30 June 2015

Harvey Milk Hill has a ring to it

Historically our society has named places, highways, airports, streets, parks and other places after people we revere. In San Francisco some examples include:

  • Willie L. Brown Bridge (western span of Bay Bridge)
  • Joe DiMaggio Playground
  • Geary Street (first mayor and last alcade of San Francisco)
  • Patricia's Green (Patricia Walkup spearheaded converting the Central Freeway into Octavia Boulevard north of Market St.
  • Isadora Duncan Lane
  • Mt. Sutro
We may not know some of the named people, we may not like some of the names chosen. But it is up to us to decide what to name places and rename them.  A street or a park or even a hill doesn't have to keep it's name in perpetuity. New York City recently renamed the Triborough Bridge to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Why can't we do that?

Image: Wikipedia.org
Many have called for naming something important after former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk who championed gay rights (and the "Pooper Scooper" Law). He already has several civic places named after him:
  • Harvey Milk Recreational Arts Building and Harvey Milk Photo Center (Duboce Park)
  • Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library
  • Harvey Milk Plaza (Castro Station)
  • Harvey Milk Elementary School (aka Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy)
Image: SF Rec and Park

Image: SF Public Library

For a while there was a campaign to have San Francisco International Airport named after Milk. That campaign failed. However, it did consider the idea that a highly revered figure in city history should have a major place named after them.

After asking folks via Twitter to consider giving names to some unnamed hills in Golden Gate Heights, one responder suggested Harvey Milk Hill! That got me thinking. He should have a hill named after him. We have so many hills in San Francisco, but we don't know the names of most, and some don't even have official names.

So I'm calling folks to nominate hills that should be named Harvey Milk Hill. This could be a hill that already has an established name, or those that have no name or have unofficial or uncertain names.

I first nominate Castro Hill as the peak to re-name Harvey Milk Hill. The hill is located at Collingwood and 22nd St. The peak rises to 407 feet in elevation and has a prominence of 75 feet.

Several other hills have a higher prominence, but I believe that Castro Hill, residing in Milk's former neighborhood would be a perfect choice.

22 May 2015

Forgotten Hills: Golden Gate Heights or Sunset Heights

Normally, a high and prominent peak it get's noticed. However, when it's a ridge, often shrouded in fog, and has two different names, you get confusion. On top of that, in San Francisco, it's a crowded field of peaks, so it's hard to get noticed if you don't have a monument, lavish homes or a radio tower on top. Welcome to Golden Gate Heights, err Sunset Heights - some of the highest peaks in San Francisco you never knew existed.

In this installment of Forgotten Hills, we look at the Forest Hill-adjacent hill, that's really a ridge that has two competing names. The hills are less like Mark Twain/Samuel Clemmons, and more like Franklin W. Dixon/Carolyn Keene/Edward Stratemeyer of the the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book series. You probably barely know of the authors' existence, let alone the fact that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were originally written by the same man

The name "Sunset Heights" dates back to the late 1880's when the company Easton, Eldridge and Co. marketed a block as "Sunset Heights" according to Lorri Ungaretti. Although Aurelius Buckingham and Sol Getz tried to claim credit, Ungaretti's book Stories in the Sand gives Easton Eldridge and Co. the credit. However, these 1880s "Sunset Heights" were what started the "Sunset" name for western San Francisco, but are not now considered the current Sunset Heights. In fact, they are considered part of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. 

I could not find any "history" on the name of Golden Gate Heights. I can only speculate that the area may have changed from Sunset to Golden Gate as a way to differentiate further that it is not the Sunset District.
Image: OutsideLands.org
Name: Golden Gate Heights. Also known as Sunset Heights
Height: 812 feet
Ridge/Hill Group: Sunset Heights - part of the central San Francisco "massif', which includes Mount Davidson, Twin Peaks, Mt. Sutro and Sunset Heights. The geographic heights include Forrest Hill.
Prominence: 312 feet (450 feet from west). Forest Hill is the 3rd most prominent peak in San Francisco.
Confusion: The names "Sunset Heights" and "Golden Gate Heights" seem to describe the same neighborhood and hills. Golden Gate Heights may be the high elevations of the neighborhood, while Sunset Heights is the greater neighborhood that includes the slopes leading from the "flats" of the Sunset District (both Inner and Outer Sunset).
Where: Western San Francisco, west of Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro, and South of Golden Gate Park.
Cross Streets: Between 7th and 16th avenues. South of Lawton St, and north of Taraval St.


Golden Gate Heights are a north-south ridge between Kirkham St to Taraval St. The ridge has four peaks, although the USGS map technically shows six peaks. To me, GG Heights is essentially a prominent and high ridge with three somewhat prominent peaks: 
  • Grand View Hill (666 feet)
  • Larsen Peak (761 feet)
  • Forest Hill (812 feet) 
The heights lie due west of Twin Peaks and slightly southwest of Mt. Sutro and Clarendon Heights with the Midtown Terrace neighborhood and Laguna Honda ravine lying between them. To the east is the Sunset District gradually sloping down to the Pacific Ocean. The West Portal neighborhood to the south. To the north is the Inner Sunset neighborhood, with Golden Gate Park with Strawberry Hill a further north.

Note that geographically, the heights are one ridge - Golden Gate Heights. The neighborhoods of Forest Hill and Golden Gate Heights sit atop and on the slopes of the heights.

As mentioned earlier, Sunset Heights as a name is first found in the 1880s. Naming of current Sunset Heights or Golden Gate Heights ridge is hard to find now. The neighborhood is called "Golden Gate Heights" in the real estate industry, and the park on the second highest peak has the same name. However, the neighborhood group is called Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People. I hope that is sufficiently confusing. 

Even the peaks have naming confusion. Grand View Hill is sometimes called Turtle Hill, and has also been found misnamed  as Larsen Peak. Larsen Peak is sometimes called Golden Gate Heights or Sunset Heights. Hawk Hill is not really a hill, but rather a steep slope of the southwest flank of Forest Hill. The only peak void of confusion is Forest Hill, the highest peak. Below is a breakdown of each peak, going from north to south.

Peak #1: Grand View Hill
Elevation: 666 feet
Alternate names: Turtle Hill, incorrectly named Larsen Peak
Coordinates:  37°45'22.32"N 122°28'18.60"W

Peak #2: Unnamed Hill (north)
Elevation: 750 feet
Alternate names: Cascade Hill (after the Cascade Walk steps)
Coordinates:  37°45'11.91"N 122°28'12.62"W (approximate)

View of Unnamed Hill (north) from Funston Ave (top two images)). View southwest to the Pacific Ocean at Aerial and Funston near Unnamed Hill (north). Images: Urban Life Signs
Peak #3: Unnamed Hill (south)
Elevation: 725 feet
Alternate names: Funston Court Hill (after Funston Street and the private court off the street), incorrectly named Larsen Peak
Coordinates: 37.751284°N, 122.469783°W (approximate)

Peak #4: Larsen Peak
Elevation: 761 feet
Alternate names: Golden Gate Heights Park Hill, Sunset Heights Park Hill, Golden Gate Heights, Sunset Heights
Coordinates: 37°44'59.8"N 122°28'10.9"W

Peak #5: Forest Hill
Elevation: 812 feet
Alternate names: none
Coordinates: 37.748240°N 122.467360°W (approximate)
The five peaks of Golden Gate Heights. Image: Urban Life Signs
Geographically speaking, defining the boundary of any "heights" or "valley" is actually a bit silly because there is not specific boundary. The only definite part of a heights, are its peaks and a ridge. The only definite part of a valley is it's flat or nearly flat parts that have very little slope. It's really the slopes that define the boundaries. 

However, we're talking about a geographic feature AND a neighborhood. When confronted with the street grid imposed on a hilly area, we generally follow streets to define neighborhoods. Several sources have given Golden Gate Heights its boundaries:

27 March 2015

Oh Tube, Oh Second Tube

...take me north on a numbered street to GearyLand.

Folks heavily preferred the 2nd Street and 3rd Street in this year's poll on Transbay Tube alignments. At least that's what the poll results of the Second 2nd Transbay Tube Alignment through SoMa Poll find. Nine months ago, I polled several 2nd Tube alignments when Townsend and Folsom alignments virtually tied for first place. For this year's poll, "East-West" alignments (Folsom and Townsend) duked it out with the new upstart "North-South" alignments (3rd St and 2nd St). A bonus choice for Pier 70 and Potrero Hill was given modest attention.

Possible Mission Bay/Third St station location for a 2nd St/Post alignment. Image: Google StreetView
On the face of it, the 3rd St - Union Square alignment won the poll with 30% (14 votes) of the 47 responses. However, with 27% (13 votes), the 2nd St - Post Mission Rock alignment was virtually tied with 3rd St - Union Square. Potrero Pier 70 - Van Ness came in third place with 17% (8 votes), while Folsom - Powell, and Townsend - Division tied for last with13% each (6 votes each).

With 47 total votes, the poll was a success. However, this year's 2015 poll only received about half as many votes as the 2014 poll, which received 93 votes. Does that mean anything significant? Probably only that I promoted the 2014 poll much more than the 2015 poll. The bigger the outreach, the more feedback. Lesson learned.

Analyzing the 2015 poll data more, we find some interesting elements. If we combine the votes for the north-south alignments (2nd St & 3rd St), and we separately combine the east-west alignments (Folsom and Townsend), we find that 2nd & 3rd St overwhelmingly won the votes by earning a combined 57% of the votes, while Folsom and Townsend only combine for 26% of the voting.

12 March 2015

A 2035 Rail Plan for Oakland

The Bay Bridge and the Transbay Tube connect two places: San Francisco and Oakland. Too often the Oakland side is either ignored or made as a footnote in the Bay Area. With the booming local economy and corresponding traffic congestion (highway and rail), there has been recent talk of building a Second Transbay Tube (#2ndTransbay). Much of the talk, (Urban Life Signs included) has centered on where a 2nd Tube’s rail lines would go in San Francisco (SoMa? Mission Bay? Market St?). Now it’s high time to talk about where and what kind of rail should go to Oakland and the East Bay.

Why a new Tube?
A new tube, whether for BART, or commuter rail and high-speed rail, is needed for multiple reasons:

  1. More capacity
  2. Redundancy to ensure a resilient city after a major quake
  3. Reduce dependency on automobile – more transit options
  4. Upgrade the First Transbay Tube
  5. Create more housing and jobs in existing city centers, and other neighborhoods

We are at a critical moment when BART is beginning studies for a new 2nd Transbay Tube, mayors of San Francisco and Oakland have publicly supported a new tube, and city staff in Alameda have voiced support. We cannot plan and fiddle around to build a 2nd Tube for 30 years. We need to develop a host of funding sources, plan the project and start building within seven years so a tube can be operational by 2026. I'll discuss funding, which is critical, later.

Most folks will want to see the rail options and maps now. I have outlined the reasons for a new Transbay Tube and rail lines after the maps.

Factors in deciding where a new Transbay Tube should go

Four-Bore or Two Bore
Many have suggested that a 4-bore tunnel (2 BART tracks + 2 conventional tracks) be built to allow a BART gauge rail line + a standard rail line for Caltrain, CapCorridor and future High Speed Rail. Building a 4-bore tunnel would be more expensive that one 2-bore tunnel, but presumably cheaper than building two separate 2-bore tunnels.

The challenge is that a 4-bore tunnel only makes sense if the two rail lines (BART & HSR) are near each other at each end of the new 2nd Transbay Tube. If it’s deemed that BART really needs to arrive in Mission Bay in San Francisco, but HSR arrives at Howard St, these are not near each other. Likewise, if an Oakland BART tunnel arrives via Alameda but an HSR train arrives in Oakland near Emeryville, a 4-bore tunnel doesn’t make sense.

BART gauge vs. Conventional gauge

BART trains run on a unique gauge (track width) of 5 feet 6 inches. All other trains, including Caltrain, Amtrak, CapCorridor, future HSR, and ACE all run on conventional gauge, which is 4 feet 8 ½ inches. Due to the uniqueness of BART’s gauge, its capital and operational costs are higher than a standard gauge subway/metro system. A new BART rail line could have standard gauge, however, it could not interoperate with the original BART lines. A cost-benefit analysis should be made to determine whether a new BART line in a new Tube should be made to BART gauge or Conventional gauge.

Rail Service
Whatever gets built, transit rail service between San Francisco and Oakland should be planned for all modes. A comprehensive look at Transbay crossings is necessary (and is happening). Any new Transbay Tube should be part of a plan that includes not just BART, but also Caltrain, CapCorridor, future High-Speed Rail and a future Eastshore Rail service. All of these services could use a new Second Transbay Tube.

The Proposals
I've put together four rail alignment proposals. One is based on alignments presented by BART. Others incorporate ideas that I have heard from other folks or I have considered myself. All of the proposals have the following:
  1. A High Speed Rail station in Oakland (in or near downtown)
  2. Rail lines that could interlink with BART's existing rail lines.
  3. Lines that pass through Downtown Oakland, Alameda, and sometimes Emeryville
Finally, note that many of the ideas and alignment pieces presented below can be mixed and matched. Rail on I-980 could be BART or conventional rail or both. Likewise the MacArthur Eastmont line could be conventional rail or BART rail. If it were conventional rail, in most instances it would be served by commuter rail/metro rail with an overhead catenary wire. But the technology is less important. For this reason, the rail lines are not distiguished between BART gauge and conventional gauge. 

The Basic: Oakland Alameda - Jack London Plan
This plan is based on vague alignments being considered by BART in its BART Metro Vision. The proposal has two transbay tubes: a BART tube connecting at Jack London Square and near Fruitvale, and a High Speed Rail tube entering Oakland just south of Emeryville. The existing Broadway Tunnel would be upgraded from a 3-bore tunnel to a 4-bore tunnel, adding capacity. An intermodal station in West Oakland is unnecessary as the same functions are served by the new Jack London Oakland HSR station.

The idea for a Third Transbay Tube comes from Roland Lebrun, who suggests that conventional rail should arrive in the former Oakland Army Base because rail from the San Francisco Transbay Center should leave via Howard Street in SF. To keep things simple, let's call this the Key Route alignment since this is where Key Route rail passed before the Bay Bridge was built.

28 February 2015

A Quest for a Cord

This is a story about the search for a flip-phone recharging cord. It is also a story about the Mission, its unique offering of shops and services, and also it's people.

One day, while my parents were visiting San Francisco, my dad said he needed to get a recharge cord for his 20th century flip phone. He had forgotten his cord (most likely since he only uses the phone two dozen times a year). Flip phones were once common but finding a cord now sounded as challenging as finding an 8-track tape player.

So after visiting Walgreen's on Mission and 23rd St we stopped by the most obvious place I knew of - at least the most obvious place I knew of while I grew up. That place? Radio Shack of course! But Radio Shack didn't carry that specific recharge cord. The staff were helpful and indicated that the shop next store might have it. That's when we walked into Cyber Iman, Your IPhone, Computer Repair, Cell Phone Accessories store. This place had to have a recharge cord for my Dad's Samsung flip phone - it has the banner "Cell Phone Accessories" added on under the store sign!

24 February 2015

The Ways to the Presidio - Part 1: Walk in the Park

In the coming weeks I will be "commuting" to the Presidio from the Mission District to determine the best way to get there. Ways of getting there run the gambit: driving, transit, biking, walking and many iterations between each of these modes. I'll be doing some of them. As mentioned in my earlier summary of the commute options, the criteria for the "best" commuting options include:

  1. Journey Time - the door-to-door time by each mode and route choice
  2. Comfort  Level - how comfortable is the ride and overall journey experience
  3. Cost - how much does a daily commute cost? what are hidden costs?
  4. Safety and Environmental - how safe is the route and is it limited or flexible to seasonal variations (length of daylight, weather conditions, etc.) 
Note, you have only one more day to vote in the poll, "What's the best way to work at the Presidio from the Mission?" for what YOU think is the best way to get to the Presidio. Chime in and vote your response for the poll in the right column (only visible on HTML full web version of the web site). Results will be posted and discussed soon - so vote now!
Ecology Trail. Image: Presidio.gov

The Walk in the Park
I took the Muni 33-Stanyan bus from Guerrero and 18th Street. The ride was pleasant and scenic - especially at Market and Clayton streets where it takes a great V turn and you can see Downtown San Francisco and the bay. The ride was inconsequential, and I arrived at Sacramento and Cherry streets within 35 minutes - the last person on the bus. Amidst the mansions of Presidio Heights and CPMC California Campus, I headed north on Cherry Street, passing the Temple Emanu-El, and soon passed through the Arguello Gate into the Presidio.
Mural along Market St at 18th St. Image: Urban Life Signs

The "V-Turn" location where buses turn from Market (right) to Clayton (left) and vice versa. Image: Urban Life Signs

Downtown SF seen from Clayton and Market. Corona Heights is to the left. Image: Urban Life Signs

Temple Emanu-El in Presidio Heights. Image: Urban Life Signs

Arguello Gate. I walked through on the sidewalk (far right). Image: A Year on the Bay Area Ridge Trail
Without a Presidio hiking map on me, I took the most intuitive direction - east on the Mountain Lake Trail (not knowing the name at the time.) Soon I came to the Ecology Trail and headed north into the deep forest of this southeastern Presidio trail that links to the Main Post. 

Ecology Trail begins. Image: Urban Life Signs

Ecology Trail - Presidio. Image: Urban Life Signs

It becomes immediately apparent you are in a great forest and ecosystem with periodic sloped meadows. As I descended, I could see Andy Goldsworthy's "Spire" up above the slope I was decending. 

Andy Goldsworthy's "Spire". Image: California-Travels.com

Thick forested section of the Ecology Trail. Image: Urban Life Signs
Early on, just below Inspiration Point, we could make out Alcatraz and the Palace of Fine Arts dome. My daughter enjoyed the California golden poppies, but was less excited about the near half-dozen dog walkers we passed (nearly 2 dozen dogs in total). She's 2 years old - so you can't blame her. The dog walkers were all friendly and courteous.

Most of the trail is a moderate slope with some sections of near flat slope. I arrived at a breezy Main Post near the chapel. That's where the pedestrian world starts to deteriorate. But hey it's the beautiful Main Post of the Presidio you have arrived at with the Golden Gate Bridge in the near distance. 

Upon meeting my friend, we had a picnic lunch on a nice patch of grass that overlooks the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge beside the former Presidio Burger King. 

Trip Analysis

Journey Time: ~70 minutes
Comfort Level: high comfort with a welcome pleasant physical environment, plus a one-seat bus ride from the Mission to Presidio Heights. 
One-way cost: one Muni bus fare: $2.25 - walk segment was free.
Safety and environmental: The route seemed safe, although I was walking along it in the daytime. The route would be a bit less safe feeling in the evening or late afternoon darkness in the winter. While you take the 20 minute hiking portion - you are affected by the weather. Today was sunny and windy, but not windy in the Monterey Pine forests. 

11 February 2015

Do you know the way to the Presidio?

Getting to work. We all have to get there from home unless we work from home. We have our routine commute or possibly two ways to get there (driving some days and bus others, or biking some days and walking others).

But what do you do if your office is relocated or you start a new job in a new location? How do you get to your new office - especially if it's a place you have rarely been to before.  Namely, do you know the way to the Presidio?

Signpost to transit in the Presidio. Note that restrooms could be transit, just not the kind I'm talking about.
Image: Raquel Lonas
Answer: You are ripe for trying out all the options:

  • driving
  • transit
  • biking
  • carpooling
  • walking
You should try a mix of modes depending on the day of the week, the time of day, and of course how long and how comfortable each mode. You're also up for trying different routes for any of these modes. Weather even plays into which modes to use, especially for walking and biking.

My friend Anne Franklin, who lives in the Mission, previously commuted to Potrero Hill. Recently her packaging design firm, DDW, relocated to the Presidio. The Presidio is a beautiful place - really a park, but it's far away from the Mission, and has limited transit access.

Before the office move, she walked to work, and occasionally take transit. Anne does not own a car. So how should she get to work from 18th St and Valencia? So far she's tried three options: Muni via the 33 & 43, the PresidiGo shuttle, and taking the 33 and walking through the Presidio.
A PresidiGo shuttle and a Muni bus in the Presidio. Image: Presidio Trust
I've made a new poll for folks to vote for the best way to commute between the Mission. Please vote for what you think would be the best: a combination of fastest, most comfortable and not too expensive or frustrating. You can find the poll on the web site version of Urban Life Signs in the right column.

Below is a list of the three ways Anne has tried out for getting to work, then several other ways to consider.

A: Muni-Muni - Take Muni the whole way. 33-Stanyan then transfer to the 43-Masonic and into the Presidio
This route requires a transfer at the intersection of Haight and Clayton. Cross Haight then Clayton. Then wait for the 43-Masonic
View from 43-Masonic bus passing through the Presdio. Image Pawel D via Yelp.com

B: PresidiGo - Take BART to Embarcadero Station. Transfer to the PresidiGO shuttle and on to the Presidio.
Requires a short walk to the 16th St Mission station. Going down to the platform and a short wait for a train. Then get off at busy Embarcadero Station and go to the surface to the nearby PresidiGo shuttle stop on Drumm at California at the Hyatt Regency.

01 February 2015

Third Street 2nd Transbay Tube is the Charm?

Having a Second Transbay Tube is a great and welcome prospect. The tube would bring better access, reliability, and resiliency to Downtown San Francisco's transportation network. In November we learned that BART is actively studying the idea of a second Transbay Tube (see PDF presentation). Several articles and opinion pieces have covered the critical issues of station locations, alignments, cost, funding, environmental issues, etc.

Image: Urban Life Signs
I have to note that the map used to show the basic idea bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the alignments I studied and proposed in my June 2013 piece, "Poll: Where Should BART Go in SoMa?" True, no specific alignment has been selected - and many will be considered an analyzed. However, as you can see in the map, especially the closeup map, the alignment shown follows the Third St/Geary alignment that I considered back in 2013 for my "Poll: Where should BART go in SoMa?" piece.
Image: BART via SF Examiner
Even Mayor Ed Lee has come out supporting a Second Transbay Tube, in his "Shared Prosperity: Affordability Directives" document, which is very encouraging. The Mayor said, "We will begin a regional conversation with my fellow Mayors in the East Bay, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and the BART Board about a second BART tube from Mission Bay to the East Bay." (emphasis added).

Likewise, according to Streetsblog, the new Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf is on board for a second tube saying, "It will not be cheap… I think it will really reduce congestion. I hella love Oakland, but we do need to think regionally, and it would make a lot of sense for the region.” Even Alameda is on board for a new tube the Public Works Director, Bob Haun, saying he is ready to work with BART on placing a station on the island.

I have my own thoughts on whether a Second Transbay Tube should go through Mission Bay, but let's set that aside for a later discussion. What's interesting is that the 3rd St/Geary alignment (or 3rd St/Union Square alignment as I originally called it) is the rough alignment shown on the map - and it passes through Mission Bay, with a probable stop at Third St and King. Mayor Lee calling out Mission Bay seems to show that he thinks it's important that whatever alignment is chosen should go through there. I wonder if he's considered the capacity constraints of Embarcadero and Montgomery, and that a second tube would do well to help alleviate some of that constraint and also connect to the Transbay Center.

Image: BART