Senator Yee’s Move to Enshrine Double-Fine Zones Could Get Supes’ Support

With a trial period for double traffic fine zones on 19th Avenue, Van Ness Avenue, and Lombard Street set to expire at the end of the year, State Senator Leland Yee hopes to extend them indefinitely, crediting the measures for drops in pedestrian injuries, despite results appearing mixed. Yee’s new proposal, SB 219, could get the backing of the SF Board of Supervisors, which is set to consider a resolution [PDF] on Tuesday introduced by Supervisors Eric Mar and Norman Yee declaring the board’s support for the bill.

Senator Leland Yee on 19th Avenue in 2008, announcing the trial for double-fine zones with then-Supervisor Carmen Chu. Photo: Office of Senator Yee

“San Francisco’s streets, as many of us know, need to be a safe place for everyone,” Mar told the board on Tuesday. “But we have a long way to go, and major thoroughfares that drivers treat like expressways — you all know many of those streets, from Masonic to 19th Avenue — but they still pose a major to pedestrians every day.”

Yee’s proposal would make double-fine zones permanent on the surface streets comprising Highways 1 (19th/Park Presidio) and 101 (Van Ness and Lombard Street), which fall under the jurisdiction of Caltrans. “Some of the most dangerous streets are those which also serve as state highways,” added Mar.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, said the organization supports Yee’s proposal, and will be watching for the police department to step up traffic enforcement against dangerous driving violations on the corridors. ”There should be a penalty for speeding and driving dangerously in a densely populated urban area where you can hurt a lot of people,” she said. “That’s what this legislation ensures.”

The double-fine zone trial was instituted at the start of 2009 at the behest of Yee, who sought the measure to bolster pedestrian improvements on 19th. The Senate approved the experiment on the condition that the zones also be tried on Van Ness and Lombard, which didn’t see other improvements, as a baseline for comparison.

Results on the efficacy of the measure, however,  have been mixed: In 2009, while pedestrian crashes on 19th decreased from 17 to 14 compared to the previous year, they actually quadrupled on Van Ness. The next year saw injuries drop on all four streets, according to the SF Examiner, but they increased again in 2011 on each street except Van Ness, with 19th seeing a 67.6 percent increase from the previous year.

19th Avenue and Irving Street. Photo: Cindy Chew, SF Examiner

Still, the most dramatic improvement in safety has happened on 19th, where doubled fines were coupled with street improvements and increased traffic enforcement. While ten pedestrians were killed on the street between 2003 and 2007, according to a press release from Yee’s office, only one is known to have been killed since then. And despite the initial jump in pedestrian injuries on Van Ness, Yee pointed out that both streets saw no pedestrian fatalities in 2009 or 2010.

Although data isn’t immediately available for 2011 and 2012, at least one pedestrian was serious injured on Van Ness at Vallejo Street last June, and a pedestrian was killed on Lombard near Van Ness last March. Physical safety improvements on Van Ness aren’t expected until the construction of Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit, set to open in 2016. No known safety fixes are in the works for Lombard.

“While we continue to make improvements along these corridors, there is no doubt that the double fine zone has helped improve these dangerous streets, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Yee said in a statement. “Through SB 219 we can help protect our seniors, students, and families indefinitely.”

Yee’s office explains how the special zones affect traffic fines:

Under Yee’s law, base fines for unlawful passing and overtaking, excessive speed, reckless driving, drunken driving, and other similar serious moving violations are doubled. Base fines range from $50.00 (for speeding up to 15 mph over the limit) to $500.00 (for reckless driving causing great bodily injury). Adding the double fine zone and local and state assessments tickets instead range from $181.00 (for speeding over the limit up to 15 mph) to $2,400.00 (for reckless driving causing great bodily injury).

While the supervisors resolution would only represent a symbolic show of support, Stampe said Walk SF “applauds Supervisor Mar’s and Supervisor Yee’s leadership, and hope they will be joined by their fellow supervisors on this initiative.”