Friday, August 26, 2011

We have the transit system we deserve

Photo by Luke Thomas of Fog City

The anti-car, pro-bike folks at SF Streetsblog focus on city traffic on the streets of San Francisco, as the name of that blog suggests. But you can't really separate traffic policy from other planning issues, like land use and housing, which naturally have an impact on traffic. More housing means more people on the streets, whether they're walking, riding bikes, driving cars, or using public transportation.

That reality popped up on Streetsblog's radar screen during a candidates' event at the Castro Theater the other day, when this question was asked of the candidates: 

The Market and Octavia area plan anticipates thousands of new housing units being developed in the Upper Market area over the next several years. Yet, our public transportation infrastructure frequently fails to meet even today’s needs. So, do you support requiring appropriate improvements in transit capacity and service before new development entitlements can be granted, and why or why not?

Streetsblog's befuddled response: "Why, in a Transit First city, are we approving new housing and commercial developments with added capacity for parking without adding transit capacity too?" 

Well, yes. Streetsblog's response would have been better informed if they'd been reading my blog, since that's a question I've been asking for years about the city's dumb "smart growth" policies. 

As I've pointed out, the Market and Octavia Plan, which pretends to be a "transit first" project, has no additional money for Muni, even though it encourages 10,000 new residents in 4,440 new housing units in the middle of the city, including residential highrises in the Market/Van Ness/Mission Street area. (Check out the Planning Department's height map showing a number of areas designated for 20-story, 30-story, and 40-story highrises. If Planning gets its way, that unfortunate part of the city will rival downtown in highrise development).

The same question can be asked about the massive housing project on the old UC Extension property on lower Haight Street, which will have 1,000 new residents in 500 new housing units on only 5.8-acres.

City progs objected to the Parkmerced project because of the rent control issue but ignored the traffic problems the city's own study predicted for that part of town.

And it's hard to believe that ferry boats and shuttle buses are going to mitigate the traffic impact that 19,000 people on Treasure Island are going to have on an already-crowded Bay Bridge, not to mention on downtown San Francisco.

Former supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier's response was the most damning, since she voted for the Market/Octavia project:

“I would certainly like to know before we start some of these larger projects that we have an idea of how we’re going to get people to and from them,” said Alioto-Pier. Again, no real answer. But she admitted this much about her time on the Board of Supervisors: “We didn’t pay as much attention to the types of impacts on our neighborhoods and our communities as perhaps was needed.”

She and the rest of the supervisors apparently assumed that the Planning Dept. knew what it was doing when it pushed these projects. In fact Planning and City Hall have been operating on half-baked theories about "smart growth" along "transit corridors," oblivious to the impact all this development is going to have on traffic in the city. Let them ride bikes!

Supervisor Chiu panders to the bike people and then tacks on some flab-gab:

Chiu came the closest to directly responding, pointing out---to applause---that he is the only mayoral candidate who doesn’t own a car, but his answer was vague. “We need to make sure that our city is investing in appropriate transit infrastructure. I think what’s appropriate is that we are paying as we go. If we are creating development, we need to make sure that there is transit and transit improvements related to that..."

When a cyclist hears the word "transit," he reaches for his bike. But bikes aren't the answer here; they're part of the problem. Even as the city okays these massive development projects without more money for Muni, it's implementing anti-car policies, including the Bicycle Plan, restricting parking in new developments, and taking away street parking and traffic lanes to make bike lanes. That's going to make traffic worse for everyone, including our Muni system.

But the most dishonest response is from bike guy Jason Henderson:

“What’s very frustrating is that we’re not anywhere near prepared to expand transit capacity. All we’re doing is cutting right now, as a city,” said Jason Henderson, an SF State geography professor who heads up the transportation and planning committee for the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. “Then,” he continued, “we’re letting these developments come in with parking, and it’s just perpetuating the vicious cycle because then you’re going to have people that are going to come in when the transit system’s bad, and they’re going to drive, and believe that they have to have their parking space because the transit system is not able to provide the adequate capacity.”

Anyone who's been following the M/O and UC Plans knows that Henderson and his pals in the HVNA are part of the problem. They've been pushing the UC and the M/O plans from the start. Henderson in fact is a member of the M/O Citizens Advisory Committee and has been instrumental in pushing dense development in the area. Last year He also wrote a completely distorted account of how a predatory UC hijacked the old extension property, downplaying the treachery and spinelessness of Supervisors Dufty and Mirkarimi in that planning fiasco.

Streetsblog struggles to sum up the transit and development issue:

Everyone agrees we need better transit service and the city has recognized this for decades under many mayors without a concrete solution. The mayoral candidates need to start talking specifics about how we’re going to fund Muni, and for that matter, how we pay for future pedestrian safety and bikeway improvements, or we’ll never see the kind of Transit First city we deserve. In the coming weeks, we’ll be interviewing the top mayoral candidates on transportation and land use issues, and we’ll put this question to them, pressing for a detailed answer.

While city progs were obsessing about bikes---do they have any other issues?---their political representatives have been wasting hundreds of millions on projects like the Central Subway and the Transbay Terminal.

We already have the "transit first city we deserve": an underfunded, dysfunctional Muni system.

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