14 October 2016

All the family I have known and met - lived through 250 years!

Talking about climate change, sea level rise, and their effects is easy. Getting folks, myself included, to actually act on this monumental challenge is the big obstacle.

One of the many challenges is getting a grasp on the long time horizons - if we don't reduce emissions now, the world will be flooded by 10 feet in 90 years.

After having a daughter I've thought a lot about what the world will look like in the year 2050 and 2100. I'll be alive in 2050, quite possibly, when I'll be 80 years old. However, my daughter will only be 38 years old. And in 2100, she'll be 88 years old. Three of my grandparents lived to 90 years or older, so there's a decent chance she might make it to then.

All this means that my daughter is very very likely to live in a VERY different world in 2100, or even in 2079 when she'll be eligible for Social Security benefits - assuming the program still exists.

Thinking further, I thought to myself, how can I and other people, better connect to the idea that the here an now affects the world in 25, 50, 100 and even 150 years from now. So I wondered, who in my family will I know and what years did they all live in.

As indicated in the chart below, my older grandfather was born in 1899, and my potential granddaughter will live to 2150 when she'll be 97.

The family I know will have spanned 251 years and five generations. 
Image: Brian Stokle/Urban Life Signs
So when we're talking about reducing emissions, and making tough decisions on how to get there - like eliminating all gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2030, remember that your children and grandchildren will be living past the year 2100 and trying to cope with a hot world, with flooded historic cities, with international refugees fleeing flooded cities.

30 September 2016

BART system time lapse and Vote YES on Measure RR

BART was closed between Glen Park and Daly City stations a few weekends ago - one of several planned closures between July and October 2016. You may recall other recent closures in the East Bay, and most dramatically, the pair of Transbay Tube closures in 2015.

Whether you love, hate, or accept BART - it gets much of the Bay Area around. However, San Francisco has grown as a city and the Bay Area has grown as a region... and BART hasn't grown much at all apart from extensions.

Bus bridge between Glen Park and Daly City offered by BART and Muni. Source: BART
Measure RR, calls for a bond that will help finance many of BART's pressing needs for getting you to where you want to go reliably. Sure you might have a bad view of BART now - but think of how much worse it will be if we don't pass this bond. With no bond, we would have the same hardware of old wires, pipes, electrical systems from the 1970s, and no train control system to get more trains through the tube.

31 August 2016

Entwining BART and Caltrain Elegantly in San Francisco

Figuring out where a new rail line will go is a complicated thing. Figuring out where to put a new BART or Commuter Rail tube AND a Caltrain extension, all interacting with existing rail, AND taking sea level rise into consideration will make your head implode.

Below are a few ideas I've put together. I've included five feet of sea level rise as a reference, as it would seem to be wise to include sea level rise into the planning when the infrastructure will be around for 100 to 150 years.

All of the options attempt to achieve the following:
  • A second transbay crossing for capacity increase and redundancy (2 tracks or bores)
    • In some cases a third crossing is included for a total of (4 tracks or bores)
  • A Downtown San Francisco station where most of the ridership goes
  • A transfer station between an existing Downtown Market St station and the new 2nd Tube in the event that the original Transbay Tube is shut down for major repairs
  • Focus on the Transbay Transit Center as the major transportation hub, especially because it will eventually have High Speed Rail.
  • Create stations in areas that are developing and lack a regional station or to areas that could accommodate significant new growth in the future.
Note that whichever idea gets put forward to eventually build will be built in phases. In the maps shown its assumed that the first phase of these regional rail plans would be the Downtown Extension (DTX), linking Caltrain and HSR to the Transbay Transit Center (aka Transbay Center). The second phase could be either a 2nd tube for BART, Caltrain or both, and later a third transbay crossing, or new rail westward into San Francisco.

Avoiding Sea Level Rise Zones
4 bores
Caltrain: 7th St and Howard to Transbay Center
BART: 2nd St and Post St to Cathedral Van Ness

Transfers: Montgomery and the Transbay Center would be connected by a new Mission Transbay BART station under 2nd Street. It would mean you could transfer from Caltrain to BART along Market St, or to the new BART line to reach places like Cathedral Van Ness or to Muni Metro to reach Castro Station.
When the First Transbay Tube is shut down, passengers from BART line in SF and peninsula would cross bay by transferring to new BART line at Montgomery/Mission Transbay station.
New Station Areas: Showplace Brannan, Cathedral Van Ness

The Realistic and Practical
2 bores - BART Only
Caltrain: Townsend St and 2nd St to Transbay Center
BART: Mission St and Geary to Fillmore

Transfers: Embarcadero and the Transbay Center would be connected by a new Fremont Transbay BART station under Mission Street. It would mean you could transfer from Caltrain to BART along Market St, or to the new BART line to reach places like Fillmore or to Muni Metro to reach Church Station.
When the First Transbay Tube is shut down, passengers from BART line in SF and peninsula would cross bay by transferring to new BART line at Embarcadero station to Fremont Transbay station.
New Station Areas: Fillmore, Cathedral Van Ness

30 June 2016

New Mission Bay Kids' Park Opens Friday!

San Francisco will get two new parks in Mission Bay very soon: Mission Bay 
Playground Kids' Park, and Mariposa Park. Tomorrow the playground designed for residents living in Mission Bay Kids Playground will open thanks to expedited work that was approved by the Board of Supervisors earlier in June.

Mission Bay Kids' Park Playground with playground OPENING July 1, 2016!!!!!

I kid you not. SF Gate and an e-mail to Mission Bay residents from Sarah Davis, the godmother of the playground - who's been waiting over a decade for the park to come to be AND open sent out a newsletter saying the Mission Bay Kids' Park Playground will open July 1, 2016.

Willow huts at Mission Bay Kids/ Park. Image: RHAA
View from a nearby housing development overlooking the playground. Image: Urban Life Signs/Brian Stokle

Mission Bay Kids' Park

The playground appeared to be completed with grass growing, playground equipment shining in a multitude of colors, and new nature huts of basking in the San Francisco sun, over a year ago. Sadly the entire playground has been fenced off for months. The reason is a complex procedural thing of transferring private redeveloped land over to the city. You can learn more about that here and here. Initially it was due to the fact that the area surrounding it is a massive construction site.

Mariposa Park, adjacent to the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, is likely to open soon as well, but there is less information on its status.
My daughter, 3-years old at the time in 2015, looking at the playground behind the fence.
I'm just thankful my four-year old daughter will be able to play at this playground that looks positively awesome.

The plan calls for the park space to be made mostly up of the playground itself, plus some picnic table areas beside a small lawn. The most intriguing, or unusual features are the willow huts. The playground went through two rounds of design processes and outreach. Kelley Kahn, a senior project planner with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency who worked on Mission Bay, indicated that during the second outreach phase in 2010, more residents were already living in Mission Bay and consequently could provide input as actual residents of the neighborhood. Earlier design outreach was made before any residential buildings even existed in the new neighborhood.

01 June 2016

Expanding our Rail Network while Saving it from the Seas

Sea Level Rise - East Bay Transportation

Sea Level Rise and Climate Change. Most of us in the Bay Area seem to believe it's happening, know we need to reduce carbon emissions and need to get ready for rising seas. Unfortunately, apart from a few examples, we're actually not doing much in the way of physically getting ready for rising seas.

The Bay Area's transportation infrastructure is significantly threatened by sea level rise. All three major airports are at or near sea level. Much of our freeway system is close to the sea (I-80, Hwy 101, I-880). The Port of Oakland, and many pieces of our rail and transit system are under threat. Virtually all of this infrastructure was built before sea level rise was known or understood.

However, we must get ready for the coming higher storm surges and sea rise, to protect our infrastructure – for without our transportation system, we cannot function as an economy or an interconnected regional society.

How can we ensure that our 100-year investment in new rail won't be squandered by the lack of sea level rise preparedness? (You don't put on your seat belt in a car because you think you'll have a car crash - but you do want to be safer in case it does happen. With a 100-year investment you better not place your investment where you know it will be flooded someday.) Preparing for sea level rise must be treated just as we prepare for earthquakes – as an inevitable reality that we prepare for by investing in stronger buildings and infrastructure.

One way to ensure that our infrastructure is safer would be to create redundancies where duplicate infrastructure is needed anyway. In the case of mass transit, the Bay Area clearly needs more capacity and service. Building a Second Transbay Crossing is one of those redundancies we need. A new “tube” and associated rail approaching the crossing would also provide a backup tunnel to repair the first one, and offer late night service.

Rough shoreline of 8 foot sea level rise from San Leandro north to Berkeley. 
Source image: Surging Seas http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/

Rail Segments at Risk of Flooding

Focusing our attention on rail and on Oakland, we find that several segments of both BART and the freight rail infrastructure are at risk from sea rise. Although predictions indicate sea level may only rise 6 inches to 2 feet in the next 80 years, some have said it may go as high as 4 to 6 feet. With infrastructure that should last 100 or more years, it is much safer to build assuming seas will rise on the higher end of the range.  If we roll the dice and hope for a 2 feet rise, but get 6 feet sea rise we have squandered BILLIONS of dollars.

Although BART is elevated in many sections, it also goes underground and at ground level in a few spots. BART is at grade when it passes I-880 between Lake Merritt and Fruitvale. In addition it is momentarily at grade where it enters the Transbay Tube at the Port of Oakland. Although elevated in segments, areas that may flood would still affect the train as the columns holding up the aerial tracks were not build to withstand water inundation and wave action.  The tracks near Oakland Coliseum are in a zone that would be flooded if storm surges rose 8 feet even though the tracks would be above the water.

Image: Jamison Wieser

Much of the Capitol Corridor follows the shoreline - at sea level - all the way from Martinez to San Jose, with a few spots in Richmond and between San Leandro and Fremont where it is less vulnerable. In Berkeley and Oakland, the corridor is at risk from 8 feet sea rise north of Berkeley Station at University, from Emeryville station south all the way to 23rd Ave, and from High Street to just south of Hegenberger Road. These are very long segments, with lots of business, homes, infrastructure and industry surrounding the rail.

30 April 2016

Naming a train station should not be writing a novel

I've lived in a number of cities with subway or metro systems. Stations most often have a basic name that fits one of the following criteria where the station is:
  • neighborhood name
  • significant nearby landmark or regional facility
  • cross streets. 
When I lived in Paris, my station was Breguet Sabin because rue Breguet and rue Sabin met at the metro station entrance. However, sometimes, the station name gets a bit long winded, especially when it includes very long names or more than two street or place names. In the past 20 years, BART has been changing a few station names into "novel" names. Let's take a look at some station names some "proposed" #novelstationnames .

When I lived in New York City, my stop was named 116th St/Columbia University. The stop was located at the intersection of 116th St and Broadway and was immediately adjacent to the university, which is a major destination for students, faculty, staff, as well as folks visiting the campus on business. Broadway wasn't part of the name because the 1-Line follows Broadway with many stops on it. It wouldn't be very helpful if every stop included Broadway in the name. (Imagine saying, I'll meet you at the 72 St-Broadway station, then we can take it to the meeting at 86th St-Broadway station, then go to a have lunch at a place near the 125th St-Broadway station.

Source: http://avecunaccent.canalblog.com/archives/2011/10/22/22388112.html

Source: http://subwaynut.com/california/bart/pleasant_hill/p3.php

Finally, in my 14 years in San Francisco, I've used almost every station to get to and from for work or home.So I know the stations and neighborhoods pretty well. Powell St station is at Powell St. Makes sense. However it is near a major destination, Union Square, and south of Market, there is no Powell St station. Should it really be called Powell St/5th St, or Fifth St/Powell or Powell St/5th St/Union Square/Moscone... which it seems would be what BART would name it if they created the station today.

In all seriousness, I think we should have short station names that are easy to say, and easy to read, yet help a new traveler get their bearings of where the station is. I think the New York City Subway has it best when they name a station the cross street (e.g. Eighth Street), but has a secondary name in smaller font on the station walls. This secondary name, (e.g. New York City) should not show up in the station map, but it should show up in a station web site. Below are a few examples for the Bay Area.

Powell St
Union Square
Downtown Berkeley
University of California

66th St Station with secondary name "Lincoln Center". Source: Wikipedia
Below are a few "suggestions" of some "informative" "novel" station names that might be confused with an epic poem, or a brochure for the latest suburban sprawl neighborhood like the The Palms at East Saint Francis Wood. Some comments are interspersed in the names

East Bay - Coastal
Richmond  (8 characters)
Richmond Civic Center/Amtrak Intermodal (39 characters). Could also be Richmond / MacDonald

El Cerrito Del Norte  (20 characters)

already a long name, but understandable that with two El Cerrito stations they need to be distinguished. How about - El Cerrito Cutting San Pablo (28 characters)

El Cerrito Plaza  (16 characters)
El Cerrito Plaza/Albany Hill (28 characters)

North Berkeley  (14 characters)
Ironically North Berkeley station is really in Central Berkeley. Maybe a few more compass points in the name will help the epic quality of this suburban underground station built in a streetcar suburb.
North Berkeley/South Albany/Westbrae (36 characters)

A full list of all BART station alternative names is after the break.

30 March 2016

The Mission Bay Tetris Rubiks Cube Rail Freeway Challenge

Tonight the San Francisco Planning Department will present its very preliminary overview of the Railyard I-280 Boulevard Alternatives Study. I encourage you to attend if you missed the first meeting. And if you are for better rail, better pedestrian connections, and if you have concerns, or just want to support, please go and be vocal. Don’t let one voice smother the other voices in the room or in the conversation, even if we don’t all agree on something.

Where: Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, 953 DeHaro Street
When: TONIGHT, March 30, 2016 from 6-8pm

Source: San Francisco Planning Department
The Railyard I-280 Boulevard Study is a mouthful to say and not easy to explain in a short sentence. But I’ll give it a try: The study is looking at local and transportation networks in and around Mission Bay to build a better rail tunnel to Downtown San Francisco, create safer access in and out of Mission Bay by removing rail and freeway barriers in this growing neighborhood. In addition the study looks to consider opening up land to new housing, parks and office space.

Although much of the media attention and the resistance to this study has focused on the removal or “tearback” of 1 mile of I-280, most of the study is really about the rail tunnel and the chance to better connect Mission Bay, for both pedestrians, but even cars, into the rest of San Francisco. So if you read reports about this project and they don’t mention rail or a tunnel know that the article is only focusing on the folks screaming the loudest, and not looking at the whole picture. In fact, most of the ideas proposed in the report can be mix and matched – included or left out.

San Francisco was once a great industrial and ship building city with many factories, railyards, warehouses and drydocks, including Mission Bay. Railroad tracks once coursed through much of the eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco on its streets and onto its piers. In the 21st Century, some of these areas, have become new residential and employment neighborhoods with smatterings of warehouse and industrial uses remaining.  Most of the railroad tracks are paved over or ripped out. Now the T-Third line rolls down Third Street, and voters approved to bring rail to the heart of downtown San Francisco’s Transbay Center; currently under construction, the rail tunnel not yet funded.

With these changes comes the need to ensure that these new neighborhoods are well connected into San Francisco’s grid and not separated, as they once were when they were industrial. Likewise, reviewing the plans and financing of a new rail tunnel to Downtown is necessary to move the project forward.

San Francisco’s Planning Department is addressing these changes in and around the Mission Bay neighborhood with the Railyard I-280 Boulevard Feasibility Study. The study is looking at the three-dimensional landscape of Mission Bay with its streets and rail on the ground, freeways and building rising into the air, while water pipes and future trains run underground. The report asks how to best move people, cars, bikes, buses and trains safely and efficiently through the area while also better connecting the new neighborhood into the city through removing the historic barriers separating this former industrial from its neighbors.  

The study is also examining how to improve both local and regional connections while also seeking opportunities for new housing, open space and jobs, all the while consider the benefits and impacts of each component and the overall plan.


Before going into the details of the new RAB study, let’s review the recent planning and transportation history of the area. 

San Francisco voters passed Proposition H to “extend the Caltrain line to a new or rebuilt regional transit station in San Francisco to be located on the site of the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets.”
The initiative also called for the City to pursue electrification of the entire Caltrain line, and to consider adding new stations in Bayview/Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley.
The tunnel, called the Downtown Extension (DTX), will connect the center of Downtown San Francisco with the 4th & King Station as well as all Caltrain stations at points southward.
Studies began to examine how the Caltrain Railyard might be redeveloped either through a deck or by removing the railyard altogether.
The city determined that the CA-HSR plan for San Francisco would require a street underpass/trench to grade separate street users from frequent trains, and create a very inhospitable environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and more. The underpass is also needed so cars can flow between neighborhoods without a crossing gate being down half the time for trains.

The city, in light of the grade separation challenges along 7th St, began reconsidering where a Caltrain tunnel could be built, in part to address the 16th St crossing, but also help reconnect neighborhoods and potentially straighten the tunnel to improve operations.

RAB study announced
HSR announces first phase of operations will be to the Bay Area between Bakersfield and San Jose.
RAB first public meeting

01 February 2016

The edge between crazy and brilliant ideas: the case for reconnecting SoMa by tearing down I-80

Sometimes great ideas arrive a little bit too late for their time. But sometimes that great idea can spark an actional step forward. What if we built a new freeway linking I-280 to I-80 through SoMa, and then tore down I-80 further west to open up SoMa and reconnect it like it once was before the 1950s. Removing the great dividing line that is I-80 through SoMa could rekindle a neighborhood, but the devil is it would take dividing another part. Would it be worth it?
Green parcels open up new land, while the orange lines show where a SoMa Link connects I-80 to I-280. Image: Screen cap from GavVerma drove video.
SoMa Link Proposal. Image base map: My Maps by Google

This 1970s rendering of a Yerba Buena Sports Arena would have had the arena in the place of Moscone South along Howard between 3rd and 4th streets. Image: Eric Fischer

The edge between what gets built and what is a curious unbuilt proposal is a thin line. Moscone Center may have included an arena while the BART system may have never happened without narrowly passing with the 60% required vote.

The future of Mission Bay's I-280, the Downtown Rail Extension (DTX), and the Fourth and King railyard are the focus of with Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Study (RAB). I've covered the DTX alignment alternatives before, and a bit about a future HSR railyard. However, I'd like to focus on the removal of freeways this time. The study, and several other folks have proposed removing the freeway north of 16th St, or even Cesar Chavez, which means taking down 0.85 miles or 2 miles of the freeway, and converting much of it into a boulevard. Much of the benefit of removing the freeway would be to connect the growing Mission Bay and Design District (Potrero Flats) neighborhoods with new street connections.

View of Brannan and 5th Street where freeway could pass. The iconic red Coca Cola billboard sign would not be affected. Image: Sean Whitney "Pinterest Development at 505 Brannan" via Vimeo
But what if we might bet better off tearing down a different freeway, and keeping the I-280. Instead, what if two bigger neighborhoods were reconnected while maintaining freeway access from the Bay Bridge to points south in San Francisco and beyond into the Peninsula? Wouldn't a freeway removal that maintains regional connectivity, but also benefits more local residents, affecting a wider population, and with greater development potential be the better choice? Let's examine a proposal that may just do that.

First I'll lay out the proposal, address the "that's crazy and stupid", and finally go into the great opportunities, obstacles, and benefits.

The proposal

The SoMa Link Proposal
  • Remove the 1950s section of I-80 between the Fifth Street exit/entrance to the Central Freeway. 
  • Maintain access between Highway 101 and I-80 and the Bay Bridge, by connecting I-280 to I-80 at Fifth Street. 
  • Redevelop the vacated I-80 parcels to:
    • Pay for the 280-80 link
    • Fund creation of new parks
    • Develop a majority of parcels through sale and lease of vacated land
As shown in the map below, by removing 0.85 miles of I-80 in SoMa you would gain 27.5 acres of land. To achieve this, I-280 would be extended 0.40 miles from its current terminus at Sixth and Townsend to I-80 at Fifth and Bryant. A little over 7 acres of land would need to be acquired for the new freeway connection. Effectively the SoMa link would net a minimum 20 acres of land with only adding 2,100 feet of new freeway.

Note, the connecting of I-280 to I-80 was proposed before back in the 1974. This alternative for connecting the two highways would have gone down Sixth Street in what appears to possibly be a double decker freeway.
Image: Eric Fischer

That's crazy!
The SoMa Link proposal has many compelling elements, but let's look at some of its drawbacks and parse them out. There are several.

We Don't Build Freeways in San Francisco - We Tear Them Down
Well yes, it does seem a bit wild to build new freeway to eliminate freeway. However there is precedent with the Central Freeway removal, which was torn down from Fell and Laguna all the way back to Van Ness and Division (0.65 miles), but was rebuilt for 0.35 miles to reach Market Street and enable Octavia Boulevard and Patricia's Green park. Similarly, Providence, RI tore down and relocated a portion of I-195 and opened up 20 acres to new downtown development. We'd be gaining in the big picture.