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A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works

In the Works

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January  2022

Using controlled fire to eradicate pesky weeds on San Francisco’s medians has become a flaming success.

FEATURE STORIES

A Hot Idea for Weed Control

Public Works’ landscape maintenance crews utilize an innovative weed-control technique known as flaming, which reduces the reliance on chemical herbicides to get the job done.

Chinatown Spruce Up
for the Lunar New Year

To welcome the Year of the Water Tiger, Public Works cleaning, pothole repair and inspection teams are hard at work in San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown to help the neighborhood roar into the Lunar New Year that starts Feb 1.

New Streetscape Makeovers
to Boost Safety

To make the streets safer, two projects are set to get underway: Safer Taylor and the Sixth Street Pedestrian Safety Project.

Tenderloin Emergency Initiative Aims to Improve the Neighborhood

After Mayor London Breed declared a State of Emergency in the Tenderloin, Public Works joined a unified roster of City departments to bring positive change to the neighborhood.

A Welcome Revamp
of a Bayview Playground

San Francisco’s newest playground overhaul came to life in the Bayview neighborhood this month. The renovation offers visitors an expanded play area for kids, new exercise equipment, a nature exploration zone and much more.

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A                Idea for Weed Control

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Getting rid of weeds isn’t exactly most people’s idea of a good time. There’s the old-fashioned way – the slow, painstaking process of getting down on your hands and knees and yanking the unwanted plants from the ground one by one. Weed-whacker machines and herbicides speed up the process, but they have their drawbacks, as well. Employing these methods in an average-sized yard is difficult and time consuming enough, but with the amount of ground that Public Works needs to cover, we have to get creative with our approach.

That’s why our integrated pest management team incorporated a weed abatement method known as flaming into its repertoire in 2019.

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Weed flaming is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – aiming a flame at weeds in order to kill them before they can grow and spread. It might sound like an extreme approach, but flaming has been shown to be one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly methods of weed control and is a favored tactic in organic farming.

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Public Works uses flaming on our landscaped medians across the City. This past month, crews were out on Divisadero Street in the Western Addition and along Broadway in Russian Hill and Chinatown.

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Here’s how it works: a propane-powered flame is held over a specific spot for just a second or two in order to singe but not burn the weed. Singeing the weed does enough damage to rupture its cells and prevent it from growing any larger. Holding the flame over one spot for too long can be dangerous and runs the risk of starting a fire, making the job of the torch operator especially important.

To ensure that Public Works’ Bureau of Urban Forestry landscape maintenance crews were prepared and comfortable with this new method, Senior Integrated Pest Management Specialist Nikki Mixon collaborated with a specialized trainer to create a program to keep crews and their work zones safe. On a brisk morning in early 2019, Mixon brought her team out to Sunset Boulevard to demonstrate proper flaming technique and safety protocols. Then, each person tried out the flamer under supervision.

In addition to this initial training exercise, all team members are re-trained annually on proper equipment care, flaming technique and safety protocols.

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Why is flaming worth all this training and preparation? First of all, it is the only weed abatement method that creates no debris and leaves the soil completely intact, eliminating the need for cleanup work. Since it does not involve the use of herbicides that can be harmful to soil, plants, humans and other animals, flaming also is one of the more environmentally friendly weed abatement methods.

Flaming is most effective when weeds are in the early stages of development – between

1 and 4 inches in length – and safest in cooler, wetter conditions. This allows our integrated pest management team to begin tackling San Francisco’s weeds in winter, when conditions are ideal, and weeds are small and relatively weak.

This technique does have a few limitations, namely the small but lingering possibility of flames unintentionally spreading outside the target area and the limited speed at which it can be employed. Due to these limitations, Public Works currently only uses flaming on planted medians, where the risk of fire spreading beyond control is extremely low.

Flaming is a useful addition to Public Works’ repertoire of methods to keep our city’s public spaces clean, beautiful and the right kind of green. So please don’t be alarmed if you see our expert integrated pest management team members carefully wielding a torch a few inches above some unruly weeds along a median.

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Public Works’ street cleaners power wash the iconic Dragon Gate at Grant and Bush streets at the southern edge of Chinatown.

Chinatown Spruce Up
for the Lunar New Year

To welcome the Year of the Water Tiger, Public Works cleaning, pothole repair and inspection teams are hard at work in San Francisco’s historic Chinatown to help the neighborhood roar into the Lunar New Year that starts Feb 1. 

Street cleaning crews are power washing the Dragon Gate at Grant and Bush streets, sprucing up the Broadway Tunnel, removing litter, painting out graffiti and steam cleaning sidewalks and alleyways.

Pothole crews with our Bureau of Street and Sewer Repair smooth the roads in Chinatown.

In addition, street repair crews are conducting a pothole-repair blitz throughout the neighborhood to provide smooth and safe roads for people who walk, bike, drive and take transit in Chinatown. At the same time, urban forestry crews are surveying the neighborhood to make sure street trees are maintained and skilled painters are repainting the dragon lamp posts along Grant Avenue between Bush and Broadway streets.


Chinatown bustles with shoppers during the Lunar New Year season. In order to have a safe and fun holiday experience for everyone, Public Works deployed a special inspections operation in the weeks leading up to the holiday to ensure that sidewalk merchandise displays provide the necessary access for safe pedestrian passage. 


San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest of its kind outside of Asia. It is also one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the United States.

Public Works’ painters touch up the decorative dragon light posts on Grant Avenue.

“The annual Lunar New Year festivities are a source of pride not just for the Chinatown community but for all of San Francisco, and Public Works is honored to do our part to help this iconic neighborhood look its best,” said interim Public Works Director Carla Short. “With the New Year comes a renewed commitment to work hand-in-hand with our community partners to love our city.”

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A rendering of the Sixth Street makeover.

New Streetscape Makeovers
to Boost Safety

Each year in San Francisco, approximately 30 people lose their lives and hundreds more are severely injured while traveling on City streets – a devastating toll when you consider the people the numbers represent.

To make the streets safer, the City has adopted a citywide Vision Zero policy, with the goals to build better and less dangerous streets, educate the public on traffic safety, enforce traffic laws and adopt policy changes that save lives.

Street redesign is a key component. To that end, two projects are set to get underway in the coming months: Safer Taylor, which runs along Taylor Street between Turk and Ellis streets in downtown San Francisco; and the Sixth Street Pedestrian Safety Project in the South of Market that focuses on Sixth Street, between Market and Howard streets, and the intersection at Sixth and Bryant streets.

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Conceptual drawing shows new bikes lanes and safer pedestrian crossings on Sixth Street.

Safer Taylor will provide transportation safety and streetscape improvements that include sidewalk widening, more visible pedestrian crosswalks, corner bulb-outs to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians and new traffic signals. It also will include decorative paving, new street trees and street furnishings. Construction is set to start in March.


The Sixth Street makeover also will bring sidewalk widening, new pedestrian crosswalks, corner bulb-outs, and traffic signal upgrades. Other improvements include pedestrian-scale lighting and streetscape enhancements, such as decorative paving and a new gateway to showcase the corridor. Construction will start in February.

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Rendering depicts planned streetscape changes for downtown Taylor Street.

Both projects, managed by Public Works, are set to wrap up in early 2024. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency serves a collaborative partner.
 

The Taylor and Sixth Street upgrades are just the latest in streetscape improvements overseen by Public Works to elevate safety for people who take transit, drive, walk and bike in San Francisco. Other completed streetscapes include Lombard Street, Irving Street, Second Street, California Street, Castro Street, Cesar Chavez Street, Folsom Street, Jefferson Street and Masonic Avenue. Learn more about our streetscape projects.

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The Public Works street cleaning team tackles trash on the 200 block of Hyde Street, which had been swept just hours before.

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Tenderloin Emergency Initiative
Aims to Improve the Neighborhood

San Francisco’s Tenderloin, home to families, immigrants, workers and seniors, long has been a neighborhood faced with times of crisis, pocked with violent crime, open-air drug dealing and an epidemic of drug overdoses. 

The problems have worsened over the past few years and accelerated during the pandemic. To address the untenable challenges, Mayor London Breed, with the consent of the Board of Supervisors, declared a State of Emergency, which allows the City to take expedited action to address the problems.


The Tenderloin Emergency Initiative has four objectives:

  • Get both housed and unhoused people to the services they need

  • Improve safety

  • Reduce crime

  • Increase investment in the community

Public Works joins many City departments in this unified effort, including the Department of Public Health, Police Department, Fire Department and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The City’s Department of Emergency Management is coordinating the all-hands approach.


Public Works has been involved on two key fronts: providing increased street cleaning in the neighborhood and helping to get a new Linkage Center, which connects people in need with services, up and running. 

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Cleaning crews use rakes, brooms and shovels to pick up trash

Encompassing 49 square blocks and a population nearing 30,000, the Tenderloin is one of the most densely packed neighborhoods in San Francisco. It also is one of the most trashed. Even before the emergency initiative, our street cleaning crews were on the ground around the clock. But once a block was cleaned, it did not stay that way for very long. Today, as part of the mayor’s initiative, the street cleaners are more focused on the neighborhood.

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Street cleaning efforts in the Tenderloin include the safe disposal of discarded used needles and sidewalk steam cleaning.

Since the Dec. 13 start of the Tenderloin Emergency Initiative, Public Works street cleaning crews responded to more than nearly 2,500 service requests, removed 1,150 tons of waste and power washed 800 locations in the neighborhood. That’s on top of the garbage removed by the nonprofit Tenderloin Community Benefit District street cleaning team.


Architecture and project management teams from our Building Design and Construction Division and trades workers from our Operations Division’s electrical, flooring, glass and lock shops all worked together to help deliver the City’s first Linkage Center.

The new Linkage Center at U.N. Plaza provides a pathway to services.

Public Works project manager Marc Macaraeg said the biggest challenge was coming up with a suitable site and procuring the needed materials in a short timeframe, as the Emergency Declaration allowed. In the end, they got the job got done. 


“If this project helps a lot of people or even a handful, it can make a positive difference,” said Macaraeg.


Public Works architect Dirk Kellum said that before he set out to design the Linkage Center’s outdoor space, he walked around the neighborhood and saw firsthand the challenges on the street. “It can get pretty bad out there. It’s tough,” he said. “The people on the street are someone’s daughter, or son, or brother or sister. If we can get people help, that’s a win for everyone.”


Located in a repurposed building on the southern edge of the Tenderloin at UN Plaza, the Linkage Center is a services-driven operation targeting people struggling with addiction and behavioral health problems. The low-barrier facility at 1172 Market St. provides a safe, welcoming space for those ready to access San Francisco's health and human service resources easily and quickly. 


Basic services such as hot food; water; laundry facilities, bathrooms and showers, as well as free personal protective equipment, are available at the center. On-site staff also can connect clients to an array of programs and services, such as substance use treatment, therapy, behavior health care, vocational support and transitional housing.

The program is gaining traction, with nearly 300 people now accessing the Linkage Center every day.


The Emergency Declaration allowed the City to fast-track the project with the dual goals of providing people a place to get much-needed help and to create a safer, healthier and more livable environment for the larger Tenderloin community.

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A colorful new climbing structure serves as the centerpiece of the reimagined children’s play space.

A Welcome Revamp of a Bayview Playground

San Francisco’s newest playground makeover came to life in the Bayview neighborhood this month.

The $6 million Bayview/K.C. Jones Playground renovation offers visitors an expanded, fun-packed play area for kids, new exercise equipment for grownups, a welcoming walking path, an improved ballfield, a nature exploration zone and places to picnic.

Designers created a bioretention area to filter and store stormwater to keep native plants and vegetation nourished, while taking pressure off of the sewer system to minimize flooding during big storms. An additional 29 new trees also took root; they are not only beautiful, but they also help combat climate change.

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Neighborhood kids try out the new play structures.

Public Works’ engineers provided structural, geotechnical and irrigation design services. Our Building Design and Construction team oversaw construction. The playground is part of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s impressive portfolio of parks, playgrounds and recreation centers, many of them designed and construction-managed by Public Works.

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The playground landscaping provides a welcoming environment for visitors of all ages.

The Bayview/K.C. Jones Playground project broke ground in fall 2020; Mayor London Breed led the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 22.

The Bayview/K.C. Jones Playground, at Third Street and Carroll Avenue, sits adjacent to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Pool, and is popular with people of all ages. On weekends, the playground is packed with young families. Early weekday mornings draw groups of seniors walking the scenic paved path.

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Kenny Buncum Jr. power washes the sidewalk around a ballot drop box outside the Glen Park Library.

Handy New Way to Vote in SF

Voting is a bedrock of a strong democracy, and the City’s Department of Elections is working to make casting a ballot even more convenient with the placement of 34 official ballot drop boxes across the City.

Public Works has been pitching in to make the program a success. Our sheet metal workers securely installed the ballot boxes earlier this month, and our power-washing crews are providing extra cleaning on the sidewalks around them through the Feb. 15 consolidated special municipal election.

 

Learn more about the ballot drop box initiative here.

Thanks for reading!