Dec 24, 2011

Santa brought us Masonic traffic safety measures

Park users crossing Masonic on the Oak Street side now benefit from a ladder crosswalk. High-visibility crosswalks are part of the SF MTA's pedestrian safety program, and alert pedestrians and motorists to watch out for conflicts. 

We also got a red-light camera facing the westbound traffic on Fell Street at Masonic. San Francisco's city government began implementing photo enforcement for red-light running 15 years ago. 
Thanks to San Francisco and to the outspoken community leaders who have been demanding safer Masonic crossings.
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Dec 10, 2011

December Workday wrap-up

Not just leaves, but also branches and twigs have been falling in the Panhandle this month, and so we began yesterday's workday raking and filling dozens of wheelbarrows full in the garden around the playground. The small plants were glad to be uncovered.  

A bigger project also awaited the sixth grade class from the Day School and other volunteers: moving the soil from a long-neglected pile that had been left unused on the paved area east of the playground.

The soil had become heavy and compacted over time, so it took extra work to shovel and wheelbarrow over to some nearby trees.

We spread the soil around the grove of elms and pittosporums near Oak/west of Masonic Ave.

We took our break by the massive eucalyptus that stands nearby.

Emmett and his dad investigated a drain that we had uncovered. It's full of silt, so will take some further maintenance and further before it can do its job. Maybe when it works again it'll reduce the boggy conditions at the northeast end of the pavement.

Charlie and his crew were on hand and helped us finish the job.

Some volunteers asked me, "what is this space?" The simple answer is that it's a very useful paved space: birthday parties, Tai Chi groups, and bicycle ballet rehearsal all make frequent use of it. Historically, it's a reminder of the roadway that used to wind down the center of the park. Here's the area between Ashbury and Masonic in a 1938 aerial photo (and visit the image at the David Rumsey Map Collection to zoom in and see the surrounding area). 

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Dec 9, 2011

December panhandle workday is tomorrow!

Please join us in the Panhandle, tomorrow, Dec 10 for our monthly workday. We'll gather at 9am.
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Dec 3, 2011

Red-light cameras for Fell/Masonic

The work that's been going on this week in the Panhandle near Fell/Masonic is for the placement of cameras to provide some automated enforcement of red-light runners. This project makes good on the city's promises for a number of adjustments to improve traffic safety on Masonic Avenue.
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Nov 29, 2011

Do pines drop their leaves?

Pine trees are generally thought of as evergreens. But there are some species that lose leaves annually, like the one pictured below, with needles that turn orange in the fall before dropping to the ground. I'm not remembering the species right now (is this a dawn redwood?), but I know we have several of these trees in the Panhandle. A pair of them stands off the south path near Central. This picture was taken on Sunday in the Golden Gate Park Rhododendron Dell, where there are several, including several that are much, much bigger, taller and older. They are a couple of weeks ahead in their annual cycle compared to the trees in  the Panhandle, which are still green.

Be careful out there tomorrow when the winds start blowing.

Nov 12, 2011

Saturday's accomplishments

Thanks to all who turned out for our Saturday volunteer work day at the Panhandle! Here's a quick look at the people who showed up and the projects that Guillermo had ready for us.  

The "four corners" eucalyptus trees just east of Masonic received a blanket of compost and mulch to keep them comfortable for the coming winter rains. We had a big group, bolstered by families from the Kindergarten class of the Day School, so some played in the meadow while other folks dug into the pile of compost, which released steam into the cool morning air. 

Nearby, we spread compost and removed weeds from several trees located south of the pathway.

The trees in this area make up the Panhandle's cluster of olive trees. Despite growing beneath towering eucalyptus, they have a decent southern exposure from the Oak Street side to feed them solar energy. 

Along a bank of aloe plants, we raked leaf litter, amended soil, and put some small plants from the Rec & Park nursery in the ground. I'm not sure what they are, so hope that some grow large enough to help us identify them.
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Nov 11, 2011

Did anyone else notice?

Sometimes, a pet peeve just goes away and you hardly notice. In the Panhandle, many, many years ago wooden poles were lodged deep in the ground in several locations around the basketball courts, apparently to create some kind of mount for a garbage can. The Park moved on to a new design, but the poles were left behind, despite being an eyesore and tripping hazard. Well, they're finally gone, removed from the park by gardening and maintenance staff.

Having the posts removed means one less detail to tend to during the upcoming refurbishing of the area between the basketball courts and the restrooms. Thanks SF!

What the heck, one more shot for old time's sake:
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Nov 9, 2011

Fall Panhandle work days - starting this Saturday!

Young male and mature female catkins on an Italian Alder
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November is a great time to visit the Panhandle, with trees finishing their growth season and leaves beginning to fall.  Our next community work day is coming up this Saturday, November 12, starting at 9 a.m. We'll be continuing our work which involves mulching, weeding, pruning, and sometimes, planting.

We got a third of an inch of rain over the weekend, and more is called for tomorrow, so there's some boggy spots. Definitely wear some shoes that you won't mind getting muddy. Tools are provided.  Expect to be joined by families of the kindergarten class of the San Francisco Day School.

Oct 21, 2011

Panhandle Pathway connections to East and West making news

News this week about changes to the connections for cycling to the east and west of the Panhandle:

To the west, one-way cycle tracks for John F. Kennedy Drive received strong support from Mayor Ed Lee and General Manager Phil Ginsburg and were approved by the Rec and Park Commission on Thursday Oct 20. The Rec and Park Department has been collaborating with SFMTA and conducting public outreach on the project for about a year. This project is important for folks who want to be able to continue their bike ride from the Panhandle Path, and continue west, without having to ride on the open roadway of JFK Ave alongside cars, buses, and trucks.

To the east, a project for Fell and Oak Streets between Scott and Baker has been moving forward under the SFMTA, with Luis Montoya as Project Manager. One-way cycle tracks on these streets could be installed if we either remove a lane of car parking or a travel lane. Montoya started talking with neighbors this summer, and helped us set up public meetings, including one on July 26 held in conjunction with NOPNA that was a forum to discuss how the proposed project might impact the Panhandle Park.

Last week, an SF Examiner story reported that the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association opposes all options under study in the Fell/Oak project. You can click to download HAIA's letter to the SFMTA. NOPNA & other neighborhood groups seem to be informing the community about the issues so that people can provide input and make a better end product. I'll continue to speak out about potential impacts on the already crowded multi-use path and the need for better street-path transitions, especially at Baker Street. I'll post info about what's next for this project as information becomes available. In the meantime, it seems like an opportune moment to let your elected representatives know your thoughts about the proposals and the process.

UPDATE: Luis Montoya from SFMTA replied to an email inquiry. He said that he is working on finalizing the exact time/place of public workshop that will happen in December. He also pointed out that it is too early to identify "one-way cycle tracks" as the only option under consideration for Fell/Oak; the two-way method is also being looked at. Even though the one-way option was chosen for JFK, the two-way configuration may have advantages for this very different project. 

Oct 10, 2011

October Workday wrap-up

My pictures don't do  justice to the beautiful weather or to the amazing spirits of all the volunteers who came out for our workday on Saturday in the Panhandle.
Clearing leaves from the path and the meadow
We were joined by an awesome group of families from the San Francisco Day School, who joined the main group of volunteers on a job that at first appeared daunting and thankless - raking up eucalyptus leaves in a big area between Clayton and Cole Street on both sides of the north path. But with a lot of people getting to work, and with help from RPD, raking leaves in the sunshine actually turned out to be pretty fun. With a huge amount of leaf litter removed, the grass is going to have a much better chance to resprout with the coming fall rains.

The area we were working in was adjacent to a cluster of redwoods on the north side of the park, and a crew from RPD arrived to work with Charlie (pictured above) on clearing some burl growth as well as clipping back English Elm suckers coming up from the ground. During break we took a closer look at the redwoods and began learning more about them and thinking about a biodiversity project that we hope to bring to the multiple redwood clusters found in the Panhandle.  

In the shade of the redwoods on a sunny fall morning

Meanwhile, Nancy and Michael traveled down to the east end to tackle a special project: clipping back the large bush from the north path. This bush grows quickly, and can reduce visibility for people traveling on the path. Safety on the path is an ongoing concern, and the commencement of cross-town, park-to-park bike rentals is bound to bring even more people riding bikes in the Panhandle. Meanwhile the city is moving forward with approval of a separated bike way along JFK Drive, just west of the Panhandle bike path, so we can expect cycling to continue to increase in the coming year. 
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Oct 5, 2011

First work day of the fall coming up this Saturday in the Panhandle

Join us this Saturday, October 8 for the first Panhandle work day of the fall season. 

We gather at 9 a.m. at the Bulletin Board near the Panhandle playgrounds, and continue until 11:30 or 12 noon. 

We'll be joined by some families from SF Day School, which has begun a new school year and confirmed plans to continue lending a hand to the Panhandle Park Stewards this fall.

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Sep 30, 2011

Yews Get Whacked

Over the last couple of days, the Japanese Yews located along the north path at Clayton have been pruned back drastically. The pruning may be a last-ditch attempt to take care of an eyesore. These two plants have been poorly managed over the years, perhaps due to their location on opposite sides of a path used by vehicles. The result has been a really unnatural and lopsided form (the third Japanese yew, visible at the left in the photo, is not too great, either). The plant shown at right is also host to an aggressive English Ivy. Not sure what will happen next to these plants. Yews are tolerant of severe pruning, and when grown in a garden, they're typically cultivated as hedges or topiary, not as trees.
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Sep 26, 2011

September workday report

Community work crew at the Panhandle

September's workday brought the park stewards to the far east end of the park, where we worked in the shade of the redwood grove at the northeast corner of the park. Previous workdays have improved the soil and removed weeds at the base of these trees, and when the rains come we will be ready for planting. We hope to diversify the park by bringing in understory plants that you might typically find beneath sequoia sempervirens, thus beautifying the eastern entrance to Golden Gate Park and giving our community a way to experience a habitat that's representative of coastal California. 

Cobbling together a fix at Ashbury

Also in the park this month, we got to see the work done by our Rec and Park crews to address a persistent problem with standing water where Ashbury meets the Panhandle. The work definitely showed a dedicated attempt to fix the problem, and I'm glad for the effort, but would also like to see work proceed for our approved capital improvement project, which includes regrading and path repair in this spot.  
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Sep 8, 2011

Panhandle reminder for Saturday 9/10; upcoming events

Reminder: This Saturday, Sept 10 is our next Panhandle work day for volunteers from the community. We'll be working with Guillermo and Zack on our ongoing effort to beautify the park, improve conditions along the pathways, and protect the historic trees. 

Panhandle work day
Sat, Sept 10
9am-11:30 am
Meet at the Panhandle bulletin board (near Ashbury) 

At the blog for this Panhandle Park project, I recently shared some information about potential developments affecting the McKinley Monument. Please check out the post and let me know what you think by replying to me or posting comments on the blog.  

This is an important time to be involved in the local community! Here are a few more events to know about happening on Sept 11 , 12 and 13.

Sunday Streets Western Addition 
Sunday, September 11, 2011  
11:00 AM to 4:00 PM

>If you park a vehicle on the streets that will be closed to cars, please note the signs which tell you that you have to move your car by 11 pm Saturday. Otherwise your car might get towed! 

September 11: 2nd Annual Western Addition Sunday Streets
North Panhandle, Alamo Square and Fillmore neighborhoods
Activities include:
·      Fillmore Community Benefit District entertainment and activities along Fillmore Street
·      Independent Artists' Week celebration of community artists in the Western Addition
·      Donna Hunter Fitness line dance and healthy living inspiration
·      Funky Town Roller Disco, by D Miles and CORA, free skates
·      YBike Youth Bike Safety Rodeo
·      Interactive Environmental projects by Climate Change Education
·      Activities for kids North Panhandle –St. Cyprian's Church, Little Ones Co-op, Clif Kid
·      Activities for kids Fillmore -Buchanan YMCA, Junior League SF,
·      Freedom from Training Wheels, presented by SFBC
·      Free Bike Rentals provided by Bike & Roll and Bay City Bikes
·      Free Bike Repairs on Fillmore provided by REI, Mikes Bikes

Monday, September 12th 2011 from 6:00PM - 8:00PM at 455 Golden Gate (Milton Marks Auditorium)
Partnering with Walk San FranciscoSan Francisco Parks Trust and Friends of the Urban Forest, NPC will host a mayoral candidate forum that focuses specifically on park, recreation, and open space issues. Our goal is to give you the opportunity to learn more about each candidate's knowledge of and positions on these subjects.  The following candidates will be participating in the forum:
  • Michela Alioto-Pier
  • John Avalos
  • David Chiu
  • Bevan Dufty
  • Tony Hall (pending)
  • Dennis Herrera
  • Ed Lee (pending)
  • Joanna Rees
  • Phil Ting
  • Leland Yee
To RSVP for this event, please go here.

Fell and Oak Streets Separated Bikeway Community Meeting*

 Tue., Sep. 13 | 6:30-8pm | San Francisco Day School, 350 Masonic Avenue (at Golden Gate)

After years of community action to make the three blocks of Fell and Oak Street, the SFMTA is holding a community meeting to discuss options for separated bikeways on three blocks of Fell and Oak Street between Scott Street and Baker Street. If you want a safer connection between the Panhandle and the Wiggle, if you live in this area and want a safer street, or if you use this route to bike to local shops and restaurants, come to this meeting and speak up. 

Aug 24, 2011

Creative ideas are needed to protect and improve the McKinley Monument

A few weeks ago, the AIDS Walk brought thousands of people to Golden Gate Park. By midday, thousands of people were on the hunt for a place to sit for a rest or to have a bite to eat. One convenient place is to settle down next to, or on, a statue or monument.
Picnicking in Golden Gate Park
In the Panhandle, the McKinley Monument is put to similar use on a daily basis. It's actually put to use in a lots of other ways- toddlers learning to climb, little kids kicking a ball with parents, neighbors meeting up with friends for a bike ride, reading a book, or getting some sun.  

But the monument is in disrepair. In June, when I saw a team of restoration experts hired by the city to remove graffiti, I asked about the job in front of them, and they said their current job would only be to remove some graffiti and apply a sealant. They pointed out the signs that water from rainfall is getting into the base upon which the bronze statue rests. They also pointed out how the gaps between the stones steps leading up to the monument are open and filled with weeds. I had already noticed that the bas-relief of McKinley was discolored from corrosion. But there is not a plan to fund maintenance or restoration of all of public artworks in San Francisco, and it appears that that the McKinley is lacking a benefactor. In the San Francisco Chronicle on July 16, 2011, a front page article by Stephanie Lee reported on the restoration of a large, 40-year old outdoor sculpture at the Hall of Justice that had just concluded at the cost of $35,000. The article reported that other artworks around San Francisco were in need of funding plan (public or private) "Robert Ingersoll Aitken's 1904 William McKinley statue in Golden Gate Park needs a heavy coat of protection over its bronze and stone that could cost as much as $165,000."

McKinley waiting for more than graffiti removal
Beyond repairing and restoring the monument itself, Alison Cumming of the SF Arts Commission told a committee in January about chronic, recurring vandalism of the monument, and said that her office would like to work with the Recreation and Parks department "to address solutions, including possible replanting of the area, up-lighting, and period-appropriate fencing" at the McKinley Monument.

Allow me a few comments on these possible changes:

1. Replanting of the area could really help. Right now, there is just weedy grass, and it's in poor shape, worsening in the dry season. This group has made efforts to remove debris and spread some healthy soil to allow new grass to sprout, but it would be so much better to have some nice plants. Throughout the east end of Golden Gate Park, statues and monuments typically have some decorative plantings (like the picture at top).

2. Uplighting the monument, if done in a comprehensive way, would be responsive to the concerns I have heard from neighbors about the darkness of the east end of the park. These neighbors have noted that the eastern end was underserved by the lighting that was installed throughout the rest of the park several years ago, and believe that the poor lighting contributes to more criminal activity, vandalism, and drinking/drugging. They are also concerned that along dark pathways, there's a greater risk of injuries due to bike-bike or bike-ped collisions. I would hope that lighting would not be limited to lights shining only onto the monument itself, but would be accompanied by lighting along the eastern perimeter of the park and at the beginnings of the north and south pathways.

3. Fencing the monument would be a big change, but there are ways to mitigate the negative impacts. It would be a loss to eliminate the positive, harmless ways people play on or around the monument, but a barrier may be necessary, given the ongoing problem with vandalism, and with other lesser ways that people degrade the area (for example, by using it as a place to smoke or drink, or to set up a charcoal grill). I don't expect everyone will agree that those problems merit a fence, but I believe they are all degrading to the monument and that they all result in excluding others from the area, thus denying access to most for the pleasures of a few. But, there are some drawbacks to a fence, such as taking away the monument's steps as a place to sit. The lack of seating is another comment I've heard from neighbors. So, if a fence is built, it's going to be extremely important to add some kind of seating in the immediate area.

Despite some major controversies in the past about public artworks, San Francisco is in a phase of experimentation in its public spaces, and some of those experiments are beginning to literally touch its public sculptures. The Pioneer Monument - a huge piece that had to be relocated and eventually found a home in the middle of Fulton Street across from the main library - was fenced in years ago. Now, in addition to the fence, there's a bed of soil and mulch home to dozens of plants, bordered by a meandering wattle to keep the soil in place. It's all encircled by a low, stone seating wall that gives people a place to rest and watch life (and traffic) go by. If ideas like this can be implemented down in the Civic Center, then I think we can come up with even more creative ideas to protect and improve the artwork in our neighborhood park.

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August work day wrap-up

Here's a belated report on what went down during our workday on Saturday, August 13. We had the opportunity to work with Dave, the gardener responsible for the western half of the Panhandle, and also Zack, a park supervisor. Several neighbors joined us, both routine volunteers and also some joining us for the first time. Our summer fog gave way early, and we ended up working in an awesome, sunny morning. 

The ornamental plantings around the playground have grown larger and more beautiful, and have become one of the highlights of the Panhandle, so we started our workday there, spreading some mulch. That will help retain moisture in the soil and protect the small plants. 

Next we moved on to the west, where we spread fresh soil around a big bare patch just off of the basketball courts. Dave said that after the soil is placed there, he would seed the area to re-establish the grass.  

New soil will help re-establish the turf by the basketball courts
We ended up with a final project for the day: cleaning up under the huge walnut tree (close to Oak & Clayton), one of the park's most beautiful trees. There are two benches and a trash can next to the tree, and there was a mess of grime, mud, and trash that had congealed in the area. Some holes had also been dug. We scooped it all up, and filled in some holes, resulting in an immediate improvement. We also talked about whether removing the trash can might actually reduce problems at that spot.

A few days later, the trash can was removed. Keep an eye on conditions there, and let us know what you think. With universal recycling & composting in San Francisco households, more use of reusable food and drink containers, and less wasteful packaging, maybe we don't need as many trash containers as before. Or, will fewer trash containers just lead to more trash in the park?

The benches below the giant walnut tree got some overdue attention
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