Carlos, between Valencia and Mission. After buying some groceries at the dependable Duc Loi Supermarket, just before crossing San Carlos I noticed the door was open for construction, so I stepped inside to meet Andrew Barnett, the man behind the new cafe, and his manager Rita. Barnett is best know as the founder of Ecco Caffe (reborn as Intelligentsia after he sold it). A twist comes with Anthony Myint, who is crafting Belgian, make that Brussels-style waffles, along with salads. Myint is the chef and restauranteur behind Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth and Mission Bowling Club. 
Andrew Barnett in his not-yet-ready for showtime cafe. Image: Urban Life Signs

23 August 2013

Parking more "important" for hill dwellers than gulchers

Following last week's analysis of Polk Street and cycle tracks, I've looked deeper into the bikeways originally proposed by the SFMTA to find out what was actually considered and what is geometrically feasible. I also looked at the parking issue to determine how many parking spaces would really be removed if a cycle track were installed.


Image: Thomas Hawk
Based on my research, it would appear that Polk Street's geometry could support two buffered bike lanes (a.k.a. cycle tracks) with parking on one side. Based on my parking analysis, such a scenario would require removing roughly 50% of Polk Street on-street parking. The SFMTA has proposed a modified geometry that removes 50% of parking, but only between California and McAllister. Although the street is narrower curb-to-curb from Post to Union, it's only from California to Post that the SFMTA is proposing removing 50% of parking.

Parking is reduced 10% north of California and 50% south of California, yet the street are narrower north of Post, not California, and wider south of Post. Image: Urban Life Signs using Google Maps base map.  


For some reason, one which their explanations do not fully explain, only 10% of on-street spaces will be removed on Polk Street from California north to Union Street. Incidentally, this part of Polk serves as a commercial corridor for Nob Hill and Russian Hill. South of the parking preservation zone, Polk passes through Polk Gulch/Lower Nob Hill, the Tenderloin and Civic Center - neighborhoods that may have less clout with City Hall and the SFMTA.

If you want to just read about the parking, scroll down a ways. To read the whole article on the geometric analysis of bikeways and parking, read on below.

Polk Street with cyclist on sharrow at parklet. Image: Frank Chan via Flickr
Original "Gold Plated" SFMTA Curbside Bikeway Alternative 
First let's back up for a moment. The SFMTA did originally propose an alternative for the length of Polk Street with Curbside Bikeways. However, the design only had a protected or "buffered" bikeway on one side of the street at a time. The other direction would run along the curb as a classic bike lane.

At initial meetings in December 2012, several alternatives were presented for different segments including:
  • Curbside Bikeways (Russian Hill, Middle Polk, Pine-Post)
  • One-Way (Russian Hill, Middle Polk, Pine-Post, Lower Polk)
  • Promenade (Russian Hill)
  • Two Bike Lanes (Russian Hill, Middle Polk, Pine-Post)
  • Part-time Bike Lanes (Middle Polk, Pine-Post)
  • Two Cycle Tracks (Lower Polk)
  • Uphill Cycle Track (Lower Polk)
My proposal of a full cycle track on both sides (the Urban Life Signs (ULS) "Complete Cycle Track"), and the SFMTA "Curbside Bikeway" proposal would have removed parking the entire length of one side of the street. Actually, the San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC) did propose a "Curbside Bikeway"in its Connecting the City Plan virtually identical SFMTA proposal. The design included a buffered bike lane in one direction, and a standard curbside bike lane (unprotected) in the other direction.
Polk Street with cycle track (protected curbside bike lane). Image Woods Bagot via SF Bike Coalition

San Francisco Bike Coalition's proposal for a Polk Street bikeway in its Connecting the City Plan
Maybe the SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) created its "Curbside Bikeway" alternative based on the SFBC proposal. The difference between my "all cycle track" proposal and the SFMTA/SFBC "Curbside Bikeway" proposal is a question of geometry and where to dedicate roadway to auto traffic, bike traffic, and protection zones.

Let's look at the two ideas side by side (or rather top to bottom). On top is the Curbside Bikeway proposal, and below is my All Cycle Track proposal.

SFMTA's "Curbside Bikeway" design and approximate dimensions. Image: Urban Life Signs using Streetmix.net

Urban Life Signs' "All Cycle Track" design for Polk Street. Image: Urban Life Signs using Streetmix.net

18 August 2013

Image of the Week: Paris protected bike lane on Avenue d'Italie


Where: Avenue d'Italie, Paris, France
When: April 2007
What: Street redesigned in 1997 from a 6-lane arterial to a 4-lane boulevard with cycle tracks (protected bike lanes), wider sidewalks, and pedestrian refuges at the center of the street at crosswalks.
Comment: Although I woke up to jackhammers for at least 6 months during construction, the design of the street is much more inviting, and allowed double rows of trees on each sidewalk. Before this redesign, I'd never personally seen cycle tracks before. To my knowledge, I never heard of people complaining about the reduced traffic lanes, somewhat reduced parking and the need for people parking to walk over a bike lane to get to their cars.
Related Posts: In a Polk Street World with protected bike lanes, Street Design of Valencia Street

Avenue d'Italie in Paris. Looking south from east sidewalk, just south of Place d'Italie. The shopping mall Italie 2 is on the far side of the street, along with several residential towers.

15 August 2013

In a Polk Street world with protected bike lanes...

Thanks to Twitter, I discovered a wonderful new program called "Streetmix" that allows you to design your own streets - in particular designing street widths from a section perspective. Immediately I set out to design the "perfect" Polk Street that might satisfy all the core issues at hand.

See an example of a fully protected bike lane with raised curbs between parking and bike lane - a real cycle track, this time on the Avenue d'Italie in Paris. Avenue d'Italie is 132.5 feet wide (lot-to-lot), so it's more comparable to Van Ness Avenue (125 feet) or Octavia Boulevard (133 feet). Although Polk Street is much narrower (68.75 feet wide lot-to-lot), a recent op-ed in the SF Chron called for a "fabulous - Paris-style avenue". To be fair, the writer later described that it should be like a Parisian "street" or "rue".
Polk Street: CYCLE TRACKS intersection with bus stop and left turn. Image: Urban Life Signs using Streetmix
Polk Street in San Francisco is an important commercial shopping street stretching from Market Street to Aquatic Park. It's also a critical bike pathway between Civic Center and all points south and west to northern neighborhoods like Cow Hollow, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Marina. Other than the Embarcadero Polk Street is the only north-south bike route north of California Street.

There's been a lot of controversy over how to best redesign the street to accommodate all the modes (cars, delivery trucks, buses, bikes, pedestrians, people who are disabled or with strollers), and to address parking needs for businesses (car street parking, car garage parking, bike parking).

A lot of emotional energy has been spent by all sides (merchants, bike advocates, city staff, locals) but one problem remains, no matter what gets built: the geometry will not change. The fact that "upper" Polk Street is 69.5 68.75 feet wide lot line to lot line, and 44.75 feet wide curb to curb is inescapable. The curb-to-curb width in Lower Polk (south of Post Street) is 48.75 feet. Even if the curbs were moved a bit (think expensive) in the Upper Polk segment, there's so little width to play with it wouldn't significantly change the challenges. Simply put, there's not enough room to satisfy all constituents. (note: I may not have the exact street width correct, but it's within 1 foot of the actual width.)

A preferred plan was presented in July 2013 by the SFMTA. The plan tries to blend all the needs together through a combination of bike lanes, sharrows, and a few segments with a buffered bike lanes, and raised curbside buffered bike lanes in one direction at a time. It's not horrible, but it's also not satisfying either; especially if we consider San Francisco a "Transit First" city, not a "Car First" city.

SFMTA did examine a "curbside bikeway" (or buffered bike lane) alternative early on. Through removing parking on one side and partially on the other side, the new bikeways would be a classic unprotected bike lane in one direction and a buffered street level bike lane in the other direction. This is not a true "all cycle track" plan, and one was never presented.

I've used Streetmix to show what it might have looked like. The plan does not change sidewalk widths, and would allow for some parking and loading in some places along Polk. However parking on Polk Street itself would be reduced significantly, especially with other features part of the plan including bulb outs and longer "daylighting" red zones near intersections.

The diagrams for Upper Polk are as follows:
  • Polk Street Midblock: CYCLE TRACK
    • With parking and loading zones
    • With bus stop 
  • Polk Street Street Intersections: CYCLE TRACK
    • With right turn to one-way street
    • With left turn to one-way street
    • With no designated turn lanes for low traffic two-way cross streets

12 August 2013

From Haz Site to Condo Site

Valencia Street is famous for its ever growing number of restaurants. However, somewhat less famous are the growing number of new condos being built on former parking lots and now, even former gas stations.

Most of the new buildings have gone up over old parking lots (299 Valencia with Chase Bank, 700 Valencia with Farina Pizza, 736 Valencia with Mission Cheese, 3500 19th Street (aka 798 Valencia and still under construction), and 411 Valencia was built on the site of a former building and a parking lot.

We're also still waiting on a few sites where buildings will be torn down: 1050 Valencia (aka Spork). What's more intriguing are the planned developments at former gas stations. The gas stations at 20th Street (899 Valencia) and 23rd Street (former Tank Chevron at 1198 Valencia) have been vacant for years. What's important is that building on them means cleaning up the dirty ground from years of seeping underground gas tanks. 
899 Valencia development. Image: SF Planning Dept via Mission Local
More from Mission Local on this story
But now, the market in San Francisco is so HOT that these two gas stations are getting cleaned up and should have buildings go over them. Just don't light a match. I passed the 23rd Street site and noted the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) diamond.

I had to ask myself, what do these numbers mean. I could only vaguely remember from my NERT training class that the higher the number, the more dangerous. Here's the breakdown:


Blue = Health Hazard
Red = Flammability Hazard
Yellow = Instability/Reactivity Hazard
White = Special Hazard

01 August 2013

Image of the Week: The Valencia

Where: 17th Street at Valencia Street
When: August 1, 2013
What: Name sign for "The Valencia" building, which is home to several condominium lofts. Built around 2003, the building is also home to a T-Mobile store, and a Good Vibrations store.
Comment: I'm a fan of simple building names like this. Short and attractive. In my early years in SF (circa 2000), I recall the vacant lot at the southeast corner of Valencia and 17th Street. I'm happy it's there, and the stores seem to be doing well. However, I'm less fond of the loft format. 
Related Posts: Other housing projects nearby: 3500 19th Street (under construction), 700 Valencia (home of Farina Pizza and 2-level condos)