Will Deadly Sixth Street Finally Get the Pedestrian Safety Fixes It Needs?

A map of pedestrian injuries between 2005 and 2010 using ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/10/16/sfdph-interactive-map-highlights-sfs-most-dangerous-streets-for-walking/##data from the Department Public Health##.

The deadly stretch of Sixth Street between Market and Howard Streets in the South of Market District may get some long-overdue pedestrian safety fixes. The SF Municipal Transportation Agency kicked off the first of several community planning meetings on Tuesday for a project that could add pedestrian bulb-outs, marked crosswalks, and other measures that could make for a more livable street.

Sixth Street, designed to speed drivers between the Tenderloin and the 280 highway through a dense SoMa neighborhood, has an alarming rate of traffic violence. According to data from the Department of Public Health, 93 pedestrians were injured by drivers between 2005 and 2010, including five people who were killed.

“Right now, the design of Sixth Street prioritizes fast car travel to the freeway instead of the safety and comfort of the people who live and work here,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “It’s time for that to change.”

On a recent walking tour of the neighborhood organized by the SF Planning and Urban Research Association, D6 Supervisor Jane Kim noted that her district, which sees nearly 30 percent of the city’s pedestrian crashes, “has the most collisions in the entire city.”

“San Francisco has one of the worst vehicle-pedestrian collision rates in the country,” she said. “It’s the worst in the state of California, worse than New York City, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and a lot of major cities. We have some work to do.”

Sixth and Mission Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Sixth Street has seen some minor improvements in recent years, including street trees, corner bulb-outs, and more visible “continental” crosswalks striped at the Market, Mission and Howard Street intersections. The SFMTA also lifted a ban on curbside car parking during rush hours in the eastmost lane of Sixth between Folsom and Market Streets, since parked cars provide a physical barrier between pedestrians and fast-moving vehicle traffic. Prior to October 2011, the lane was designated for moving traffic instead of parking during rush hours to make room for car commuters, leaving pedestrians on the sidewalk exposed and encouraging drivers to speed up. South of Folsom, extra curbside traffic lanes are still in effect during rush hours.

The alleyways of Minna and Natoma, which cross Sixth, also received traffic calming measures like chicanes and raised crosswalks between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and a plan to extend those improvements west to Ninth Street was approved last year.

However, Sixth Street itself still lacks the kind of major changes needed to put a substantial dent in the number of injuries.

"Mother" Elaine Jones speaks at a District 6 walking tour with Supervisor Jane Kim. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanists/8429224066/in/set-72157632643675859##Sergio Ruiz, SPUR/Flickr##

Residents at Tuesday’s meeting complained of a lack of mid-block crosswalk markings, narrow sidewalks cluttered with objects like sign posts, and dangerous traffic conditions unfit for kids and seniors in the neighborhood.

“They’re terrified to cross the street to go to the store because people are speeding down the street,” said “Mother” Elaine Jones, a senior tenant organizer who lives at a single resident occupancy hotel at Howard and Sixth. “A lot of people are getting hit.”

“Many people here live in SROs,” said Stampe, “with little room and without the ability to have friends visit — the street really is the living room for many residents.”

“The community has been asking for a long time for fixes on Sixth Street. For years, more people have been hit while walking here than anywhere else in San Francisco,” she added. “Bringing mid-Market back to life requires space for people and foot traffic, not car traffic that speeds past local businesses.”

Planners didn’t present any specific proposals for the project, but reviewed general traffic calming measures that have been used elsewhere, like sidewalk widenings and new street trees, before asking residents what improvements they’d like to see. Ken Kwong, an SFMTA traffic engineer, said the agency is collaborating with SPUR to add a new parklet between Market and Mission. It’s unclear if a road diet is on the table.

The SFMTA hasn’t set a timeline for the project or identified where the project’s funding could come from, but the agency has identified $200,000 in Prop K sales tax revenue that it could receive to plan it. Planners said they would hold two more community meetings in the summer and fall.

The Russ Street crosswalk on Folsom. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The pace of safety improvements in the area so far isn’t promising. On the walking tour, Kim pointed to a crosswalk and traffic signal installed last April on Folsom, just west of Sixth, that provides a direct connection at Russ Street to Victoria Manalo Draves Park and Bessie Carmichael Elementary School.

Getting the project installed, she said, took ten years of advocacy from neighborhood and senior advocates.

The crosswalk’s opening was important enough to warrant a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Folks and families can actually walk to the park without having to walk these really long blocks to get there,” said Kim, “or jaywalk, as many of our residents did.”

  • Not saying that safety improvements are not needed but many down and out folks simply walk out onto the street into oncoming traffic. I wonder if these are the injuries being reported here. 

  • Anonymous

    I was hoping this wouldn’t be the first comment.

    I live in the area and the speed and volume of the cars on sixth and surrounding streets is horrendous. I think they need to consider speed bumps on all the alleyways, red light cameras at Market, and either a road diet or something to bring the speeds down to 20 mph.  

    To quote the current featured quotation:

    “Pedestrians and cyclists, even if being careless, shouldn’t have to DIE or be seriously maimed because of a mistake. A city designed in such a way is a cold, unforgiving, and ultimately undesirable place. We can do better.”

  • Anonymous

    Oh i have it! What about a protected bike lane/ sidewalk widening?  It would definitely help make the area a nicer place to be with slower/reduced car traffic.  And I’d really appreciate not having to go all the way to 7th before I get to ride in a bike lane.

  • Anonymous

    Agree with @coolbabybookworm:disqus Cars come off the James Lick Freeway up to Market at unacceptably high speeds.  Incidentally, I’ve been hit by cars twice.  Both times I was in the crosswalk with the right of way.  Unfortunately, as my dad used to say.  “You can be right.  Dead right”  If the drivers had been going just a little bit faster, I would have been. Dead, that is.

  • Funding shouldn’t be a problem: bulb outs are (or can be) incredibly cheap. New York City has been doing a ton of them with paint and those little plastic posts — there are a bunch on the Lower East Side. I presume they’re temporary / experimental until the sidewalk can actually be extended, but they make the pedestrian realm much more comfortable even as they are.

    I couldn’t find any pictures in NYC, but this GGW blog post has pictures of similar temporary bulb outs in DC: http://tinyurl.com/accugkn.

    And if everybody hates them — which would surprise me — you can remove them just as cheaply.

  • Bob

    Why aren’t there more officers on the street. Is it beneath the SFPD to direct traffic. Is it too much too ask since we subsidize their pensions and health care?

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Planners didn’t present any specific proposals for the project …The SFMTA hasn’t set a timeline for the project or identified where the project’s funding could come from …

    The City that Knows How!

    How many decades late is Better Market Street again?

    Just keep writing the blank checks!

  • vcs

    Yes, there’s plenty of people wandering around on 6th who have no idea where they’re going.

    But car drivers, they cross Market and see those wide SOMA streets, and *bam* hit the gas. 

    They should consider turning Sixth into a one-way southbound. Build out wider sidewalks, bike lanes, angled parking, etc. to narrow the actual roadway.

  • Martafry

    This stretch is not a commuter street as any who use it are witness to mid street crossings, drunks, drugged, crazed pedestrians crossing at all points, in general it’s a 5-10 mile per hr street profile of human insanity, ranting and general sadness of the human condition for many of its inhabitants. The focus here should be on social issues it’s only a coincidence that cars also use the pavement.

  • Abe

    Is it only a coincidence that those cars kill people? “Human insanity, ranting, and general sadness” aren’t what’s killing people on sixth street– cars slamming into people at unsafe speeds are. You might be more comfortable with one type of behavior (speedy traffic) than another (being poor) but your heebie-jeebies don’t correlate to the actual danger posed to people on 6th Street.

    Elizabeth Stampe’s quote is pertinent and I’m glad it’s in this article: “Many people here live in SROs,” said Stampe, “with little room and without the ability to have friends visit — the street really is the living room for many residents.”

    This is THEIR neighborhood, their front yard and living room. Get off your high horse and drive carefully when you go through it. Drive the way you would want people to drive on your street, where your children play.

  • Gisela Schmoll

    Part of the problem is that San Francisco is the second most congested city in the US. We need to do much more to get people out of their cars by putting our money towards alternative transport. Instead we spend billions on the Doyle drive (which is nice but think what could have been done with the money: we could have add miles of bike lanes or improvements to Muni).

  •  If you try to give them space free of traffic (like the Civic Center Plaza or Hallidie Plaza), their presence would make the space far less inviting for everyone else, whether it is panhandling, drinking in public, or selling drugs or stolen stuff. I think the higher than normal traffic deaths were caused by unusual behaviors exhibited by some people living there.

    The planner and their apologists, being politically correct, would ignore the social problems in the area and would rather blame everyone else. On the other hand, if the area is free of outsider traffic the situation with crime and sanitation would only get worse.

    If I have a choice one item on the table would be a median fence to deter jaywalking, but offer new marked crosswalks at the alleyways for better access.

  • Anonymous

    @a36b9991a7874df15be678599e60a6bb:disqus You think it’s a coincidence? I most certainly do not. The more freeway-like a road, the worse the neighborhood. To see this played out in the extreme, just look what happens to any neighborhood right next to a freeway (or under one, in the case of the utter disaster that was elevated freeways). The conditions 5 lanes of high-moving traffic create drive people out and make the neighborhood less livable. It’s a necessary condition to get rid of car-centric design to make a neighborhood livable.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great example of what could be an inexpensive fix to many poorly designed intersections in SF.  Thanks for posting!

  • Anonymous

    We need to implement weekday evening outbound congestion pricing to cut down the number of cars during the worst commute hours and raise funds for improved transit ($60-$80 million per year) – gotta do it if San Francisco wants to increase Central Corridor and all of these other land uses without increasing air pollution in SoMa.  To not implement congestion pricing and pursue the increased land use intensities is basically making it publicly policy to murder SoMa residents via increased carcinogens in the air we breathe.