Commentary: Despite Mandate to Improve Pedestrian Safety, SF Doesn’t Act

Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography
Photo: ## Hollero/Orange Photography##

I often write stories for Streetsblog as objectively as I can, but after talking with the SFMTA about their pedestrian safety report, I got a little too upset to write dispassionately. Therefore, I’ll call this a “commentary” and you can take it for what it’s worth.

If the footage of 65-year-old Nu Ha Dam getting mowed down in a crosswalk at Leavenworth and Geary by a UCSF shuttle on Wednesday didn’t appall you, the continued failure of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to improve pedestrian safety should.

San Francisco has the highest rate of pedestrian injuries of any sizeable city in California and is one of the highest in the nation. Pedestrian injuries have stayed steady over the past few years at more than 800. Of total fatal collisions in San Francisco over the past ten years, pedestrians have consistently accounted for 50-60 percent.

So when the city comes out with a report [pdf] modeled on the New York City Department of Transportation’s much heralded Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, you could excuse me for getting excited. The 55-page document is chock full of great data on existing conditions, and at a minimum helps lend some visibility to pedestrians on paper.

Unfortunately, the report has no collision reduction targets, work plans or evaluation metrics that will result in safer streets. All it offers is this bit of drivel:

[While the SFMTA has] an important role to play in improving pedestrian conditions, specific collision trends can be also influenced by demographic, cultural, and economic changes that affect the amount and type of traveling people engage in. For these reasons the SFMTA has in the past not set an exact percentage goal for the reduction of fatal collisions in future decades, though of course it remains our mission to improve roadway safety as rapidly as possible. It is the general goal of the SFMTA both to see reductions in pedestrian injuries every year and to increase the number of pedestrian trips in the City.

Important role? You have a charter mandate to improve pedestrian conditions as part of the Transit First policy (“5. Pedestrian areas shall be enhanced wherever possible to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrians and to encourage travel by foot”).

You’ve had that mandate since the 1970s.


“They’re not setting any goals and that is something the MTA needs to do to show they are serious about pedestrian safety,” Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk SF, told me in reference to the report. While she was happy it presented the baseline data, she said it didn’t go far enough. “They need to set targets about how they plan to make the streets safer.”

When asked why there was no action plan, Bridget Smith of the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division said: “The report we put together was really what New York City put together and we wanted to look at our work through that lens. It’s a professional to professional look at what they presented and how our city compares to New York City.”

Except for the action plan, which is nearly half of the volume of words in NYC’s report and arguably the most significant part of the whole endeavor. Without a plan that can be executed and proper metrics to measure the impact of changes, conditions won’t change.

For example, New York City has committed to reduce pedestrian fatalities by 50 percent by 2030, incorporating engineering, enforcement, public communication campaigns and a hefty legislative policy change framework that would make any advocate or public health official blush with excitement. They will dramatically ramp up Safe Routes to School improvements; they will expand their Safe Routes for Seniors program; they will re-engineer 60 miles of streets, 20 miles of them with “intensive safety redesign;” they will daylight corners to improve visibility; they will pilot slower speed zones across neighborhoods through engineering for calmed traffic; they will coordinate enforcement with the NYPD to target the riskiest driver behavior to pedestrians; they will push legislation for more red light cameras, speed cameras, mandatory truck crossover mirrors, and increased penalties for unlicensed drivers; and they will update they NYC Pedestrian Safety Act, which requires the NYC DOT to improve the top 20 most dangerous locations for pedestrians.

And what about San Francisco? If you’d like to follow along for yourself, scroll down to the bottom of page 50 [pdf].

San Francisco will continue to do a litany of things (but given the data, those things apparently aren’t working to make the city much safer for pedestrians). More countdown timers will be added, which the report spends a page telling you we helped pioneer, and we’ll continue our analysis of higher collision corridors, areas, and intersections, continue our expansion of audible pedestrian signal locations, continue the installation of traffic calming measures to slow vehicle speeds, continue the removal parking at corners to improve pedestrian sight distances, continue the expansion of the use of “continental” or “ladder” type crosswalks.

When I pushed SFMTA’s Smith on why they didn’t set targets for reducing the number or rate of collisions, she said there were “a couple of things in development” and that they were considering a “pedestrian master plan.” Smith also pointed to their work with other agencies on the Better Streets Plan as instructive and ripe for possible future collaboration.

When I questioned how the Better Sidewalk Plan (to steal Livable City executive director Tom Radulovich’s derisive sobriquette) would address dangerous speeds, illegal turning in occupied crosswalks or other driver behavior, Smith acknowledged its shortcomings. “We all recognize that we’d like to expand the work,” she said. “It was always intended to be the ‘Pedestrian Realm Plan.”

In a previous Streetsblog article, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia of the San Francisco Department of Public Health blasted the city’s efforts to date on pedestrian safety, calling the failure to add known safety improvements “transportation malpractice.”

When I asked Smith about the criticism by Bhatia, she said: “Rajiv could take the leadership role on it.”

Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to be effective. The SFMTA is the implementing agency with responsibility for controlling our streets and improving pedestrian safety. The SFDPH has zero input on whether or not Leavenworth and Geary will get a “continental’ crosswalk, bulbouts or other treatments, nor whether or not that would have done anything to save Nu Ha Dam.

About the only thing the SFDPH can do about that is add her to the statistics they keep on pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

I know I shouldn’t just pick on Bridget Smith here. SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford and Mayor Gavin Newsom, neither of whom have said boo about targets for improving pedestrian conditions, deserve at least as much credit, if not much more. Without bold leadership and a clear mandate, there is probably little Smith or any other well-meaning planner could accomplish at the agency.

While I was heartened to hear SFMTA’s newest board director, Cheryl Brinkman, discuss the importance of improving pedestrian safety (Brinkman, in the board meeting on Tuesday: “I think there is a lot more we can do including lowering speed limits to make sure that any interactions between pedestrians and cars are not fatal”), the real work has yet to begin.

Smith did say they had priced out an action plan and they just need to find the money to complete it. Maybe Brinkman and Chair Tom Nolan can show some leadership in securing this funding.

Compared to the hundreds of millions they’re going to be asked to issue in municipal bond debt to fund the Central Subway next year, what’s a few hundred thousand to keep more pedestrians from being run over in the crosswalk?

  • LS

    Great piece, couldn’t agree more that this should be a real priority.

  • Stefan

    It seems that forbidding (and enforcing) right turns on red could help a lot. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost been mowed down in the crosswalk. Plus it seems pretty cheap to implement.

  • Matthew, Amen!

    “More countdown timers will be added”

    I can’t say I’m a huge fan of these. I believe they induce drivers to “beat” the light. However, it does provide the pedestrian with knowledge of how long they have to cross so they aren’t in the middle of the street when the light changes.

    On that same note, there are many intersections where my wife and I (very able bodied) have a hard time crossing in the time alloted. I can’t imagine how many intersections there are in the city where a senior can’t get across in time.

  • Al

    To be fair, the reason many of these cities have lower pedestrian fatality rates is probably not that they’re safer for pedestrians; on the contrary, they’ve done everything in their power to make walking as difficult, unpleasant and dangerous as possible. If no one walks, no one is injured walking.

  • pceasy

    I have been almost killed over and over again by:

    * Selfish drivers who try to turn through an intersection without any regard for pedestrians

    * Drivers who just do not pay attention. They are looking the other way or looking out for cars but fail to look out for pedestrians

    * Drivers who do not understand the law. I really do not think that they understand that pedestrians have the right of way.

    The city needs to have signs up at freeway off ramps warning drivers that they need to yield to pedestrians. I do not believe that stings that I have heard about over the past few years by the PD are effective. This is a major problem and needs to be addressed now!

  • No funding? Where’s the “Pedestrian Death Toll Fee”, “Public Safety Fee”, or whatever you want to call it..?

    400,000+ motor vehicles registered in the city, right? If they all pay just $10 each, that’s $4,000,000+ right there for safer streets.

    The externalized costs never seem to end.

  • Thanks for your analysis, Matthew.

    @Al: I agree. I think a more useful table would be annual fatalities per pedestrian mile walked for each city. San Francisco is far and away more walkable than any other city on that list, and I’d like to see how much that affects these numbers.

    @pceasy: I’ve been imagining recently what effect it would have for signs to be mounted at the end of every freeway offramp in California that said “Entering pedestrian zone” or something similiar. A reminder that leaving the freeway, the car is no longer monarch and has to yield.

    I’ve also found recent articles about Dutch “self-explaining roads” great food for thought. I’m a regular pedestrian and bicyclist, and occasional driver, and I still find myself drawn in by the flow and the misleading logic of the roads when driving in the city. I don’t know much about ameliorating ped/car interactions, but bulbouts seem like a great start.

  • Enforcement shouldn’t even need any new funding – wouldn’t the SFPD actually turn a profit hiring a few dozen new motorcycle officers to focus on pedestrian safety? I believe failure to yield is something like a $200 ticket.

  • Re: cars exiting freeways–I agree this is a major trouble spot. I think the scariest place to ride a bike or cross the street in the entire bay area may very well be the short stretch of Cesar Chavez between the 101 and 280. It feels like a pissed-off shark tank with multiple inlets and outlets for the predators. Anyhow, I digress.

    Psychology is a good start–put in bulbouts, make the speed limits slower, but I think that would ultimately make our cities so much better and still allow people the ‘freedom’ to own cars and drive on freeways would be to change the technology itself–put governors in cars so that you can do 70mph on the freeway, but as soon as you hit that exit ramp your car manually reduces to a max 20mph speed, on all streets in the city. Then everyone goes 20, lights are re-timed, and most likely folks will get around the city faster in a car than before. This system would be kind of like those automatic locks on shopping cart wheels–try and take the cart outside that magic line, and your wheels lock up; here the wheels don’t lock up, they just slow up. If cars kill people, and not drivers (and this is true to some degree), let’s fix and alter this technology to the human factor is less important. It’s like a gun safety lock.


  • steve

    I’m not sure what would have helped in the case of the UCSF shuttle. Nu Ha Dam was in the crosswalk and based on the video, the driver didn’t have any anything blocking the view. Looks like negligence — not paying attention. The shuttle wasn’t going fast. What’s in the report that would have helped her case?

    Yesterday, walking around in the neighborhood, I was almost run over twice. There was no traffic other than single drivers who, instead of stopping before the crosswalk, apparently are used to stopping past the crosswalk, partly into the intersection (past pedestrian bodies). Maybe the edges of the crosswalk should be slightly raised, like miniature speedbumps.

  • pceasy

    Thanks everyone for replying. When I was speaking about signs at freeway off ramps I was actually talking about a reminder to people entering the city, that pedestrians have the right of way and perhaps there is a no tolerance policy for drivers who violate that.

    However Justin you are correct. People fly off freeway off ramps especially if they think they are going to beat the light. So you bring up a great point.

    Maybe we should expand these reminders for drivers not only on freeways, but randomly throughout the city.

  • “The Automobile, satisfier of private needs, demands, and whims — has created an insatiable demand for access, and a whole profession of planners and engineers both serving and further stimulating that demand.”

    -Donald Appleyard “Streets Can Kill Cities: Third World Beware!” (1980)

    With all due respect to Smith and other bureaucrats working at the MTA, I don’t think we’re going to fix the problem with the same people and ways of thinking that got us to this nightmarish place to begin with.

  • Sprague

    Thank you for your commentary and for highlighting San Francisco’s lack of action to improve pedestrian safety. My European wife finds this a very pedestrian unfriendly city, and it is apparent that too many car drivers are mostly just thinking about other vehicles. Drivers tend to stop IN crosswalks rather than before them. I agree with the comments that right turns on red lights should be further restricted (at least at many intersections with considerable pedestrian traffic) and the idea of installing signs at freeway off-ramps sounds appealing (at off-ramps entering into Vienna, there are signs informing drivers that honking is prohibited in the city – also an appealing livability issue). One way where SF seems negligent is the abundance of intersections where the crosswalks are barely detectable. Regular repainting would help, too.

  • As far as I know there are two things that can make turns safer:

    One is what Washington, DC does at many intersections and, I have heard, Montreal does at all signalized intersections, which is to forbid turns at all until the Walk phase is over and then give cars an exclusive turn phase at the end. The disadvantage is that it makes the signal cycle longer and often requires there to be a turn lane to keep the block from filling up with cars waiting to turn.

    The other is extensive use of corner bulbs and median islands to make it next to impossible to make a turn at an angle and instead to require cars to have already completed the turn while still in the intersection so the drivers have a full, straight-on view by the time they reach the crosswalk and only a narrow passage that they can make it through. The disadvantage is that having enough islands to slow turning cars down will make it very hard for trucks and buses to turn at all, and cars will still probably run into the islands all the time by accident. And no amount of islands will really help a gigantic intersection like where Market, 16th, and Noe come together.

    I don’t know what the best thing to do is, but if I ruled the Department of Public Works, I would start by putting corner bulbs at every intersection, starting with the most problematic, since the shorter the crossing distance is, the less time people are at risk.

  • Nick

    They won’t repaint existing crosswalks because they can’t afford paint. People’s lives are being altered in negative ways. Reminds me of the prison-like public schools systems of my youth.

    The MTA’s mindset may be Transit First, but their practice is “Maintain then Appease.”

  • sfjeff

    Thank you for this commentary! It never ceases to amaze me that engineering for pedestrian safety is such a low priority here in SF. There are so many opportunities for safety improvements just in the normal schedule of DPW projects that are not taken. For example, recently in my area DPW rebuilt many corner curb cuts without any thought of actually making safety improvements that would have helped greatly (one example being bulb-outs). Another pet peeve of mine is the angle at which many streets come together (i.e. slanted rather than 90 degrees), often treated by drivers as a curve rather than a corner. Very unsafe for peds and in much need of engineering changes.

    More ped articles please! Thanks.

  • SFMTA did a fairly nice job at Main And Folsom to protect pedestrians using traffic signals – I was worried that dangerous intersection would get worse, but the traffic light changes seem to work. I cannot be as complimentary about the pedestrian signal at the Bay Bridge feeder streets Essex at Folsom. I had the white pedestrian crossing signal, and started my walk across first the bus entry onto Essex (used by the Transbay Temporary Terminal buses), but almost became a part of these statistics when a eastbound driver gunning through 2nd Street and making the right turn at Essex did so with the green light – WTF?!? I could not believe that the pedestrian crossing was a GO without making those eastbound drivers STOP.

    All of SoMa is one big highway … 25 MPH speed limits with for way stops to FORCE cars to stop are what I want to see.

    The SFMTA could give am damn in general about pedestrian safety in SoMa judged by their actions… And the electeds? well, we’ll see if the pedestrian safety talk was just “vote for me” hyperbole or not soon enough.

  • Eamonn

    The big six-way intersections on Market between Church and Castro are ridiculous. They are so spread out that an car encounters all kinds of ambiguities when making any turns, and so often do odd things that endanger pedestrians. I think these should all be replaced with European-style roundabouts.

  • chris

    I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this, but pedestrian education may be an issue as well. I drive in this city a lot, and do my best to watch out for cyclists and pedestrians. I also walk in this city a lot too, and I constantly watch out for drivers. We get a lot of tourists who rent cars, as well as people from the suburbs who aren’t used to driving in a city like SF.

    I’ve seen pedestrians stand in the crosswalk waiting to cross the street, preventing me from making a legal right turn on red, and preventing cyclists from safely using the bicycle lane. I’ve had people look at me like I’m crazy when they jay walk. I’ve watched people step into a crosswalk on a don’t walk signal, as they stare down drivers. Not to mention those on cell phones who don’t look at all before crossing.

    I’m not blaming pedestrians, but I also don’t believe motorists are completely to blame either. Yes, the MTA could do much more, but in a city where everyone feels entitled to the road, but no one is willing to share, they can only do so much. Whatever happened to look both ways before entering an intersection? I believe that applies to everyone.

  • cr

    Yet again: urgent, necessary journalism from Streetsblog and Matthew Roth.

  • James

    Unfortunately a Pedestrian Safety Fee via the VLF or whatever seems unlikely to come anytime soon, given the passing of Prop 26. In fact, we just had Measure AA, the $10 San Francisco VLF fee for pedestrian, bike and street improvements that passed on Nov 7th nullified retroactively by Prop 26.

    On the upside, I saw this in the police blotter yesterday:
    “Beulah and Stanyan Streets 8:15 am Traffic Enforcement Operation Lt.
    Pengel and posse conducted a pedestrian sting traffic enforcement operation
    and cited 29 motorists for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a marked

  • As a driver, the things I’ve seen pedestrians do are astonishing! As a pedestrian, the things I’ve seen drivers do are astonishing! How to improve the situation–slow down road speeds to 30mph on arterials and 20 mph on side streets, create more pedestrian scrambles in the light cycle in high pedestrian areas, ticket drivers that don’t see/yield to pedestrians, and ticket pedestrians that cross against red lights.

    I actually don’t mind if people jaywalk if there is no one coming, but to just step out into oncoming traffic that has the right of way is really inconsiderate, not to mention highly dangerous. However, car drivers running red lights–saw one last night–and blowing through stop signs (do even 10% of drivers come to a full stop before the crosswalk?) is even more reprehensible.

    The problem with no right turn on red is that in high pedestrian areas, there is often effectively no right turn on green either. Hence the need for the pedestrian-only light cycle. Overall, I think the best answer is to slow cars down and reduce congestion by getting more cars off the road. Slower speeds allow more time for visual recognition, more time to react to circumstances, and make any collision between a car and pedestrian/bicycle less likely to be a fatal one.

  • What a shock. the MTA and SFs leaders talk and talk and do nothing of substance. Shocking.

  • Matthew Roth

    AA is not nullified by 26. The retroactive part only applies to state fees, not local.
    fortunately, the TA had seen the language in 26 and wrote AA to go into effect when polls closed. I’ve wanted to write as much on S’blog, but didn’t seem like a post unto itself.


  • doogiehowser

    Keep up the good work Streetsblog!

  • Jim Diamond

    “Transportation malpractice”. Yes, call it what it is. It really is something when in 2010, the pedestrian safety plan in SF is drivel when other cities are really doing something about the problem. Streetsblog is in a unique position to point out examples of transportation malpractice, name names, ask for a response and compare SF to peer cities as they did in this commentary.

    Thank you, Streetsblog for returning to your NYC roots where persistent embarrasment of DOT Commissioner Weinshall helped in replacing her with Janette Sadik-Kahn.

    How about a weekly or monthly Streetsblog column called “Transportation Malpractice”. Here are a few subjects to get you started, not limited to pedestrian safety but transportation in general:

    – the situation at Fell and Divisadero is patently unsafe for cyclists and yet our “transportation professionals” signed off on a series of half measures that remain in place, endangering cyclists as we speak.

    – green bike lanes on Market slapped down for bike to work day that end in the back of massive tour buses and require a dangerous weaving in a very small space between van ness and 10th. Compare to NYC where miles of connected bike paths are created with thoughtful, professional engineering.

    – the disaster that is Stockton street between Columbus and Sutter that causes delays for Muni every day and has been for decades. Build your subway if you must but fix Stockton in the meantime.

    – F line at Market and Embarcadero that requires 3 90 degree turns to traverse this intersection with 2 unnecessary car u-turn lanes to slow things down just a bit more. Who signed off on this design and why?

    – wait times for the T Third at 4th & King. To allow the multi-minute waits there with claims that there really is signal priority is transportation malpractice. How about a film documenting the wait time for all to see?

    – dozens of examples of bus stop spacing less than 500′ between stops.

    – many examples of dangerous 3 way intersections all over town. Document on film and ask why these intersections are not fixed.

    – transportation malpractice has been committed at the eastbound juncture between GG park and the Panhandle across Stanyan. Totally unsafe for cyclists and drivers and the people in charge know it.

    – GG Park Martin Luther King drive. Parking on both sides of the street, resulting in insufficient room for cyclists and cars to navigate safely. It has been this way for decades, is unsafe and yet nothing is done. Let’s not get started with the fact that this is occurring in our greatest park.

    Any other examples to give to the good people at Streetsblog?

  • CBrinkman

    Great article, thank you Matthew. I’m sorry to say that I got caught flat footed by the report – I hadn’t received it in my Board Packet due to an e-mail goof (we are now working with paperless Board Packets to save paper) so I was very unprepared at the last Board Meeting when it was brought up. My apologies and I promise that we have only scratched the surface of the discussion as far as I’m concerned. We need to make it safer and more pleasant to walk in San Francisco.

  • That chart is incredibly misleading.

    Riverside, Fresno and Bakersfield aren’t at the bottom because they’re safe, they’re at the bottom because few people walk.

    A better metric would be “injuries per 1,000 pedestrians” or as someone else mentioned, per mile walked.

  • Matthew Roth

    @Al and Jass,
    agreed that comparing rates in SF and Bakersfield is not the best, so that’s why I also emphasized the total collisions. Still, in the NYC study, they show rates in NYC and they’re significantly lower than SF. Now that’s a city with a lot of walking!
    Maybe it has something to do with no right on red rules, which apply in all five boroughs.

    @Cheryl, I do hope you can make waves. I think Sweden’s Vision Zero is the gold standard to which we should aspire.

  • James

    @Matthew Roth
    “AA is not nullified by 26. The retroactive part only applies to state fees, not local.
    fortunately, the TA had seen the language in 26 and wrote AA to go into effect when polls closed. I’ve wanted to write as much on S’blog, but didn’t seem like a post unto itself.”

    That’s good news. I had thought that might be the case, but SFBC posted something saying that it had been nullified and figured they had looked into it further than I.

  • Eliza

    Just booked my first trip to San Francisco…then started googling blogs…and found this one. My luck, born and raised in NYC, I’d end up in an accident in San Fran! Nonetheless, looking forward to my trip.

  • Dave

    Ugh. To hear Bridget Smith say, “Rajiv should provide leadership on that…” Ugh. Hopefully she thinks she was taken out of context. While I love what the DPH is doing I’ve always wondered why the heck we’re spending money on traffic safety over there when they have absolutely zero authority to do anything about it. It’s the MTA, and the lack of leadership in traffic safety there is appalling. You talk to the bureaucrats over there and all they say “you can’t believe how hard it is to get things done; somebody is always throwing up a road block.” Yet there are counterexamples: the parklets, the temporary street closures, the Valencia Street green wave, and all of New York City. What’s up with that?

  • Dave

    Convert two way streets to one way where doing so wouldn’t completely create gridlock and re-time the signals for 15 mph on all the remaining one way streets. And do it in a year.

    (I’m not as much of a fan of converting one way streets to two way streets because I think I would rather take capacity from cars by taking space for bus and bike lanes and wider sidewalks than by two-way conversions.)

    And do a CEQA analysis on it.

  • ZA

    My $0.02 –

    Apart from the political and bureaucratic aspects of our shared problem, what I can’t help noticing is how much of the problem results from hodge-podge incremental improvements rather than a wholesale redesign of a given space.

    I find the ADA-compliant (finally!) ramps on subtle bulb-outs at Cesar Chavez and Folsom are regularly driven over by turning vehicles…many of them heavy freight haulers whose highway-optimized freight beds are *barely* able to use SF’s city streets, and only then by taking far more turning space than would be legally allowed otherwise.

    This isn’t to excuse poor driving and poorer design, but to identify just one major traffic stakeholder that doesn’t seem to be part of the conversation.

  • Fran Taylor

    I’ve told this story on Streetsblog before — please forgive, but to me it’s symbolized the attitude of San Francisco officialdom toward us saps on foot. In 2003, at the initial meeting of the Southeast Mission Pedestrian Safety Working Group, the SFPD officer responsible for teaching city schoolchildren about traffic safety got up and announced that the #1 cause of pedestrian traffic injury was pedestrian fault. He passed around a sheet with statistics, and, sure enough, right at the top was “Pedestrian Fault” with the highest number. Only when you looked more closely at the next several categories did you realize that they were all things like “Failure to Yield,” Red Light Running,” “Speeding,” etc. — all driver fault. They had been broken down so no one category would exceed pedestrian fault, but taken together, they amounted to about twice that number. And this cop braying about pedestrians maliciously leaping in front of cars was the official spokesperson to kids in schools!

  • Mario

    Interesting piece, Matthew. It is good that you are shedding light on the pedestrian safety issue in the city.

    What I am going to say here does not let SFMTA off the hook but it is important nonetheless to examine. As many others have said already, the shuttle driver plowed his vehicle right into Ms. Nu Ha Dam in broad daylight while blatantly violating her right-of-way. Driver education and our society’s willingness to license almost anyone needs to brought up as well. When 33,900 people die on our nation’s roadway, why is this rarely mentioned except when it comes to elderly drivers? Only a select few can become a pilot. Driving ought to be the same.

    As jaas mentioned, that chart is completely misleading and should not be included in your report. It detracts from your argument when everyone knows SF has way more pedestrians, thus a higher exposure, than all of those cities. Compare apples to apples (cities with similar pedestrian and driving volumes). Again, this does not let SFMTA off the hook but let’s be fair here.

    And lastly, I suggest you put a map together showing the occurances of pedestrian injuries and fatalities geographically over a one year period. 107 fatalities is 107 too high, but if we can see them on a map, it really helps one grasp the magnitude of the problem and zero in on what can be done.

    Thanks for writing this piece, and thanks for reading my comments.


  • Alex

    I was recently informed by 311 that someone made a conscious choice to turn the signals along Great Highway to flashing yellow and disable the pedestrian signals. This works really well at night at Taraval where there are bushes blocking pedestrians’ field of view.

    The mind boggles at how inept someone has to be to make such a decision.

  • EL

    @ Fran Taylor – While it may be true that the total “driver at fault” causes exceeded the “pedestrian at fault” number and you disagree with the general attitude, I applaud the SFPD for packaging the numbers in such a manner to really send the message to schoolchildren to be careful when walking the streets. After all, you can only control what you do, not what others do.

    Would you have preferred that the officer say to the CHILDREN the harsh reality that “drivers are more often at fault, so even if you doing everything right, you’re really just taking your chances when crossing the street”? Talk about a warm and fuzzy message to go home with.

  • EL

    Alex – The signals are on flash probably because of an electrical malfunction caused during the storms over the weekend. They normally work, even in the middle of the night. If you’re a resident of the area, you’d know that Lincoln/Great Highway goes to flash all the time when the area floods.

  • David

    I’d like to second Mario’s suggestion that driver education and licensing receive more attention. It is ridiculously easy to obtain a license, and seemingly very hard to lose it. Instead of renewing a license in the mail, retesting (and a higher threshold to pass) would hopefully result in crop of safer and more attentive drivers. I never see this issue mentioned in print, only in readers comments.

  • SF Resident Engineer

    The City just published the final Better Streets Plan. The MTA could implement the cheapest elements of the plan right now:

    -Prohibit right turn on red
    -Eliminate multiple turn lanes across a crosswalk
    -Open closed crosswalks
    -Prohibit parking at corners

    These tools would create a huge reduction in pedestrian collisions. What is MTA waiting for?

  • Dave

    While investments in our streetscape infrastructure could help in some places, I really think a core problem is that there is essentially NO traffic law enforcement in SF. After 10 years living in SF, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever seen anyone stopped to get a traffic ticket. And yet I’ll bet I could stand at any signal-controlled intersection in the city and count hundreds of violations in an hour.

    It’s a free-for-all out there; drivers know there is no enforcement, and so the laws are broken with impunity. It’s been going on so long that I’ll bet many drivers don’t even remember many of the rules exist. I imagine the city could fund several motorcycle traffic officers just on crosswalk violations, they are constant.

    As a driver, I’ve actually been honked at by other drivers when I refuse to thread myself through pedestrians in the crosswalk, which just amazes me. When did driving like a New York taxicab driver become the expected norm? Enforcement, PLEASE!

    I also agree with the commenter who suggested holding drivers to higher licensing and testing standards, as they do in many other countries.

  • There’s *some* enforcement going on… e.g., a couple of months ago they were ticketing bicyclists who turned left on red from Scott onto Fell Street (heading west).

    And there’s this blog about automated red light camera tickets:

    It features lots of people complaining about the tickets they got for running red lights. The general sentiment seems to be that it’s so unfair to charge a fine for running a red light. (“Although the stated purpose is (of course) for safety, the real reason is *revenue*.”)

    One comment: “Hey i received a rolling right ticket. I had no clue this was illegal, i always thought you had to yield, i just follow what i see other drivers do.”

  • +1 for banning right turn on reds. It’s unbelievable how uneducated or uncaring drivers are about doing this legally. Daily I see drivers sitting in crosswalks blocking peds while trying to make a right turn on red.

    +1 for enforcing sidewalk parking.

    At the very least, we need a massive driver education campaign on the rules of the road. Rules that are constantly being broken and taking lives.

  • I’m with the many calls to make it more difficult to obtain a driver’s license along with a need for repeated testing. However, a driver’s license is often considered a birth right here in America. Furthermore, we’ve made it exceptionally difficult in most of the country to get around without a car. So even when a license is revoked or suspended, the person in question is usually behind a wheel anyway.

    Sidewalk parking is an issue. But it should be stated that parking in one’s “driveway” is still sidewalk parking and needs to be addressed. This is especially true on hills where most driveways have cuts into the pavement that make passing a vehicle near the building extremely difficult and walking around it into traffic extremely dangerous.

  • CityInsider

    @SF Resident Engineer – If you read SFMTA’s report you’d see that they are prohibiting parking at corners. Also, they recently opened the crosswalk at Gough and Hayes.

  • BCon

    I grew up in Santa Cruz, and for the last 10-15 years, every time they’ve re-paved a street or re-painted a crosswalk, they’ve been doing it in the “continental”/“ladder” style, which is MUCH more visible to drivers. The result is that the majority of crosswalks in Santa Cruz are now FAR more visible/safer than most in SF, even ones that have been freshly painted.

    I remember reading an article here (or somewhere) when they were re-doing Divisadero, and they asked Nate Ford why they weren’t doing the crosswalks in the “ladder” style when they re-striped the new street. He responded that it was too expensive to paint & maintain. I was so infuriated! I highly doubt it’s THAT much more costly, and even if it is, isn’t it worth it for the lives it would save?

    I agree with some of the commenters that we really need people running things that aren’t thinking with the same old mentality of the past, and are serious about living up to the Transit First ideal, rather than just paying lip service to it. I think it would be well worth the money to hire consultants from city planning and transit agencies in places like Denmark, The Netherlands, London, Paris, etc. who’ve made their cities work… or better yet, hire them to run our agencies.

  • CityInsider

    @Jass – Exactly! The report in question here shows that SF is the 2nd safest CA city for pedestrians. The report’s table compares against how many people actually walk, instead of just how many residents are in a city. This is why the table Roth found (not in the report) makes it seem 3 times safer to walk in Bakersfield when you are actually 4 times more likely to be hit.

  • CityInsider

    @Mario-In the report, there is a map showing one year of ped injury collisions on page 22.

    Has anyone on this blog read the report???

  • CityInsider

    @BCon – Check out page 51 of the report: they’re expanding the use of the continental crosswalks.


Task Force Begins Meeting to Develop Pedestrian Action Plan

A Pedestrian Safety Task Force charged with coordinating and implementing actions to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities in San Francisco met for the first time Tuesday, bringing together a large group of representatives from different city departments who rarely sit down at the same table to talk about pedestrian safety. “I do think that having […]

City Slow to Improve Pedestrian Safety in High-Crash Areas

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in our series of occasional stories on how to improve the streets for pedestrians in San Francisco. Top 12 Intersections with Most Pedestrian Injury Crashes – Past 10 years (SWITRS) We already know the number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities is increasing in San Francisco. The response by […]

SFPD Issues Targeted Enforcement Plan to Reduce Pedestrian Injuries

The San Francisco Police Department yesterday announced a commitment to reduce pedestrian injuries through targeted enforcement of dangerous driving. In a joint statement with Walk SF, the SFPD said it will target violations like speeding and red light-running, especially in areas with the highest pedestrian injury rates. SFPD also plans to sign an agreement soon to share data with […]

Advocates Argue San Francisco Must Improve Pedestrian Safety

Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography. Though San Francisco has been getting a lot of attention recently for its trial pedestrian plazas and "parklet" sidewalk extensions in former parking spaces, which has drawn interest from cities around the country and even spawned a copycat in New York City, the Big Apple has raised the bar considerably on […]

San Francisco Pedestrian Safety Efforts Mired in City Bureaucracy

Despite a growing political focus on pedestrian safety, a thick layer of city bureaucracy and lack of funding are stalling real change to prevent pedestrian injuries and fatalities on San Francisco streets, including three deaths in just the last week. The red tape and dysfunction became abundantly clear at a presentation and discussion at City […]

City’s Pedestrian Crash Toll Dwarfs Preventative Safety Costs

Two to three people are hit by cars every day on San Francisco’s dangerously motorized streets, and researchers are beginning to paint a clearer picture of the economic toll. The more than 800 pedestrian crashes a year are racking up a $76 million bill for injuries, reports the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), and advocates […]