Well readers, another year done, another year of wide-reaching transformation on San Francisco’s streets.
And you were with us here at the San Francisco Examiner all along the way. Clickin’, commenting and chiming in across social media.
So to give a nod to what riled readers at their keyboards, or even saw folks hitting the streets in protest, here are the top 10 most-read transit stories from the San Francisco Examiner in 2019. The stories are in reverse order, with the top-most read story listed last.
The story: BART’s redesigned fare gates earned ire from everyday riders across its system, but perhaps none had more pointed critiques to make than Corbett OToole and Tara Ayres, two Bay Area friends who happen to be wheelchair users. When BART redesigned its fare gates in a pilot program to have a second set of “cinches” to block fare cheats, Otoole and Ayres discovered in June that the new cinches were right near their heads when they rolled through in wheelchairs, which was reported exclusively by the San Francisco Examiner.
What happened next: BART’s fare gates were hotly critiqued by riders in local media, and by September the BART Board of Directors had selected a new fare gate design — swinging Plexiglas gates. The catch? They’re a lot more expensive: about $150 million, whereas the cinches were a fix using spare parts found around the BART system.
9. & 8.
The story: These two top-read stories from October are a twofer, as one story previewed an upcoming vote by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors to make Market Street car-free, and another story came right after the vote (it seems readers were eating up any tidbit of info about the decision).
The effort to ban cars along Market Street and restore it as a place for public transit, walking and bicycling was an effort at least a decade in the making (more so if you consider similar, discarded plans).
What happened next: In January 2020, The City is planning to build a number of “quick build” fixes to make Market Street car-free from Steuart Street to Van Ness Boulevard westbound, and from Main Street to Tenth Street eastbound. And yes, drivers can still cross Market street, just not along it.
The story: After long, public tussles with e-scooter companies who dropped their two-wheelers on San Francisco streets without permission, SFMTA finally offered permits to e-scooter companies Jump, Lime, Scoot and Spin to permanently make them a fixture on city streets in September. Initially, SFMTA said they would allow up to 10,000 e-scooters on city streets.
What happened next: That number — 10,000 — rubbed folks the wrong way, including Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who immediately rebuked SFMTA for such a high number of e-scooters, considering concerns from San Franciscans that the machines would clog up sidewalks. SFMTA listened and cut the number of allowed e-scooters. In December 2019, each company has been allowed to deploy 750 e-scooters each, except Scoot, which was allowed to deploy 1,000.
The story: Lyft pulled a thousand of its Bay Wheels bikeshare e-bikes off San Francisco streets, and more across the Bay Area, after its batteries caught fire while docked in their stations in July, in a story first reported by the Examiner. With no competitors allowed in The City — due to Lyft’s exclusivity contract with Bay Ares cities — meant no e-bikes in San Francisco, period.
What happened next: SFMTA waged a court battle with Lyft to allow other e-bike bikeshare operators into San Francisco, to middling success, which may be determined by further legal action. Lyft returned its e-bikes to city streets in December.
The story: Private bus company Chariot announced in January that it would cease operations, a story reported first by the Examiner. The shuttle company ran small-size buses along similar routes to the Muni express lines — mostly serving morning and evening commuters from affluent areas. When the company went belly-up, roughly 300 drivers were left without jobs.
What happened next: The timing couldn’t have been better, by The City’s estimation. Muni is still, even in December, feeling the pangs of an operator shortage. A San Francisco program called CityDrive stepped in and re-trained the Chariot drivers with at least 36 going on to work at Muni as of May, and many more started driving for regional bus companies.
The story: In November, BART police detained a man at a BART station who was eating a sandwich. After musician Tone Oliver posted video of the incident on social media, the story exploded worldwide, with people accusing BART of writing citations for black men more than other groups.
What happened next: The fallout was wide-reaching: The man who was detained hired civil rights attorney John Burris, BART board director Janice Li participated in a protest of the detainment, BART police demanded she apologize, the Examiner dug into citations and found black men cited far more often than any other group, and Li asked BART staff to audit their own citations to explore bias (which is still upcoming).
The story: The Caltrain Electrification Project, part of Caltrain’s overall $1.9 billion modernization effort, is facing potential construction delays of two years, according to a contractor’s assessment, which the Examiner reported in August. Foundation placement and the installation of the overhead electrical contact system are “far behind” initial projections, they wrote.
What happened next: Caltrain staff continue to update the Caltrain Joint Powers Authority board on possible date slippages. Meanwhile, Supervisor Shamann Walton and other city leaders are pushing for a new governance model for Caltrain and the Salesforce Transit Center, in order to ensure Caltrain service is installed at the Salesforce Transit Center in a timely fashion.
The story: In August,city agencies, including Mayor London Breed, released data showing Valencia Street parking-protected bike lanes were successful at reducing collisions and collision-based injuries, they said. Parking-protected bike lanes place bike lanes between the curb and car parking, preventing double-parkers (like Uber drivers) from swinging into bike lanes.
What happened next: That initial parking-protected bike lane was installed btween Market and 15th Streets. SFMTA is now working on new protected bike lanes to be installed from 19th to Cesar Chavez Street by Spring 2020, and from 15th to 19th Streets by 2021.
The story: The Examiner was the first to report that the $1.6 billion Central Subway project faces a two-year delay, and also the first to report its cost ballooning. When SFMTA announced a new director for the project, Nadeem Tahir, we sat down with him to hear his strategy for speeding up the troubled project. His solution? In every instance that the contractor, Tutor Perini, is arguing with SFMTA over contract changes, just agree with them. Don’t fight.
But that also means big payouts for Tutor Perini, who would recover damages for those contract changes, the final amount of which has yet to be revealed.
What happened next: The Central Subway project continues to meet timeline challenges, which the Examiner is closely watching for future coverage. The new subway, which runs from South of Market to Chinatown, is now scheduled to debut in 2021.