As per the class workshop, write your overall assessment of the Better Streets San Francisco project. Use the questions presented in class for guidance but feel free to expand on them or use a different outline. Make sure to add the name of your group members in the blog text. Your submission shouldn’t exceed 5 pages and not less than 4. Feel free to use other sources to support your argument.
This proposed project would change the way the streets
of San Francisco look drastically. Although some areas in San Francisco have streets that are lined with greenery instead of trash and small walkways, not all of them are similar. The idea of transit first plays a significant role in this plan. Since most
people have to walk to get to a bus stop, it may be hard for people to get to a bus stop that is far away. The project will create more bus stops within certain areas, allowing for more people to have greater walkable accessibility to public transit. Along
with the idea of having more public transit and more people walking to the bus stops, this would mean that the sidewalks would need to be wider and cleaner so that people want to use them. Wider and cleaner sidewalks will also allow families with small children,
animals, or elderly people to feel safer and more comfortable walking. More greenery along the sidewalks to allow for more beautification of the city sidewalks is also included in this plan. This additional greenery will improve air quality because there will
be more carbon dioxide being taken in by the plants, and more oxygen being let out. Plants will also provide shade for pedestrians as well as homes for small animals and insects. Hypothetically, the addition of bus stops and improved sidewalks would mean
there would be more people taking public transportation and therefore less cars on the road. This would allow for improved air quality and greater safety of pedestrians. By improving the overall accessibility of these streets it promotes more pedestrians which
leads to a desire for social interaction, which allows for people to feel that they are part of a community that has a collective interest in keeping San Francisco an inviting social city.
Currently, there are multiple agencies who oversee
street projects that create a bunch of small, individual projects that don’t promote aesthetics or hold a city-wide vision. The ideas and goals that the agencies have for street/sidewalk improvements are not always cohesive. Since there are multiple agencies
in charge of improvements, there is also a disconnect when it comes to programming and funding. This uncoordinated usage of city resources means a lack in aesthetically pleasing streets, lack of public spaces in certain areas, cluttered streets, and a lack
of greenery in some areas.
There is a clear vision for how streets in San Francisco
would look like to residents and visitors. The city wants the streets to be a list of things such as: memorable, able to support a diverse public life, safety, while still creating streets that are vibrant and inviting. Along with being able to sustain families
living in the city where they are safe from fast-moving traffic and still having easy access to public transportation such as muni and other busses. Public health is also another important aspect as to why the city of San Francisco proposed this project, considering
such a dense population. In order to sustain better accessibility throughout the streets of San Francisco, there has to be more of a push to have more walkable streets that help those who are experiencing chronic diseases, disabilities, and the elderly.
Implementing more intersections for safer pedestrian
crossings helps to promote healthier public health. Having an overall promotion of more people on the streets allows people to be more social and deal with mental health issues. Improving the streets of San Francisco can easily have an impact on being able
to minimize the impact of climate change and improve air conditions such as adding more trees and plants throughout the city. Improving public transportation and creating more lanes for bicycles eliminates the amount of cars driving on the streets. By increasing
city walkability and increasing bicyclist safety, physical health of residents may be improved due to the promotion of using your body to get around, whether that be on foot or by a bicycle, scooter, skateboard, or other self powered mode of transportation.
Although this project is still awaiting funding to
move forward, there have been community discussions about the proposal. From the Executive Summary, “City staff attended over 100 community meetings relating to the Better Streets Plan, held monthly meetings with a Community Advisory Committee, and received
over 1,000 responses to the two Better Streets Plan surveys.” Although the committee received over 1,000 responses to surveys, this represents roughly less than .001% of the population of San Francisco. While much of the project would be widely accepted as
a whole, the construction period of the project may make some residents upset as there will likely be increased noise, as well as street congestion due to construction. To gain more support for the project, the City of San Francisco plans to promote pedestrian
education through media outreach and campaigns.
Local residents needs have been taken account by the
city, as proven by data that has been collected about pedestrian safety from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Reports System and a PedSafe study conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley and the SFMTA. The data showed a small decline in pedestrian related injury
collisions (Approximately 900 – 1000 in the 1990’s to about 700 – 800 in 2006 – 2008). Although San Francisco is a very walkable and generally safe city to walk in, city officials still want to make changes to reduce pedestrian collisions/injuries. As shown
by a study done by UCSF, these injuries are extremely expensive for the city, averaging a cost of about $15 million/year between 2004 and 2009 just at San Francisco General Hospital, not even taking into account chronic issues that may have arisen from these
accidents. The city also took into account that 59% of San Francisco residents believe “there are not enough trees citywide.” The Better Streets Plan also allows for individuals or community members to make improvements to their own streets. The city is looking
into how to streamline its permitting process and a positive aspect of this plan is that it is not a “hard and fast template” that needs to be strictly followed. It takes into account many differences, such as “neighborhood preference, topography, existing
infrastructure, and transportation.”
If this project could gain all of the support and resources
needed to implement it, we believe that this project would be beneficial to all neighborhoods. This would allow for all neighborhoods in San Francisco to become more appealing, and there would be less of a divide between the “good” and “bad” neighborhoods.
By increasing availability of public transportation to all, individuals may feel empowered by being able to go where they need to go without getting into a car. Decreased traffic congestion would decrease the time it takes to get to destinations for people
who need to use automobiles. This plan would potentially increase the amount of people walking around and visiting local shops and businesses, which could improve the economy of San Francisco, increasing the availability of funding for other projects. Although
there are other projects in San Francisco, this one should be prioritized because it involves San Francisco as a whole, and not just certain neighborhoods or populated areas.
The most successful parts of the project, once it is
implemented, would be the streamlined process for permitting as well as attaining citywide goals to achieve. This plan would also eliminate having multiple agencies overseeing multiple street improvement projects, thus promoting a more centralized process
and themes. Another integral aspect of the success of this plan are the public health benefits.
With regards to this project, some planning for future
sea level rise as an outcome of climate change should be implemented. It is predicted that by 2100, San Francisco could lose 165 square meters due to sea level rise. This project would be much less valuable if most of the project is underwater by 2100. The
city should look to prioritize this project in areas that a less likely to be affected by sea level rise. In areas that are likely to be affected by sea level rise, the city should look for ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, while still allowing
for the project to take place. Perhaps the city can merge this project with another project that prepares the city for climate change, while still allowing for greater pedestrian safety and beautification of the streets and sidewalks. The city can also promote
this project as a way to mitigate climate change, by having less people use privately owned cars, and more people using public transportation. As stated in previous parts of this summary, by having more plants and greenery this will also mitigate the effects
of climate change as more CO2 will be absorbed by the plants, and more oxygen will be added to the atmosphere.
By Emily Watterson / Jenny Crofton / Shelby Bustria
San Francisco has historically been a leader in the adoption of green policies across the United States. Before the Better Streets Policy was adopted in 2006, and the Better Streets Plan guidelines were established in 2010, San Francisco had long been contemplating how to increase the accessibility and usability of streets, sidewalks, curbs and other public streetway spaces. In 1973, the idea of a Transit-First Policy was introduced, and was officially voted into law in 1999. The Transit-First Policy essentially encouraged alternatives to private automobile transportation, and with that began prioritizing street enhancements so that people could feasibly utilize these environmentally-friendlier modes of transit, such as walking, bike riding, Muni, etc.
While many efforts of this kind already exist—some even successful in application—the issue is the inconsistency in results. The Better Streets Plan, then, seeks to solve this by implementing an ongoing and large-scale program to address all issues related to the betterment of the streets, rather than multiple, disconnected, localized efforts.
According to their website, Better Streets seeks to activate street space, aesthetically enhance neighborhoods with more greenery, aid in managing stormwater, increase pedestrian safety, calm traffic, reclaim roadway space, and other streetscape like banners, street lamps, bicycle racks, benches, transit shelters, etc. Before the implementation of the Better Streets Plan, San Francisco simply had less of a collective and sustained focus on these types of community improvement strategies.
The Better Streets Plan seeks to create what is referred to as “complete streets.” A complete street is one that completely balances all aspects of a streets’ function, aesthetics, and overall unified design. The Complete Streets Policy is one of the guiding principles behind San Francisco’s approach to improving streets to benefit all, stipulating that the city “include pedestrian, bicycle, and streetscape improvements as part of any planning or construction in the public right-of-way” (sfbetterstreets.org).
Along with these guiding policies, San Francisco complies with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). According to their website, “one of the ways the City complies with these permits is through implementing low impact design based stormwater management (LID) which reduces pollution caused by stormwater runoff.”
There is little to indicate what the decision-making process for this project was like. The plan itself does not mention specific stakeholders, and there is very little collaboration with local organizations. For instance, the city consulted the non-profit group Friends of the Urban Forest about which plants would be most suitable to use in their improvements. However, we can assume that many stakeholders were excluded from the decision-making process based on the outcome of the plan. As discussed, the plan excludes any mention of homelessness or gentrification, both of which are deeply connected and relevant to how our streets are engineered. Such brazen oversights show that the decision-makers did little or nothing to reach out to and involve the most marginalized and most impacted members of the community.
The project aims to provide for a number of local residents’ needs, with pedestrian safety in particular being a key focus of the project. Pedestrian safety is a high priority for the City of San Francisco; the city even has a Vision Zero plan in effect, which means that the city aims to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024 by changing their approach to urban planning. The Better Streets plan also improves accessibility for those with visual and mobility impairments.
Another key aspect of the plan is transit integration. The plan provides for local residents improving the usability of public transit options. The goals is to “facilitate safe, accessible, and convenient connections among major nodes, hubs, destinations, transit centers, and major land use and activity centers.” This provides benefits from making the city more sustainable to enabling faster and less expensive commutes from its residents.
The city also aims to improve the health of the population and livability of the urban environment. Previously, the city has not fostered a welcoming environment for pedestrians. Walking has been dangerous and inconvenient and many neighborhoods have lacked the types of natural and practical features that would make walking an easy and desirable option. This has meant that the city’s residents, reliant on their cars and other modes of transport, have been more sedentary than they would be otherwise. This is a public health issues because walking outside is so necessary to a person’s physical and psychological well-being. The Better Streets plan therefore seeks to “promote healthy lifestyles by encouraging walking to daily and occasional destinations.” By making public and pedestrian spaces safer for residents, the city is also promoting a range of outdoor recreational activities.
Another component of the plan that aims to provide for local residents is its ecological and environmental emphasis. By encouraging people to walk rather than drive, the city is effectively reducing air pollution, by both by reducing the number of trips taken but also by easing traffic congestion. The successful integration of transit also reduces air pollution by reducing overall reliance on cars and promoting the usability of public transit options. Furthermore, the additional trees and green space will clean the air, and improvements in stormwater retention will reduce flooding. Improving air quality is an important responsibility of the city toward its residents as it will reduce the rate of chronic illness and air pollution-related death.
Other aims include improving local commerce and beautifying the city for the benefit of its residents.
The Better Streets Plan included various designs in the project such as better street signs and walking paths. We believe the most successful part of the project was the San Francisco’s process in creating an urban forest. An urban forest includes the use of trees and landscaping which do not obstruct street lighting and amenities. While cities’ use of trees and landscaping enhances their urban environments aesthetics, trees and other plants provide environmental benefits as well.
As climate change intensifies, San Francisco has implemented the use of trees and landscaping to create an environment for the public which is resilient to global climate change. The Better Streets Plan includes guidelines which promote the transformation of cityscape into an urban forest. For example, understory landscaping is created when planting trees on sidewalks. Planting strips can include vegetation near the basin of trees. These planting strips on sidewalks, reduce impervious surface areas and overall runoff, increases infiltration and groundwater recharge, and naturally treats stormwater runoff (Better Streets Plan, 181).
In comparison to previous understory designs which include metal gates that obstruct trees ability to grow, vegetated planting strips add greenspace and mitigate climate change. Often times, urban areas lack a proper amount of permeable soils, gentle slopes, porous bedrock, and a larger watershed to properly allow for the recharge of water into the groundwater supply. It is important for San Francisco to incorporate design which promotes the management of stormwater. By using improved sidewalk design to build urban forests, cities can better manage the negative impacts of stormwater runoff.
Although the Better Streets Plan focused on creating an aesthetically pleasing and a climate resilient environment, we believe the Better Streets Plan fails to address the inequity of San Francisco. For instance, San Francisco is known for their homeless crisis which leads homeless people to use public amenities such as benches or seats. According to The Better Streets Planning organization explains that public seating has been made to deter loiters, as they states, “Unfortunately, in some cases fear of loiterers has resulted in seating that is so uncomfortable that no one would want to use it, or the removal of pre-existing seating altogether” (S.F. Better Streets Organization, 2015). Seating in public spaces has been designed to discourage homeless people from using public amenities.
In conclusion, the Better Streets plan contains many positive elements and benefits to the residents of San Francisco. However, there are some major shortcomings. Ecologically, the plan is sound, and the street improvements proposed also provide a safer, healthier, and more aesthetically pleasing urban environment for most residents. What the plan fails to take into account is a social justice analysis of its impacts. A truly equitable, healthy, and accessible living environment must prioritize the needs of the most marginalized members of the community. The plan claims to address the needs of everyone who uses San Francisco’s streets, but this can only be true if it includes the city’s houseless residents and those who are impacted by gentrification.
S.F. Better Streets Organization. (2015). Benches and Seating. Retreived from http://www.sfbetterstreets.org/find-project-types/streetscape-elements/street-furniture-overview/benches-and-seating/
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