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SFMTA Announces 24 Vision Zero Bike/Ped Projects for Next 24 Months

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At this morning’s Walk to Work Day press conference, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin announced a plan to implement 24 bike and pedestrian safety projects over the next 24 months [PDF]. This is the most concrete safety plan unveiled so far, ever since city leaders pledged to pursue Vision Zero.

Nicole Schneider presented Walk SF’s “Street Score” report card for pedestrian safety in SF today, alongside Supervisor Malia Cohen (left). Photo: Aaron Bialick

The projects (listed below) include bulb-outs, traffic signal changes, road diets, turn restrictions, and even a conceptual “raised cycletrack” on upper Market Street. Half the projects are funded (one “partially”), and the SFMTA hasn’t assigned an order to them yet. Some of the projects have already been in planning, like the Second Street and Polk Street redesigns, and at some locations the “WalkFirst improvements” have yet to be designed.

Vision Zero “is something that we’re united around as a city family,” said Reiskin on the steps of City Hall, surrounded by a full roster of elected officials and department heads, minus Mayor Ed Lee.

The 24-project list wasn’t heavily discussed at the city’s second official Walk to Work Day press conference, where city leaders re-iterated the urgency of Vision Zero — the goal of ending traffic deaths within 10 years. Every member of the Board of Supervisors and other officials walked to City Hall, starting at points around the city. The furthest trekkers included Reiskin, who walked from west of Twin Peaks; Supervisor Eric Mar, from Arguello Boulevard; and Supervisor John Avalos, from the Excelsior.

Walk SF also presented a “report card” grading pedestrian safety in San Francisco:

  • Overall progress towards Vision Zero: C+
  • Walkability: A+
  • Pedestrian Safety: D+
  • Funding: D+
  • Engineering: C+
  • Enforcement: B
  • Education and Outreach: B-

“We have the fabric of a walkable city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “But unfortunately, we have a relic of an older generation with our transportation system. We have streets that were designed for speed and not for safety… This isn’t something that our current administration came up with, but it’s going to take a lot of funding and a lot of work to change.”

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Supes, SFPD, SFMTA Stand With Crash Victims and Advocates at City Hall

Crash survivor Monique Porsandeh speaks alongside Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider and city officials holding the names of those killed by drivers. Photos: Walk SF

SFPD officials, transportation department heads, and three supervisors stood outside City Hall this morning alongside safe streets advocates and people whose lives have been affected by traffic violence. The press conference served as a call to action and a memorial for victims of traffic violence in the past year, with participants holding Valentines featuring names of the deceased.

Walk SF, which organized the event, was joined by Supervisors Jane Kim, Norman Yee, and John Avalos, the sponsors of the “Vision Zero” resolution introduced at the board. Also in attendance were SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum and top brass from the SFMTA and the SFPD Traffic Company, including Commander Mikail Ali and  SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, as well as SF County Transportation Authority Executive Director Tilly Chang. Mayor Ed Lee was absent.

“The violence has to end,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who pointed out that since December, 11 pedestrians have been killed by drivers, four of them this year. Introducing a segment about the event today, an ABC 7 news anchor Cheryl Jennings said it “feels like open season on pedestrians.”

“We’ve acknowledged that this is a crisis,” said Schneider, “and now we’re calling on city leaders to fund the [SFMTA's] Pedestrian Strategy and implement Vision Zero — zero traffic fatalities in 10 years.”

“It’s a tragedy that it is becoming a common occurrence for children, parents, spouses, relatives and friends to lose a loved one in San Francisco because of recklessness on the roads,” Supervisor Yee, who has been hit by a driver, said in a statement. ”Let’s slow down, be alert, and be respectful. It will take our whole community to make Vision Zero a reality.”

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Imagine No Deaths: Supes, Safe Streets Advocates Call for “Vision Zero”

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Duboce Avenue at Noe Street. Photo: Aaron Biailck

A coalition of safe streets advocates, community organizations, and city supervisors have launched a campaign for San Francisco to join leading cities in adopting a “Vision Zero” goal — an end to traffic deaths on city streets within ten years.

“We need a culture shift in San Francisco, and it has to start from the top down,” said Supervisor John Avalos, also the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority, in a statement. “We’re calling for our mayor, our police chief and our SFMTA director to commit to allocating resources to the three areas that we know can save lives,” he said, referring to engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to reduce crashes.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Leaders in Chicago and New York City have adopted Vision Zero policies, following the lead of Sweden, which launched the official campaign in 1997, though the country’s traffic deaths have been declining since the 1970s despite increasing population.

In a press release, Supervisors Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee said they’ll introduce a resolution calling for a “Vision Zero Plan” based on three major components:

  • The establishment of a “crisis intervention” team by the SFMTA that would be tasked with getting at least two dozen pilot projects into the ground over the next two years, using “near-term, low-cost safety improvements in the areas with repeat traffic collisions.”
  • SFPD to direct its traffic enforcement resources to “cite the most problematic dangerous behaviors and locations.”
  • A “citywide safety awareness program for drivers.” Supervisors Yee and Avalos are “targeting state funding opportunities through the Transportation Authority” to fund it, and Supervisor Kim has called for the formation of “an interagency work group to develop a large vehicle and city fleet driver education program for all city employees or drivers who contract with the city.”

Last year, the number of people killed while walking and biking — 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists –- was the highest since 2007, noted a statement from Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition:

Despite calls for critical safety improvements to the streets and more data driven enforcement of traffic crime and widespread education, the Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney and SFMTA Director have made only small commitments to street safety and have not committed to any larger vision toward keeping our residents safe on increasingly chaotic streets.

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With WalkFirst, SF Takes a Data-Driven Approach to Pedestrian Safety

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The city recently launched the WalkFirst program to lay a data-driven, participatory foundation for the effort to attain the main goal of its Pedestrian Strategy — cutting pedestrian injuries in half by 2021. In the coming months, staff from the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the Controller’s Office, and the Department of Public Health will field public input on dangerous streets and release new data illustrating the toll of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

To start, the new WalkFirst website has easy-to-use, interactive tools showing where most pedestrian crashes occur, the factors that cause them, and the kit of street design tools to reduce them. An online survey also allows people to weigh in on how pedestrian safety funding should be prioritized.

“For the first time, San Francisco will be investing in projects that are data-driven and focused on the most dangerous streets for pedestrians,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. WalkFirst is “a step forward for using the data that we have to the make the biggest impact.”

The feedback from the website will inform a draft plan for safety improvements scheduled to come out in January, with adoption by the SFMTA Board expected in February. The plan will guide an expected $17 million in safety improvements over the next five years. “By combining rigorous technical analysis with significant community outreach, we will target our investments in the communities that need them the most,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

The city’s goals include “upgrading” 70 miles of streets where injuries are most concentrated — 5 miles per year through 2021. Another aim is to extend pedestrian crossing times at 800 intersections — at least 160 annually. Schools and senior centers with high rates of pedestrian injuries will also be targeted for improvements, while the SFPD is expected to beef up its “Focus on the Five” effort to prioritize traffic enforcement efforts against the most dangerous violations at the most dangerous locations. (Not all SFPD captains appear to have gotten that memo.)

City agencies are also working on a report providing a fuller picture of the economic toll of pedestrian injuries, as well as the benefits of reducing them. As we reported in 2011, DPH and the University of California, SF estimated that the costs of medical treatment, emergency services, and other impacts of ped crashes add up to about $76 million annually. The WalkFirst report is expected to expand upon the economic ripple effects of traffic violence.

“Every life and injury is incredibly valuable, but from a decision-maker’s perspective, it’s also helpful to understand how much this is costing us to help make the case for the improvements that are needed,” said Schneider. “It costs way more to treat someone who’s been injured than it does to prevent the injuries in the first place.”

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Man in Wheelchair Killed by Freeway-Bound Driver at Market and Octavia

Image: NBC

A man in a wheelchair, reportedly in his 20s, was killed by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard around midnight last night. SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said the crash is still under investigation, but that driver appears to have been heading south on Octavia at the entrance of the Central Freeway, where witnesses said the victim was crossing against the light. The man is the 13th known pedestrian to be killed by a driver in SF this year.

In shots from NBC’s television broadcast, the victim’s motorized wheelchair can be seen sitting several dozen feet south of the intersection on the freeway ramp. SFPD investigators have not determined how fast the driver was going.

As media reports have noted, a new enforcement camera was activated Friday to cite drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway ramp, but it doesn’t appear the driver was making such a turn in this case.

“News of another pedestrian death on Market and Octavia is truly devastating, and reminds us of the dangers pedestrian face when freeways intermix with city streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that another pedestrian suffered “major injuries” after being hit by a driver last Thursday at a freeway onramp near Seventh and Harrison Streets in SoMa. “Not only are these intersections dangerous because of the high speeds of cars and trucks entering and exiting, they’re often dark, loud, uninviting, and segment our communities.”

Since the Central Freeway ramp opened at Market and Octavia in 2005, the intersection has seen a higher rate of traffic injuries than any other in SF, with 13 in 2011, according to the SFMTA’s 2009-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF]. Although livable streets advocates and city agencies pushed for a tear-down of the Central Freeway back to Bryan Street after it was damaged in an earthquake, it was rebuilt to touch down at Market and Octavia at the behest of Caltrans and car commuters living in the western neighborhoods.

Schneider pointed to recent calls from John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, for a “freeway-free San Francisco.” At a forum in September, Norquist asked why SF, which protested its planned freeways and prevented most them from being built – and is considering removing another section – doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised.

“Freeways merging with city streets create a terrifyingly dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and truly all roadway users,” said Schneider. “Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco to seriously consider what ‘freeway-free’ could mean for public health, safety, and livability in our wonderful city.”

[Update] SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new enforcement camera cannot capture video footage of crashes to be used as evidence in crash investigations, as it only takes still photos of drivers who make an illegal right turn.

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Han Cheng Li, 62, Killed by Driver at 16th and Potrero

Sixteenth Street at Potrero Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Han Cheng Li, 62, was struck and killed by a driver on 16th Street at Potrero Avenue in the Mission at about 11:38 p.m. Saturday night, according to reports. Police have not released details about how the crash occurred or the name of the driver, but he has been identified as a 54-year-old man. Li is the 12th pedestrian to be killed in traffic in San Francisco this year.

Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk SF, pointed out that between 2005 and 2010, five pedestrians were injured at 16th and Potrero, about one per year. “We are deeply sorry for Han Cheng Li’s family and friends,” she said. “While we still don’t know how the collision occurred, each of these deaths are preventable.”

Sixteenth and Potrero both have four traffic lanes and few measures in place to tame driving speeds. Although a plan to redesign a section of Potrero is in the works, it would only encompass the stretch south of 17th Street. On 16th Street, the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project calls for two traffic lanes to be converted to center-running bus lanes — which could have the added benefit of calming motor traffic — but that project is several years away from implementation.

“We know that a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 40 mph has a 30 percent chance of surviving, but by reducing speed to 30 mph, that chance of survival goes up to 80 percent,” said Schneider. “The city has the tools needed to calm traffic on our streets, and we want to see those tools implemented before any additional families have to suffer the loss of a loved one.”

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Adorable Scenes From a Record-Breaking Walk and Roll to School Day

A record-breaking 13,000 students at 76 SF schools reportedly participated in International Walk and Roll to School Day yesterday, including over a hundred little ones who formed a “walking school bus” at E.R. Taylor Elementary, where city officials held a press event.

At E.R. Taylor, which holds walking buses every week as part of the Safe Routes to School program, 52 percent of students live within one mile of school and 38 percent walk, according to the Department of Public Health. Compare that with the citywide stats: 42 percent of SF elementary school students live within a mile of school, but only 26 percent walk.

Sandy Chow, E.R. Taylor parent, said walking with her son Liam allows them to “spend more time together, talking and connecting with each other. That helps prepare my son with the confidence to begin his day.”

"Chief Suhr asking the students which is better, cars going fast? Or, cars going slow... consensus -- cars going slow!" Photo via Walk SF on Facebook

Walk SF's new executive director, Nicole Schneider. Photo: William McLeod

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Nicole Schneider to Succeed Elizabeth Stampe as Director of Walk SF

Walk SF’s new executive director is Nicole Schneider, who will take the reins of San Francisco’s pedestrian advocacy organization starting September 23. Schneider will fill the shoes of Elizabeth Stampe, who has left the position to take a maternity leave but promises to return to Walk SF in another capacity.

Nicole Schneider. Photo via Walk SF

Schneider, who has an extensive background in urban planning and advocacy working to improve public health, said she’s excited to take on the position. “I’m interested in creating environments, using policies and implementation strategies, and engaging communities to make San Francisco a more equitable place for people not only to walk, but to live,” she told Streetsblog.

Schneider hails originally from Long Island, New York, and has lived in California for 12 years, first in downtown Los Angeles while studying at the University of Southern California, then moving to the Bay Area six years ago to study at UC Berkeley. Walk SF provided an overview of her background in its member newsletter last week:

Nicole comes to Walk San Francisco with a background in active transportation, urban planning, and public health. As an independent consultant, Nicole helped develop climate change adaptation plans for the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability, and provided bicycle and pedestrian planning services to the Alameda County Transportation Commission, where she worked with cities to implement complete streets strategies.

Prior to starting her own consulting business, Nicole worked at Prevention Institute, where she trained community groups across the U.S. in policy and media advocacy strategies to create healthy, equitable places.

Nicole earned a Masters of Public Health and Masters of City Planning from UC Berkeley.

At a meeting in July, the Board of Supervisors commended Stampe for her three-year tenure in leading Walk SF and her legacy of elevating pedestrian safety issues in the political landscape and successfully advocating for measures like the implementation of 15 mph school zones, the first program of its kind in the state. The board also commended the work of Manish Champsee, who also leaves his ten-year volunteer career at the organization, during which he served as Walk SF board president.

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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.

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SF Still Waiting for DA Gascón to “Send a Message” to Deadly Drivers

At the press conference yesterday to announce the plea deal between prosecutors and Chris Bucchere in the death of Sutchi Hui, SF District Attorney George Gascón said that his “goal is to send a message” to cyclists.

At a press conference yesterday, Gascón said the prosecution of Chris Bucchere for the death of Sutchi Hui should be “a message to cyclists.” Image: ABC

“Cyclists need to understand that they’re held accountable to the same standard as anybody else operating any other type of vehicle, and I believe we have achieved that in this case,” Gascón said. ”Often, bicyclists feel they are above the law.”

But with charges brought against so few of the 27 drivers who have killed pedestrians in San Francisco since the beginning of last year, it’s hard to believe motorists are being held to the same standard that Gascón applied in this case – a standard that all victims of traffic violence deserve.

Have law enforcement officials ever prosecuted a driver with the stated intent of sending a message to all people who drive? Or made broad, sweeping statements about motorists’ view of the law?

As Streetsblog has continually reported, drivers rarely face charges for killing pedestrians unless they’re intoxicated or flee the scene. The Center for Investigative Reporting buttressed that conclusion with an extensive study in April, looking at pedestrian fatalities in the Bay Area’s five largest counties between 2007 and 2011:

Sixty percent of the 238 motorists found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges during the five-year period, CIR found in its analysis of thousands of pages of police and court records from Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

When drivers did face criminal charges, punishment often was light. Licenses rarely were taken away. Of those charged, less than 60 percent had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for even one day, an automatic penalty in drunk driving arrests.

Forty percent of those convicted faced no more than a day in jail; 13 drivers were jailed for more than a year. By contrast, those charged in accidental shootings often serve lengthy jail terms, according to media reports.

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