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Banning cars on SF’s Market Street, once a radical idea, approved unanimously

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1of8Commuters wait at a stop light on Market Street in San Francisco, California, on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019.Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle
2of8Bicyclists could have a much easier time navigating Market Street if San Francisco transportation officials approve an ambitious plan that would ban cars on a significant segment of the city’s main civic artery.Photo: Photos by Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
3of8Supporters of the Better Market Street plan rally at City Hall. The proposal, a decade in the works, could begin to reshape the street as soon as next year.Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
4of8Paul Valdez (right), Ride of Silence organizer, and Tony Ta of San Francisco hug after Valdez spoke on the steps of City Hall during a rally supporting the Better Market Street plan to remake the boulevard.Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
5of8Bicyclists ride along Market Street east of 10th Street on Tuesday, October 15, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
6of8Bicyclists and pedestrians wait on Market Street to cross 9th Street on Tuesday, October 15, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
7of8Mohammed Nuru, director of Public Works, speaks on the steps of City Hall during a rally supporting Better Market Street on Tuesday, October 15, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
8of8Laura Ruchinskas (center l to r), JUMP marketing manager and Carlos Villicana, JUMP marketing associate, both of San Francisco, cheer and applaud with others on the steps of City Hall as they listen to speakers during a rally supporting Better Market Street on Tuesday, October 15, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle

Banning cars on San Francisco’s Market Street may have once been a radical idea. But on Tuesday, the Municipal Transportation Agency board voted unanimously to do it, with undiluted support from just about everyone: bicycle activists, politicians, city bureaucrats, parents, health care workers, business owners, ride-hail companies and Mayor London Breed.

One message rang out loudly during a rally on City Hall steps and an hour-long hearing before the vote: Start building “Better Market Street” immediately, and then replicate it elsewhere.

The plan that kicked off nearly a decade ago will start construction in January, with a ban on private cars east of 10th street on the city’s downtown spine. It will restrict commercial loading on the street to certain hours, extend the Muni-only lane from Third to Main Street, widen sidewalks, replace the ancient bricks with concrete pavers and add a sidewalk-level bike path with a protective curb. Crews will also build a streetcar loop east of United Nations Plaza, allowing the F line to shuttle from Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf.

The first phase of this $604 million upgrade would extend from Fifth to Eighth streets, turning a strip of boarded-up storefronts into the locus of an urban renaissance. Ultimately, this collaboration between the city’s planning, public works and transportation departments will reconstruct the entire thoroughfare from Octavia Boulevard to Steuart Street, near the waterfront.

“It’s almost astonishing how well supported this is,” SFMTA board chair Malcolm Heinicke said before the vote. “Not just because it’s going to be beautiful and there will be trees. It’s supported because it will save people’s lives.”

Heinicke has touted Better Market for eight years, and on Tuesday he urged SFMTA to direct any available funds toward the project, so that it can beat its expected completion date of 2025. Market Street is among San Francisco’s busiest arteries, with 500,000 people walking along the strip daily and 650 riding bikes every hour during the peak commute. Its intersections are known for a high number of crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists.

Once the redesign is underway, drivers who steer their cars onto Market will risk a moving violation. Cars will still be able to cross Market at intersections.

Breed joined the chorus of enthusiasm for Better Market, sending a letter to the SFMTA board on Monday to endorse the project.

“After a lengthy public planning process that included hundreds of outreach meetings and conversations with stakeholders, the city has developed a design that will support Vision Zero safety goals, improve transit and transform Market Street for our next generation,” the mayor wrote. She asked the agency to start building the infrastructure as soon as possible, using new “quick-build” policies to cut through the bureaucratic morass that often slows projects down.

A reminder that it’s a matter of “when,” not “if,” the next big earthquake will strike. Learn how you can prepare and what to do in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster: https://t.co/LVr0jTmGZs https://t.co/vVTGyj4g0U

— London Breed (@LondonBreed) October 15, 2019

Advocates want to spread this new vision of urbanism to other parts of the city. Even as the plans awaited approval, SFMTA staff were studying what other roadways and intersections could be made car-free, and advocates have plenty of suggestions. City Hall politicians support the concept, too: Supervisor Matt Haney has called on the agency to look at the Tenderloin neighborhood — a treacherous maze of asphalt in a neighborhood of residential hotels — as a possible candidate for its next makeover.

“When we have a city that’s grown this much, the streets are being pushed to the brink,” said Marta Lindsey, spokeswoman for the pedestrian safety group Walk San Francisco. “It gets to the point where everyone sees this is not working. We can’t have all these vehicles and humans co-exist, anymore.”

Besides transforming the landscape aesthetically, this new infrastructure would bring dramatic social changes to the street. Bicyclists would no longer be unceremoniously dumped into traffic east of Eighth Street, and Muni buses would no longer get stuck behind a person being chauffeured to work in an Uber.

Market Street has always symbolized the disorienting social inequalities of San Francisco, a tech hub where homeless people sleep on the sidewalks and high-rise offices are packed against vacant and dilapidated buildings.

Politicians, developers and urban planners have tried to revamp and revitalize the street many times over the years, but their efforts always seemed to fall short. The arrival of Twitter, resurrection of the Strand Theater and even the new canopies over BART stations did little to reverse blight that had built up for decades.

But none of the previous developments was as ambitious as the proposal going before SFMTA Tuesday. Excluding private automobiles is “a bold statement” that would completely change the nature of the street, said Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. It would be the most significant makeover of Market since BART began tunneling in the 1960s.

“Market Street is by design our central boulevard, and it could be ... a street that reflects the best of our values: community justice, sustainability, elevating people and their daily experience above cars getting someplace quickly,” Wiedenmeier said.

He added: “We have an opportunity to send a message nationally and globally that Market Street represents where San Francisco’s priorities are.”

Earlier this year, Heinicke directed staff to study other city streets and recommend which ones could go car-free. The board applied the idea to a block of Octavia Boulevard in July, prohibiting cars on a road that bordered Patricia’s Green.

Heinicke’s call for proposals spurred an animated conversation on social media. Twitter users came up with their own list, which crossed wide swaths of the city. It included the Tenderloin, Valencia Street, John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, and the northbound side of Embarcadero. Some of these roads are known for brutal crashes, like the 2016 hit-and-run killing of 41-year-old Heather Miller, who was pedaling down John F. Kennedy Drive when a driver veered into the wrong lane and struck her.

“There are some streets that are just so obvious,” said bicycle activist Matt Brezina. He founded People Protected, a demonstration in which participants form a human chain along bike lanes that lack barriers to separate them from cars.

Brezina said the conditions on Market Street inspired him to start attending SFMTA board meetings, back when the project was starting to gestate.

“I rode (my bicycle) on Market every day to get to the office,” he said. “And I would think, ‘Why is this street so broken?’”

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rswan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @rachelswan


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A Surging Warren Faces Attacks From More Moderate 2020 Candidates

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Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren looks on as South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during Tuesday

Facing scrutiny from other candidates for the first time, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's policy positions were described as unrealistic and expensive by her rivals in the Democratic debate.

(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

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Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar To Endorse Bernie Sanders For President

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., speaks alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., outside the Capitol.

The two progressive congresswomen are part of "The Squad" — a quartet of freshman Democratic women of color who are popular with the party's base but who are frequent targets of Democrats and Trump.

(Image credit: Saul LOoeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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Why Renaissance Paintings Aren't as Green as They Used to Be

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The Italian late-Renaissance painter Angelo Bronzino spent two years on his 1591 painting “Noli me tangere,” or “Christ the gardener.” The oil-on-wood painting, which was commissioned by a man who wanted to adorn his father’s funeral chapel, would make any dead father proud, depicting a beefy Christ and Mary Magdalene dressed in vivid blues and greens. But if Bronzino saw the painting now, he would probably be sorely disappointed. Over the past four centuries, the once-brilliant green paint has faded into a mucky, unrecognizable brown.

Noli me tangere,” which hangs today in a gallery of the Louvre, is one of many Renaissance paintings that features a copper-based pigment called verdigris. When fresh, its shade of bluish green is rare and luminous. But like many pigments popular in the 15th through 17th centuries, verdigris is toxic and unstable, Arthur DiFuria, an art historian at the Savannah College of Art and Design, explained in an interview with Copper.org, the website of a trade group that represents the copper industry. By the 19th century, verdigris had fallen out of fashion—mostly due to its poisonous nature—but no one ever figured out why the brilliant green pigment darkened so severely. Now, researchers in France have sleuthed the chemistry behind verdigris’s shadowy tendencies in a study in Inorganic Chemistry published in September, 2019.

In Jean Fouquet’s "<em>Pietà</em>," the dark coat of the man on the left was originally a bright green.
In Jean Fouquet’s “Pietà,” the dark coat of the man on the left was originally a bright green. Public Domain

To anyone living in the 21st century, it might not be obvious that Renaissance paintings were once much colorful than they look now. “If you look at the paintings of, say, Leonardo da Vinci, they are very, very dark,” says Didier Gourier, a chemist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and an author of the study. “But they didn’t always look this way.”

Gourier knew that past researchers had speculated that light exposure and oxygen may have contributed to the darkening process, and he decided to analyze the chemical changes that took place in the verdigris. Though they had a plethora of paintings to choose from, the researchers selected two Renaissance paintings from the Louvre: Bronzino’s “Noli me tangere” and Jean Fouquet’s “Pietà.” Both works used plenty of verdigris that had sallowed over the years. Gourier took several samples, each smaller than a millimeter, and ran them through an electron microscope.

Presented with incredibly high-resolution images of the paint chips, they contrasted the color changes in verdigris sampled from the center of Bronzino’s painting against verdigris sampled right next to the frame, a shaded area that would have offered protection from light. Their suspicions were proven right when they found the frame-protected paint was far less deteriorated. When Gourier magnified a cracked paint sample from “Pietà,” he found that each crack had darkened, likely due to the diffusion of oxygen in the cracks. “The darkening is not systematic,” Gourier says. This inconsistency helps researchers pick out now-brown verdigris from originally brown paint, he says.

Microsamples taken from Bronzino's painting,<em>Noli me tangere</em> show vastly different levels of deterioration.
Microsamples taken from Bronzino’s painting,Noli me tangere show vastly different levels of deterioration. C2RMF, Inorganic Chemistry

To chemically confirm their theories, the researchers decided to recreate verdigris according to a medieval formula and see how they darkened over an accelerated time scale. “We had to speed up the darkening, because a painting in the Renaissance period would have taken several hundreds of years to darken,” Gourier says. “We calculated that 16 hours of LED illumination corresponds with several hundreds of years of illumination by museum light.”

Verdigris, technically known as copper acetate, has a simple recipe. Simply place metallic copper in vinegar and wait three or four weeks for the metal to react with the acid, producing blue-green copper acetate on its surface. (The Statue of Liberty appears blue-green for the same reason.) The researchers mixed the pigment with boiled linseed oil to make paint, as was the custom in the Renaissance. Gourier then placed the recreated verdigris on a thin sheet of glass to allow (simulated) centuries of light to pass through the sample. As if on cue, the gaudy verdigris darkened into muddled brown, just as the researchers expected.

Though Gourier intentionally selected two paintings with poorly-aged verdigris, the pigment can be detected a little more clearly on other famous works of Renaissance art. Chemical analysis is required to know for sure that a particular painting used verdigris (and it goes without saying that a permit to sample a 15th-century masterpiece is not easily acquired), but the charismatic green can be spotted in several works by Sandro Botticelli, such as the resplendently verdant “The Mystical Nativity,” which depicts—you guessed it—Christ and the Virgin Mary. DiFuria also suspects that Jan van Eyck’s green-sheened “Ghent Altarpiece” uses verdigris. The greens in these paintings are presumably less prismatic than they would have been several centuries ago, but they still, somehow, seem to glow.


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Restoring the Salvator Mundi

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I first saw the Salvator Mundi on April 27, 2005. A longtime friend, an art historian and dealer in Italian Old Master paintings, brought it to the apartment I shared with my husband, Mario Modestini. He had just received it from a New Orleans auction house and was hoping that I would agree to restore it. As is now well known, the Salvator Mundi was later recognized as a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, and in 2017 it became the most expensive painting ever sold, bringing in $450.3 million at auction at Christie’s. But it was Mario, in the last months before his death, who first recognized the power of this disquieting portrait of divinity—a persona unseeing, all-knowing, eternal, pitiless, like the universe itself. After all that has happened since that day in April—the sale, the debates over authenticity, the accusations of manipulation—I often wonder what Mario would say about the doubters.

As my husband was, I am a restorer of Old Master paintings. I am good at it and treat my responsibility with the utmost gravity. The restoration of a badly damaged painting, especially when it is by a very great artist, always arouses criticism, not least from oneself. It is, unavoidably, an interpretation, like a musical performance except some of the notes are missing. All you have to go on are the well-preserved areas of original paint. These are sacrosanct.

While restoring the Salvator Mundi—work that I began in April 2005 and finished in September 2010—I made sure that my feeble retouches never masked these precious traces. To match the original paint, I built up the retouches in thin layers in the same sequence used by Leonardo. Fearful of covering any original paint, I used the tiny 000 sable watercolor brushes made by Winsor & Newton. Each brushstroke was carefully judged, based on knowledge of similar works and the formal structure of adjoining passages.

Even so, many of the gadflies who make their living on the fringes of the scholarly art world appear to believe that a restorer—in this instance, me—is capable of creating the Salvator Mundi. I suppose I should be flattered. One well-regarded art historian repeated this absurd notion in her soon-to-be published book on Leonardo. As Mario used to say, “She must be blind.”

The power of this disquieting portrait of divinity—a persona unseeing, all-knowing, eternal, pitiless.

It is now 500 years since the death of Leonardo and fewer than 20 paintings have been attributed to him. Many of them were not documented in his lifetime, and there are numerous copies by his followers. New attributions have always been contested and, understandably, must meet the highest standards. In 2008, after three years of examination, a majority of the National Gallery’s panel of experts accepted the Salvator Mundi, justifying its display in the museum’s 2011–12 exhibition.They responded to the magisterially painted blessing hand; the ringlet curls on the left, identical to those in Saint John the Baptist; the rendering of the hand refracted through the crystal sphere, with its accurately described inclusions; and the many-layered buildup of the flesh tones.

In 2017, the Salvator Mundi, Latin for “Savior of the World,” sold at auction for $450.3 million.

Since the sale, the painting has disappeared from public view and cannot speak for itself, leaving hacks and gossip-mongers to advance any tale or theory they choose. One of these is that the Louvre does not wish to include the painting in its exhibition on Leonardo—opening later this month—because its curators do not accept the attribution. I know with absolute certainty that this is pure fabrication. The reason for the Salvator Mundi’s absence from the Louvre show resides with the painting’s likely new owner, Saudi prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. (Most recently, the painting was scheduled to be unveiled at the Louvre’s Abu Dhabi outpost, before its display there, too, was postponed indefinitely.)

I cannot deny that my privileged relationship with the Salvator Mundi—in this post-truth era—has been difficult. But after the nonsense has run its course, that trance-like gaze, confined by the dimensions of the panel yet exploding from it, will remain: the most supreme representation of spirituality that has ever been painted. This is what my husband, Mario, saw; what transfixed me; and what I humbly sought to restore. —Dianne Modestini


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WeWork pulls thousands of phone booths out of service over formaldehyde scare

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WeWork, the co-working empire once valued at $47 billion before reality struck, plunging the business and its investors into crisis, has another problem to add to its growing pile — one which doesn’t exactly reflect well on its core business of kitting out and maintaining modern working environments.

The problem is a safety concern affecting users of WeWork co-working spaces in the U.S. and Canada. Today the company emailed members in the regions to warn that around 1,600 phone booths installed at WeWork locations have been found to have elevated levels of formaldehyde — which it warns could cause health issues for people exposed to the gas.

WeWork blames the issue on a manufacturer of the booths.

The booths are provided in its co-working spaces for WeWork members to be able to take calls in private — given other common areas are shared by all users. 

“After a member informed us of odor and eye irritation, WeWork performed an analysis, including having an outside consultant conduct a series of tests on a sampling of phone booths. Upon receiving results late last week, we began to take all potentially impacted phone booths out of service,” it writes in an email to members.

Affected phone booths “are being taken out of service immediately, and will be removed from your location as soon as possible,” it adds. 

In addition to ~1,600 booths it has confirmed are affected, a further 700 booths are being taken out of service in what WeWork describes as “an abundance of caution” — i.e. while it carries out more checks — with the promise of a further update once it has concluded its tests. 

Members wanting to know which booths are safe to use in the meanwhile are told to contact the community team at their WeWork location.

WeWork also says alternative quiet spaces will be provided, such as in conference rooms and unused offices. 

Discussing the health risks of formaldehyde gas — a chemical which is used in various building materials –WeWork’s email warns: “Short-term exposure to formaldehyde at elevated levels may cause acute temporary irritation of the nose, throat, and respiratory system, including coughing or wheezing. These effects are typically transient and usually subside after removal of the formaldehyde source.

“Long-term exposure to formaldehyde, such as that experienced by workers in jobs who experience high concentrations over many years, has been associated with certain types of cancers. You can find additional information in this FAQ from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

The email encourages any WeWork members with health concerns to contact a doctor.

A tipster who sent us the email reported experiencing a sensation of “burning eyes” after using the booths.

They also said several people in their team had experienced the same issue.

“Some complained that they felt nauseous after spending time inside the booths,” the tipster wrote. “I never felt that, but the burning eyes was 100% there for me several times. Scary stuff.”

Reached for comment, a WeWork spokesperson confirmed the formaldehyde issue, saying it’s taking “a number” of booths out of service at “some” locations in the U.S. and Canada — due to “potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde caused by the manufacturer.”

“The safety and well-being of our members is our top priority, and we are working to remedy this situation as quickly as possible,” it adds in a statement.

It is not clear exactly how many WeWork locations contain affected booths at this point.

Nor has WeWork provided more detailed information about how long members might have been exposed to elevated levels of formaldehyde — with its email merely suggesting some of the booths have been in place for “months.” 

“The potentially impacted phone booths have been installed over the past few months, exact timing varies based on location,” it writes.

Although clearly the level of exposure will vary from person to person depending on their use of the booths.

The company did not respond to a question asking whether any of its international WeWork locations are affected by the issue.

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