House Projects: Drawers for Upstairs Bedroom

You’re reading part of a series of posts covering all the projects I’ve done for our Lower Haight victorian house. I was going to write a post about assorted drawer and shelving projects, but it turned out that this one bedroom drawer project was big enough to warrant its own post. 

The previous post on furniture covered my two projects to build beds for a hard-to-furnish room with sloping walls. The beds are on the west-facing wall. When we moved into the house, the opposite east-facing wall had low cabinets. The cabinets just opened into an empty space defined by the cabinet doors, the floor and the 45° wall. Better than nothing, but only barely. For the first couple years I think we just put empty suitcases and other infrequently used bulky items in there. I tried putting a single shelf in, but that didn’t help much and just made the lower space even harder to use efficiently.

I resolved to improve on this by getting rid of the cabinet doors and building 12 drawers instead. My vision for the outcome was that the drawers would be push-to-open with no visible handles and look like an almost seamless slab of oak drawer fronts with the grid outline of the 12 drawers only faintly visible. And I would achieve this with the cheapest Chinese push-to-open drawer slides I could find and using just a cheap circular saw with a Kreg jig. In other words, the project would require extreme precision and accuracy, but be built with crummy tools and bad drawer hardware.

As with some of the furniture projects in the previous post I conceived of this before I had begun absorbing the wisdom of woodworking YouTube. And the resulting first version was as bad as you might expect. The drawers are very wide at 36” and not very stiff so the cheap side-mounted push-to-open slides never had a chance of working well. You’d push on a drawer to try and open it, and the slide on one side (but not the other) would “open”, leaving the drawer askew. Higher-quality slides from manufacturers like BLUM have push-to-open mechanisms that link the two slides on either side of the drawer to make sure they’re both doing the same thing. But I didn’t know about such finesse before starting.

My friend Jon and I figuring out the drawer fronts. It’s an old house and nothing is plumb or level. Notice the “sheer slab” concept kinda working for the 3 leftmost drawers, although that eventually had to be abandoned.

I eventually gave up on the push-to-open slides and installed normal side-mounted slides and added drawer pulls. I also had to space the drawers out more so that the fronts don’t rub and catch on one another, making the “seamless slab” not very seamless with relatively noticeable gaps between the fronts. The drawers still look fine, though, and provide huge amounts of storage space for our kids’ clothes.

Finished drawers with clothes and more for 3 kids. I’ve installed LED light strips to make it easier to see what’s going on

Some more notes:

  • I built the drawers from baltic birch which was excessive, but such a great material. I wish I could just build everything from baltic birch
  • I used 1/2” plywood, but should  probably used 3/4” for greater stiffnes because the drawers are so large
  • I also used 1/2” plywood for the drawer bottoms. This doesn’t make sense in retrospect: 1/4” is almost always good enough for drawer bottoms. Thicker material for bottoms doesn’t add much rigidity, costs more and makes the drawer much heavier and harder to handle. The 36” x 24” bottom drawers are very heavy even empty. They work great, but taking them in and out for repairs or changes is a chore
  • If you’re serious about building drawers you should buy a table saw, or at least a real track saw. By the time I had built all 12 drawers but before making the oak drawer fronts I caved and bought a $230 Dewalt compact job-site table saw and it’s great.
  • Because I built the drawers with just a circular saw none of the sides or backs are exactly the same height. Not that it matters much.
  • Building drawers, especially ones mounted with side-mounted drawer slides requires a lot of precision for the width of the drawer or the slides either bind (too wide) or won’t mount (too narrow). I had to variously slim-down or shim out some of the drawers to make them work, which was very tedious
  • I built the drawers into the four slots where the cabinet doors previously were. This definitely saved me some detail work and painting, but I still had to spend a lot of time making walls to mount the slides on. And it also meant I had to build very wide drawers, which is not always ideal. The alternative would have been to rip out the face frames from the cabinets and build it from scratch, giving me greater control over drawer width and other dimensions. This is something I find I tend to do: always improve on and build within whatever’s there, instead of tearing out and starting over. It’s probably because I’d like to have the option of going back in case whatever I’m doing doesn’t pan out.
  • I built 3 drawers for each of the 4 bays, yielding 12 drawers: long ones at the bottom, shorter ones at the top. And there are cubbies on top where no usable drawers could be had. The drawers are relatively deep, and one regret I have is not building 4×4 slightly shallower drawers for even more space. But not a huge regret.

This the first major drawer project I did, and I learned a lot. I’ve since built many more drawers, both using side-mounted slides and much better bottom-mounted BLUM slides. And while I’ve gotten better, I still find the process tedious and error prone. But the results are worth it.

House Projects: Furniture

We moved into our two-level victorian condo in Lower Haight in 2017 and I really like it. I’ve made a number of improvements and built assorted furniture for the condo in the years since. Some of these projects I’ve written about in separate posts, but I wanted to build a complete catalogue. I’m also adding a rating for each project to try and summarize the outcome and whether it was worth the effort.

This post will cover just the furniture’ish that I’ve built. I’ll follow up with more posts on other house projects.

Let me know in the comments if there are projects you’d like to see covered in a full post.

Low-profile Bed

One of the upstairs bedrooms has walls that slope all the way to the floor, making it somewhat challenging to furnish. I built a queen-size bed frame from pieces of large 4” x 6” oak lumber (insert Pulp Fiction reference) with 4” hairpin legs. For the mattress supports, I used IKEA LURÖY slats resting on side-rails and tension-rods scavenged from the cheapest IKEA bed kit I could find. I’ve used the IKEA slat approach for more beds since (see below) and I think it works well.

I did this project way back in 2017 before I discovered all the great woodworking content on YouTube and it was during a period where I was obsessed with mitered corners. The result was not incredibly sophisticated, but it worked and looked just fine. The bed served as our 2nd guest bed for a couple of years before the room was converted into kids bedroom. It worked as advertised and meant we could have a queen-size bed and still have usable space in an otherwise hard-to-furnish room. The bed is currently in pieces and stored in the garage. 

Rating: B. Relatively simple and effective build, but ultimately didn’t see much use.

Very low bed frame ready for mattress

Double Bed for Kids

The low-profile bed was eventually replaced by a series of cribs and kids-beds. With the advent of our 3rd kid it was desirable if the two older ones (currently 2 and 4) could both sleep in that hard-to-furnish bedroom. The length of the room is almost exactly 150”, which is two twin mattresses placed end-to-end. A bunk bed is not really a good option because of the sloping ceiling. Something like the stackable IKEA UTÅKER would have been great but they add too much length to the mattress and wouldn’t have fit end-to-end.

I built two identical 75” long bed frames. The sides are made out of 1/2” plywood, and the stringers are 3/4” plywood. I only used LURÖY slats and no IKEA metal frame or tensioner. The slats rest on 1”x1” oak strips that I had left over from some other project. The strips are glued and pin-nailed to the sides. I should have made the sides from 3/4” plywood too, but at least the thin plywood made it easy to carry the beds up. The glued-on slat-rests are probably the weakest part but so far they’ve held up to the boys jumping around on the beds.

Bed frame ready to go. Note the lack of headboard to make it fit

For mattresses I went with thin IKEA ÅGOTNES. Keeping the bed+mattress height low means the beds can be close to the sloping wall/ceiling, preserving floor space. I suspect we’ll get more comfy mattresses later, but they’re currently subjected to pee and other accidents so something cheap seemed fine. And between the springy slats and the mattresses the beds are not hard at all.

The beds have four big 38” deep drawers between them. They’re very low to the floor and not the most ergonomic thing, but I suspect they’ll be used for toys and they’re fine for kids to get stuff in-and-out-of.

One realization I had laying on the finished beds is that, what I thought of as one of the smallest rooms in the house, is actually quite big—at least by floor area. It doesn’t seem big for an adult standing in the middle of the room, constrained by standing height. But it’s big if you’re not as tall or can lay down or sit in the parts with low ceilings.

Another un-planned for benefit of the bed design is that—while the boys are still small and don’t take up much room—I can comfortably sleep in the middle of the bed straddling the two mattresses whenever one of them is having a bad dream.

Rating: A. Still new, but good use of space.

Beds placed end-to-end in room.

Planters on Patio

We have a good-size roof-deck/patio. I grew up in the suburbs with lots of plants and garden stuff, so I wanted to try and re-create some of that. The patio is also pretty windy in the afternoons so I wanted to see if plants could help shield that. To that end I wanted to build really large, terraced planter boxes.

They actually ended up working and are still there 7 years on. There’s a stable of small trees and some roses, and a bunch of spring flower bulbs that always show up. The rest varies more: some years I make an effort and put in new plants, others not. During the pandemic I also grew some vegetables, including potatoes, but raccoons and other pests ate much of it. 

There are lots of things I would have done differently:

  • Made from redwood planks: Good idea, has held up well to dirt and wet conditions. Treated on the inside with linseed oil for extra durability
  • Made from 1” thick redwood with no frame: Bad idea, not at all sturdy enough and can barely hold screws. I think at this point they’re more held together by force-of-habit than anything else and I’ll eventually have to re-enforce with metal brackets or similar.
  • Mounted on small caster wheels: Decent idea because it gets the planter off the deck so it can air out and stay dry, and because I can move the planters around to clean. Some of the wheels have now seized up though, and moving is getting harder. Should have maybe opted for bigger, hardier wheels
  • Inlaid water tubes for irrigation: Decent idea because it keeps the deck looking neat with just one ring of irrigation tube running around the very edge. But hard to make leak-free. Also, I thought it was important to have several “layers” of irrigation tubes at different soil depths to make sure deep roots would get water too. Spoiler: gravity can take care of that for you and I ended up having to excavate and plug those deeper water lines because they mostly just leaked out the bottom
  • Miter corners: Again with the miters… As anyone with any woodworking experience will probably tell you, trying to make something requiring precision from 1” softwood boards is completely futile because they bend and warp all over the place. At least I realized this after building the first box, and the other ones have saner butt-jointed corners 

Rating: A. Lots of enjoyment from this one, and makes the deck feel much less sterile.

Planter on deck! I built two of these large ones, and several more smaller ones. The redwood has weathered to a nice gray over the years.

Shoe-storage cabinet in hallway

We have a narrow hallway and a desperate need for storage for shoes, sun screen, hats and other knick·knacks. So I wanted a slim storage cabinet to hang on the wall.

What I built is really just an “IKEA hack” for the plastic IKEA TRONES shoe cabinets. I put together 6 (3×2-packs) and wrapped them in 1” oak planks. I also built this in my miter-corner phase, but despite that it works well and looks pretty good. This is a piece of furniture we use every day.

Rating: A.

Shoe storage with IKEA TRONES. Paint cans are just for holding it up while mounting.

Dining Table

I actually built this originally for my apartment in Nob Hill. It’s made out of oak veneer plywood and hairpin legs, and was my first serious woodworking project. I think it was originally fully 8’ long (the length of a plywood sheet) but I had to shorten it for our new smaller condo dining room. It got some dings and scrapes when we moved so I painted it.

Rating: B. The plywood was not high quality and I almost sanded through the top ply. The sides also had voids, although I addressed that with the painting.

Dining table in original long guise in my old apartment in Nob Hill

Pandemic Desks

When COVID hit we had one sort-of usable home-office desk, although we had never used it much. This was at the point where you couldn’t get anything, including anything related to home working. Luckily I had some good-size plywood pieces and giant shelf-brackets laying around, so I was able to quickly improvise a couple of solid wall-mounted desks. This desk-style is very inflexible of course, but it’s also nice because it doesn’t block floor space.

Rating: B. Temporary measure until supply chains got un-gummed and we could get height-adjustable desks.

US 220V Kitchen Outlet for Kettle

This is the second post in a 2-part series. Read part 1 on installing an 8kW under-sink water heater in our kitchen. And if your takeaway from these posts is that I have an unhealthy obsession with heating up water then… maybe you’re right. But as laid in the Technology Connections video below, boiling water is such a foundational kitchen activity and making it fast is worth it.

Between the under sink water and our new induction range, getting water boiling in a pot for pasta is now pretty fast. But what if I want to make a cup of hot chocolate or tea? For that I’ve always used an electric kettle, and it beats an old-fashioned kettle (even on the induction stove). But coming from Europe and 3000W kettles, American 110-120V kettles are something of a let down because they top out at about 1500W. Some outlets in the US can provide up to 20A and power in excess of 2000W but I’ve never seen a US kettle that takes advantage of that.

So what to do?

  1. Install 220-240V outlet in kitchen
  2. Buy and ship 240V kettle from Europe
  3. Snip euro plug off kettle cord and attach US-style plug
  4. Boil water!

The US has a standard-size 220-240V 20A receptacle type called NEMA 6-20R. It’s like a normal 3-prong outlet, but with the prongs turned 90° to prevent accidental insertion of incompatible devices. Unfortunately you can’t get GFCI variants of those, so for kitchen applications you’re strictly speaking supposed to wire them up with a GFCI-breaker in your electrical panel. Other than that, the US 220-240V outlets fit into normal electrical boxes and install the same way. You obviously have to run a pair of wires from your electrical panel, and I ran ours when wiring for the induction range and under-sink water heater.

For the kettle I just went on and and to find some sane-looking 3000W kettle. I opted for a Russell Hobbs one from the UK, but any kettle will work. Then wait for it to travel across the Atlantic and replace the giant UK-style plug with a US-style one from Amazon (I don’t actually know if doing that is a code violation and I’m definitely not recommending you do it, but it worked for me!).

Snipping off the UK plug

That’s all! I didn’t time the new kettle vs our old one, but going by power output it’s twice as fast which seems about right. And considering how annoying it is to wait for water to boil, the upgrade was well worth it for me.

Under-sink Water Heater

This is the first of two posts about heating water in our kitchen. This post is about the tankless water heater I installed under our kitchen sink. The second post will cover how to make electric kettles fast in the US.

My starting point is our 130-year old San Francisco victorian house. The water heater is in the garage on the ground floor and our kitchen is on the 2nd floor. I assume the hot water pipes were retrofitted at some point, and they take a meandering route from one side of the house to the other before making their way to the kitchen, including a run on the outside of the building envelope where they’re only haphazardly insulated (I added the insulation). This meant a wait of several minutes from turning on the hot faucet to when actual hot water came out (and yes, lots of wasted water)1.

The hot water lines to different parts of the house also don’t form a “loop”, and instead branch out close to the water heater, with independent lines going to the kitchen, washer and bathrooms. With that in mind I didn’t want to install a hot water recirculation system: It would only really have helped in one place and the energy loss from hot water continuously circulating in pipes outside the house would have been severe.

Instead I chose to install an 8kW 240V Rheem tankless water heater under the kitchen sink. Since I was already running 240V 40A power lines for our new induction range, adding another set of wires for the water heater wasn’t too bad. The heater is pretty compact and fitting it under the kitchen sink was fiddly but ultimately not a problem.

Water heater installed under sink

Online reviews for these types of units are very mixed. People (understandably) are not happy if their showers are cold. But for us, in this one-sink application, the heater produces very hot water instantly. The thermostat is not even cranked up all the way and I don’t think we rely on the full 8kW. Importantly, our cold-water inlet temperature here in San Francisco is relatively high (“almost tepid” is how I’d describe it) which means the heater has less work to do. In retrospect a 30A, or maybe even 20A model, would probably have been adequate.

I plumbed the water heater to the cold water line and capped off the hot water line under the sink rather than putting the tankless heater inline with the hot water from the garage. It takes so long for the garage hot water to make it to the kitchen that I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from letting the garage hot water “take over” from the tankless heater when the hot faucet runs for a while.

I also plumbed our dishwasher to the tankless water heater. As predicted by another Technology Connections episode this has significantly improved cleaning performance. That’s because, for its initial pre-wash rinse, the dishwasher doesn’t use its heater and just hopes that it’s supplied with hot water. That is now actually the case, making the initial rinse much more effective.

Overall I’m very happy with this little water heater. Having instant hot water for washing hands and rinsing dishes seems like a bedrock of modern civilization but we were without it since moving here in 2017. If you can make the required 240V high-current electrical circuit happen and maybe also if your cold water inlet temperature is not too low then I think under-sink tankless water heaters are a no-brainer for solving the problem of having to wait for hot water.

  1. I would love to travel back in time and relive the scene when the hot water system was originally installed in our house. I imagine the plumber and the then condo owners standing in the kitchen after the work was complete, turning on the hot water and then waiting in eager anticipation for several long minutes for the water to start turning hot. Did they then pop a bottle of champagne? Did anyone comment on whether waiting this long was actually practical when doing common kitchen tasks? We’ll never know. ↩︎

Induction Range

We recently replaced our gas range with an induction one and it’s lot better. My main motivation was energy savings (we have solar, so electricity is “free”) and improved indoor climate. I don’t want to get into the whole gas-stove culture war and I’m personally open to the possibility that burning gas inside may not be all that harmful. But all else being equal, there’s no way a gas stove improves indoor air quality and given the other benefits it seemed like a good idea to make the switch.

Induction FTW

I had two requirements when shopping for the induction range:

  • Controls on the front so you don’t have to reach over boiling pots and pans to adjust the burners
  • Actual hardware knobs so you don’t have to fiddle with a touch interface embedded in the cooking surface

The cheapest model to fit those criteria was a $900 (at time of purchase) Samsung model (Best Buy link). The fastest burner can boost to 3200W which is decent but not outstanding. I’ve been tracking Impulse Labs which has battery-boosted 10kW burners but is currently only a cooktop and not actually shipping yet. Other ranges were slightly more powerful but also at least 3x the cost and so not worth it. I also did consider an upgrade option from Samsung with a dehydrator, but it was $600 more and I’m pretty sure I’m never in my lifetime going to dehydrate $600 worth of stuff.

The Samsung replaced a $5000 stainless steel 4-burner Thermador Professional. These kinds of stoves are an artifact of the inflated San Francisco property market: When condos and houses are put up for sale they’re given a lick of paint, some marble countertops and a flashy new stove that looks impressive for the open house. They’re not actually good for home use though: All four burners are the same size and huge, so that anything but our largest pan had flames licking up the sides, even at moderate power settings.

Figuring out the electrical wiring was fiddly, but doing it myself at least meant that I knew everything was going to plug in and work. If you read online induction range reviews and installation experiences you’ll see that many folks end up with the wrong kind of outlet or an outlet installed in a way where the big 40A 240V plugs with stiff power cords don’t plug in.

It’s now been a couple of months and it’s astounding just how much better the induction range is. I was expecting the cooking experience to be about similar or even for the induction range to be somewhat slower, but that’s not the case at all. I didn’t time the gas range, but I’m pretty sure the induction range boils water and heats up pans faster just because it puts the heat into the pot/pan instead of blasting most of it up the sides and into the rest of the kitchen.

And the ancillary benefits are many:

  • The flat ceramic cooktop is so much easier to clean and you don’t have to manhandle cast iron inserts to do so
  • Handles of pans and cooking utensils don’t get super hot from gas flames. You can lift pots off the range without using oven mitts or a tea towel
  • The cooktop doesn’t get hot except for the area right under the pot, so less scary to have kids help stir
  • When not in use, the flat cooktop is much more useful for setting down grocery bags and other stuff
  • The oven is much larger and you can place two cooking sheets side-by-side. There’s even a storage drawer below the oven

Overall, it’s just so nice that cooking is no longer a flaming, sputtering inferno, and that it’s still fast.

The only thing that was nicer on the flashy gas range was that the oven racks ran on smooth roller bearing slides (the Samsung has crude grooves in the oven wall). The Samsung also comes with a digital clock which is not a pro because, like all appliance clocks, it’s invariably wrong. Amazingly the Samsung range actually connects to the internet and you can even use an app to set the clock, but it cannot sync automatically over NTP.

Except for our cast iron pans (which we frankly don’t use much) we had to get new pots and pans. And I had to install a stainless steel backsplash to cover an un-painted patch of wall, but that proved a boon because the backsplash has a shelf and hooks for hanging utensils.

Overall, if you can make the wiring and power work and you have the option, I heartily recommend switching from gas to induction, even if you go for a cheap induction range like we did.

Going Commando: Running Public Website on Server in a Closet

The blog you’re reading is hosted on a server that sits on the floor in a closet in our condo in San Francisco. You’re accessing it over my very pedestrian home internet connection (bizarrely, getting fast residential internet in San Francisco is hard). I don’t have a static IP address so DNS is resolved using Dynamic DNS (DDNS) and DNS records are updated whenever my ISP changes the external IP address. There’s no redundancy and power for the server has no battery backup. Some software update tasks are automated, but many I only do whenever I happen to log onto the server for one reason or another. There’s no fancy container orchestration, just Docker containers running with the --restart unless-stopped flag.

By all rights, uptime and availability for the blog should be horrendous. It should have been pwned by script kiddies many times over. The assorted software pieces should error or fail regularly.

But that’s not what actually happens. Uptime for the server is typically measured in months with the only interruptions happening when I flip the breaker to do electrical work on the house, or similar.

I reflected on this because of 37signals’ recent ONCE announcement where you buy and pay for their software once (as it were) and own a license to use it on your own hardware in perpetuity, instead of buying a subscription for a SaaS-hosted version. Some of the pushback on Twitter emphasized how SaaS is a better model because self-hosting software exposed to the public internet is uniquely difficult and scary. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I also don’t think it’s actually that hard and I can see how it’s a refreshing alternative to straight-jacket SaaS models with ever-increasing subscription prices.

DIY Tesla Wall Connector with Load Management

This weekend I installed a Tesla Wall Connector and a Neurio W2 Power Meter and configured them for dynamic load management. Dynamic load management means that the EV charger will dial down the charge rate from 48A whenever the Power Meter detects that total load is close to the maximum load of the electrical service to the house. For houses like ours with 100A (or less) electrical connections that’s very convenient because we can charge our EV quickly without tripping the main breaker in the few brief instances where we’re both charging our car and running all the other electrical loads in the house.

You obviously should never do what I did and should always hire a licensed electrician and Tesla installer.



  1. Install the Neurio Power Meter. There’s a good how-to video on YouTube. It’s unclear to me if the WiFi connection is required when paired with a Tesla Wall Connector but I added the antenna for good measure. The main challenge for me at this stage was finding a spot in our already busy electrical panel and fiddling with cables for CT clamps and so on.
  2. Install the Wall Connector. Ours is installed right below our electrical panel with the power wire coming from behind.
  3. Connect power meter and wall connector. I chose to drill a separate hole in the wall connector back-plate for the power meter comms cable instead of trying to run it with the power wires, mostly because the comms cable isn’t very long and that way I didn’t have to mess with trying to extend it. The Wall Connector has an elegant design where the power wires all attach to the back plate and then the face plate just slots on. Unfortunately the comms-port is not part of that scheme and is on the face-plate assembly. So you have to connect the power meter comms wires while balancing the face-plate and then secure the whole thing to the back-plate.
  4. Initialize the Wall Connector. You can do this using the Tesla One app. The app is supposedly only for Tesla employees and 3rd party contractors but you can log in using a normal retail Tesla user account just fine. When you scan the QR code that’s on the Neurio power meter it starts showing up as part of the install and you can configure the CT clamps. Check if you need to “flip” them to ensure the meter registers power flowing in the right direction (“import” vs. “export”). At this stage you can also configure the max load where you want EV charging to start dialing down. Note that I didn’t configure the Neurio separately, it was all through the Tesla app.
Tesla Wall Connector back-plate with power and comms cables
Tesla One app screenshot, configuring when charging should be limited
Tesla One app screenshot, configuring the CT clamps on the Neurio W2. Note that the clamps are not yet “flipped”.


We haven’t taken delivery of our Tesla car yet so I haven’t actually tested the dynamic load management. But I wanted to document this process since it does seem to work and the power meter registers with the Tesla app and site install and appears to be recognized. I’ll update this post when I’ve confirmed the setup works and throttles charging when we’re using all of our other appliances.

Removing the Broom

This is very exciting to me: For years a broom has been stashed in drain vent on the side of one of our neighbors’ house (a couple houses over). The house is currently on the market so I went to the open house, made polite conversation with the real estate agents and then proceeded up to the patio and took the broom out of the vent and put it on the deck.

I don’t fault the folks that used to live there for storing the broom in the vent. For them it was probably a convenient and out-of-the-way place to stash a bulky and infrequently-used implement. But for me, every time I gazed out over the San Francisco Bay from our patio my view was marred by an upside-down broom sticking out of a vent at an odd angle.

Broom hanging out in vent
Broom no longer in vent

San Francisco Neighborhood Organizing for Traffic Calming

Last winter I collected signatures from residents of our San Francisco block (on Waller St. in Lower Haight) to petition for SFMTA Traffic Calming. If successful, the petition will likely result in speed bumps or bulb-outs being put in. If you live in the neighborhood, Scott St. between Waller and Duboce is a good example of a traffic-calmed block.

I really love our little patch of San Francisco in Lower Haight / Duboce Triangle: It’s where I first moved to in San Francisco in 2011 and except for a couple of years in Nob Hill, I’ve lived in the general area ever since. I also care about biking and bicycle infrastructure, and streets being safe for our kids. Our block is right off The Wiggle, after it makes a turn. The city has done an OK job traffic-calming The Wiggle itself, but our block is straight and wide and some drivers tend to zoom through. It’s not the most dangerous block in San Francisco by any measure, but it’s not great either.

Traffic Calming is different from the “Slow Streets” program that the city made happen as part of the pandemic response. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but Slow Streets is a fascinating phenomenon. Most San Francisco public works, including Traffic Calming, takes ages to get done, and has to go through multiple rounds of public consultation and deliberation. Slow Streets didn’t follow that process: the city of San Francisco more or less just decreed them into existence and that was that. 

I initially tried to figure out if our street block could get the Slow Streets treatment. But there’s no bottoms-up process for that, and with the amount of controversy generated by existing Slow Streets I’m not sure SFMTA is going to try for more.

Collecting Signatures

Collecting the 20 signatures for the petition was a good experience. It was great to have a reason to just ring everyone’s doorbell, introduce myself and chat about the neighborhood (in fact maybe I should have just done that when we moved in years ago). I learned a bunch about who my neighbors are, how long they’ve lived here and lots of random bits of neighborhood history.

When it came to the traffic calming petition, almost everyone I spoke with were willing to sign. One or two thought that speed bumps or bulb-outs were too big a change and suggested just installing more signage. I empathize with that view but studies have shown that car drivers tend to adjust their speed according to the layout of the road, not to the speed limit or other sign-posted advisories: On roads that are straight and wide they go fast and on roads that are narrow, windy or have bumps they go slower. And one or two others didn’t favor any changes at all.

One interesting takeaway for me was that several neighbors that signed after more detailed discussion identified traffic calming and the petition with pro-bike efforts and expressed concerns about bicyclists impact on pedestrian safety. That’s surprising since Traffic Calming is not about adding more bike infrastructure and should improve safety for everyone, including motorists. One of my neighbors used as an example the time that the Waller and Pierce intersection was closed (to raise the road in the intersection if I recall). In his experience bicyclist following the Wiggle didn’t dismount and instead just rode on the sidewalk to get around the road closure, endangering pedestrians.

Biking on the sidewalk is wrong and illegal but in my opinion the danger posed by inconsiderate bicyclists is something of a red herring. After all, motorists reliably manage to kill around 30 people per year in San Francisco alone. The only case that I know of where a bicyclist killed someone is a much-publicized 2012 incident in the Castro. Even so, getting the feedback from my neighbors that they find bicyclists occasionally inconsiderate did make me more aware of how bikes are perceived in traffic and I’m now trying to be even more considerate when I bike around the neighborhood.

Moving Forward

The petition is currently in process with SFMTA. If you live on our block you may have noticed black pneumatic tubes temporarily draped across the street a couple of months ago. Those were for SFMTA to collect data on vehicle volume and speed and they’re working on processing that now. We’ll whether our block meets the criteria this fall, and I’ll keep everyone posted.

Quieter Wheels on Push-car

This post details how I replaced the noisy plastic wheels on a Little Tikes push car with high-quality rubber-coated steel wheels. The default wheels are probably OK for grass but on pavement they make a deafening grinding noise and I felt bad for my neighbors (and my son) just going one block over to the park behind our house.

To be clear, upgrading the wheels doesn’t make economic sense: A push car with noisy wheels costs $60 and the “whisper ride” model with rubber-coated wheels costs $80. Four steel wheels will set you back about $40 before considering time and additional parts. But we were emotionally attached to our push car and I thought it’d be a fun project.

Before switching out the wheels I did try just hot-glueing strips of old bike-tires to the plastic wheels but that didn’t last.

Wheel Change Instructions

Wheels upgraded. Note how the axles snap into the molded car body



  1. Yank the axle-rods off the bottom of the car. The axles snap into the bottom of the molded plastic car body
  2. Get the push nuts off the axle ends and take the old wheels off
  3. Press the 3/8″ x 1/2″ sleeves on the axle ends. This may require some combination of sanding, lubrication and hammering
  4. Mount the new wheels on the sleeves on the axles and put the whole thing back together.
Smoothest-running push-car west of the Mississippi!

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