Mayor’s “State of the City” Offers Tepid Support for Vision Zero

The mayor’s “State of the City” speech last Friday was a major opportunity for Ed Lee to call for the changes needed to sharply reduce traffic deaths in San Francisco. Lee did endorse the Vision Zero goal, though it wasn’t exactly a full-throated call to action. He also re-affirmed his desire to repeal metered parking on Sundays, ignoring the benefits reported by the SFMTA.

Image: Mayor's Office

Image: Mayor’s Office

The idea that San Francisco should aim to eliminate traffic fatalities has recently picked up momentum from many different quarters in city government. Vision Zero resolutions proposed by the Board of Supervisors and the SFMTA Board of Directors appear to have broad support, and the SFPD backed the goal last week with policy reforms that should improve police response to crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. At a meeting immediately following a rally at City Hall yesterday, the SFMTA Board directed its staff to draft a Vision Zero resolution, as proposed by vice chair Cheryl Brinkman, who noted that ”we play a major role in ensuring that pedestrians can safely walk the streets of San Francisco.”

“People shouldn’t be killed or seriously hurt just trying to get around our city,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, who praised the “leadership from the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.”

The mayor’s address on traffic violence, while touching on several aspects of street safety, lacked the sense of urgency and moral commitment that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio conveyed in a Vision Zero announcement earlier this month. Here’s what Lee had to say:

And let me say a few words about another public safety challenge on our City’s streets that last year grew at an alarming rate, and that’s the safety of our pedestrians and bicyclists.

This week I announced a renewed strategy to keep people safe, including stepped up enforcement, especially against reckless drivers, better training for commercial drivers and those who drive the most, our “Be Nice, Look Twice” public education campaign, and improvements in places like Polk Street and South Van Ness, where we most urgently need improvements.

It’s another reason the transportation measures I discussed earlier are so important, so we can dramatically expand our segregated bike lanes and pedestrian bulb-outs.

I also support the goals of Vision Zero to eliminate traffic-related deaths in our City, but to get there, we need a little more common sense as well. For everyone, be more aware of your surroundings. And drivers, slow down and for darn sake, don’t ever text and drive at the same time.

San Francisco is one of the most pedestrian and bicycle-friendly cities in America. Let’s work together in 2014 to make it the safest city in America for those activities as well.

To be sure, it was encouraging that Lee mentioned infrastructure like “segregated bike lanes” and bulb-outs, as well as “stepped up enforcement, especially against reckless drivers,” but a big chunk of this passage about street safety consists of just telling San Franciscans to behave. “Common sense” isn’t going to achieve Vision Zero. Public policy will.

The Bay Guardian’s Steve Jones wrote that the mayor’s endorsement of Vision Zero was a “nice sentiment, but one that is totally disconnected from how he’s choosing to spend taxpayer money and use city resources.”

Lee was also sure to talk about the ballot funding measures proposed by his Transportation 2030 Task Force, stressing the need to increase funds for transit, walking, and biking. But he also insisted on tying those measures to his preposterous push to end parking meter enforcement on Sundays. Of course, no mention was made of the SFMTA’s report that metering has cut cruising times for parking spots in half and increased parking turnover at businesses by 20 percent. Instead, Lee claimed that Sunday meters have “made our residents’ lives a little more frustrating and expensive.”

If we’re finally going to take a comprehensive approach to Muni’s funding, let’s tear off a band-aid we applied in more dire financial times that made our residents’ lives a little more frustrating and expensive.

I’m talking about Sunday meters. It generated several million dollars last year, almost half of it from parking tickets, and I hear about it. Nobody likes it. Not parents. Not our neighborhood small businesses. Not me.

With a more sustainable approach to funding our transportation system, we can give our meters, our parking control officers and most importantly, our families a rest on Sunday.

The mayor seems to have forgotten what he said back in 2011, early in his tenure, when he lauded the launch of SFpark, espousing the very principles he is now working against by pandering to the free parking crowd. “How many of you have been dumb in your past? How many you have acted dumb? I know I have,” said Lee said at the 2011 press event. “You know, when you’re driving around looking for a parking space and you’re double parking and you’re running around trying to see whether something will open, you’re dumb.”

So Mayor Lee is obviously smarter than the recent drivel coming out of his mouth about parking meters. Taking a hypocritical stance against good transportation policy to appease motorists who complain about parking tickets? That’s dumb.