Hundreds of transportation officials and transit entrepreneurs from around the world convened in San Francisco last week for an annual conference on designing streetscapes and new transit technology, many of which have taken root in The City.
Much of the three-day Designing Cities Conference by the National Association of City Transportation Officials centered around the organization's guides to urban street design and urban bikeway design. San Francisco has adopted both.
The Planning Department's Better Streets Plan, designed to improve the streetscape and infrastructure for pedestrians and people using all modes of transit, helped inform NACTO's Urban Street Design Guide.
During a panel on protected bike lanes and robust bikeway networks, Mike Sallaberry, who contributed to the bikeway guide and is a senior engineer with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the guidelines assisted The City in determining which projects to pursue on different types of streets.
For example, he said, they offered contextual configurations and suggestions as to when it was appropriate to create bike lanes versus separated bikeways.
“Before, I felt like a practitioner. I had to fix everything with a screwdriver and a hammer,” Sallaberry said. “Now I feel with the NACTO guidelines, we have more tools.”
The conference featured nearly two dozen tours on transit projects in San Francisco from bicycle infrastructure innovations on roads including Market Street, the Central Subway and projects tied to Vision Zero, The City's goal to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.
In the first panel of the conference Thursday, SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin, current president of NACTO, said the greatest challenge in The City was garnering public support to make transit perform better.
“We have to reallocate space in the right way,” he said.
Among the more than 425 attendees from more than 90 cities in the U.S., Canada and as far as Moscow, Stockholm and Adelaide, Australia, were entrepreneurs in the so-called sharing economy industry. Members from these mostly tech-driven or app-based companies participated in the largest panel of the conference, “The Sharing Economy: Transportation's Future,” moderated by Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA's director of strategic planning and policy.
Papandreou prefaced the panel by saying that “access has trumped ownership” when it comes to transportation — at least in San Francisco — and that puts cities in a “push-pull situation” when innovative transit services and ideas emerge.
Panelist Emily Castor, director of community relations for San Francisco-based app-based ride service Lyft, said her company has seen “very large scale consumer adoption.”
“We've gotten to the point where people don't think it's strange to get into a car with someone who isn't a professional driver,” she said.
Castor also said: “We don't want to operate outside of legal frameworks. We don't believe that we are above regulation.”
“Shared-use mobility” such as car sharing “does tend to change behavior,” said Susan Shaheen, a UC Berkeley adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the university's Transportation Sustainability Research Center.
“I see this time and time again,” she said. “People are driving less and selling a car or postponing a car purchase.”
NACTO, which will hold the conference next year in another city, also announced it will soon release its Global Street Design Guide, a playbook for how street design in the U.S. can be applied outside the country, including in developing nations.