ConnectSF Looks Into San Francisco’s Future Transportation Needs

Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Milpitas, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Square, San Francisco, Nutanix, San Jose, REIT, Hudson Pacific Properties

By Michele Chandler

A coalition of San Francisco City departments, driven by a collaboration process called ConnectSF, is working to create a city-wide next-generation transportation system and set strategy to outline ways that will future-proof the region as it continues to grown in the age of ever-expanding technological advances.

Right now, the planning process in a very early stage. That means everything is up for discussion, from beefing up bus lines, creating more bike paths and adding high-speed rail service to upgrading busy freeways and deciding the best way to integrate autonomous vehicles of the future.

City officials, along with 60 government agencies and community groups, have already weighed in on what will eventually become a wide-ranging action plan to support the needs of San Francisco’s residents and workers during the next 50 years.

According to ConnectSF’s manifesto, released last month, the effort is aiming to “create neighborhoods that are attractive, safe, green places to walk, bike and socialize. Huge change is coming in the decades ahead that we must prepare for today.”

ConnectSF Program Manager Doug Johnson said that while their current vision is “light on specifics…plenty of [details] are forthcoming. You have to know what you’re shooting for, as opposed to just going along.”

Boosting the number of people using every type of vehicle will be critically important

During an informational presentation about ConnectSF before the Planning Commission on March 1, 2018, commissioners wanted to learn more about the plan’s ambitions. One area of their interest focused on whether the group had considered what might happen to parking garages should autonomous cars become common, and if there should be limits on how many self-driving cars a single household could have.

Commissioners also discussed how ride-sharing companies might be formally integrated into the city’s transit network and whether banning parking on some busy downtown thoroughfares could clear up more space for vehicles and ease rush hour traffic.

Johnson conceded that ConnectSF is fairly early in its planning process, and there are “still years of work that lie ahead of us.” In the future, he said, boosting the number of people using every type of vehicle will be “critically important,” as will having people walking and biking to get from place to place.

Johnson also identified a number of macro trends that will be shaping the region in the future, highlighting the need for forward-thinking strategies that will enable future residents to live productive lives. Some of those issues pertain to the aging transportation infrastructure, climate change and the city’s population growth. The wild card is the level of political support for transportation upgrades in the future.

ConnectSF’s “vision-building” process to develop transportation improvements began last year and is expected to be finalized with more specific goals and initiatives in 2020.

To date, the group’s efforts focused on soliciting input from the public and city agencies about what they think needs to happen to improve transportation services. The next step includes conducting studies focused on the future needs of the city’s transit system, as well as ways to make the city’s network of streets and freeways more efficient. Those studies “have not yet started, but we anticipate a beginning date of the late summer or fall,” said Planning Department spokeswoman Gina Simi.

ConnectSF is seeking to incorporate the many existing—and mostly individual community-focused—land use plans that have already been proposed or are about to be approved. “Doing neighborhood-by-neighborhood planning for land use in some ways makes sense. But, for transportation, it’s pretty limiting,” Johnson said. A broader view of San Francisco’s transportation issues is needed, he said, because “obviously, people travel across the city all the time. That’s why getting a city-wide perspective is so important.”

The initial ConnectSF proposal will be presented to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority planning agency, which controls funding, during meetings being held on April 10 and April 24.

The proposal will also be presented to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on April 17. SFMTA oversees the city’s Municipal Railway system, parking and taxis.

The Planning Commission is set to discuss the matter during its meeting on April 19.

Created in 2016, ConnectSF aims to coordinate San Francisco’s long-range transportation-related planning and funding efforts. Representatives of the Planning Department, County Transportation Authority, Municipal Transportation Agency and Office of Economic and Workforce Development are leaders of the effort.

The coalition sough community input for its transportation vision, said Johnson, including getting ideas from focus groups, online surveys and meetings with community-based organizations. These initiatives drew more than 5,300 responses from residents, according to the report.