San Francisco

The Takeaway

Retracing a Journey From Saigon to San Francisco

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In April 1975, author Andrew Lam fled Saigon for San Francisco. Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, Lam reflects on his homeland and the formation of his American identity.


The Takeaway

Foreign Investment Drives Housing Booms in San Fran, NYC

Monday, February 02, 2015

Chinese investors are buying up American real estate in expensive urban areas like New York & San Francisco. Find out how foreign investment is driving the housing crunch in these cites.

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The Takeaway

Giants Vs. Royals: A World Series Showdown

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are you rootin' for the Royals, or gunning for the Giants? Let's play ball—who are you going to get behind and why?

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San Fran Is Legalizing Airbnb. Should NYC?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The controversial short-term rental website Airbnb will soon be legal in its own hometown, San Francisco.

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Transportation Nation

Maya Angelou Was San Francisco's First Black Streetcar Conductor

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou, the poet, writer, and performer who passed away at the age of 86, also has a place in civil rights transportation history: at the age of 16, she says she became San Francisco's first black streetcar conductor.

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Transportation Nation

See the San Francisco Bay Bridge Being Dismantled, Piece by Piece

Monday, May 12, 2014

How do you take down a 77-year old bridge without using explosives? The same way it was built -- only this time, in reverse order.

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The Takeaway

Can New Web Reality Experience Promote Empathy for the Homeless?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Want to see what it’s like to walk in the shoes of the homeless? One entrepreneur in California is giving portable, wearable cameras to homeless people to record what life is really like when you live on the streets.

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Transportation Nation

Will ‘Ride Sharing’ Kill San Francisco’s Taxi Industry?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The rise of the “sharing economy” is disrupting many industries -- especially the taxi industry. That's extremely apparent in San Francisco, where app-based ride-service startups threaten an entrenched business model, and traditional cab drivers worry they're being left behind.

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On The Media

How Could A Train Full of Commuters Not See An Armed Gunman? Pretty Easily, Actually.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Slate brought my attention to this shocking San Francisco Chronicle story about inattentive commuters

A man standing on a crowded Muni train pulls out a .45-caliber pistol.

He raises the gun, pointing it across the aisle, before tucking it back against his side. He draws it out several more times, once using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose. Dozens of passengers stand and sit just feet away - but none reacts.

Their eyes, focused on smartphones and tablets, don't lift until the gunman fires a bullet into the back of a San Francisco State student getting off the train.

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Transportation Nation

Why the New Bay Bridge Cost $6.4 Billion

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


In 1996, the California Department of Transportation announced the state would spend seven years and just over $1 billion to replace the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. But the bridge that opened this week costs several times that amount -- and took ten years longer than originally projected. So...what happened?

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Transportation Nation

With Nicer Buses, Ridership Spiked Enough to Fend Off Fare Hike for AC Transit

Thursday, July 25, 2013


AC Transit—the large bus agency that serves much of San Francisco's East Bay—experienced a jump in ridership this year. Better on-time reliability and more efficient repairs lured in the passengers, according to the agency. 

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Transportation Nation

Meet San Francisco's $82,000 Parking Spot

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


In some parts of the country, $80,000 will buy you a house. In San Francisco, that same money gets you one parking spot. 

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Transportation Nation

San Francisco Eyes Congestion Pricing

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rush-hour traffic in downtown San Francisco is projected to get worse in the coming decade -- prompting officials to rethink car access to the urban core.

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Planet Opera: A San Francisco Treat

Friday, May 24, 2013

"You don’t need me to tell you that San Francisco has a lot to like," writes Fred Plotkin. Along with its food, art, weather, sports and other virtues, that includes great opera.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Radical Religion

Monday, March 04, 2013

Church pastor Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, founding president of the Glide Foundation, co-authors of Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide, tell the story of Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco's Tenderloin district.


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Guy Pumps Out A Valentine — Literally

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Last year a guy in San Francisco jumped on a bicycle, clicked on his GPS, clicked on an app, snapped on his helmet, and 27 miles, two and a half hours and many calories later, he'd etched a Valentine message onto a street map of San Francisco. That was nice. Now, a year later, it's getting really interesting.

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Transportation Nation

Why One San Francisco Bike Lane Design Is Upsetting Drivers and Cyclists (AUDIO)

Friday, January 25, 2013

JFK Boulevard, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Photo Courtesy of SFMTA Livable Streets)

A prominent bike lane in San Francisco may be suffering because of its unique design. The ambitious, and expensive, bike lane striping of Golden Gate Park stands out from the other projects of San Francisco's bike plan for the criticism it draws from cyclists and drivers alike, in part for a disorienting placement of line of parked cars.

“I think it’s one of the dumbest things I ever saw that they put these stripes down here,” says driver Jimmy Harris of the lanes, pictured above.

Average speeds of drivers and bike riders have both fallen, a success at what's known as traffic calming. But also a stark test case of transportation psychology as users cite narrow lanes and an unusual arrangement of parked cars as confusing.

Ben Trefny and Rai Sue Sussman took a ride along JFK Blvd, with a measuring tape, to see why these particular stripes are raising hackles of bike riders and drivers. Give the audio version a listen.

Here's more: 

For a bit of background, the streets of San Francisco are changing. There are separated bike lanes on Market Street. There’s green paint all over the much-used bike path called the Wiggle. The city is definitely becoming more bicycle-friendly.

After many delays, the city’s bike plan is taking effect, with streets long-designed for car traffic being reconfigured for other modes of transportation. Four years ago San Francisco had 45 miles of bike lanes. Today there are 65 and with more on the way. Plus, 75 more miles of streets will be stenciled with symbols designating them as bike-friendly routes. It’s all having a big impact.

According to the San Francisco Bike Coalition, bike trips have increased more than 70 percent since 2006. But the planners’ choices for JFK Blvd. havn't been implemented so smoothly – and it’s flat-out rankled many of the bicyclists it’s supposed to serve.

The wide JFK Blvd. used to have almost no stripes whatsoever. Now, it’s full of them, creating several chutes designated for different purposes:  there’s a bike lane at either the edge; then buffer zone; a lane for parking; and then in the center a car lane in each direction.

Last spring, we talked with Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, about that project: the striping of Golden Gate Park

“Imagine the parking lanes that are kind of being moved out more into the center of the street, and the bikeway – the dedicated bikeway – will be against the curb, or against the green space, or the sidewalk area,” she said. “So that people biking actually have that physical separation from the moving traffic. JFK we think is a good street to try this because it is a very wide street it's way wider than most streets in San Francisco, so there was room there to try something different.”

It cost at least $425,000 to lay the stripes down – and the MTA estimates more than that to plan it all out.

So, what do the people who travel along JFK think about the new configuration?

“From a drivers’ standpoint, it’s pretty bad,” adds Daly City’s Nick Shurmeyetiv. “Honestly, the first few times I came in – like the first few times it really threw me off. I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought it was a traffic jam, or I don't know what,” he said of the parked cars that appeared to be a lane of traffic.

Frank Jones, from Concord says, “Well, we did pull up and stop behind somebody. And we thought, ‘They're not moving.’ Then we realized – there was nobody in the car! So we went around them.”

A count of cars lined up in the designated parking lane across from the De Young Museum one Friday afternoon showed 11 of 46 vehicles at least partially in the buffer zone. They followed a pattern: typically, each vehicle was aligned with the one in front of it. So if one missed the mark, many more would do the same. And they never missed on the side with car traffic. Only on the side toward the bikes.

“Yeah, you know the roadway, the width is a little narrower, but for the most part, this isn't a place to be going really fast from A to B,” says Peter Brown, who works as an SFMTA project manager.

If it’s the SFMTA’s goal to slow traffic on JFK, it’s been successful.

For cars, average speed has dropped about two or three miles per hour since the road was striped, according to a preliminary report. It makes sense, as the thoroughfare is much more narrow, now, and cars have to fully stop if anyone in front of them is trying to park.

Average bike speeds have also dropped, from an average of 14-and-a-half miles per hour to less than 13 during the week and a little slower on weekends. The report suggests that’s because bicyclists who used to cruise really fast up or down Golden Gate Park now have to slow down for other cyclists and the people who are trying to get across the bike lanes to their cars. Calming traffic, on paper anyway, arguably makes the route more accessible and safer.

The SFMTA surveyed people who use JFK both before and shortly after the new stripes went in. Almost 90 percent of responders felt like they understood the striping, but only about 60 percent liked it. Some people, like Lita Ward, don’t.

“I've had several incidents where I've nearly collided with people getting out of their cars, that are crossing the bike lane into the sidewalk area,” says Ward. “Obviously, we can't stop quickly enough... I think it's a great concept, but drivers need to be aware of what that change means for bicyclists."

It didn’t take long, wandering around JFK to see that scenario unfold. Just west of the De Young, two teenagers on mountain bikes blew through a stop sign on the downhill slope. A pedestrian crossing the bike lane to get to his car had to jump out of the way as they rapidly approached. The kids obviously hadn’t anticipated his presence, and the pedestrian didn’t notice until it was nearly too late.

Some people think better signage and public awareness campaigning would solve some of the ongoing issues with the newly striped lanes of Golden Gate Park, including longtime bike activist Chris Carlsson, who runs Shaping San Francisco, which looks into ways to improve the city.

“A proper educational campaign, in conjunction with an infrastructural transformation, I think could be really successful,” says Carlsson, who is one of the founders of Critical Mass.

[Related: Listen to an oral history of how Critical Mass was founded]

The people who most advocated for – and implemented – the striping of Golden Gate Park are examining the effects. The SF Bike Coalition has a webpage devoted to the “JFK Separated Bikeway Project.”

The page addresses some of the problems: cars that aren’t parked where they’re supposed to be; people crossing the bikeway without looking. SFMTA has a page called the JFK Cycletrack. It includes a survey in which people can share their thoughts about what they like and don’t like.

Even with the imposed structure, people are making the new configuration work for them. Sporty bicyclists take the car lane (which is allowed) to avoid slower-biking tourists and families; pedestrians walk in the bike path to avoid sprinklers; and cars drive through like they did before – only slightly slower.

But more than six months in, because of ongoing parking issues and -- for San Francisco -- the unusual off-curb parking situation, it appears that the striping of Golden Gate Park is not working quite as it was originally imagined. The removal of more than 80 parking spaces alone will be enough to change usage of the road. And unless a large-scale redesign is implemented, an experiment in shared road design may simply require users to get used to a number of imperfections.

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Transportation Nation

Taking Uber for a Test Drive in San Francisco

Thursday, December 13, 2012

(Isabel Angell -- San Francisco, KALW) The e-hail concept might have just cleared legal hurdles in New York and D.C., but in San Francisco, it’s faced heated opposition from taxi drivers who say they’re being cheated out of fares to city officials worried about regulations and safety.

Meanwhile, hailing a taxi in San Francisco can be nearly impossible if you’re not downtown. Calling ahead isn’t a guarantee either – often, the cab is late and sometimes it never comes. Of course, there’s an app for that, several actually. The most prominent one, Uber uses GPS to match town cars and taxi cabs with people who need rides. The app figures out where you are, shows the cars near you, and sends the first free one over. You pay with a credit card on file, and the charge includes a tip.

Since 2010, the company has launched its service in 23 cities around the world. It contracts with car companies and individual drivers, and gives them free iPhones to run its software. Because Uber doesn’t go through traditional licensing channels, it’s running into trouble.

An Uber dilemma

I stood on the corner of 48th and Cabrillo, and with no cab in sight I opened the Uber app on my phone. It was eight minutes from the time I pulled out my phone to the time my Uber car showed up. Half an hour later, I arrived at the 16th and Mission Bart station in style – $50 worth of style, actually. I got the email with the credit card charge, a few minutes later.

Now, I did take a town car, instead of the cheaper yellow cab option. It was the closest car when I requested my ride. And we did hit some rush hour traffic. Still, that’s a pretty big chunk of change for a drive through the city, but maybe the convenience is worth it. Uber’s tens of thousands of San Francisco customers seem to think so. I decided to repeat my ride – same time, same corner – but this time, just calling a regular cab.

And instead of seeing a car rushing to pick me up, I got stuck on hold.

[Related Story: Uber Now Legal in D.C.]

Two years ago, Ilya Abyzov found himself in a very similar situation to mine. He had just moved to San Francisco from New York. It was late.

“And I found myself sort of stumbling out of a karaoke place at 2 am in Japantown and wanting to go home to the Mission, and my prospects were either to walk for half an hour or to seek alternatives, because there were no taxi cabs around,” Abyxov remembers.

Uber got him home that night.

“I thought it was amazing,” he says.

So amazing that he applied for a job with the company, and now is the general manager of Uber’s San Francisco operations. Clearly, Abyzov is a fan, but he says Uber fills a real need in the city.

“There’s a lot of excess demand for transportation that cabs can’t fulfill,” says Abyzov.

In most cities, the taxi industry is heavily regulated – it’s considered part of the transportation network. San Francisco is no exception. Part of the reason Uber is so efficient is that it sets up shop first, and asks official permission later, essentially skirting a lot of those regulations. The company has been expanding rapidly, though, and it recently hit legal walls in several cities. Here in SF, two local taxi drivers are suing Uber. Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission slapped Uber with a $20,000 fine, calling its rule-bending “a matter of public safety.”

City officials are concerned about safety as well. Christiane Hayashi is in charge of the taxi division at San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA).

“We make sure that a San Francisco taxi driver has shown us a ten-year driving history, as well as a criminal background check to make sure that there is no crime in their background that would [make] them dangerous when they are alone in a vehicle with somebody,” explains Hayashi.

Uber says it’s just a middleman: a tech company that helps people find cars, but not a car service itself. Still, Ilya Abyzov says the startup does take safety seriously – and that it verifies whether all its drivers are licensed and have insurance.

“We only work with people who satisfy those conditions, we gather and track all those documents, and we verify their compliance,” says Abyzov. “So I think the biggest misconception about Uber is that we’re going rogue, but really we’re working with entirely regulated entities.”

MTA’s Hayashi says she doesn’t buy it.

While it’s not yet clear how the legal cases will shake out, the idea of Uber – or something like it – seems to have taken hold.

San Francisco already has an app that helps people find available parking, using data provided by the city. MTA’s Christiane Hayashi says it’s a model San Francisco is embracing: “I think that’s the next step in making this technology really effective, to get all the city’s taxis in one sort of data stream that then private application developers can use to make taxi service more reliable.”

In other words, to make all the city’s cab information available to companies like Uber, but to keep control over what that information is, and how it’s used.

[Related Story: Data Art -- NY Transit System as  a Lite-Brite City Map]

Steve Webb is a taxi driver in San Francisco. He’s been driving his cab for 25 years. It’s how he put his daughter through college. He shares some of the city’s worries about Uber’s safety, but he says his biggest problem with Uber is something he thinks will bring them down: the price.

“I’ve had numerous people tell me they were standing on a corner, they were very very cold, there was four of them, and Uber charged them sixty dollars for a $12 cab ride.”

That sounded familiar. I asked Webb what he thought of my $50 ride from Ocean Beach to the Mission. He guessed that would have been a $14 meter.

I did my own calculations based on the cab fares listed on the MTA website. Taking traffic into account, it looks like that cab ride would have cost me more like $20 or $25. Unfortunately, I never got to test either calculation with a real ride, because the cab I called from Outer Richmond never showed up. Instead of forking over another $50 for an Uber car, this time, I took the bus.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: See What 25,000 LED Lights on the Bay Bridge Will Look Like

Monday, December 10, 2012

(Cy Musiker -- San Francisco, KQED) It will be sparkly.  Lighting technicians and workers are closing a lane on San Francisco's iconic Bay Bridge each evening this week to install 25,000 LEDs on the cables on the north side of the bridge's suspension span.

The work is part of an art project to honor the bridge's 75th anniversary.

"What happens is crews go up in the middle of the night and hang down the side of the bridge and attach up to 500 LEDs each evening, per shift," says Ben Davis, chairman of Illuminate the Arts, the group that's installing the lights. According to the group's website, "the Bay Lights is the world’s largest light sculpture, 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high...[it will be] a monumental tour de force seven times the scale of the Eiffel Tower’s 100th Anniversary lighting."

"And the progress is just going great," says Davis. "We're over 10 percent complete, and we're completely on track for a grand lighting ceremony." That ceremony is scheduled for March 5, 2013.

Davis has raised $5.7 million dollars so far for the $8 million dollar project.

The lighting design is by light artist Leo Villareal, famous for his work at Burning Man and in museums around the world.  Davis says the project will bring attention to a bridge often overlooked for its more glamorous partner.

"I just about have an orgasm when I ride my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge." Davis said, "But I, like a lot of people here, have a really deeper love almost for the Bay Bridge, and its great to see this hard-working and really elegant bridge shine again in our consciousness."

The lighting project will be up for at least two years. It's not in time for this year's 75th anniversary of the Bay Bridge. But it will be finished in time for next year's America's Cup, and the completion of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

Read more over at KQED.

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Transportation Nation

As Critical Mass Turns 20, Founders Reflect on Sprawling Bike Protests (AUDIO)

Friday, September 28, 2012

(San Francisco, Calif. --Ben Trefny, KALW) Political movements don't have to be shaped by politicians. In fact, one of the most dynamic movements to shape the way we see our streets started with a group of bicycle riders in San Francisco who simply wanted to be seen.

It's a gathering that's come to be known as "Critical Mass." Tonight, hundreds, if not thousands, of cyclists from around the world will come together to take over their city's streets and celebrate the event's 20th anniversary.

The Mass has taken place on the last Friday of every month since September of 1992. It's a leaderless bike ride, without a preplanned route, lasting several hours. The concept is to have enough people riding on bikes -- a critical mass -- to force cars to stop and wait for them. The message: The road belongs to bikes too, not just cars.

Critical Mass rides are controversial, somewhat chaotic, and sometimes confrontational. But it's also effective. And it's grown. Today, Critical Mass rides take place in more than 300 countries around the world. Urban bike riding has changed significantly in that time -- some would say Critical Mass helped the world spin a little differently.

Chris Carlsson is the co-founder of Critical Mass. He and Lisa-Ruth Elliot co-edited the new book, Shift Happens: Critical Mass at 20. KALW's Ben Trefny spoke with the two editors to reflect on how the Mass got its start.

CARLSSON: We felt really mistreated, as second-class citizens on the roads... people would treat you derisively, they'd yell at you, they'd think you were, like, immature, you're a kid.  "Grow up and get a car!"  As though that were somehow an act of maturity.  So we thought, let's just meet at the foot of Market Street and ride home together.  Simple act.  Get everybody together we can, fill the streets with bikes, and by doing so, displace the cars.

Listen to the complete interview:

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