Tomorrow: Why Is the SFMTA Raising a Speed Limit and Closing Crosswalks?

Tomorrow’s bi-weekly SFMTA engineering hearing has a couple of peculiar items on the agenda:

The SFMTA is planning to raise a speed limit on Winston Drive (top) and close crosswalks on Fulton Street at Funston and 14th Avenues (bottom). Photo: Google Maps

ESTABLISH – 30 MILES PER HOUR SPEED LIMIT
Winston Drive between Buckingham Way and Lake Merced Boulevard (existing speed limit is 25 miles per hour)

ESTABLISH – CROSSWALK CLOSURE
Closing of the western crosswalk (between the northwest and southwest corners) at the intersection of Fulton Street and Funston Avenue, and close the eastern crosswalk (between the northeast and southeast corners) at the intersection of Fulton Street and 14th Avenue

Speed limit increases and crosswalk closures are unusual for the SFMTA these days — you’ll more typically find speed limit decreases and crosswalk openings on the agenda instead. As the agency notes on its website, the city’s adopted Better Streets Plan recommends “that closed crosswalks be evaluated for opening in order to improve access and pedestrian network connectivity” and that the city “reduce speed limits as appropriate and strictly enforce existing speed limits.”

So why is the SFMTA taking measures that appear to contradict the city’s goals?

Agency spokesperson Paul Rose said that the 5 MPH speed limit increase on Winston Drive, which runs along the edge of SF State University, was requested by the campus police department because the current 25 MPH limit is not “legally defensible” under state law, since the majority of drivers aren’t adhering to it:

In order for their officers to cite people who speed using radar on this street, we need a legally defensible speed limit. A 25 mph speed limit would not be legally defensible for radar enforcement because of state speed trap laws. The state legislature created speed trap laws so that local law enforcement agencies cannot set speed limits as merely a revenue generating scheme. We are therefore obligated to take into account the actual speeds used by motorists in setting the speed limit under the presumption that the majority of motorists drive responsibly. The accepted cut-off of a responsible speed is called the 85th percentile speed. In the case of Winston Drive, the 85th percentile speed is 37.0 mph in the eastbound direction and 34.8 mph westbound. We can reduce the speed limit by a limited amount by taking into conditions “not readily apparent to the motorist.” Using those adjustments, the lowest legally defensible speed limit we can recommend for radar enforcement is 30 mph.

As for closing two currently unmarked crosswalks across Fulton Street at Funston and 14th Avenues, which lie next to Fulton and Park Presidio Boulevard — a notoriously dangerous intersection — Rose said that instead of installing new curb ramps, the agency would rather prohibit the “marginal” pedestrian crossings:

This will save money on the installation of new curb ramps along Fulton Street at two marginal locations. The Department of Public Works is planning on installing new curb ramps at all marked and unmarked crosswalks along Fulton Street. These intersections are only 70 feet away from the signalized intersection at Park Presidio Boulevard, which is a better location for pedestrians to cross because of the traffic signal control. The quality of the pedestrian crossing at those two locations is further compromised by the recurrent traffic queues blocking the pedestrian path of travel.

But in both cases, taking measures to calm car traffic seems to be a smarter policy than banning pedestrian crossings and making way for drivers to continue speeding — the very approach of car-centric 20th-century planning that San Francisco seems intent on undoing, according to its stated goals.

“It’s frustrating to see the city move backward, not only from improving streets for walking, but from its own stated goal of opening all crosswalks,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF. “I’m glad SF State police are tackling unsafe conditions, but raising the speed limit is a pretty lousy way to stop speeding; I hope SFMTA will do more to keep students safe.”

Rose didn’t say whether the agency is planning to implement any traffic calming measures on those streets, but the SFMTA has been improving visibility at intersections along Fulton by removing parking spots at corners, also known as “daylighting” (another recommendation of the Better Streets Plan), along with DPW’s planned curb ramps.

The SFMTA engineering hearing, which also includes the Fell and Oak protected bikeways, will take place tomorrow at 10 a.m. at City Hall in Room 416. You can also email staff at sustainable.streets@sfmta.com.

  • mikesonn

    “the current 25 MPH limit is not “legally defensible” under state law, since the majority of drivers aren’t adhering to it:” 

    Hey drivers, if enough of you break the law (speeding), they’ll just change the speed limit.

    Hey cyclists, if enough of you break the law (stop sign rolling), they’ll just hand out more tickets.

  • mikesonn

    “The quality of the pedestrian crossing at those two locations is further compromised by the recurrent traffic queues blocking the pedestrian path of travel.”

    Does this mean the SFMTA is going to start getting rid of all the crosswalks on Market and in SoMa?

  • The speed limit thing happens all over the place. Palo Alto and Los Altos have been over this again and again.

    Sometimes they vote to keep the lower posted limit even though it is non-enforceable hoping that people will be unaware 😉

  • The Greasybear

    I was thinking the same thing, mikesonn. If it were cyclists speeding en masse through that area, the official response would be harsh and punitive, with stings set up to facilitate mass ticketing, and stern warnings to all ‘those scofflaw cyclists’ repeated ad nauseum in the ensuing media circus. But since evidence shows *motorists* are breaking the law en masse, the response is to reward rather than to punish. There will be no sting, no mass ticketing, no stern warning to scofflaw motorists, no yellow media circus–instead, we will just change the law so bad motorists don’t in the future have to worry about any consequences for continuing to exceed the current speed limit. Bias, bias, bias.

  • Those bike lanes look too skinny and those car lanes look too wide. Narrow the car lanes and speeds will drop – maybe close enough for a 25 mph limit.

    Better yet, put the bikeway by the curb.

  • Indeed, I think it could be proven that the majority of drivers don’t adhere to speed limits on 3/4ths of San Francisco streets except when those streets are backed up to a standstill. Does this mean all speed limits should be raised or that the city needs to do a significant amount of effective traffic calming?

  • Anonymous

    To be fair, the increased speed limit is due to an idiotic state law rather than SFMTA lunacy. The law makes no sense as average speed is determined by road design, not by driver common sense, because drivers will drive as fast as the road design allows them to. So give Winston Drive the JFK treatment, with narrower traffic lanes right up against parked vehicles and protected bike lanes near the sidewalks, and then go back and measure the average speed of the traffic. I bet a 25mph limit would then be allowed even under the idiotic state law.

    As for the crosswalks- according to Google Maps, the western crosswalk at Funston and the eastern crosswalk at 14th are not marked crosswalks anyway. The eastern crosswalk at Funston and the western crosswalk at 14th are existing marked crosswalks, so the line in the article “closing the remaining crosswalk across Fulton Street at 14th Avenue” is a bit misleading. Providing the existing marked crosswalks are retained, it’s not a big deal.

  • I actually did have some inaccuracies with the crosswalk descriptions, but they’re fixed now. Thanks for catching it.

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to the world of Bruce Herms-inspired pedestrian planning.  

    Odd thing is, the crosswalk will still legally exist under the CVC, unless they plan to put up those g-ddamn “No Cross Here” signs.

    But without the painted lines, 99% of the drivers will not stop for you.

  • Adrienne Johnson

    How is this defensible as this street runs directly along Lowell High School and a preschool and SFSU? Widen and buffer the bicycle lanes, narrow the road! It will slow people down, improve the bicycle access and make the area much, much better. It isn’t exactly the busiest street in the City so why not JFK it and move the parking to create the buffer and use it as a means of studying the feasibility of these lanes on normal city streets? Talk about the least creative reaction to a situation.

  • Davistrain

    Who originated the term “traffic calming”?  Wouldn’t “traffic restricting” be a more accurate term?

  • I doubt that you can give Winston Drive the JFK treatment. Winston has more tight curves and is on a slope, so you would need to take account of the blind spots and braking distance for heavier vehicles such as buses and trucks. At the same time, the amount of pedestrian crossing activities are limited. There’s a section of the street that doesn’t have sidewalk on one side, and the Sutro Library was closed.

    I don’t agree with the idea of lowering the speed limit just for the sake of it (which is what the article is suggesting), rather than a specific need to improve safety. You want laws that people are able and willing to follow, not the laws that people want to ignore. For example many bikers ignore stop signs for legitimate reasons, but they violated a law nonetheless. If somehow we were to lower the speed limit way beyond the average for politics, others could reasonably argue zero tolerance for bikes not stopping at stop signs or traffic signals. Everybody would have to pay a few hundred bucks everytime for not applying the brakes enough.

  • @facebook-616986286:disqus Where do I suggest “lowering the speed limit just for the sake of it”? What I explicitly suggest is “taking measures to calm car traffic.”

  • Then my question is what would be the purpose of putting in traffic calming measures. There’s no major pedestrian destinations that are not already accommodated with marked crosswalks (this is atypical of San Francisco). There are two fairly wide bike lanes and the road already has the minimum number of traffic lanes necessary (the width is necessary for buses and other commercial vehicles). The road probably had 4 lanes at some point of history.

  • Guest

    Looking at the description, the crosswalks that are already marked remain, and the ones that aren’t marked will be closed.  I think that in this case, it makes sense.

    Thanks for changing the description in the article.  However, the photograph is still misleading, since it shows the crosswalk that will remain.  Ironically, that same photo shows a Muni bus that’s blocking the “crosswalk”to be closed.

  • Guest

    I agree that it’s unusual that if enough drivers speed, the speed limit can increase.  That said, it’s fair to say:

    Hey drivers, if enough of you break the law (stop sign rolling) they’ll just hand out more tickets  I know, because I got one (and deserved it).

    Hey cyclists, if enough of you break the law (stop sign rolling), let’s push for the Idaho stop.

  • Heres the problem with the speed limit thing.

    Speed is 25….you know why drivers are going 37? Because you never enforced it.
    Raising it to 30 and saying “now we get to enforce it!” doesnt mean anything if you DONT enforce it. As soon as drivers see 30 theyll apply the 11mph rule and suddenly the average speed is 41…and you cant enforce the speed limit until its 35mph.

     

  • keenplanner

    MTA always favors moving cars unless they’re forced to do otherwise. 

  • Speed limit is part an engineering and political decision. The current state law is intended to limit political influences (which is what some of you have been advocating) on setting the speed limit. I doubt the road is engineered to have an average speed of 41 though.

    Having people drive over 35mph on the street is indeed too fast, but I think 30mph is a realistic goal to meet rather than 25 which isn’t legal to enforce and unrealistic for drivers to meet.

  • Sprague

    Well said.  20 % bicycle mode share is the official city goal.  For that to happen, speed limits can’t be increased – especially on streets with bicycle lanes.  A redesigned street with parking protected bike lanes would enable slower and safer vehicle speeds and safer cycling infrastructure, thereby encouraging greater bicycle and pedestrian use of the street.

  •  Regardless of the 20% bike mode goal, we have to recognize that bicycling isn’t going to be as popular on certain streets and certain parts of the city despite the infrastructure. The street does go between SFSU and the high school, but the street only go by the rear (less traveled) part of the properties.

    Even if we were to increase transit mode share overall, there would be areas that transit will not perform well (low ridership, etc) and as a result there would be less service in those areas.

  • Filamino

    Yawn. More bullshit from people who can’t understand logic a few messages below.

    What the hell is the big deal about the Fulton crosswalk closure? There is a better signal controlled crossing less than 50 feet away! There is no sidewalk along the east side of 14th Ave or west side of Funston. There is no ped path or destination going north/south on the south side of Fulton Street. It sounds like Streetsblog is having a slow news day or something to create a big news story out of something so small. Sheesh.

  • GL

    @Filamino: the big deal is the accommodation of cars over pedestrians in a dense, urban environment where that should never happen. If restricting pedestrian access and increasing speed limits above a deadly threshold (the fatality rate for crashes at 30 mph is exponentially higher than 25 mph) is your preference, then there’s a whole wide country out there, most of which would love to accommodate your desires.

  • I don’t agree with this either or scenario between pedestrian and vehicular movement. Since nearly all motorists become pedestrians at some point during the trip, especially in San Francisco, and that most non-motorist pedestrians will ride in some form of vehicle for some of their trips (transit, taxis, carpool, bike, etc), I don’t think a lot of people will support slowing down vehicle more than what’s necessary for safe movement, or ban motor vehicles altogether (if there are no motor vehicles then there would be no fatalities associated with motor vehicles).

    Some people may be selfish (like to walk willy-nilly across the street but want to drive fast in the city, or want the bus to stop at bus stops that serve them but want to skip all others). Whatever it is local condition is an important factor, you can’t rely on some ideology and ignore local conditions.

  • TomLantos

    The 11 mph rule doesn’t apply anymore.It’s now 3, maybe 5 max, and a lot of officers demand that drivers stick to posted speed limit regardless of traffic. You actually can get a ticket for driving 5 mph over speed limit..and abig one, with traffic school. Things changed a lot, that’s why 25 is driving on breaks and 30-35 is safe, smooth traffic, with fully signalised intersections lights and ped’s crossing signals…which also very short on timing like 20 sec for 6 lanes!

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