Task Force Begins Meeting to Develop Pedestrian Action Plan

Photo: Bryan Goebel

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 this many agencies talking about this topic together is a big step forward for the city,” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco, who attended the meeting.

The task force is the result of an executive directive issued by the Mayor’s Office [pdf] in late December that, for the first time, sets specific targets and dates for reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths. The 25-member group must develop a Pedestrian Action Plan that will meet the directive’s goals of reducing serious and fatal pedestrian injuries by 25 percent by 2016, and 50 percent by 2021.

Its mission also includes promoting and increasing walking along with “measurable goals and benchmarks” to address “existing disparities in injuries, deaths and walking conditions in San Francisco neighborhoods.” The directive was partly modeled after New York’s Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, and preceded criticism from advocates that the city was failing to act to improve conditions for pedestrians.

This week’s two-hour meeting comes at a time when momentum to address pedestrian issues seems to be building. More than 800 people a year are injured by drivers on the streets of San Francisco and 100 people are killed or severely injured. Those serious injuries create more than $15 million in annual hospital costs, most of it publicly funded through Medicare and MediCal, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“We’ve seen a growing focus on pedestrian safety, not only just in San Francisco, but nationwide. More people are walking and more people are going to be doing more walking as our city demographics keep changing,” the SFMTA’s Deputy Director of Transportation Planning, Timothy Papandreou, told the SFMTA Board recently.

Children, seniors and the poor in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SoMa remain the most vulnerable. Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents those neighborhoods and has pledged to make pedestrian safety a priority, will convene a hearing April 7 to address the problem as it relates to District 6. In addition, Supervisor Eric Mar is holding a hearing on citywide pedestrian issues April 11.

Mayor Ed Lee also seems committed to prioritizing pedestrian safety, telling Streetsblog recently that he wants to “‘move quickly” on the directive:

“I am a big fan of that executive directive and I am definitely wanting to lower, if not eliminate, pedestrian fatalities. I am even intrigued with designing these streets immediately so that they don’t have car parking at the corner so that you can see the pedestrians come out.”

Near-Term Actions

The directive called for short-term actions to be “commenced within 60 days,” including implementing 15 mph speed limit signage at all San Francisco schools, identifying and implementing “home zones” for traffic calming, establishing a pedestrian safety engineering program in corridors and neighborhoods with high pedestrian injuries and fatalities and a pedestrian safety enforcement program lead by San Francisco Police and the Department of Public Health.

In a workshop presentation last month [pdf], Papandreou said the SFMTA has commenced the near-term actions, but some of them, including establishing the 15mph speed limits and creating home zones, may take two to four years to complete. Stampe of Walk SF would like to see them happen sooner.

“MTA should move ahead right away on establishing school zones. MTA should establish as many school zones as possible at once to get protections into place for kids around schools and do it quickly and efficiently,” said Stampe, who wants to see the city commit to deadlines for completing the actions as soon as possible.

Another issue is funding, but Papandreou said the SFMTA, the lead agency that will be implementing the action plan, is working on a strategy.

“We really don’t have enough funding for the pedestrian program, and it’s the hardest source of funding to find for this mode,” said Papandreou. “There’s transit money for transit, there’s highway money for roads but for pedestrian safety, for a city pedestrian project, it’s fairly difficult, so we’re taking a different tack, and that is, if we focus on complete streets and work on designing pedestrian safety within those streets we should be able to get the funding we need.”

Coordinating among all the city departments is also going to be a challenge but Stampe said there seemed to be a willingness to get things done and “that’s a positive sign.”

“The safety and comfort of pedestrians in this city is finally getting the attention it deserves — now it’s time to translate this energy into real change on the streets,” said Stampe.

  • Nick

    The City needs to do more outreach when they install pedestrian “Sight Lines.” They’re not just randomly red zoning parking spaces. If people knew what they were for, they would demand tons of them.

    Bryan, can we make this thread interactive once again? Where would your readers like to see sight lines?

  • JF

    The pedestrian action plan that New York wrote, the one SF modeled their’s off of, is very comprehensive and well researched. It has many more concrete timelines and deadlines than the SF version. San Francisco should set more time related deadlines for pedestrian improvements so that we can hold their feet to the fire.

    The New York report also calls for working with the DMV to include education materials for driver education teachers. Education of this sort is very needed b/c there is good research that most people, peds. and drivers alike, don’t understand the most basic rules of who has the right-of-way.

    I’ve also always wondered about the blind spot created by the steel roof supports (not sure what to call them, the frame around the windshield) of cars. Has anyone ever studied how much of a blind spot is created? It seems that half the time when people don’t see me walking is b/c I am right in that spot where the roof support is.

  • I think about the info below each time I try to cross any major street in SOMA. Try crossing 7th at Minna or Natoma for example. Not even the police cars will stop for me.

    This is straight from the California Driver Handbook (http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/driver_handbook_toc.htm):

    Pedestrians

    -Respect the right-of-way of pedestrians. Always stop for any pedestrian crossing at corners or other crosswalks, even if the crosswalk is in the middle of the block, at corners with or without traffic lights, whether or not the crosswalks are marked by painted lines.

    -Do not pass a vehicle that has stopped at a crosswalk. A pedestrian you cannot see may be crossing the street.

    -Do not stop in a crosswalk. You will place pedestrians in danger.

    -Remember, if a pedestrian makes eye contact with you, he or she is ready to cross the street. Yield to the pedestrian.

    -Allow older pedestrians, disabled pedestrians and pedestrians with young children sufficient time to cross the street.

    Crosswalks

    -A crosswalk is the part of the roadway set aside for pedestrian traffic. Most intersections have a pedestrian crosswalk whether or not lines are painted on the street. Most crosswalks are located at corners, but they can also be located in the middle of the block. Before turning a corner, watch for people about to cross the street. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks.

    -Crosswalks are often marked with white lines. Yellow crosswalk lines may be painted at school crossings. Most often, crosswalks in residential areas are not marked.

    -Some crosswalks have flashing lights to warn you that pedestrians may be crossing. Look for pedestrians and be prepared to stop, whether or not the lights are flashing.

  • e036, the tricky part about Minna and Natoma is that, in the California Vehicle Code, a crosswalk does not automatically exist where an alley meets a street (definition 275), and there is a special case that allows the City of San Francisco (and no other entity) to designate any street whose roadway is less than 25 feet wide to be an alley (definition 110).

    So, as ridiculous as it is, those are not unmarked crosswalks and instead fall under the “upon a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection” case.

    (I know that drivers are bad about yielding to pedestrians even where they are required to, though.)

  • TK

    Wow, that’s really interesting. I think this is definitely worth more investigation: Are roads like MInna, Natoma, Stevenson, etc etc really less than 25 feet wide? I totally agree that in part what makes SOMA an intractable mess is the long, long blocks and the speed at which cars zoom from one light to the next. The lack of pedestrian (or bike) crossings don’t help.

    I’m also wondering now about intermediate streets in the Mission, like Albion, Lexington, Shotwell…these are all alleys, technically?

    I think there has to be a good way to enable mid-block crossings (I was thinking where a road T’s at your starting point, but it’d be good to start at least at minor intersections in SOMA). How can SOMA put any plan in place to enhance livable streets, otherwise?

  • Yes, they really are that narrow. The total right of way for Minna and Natoma is 35 feet, with 7-foot sidewalks on each side, for a roadway of 21 feet.

    The northern block of Albion has a 30-foot roadway, so it ought to count as a street, even though 16th isn’t painted to suggest that it is. Shotwell also has a 30-foot roadway, and I think it is generally marked as a street, but Lexington is only 20 feet. (I am getting these numbers from the Department of Public Works’s “Key Maps.”)

    I totally agree that SOMA could use lots more pedestrian crossings, especially where roadways meet (whether they count as alleys or streets). The one good thing about one way streets is that the crossings could even be signalized without affecting the timing of the other traffic lights.

  • I want to second what Nick said, as simply red-zoning what seem to be legitimate parking spaces will cause rancor among the automobile diehards. If those red zones were marked ‘Pedestrian Right of Way’ or something similar, it would call attention to the plight of the hundreds who are killed each year on our streets. Also, I’d be pleased to hear them intone the argument they use against bicyclists when street infrastructure is used for bike safety:

    “Bikes don’t pay gas taxes or licensing fees, so why should they get special privileges?”

    Simply replace ‘bikes’ with ‘pedestrians,’ and the argument becomes even more specious.

    Also want to add on to eo36’s comment about existing laws: We always convene these commissions, when it really does appear that existing laws pretty much deal with much of the issues. The police will say they simply don’t have the resources, but really it’s the lack of will, or the mission, for that matter, to enforce existing laws.

  • Deanzamail

    please stress pedestrian re-education. Pedestrians need to be responsible for their lives as well. Look, Watch, Listen should be their watch words. I think educating pedestrian to be more watchful of traffic will go a long way to saving injuries and lives of pedestrians.