Are Outdated Regulations Holding Back Safety Changes on Market?

Family, friends and advocates attend a memorial for Thu Phan. Photo: JikaiahStevens.
Family, friends, and advocates attend a memorial for Thu Phan. Photo: JikaiahStevens.

Today, advocates for livable streets attended the memorial service for Thu Phan, a woman killed in a crosswalk on Market Street on February 5. Yesterday Streetsblog urged SFMTA to stop compromising on safety improvements, a theme echoed at the event.

“In the first two months of 2016, five people have already died in traffic crashes – and over half of those were killed on or near our most dangerous streets,” said Walk SF executive director, Nicole Ferrara. “While the recent changes to Market Street are important first steps in making San Francisco’s streets safer, they do not go far enough, especially to protect people who are most at risk, including seniors and people with disabilities. Thu Phan’s tragic death could have been prevented, if stronger safety measures were in place.”

The tragedy highlighted something else that’s painfully obvious: Market Street will always be a dangerous place as long as there are automobiles on it. Between the streetcars, bicycles, buses, pedestrians and—above all else—automobiles, it’s not so much that there’s a particular intersection that’s problematic. The entire street, as currently configured, is a conflict generator.

There are two programs underway to correct this. One, of course, is Safer Market Street, which brought in safety improvements as part of the Vision Zero goals. This includes turning restrictions—which were apparently violated in this latest fatality.

The other project is “Better Market Street.” Depending on how the alternatives shake out, preliminary estimates are the project could cost approximately $400 million. Funding would come from the voter-approved 2014 San Francisco Transportation and Road Improvement Bond and other state, local, and federal sources.

Image: Better Market Street
A rendering of proposed changes to Market Street. Image: Better Market Street

Streetsblog took a look at the project a couple of years ago. An additional study will be done this month, said Simon Bertrang, Project Manager for Better Market Street. It includes a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) map of Market Street—basically, a far more detailed examination of existing conditions. “That will support the Draft Environmental Impact Report, anticipated in 2017.”

Under the different options, there will be bulb-outs to narrow pedestrian crossings. Trucks, depending on the scenario, will be forced to load and unload on side streets. The project will also look at safety improvements such as more “changes to signal timing to provide pedestrian leading intervals,” said Bertrang. When the study is completed, the public will be invited to comment. Under at least one scenario, the length of Market Street from about Van Ness to the Embarcadero will get raised, separated bicycle lanes. Another likely improvement should reduce bus-bicycle conflicts, by building boarding islands to the left of the bike lanes—that way buses and bikes aren’t constantly leapfrogging as they make their way down the street. Private automobiles will no longer be permitted on stretches of Market. But “there will still be taxi cabs on Market Street,” said Bertrang, plus trucks and other commercial vehicles.

“We think ‘Better Market Street’ needs to consider further restrictions on the types of vehicles that can travel on Market Street,” said Ferrara. “We shouldn’t be sacrificing safety on our city’s main corridor for convenience. That’s the bottom line.”

It’s interesting to note that because of the timing of this project, the team is preparing the study to meet two sets of requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act. They estimated Levels of Service (LOS), but are also looking at the new rubric of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Until recently, Californian environmental law considered slowing down car traffic to be a negative environmental impact—so even something as benign as a bike lane could trigger the need for some kind of mitigation. In other words, the Better Market Street study is straddling these two ways of looking at environmental impacts, which may be partly why the city isn’t proposing stricter controls on automobiles.

San Francisco is an old city with a compact core, like many European cities. And European cities such as Oslo, Norway, are now banning cars from their cores. It’s high time for San Francisco to consider bolder moves for safety. Besides, San Francisco just performed an unintentional experiment during the Super Bowl: the city continued to function even though cars were heavily restricted on many streets.

Studies are supposed to look at distinct options. It’s something advocates can demand during the next public comment period for Better Market Street, when the draft environmental studies are published next year. In the meantime, they can come comment at the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, where the transition from LOS to VMT in San Francisco projects will be discussed.

“In our grief, we realize changes need to be made in San Francisco; people shouldn’t die crossing the street in our city,” said Phan’s sister Holly Michna at today’s memorial event. “No family should suffer the same tragedy we’ve had to face.”

  • ARRO

    “The tragedy highlighted something else that’s painfully obvious: Market Street will always be a dangerous place as long as there are automobiles on it. Between the streetcars, bicycles, buses, pedestrians and—above all else—automobiles, it’s not so much that there’s a particular intersection that’s problematic. The entire street, as currently configured, is a conflict generator.”

    So with this logic, next buses will make it a dangerous space and next delivery trucks followed by emergency vehicles and then bikes…. give me a break.
    It comes down to that the current design is absolutely terrible and there is potential to make this corridor work for all involved parties. Rather then being caught up in some form of political elitism regarding various forms of transportation, a focus should be made to make this an accessible and safe route whether you are walking, taking transit, driving, biking, etc .

  • phoca2004

    Impose night delivery only for trucks. Remove private vehicles. Implement LPI for all intersections. Daylight the corners. Then lead with enforcement.

  • Paul Knight

    Delivery companies proactively and purposefully encourage and reward their drivers for violating any parking and traffic rules, as long as it translates to more deliveries per day. Like the Coca-Cola truck driver double-parked on Market and Church said: “Bring them [citations] on, Coca-Cola pays thousands of them a day, will be happy to pay thousands more”. One major company employing a fleet of thousands of trucks in San Francisco, specifically instructed their drivers to NOT pay the meters and to ignore time limits. Do you really think you can impose nightly deliveries on them?

  • gneiss

    Sure. If the drivers faced real consequences, like loss of points and the companies had their trucks impounded instead of cited, you better believe that they’d do deliveries at night.

  • Paul Knight

    You are talking too much common sense. It doesn’t work like that in San Francisco.

  • *throws hands up in the air*

  • SF Guest

    Since when does double parking constitute a loss in points?

  • It doesn’t work that way now, obviously, that’s why its being discussed. I believe gniess and phoca2004 were suggested that we *change* the way it works. I don’t think they ever said it would be easy, just that they felt the solution was clear.

  • Paul Knight

    It is impossible. SFPD will never enforce as they are supposed to, and SFMTA is not authorized to issue moving violations or impound trucks. SF politicians like to talk about because it makes them look good, but they shut up the minute you bring up the issue of SFPD doing their job. We all know what needs to be done, but only few realize that it is very very unlikely that it will happen.

  • Paul Knight

    Stopping in traffic lane and impeding traffic is a moving violation, but SFPD refuses to recognize it a such, and all you get is a slap on the hand, parking violation less than 100$ — freaking joke, cost of doing business, passed on the customer.

  • phoca2004

    It is not as if regulating nighttime only delivery is unheard of. It often works to the benefit of shops, customers and delivery services. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/offhoursdelivery.shtml

  • jonobate

    ‘Never’ is a very long time.

    40 years ago SFPD were dragging gay people out of bars and beating them in the streets. That changed because the public was no longer willing to support such harassment and discrimination. There may soon come a time when the public is no longer willing to support SFPD sitting idle while dangerous drivers break the law.

  • Paul Knight

    Again, it makes perfect sense, and this is how it supposed to be, but because it is too logical, and because it would actually make a positive change — this is precisely why it will not be implemented in San Francisco. Best we can do, make it look like we implemented a watered-down version.

  • Paul Knight

    There is a big difference between stopping doing something that they should be doing, and starting doing something that they should. May be they will in 40 years, but I am skeptical. I hope I am wrong.

  • p_chazz

    Fascist states always run more efficiently.

  • I wish that posting “ha ha, that’s impossible here” was impossible here.

  • Again, you’re arguing that something cannot be done because it isn’t the way it is now. Yes, lots of difficult changes would be required, there are no physical or natural laws preventing it.

  • Paul Knight

    I really hope that this can be changed, but based on my knowledge of this problem, it seems unrealistic, unfortunately.

  • SF Guest

    A moving violation is any violation of the law committed by the driver of a vehicle while it is in motion. The term “motion” distinguishes it from other motor vehicle violations, such as paperwork violations (which include violations involving automobile insurance, registration and inspection), parking violations, or equipment violations.

  • Paul Knight

    That is not true. Stopping (for no reason) on the freeway is a moving violation, even though the vehicle isn’t in motion.

  • neroden

    Ordering your employees to violate the law is a felony. I forget which felony, but send the guy who ordered that to prison for 5 years, yeah, I think they’ll start obeying the law.

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