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Saturday, December 22, 2012

How to Access the Elusive Sky Terrace Roof at Westfield Mall SF

The Super Hidden Sky Terrace!
Did you know there's a city policy under the 1985 Downtown Plan that requires new commercial buildings to have publicly accessible open space?  In some places, it's pretty obvious that you are on private property, but enjoying the park like atmosphere in the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco.  For the downtown workers, these privately-owned public open spaces (or what the city calls POPOS), it's an opportunity to enjoy their lunch away from their office desk.

I learned about this from a Tweet from the city government, and the link in the tweet landed me on the San Francisco's Planning Department's website about these POPOS, including an interactive map.

Finding the Elusive Westfield Mall San Francisco's Sky Terrace
One of these public places I wanted to find was the Sky Terrace at the Westfield Mall, formerly the home of the Emporium.  Back in the day, the old roof of the Emporium was the location of holiday carnival rides that was hoisted by crane every year until the company went out of business.

While the city map showed where it was located, it did not tell me how to access it.  Since I was shopping around the downtown area, I decided to drop by the concierge desk at the Westfield Mall for more information.  Asking the young lady at the desk, she didn't know what I was talking about, saying this was the first she heard of this rooftop.  I mentioned about the city policy, and she contacted her superiors for more information.

While I was waiting for five minutes, I did a search on my phone and it told me that there's no direct access through the mall.  Shortly after, the concierge told me the same answer.

How to Access the Sky Terrace
Step one:
You'll need to access it through the outside building entrance on Market located on the far left side of where the building property line ends (next door is Walgreens).  You will see a purple San Francisco State University Banner and the address 835 Market Street.  This is also the entrance to San Francisco State's Downtown Center.

My Alma Mater (times two) and Employer!
Step two: 
Walk through the doors and down the hallway and you will see a security guard desk on the right.  You'll know you are in the right building when you notice the SF State signage on the left just when you enter the building.

Step three:
Ask the security guard that you would like to access the sky terrace.  Depending on how nice the guard is, they'll tell you how to get there, or give you a surly attitude.

Remember, floor nine is the place to go.
Step four:
You'll see an elevator bank to the left of the guard's desk.  Take the forward left elevator and select floor nine (there will be the words "Sky Terrace" next to the button).  This is the only elevator that provides service to the roof, so don't take the wrong elevator.

Step five:
At the ninth floor, just make a quick left and you are at the Sky Terrace!

The Rooftop Experience
Going to the rooftop, it's so hidden and challenging to access that it's so quiet up there.  While the streets are busy with people running around with shopping bags of holiday stuff, you are just alone on the rooftop.  There are tables, chairs, and benches to relax upon, but there are no restroom facilities or any easy to access place to grab a bite.

The view is good, and the most obvious thing you'll see is the famous dome that was originally there when the Emporium existed.  You'll also get a view of the western skyline, including City Hall.

The Dome
If you need food or access the restrooms, go into the mall to the bottom level to access the Emporium food court.

If you have a SF State student/staff/faculty ID card, show it at any of the food court vendors and receive the mall employee discount ranging from 10% to 15% off, and certain vendors selling coffee and beverages for just $1.  To review the vendor list with discounts, click here.

It's a challenge to find because it's not obvious to find.  But if you want some place away from the busy streets of San Francisco, this is the place to find some peace.  Their heating and air conditioning units are also on the roof and will make it a little loud, but if you don't mind the noise, just listen to music or wear earplugs, you'll do perfectly fine.

Word has it it's only open Monday-Friday when the offices in the building are open, but there's nothing telling me that.  I entered on Saturday, December 22nd and while the guard said access to the area may not happen, but the elevator went to the 9th floor without any trouble.  Technically, SF State is open on December 22nd for final exams (yes, there's finals on Saturday), so I guess I got lucky.

There is a change in city laws regarding signage.  In January 2013, the city will be enforcing a signage policy where there must be signage guiding people to these publicly accessible locations.  I'm hoping others will find the Sky Terrace with the new signage, but I'm also betting this hidden spot will still be hidden because people don't really know it exists; even the maps in the mall doesn't say anything about the Sky Terrace.

So now that I told you about this spot, wait until a nice warm day and go enjoy your time on the Sky Terrace!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Pay the SF Parking Meters on First Three Sundays in January 2013 - No Parking Tickets, Only Reminders

Photo: SFMTA
As you may be aware, the city will start enforcing city parking meters on Sundays from 12 Noon to 6PM starting in January.

This means for us citizens, no more scoring free parking at meters all-day on Sunday, but you still can park for free in the city before 12 noon in the city.  It's still a perfect time for me to handle my Sunday morning haircuts and morning runs to pick up cheap dim sum because I don't have to pay the meter.

But... after reading the SFMTA's press release about this matter, something seemed kinda odd.  For the first three Sundays in January, SFMTA meter maids won't be issuing parking tickets for violators not paying the meter; instead, they will be just leaving a kind reminder for people to pay.

Directly quoted from the SFMTA: "On January 6, 13 and 20, Parking Control Officers will issue reminders, not citations, on cars at expired meters."

So this basically means, I can still park for free for the first three Sundays in January, and all I might get is a kind notice saying, "please do pay."  Odd, isn't it?

Reminder: This policy about getting courtesy notices doesn't affect meters operated by the Port of San Francisco or nearby Fisherman's Wharf (meters that are enforced everyday, including holidays).  You should still pay the meter on the first three Sundays.

Here's another interesting fact about the meter policy change: City meters with a one hour maximum limit (Monday-Saturday) will be all changed to a two hour maximum.  All meters for Sunday enforcement will be a maximum of four hours.  I'm assuming "green head" meters will remain with a very short time limit of 30 minutes or less.

For more information about Sunday enforcement, click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Muni, Samtrans, VTA & Dumbarton Express Not Part of BART Plus Program Starting January 1, 2013

Back in mid-September, I reported the SFMTA was considering to drop their participation in the BART Plus program.

If you are not familiar with BART Plus, it's both a BART ticket with stored value and a flash pass good for unlimited rides on partner agencies.  This made it perfect for those who needs to take a feeder bus to a BART station without the need to buy multiple passes, and kept it at a simple set price structure so if you need more BART fare on the Plus ticket, you can.

BART Plus was the perfect model of a multi-agency pass, giving passengers many choices, but starting January 1, 2013, BART declared four more nails in the coffin of the BART Plus program, effectively putting it on its own death bed.

Starting January 1, 2013, the following agencies will not accept BART Plus: Muni, Samtrans, VTA and Dumbarton Express.

The only partner agencies the BART Plus ticket will be valid on after January 1: County Connection, Rio Vista Delta Breeze, Tri Delta Transit, Union City Transit, WestCAT and Wheels.

Akit's Opinions:
These severe cuts to the program will only allow access to the very small transit agencies.  All the big agencies that BART Plus users have depended on for a very long time will now be forking more money to ride the big agencies for their daily commutes.  The loss of AC Transit to BART Plus was its first downfall, but losing Muni, Samtrans, VTA and Dumbarton Express is extreme.

BART's reason for this: "...because they (the transit agencies ending on 1/1/13) are using the Clipper Card for travel on their systems."  What a lame excuse.  So what?  Just because these agencies now accept Clipper doesn't mean BART Plus shouldn't be honored.  There has to be another reason why... is it because BART wants more money, or does the participating agencies realize it's a severe money loss?

BART Plus will always be remembered as the perfect program for a one pass solution to ride most (not all) transit agencies for decent price.  The loss of the four major agencies is horrible for commuters.  Many people have been asking Clipper to create a one pass solution, but these greedy ass transit agencies wants to not be friendly and force us passengers to dish out more money for transit fares.

BART, Muni, Samtrans, VTA, and Dumbarton Express: YOU MAKE ME SICK.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Clipper Card Changes for Muni & Golden Gate Ferry

There are some upcoming changes regarding the usage of the Clipper card for those who ride Muni and Golden Gate Ferry.  For many of you, it should not affect the way you handle your day to day business, but it's good to read up on what is going on.  These changes are effective Friday, December 14, 2012.

There are three changes:
  1. The minimum balance on a card to ride Muni is being raised to a minimum of $1.50.  Anything less than that amount will be a rejected transaction.  Those Muni passengers with a monthly pass and has less than $1.50 in e-cash on the card will be permitted to ride as the Clipper card reader will recognize the pass.
  2. SFMTA ticket machines located at all metro subway stations will change the minimum e-cash to be loaded to the card from $5 to $2.
  3. SFMTA ticket machines at metro stations will allow passengers to load a maximum of up to $100 in e-cash onto the card.  Currently the maximum is $300, which is the maximum amount of e-cash a Clipper card can hold.
Golden Gate Ferry
The agency has similar changes:
  1. The minimum balance on a Clipper card to ride the ferry is $4.25.  Anything less and the transaction is rejected.
  2. Golden Gate Ferry ticketing machines will load a maximum of $100 in e-cash to a Clipper card.

Akit's Opinions
These are some good changes for both agencies.

When it comes to the raising of the minimum e-cash balance on a Clipper card, this is a step in the right direction.  This will greatly reduce the abuse of passengers who can rip-off the system by simply loading a nickel on the a zero balance card, ride a bus or ferry, and throw the card away.  It also encourages passengers to take care of their Clipper card and reuse it.

For the metro ticket machines' minimum e-cash load being reduced to $2, this is very good for those passengers who ran out of money on their Clipper card and only have just enough cash for one more ride.  Instead of making them pay for a Limited Use Ticket which wastes resources, a cheap reload is just what the doctor ordered.  It's also perfect when you want to dump your leftover pocket change in the machine by requiring less coins to make the $2 load, but still, BART's ticket machines to dump change is much better and easier.

As for the maximum limit to load a Clipper card, I'm not sure of why they are asking for the change.  There is the possibility that they are trying to limit the abuse of stolen credit cards, just like how BART has a limit of two transactions per credit card, per day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SFMTA Should Reject Spending $1.6 Million for Free Youth Passes in Light of Muni Metro Meltdown

UPDATE: SFMTA Board approved giving free passes to youth, instead of investing money towards keeping Muni running, especially since the meltdown.  Big frown!  Read Tweet from Muni.

Original posting: Yesterday was one of Muni's worst days ever with two major incidents: a passenger being dragged over 500 feet when struck by a F-Market streetcar, and the meltdown of Muni metro.

Muni Metro serves tens of thousands of people every single workday, and a transformer at the Van Ness station practically ended all tunnel service within the city, therefore forcing city buses to take the brunt of transporting riders from West Portal to Embarcadero.  Muni blames the transformer on the weekend's heavy rains for ruining the commute after 6PM, but fortunately service is restored to the light rail system for the morning commute.

Today at 1PM in City Hall, the SFMTA Board of Directors will be having their last meeting of the year, and I'm betting the board and citizens on the microphone will be ranting about the disruption of Muni metro.  Some will put blame on the weather while others will put blame on the neglect and deferred maintenance now punishing the city.

Also on the agenda is the board will be voting on $1.6 million in grant funding from the MTC to provide free Muni youth passes for those who qualify.  The rest of the grant money ($5.1 million) will be going towards a rehabilitation of the light rail vehicles. (View PDF of proposal here)

Other than my views of using taxpayer money to fund free rides for kids (I deeply oppose any free rides for kids), in light of the major Muni metro meltdown last night, I want the SFMTA Board to reject the $1.6 million in funding and change the proposal to spend that money to fixing the critical infrastructure of Muni in order to maintain operational status.

While I know $1.6 million won't solve all our problems, at least fixing certain critical components such as making sure the electrical transformers for Muni metro won't explode is more important because the metro service serves a bigger population, and not just kids who might be eligible for a free pass.  I depend on Muni metro on days when I go to the ballpark, and many of you depend on it to bring you fast service to your workplace in downtown.

What would you spend $1.6 million?  Making sure Muni works for all, or give free passes for kids?

I'd make sure Muni works for all.  And for you kids, be lucky Muni gives the BIGGEST DISCOUNT for youth passengers versus other agencies in the Bay Area.
  • Muni: $2 adult, $0.75 youth (62.5% discount) with free transfer.
  • Samtrans: $2 adult, $1.25 youth (37.5% discount) with no transfer.
  • VTA: $2 adult, $1.75 youth (12.5% discount) with no transfer.
  • AC Transit: $2.10 adult, $1.05 youth (50% discount) with additional $0.25 for one ride transfer.
 I've made my point.  REJECT FREE PASSES FOR KIDS.