Lacking Details, Officials Tout Upcoming SF Ped Action Strategy

Market and Fremont Streets, one block from where a pedestrian was ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/12/11/as-advocates-await-pedestrian-action-plan-sfs-18th-victim-killed-this-year/##killed last week##. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/herrera/3082904536/in/photostream/##fdo h/Flickr##

While there’s no concrete Pedestrian Action Strategy (formerly the “Action Plan”) for San Franciscans to read over yet, city officials went ahead and held a press conference today to tell the public the document is coming next month.

Mayor Ed Lee, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, and other officials gathered on the Powell Street Promenade (a.k.a. the “mega-parklet”) to tout the importance of street safety improvements and targeted enforcement efforts to reduce pedestrian injuries by 25 percent by 2016, and 50 percent by 2020, as set out in former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Directive on Pedestrian Safety.

The press event was unusual in that the officials didn’t have much substance to make public at this time. They previewed the pedestrian safety plan but that was about it. Lee said the plan will help “lessen the inequality that exists that we know today between neighborhoods, where people literally fear walking on our streets.”

The main piece of actual news to surface today is that SFPD is using a new data-driven enforcement tactic called “Focus on the Five.” SFPD Deputy Chief of Special Operations Denise Schmitt said that under this strategy, each police district is targeting enforcement at its top five most dangerous intersections or areas, as well as focusing on the top five most dangerous traffic violations: drivers running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, committing turning violations, and speeding.

Schmitt said police are targeting corridors like Market Street, Van Ness Avenue, and 19th Avenue, where a disproportionately high number of the 800-900 vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur every year. “We’ve got to bring these incidents down,” said Schmitt. “Really, what this is all about is saving lives and letting people enjoy this city.”

“The need for action is clear,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe, who called “Focus on the Five” and the developing Pedestrian Action Strategy “promising” ways to “use data to prevent traffic crimes just as we do to prevent other crimes.”

Mayor Lee speaks this morning with Ed Reiskin and the SFPD's Denise Schmitt. Photo: ##https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=478786362160482&set=a.129453683760420.11389.129234557115666&type=1&theater##SFMTA Livable Streets/Facebook##

The draft Pedestrian Action Strategy is expected to set out a target for the volume of pedestrian improvements each year, and one big open question is how San Francisco’s goal will stack up against similar commitments laid out by New York City and Chicago.

Stampe said implementing physical safety improvements on five miles of dangerous streets per year will “prevent hundreds of injuries and deaths from happening.”

“This will mean calming traffic on wide, fast arterials like Geary,” said Stampe, in a nod to the street in the background of the press conference. “This will also mean widening sidewalks and adding greening with innovative projects like the Powell Promenade.”

While Schmitt and Reiskin said their agencies would take proven measures to make streets safer, they also weren’t above some finger-wagging at pedestrians distracted by mobile phones — despite the absence of data that supports blaming the victim. “I do want to re-emphasize the point: reading that text message is not more important that your getting across the street safely,” said Reiskin. “If there’s one take-away here, it’s that everyone needs to be alert of their surroundings.”

Reiskin touted the agency’s ongoing efforts to implement safety measures like corner sidewalk bulb-outs, pedestrian countdown signals, road diets, and more visible crosswalks throughout the city.

Speaking from the Powell mega-parklet, which occupies space formerly dedicated to car parking on one of the country’s busiest pedestrian streets, Reiskin also praised the SFMTA Board of Directors for taking strong stances on reclaiming space from cars in favor of safer, more livable streets. “The ground that I’m literally standing on here is ground that used to be here for vehicles,” he said, “and now it’s here for people — for people to walk, to sit, to enjoy.”

  • Fran Taylor

    Meanwhile, the easy change that would target sidewalk parking goes unmentioned, even though tolerance of cars in pedestrian space breeds contempt toward San Franciscans on foot and encourages the sense of entitlement in drivers that we see in failure to yield violations at crosswalks. The line from the parked driver telling a pedestrian to “walk around, bitch” to the moving driver bullying through a crosswalk is short and direct. Leadership on this issue would involve nothing but some guts and willingness to take on driver complaining, but no, that’s asking too much. The inaction and silence of the city’s officials and mainstream press have made it clear that pedestrians are expendable.

  • Fran Taylor

    Meanwhile, the easy change that would target sidewalk parking goes unmentioned, even though tolerance of cars in pedestrian space breeds contempt toward San Franciscans on foot and encourages the sense of entitlement in drivers that we see in failure to yield violations at crosswalks. The line from the parked driver telling a pedestrian to “walk around, bitch” to the moving driver bullying through a crosswalk is short and direct. Leadership on this issue would involve nothing but some guts and willingness to take on driver complaining, but no, that’s asking too much. The inaction and silence of the city’s officials and mainstream press have made it clear that pedestrians are expendable.

  • Justin Ryan

    I used to complain regularly to SFMTA Parking Enforcement about cars completely blocking sidewalks on 26th St near Church, people parking in “driveways” that are about 3 feet private property and the rest sidewalk. SFMTA always said they would send someone out, but I noticed tickets were never being written. Finally, I arranged to talk to an officer who was sent out, and he said, “yeah, technically it’s illegal, but we try to go easy on people because it’s hard to park in this city.” He also said he’s just “following the rules,” so I tried talking to a supervisor — they are never available by phone, and do not return voicemails or messages left by the dispatchers, despite assurances otherwise. After about 10 tries, I gave up.

    Recently, I tried asking them about the widespread practice of drivers idling completely on the sidewalk before the street sweeper goes by, sometimes for a half hour or more. The dispatcher I talked to said, “we don’t want them blocking the street, so we encourage people to park on the sidewalk.” Asking him if this wasn’t illegal, he said, “not if you stay with the car and move it once the street sweeper has gone by.” Which is, of course, a complete lie. If anything, I believe driving on the sidewalk is a moving violation, let alone dangerous. 

    My guess is that the people who make the “rules” and enforce them have free parking at work and don’t have to experience SF as a pedestrian — this appears to be the case where the PCOs are based on Townsend under the 280 onramp, at least.

    So I agree, Fran, at best the decision makers are apathetic, at worst contemptuous, of pedestrians. And not to excuse drivers, but the high-speed road design and total lack of enforcement is what allows this to happen in the first place.