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Posts from the Pedestrian Safety Category

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Two Horrific Bay Area Crashes Highlight Need for Faster Action

Fulton Street in Berkeley near where Schwarzman was severely injured while cycling. Image from Google Street View.

Fulton Street in Berkeley near where Schwarzman was severely injured. Image from Google Street View.

Megan Schwarzman, 42, a research scientist at the Berkeley School of Public Health, was riding her bike southbound on Fulton Street near Bankcroft Way on Tuesday around 5 p.m. when she was hit and dragged under a car driven by Berwick Haynes, a Sunnyvale resident. Haynes remained at the scene and was later arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, according to reports. Schwarzman’s injuries were so severe that the Berkeley Police sent its “Fatal Accident Investigation Team.” Fortunately, Schwarzman is expected to live, reported Berkeleyside, an independent news site.

It’s difficult to see what, if anything, Schwarzman could have done to ride more safely. Reportedly, she was wearing florescent green safety gear, a helmet, and she had lights on her bike. She was struck from behind. There’s no way anyone can call this an “accident,” given the conditions on Fulton—its design encourages dangerous speeds and provides no protection for cyclists.

According to the Daily Californian citing data from the California Highway Patrol, there were ten reported bicycle-versus-motor vehicle collisions at the intersection of Fulton Street and Bancroft Way from 2001 to 2014. Meanwhile, Berkeley’s Mayor Tom Bates has declared that he wants to make Berkeley the most bike-friendly city in the US.

Then why do such conditions persist? It wasn’t a cost issue: the city repaved Fulton last year. “We asked them to put in bike lanes and got our usual response that they need to do a traffic study,” said Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director for Bike East Bay. “We were told both would take time and they didn’t want to delay the paving. It would have been very easy to do.”

Campbell said it’s a problem endemic to Berkeley and other cities: the paving engineers work in a different department from the city planners. Putting protected bike lanes on Fulton “was in the 2000 bike plan. It was in the 2005 bike plan. It was in the 2010 downtown plan — every five years the city says ‘yes, do this’ and then they repave without doing it,” said Campbell. He hopes that with the end of CEQA’s car-centric “Level of Service” (LOS), things might improve, but he’s fears the foot-dragging and excuses will continue.
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Can the Uber App Stop Reckless Drivers?

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Could cell phone technology help police stop a reckless driver before a crash results? Source: Wikimedia

Could cell phone technology help police stop a reckless driver before a crash results? Source: Wikimedia

Gyro-meters and accelerometers are circuits inside your cell phone that detect movement. It is part of how the phone helps you navigate and how the screen stays oriented. But it may also work to identify how harshly a driver is swerving, braking, and accelerating.

Last week Uber announced it is launching a pilot program to see if it’s feasible to use this technology to double check the ratings of its drivers. “If the rating is low, we ask why. It might be that a driver is unhappy about an unruly rider. Or a rider is worried that her driver was going too fast,” wrote Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer on Uber’s blog. “Either way, we need to check what actually happened…increasingly technology can help get to the truth.”

Uber is hoping they can eventually use the data to pro-actively determine if a driver is consistently accelerating and braking too hard or speeding.

But that leads to a second, more intriguing possibility—if this all works, couldn’t it open the way for monitoring all drivers? “Things are still in pilot phase,” explained Laura Zapata, a spokeswoman for Uber, who met with Streetsblog at their headquarters on Market Street. It is “definitely a big step that could be key for Vision Zero goals.” If Uber’s engineers can figure out how to use this data to identify habitual speeding and other reckless driving habits, and any legal hurdles can be overcome, there could be a future app that can be used by insurance companies and law enforcement.

There is already precedent. State Farm, for example, has its “Drive Safe & Save” usage-based insurance program. It tracks miles driven, speed, how often and how hard brakes are applied, and time of day/days per week a car is driven to apply a discount to the customer’s premium, explained Sevag Sarkissian, a representative for State Farm in the Bay Area, although he points out that it’s not legal to use all of that data in California. Janet Ruiz, the California representative for the Insurance Information Institute, told Streetsblog that many insurance companies offer a device one can plug into their car that judges how abruptly a driver stops and starts. But Uber’s project, she said, may be the first time a company is looking at a potentially universal way to track driver behavior in real time.
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Streetsblog USA
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The Feds Want to Reform the Cult of “Level of Service”

FHWA is trying to encourage states and localities to move away from using Level of Service. Cartoon by Andy Singer, via PPS.

The old way of making transportation decisions prioritized the movement of cars above all. The Federal Highway Administration will encourage local agencies to shift to other methods. Cartoon: Andy Singer via Project for Public Spaces

“What you measure is what you get,” the saying goes.

That’s certainly true for transportation policy. And for a very long time one metric has reigned supreme on American streets: “Level of Service,” a system that assigns letter grades based on motorist delay. Roughly speaking, a street with free-flowing traffic gets an A while one where cars back up gets an F.

Level of Service, or LOS, is what traffic engineers cite when they shut down the possibility of transitways or bike lanes. It also leads to policy decisions like road widenings and parking mandates. Even environmental laws are structured around the idea that traffic flow is paramount, so they end up perpetuating highways, parking, and sprawl. Because if the top priority is to move cars — and not, say, to improve public safety or economic well-being — the result is a transportation system that will move a lot of cars while failing at almost everything else.

The good news is that there’s a growing recognition inside some of the nation’s largest transportation agencies that relying on LOS causes a lot of problems.

Just last week, the state of California introduced a new metric to replace LOS in its environmental laws. Instead of assessing how a building or road project will affect traffic delay, California will measure how much traffic it generates, period. Car trips, not car delays, will be the thing to avoid. This is likely to have the opposite effect of LOS, leading to more efficient use of land and transportation infrastructure.

Change is afoot at the federal level too. Officials at the Federal Highway Administration are looking at how they can spur changes like California’s LOS reform in other places.

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Via Streetsblog California
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A State Legislator Is Really Proposing to Slash Fines for Running a Red Light to Turn Right

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-Millbrae) has been earning a lot of attention recently for a proposal to slash the fine for drivers turning right at a red light without stopping. This move seems particularly heartless considering California’s streak of leading the country in traffic fatalities, nearly a quarter of which were pedestrians. Failure to yield is one of the top five causes of traffic crashes.

A truck inches through the crosswalk, ready to make a right. Photo: Damien Newton

A truck inches through the crosswalk, ready to make a right. Photo: Damien Newton

Hill’s legislation reduces the fine for rolling through a red light. His statements in the press have focused on the unfairness of ticketing a driver shooting through a red light at forty miles an hour at the same level as a driver turning right without stopping. Hill’s legislation would halve the fine for red-light runners who are turning from $500 to $250.

But rather than acknowledging the unsafe driving crisis in the state, Hill is focusing his attention on a different boogeyman: red light cameras. Many of the tickets his constituents complain about are from red light camera programs in Millbrae and San Mateo.

“I think the public outcry over red light cameras is growing and I think the governor is becoming more sensitive as he raised the issue over the large amount of assessments and add-ons that go into traffic tickets,” Hill told the San Mateo Daily Journal when he introduced the legislation.

In the same piece, Hill points to national data from 1998 that back up his argument that turning right at a red light without stopping isn’t all that dangerous. Needless to say, safety advocates are not impressed with Hill’s arguments.

“There’s a reason that the law says come to a complete stop before making a right–for the safety of people, especially those on foot,” wrote Nicole Ferrara, the executive director of Walk SF, in an email to Streetsblog. “This proposal to reduce the severity of these fines sends the signal to drivers that running red lights, not coming to complete stops, and not taking the time to look for people in crosswalks is all fine and good. We disagree. Stopping is part of driving, and it’s a disappointment that some of our state leaders don’t understand that.” Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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SF One of 10 Cities Chosen to Help Model Vision Zero Policy in the U.S.

The 10 cities chosen will help lead the movement toward Vision Zero in American cities.

Ten “focus cities” will lead the way in developing effective Vision Zero policies.

What is Vision Zero? Simply put, it’s a recognition that traffic fatalities are preventable, and a commitment to ensure that no one is killed in traffic. Cities that adopt Vision Zero set out to end traffic deaths within a specific time frame.

In America, a few cities have publicly committed to Vision Zero. So how should policy makers go about achieving this goal? What works and what doesn’t? Which places are making real progress, and how are they doing it?

The Vision Zero Network was founded with support from Kaiser Permanente to help ensure that “Vision Zero” promises result in meaningful and effective change.

Yesterday, the network announced 10 “focus cities” that will model Vision Zero strategy in the United States. These cities were chosen for having demonstrated a significant commitment to Vision Zero:

  • Austin
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Washington

The “focus cities” initiative will bring together transportation, police, and public health officials from those 10 cities, as well as representatives from mayors’ offices. This network of public officials will share best practices and develop common strategies for eliminating traffic deaths.

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San Francisco MTA Backpedals on Powell Safety Improvements

Workers push a cable car on a soggy morning. SFMTA is already rolling back safety improvements on Powell. Photo: Roger Rudick

Workers push a cable car on a soggy morning. SFMTA is pulling back safety improvements. Photo: Roger Rudick

The SFMTA Board passed a partial rollback this afternoon of the “Powell Street Safety & Improvement Pilot,” an 18-month test project to evaluate banning private vehicles on the particularly busy stretch of Powell Street between Ellis and Geary.

The change, based on staff recommendations, took a plan that reserved the street for “Muni, paratransit, taxis and commercial vehicles only” and changed it to also allow private vehicles “picking up or dropping off passengers at the loading zone in front of 230 Powell Street.” Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco, said it will be impossible to enforce that private cars are only loading at that location and not driving through. “You can’t have a cop there all the time. It undoes what the pilot did and is pretty disappointing.” The decision was part of SFMTA’s “consent calendar,” meaning it was passed without discussion or a vote.

It was only last December that the city started the pilot. Given that Powell–between the cable cars, delivery trucks, taxis and private automobiles–was a virtual parking lot, safe-street advocates have long argued that the street should be transformed into a transit and pedestrian promenade. Powell doesn’t even connect to Market Street, since the southernmost block was turned into a plaza in 1973. As a result, drivers end up doing u-turns, further jamming up the street. It’s also a concern for maintaining San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, which aren’t able to handle stop-and-go traffic, because it wears out and frays the cables.

Either way, it should be self-evident that there’s no room for private cars on this stretch of street, just from looking at photographs from past issues of this publication and others. And SFMTA is trying to reduce the number of cars through incremental changes. For example, in 2011, all parking was removed from Powell south of Geary. But not everyone is keen on getting cars off of this stretch of Powell.

“Several Powell Street property owners came forward and asked that we also include the northbound side of the street [accessible to private vehicles] as a condition of their support for the project legislation,” explained Paul Rose, a spokesman for SFMTA. “Staff agreed to this change, and the Board directed staff to return in January with the requested modification, as long as staff was confident that the ‘less restriction’ regulation would still achieve the pilot goals.”

“Our role in this process was to convene stakeholders that would be impacted by the change,” wrote
Union Square Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director Karin Flood. “In the case of Powell Street we had to balance the need to accommodate the large number of pedestrians walking up Powell with the loading and unloading needs of the individual hotels and merchants.”

Safe street advocates, meanwhile, were frustrated. “It’s pretty disappointing to see this street opened up to private vehicles again without a complete evaluation of the pilot program,” said Ferrara. “This will impact pedestrian safety.”

“This is a really old system,” explained a cable car conductor on Powell who asked Streetsblog to withhold his name. He motioned to a cable car he just helped push across Ellis. “It’s much better, much safer with the street closed [to private cars].”

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“Just Transit” Contest Winner to Straighten Out Caltrain Station Mess

Back in October, the Schmidt Family Foundation announced its “Just Transit SF Challenge,” a contest to come up with good transit improvement ideas that can be implemented quickly. The three winners were announced this month.

Bike lanes as currently configured at Caltrain. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The current street situation at Caltrain. Photo: Bryan Goebel

The $125,000 first prize went to RideScout and TransForm, which are partnering to improve transit using financial incentives. In many cities, off-peak transit tickets are discounted to encourage people to ride trains and buses when they are less crowded. This project exploits modern technology to take things further, offering discounts for people to ride when loads are light or even encouraging them to use a less direct route if it will reduce crowding.

The grant will pay for the fare discounts the first year, during which the grantees will study to what extent financial incentives can work, using smart phone technology, to change travel patterns. After that, they’ll have to get SFMTA and BART to buy in. That may mean charging more at peak times and on heavily-crowded routes to offset the expense. Either way, it should bring in more revenue by making sure trains and buses have fewer empty seats on off-peak routes. In this sense, the project is trying to apply the kind of math airlines use to make sure planes don’t fly with empty seats.

Another winner addresses a problem that’s all too tangible to anyone who has ever used Caltrain’s King Street Station.

“Curbing the Caltrain Cluster,” which won a $50,000 award, is a joint project from Livable City and Lyft. How will it work? Suppose you get off your Caltrain and need a Lyft. The way things work now, you end up wandering past Muni buses, bikes, cars, and through the taxi queue trying to find your ride. “Curbing the Caltrain Cluster” proposes numbered stalls, so that when you call your Lyft, Uber, or whatever service, it also tells you to go to stall number 9, for example.

So when a Lyft driver heads over to Caltrain and looks at his app, “It will say your rider will proceed to ‘X’ location,” explained Scott Reinstein, development and communications director for Livable City. The plan is also to separate cars, buses, and bikes as much as possible.

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“Bike Yield” Passes Without Enough Votes for Veto Override

The Bike Yield ordinance was heard by the full San Francisco Board of Supervisors yesterday. It passed, with six “ayes” and five against — two “ayes” short of what’s needed to override Mayor Edwin Lee’s veto pen.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey was ready with a response. “The mayor believes this endangers pedestrians and other cyclists and he said he will veto it in the interest of public safety,” Falvey said right after the vote.

The legislation would instruct the police to make ticketing cyclists who cautiously roll through a stop sign, while still yielding to others, a low priority. Yet District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell said he was voting against it because he doesn’t want an “Idaho Stop,” referring to that state’s traffic laws, which allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields. He noted that San Francisco is denser than Idaho.

Idaho isn’t the only place that gives cyclists more discretion at traffic control devices, however. Paris also permits cyclists to do rolling stops in some locations. In fact, Paris even allows cyclists to treat some red lights as yields. Paris is roughly three times denser than San Francisco.

Supervisor Scott Weiner, a sponsor of the bill, tried to get the arguments back on point, reminding others that the ordinance can’t change state traffic laws, and was written to dissuade cops from cracking down on cautious cyclists. “I don’t think that’s how we should be using our law enforcement resources while people are getting hit and dying on our streets,” he said.

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We Can Stop Speeders and Save Lives. Why Aren’t We Doing It?

San Francisco families remember loved ones killed on our streets. Photo courtesy of Walk San Francisco.

Family members and survivors honor the victims of traffic crashes. Photo courtesy of Walk San Francisco

A few years ago, while visiting France, I drove with a friend from Paris to Normandy on the A-13 motorway. We set the cruise-control at the speed limit. To my surprise, nobody passed us. Contrast that to any road in California, where if you go the speed limit, you will be passed continually.

That’s because if you speed on the A-13, you will get a ticket, whether or not you encounter a cop. French highways are lined with automated speed enforcement (ASE) cameras. Speed past one, and it photographs your license plate. You get a ticket in the mail, just like with a red light camera.

“If we had been using ASE in cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles, many of our loved ones might still be here with us today,” said Nicole Ferrara, executive director of Walk San Francisco, at a recent event remembering people killed by cars. “The state needs to prioritize safety and take steps to implement solutions now.”

In 2013, there were 42 traffic deaths on San Francisco streets. Kate Breen, government affairs director for the SFMTA, stressed that speeding is the number one cause of traffic fatalities. “We want to use ASE cameras to target areas where you find excessive speeds… where you see cars going not one, two or three miles over the limit, but ten to fifteen,” she said.

Breen points to studies that put the survival rate for pedestrians struck by cars going 20 mph at 90 percent. But up that speed to 40 mph, and the survival rate plummets to 20 percent. Breen said that’s why it’s so important to use every available tool to keep speed in check. “ASE is a force multiplier for police enforcement.”

And one doesn’t have to go to France to see automated enforcement at work. Portland, Oregon, is one of a handful of cities using it in North America: It reported a 53 percent reduction in fatalities where cameras were put in. Traffic deaths in Washington, DC, have likewise fallen by more than 50 percent as the city has rolled out more automated enforcement over the past several years.

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San Mateo County TA Rejects Ped Safety Projects But Not Highway Expansions

San Mateo County TA awarded $108 million on October 1 to eight highway expansion projects, still believing we can "build our way out of congestion" on Highway 101. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County TA awarded $108 million on October 1 to eight highway expansion projects, still believing we can “build our way out of congestion” on Highway 101. Photo: Andrew Boone

With $125 million to lavish on it’s Highway Program this year, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) has decided to spend $108 million on highway expansion projects while denying funds for major pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements [PDF].

On October 1, the TA Board approved $11 million to reconstruct the Holly/101 Interchange in San Carlos as a partial cloverleaf to accommodate higher traffic volumes, but rejected the city’s $3 million request to include a ped/bike bridge. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the interchange will force people crossing the highway on foot or by bicycle to navigate a series of hazards.

“With the new design of Holly/101, people on bikes still must cross and weave with [auto traffic from] high-speed on and off ramps, and it won’t make people safe and comfortable enough to use walking and bicycling,” Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Policy Manager Emma Shlaes told the board. “If a true Complete Streets design cannot achieved on the interchange itself, then funding should be provided to alternatives, in this case, the bike and pedestrian overcrossing.”

The pedestrian bridge was declared “not eligible to be funded from the Highway Program” by TA staff, even though the Highway Program has funded many safety improvements included in other projects.

“I certainly would not go so far as to say it would be illegal,” said TA Legal Council Joan Cassman at the board meeting. “But I would say that given the confines of this call for projects, and the rules we established in seeking proposals from sponsor cities to submit requests for grants from this agency for highway projects, we were quite clear that the requests for the projects we were seeking would not include separate bicycle overpass facilities.”

TA staff also defended their decision to deny funds on grounds that several ped/bike-specific funding sources could be used instead [PDF]. But those grant programs are tiny — dwarfed by sums heaped on highway expansions — so most critical safety projects remain unfunded for years or even decades.

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