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Posts from the "Pedestrian Infrastructure" Category

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Foster City Abandons Plan to Close Crosswalk Where Girl Was Injured

A 17-year-old Foster City girl was seriously injured after being struck by a BMW driver while walking in the northern crosswalk (on the right) at Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue on January 24. Photo: Andrew Boone

Many Foster City residents were shocked last month when their City Council responded to the injury of a 17-year-old girl by closing off the crosswalk at Edgewater Boulevard at Port Royal Avenue, where she was struck by a driver. Hundreds of residents petitioned the council to take other steps instead of installing “No Ped Crossing” signs and physical barriers. The council reversed its crosswalk closure decision last week, opting instead to install pedestrian-activated flashing lights.

The intersection’s well-known hazards caught the City Council’s attention after the driver of a 2014 BMW 528i slammed into a high school student who was walking in the crosswalk on Edgewater on January 24, breaking both of her legs and knocking her to the ground unconscious. She spent several days in Stanford Medical Center’s intensive care unit but ultimately survived.

Mayor Charles Bronitsky places the blame for car crashes on both drivers and pedestrians not following traffic laws, and argues there’s little cities can do to reduce traffic collisions. ”It’s an issue of personal responsibility, folks,” he said. “There’s nothing the government can do to make people be responsible. We gotta do the best we can to try to babysit adults.”

The statewide fine for walking across a street where “No Ped Crossing” signs are installed, such as this one on Franklin Street in San Francisco, is $194.

Council members Steve Okamoto, Art Kiesel, and Gary Pollard were on the verge of voting to install stop signs on Edgewater Boulevard during their February 3 city council meeting when Bronitsky warned of “potential legal repercussions” that could arise.

A 2012 traffic report authored by professional traffic engineer Steve Fitzsimons of Republic ITS, a subsidiary of Siemens that installs and maintains traffic signals, concluded that stop signs are “unwarranted” according to a state standard that recommends a street to have either more collisions (five annually) or higher car traffic volumes before they’re installed. The report concluded that the left-turn conflicts, high pedestrian traffic (including many children), and poor visibility for drivers turning onto Edgewater from Port Royal were “not relevant,” despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, including calls from residents to fix those hazards in emails to the city and at public meetings.

Fear of litigation helps explain the city’s reaction. City Attorney Jean Savaree said that the city would lose its “design immunity” legal defense in the case of a lawsuit brought by the victim of a collision somehow caused by the stop signs.

“When you hire a traffic engineer and they make recommendations to you, if you follow those, you trigger what’s called design immunity,” Savaree said. “If you install a four-way stop where it’s not warranted and you have a collision, the city is sued [on the basis] that you created a dangerous condition because you have not followed a professional engineer’s advice.”

Okamoto pointed out to fellow council members that other stop signs classified as “unwarranted” by exactly the same type of traffic engineer’s report were previously installed at three other intersections after residents complained of unsafe conditions at those locations.

“I don’t think there has been any liability issues at those intersections,” said Okamoto. ”In spite of the concern of legal counsel, I still support four-way stop signs.”

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Mayor Lee Unveils 5-Year Plan to Improve Safety at Up to 265 Intersections

These are the 170 locations in line for safety upgrades in the WalkFirst program. An additional 95 intersections will receive safety improvements if voters pass transportation funding measures on the ballot this fall. Image: WalkFirst

Today Mayor Ed Lee and city officials announced a five-year plan to implement pedestrian safety upgrades at 170 priority intersections. The city also launched its “Be Nice, Look Twice” PSA campaign today.

Mayor Lee today with Supervisor John Avalos (left) and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The 170 locations in the WalkFirst Capital Improvement Program [PDF] were determined using injury data and public input. These improvements will be funded by $17 million set aside over the next five years, according to the SFMTA. If voters pass the three transportation funding ballot measures proposed by the mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force in November, the city will have an additional $50 million and could pay for safety fixes at 265 intersections.

“We’ve been saying ‘sorry’ for” pedestrian crashes, “when we ought to be saying, thank you for yielding. Thank you for not running red lights. Thank you for not speeding,” Lee said in announcing the WalkFirst plan and pedestrian safety awareness campaign.

The awareness spots, which can already be seen on Muni buses, come in several different versions, with text saying, “Drive like: your [friend/mom/family] is in the crosswalk.” Some versions show drivers yielding before the crosswalk, and at least one, posted by a Twitter user, depicts a truck driver violating the crosswalk and slamming into a pedestrian.

“I’m asking my officers to not be so nice when they see persons not yielding, when red lights are run, and when speeding occurs,” said Lee, pointing to a recent 12 percent increase in the SFPD’s Traffic Company staff. “Enforcement is about that discipline that we have to have for people’s behavior.”

These “Be Nice, Look Twice” ads have already been spotted on Muni buses.

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San Mateo County Bike/Ped Safety Projects Starved for Funding

In Burlingame, a stretch of El Camino Real lacks sidewalks south of the Mills-Peninsula Hospital. The latest funding request for the project was denied, leaving residents to walk on the shoulders to access transit and other services. Photo: Andrew Boone

Despite growing demand for better walking and biking infrastructure in San Mateo County, active transportation grants from the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG) cover only a fraction of the projects that cities want to build, leaving many residents without the sidewalks, bike lanes, and other basic ingredients they need to safely navigate their streets.

“The high demand for [these] project funds is a significant shift in transportation priorities we’ve seen in recent years,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Corinne Winter. “People are looking to live and work in communities where biking and walking are convenient ways to get around. It’s more important than ever that our funding sources align with the undeniable need for improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

Cities recently submitted funding requests for 19 walking and biking safety projects from the county’s Transportation Development Act funds, a pot of state money distributed by C/CAG every two years. But C/CAG’s latest grant provided only $1.6 million, enough for eight projects. It would take $3.8 million to fund all 19 projects that cities in San Mateo County want to build.

C/CAG staff advised cities spurned for this funding to apply for the upcoming County Transportation Authority Measure A Pedestrian and Bicycle Program, another paltry funding source overwhelmed by demand. That program, which allocates 3 percent of a half-cent county transportation sales tax to bike and pedestrian projects, awarded funds to just 16 of the 41 projects that applied for the latest grant in 2011. That year, project requests totaling $11.2 million competed for $4.5 million. On Thursday, the TA Board of Directors is scheduled to review applications for this year’s funding round – 23 projects totaling $9.3 million competing for $5.4 million. The funding awards are expected to be announced on April 3.

Of the eight projects that were funded through the Transportation Development Act money, six will construct badly-needed sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes in Daly City, Pacifica, South San Francisco, San Mateo, Menlo Park, and East Palo Alto.The other two projects are bicycle and pedestrian plans for San Bruno and Belmont, neither of which has ever written such a plan. This is the first year bike/ped plans were eligible for TDA funds.

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Ped Signal at Sunset and Yorba, Where Man Was Killed, Sped Up by a Year

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Sunset at Yorba, where 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon was killed earlier this month. Image: Google Maps

On deadly Sunset Boulevard, the SFMTA’s plans for a new pedestrian-activated stop light at Yorba Street have been advanced by a year. The signal, originally scheduled to go in by the end of 2016, is now set to be activated by the end of 2015, according to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

Currently, the Sunset and Yorba crosswalk has a push-activated beacon that flashes a yellow signal to warn drivers when someone is crossing. That wasn’t enough to save 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon, who was killed by driver Jenny Ching, 71, on February 4. Ching was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Plans were already underway for a traffic signal at Yorba, but Rose said the project would have taken two years to design and construct, due to a lengthy procurement process and coordination with the Department of Public Works to improve curb ramps and street pole “relocation and consolidation.” Rose said the SFMTA was able to streamline its latest round of signal installations by adding engineering staff.

Last week, “we just started two new junior engineers,” he said. “And we are working more closely with DPW in coordinating our projects, especially with paving.  That said, we are now looking to improve on our project schedule to complete design by December 2014.”

“I’m glad to hear they’re coordinating more, but the fact that they were able to advance the signal by one year overnight raises questions,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We’re speeding projects up after someone has died on streets that we know see the most pedestrian injuries.”

A similar traffic signal project was sped up last year after 17-year-old Hanren Chang was killed on Sloat Boulevard at Forest View Drive, not far from Sunset and Yorba. DPW advanced the project by nearly a year, installing bulb-outs, more visible crosswalks, street lights, an extended pedestrian refuge median, and a button-activated pedestrian signal, like the one planned for Yorba.

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DPW, SFMTA Finally Streamlining Construction of Safer Intersections

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Poor coordination between city agencies has led to many a missed opportunity to build pedestrian safety measures when crews are already digging into a street corner for maintenance purposes. With the Department of Public Works ramping up its street re-paving work thanks to the Prop B Street Improvement Bond and upgrading many corner curb ramps to meet ADA standards, the agency says it’s finally starting to coordinate with the SFMTA to efficiently incorporate life-saving sidewalk extensions into its plans.

DPW crews rebuilding a sidewalk corner to install a curb ramp in the Excelsior. DPW and SFMTA say they’re starting to incorporate sidewalk bulb-outs into such projects. Photo: SFDPW/Flickr

“A process has been spearheaded by the MTA and Public Works to identify key locations where bulb-outs are either necessary or would be the best improvement,” John Thomas, DPW’s project manager for the street re-paving program, told a Board of Supervisors committee yesterday.

Safe streets advocates have for years criticized the lack of such coordination when crews dig into a street corner where a bulb-out could improve pedestrian visibility, shorten crossing distances, and cause drivers to make turns more carefully. Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich noted that DPW recently installed ADA-compliant curb ramps along dangerous Guerrero Street in the Mission, as well as the deadly intersection of Valencia Street and Duboce Avenue one block away, but didn’t extend any of the sidewalks.

“They demolished and rebuilt each street corner on Guerrero, but didn’t bulb out the curbs, even though they rebuilt the sidewalks, gutters, and catchbasins,” said Radulovich. “Yes, it would have cost more to provide some basic pedestrian safety improvements, but not much more. And now, because of the city’s five-year rule, DPW has made it even harder to improve pedestrian safety on this dangerous street.”

“The curb ramp program could’ve been a good ped safety program as well,” he said.

The five-year rule, according to Radulovich, is the city’s policy of not doing major street work on the same spot for five years unless it’s an emergency. While that rule seems to be adhered to for the most part, the same can’t be said of policies mandating that safety improvements like bulb-outs be coordinated with other street work were called for in the 2005 Complete Streets Ordinance and the 2010 Better Streets Plan.

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SFMTA Confident in Bike/Ped Funds, Says Changing Streets “the Hard Part”

SFMTA officials are growing more confident in obtaining the funding needed to implement the street safety infrastructure called for in the agency’s Bicycle Strategy and Pedestrian Strategy. But no matter how much funding the agency has, the SFMTA needs to address the lack of follow-through and political will to implement street redesigns, which often leaves projects delayed and watered down to preserve traffic lanes and car parking spaces.

“It’s trying to get public acceptance of making that re-allocation,” agency chief Ed Reiskin told the SFMTA Board of Directors at a meeting yesterday on the agency’s Strategic Plan. ”It’s a pretty significant change we would need to be making in the public rights-of-way for transit and cycling and, to a lesser extent, to improve pedestrian safety — changes in the right-of-way that have been largely unchanged for the past 50, 60, 70 years. That, I think, is our biggest challenge.”

Cheryl Brinkman, vice chair of the SFMTA Board, said the agency and its board need to stand up to vocal groups who fight efforts to implement the city’s transit-first policy. “We need to be willing to step up and make those hard decisions, and understand that what we see as the needs for transportation in the city, may not jive with what we’re hearing loudly expressed in certain areas,” she said. ”We do need to step up say, ‘No, we need to re-allocate space, it has been mis-allocated for so long.’”

While no one at the hearing said Ed Lee’s name (many participants were appointed by him), it was hard to avoid thinking of the mayor’s failure to stand up for contentious street safety projects.

Reiskin told Streetsblog the SFMTA is “developing a new agency-wide approach to public outreach” as well as working with the City Controller’s Office to produce economic studies on the effects of street redesigns “to try to validate or disprove some of the concerns that are raised or the benefits that are estimated from these improvements.” The agency is also gathering research from other cities through the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the coalition of city DOTs currently led by Reiskin.

“We need to do a better job of articulating the transportation, safety, health, and economic benefits, not just based on theory, but based on empirical data from the city and elsewhere,” said Reiskin. “Some people are always gonna need to drive in San Francisco. The more people who are walking, on a bike, or on transit make space for those who really need to use a car for any given trip.”

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Cesar Chavez: A Traffic Sewer Transformed Into a Safer Street

As part of the newly-completed redesign of Cesar Chavez, there’s a new plaza at the corner of Mission and Capp Streets. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Western Cesar Chavez Street has been transformed after decades as a dangerous motor vehicle speedway that divided the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods. City officials cut the ribbon today on a redesign of the street, nearly nine years after residents began pushing for safety improvements.

Cesar Chavez was widened in the 1930s and 40s at the expense of safety and livability to serve as a thoroughfare from the 101 and 280 freeways to a planned Mission Freeway that was never built. As a result, it became a virtual no-man’s land for walking and biking, and crossing the street was a huge risk.

Fran Taylor speaking at the ribbon cutting today.

Fran Taylor speaking at the ribbon cutting today.

“Our neighborhoods were cut in two by this dangerous street that was in no way worthy of the man it was named after,” said Fran Taylor, who helped found CC Puede to push for a redesign of the street. “It’s taken a long time, and the efforts of many, but we finally have a Cesar Chavez Street to be proud of.”

With the redesign, the six traffic lanes on Cesar Chavez (known as Army Street until the nineties) were reduced to four. In place of those two lanes are unprotected bike lanes, bulb-outs with rain gardens, and a center median lined with palm trees. With fresh pavement and markings like continental crosswalks, the treatments have made the street calmer and more habitable for people.

The ribbon cutting was held on Si Se Puede! Plaza, which was created at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez and Mission Street, where Capp Street ends. Drivers can still pass through at the end of Capp, but permeable, textured pavement raised to sidewalk level signals that they are guests.

“We finally have a street that’s going to protect families and reflects what we value, which is safety, first and foremost,” said D9 Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes Cesar Chavez. “It took longer than it should have.”

The project snowballed from a simple re-paving planned by Department of Public Works into a full redesign as residents pushed for safety improvements, and city agencies sought to coordinate those changes with the re-pave to save costs. Andres Power was the project manager for the Planning Department until 2012, when he became an aide for Supervisor Scott Wiener.

“On one hand, it’s unbelievable that it takes this long to get anything like this done. On the other hand, it’s such a transformative project, and I think the wait was well worth it,” said Power. “We wanted to do something that was not just a street project, that was about bringing the neighborhood together, and encouraging people to use the street outside of their cars.”

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SFFD Not Sure What Delays Responses: “There Might Just Be More Cars”

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SFFD doesn't have any data on what delays its vehicles, but as Stanley Roberts' latest "People Behaving Badly" segment shows, drivers routinely fail to make way for ambulances. Image: ##http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1hPs8i5V84##KRON 4##

SFFD doesn’t have any data on what delays its vehicles, but as Stanley Roberts’ latest “People Behaving Badly” segment shows, drivers routinely fail to make way for ambulances. Photo: KRON 4

An official from the SF Fire Department explained SFFD’s position on bulb-outs and road diets last week to the SF Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee. According to Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi, the department’s main concern isn’t about curb extensions, but raised “hardscape” structures like planters or railings that can prevent a fire truck from mounting them.

Although SFFD hasn’t publicly called for increased police enforcement against drivers who double park — a major impediment to fire trucks and ambulances — Lombardi said he agrees that enforcement should be stricter, but that double parking is “a reality.”

“We’re dealing with it every day, where if there’s a delivery truck, there’s a construction job going on, there’s a double-parked car,” Lombardi said. “If it’s a 20-foot street, we can easily go around that, but if all of the sudden it’s a 14- or 16-foot wide street, that becomes an issue.”

Lombardi stressed that SFFD is “not dead-set against bulb-outs,” and that the department approves them on a routine basis. “But when it creates a situation where we can’t legally make a turn, it’s hard for us to just say okay,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’ll make it safer for pedestrians, I’m just saying for our fire operations, it makes it tougher.” Lombardi also denied a recent report from SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin that SFFD officials said they were worried about getting tickets from police when entering an oncoming lane to make a wide turn.

According to data presented by Lombardi, response times for stations in the Mission and the Castro have increased an average of 19 seconds in the past four years, compared to 10 seconds citywide. While Lombardi noted that “a lot of traffic calming measures have been put in place in the past two years” in those neighborhoods, SFFD says it doesn’t have a way to determine what’s causing response delays.

“We have other things to think about” when responding to an emergency, said Fire Marshall Michie Wong.

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Vote to Hand Latham Square Back to Cars Bodes Ill for Downtown Oakland

Latham Square as it exists today. Photo: Alec MacDonald

After a trial public plaza at Latham Square was undercut by Oakland’s Planning and Building Manager, the Oakland City Council voted last week to reinstate two-way car traffic on the small, southernmost block of Telegraph Avenue, caving to merchants and developers pushing for unfettered car access.

At their January 7 City Council meeting, Oakland council members considered different proposals for the layout of Telegraph at Broadway, a key gateway linking the bustling offices around City Center BART with the burgeoning Uptown dining and entertainment scene. Besides the critical role Latham Square Plaza will serve in the ongoing revitalization of the area, it also stands as a flashpoint in the broader movement to make Oakland more people-friendly. The council’s vote to maintain lanes for car traffic was undeniably a setback for that movement.

Last summer, the city closed off vehicular lanes along the 1500 block of Telegraph and filled the space with seating, planters, and other pedestrian amenities as part of a six-month pilot project intended to gauge the feasibility of a permanent street closure. Complaints from nearby business owners, however, prompted the city to prematurely reopen one southbound lane of Telegraph after just six weeks.

The council’s final decision last week undermined the effort to create a people-friendly space in the heart of downtown Oakland. Although the proposal that city leaders adopted will still expand the plaza’s square footage from 2,500 (before the pilot project) to 9,500, livable streets advocates feel the restoration of two-way auto traffic will undercut the appeal of the space and create a safety hazard for people who use it. Altogether, two of the three original traffic lanes will be reinstated.

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Dismissing SFFD’s Irrational Protests, SFMTA Approves Bulb-Outs at School

The SF Fire Department continues to make increasingly bizarre claims in opposition to sidewalk bulb-outs and narrower roadways. Last week, the SFMTA Board of Directors dismissed SFFD’s protests against six-foot bulb-outs at E.R. Taylor Elementary School in the Portola neighborhood. According to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, one of SFFD’s claims was that fire truck drivers would be ticketed by the SFPD for entering an oncoming traffic lane to make a wide turn.

Bacon and Goettingen Streets, in front of E.R. Taylor Elementary, where SFFD attempted to downsize corner bulb-outs planned by the SFMTA. Image via SF Examiner

The SF Examiner reported on the dispute yesterday, though the paper didn’t question SFFD’s claims about the supposed hazards of six-foot bulbs (SFFD pushed for five feet). According to the Examiner, SFFD spokesperson Mindy Talmadge said “the department has been ‘vilified’ for voicing concerns on pedestrian safety.”

This is a misleading way to frame what’s been going on. SFFD has not been “voicing concerns” about pedestrian safety — the department has been interfering with street redesigns that improve pedestrian safety.

And the inexcusable part is that SFFD’s pushback against measures to calm traffic and make it safer for people to cross the street appears to be based on unfounded fears. The department hasn’t offered any hard evidence to support its claims that roadways narrower than 20 feet are unfit for fire trucks, even though plenty of cities use lower minimums, and lots of SF streets are already much narrower (SFFD has not, however, called for the removal of car parking or more enforcement against double parking). And the notion that SFPD will ticket siren-blaring fire trucks for the common practice of using oncoming traffic lanes defies belief (indeed, such an incident would probably spark public outrage).

“It’s troubling to see the Fire Department — a public safety agency — becoming the chief impediment to improving pedestrian and bicycle safety on our streets, especially in light of the recent surge in pedestrian deaths,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “SFFD needs to drop their specious arguments and begin to educate themselves about pedestrian safety, and how other cities are making streets safer for walking, cycling, and driving while maintaining emergency response times.”

Although SFFD claims it supports pedestrian safety measures, it has long fought to water down projects to narrow streets, which reduces the very injuries that the department responds to. As noted in a 2009 report [PDF] from the Congress for the New Urbanism on how better street design can improve safety and emergency response times, a 1997 study of 20,000 crashes in Colorado found that “the most significant relationship to injury accidents” was street width. “As street widths widen, accidents per mile per year increases exponentially, and the safest residential street width are the narrowest (curb face).”

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