SFMTA’s Traffic Calming Program Overwhelmed By Demand for Safer Streets

Demand for traffic calming improvements like these outstrips funding by a factor of five to one. Image: SFMTA

The demand for projects to calm motor traffic and improve safety on San Francisco streets is far greater than the SFMTA can currently handle.

The agency says its Traffic Calming program lacks the staff and funding needed to address the overwhelming number of neighborhood requests for safer streets. As a result, many residents are left waiting a decade or longer for improvements that are proven to save lives and prevent injuries.

“We feel like there’s been such a latent demand — or current demand, even — for traffic calming that, given various limited resources, these requests are piling up,” SFMTA Livable Streets Senior Engineer Mike Sallaberry told the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Plans and Programs Committee last week, which approved funding for program staff to revise its five-year project prioritization plan.

According to Sallaberry’s presentation [PDF], the SFMTA receives an average of six to eight applications for traffic calming improvements every month, adding up to more than 500 since the agency began accepting them in 2001. By the time the SFMTA started implementing projects in 2005, staff already had over 135 approved applications in the pipeline.

The SFMTA has put its application process on hold until later this year as it determines which projects to prioritize over the next five years. The backlog of projects for that time frame would require an estimated $64.7 million to implement, $27 million of which have been planned (or are being planned). But only $12.4 million will be available to build out the projects, according to projections presented [PDF] to the SFMTA Board of Directors this week by Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose. The funding comes from various grants and the city’s Prop K sales tax revenue, which is allocated by the SFCTA to transportation projects citywide.

How the SFMTA sees its capacity to meet the demand for traffic calming. Image: SFMTA

Sallaberry explained that traffic calming requests are prioritized according to the severity of the safety problem in a given area, based on factors like the number of crashes.

“If your area is not the worst in the city, we have to deal with the most severe problems first,” he said.

For each application, the wait to reach the top of the list could take one year, or it could take over five years, Sallaberry said. At that point, staff begins a six- to 18-month community planning process, followed by a planning and implementation phase that takes at least two years — or more than five, depending on the project’s size.

“Traffic calming evokes strong emotions in people, so we want to make sure our process is as thorough as possible, albeit reasonable timeline-wise,” said Sallaberry.

But as local streets take a back seat to more dangerous high-speed arterials, where pedestrian crashes are most likely to occur, District 2 Supervisor and SFCTA committee member Mark Farrell said he was concerned about seeming unresponsive to constituents who might bemoan the lengthy timeline for local street improvements.

“I don’t want to be faced with an instance where, ‘Hey, there are cars buzzing down the street, my kid almost got run over, it happens every week,’ and — ‘Hey, there’s nothing we can do about it,'” said Farrell.

Sallaberry assured the supervisor that traffic calming on local streets would still ultimately be addressed, though he reiterated that improving arterial streets delivers the most “bang for our buck.”

Traffic calming projects planned or in planning, totaling $27 million. For a list of current projects, see the ##http://www.sfmta.com/cms/ocalm/13568.html##SFMTA's traffic calming page##. Image: SFMTA
  • jjsmack

    I wonder why, with a $6 billion annual budget, the city doesn’t have the budget to do more than $12 million in traffic calming over the next 5 years.

    If the city can’t do it with its budget, there must a way somehow to raise the money locally. $65 million turns out to be about $80 per person in the city… a drop in the bucket.

  • I wonder why – if the whole city is crying for traffic calming, that Rob Anderson thinks it’s a bad thing that the bike lanes are going to slow traffic 😉

  • jjsmack

    Amen to that

  • jjsmack

    Wait, it wouldn’t “slow” traffic, it would “screw up” traffic

  • mikesonn

    “the whole city” does not equal the “silent majority”

  • Anonymous

    I expect lawsuits against the SFPD for failing to enforce speed limits, intersection stops, and double parking should be on the menu of advocacy groups. All the traffic calming in the world doesn’t matter when your enforcement is practically non-existent. You’d think when there are 2-3 injuries or deaths a day, the SFPD might realize these things are more important than babysitting OCCUPY folks or watching for shoplifters at Ross Stores or Westfield.

  • Anonymous

    Oh… And a weekday evening, outbound only traffic congestion toll (let’s say between 3pm and 7pm) would potentially provide $60-$80 million a year … From folks who are generally the most dangerous, in my opinion, and who put a whole lotta wear and tear on the roads with no charge if they got a handicap placard to park free at a meter.

  • Anonymous

    It’s called lip service

  • Davistrain

    Where did the term “traffic calming” come from?  It looks to me that calling the process “motor vehicle restricting” would be more accurate.  (that said, when I travel from Southern California to SF in my car, I park it at the motel and leave it there until ready to head for less urban areas.) 

  • Anonymous

    I have an idea — how about raise taxes on rich people, people who drive, corporations, etc.? Done and done.

  • Designing roads to be uncomfortable to speed or otherwise drive recklessly is usually a better way to get drivers to behave than enforcement measures. You simply can’t put a cop on every block and have them there all the time. A speed hump, chicane, or traffic island is ever-vigilant.

  • Kevin

    Someone should write a story about how dangerous it is for pedestrians in the southern districts like the Excelsior. I constantly see people cutting through my neighborhood using local roads just to avoid traffic lights at major intersections. They often do so at way higher speeds than local traffic – it’s easy to spot. Being sandwiched between two freeways doesn’t make it any better either.

  • guest 13

    3 of the 4 examples for traffic calming at the top of the post have a negative effect on cyclists: They create pinch points. Cars will race to get ahead of the cyclist before the pinch point, and if they fail they’ll just squeeze the cyclist. And painting a cycle lane will not help there, as the “kamikaze cycle lane” videos spreading in the blogosphere will show.

  • As opposed to them racing even faster with no constraints. Properly calmed streets with several devices along the whole corridor (as opposed to one random hump here and there) will bring everyone down to slower speeds (15-20 mph).

  • I, too, dislike traffic calming that creates pinch points for cyclists.  Similar to guest 13 above, I have experienced cars roaring past me at high speeds to get to the pinch point first and then swerving dramatically at the last second and slamming on their breaks as they cut me off.  (And then I have to break sharply not to hit them and breathe their horrid exhaust created by their ridiculous acceleration.)  Though indeed at the actual pinch point the speed of the vehicle might be lower than without the pinch point, the brain-dead recklessness induced by the driver’s psychological need not to be trapped behind a bicycle for a second or two far outweighs whatever brief reduction in speed the pinch point might create.

    My two least favorite pinch points that I am constantly bothered by drivers drag racing me to get there first:  Noe at Beaver, one block north of Market (in all other respects, Noe between Market and Duboce is a lovely street to bicycle down) and Scott at Lloyd, going south between Waller and Duboce.

    We need to create ways to slow cars down and create safety for pedestrians without creating unsafe conditions for bicyclists.  A 20 mph speed limit for all residential roads in SF (i.e. all non-arterials) with occasional speed humps would certainly help.  Less through streets (streets that are blocked to cars every four blocks or so but are porous to pedestrians and cyclists) so that drivers aren’t tempted to use residential roads as arterials would also help. 

  • I wonder what happened to the Pedestrian Refuge Island that they built and then later removed from 2nd Street at South Park in the marked crosswalk across 2nd St.  They had built up an island, but all that is left now is a white spot, like a crime scene marker for a ‘dead island’.

  • I wonder what happened to the Pedestrian Refuge Island that they built
    and then later removed from 2nd Street at South Park in the marked
    crosswalk across 2nd St.  They had built up an island, but all that is
    left now is a white spot, like a crime scene marker for a ‘dead island’. 

  • Pseudolus1

    How’d San Jose Avenue fall off the map?  It’s still listed at
    http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/CDG/CDG_projects.htm#san_jose_ave

  • Anonymous

    Yes, but for the times when SFPD is watching the laws being broken and doing nothing…. It’s kinda like noticing someone drowning and not lifting a finger to help them.

  • There’s a chicane in the Presidio where the bike lane goes straight through, separated from the car lane by a little crescent of concrete.

  • slowdownforeveryonessake

    Why are we driving faster these days?
    If we add a traffic calming device to one street, it slows down traffic there but then it moves the traffic to another street. Then we build another traffic calming device and then another…the more we create delays the more people want to rush.
    Why not just drive slower? We need a public campaign to educate drivers to drive responsibly thru other people’s neighborhoods.
    Look at all the money we would save if everyone just decided to slow down.
    Start a campaign “I’ll slow down in your neighborhood if you slow down in mine.”

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