Two San Francisco Cyclists Killed: What Now?

Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the intersection where Kate Slattery was killed, and Supervisor Norman Yee at the Vision Zero Sub-Committee.
Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the intersection where Kate Slattery was killed, and Supervisor Norman Yee at the Vision Zero Sub-Committee.

The deaths of Heather Miller and Kate Slattery highlighted the obvious: San Francisco is not on track to Vision Zero, a commitment to eliminating all traffic deaths by 2024.

That was echoed by Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, as well as advocates from the public who spoke at Thursday afternoon’s meeting of the SF County Transportation Authority’s Vision Zero Sub-Committee.

“While I’ve been impressed with the progress the city has been making with temporary work we really need to see movement with long term projects such as protected bike lanes,” said Kim. “I bike regularly and pass by where Slattery and Amelie Le Moullac died. As we encourage more people to walk, bike and take public transport we have to assure our residents it is safe to do so through design and enforcement.”

Scott Wiener expressed similar thoughts. “I attended the vigil for Ms. Slattery at Seventh and Howard; I don’t want to attend more vigils,” he said. “I don’t want them to happen. They are all 100 percent preventable. This does not have to be how our city is.”

Elizabeth Snider rides a cargo bike with her three children. Photo: Streetsblog.
Elizabeth Snider rides a cargo bike with her three children. Photo: Streetsblog.

Some 40 safe-streets advocates came to demand SFMTA work harder and faster to make SF streets safe. Among them was Elisabeth Snider, who came with her three small children. She takes her kids on her cargo bike through Golden Gate Park. Miller’s death left Snider terrified. “If my kids are old enough to get hit by a car,” she said, “they’re old enough to go to a public meeting.”

Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk SF, also spoke to the committee. She talked about how 29 people were killed on San Francisco streets, while either walking or biking, last year. “Each one was preventable and should never have happened. That’s why we came to adopt Vision Zero,” she said. “But we’re here at 25 percent of the way to our ten-year goal, and we haven’t reduced any of the deaths or injuries. It’s really depressing.”

She called on SFMTA and the supervisors to get real infrastructure installed–the kind that will physically protect cyclists and pedestrians. “I‘m not talking about painting a couple of bulb outs,” she said. “I mean we have to really transform our corridors.”

She also stressed the need for Automatic Speed Enforcement cameras, something echoed by Kim. The biggest challenge, however, is that state law bans their use.  “They can reduce collisions by 50 percent,” said Tom Maguire, director, SFMTA Sustainable Street Division, citing their effectiveness in New York and Portland. “We need a change in state law.”

Kim agreed and even suggested that San Francisco should install them and force a showdown with Sacramento. “I’m getting tired of waiting. At some point you have to stand up and say we’re going to do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, several advocates, including Margaret McCarthy, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s outgoing Interim Executive Director, were angered by a press release from Mayor Ed Lee’s office, sent out shortly before the meeting:

Today Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) joined by the Department of Public Health, San Francisco Police Department and other City agencies announced the City’s new [emphasis added] listing of high-priority Vision Zero projects – 57 high-priority projects will be initiated this year.

The release’s timing seemed to suggest that the “new” projects were a response to the deaths of Miller and Slattery. Also from the release:

“Any traffic death or injury is not acceptable, they are preventable,” said Mayor Lee. “This is a real public health issue. We are working quickly to build safer, better streets, educate the public about traffic safety and increase enforcement to make our streets safe for everyone – whether they are walking, biking, driving or taking transit.”

However, the statement’s “new” projects were all already in the Vision Zero project pipeline. “The mayor’s office presents the 57 projects as ‘new’…we are shocked by this seeming attempt to mislead the press, city leaders, and the people of San Francisco,” said McCarthy during the public comment period. “This is not the leadership we need. We demand real action from the mayor’s office.”

Some 40 advocates and city officials attended the meeting at SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.
Some 40 advocates and city officials attended the meeting at SF City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Kim asked why SF is behind NYC, Chicago or other cities that seem to complete bicycle projects more quickly. Maguire blamed California’s environmental regulations, which often required studies, even for bike lanes. Moving forward, “changes to CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) will help us design faster,‘ he explained.

That said, as Ferrara pointed out, SFMTA uses paint, at least when doing short-term improvements. Vancouver, Chicago, and New York have used solid objects, such as heavy planters or Jersey Barriers, that can actually stop a car from intruding into a bike lane. Maguire, in a follow up interview after the meeting, said SFMTA has used planters, but with “mixed success,” citing 6th street as a place where it was tried. “It was a maintenance issue,” he said. “They were tipped over.”

Given last week’s fatalities, SFMTA is going to have to revisit the issue.

Which also begs the question: why set the bar against other American cities in the first place, as Kim and Maguire did in their exchange during the meeting? Portland has the highest cycling rates in the US–7.2 percent of commuters go by bike. To contrast, a typical Dutch or Danish city boasts more than 30 percent mode share, which is probably why San Francisco sent a delegation to Copenhagen last year.

And the Netherlands, which arguably has the best bike infrastructure in the world, uses protected bike lanes and protected intersections on all but the lightest-trafficked streets. So shouldn’t San Francisco strive to design streets based on the best models in Europe, instead of on the relatively meager infrastructure in even the most bicycle-friendly cities in the US?

SFMTA’s staffers told Streetsblog that, given last week’s carnage, they are “questioning all assumptions.”

Let’s hope so. Because, as this publication has pointed out many times, even SFMTA’s most ambitious improvement plans are saddled with safety compromises that get people killed.

  • alberto rossi

    Nicole says, “But we’re here at 25 percent of the way to our ten-year goal, and we
    haven’t reduced any of the deaths or injuries. It’s really depressing.” Maybe depressing, but also utterly predictable. Who really thought empty gestures like painting pictures of pedestrian bulbouts was going to help?

  • Dy

    I bike and I drive. San Francisco will never, ever be 100% car free. They are a major metropolis. Car free is impossible. And more than likely, it will never, ever have 100% intelligent bicyclists, pedestrians or drives. You know… the ones that stop at the stop signs, stop at the red lights, don’t walk and text at the same time, don’t talk on your cell while drive, etc, etc, etc. It is up to all sides to learn to be more safe. Bicyclists love to blame the cars for everything. Take some responsibility. It is up to BOTH sides. And yes, I drive AND I bike. Doing both makes me appreciate both sides.

  • GS

    Both bicyclists were obeying the rules when they were hit. No one expects the city to be car free, however we can do more to reduce the risk of injury to everyone. Read the article more carefully in the future.

  • gneiss

    No one is saying that the city must be “car free” – that’s a red herring. People are saying that we could change our streets so they are safer for people walking and riding bikes. The best way to do that, is to design most of them so drivers cannot go more than 20 mph and in places where that is not possible, you create separated infrastructure for people walking and biking. Even in the Netherlands, many people get around by car, yet they have a far lower death and injury rate for pedestrians and bicyclists than they do in the US.

    As for “blaming cars for everything” that’s another red herring. Nobody is doing that. However, if you can’t admit that virtually all of the carnage on our streets is a result of driving cars, then you are blind. In then end, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, someone is still dead, and a driver killed them. Doesn’t it make sense to redesign our streets so that 1) people don’t need to drive as much and 2) so that they are safer? Driving is the single most dangerous activity we engage in every day and we take it entirely too much for granted. If everyone reduced their driving we would have a far lower traffic death rate in this country.

  • Mitchell

    Tired of getting “biked”? Swat the gnats!

  • p_chazz

    It’s not an achievable goal, it’s an aspirational goal, like 20% of all trips being taken by bicycle by 2020. Not. gonna. happen.

  • Lolajrussell2

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    ✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★:✹★::::::!bk252r:….,….

  • jd_x

    “Not. gonna. happen”

    That’s exactly the point: it’s definitely not going to happen at this rate, with the City letting parking and motorist convenience trump bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ safety (let alone convenience).

  • Brendagthomas2

    <.
    ✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:::::::!bk691er:….,….

  • murphstahoe

    Spin class – not relevant

  • StrixNoctis .

    Do you realize how silly it sounds to tell bicyclists to “take some responsibility” when so often automobile drivers commit hit & runs…

    Also, if automobile drivers aren’t more to blame for the multitude of collisions, then what’s with all of those collisions involving motorists hitting pedestrians, cyclists, other automobiles, poles, fire hydrants, trees, buildings, guard rails, etc.? Do cyclists collide with those objects at similar rates? NO.

    The rates of collisions between cyclists & pedestrians also isn’t even anywhere near the rate of automobiles hitting pedestrians, so if pedestrians are to blame in the automobile vs pedestrian collisions, why then aren’t pedestrians also colliding with cyclists or vice versa at rates equal to collisions between automobiles & pedestruans?

    All the statistics point to automobile drivers as being responsible for most collisions.

  • willajbroadnax

    <<u.
    ✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:::::::!bk897er:….,….

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