San Francisco Moves to Lessen the Impact of Truck Traffic

SFTruckTrafficRoutes_002small.jpgClick to enlarge: The revised San Francisco truck route map. Image: SFMTA

In a city as dense as San Francisco, it's inevitable that truck traffic often travels along streets where people live. But public health and environmental justice groups, the MTA and the Department of Public Health are now collaborating to ensure that the impact of that traffic is mitigated as much as possible, and doesn't continue to disproportionately affect the southeast section of the city.

To this end, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell called for an update on the collaborative effort at a hearing last week.

"Southeast San Francisco bears a significant burden of the city's traffic volume," said Maxwell. "Much of city's local traffic is disproportionately through communities of color."

A survey of the city's southeastern communities found that 46 percent of respondents said they smell pollution on their block every week, and 44 percent live within 500 feet of a high volume roadway, said Charlie Sciammas of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER). In addition to greatly increased asthma rates, a recent study found that living within close proximity to such streets correlates with higher body mass indexes in kids.

The MTA has a three-prong approach to solving the problem: the first is an update to the San Francisco truck traffic routes map, which the MTA's Sam Fielding said hadn't been revised since before the Embarcadero Freeway and a spur of the Central Freeway were torn down.

"We created a newly updated truck route map and asked for feedback from the public and 40 trucking companies," said Fielding. "It's advisory, and isn't incorporated in the General Plan yet, but we're talking to City Planning to incorporate it in the next update."

That will require going through an environmental review process, but the Planning Department is eager to incorporate the new route map, Fielding said. Simply having a well-distributed map is a major improvement over the previous situation, he explained, since even the MTA's staff wasn't certain at first where to find the old map.

The updated map doesn't solve the more complicated problem of trucks running on housing-lined streets, since that describes just about every street in the city, but it does give truck drivers who aren't familiar with the city a clear route through, meaning they are less likely to end up lost and driving around more than necessary.

Of course, being a truck route doesn't mean that a street has to be a completely dire traffic sewer without pedestrian amenities. That's the second prong in the approach: MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck said the agency is trying to mitigate the negative effects of truck traffic by calming the streets they are advised to use.

"It's just a fact of life here that some of these streets do get heavier traffic," said Fleck. "We try to make sure they aren't too fast, slow down traffic, that they're safe for pedestrians, and good places to live."

Streets near main arterial corridors and those with spillover traffic are also prioritized for traffic calming improvements, said Fleck.

Megan Wier, an epidemiologist with the city's Department of Public Health, said DPH and MTA began collaborating to address the issue in February of last year, at the behest of the community groups PODER and the Chinese Progressive Association.

The solutions they developed include traffic-calming measures, tree planting, sound walls near freeways, and help with installing double-pane windows and indoor ventilation systems in buildings near arterial streets.

Finally, the third prong is nudging trucking companies to use cleaner, more fuel-efficient trucks.

All of these measures - and probably more - couldn't come soon enough for Victoria Sanchez, who said she lives close to multiple freeways. "It seems like it's worse now than before," she said. "Touching the outside of the house, it's filled with dirt from pollution."