Residents want alternatives studied in San Francisco aquifer plan

January 21, 2010

About 30 people braved the cold and rain Wednesday night to tell the San Francisco Planning Department what it should cover in an environmental study of a plan to pump millions of gallons of water per day from under the west side of the city.

The most common requests from speakers were for a clear explanation of alternatives to the Groundwater Supply Project, and for the city to lay out where an equivalent water supply would come from if the planned extraction of groundwater had to be interrupted or abandoned for any reason.

Joan Girardot asked planners to include clear alternatives to the GSP in the environmental study, including alternatives that would include not building the system at all. Girardot also asked for an assessment of the current state of the Westside Basin Aquifer, to act as a baseline reference against which to compare future impacts on the underground reservoir. In addition, she asked for the study to explain what measures the city would take to mitigate the inconvenience that neighborhood residents might experience during construction.

Dan Murphy of the Golden Gate Audubon Society asked planners to provide an “adaptive management plan” in case the pumping proved to have a negative effect on wildlife or the health of lakes connected to the aquifer.

The Planning Department will continue to collect written comments until Jan. 30.

More information about the Groundwater System Plan is available from the Planning Department (PDF).

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City plans new network of wells on west side of San Francisco

January 20, 2010

San Francisco is planning a groundwater well system that would draw millions of gallons a day from new and enlarged wells on the west side of the city, mixing the water with existing supplies for residents of western San Francisco to drink.

The proposed project is part of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s efforts to improve the safety and reliability of local water supplies.

WSIP_GSP_map

Proposed Groundwater System Project

Six wells are planned as part of the project, from Lake Merced in the south to the northern edge of Golden Gate Park. Some new wells would be dug, while others would be modified to boost their pumping capacity. In addition, pipelines would be laid under neighborhood streets to get water from the wells to the recently renovated Sunset Reservoir at Ortega Street and 24th Avenue.

Neighborhood residents and businesses can weigh in on what kinds of environmental impacts the city should study before it launches the well project, starting tonight at a meeting in Golden Gate Park.

The Planning Department will hold a “scoping meeting” on the San Francisco Groundwater Supply Project at 7 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Golden Gate Park Senior Center, 6101 Fulton St. at 37th Avenue. People will be able to tell the city what subjects it should study in its environmental-impact report on the project and how deep its analysis should be.

The department also will accept comments from the public in writing at the meeting or via mail, fax or email through Jan. 30.

More information about the San Francisco Groundwater Supply Project is available from the Planning Department (PDF).

Written comments should be sent to by mail to the San Francisco Planning Department, Attn: Bill Wycko, Environmental Review Officer, San Francisco Groundwater Supply Project Scoping Comments, 1650 Mission St., Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103; by fax to (415) 558-6409; or by e-mail to jamie.dean@sfgov.org.

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Disclosure: My work with the Wild Equity Institute

January 19, 2010

I’ve been helping a San Francisco nonprofit organization establish itself on Twitter, and in the spirit of full disclosure I want to explain my relationship with the group.

The nonprofit I’m working with is called the Wild Equity Institute. You can find WildEquity’s Twitter account at twitter.com/WildEquity. Wild Equity’s mission is to build “a healthy and sustainable global community for people and the plants and animals that accompany us on Earth.” Wild Equity Institute logo

My work with Wild Equity has been done completely pro bono. That is, I received no compensation for it and I have no economic relationship with WEI. I think Wild Equity deserves the opportunity to be on Twitter and part of the reason I chose to help the group is that I previously knew its executive director, but the fact that I helped it get started on Twitter shouldn’t be construed as a blanket endorsement of everything the Wild Equity Institute does.

If you would like to know more about my work with the Wild Equity Institute, or if you are connected with a nonprofit organization that would like to know more about how to get into Twitter without a big investment of funds and staff time, please call me at 415-685-3428.

Follow the Wild Equity Institute on Twitter.

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Can Critical Mass be saved?

December 22, 2009

San Francisco’s Critical Mass, the rolling gathering of bicyclists that has become a familiar enigma of the last Friday of every month, is in a fight for its soul.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005. Photo by Flickr user Charles Haynes used under Creative Commons license.

Chris Carlsson, a thinking man’s bicycle activist who is a Critical Mass participant from way back, has a thought-provoking article on StreetsblogSF about what’s happened to San Francisco’s incarnation of this international form of transportation protest.

My own opinion of Critical Mass is no secret. I think it has long outlived its utility as a means of changing either private minds or public policy. It doesn’t even seem like very much fun anymore, with the promise of pointless confrontation with random motorists apparently the major attraction to some riders.

But Carlsson and his colleagues at the newish San Francisco Critical Mass web site aim to change all that, giving context to Critical Mass and offering advice on how to ride in it without being a big jerkface.

Cyclists will have a great chance to put these ideas into action in the Critical Mass ride this Friday, Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.

Read more about the efforts to revitalize Critical Mass on StreetsblogSF, and visit the San Francisco Critical Mass web site.

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Collected tweets about San Francisco’s Central Subway

March 18, 2009

On March 17 I tweeted from a forum about San Francisco’s Central Subway at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. But all my tweets about the meeting subsequently disappeared from Twitter. A couple of people (including the excellent Transbay Blog) have asked me to repost the tweets, so here they are, with the misspellings and fat-thumb typing cleaned up. Thank goodness for the fact that I tweeted by text message, since my phone retains sent messages.

12:34 p.m. At SPUR forum on San Francisco’s Central Subway: John Funghi of SFMTA and SPUR’s Steve Tabor.

12:37 50 people not counting staff at SPUR’s Central Subway talk.

12:53 Funghi sez Central Subway designed so it could accommodate surface travel to Fisherman’s Wharf.

12:56 The proposed temp traffic realignment to extract Central Subway boring machine looks like it will be a puzzler for area near WashBag …

12:58 … But Funghi sez disruption at that triangular park across from WashBag will be only about 18 weeks.

1:08 SPUR’s Steve Tabor: “I have grave doubts” the Geary rapid buses could ever go farther downtown than Laguna.

1:10 Tabor sez SF is the densest population and destination center in the nation not already served by a Metro-style system.

1:13 Tabor explaining possible expansion of Central Subway all the way to Doyle Drive. Pie in the sky?

1:14 Wait, that pie is higher in the sky: Central Subway to Golden Gate Bridge?

1:17 Another Central Subway option could send line toward Presidio but route a spur line off to Fisherman’s Wharf.

1:18 Tabor: Success of Central Subway hinges on ability to accommodate three-car trains.

1:23 Funghi: $1bln / mile is as cheap as Central Subway can get.

1:30 Though Tabor sez three-car trains needed, Funghi says two cars are where Muni is headed. In part because stations planned for two cars only.

Regarding the 1:23 and 1:30 tweets, I think they bear some clarification.

When Funghi said that $1 billion per mile is as cheap as the Central Subway can get, he meant that’s as cheap as the city can do it by bore tunneling instead of cut-and-cover tunnel construction. He explained that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency went with bore tunneling because of concerns about the potential social and economic disruption that might be caused by a lengthy process of tearing up city streets.

About the disparity between Tabor’s three-car statement and Funghi’s caution that that isn’t what Muni’s going to do, Funghi said that Muni thinks it can make up for the reduced capacity by running trains more frequently. Besides, he said, it costs more time and money to have two drivers couple and uncouple three-car trains than to just run more trains. Make up your own mind about whether you buy that explanation.

To view a PDF of Funghi’s slide presentation at the SPUR forum, click here.

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My Muni express bus story published on Spot.Us

March 16, 2009

Crowd-funded journalism site Spot.Us has published my story on Muni’s express bus service!

For years, a lack of information left Muni in the dark about what it was doing well, what it had to improve and what its riders actually needed. But a proposed shuffling of resources following the Transit Effectiveness Project, a massive systemwide study, would add more frequent service and extend routes on some express lines serving city commuters. …

Julie Kirschbaum, manager of Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, says there also are other reasons why Muni doesn’t run more expresses. One is that although they might seem to be highly efficient – buses fill to capacity and swiftly transport full loads of passengers all the way across town with a minimum number of stops – there are some hidden costs to express service. …

Shrinking transit funding from the State of California and the City of San Francisco – as well as the federal government’s preference for funding buildings and equipment, rather than operating costs – will have an effect on Muni, including potential hits to vehicle maintenance, which would reduce Muni’s reliability systemwide.

And budget problems will have an impact on the TEP. “We do expect the budget challenges to slow the implementation of the TEP,” says Muni spokesman Judson True.

In 2008, an idea emerged to charge riders who pay cash fares an extra dollar to board express buses, but the proposal petered out. True said there’s still a chance the SFMTA might decide to pursue an express-bus surcharge again.

“Once an idea is out there it never really goes away. … It’s still out there as an idea,” said True.

In fact, the SFMTA Board is scheduled to discuss its budget for the coming fiscal year at a meeting Tuesday morning, March 17 — including the possibility of raising express cash fares. According to documents prepared for the meeting, Muni could gather an additional $1.4 million by raising the fare for all cash-paying express riders by $1.

Either way, because the TEP is focused on ways of doing business and on redirecting existing resources, Kirschbaum says she thinks the TEP’s recommendations for improved express service will remain largely intact: “Because the TEP service plans are resource-neutral, we’re still looking forward to implementing the TEP route proposals.”

I’ll post the rest of it here soon, but in the meantime please see the story by visiting http://spot.us/stories/76.

In related news, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meets Tuesday to discuss its budget for the coming fiscal year, including the idea of charging some riders an extra dollar to board express buses. The SFMTA meets at 2 p.m. in Room 400, San Francisco City Hall.

While you’re at Spot.Us, be sure to check out the other stories and ideas there. Spot.Us has brought to light some good old-fashioned journalism, using new methods of publication and funding.

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Some riders of San Francisco Muni buses could pay an extra dollar

March 16, 2009

Would you pay an extra dollar to ride a Muni express bus? If you pay a cash fare you might have to do just that, under an idea being considered to help offset big cuts to the transit agency’s funding.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is scheduled to discuss its budget for fiscal year 2010 at a meeting 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, and one of the ideas covered in a presentation prepared for the meeting is to charge cash-paying express riders an extra buck: “Currently approximately 25,700 passengers ride the express routes daily. Assuming that 20% pay cash fares, increasing the cash fare by $1.00 over regular cash fare” would yield about $1.4 million for Muni.

If the SFMTA Board likes the idea, it would present the proposal — and any other potential changes to fares — at public meetings in April, according to documents prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.

In a related development, on March 10 I filed my long-time-coming article on Muni express service with crowd-funded journalism site Spot.Us. Spot.Us tells me they anticipate either publishing the article themselves or reaching an agreement on selling the piece very soon, perhaps even before Tuesday’s SFMTA meeting.

I spoke with Muni spokesman Judson True and Transit Effectiveness Project manager Julie Kirschbaum for my story, and I asked them about the idea of charging express riders a premium on top of the regular fare — something that came up in 2008 but didn’t go anywhere. True told me at the time that although the idea was still out there, he didn’t know that anyone in Muni was considering it actively, but it looks like changes to Muni’s revenue and spending projections changed that pretty quickly.

More information on Tuesday’s SFMTA meeting, including an agenda.

A PDF of the presentation on Muni’s fiscal year 2010 budget.

Watch a stream of the SFMTA meeting live on SFGTV2.

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