Without Traffic Calming, Sunset Blvd. Project a Missed Chance to Save Lives

Sunset Boulevard at Ortega Street. Photo: Google Street View

Six-lane Sunset Boulevard is one of the city’s most dangerous streets to cross, but that won’t change under plans being developed by the SF Public Utilities Commission.

Intersections along Sunset where pedestrian deaths and injuries occurred between 2005 and 2010. Image: SFDPH

The SFPUC’s Sunset Boulevard Greenway project is aimed at replacing the underground sewer system and re-landscaping the corridor’s grassy medians, which are half a block wide and separate the motorway from parallel streets, to better absorb stormwater. While traffic and safety improvements aren’t the focus on the project, digging up the street — a rare and major city investment — offers a chance for the SFMTA to make changes that could reduce pedestrian injuries, says Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe.

“The SFPUC’s current greening designs fail to address the conditions on this wide, fast street that make it so deadly,” said Stampe. “This is a real missed opportunity.”

Between 2005 and 2010, 28 people were hit by cars on Sunset — many suffering severe injuries, according to data from the Department of Public Health. Three victims were killed, including an 83-year-old man at Taraval Street in 2005, a 20-year-old woman at Vicente Street in 2008, and 81-year-old Yee-Sung Poon, run over in a crosswalk at Santiago Street in January, 2009.

Poon’s death was deemed nothing more than “a tragic accident” by police, according to the SF Chronicle.

But such tragedies can be prevented with smarter design. Stampe suggests removing two of Sunset’s six traffic lanes, which would help tame car traffic. The only change made to Sunset in recent years was the installation of a traffic signal at Quintara Street, which, unlike redesigning streets for slower speeds, doesn’t necessarily make streets safer.

“Right now the project fails to include any traffic calming, even though Sunset is deadly for walking,” Stampe said. “Any improvements to Sunset should include crosswalk improvements and a road diet to make it safer for everyone.”

Although no curbs will be moved and the geometry of Sunset won’t really change, the SFPUC says its project could result in “rejuvenated pedestrian and cyclist space and trail use” along the medians. The SF Bicycle Coalition has called for protected bike lanes along the corridor, though those don’t appear to be on the table, either.

Stampe noted that once the project is completed, “the SFPUC is talking about bringing children from nearby schools to enjoy the new greening.”

“Unless the street is made safer, so it’s no longer one of the city’s most deadly corridors, that’s a pretty bad idea.”

You can fill out an interactive survey on the project here.

  • Mark Dreger

    Here’s a rare example where there’s plenty of space to make everyone happy. (There’s never enough traffic to justify three lanes in each direction.) Let’s get to work!

  • George

    I agree that Sunset needs a road diet, however the PUC is currently legally bound to only spend taxpayer money on water related infrastructure. Possible to change that policy….?

  • Bruce Halperin

    Take the outside lanes and replace them with buffered bike lanes in each direction (like those on Fell and Oak). Minimal investment with major safety improvements.

  • guest

    I have this feeling that drivers just abuse uncontrolled intersections. They like to “make up” time from stopping at traffic signals… So as they burn rubber from one light to the next, they endanger everyone around them.

    I cant say bike lanes would be the best in this location if cars maintain such high velocities.. I fear the right hooks that are all too common, and there really needs to be more connecting infrastructure. But curb extensions on the crossing streets may slow turning cars, and filling in signals with timing to keep cars at a lower but steady pace would really help. But since there isn’t a lot of heavy cross traffic at most intersections, it would be best if signals are demand based with countdowns for pedestrians. [side question, has anyone ever studied how beneficial countdown signals are??! They really help drivers and pedestrians, just like longer yellow signals]

  • Ted King

    the corridor’s grassy medians, which are half a block wide

    First off, the corridor is a triplet of 36th Ave. / Sunset Blvd. / 37th Ave. Second, the only median is about fifteen feet in width. What you call “grassy medians” are actually forested, green shoulders that serve as a sound barrier and are about a third of a block in width. Some blocks are open forest with grass while others are denser with substantial undergrowth. I don’t know if this still happens, but I’ve seen horseback riders on the eastern trail in the distant past (decade+ ago).

    NB – San Francisco has a sort of “green bridge” that connects the Presidio in the north to San Mateo County in the south. The sequence going south is : Park Presidio Blvd., Golden Gate Park, Sunset Blvd., and Lake Merced Park. Not all of the local wildlife is two-legged.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    So let them dig up the road, replace the sewer and then not put the road back. Some other agency can put the road back the way it deserves to be done.

  • Sprague

    I also agree that Sunset is a perfect spot for a protected or separated bike path. As it now stands, cyclists must take a much slower parallel street, ride on the sidewalk (to the inconvenience of pedestrians), or risk their lives on Sunset’s roadway. There is plenty of space for a safe and pleasant bike path. Such a path would have great appeal for AP Giannini Middle School’s and St. Ignatius’ students and staff (as well as those of other nearby schools) and it would be a great commuting and recreational corridor (connecting GGP and Lake Merced). Sunset is a natural bicycling connection for points further south, like Stonestown, SFSU and beyond to Daly City BART. Just like motorists appreciate and utilize direct and fast connections, so too do cyclists.

  • Who is defending the idea of eliminating parking on Masonic Ave? We need their perspective, a the SHARP meeting, on Monday, at 1736 9th Ave, at 7pm.
    jack barry, SHARP board member.

  • Scott F

    “There’s never enough traffic to justify three lanes in each direction.”

    This just isn’t true, especially at rush hour. There are often very full lanes of traffic at certain times and reducing to two lanes in each direction is likely to create a worse problem. You don’t live near here, do you?

    The traffic is made worse because none of the lights are synchronized and many of the cross lights are very long, perhaps to allow pedestrians time to cross. There are lights every 2 blocks or so and I see they are adding additional lights in between so now it will be every block many places. These long lights, unsynchronized for cross traffic are only going to make cars on sunset race from one light to try and get through the next if possible. The other thing it may do is push traffic onto 36th and 37th aves which are already having this happen in some cases since they only have 2-way stops at every block and are about 1/4 block from sunset at most. I’ve seen cars racing down 36th and 37th from stop sign to stop sign because the waits are shorter than at the frequent unsynchronized lights.

    The intersections on 36th and 37th are incredibly dangerous to cross because the space is so short to sunset and cars make very rapid turns off sunset at high speeds. Many cars also use these intersections to turn off sunset, make a quick U-turn without looking and race across to the other side of sunset (since no left turns are allowed on sunset).

    While I agree there is space to allow dedicated bike lanes, I don’t think reducing the number of lanes on sunset is the way to make them. The pedestrian paths along it could easily be eliminated and converted to bike-only since there are sidewalks on both 36th and 37th which are about 30 feet from sunset and most pedestrians and dog walkers prefer these streets over walking along sunset because of the loud and unpleasant traffic noise which is somewhat reduced on the other side of the trees and bushes in the noise barrier and forested strip for the residential streets surrounding.

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