April 24, 2014

SF Supervisors say no EIR on commuter buses

Three corporate shuttles at a Muni stop at Park Presidio and Geary. Photo by Sue Vaughan.

Three corporate shuttles at a Muni stop at Park Presidio and Geary. Photo by Sue Vaughan.

Should San Francisco prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on its new commuter-bus policy (see April, page 7)? The Sierra Club thinks so, and so did the folks who filed an appeal of the Planning Department’s decision not to prepare an EIR, but on April 1 the Board of Supervisors rejected the appeal.

The Planning Department gave the project a Class Six “categorical exemption” from the requirement to do an EIR. “Class Six is a very limited exemption for data collection,” argued Richard Drury, attorney for the appellants. “Experimental management goes far beyond mere data collection, as does changing the law to make [the pilot] legal. [The administrators of the pilot] even admit to moving stops. That’s not mere data collection.”

The appellants’ attorney introduced evidence from the San Francisco budget and legislative analyst’s office that the private commuter buses may have impacts on infrastructure, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and socioeconomic displacement. He also introduced written testimony from a professional traffic engineer who claims there is a fair argument–a standard under the California Environmental Quality Act for requiring an Environmental Impact Report–that the Commuter Shuttle Policy and Pilot Program “may have adverse and significant environmental impacts.”

In addition, the California vehicle code prohibits any but common carriers from stopping in bus zones. “Does the city have the authority to tell shuttle operators that they don’t have to comply with the law?” Supervisor David Campos asked city attorneys repeatedly.

Other supervisors expressed concern about the impact of upholding the appeal on Vision Zero (see April Yodeler, page 7), a statement of purpose adopted by the Municipal Transportation Agency to improve street safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In the end, only Supervisors Campos and John Avalos voted to uphold the appeal.

The appellants have 30 days from the rejection of the appeal to sue. It is not known if they will do so.

Sue Vaughan, chair, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

Bike to Work Day 2014–Thursday, May 8

BTWD14_BannerThursday, May 8.

Take part in the San Francisco Bay Area’s 20th annual Bike to Work Day, a part of National Bike Month.

“Energizer stations” will be located along commute routes, where bicyclists can stop for refreshments, giveaways, and bicycling information or simply to be ‘cheered on’ by fellow participants. Energizer stations will be open during morning commute hours and some will even re-open during the evening commute.

More than one million Bay Area residents live within five miles of their workplace, an ideal distance for bicycling. The work commute only represents 23% of all trips; you also may be able to bike to shop, to school, for errands, and for social events. In a world concerned with climate change, pollution, congestion, and wasted time, the question should really be: why not bike to work? We expect hundreds of thousands of people to bike to work in the Bay Area, with many being first time bike commuters. Will you be one of us?

WhatYouCanDo

For more details about energizer-station locations, sponsorships, Bike to Work Week activities, and Bike to Work Day “after-parties”, see:

Alameda, Contra Costa: www.ebbc.org/btwd

Marin: www.marinbike.org/Events/BTWD/Index.shtml

San Francisco: www.sfbike.org/?btwd

Too many buses, too little information–SF needs to study shuttle buses and tour buses

Three corporate shuttles in a row at a Muni stop. Photo by Sue Vaughan.

Three corporate shuttles in a row at a Muni stop. Photo by Sue Vaughan.

Update (March 25, 2014): The appeal of the categorical exemption for the shuttle-bus pilot program will be heard at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Controversy has been raging in San Francisco over the private commuter shuttle buses that ferry workers from San Francisco to South San Francisco and points south. The San Francisco Group of the Sierra Club calls for the city to enforce the law prohibiting private shuttles from pulling into Muni bus stops, as these buses have been doing for many years now, but also to find alternative stops for such private buses, charging the corporations or schools that operate the shuttles for the expenses.

In the meantime, the Club has also called for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the pilot program and policy adopted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) on Jan. 21. Key questions include:

  • do the buses serve a vital environmental purpose by getting cars off the road–or do they undermine Muni and Caltrain by diverting riders–or both?
  • how significant is the buses’ competition for curb and street space with Muni, Golden Gate Transit, and SamTrans?
  • do the buses contribute to skyrocketing rents, increasing evictions, and displacement of average to low-income San Franciscans to auto-centric suburbs?
  • what about the buses’ diesel emissions?

Without solid facts how can the city respond effectively? That’s why the city needs to prepare an Environmental Impact Report, under the California Environmental Quality Act, to assess the true impacts of these buses.

We do know that these shuttles–often large, sleek buses with tinted windows, and sometimes double-decker–have been pulling illegally into bus stops on Park Presidio, Haight, Divisadero, Fillmore, Van Ness, Mission, Valencia, and Noe for several years now, and seemingly in increasing numbers. This has happened as the Bay Area tech sector has been surging without a commensurate increase in housing near tech work centers such as Cupertino, Mountain View, Menlo Park, and South San Francisco.

The shuttles operate on behalf of Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, Box, Genentech, and other companies. Some shuttles also serve educational institutions, such as the Academy of Art University and the University of California in San Francisco. Some serve businesses within San Francisco.

Under the new program, the SFMTA will hold a few public hearings, restrict the private shuttles to about 200 stops, and charge the companies operating the shuttles $1 per stop per day. The Board declared that this pilot program is categorically exempt from the requirement to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

On Feb. 19 attorney Richard Drury filed an appeal of this declaration on behalf of appellants including Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, the League of Pissed Off Voters, and the Service Employees International Union. The appeal will be heard at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 1. The Sierra Club believes that the city needs an EIR to gather the kind of information needed for a sound decision.

Google has announced that it is donating about $6.8 million for two years of free Muni passes for low- and middle-income youth–a program that the Club supports–but this does not compensate for the ongoing obstruction of Muni service by the buses. And Google is just one of the many companies running the buses.

The extent of the problem

The SFMTA estimates that the private shuttles currently provide about 35,000 person-trips per weekday (about 5% of Muni ridership). Many of the trips are within the city, but a survey by the Regional Planning Department at UC Berkeley estimates that about 7,000 people use the buses to commute from San Francisco to the Silicon Valley, that about 20% of those riders would otherwise use public transportation if the private shuttles were not available, and that the availability of the buses–and the absence of adequate housing in the Silicon Valley–are influencing rider decisions to live in San Francisco. Close to 50% of those surveyed said they would drive alone if the commuter buses were not available, and another 40% said they would move somewhere closer to their jobs.

The UC Berkeley study also found that most of the people who use the buses to commute out of San Francisco make $100,000 or more, and are drawn to San Francisco’s walkability and cultural amenities.

In the meantime, housing prices in San Francisco have skyrocketed (up 10.6% in December 2013 over the previous year according to Trulia), and evictions are increasing. In particular, owner move-ins and speculator use of the Ellis Act to evict tenants are both going up. The Ellis Act is a state law, passed in 1985, that permits landlords, without necessarily selling their property, to evict tenants and get out of the business of renting. The Ellis Act was little used until the late 1990s and the start of the first tech boom. Ellis Act and owner-move-in evictions skyrocketed and then dropped back down a little after 2000 and the first dotcom bust. Now, both Ellis Act and owner-move-in evictions are going back up. In 2012 – 2013, according to San Francisco Rent Board statistics, Ellis Act evictions went up 81%, for a total of 116. Speculators who purchase a building with rental units frequently evict tenants under the Ellis Act and then sell the building at a vastly increased price to a group of people who share the mortgage under a tenancy-in-common.

Unknown are the numbers of tenants who are accepting speculator “buy-outs” not regulated by the Ellis Act or local ordinance. When tenants are threatened with Ellis Act evictions, they often accept buy-outs, getting more displacement money than when Ellis Acted out of their homes.

Tour-bus update (bus encounters of the third kind)

In October the San Francisco Group called for the initiation of a planning process to regulate tour buses throughout San Francisco (see Dec., page 4). The SFMTA, however, adopted a plan just for Alamo Square (similar to existing plans for other neighborhoods such as Seacliff and the Marina). It did not address the need for citywide planning.

WhatYouCanDo

Write to the clerk of the Board at Angela.Calvillo@sfgov.org and/or to your individual supervisor at:

City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, #244
San Francisco, CA 94102

or through www.sfbos.org. Urge them to prepare an EIR on the shuttle buses, and to study the problems of tour buses throughout the city. Your letter needs to be received before the appeal is heard on April 1.

Sue Vaughan, chair, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

Vision Zero: no pedestrian and bicycle deaths in San Francisco

Muni vehicle slowed down by auto traffic. Photo by Lydia Gans.

Muni vehicle slowed down by auto traffic. Photo by Lydia Gans.

Last year in San Francisco, drivers killed 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists, and injured about 900 pedestrians. That’s why city leaders are devising a new vision–Vision Zero–for safety and zero deaths on city streets.

The Police Department has already responded with a change of vocabulary: instead of calling these occurrences ‘accidents’ (as if there were no human cause), police are calling them ‘collisions’.

More substantively, Supervisors Jane Kim, Norman Yee, and John Avalos are writing a resolution, Vision Zero, to lead the city to zero deaths by traffic within 10 years.

Vision Zero is already being implemented in New York and many cities in Europe.

Vision Zero so far has three main components:

  • engineering to fix the dangerous streets where most of the collisions occur, including better lighting, crosswalks, and bicycle lanes;
  • enforcement against the major driver failures of running red lights, driving too fast, and not yielding to pedestrians; police should be specially on the lookout for distracted driving, including drivers using cell phones and texting;
  • education for drivers, including direct training for city employees; this should include teaching police to be aware of pedestrians and bicyclists, and media outreach to the general public.

The Sierra Club San Francisco Group strongly supports the Vision Zero concept, but the city needs to go further. A key means towards safer streets is to reduce driving, and that requires making public transit more reliable and appealing. Whenever the city makes street improvements, a key component should be improvements that help Muni run faster and more reliably. Combining Muni projects with bike and pedestrian projects is the most cost-effective way to spend money on our streets.

WhatYouCanDo

Contact your supervisor at:

City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, #244
San Francisco, CA 94102

or through www.sfbos.org. Urge them to:

  • add Muni to Vision Zero;
  • pass Vision Zero;
  • once it’s passed (since it’s only a resolution), act substantively to implement it.

Howard Strassner, Executive Committee, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

San Ramon needs to plan transportation before building

The Sierra Club is urging San Ramon to prepare a transportation master plan to figure out how to solve our transportation problems for the coming decades–before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that may not help in the short term and that may close off long-term solutions. (There is a 2009 Countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan, but it doesn’t really do the job.)

For example, the city is studying building on- and off-ramps for high-occupancy vehicles in the middle of I-680 at the Norris Canyon overpass. The ramps might shave three minutes off commute times for about 500 bus passengers a day using the Walnut Creek and Dublin BART stations–but at a cost of $101 million dollars. Unfortunately, because the freeway right-of-way is limited, the ramps would require reducing the number of freeway lanes, thus turning what is now a congested stretch of freeway into an absolute bottleneck. The ramps would replace the current Norris Canyon Road overpass, which provides a safe path for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians between neighborhoods on the west side of the city and the schools and parks on the east side. Even worse, the ramps would preclude other future freeway traffic solutions.

Also, San Ramon’s 2030 General Plan designates the downtown as a Priority Development Area (PDA), as confirmed by the Association of Bay Area Governments. The PDA encompasses the North Camino San Ramon Specific Plan Area on the north and the Bishop Ranch City Center Development Plan Area on the south. The purpose of a PDA is to encourage transit- and pedestrian-friendly development in areas with good transit connectivity. We fear, though, badly thought-out development here that might generate more traffic.

Before building ramps, before building out the PDA, before planning any other individual projects, we need a transportation plan for San Ramon and the region around it. Such a plan would look at the overall transportation needs and how potential solutions would work together.

For example, one potential solution might be a 25-year plan to install a north-south light-rail system in the middle of the freeway, along with local shuttle service throughout the city core. New local transit stations near the Crow Canyon and Bollinger I-680 exits could allow regional buses to remain on the freeway alignment while passengers would transfer at the stations onto local city buses looping into the business core, or onto shuttles to Bishop Ranch and other commercial centers. Such a system is already required in the City Center Master Plan. Before we build expensive projects that would use up the limited right-of-way, we need to make sure that they don’t foreclose such a more effective long-term solution.

An Environmental Impact Report on the ramp project is expected in March. We have been told that the report will cover just the narrowest transportation impacts of the project, not the regional impacts or even the impacts on all of San Ramon. This would flout the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires comprehensive study of all impacts, including the cumulative impacts of all foreseeable projects.

The Sierra Club urges San Ramon to prepare a long-term transportation master plan–before moving ahead on transportation projects that might block future solutions.

Jim Gibbon, Executive Committee, Sierra Club Mount Diablo Group

Club calls for limiting tour buses in San Francisco

Tour bus at Muni bus stop. Photo courtesy Erinne Morse of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association.

Tour bus at Muni bus stop. Photo courtesy Erinne Morse of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association.

San Francisco needs to undertake a planning process to regulate tour buses. In the interim, because of concerns about air quality and climate change, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency should restrict the operation of tour buses in Alamo Square.

The number of tour buses traversing the city has increased dramatically over the past three to five years. They are banned from many neighborhoods–such as the Marina, Sea Cliff, and parts of Pacific Heights–but they are not banned from Alamo Square and its iconic view of gingerbread houses in front of downtown.

A February – June 2013 study counted one tour or commuter bus arriving at Alamo Square every 7.5 minutes. Neighbors complain that tour bus operators drive too slowly or too quickly, stop to discharge and pick up passengers in mid-block, double-park, and sometimes pull into bus stops illegally. These activities obstruct the operation of the 21 Hayes Street bus. The high volume of these large buses also endangers bicyclists in the bicycle lanes running both directions on Fulton Street.

In addition, the large number of tour buses exacerbates air pollution. One bus may meet air-quality standards, but eight per hour increases the cumulative impacts. Studies just released from the World Health Organization have now classified air pollution as a whole (as opposed to individual pollution components) as carcinogenic to humans, with data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer indicating a strong connection, to lung cancer and also to bladder cancer, adding to the list of diseases including heart disease and asthma. This pollution particularly endangers children, whose lungs are still developing, the elderly, and those with already-weakened hearts and lungs.

The Sierra Club strongly supports the unimpeded flow of mass transit and the safe passage of bicyclists and pedestrians as some of the best methods for combating air pollution and climate change.

The Sierra Club San Francisco Group has also spoken out for reducing the amount of parking to be allowed in proposed projects at 555 Fulton St.  and 1634-1690 Pine St. The same principle applies: building too many parking spaces at one location encourages driving, climate change, and air pollution. The Fulton Street plan would include more parking than allowed in the Market and Octavia Plan, and Pine Street is an exceptionally transit-rich neighborhood.

Sue Vaughan, Executive Committee,
Sierra Club San Francisco Group

Keep funding Free Muni for Youth

POWER Free Muni for Youth campaigners. Photo courtesy People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).

POWER Free Muni for Youth campaigners. Photo courtesy People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).

In December 2012 the Municipal Transportation Authority in San Francisco enacted a 16-month pilot program offering free transit Fast Passes to youth under 18. The estimated $1.6 million cost is coming from a federal grant for building ridership.

The need for the program is clear. Almost 70% of San Francisco high-school students commute on public transit; many of these youth and their families have limited income to pay for monthly Clipper cards. Over 22,000 applications were submitted during the program’s first three months–almost 10,000 more than the average number of monthly youth passes purchased during the first eight months of Fiscal Year 2011-2012. The pilot program lasts just through June, and the Sierra Club joins with many community groups in urging policy-makers to identify funding to extend the program with no interruption.

This program can help make San Francisco truly a Transit First city and help meet climate-action goals by reducing automobile trips, since approximately 60% of all trips in San Francisco use a private vehicle. It helps build a new generation of transit riders who will support transit funding, and the free passes enable families to stay in the city rather than moving to auto-dependent suburbs. It makes the air cleaner for everyone.

POWER Free Muni for Youth campaigners. Photo courtesy People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).

POWER Free Muni for Youth campaigners. Photo courtesy People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).

Supervisor David Campos, the leading political voice on this issue, states that “it has been very powerful to have parents and families talk about the impact of the lack of access to public transportation for educational purposes for their children, plus this will help make the public transit system more sustainable.” This is especially important because the school district has reduced its free bus service.

The Bay Chapter supports free bus transit passes for every junior- and senior-high-school student, throughout the Chapter, as a step to reducing automobile usage, both today and in the future.

Linda Weiner, Executive Committee, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

 

Donate your vehicle to the Sierra Club Foundation

SierraClub_front_v4 300x286The Sierra Club Foundation is pleased to announce a new national vehicle donation program.  The program is a great opportunity for Sierra Club supporters as well as the general public to get rid of old, polluting vehicles they no longer use, helping to clean the air and to orient them toward greener transportation alternatives — all while supporting the mission of the Club by directing the proceeds from their car donations back to the Foundation.  

The Sierra Club Foundation receives a percentage of the proceeds from either the recycling of a vehicle or the reselling of a vehicle at auction.  The Beyond Oil team worked with us to establish a recycling protocol for the car donation program — all cars (with the exception of collectible cars) that have an MPG of less than 27 miles per gallon will be automatically scrapped and recycled.

Additionally, car donors will be encouraged to green their (future) rides.   We hope to expand the Green My Ride program to offer discounts on greener transportation alternatives (i.e. hybrids or EVs, Zipcar or car-sharing memberships, bicycles, etc).

The car donation program will be managed by Charitable Auto Resources (CARS) based in San Diego, California. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club sent an RFB (request for bid) to four of the leading car donation vendors across the country.  The RFB asked each of the vendors to answer very specific questions around customer service, compensation, reporting, legal compliance and marketing. CARs was chosen as a final candidate because they were the most proactive in responding, have the most comprehensive marketing plans, and are completely legally compliant in all 50 states.  They also currently work with over 500 nonprofits across the country and have experience with organizations with chapter structures like the Club’s.

CARs will accepts many types of vehicles for donation — cars, trucks, motorcycles, RVs, trailers, boats, planes, ATVs, even farm equipment — from any location in the continental US. Please encourage family and friends to utilize our car donation program if they have an older vehicle that they can donate to the Club.

To make a donation online, go to www.scf-cardonations.org or call (855)33-SIERRA.

For more information about the new vehicle donation program, please contact Michelle Epstein (michelle.epstein@sierraclub.org) or Vicky Barrett-Putnam (vicky.barrett-putnam@sierraclub.org).

National Plug In Day–East Bay event–Saturday, September 28

Plug-in dump truck (2007 model). See more ordinary plug-in models at National Plug In Day.

Plug-in dump truck (2007 model). See more ordinary plug-in models at National Plug In Day.

Update (Sep. 25, 2013): we were just informed that the Alameda event has been canceled. There will still be events in San Rafael and in Cupertino.

 

Saturday, September 28, 10 am to 2 pm, South Shore Center in City of Alameda.

A little different than last year, this year’s event will concentrate on showing off electric vehicles by offering rides to the public. The turning point for many is going for a ride in a silent electric car!
We will be at the Park Street side of the mall, near the food trucks. Yes, the food trucks will be there, so bring your appetite for EVs, a unique dining experience at the food trucks, and live music.
The drivers who can give EV rides will stage along Park Street, and we’ll have a canopy nearby with information and a few ‘static display’ vehicles.
For more information contact Tom Keenan, president, East Bay Electric Auto Association, at (510) 387-8647 or Tom@PlugInWithTom.com.

For information on the Marin event, see http://theYodeler.org/?p=7846.

Roy Nakadegawa, 1923 – 2013

Roy Nakadegawa.

Roy Nakadegawa.

Former AC Transit director Roy Nakadegawa passed away on Aug. 23 at his home in Berkeley. Roy had been suffering from congestive heart failure for some time, but was mentally alert until he passed, according to his wife Judy.

Roy and Judy were the quintessential Berkeley couple, dedicated to peace, family, public service, and folk dancing.

Roy served on the AC Transit Board for 20 years from 1972 to 1992. He then served on the BART Board for 13 years.

After he left the BART Board, he joined the Board of TRANSDEF (Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund), a non-profit environmental organization created by transit activists to advocate for better solutions to transportation, land-use, and air-quality problems in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For many years Roy was an active participant in the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Transportation Committee.

Roy was an active attendee and participant in TRB (Transportation Research Board) meetings and was well known and respected around the world for his depth of knowledge about transit and its relation to land use. He was written up in the local press for the frugality of his travel arrangements.

Roy served when AC Board members got an annuity when they left the Board. For many years, Roy generously donated his annuity payments to buy prizes for AC’s local bus rodeo.

Professionally, Roy had been a transportation engineer for the city of Richmond and for many years served on the board that administers the civil engineering exam in California.

Cards and letters should be sent to:

Judy Nakadegawa and family
751 The Alameda
Berkeley, CA 94707-1930.

Chris Peeples, at-large director, AC Transit