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Posts from the Pedestrian Safety Category

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As Tenderloin Crosswalks Get Safer, KPIX Weeps for Lost Parking Spots

At Jones and Ellis Streets today, drivers yield to pedestrians at a corner clear of parked cars. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA recently implemented a simple measure to improve visibility at crosswalks in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with very high concentrations of both pedestrian injuries and children.

Corners at 80 intersections got the “daylighting” treatment, which improves visibility by clearing parked cars that obscure sightlines between drivers and people in crosswalks. It’s one of the latest efforts in the city’s Vision Zero campaign, which is targeting the 12 percent of city streets that account for 70 percent of severe and fatal traffic injuries.

To hear KPIX reporter Ken Bastida tell it, these measures to reduce traffic violence are just an annoyance for people who need to find a curbside parking spot right now

Ken Bastida solved the mystery of the "vanishing meters." Image: KPIX

Ken Bastida solved the mystery of the “vanishing meters.” Image: KPIX

“Think it’s getting harder to park in San Francisco? Well, it is,” Bastida said by way of introduction alongside the text, “Vanishing meters.”

Here’s how Bastida explained daylighting (a “fancy word”) in his best muckraker voice: “The curb gets painted red, the meter disappears, and we’re left with what the city calls ‘a safer intersection.'” Truly a devious plan by the city.

Bastida didn’t cite any safety statistics or interview anyone on camera who uses the crosswalks, but he did find a driver to complain about how hard it is to find a parking space. With testimony from that one guy in the bag, Bastida then declared, “Frustrated drivers say they’re all for safety, but they’re quick to point out, visibility is a two-way street.” Apparently, we’ve all got to wear more DayGlo.

What Bastida didn’t mention is that drivers’ failure to yield in a crosswalk is among the top five causes of pedestrian injuries citywide (the other four are also driver violations). That’s according to the SFPD data behind the department’s “Focus on the Five” campaign.

Tenderloin Station is actually the worst SFPD outpost in the city when it comes to focusing enforcement on those five violations. In September, the most recent month for which citation data is available, officers didn’t issue any tickets to drivers violating pedestrians’ right-of-way. However, they did manage to issue 245 tickets — 43 percent of their total — to pedestrians.

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Wiener’s Prop B Yields More Money Than Expected for Muni, Safe Streets

SF voters may get more money than anticipated for better transit and safer streets from the passage of Proposition B, a measure crafted by Supervisor Scott Wiener to increase the share of general funds for transportation based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

With city coffers boosted by tax revenues resulting from a booming economy, Prop B is expected to yield $26 million in the next annual budget, 75 percent of which would go to Muni, with the remainder dedicated to pedestrian and bike safety upgrades. Originally, only $22 million was expected.

Of the nearly $19.5 million expected for Muni, most will cover the purchase of 18 new buses. The other $6.5 million will fund various street safety measures in pursuit of Vision Zero.

“It’s a really strong list,” said Wiener, “and it’s doing exactly what we intended Prop B to do — to improve Muni’s reliability and capacity in the face of a growing population, and to make street safety improvements as our streets become more crowded.”

Prop B instituted a city charter amendment mandating annual increases in the share of general funds set aside for transportation, based on population growth. The first increase of $26 million, which the Board of Supervisors must approve as part of the annual budget by July, accounts retroactively for the last ten years of growth. Commensurate increases are expected in the years to follow.

Wiener proposed the measure last year after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for a ballot measure to restore the local vehicle license fee to its longtime level of 2 percent. That was expected to yield an estimated $1 billion over 15 years, restoring a revenue stream cut by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mayor Lee can repeal the Prop B amendment if a VLF increase is passed by voters in 2016.

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Mayor Lee Won’t Say Saving Lives Is More Important Than Car Parking

Mayor Ed Lee at a press conference today with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin and Supervisor Eric Mar. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Mayor Ed Lee shocked safe streets advocates when he told Streetsblog two weeks ago, “We shouldn’t promote bicycle safety over pedestrian safety over cars and parking” on Polk Street. “I think they’re all going to be important.”

The Vision Zero Coalition sent a letter [PDF] last week asking Lee to clarify his statement, saying it gave “the impression that convenience trumps concern for the lives and well-being of vulnerable road users.” (You can listen to the audio of the interview below.)

“Your comments,” the letter to the mayor said, “undermine your own stated commitment to Vision Zero and suggest to City staff that the City’s leadership is willing to slide when it comes to safety and our city’s Vision Zero goals, wavering in the face of first resistance.”

But the mayor’s response letter [PDF] received by the coalition yesterday didn’t state that saving lives is more important than car parking. The mayor wrote that he’s “proud to lead” the Vision Zero effort, but that “we must be balanced in our approach,” and pointed to his recent efforts to pass a transportation funding bond measure and the city’s release of a two-year action strategy.

The coalition was “disappointed that the content of this letter does not address our request,” but “instead reiterates the Mayor’s belief that the safety of all modes are equally critical,” SF Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Tyler Frisbee wrote in an email response. The Vision Zero Coalition is lead by Walk SF and the SFBC, and includes nearly 40 local organizations.

At a press conference on Vision Zero today, SF Examiner reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez pressed the mayor on his Streetsblog quote concerning Polk, even before I could get the questions in myself.

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SFMTA to Study Safety Upgrades for the Richmond’s North-South Bike Routes

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The SFMTA plans to study safer walking and biking routes on five of the Richmond District’s north-south streets, which connect the Presidio and Golden Gate Park.

The Richmond’s north-south streets like Arguello Boulevard could be better for bicycling and walking. Photo: Hum of the City

At the behest of D1 Supervisor Eric Mar, the SF County Transportation Authority recently granted $100,000 in Prop K sales tax revenue for the SFMTA to launch the study. Over the next year, planners will conduct walking and biking tours, as well as community meetings, to survey conditions on Eighth, 15th, 23rd, and 34th Avenues, and Arguello Boulevard.

Those routes “should be made safer,” Mar said at a recent SFCTA Board meeting. “It will provide access not just to the park, but also the different corners of our neighborhood.”

While these streets are already relatively calm, planners could identify ways to make them more inviting and easier for everyone to bike on, including families with children. One difficult spot to traverse on bike is the link from 23rd, a designated bike route, into Golden Gate Park, which requires people on bikes to travel a block on high-speed Fulton Street and navigate onto a narrow sidewalk ramp toward a park path.

The greatest danger on these routes seems to lie at the major cross-streets — Fulton and Geary Boulevard — which are notorious for dangerous driving. Today, a man was hit by a driver in a crosswalk at Geary and 26th Avenue.

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Painted Bulb-Outs Arrive at Howard Street — Are More Coming Soon?

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One year and four months after SF’s first painted curb extensions came to Sixth Street, the SFMTA has implemented its second set at three intersections on Howard Street, in tandem with a wider and greener bike lane.

But for such a seemingly simple safety measure — using low-cost gravel and epoxy to expand sidewalk corners and slow drivers’ turns — the question remains: Why does it take SF so long to implement?

Expectations were raised when deadly Sixth Street received the city’s first six painted bulb-outs at the intersection of Market, Mission, and Howard, even if SF’s extensions were much smaller in size and number than painted curb extensions in NYC.

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who grew up in Manhattan, said at the time that “it’s been amazing to see the difference they’ve been making for the quality of life of pedestrians and cyclists.”

A painted bulb-out in New York City. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

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Police Ticket Cyclists Who Fail to Navigate Market and Octavia’s Bad Design

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City planner Neil Hrushowy was among the few bike commuters who weren’t “behaving badly” at this poorly-designed bike junction, according to KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts. Image: KRON 4

Police were seen ticketing people on bikes navigating a poorly-designed junction at the dangerous Market Street and Octavia Boulevard intersection yesterday in the latest “People Behaving Badly” segment from KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts.

The bike lane’s design is so flawed, in fact, that the only bike commuter Roberts showed navigating it properly happened to be one of the city planners leading its redesign (and, no doubt, has paid closer attention to it than most people).

“Most choose the incorrect way and ended up with a ticket,” Roberts said in the segment. (Roberts said he didn’t know that his model cyclist was a city planner, but I recognized him.)

“We recognize that it is not an intuitive design for cyclists,” said Neil Hrushowy, Roberts’ model cyclist and the program director for the SF Planning Department’s City Design Group. “I think anyone’s going to feel comfortable recognizing that it’s the less appealing route for cyclists, which is why you see them coming through the intersection the other way.”

The junction in question has a path for bicycle riders headed southbound on Octavia as they prepare to make a left turn on Market. People must skillfully maneuver through a curved bike lane that runs between curbs through a traffic island, thrusting them alongside freeway traffic. When they reach the other side of the intersection, the path to the Market bike lane is blocked by a barrier installed to prevent drivers from making illegal right turns on to the freeway — the real danger at the intersection.

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Planning Dept Releases Design Guide for “Living Alleys” Around Hayes Valley

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The SF Planning Department’s new guide lays out concepts like “living zones” for SF’s alleyways. Image: Planning Department

The SF Planning Department released a design guide this week for “living alleys” [PDF], providing a template to transform SF’s narrow, low-traffic streets into places to gather and play.

Inspired by the Dutch “woonerf” concept, the “Living Alleys Toolkit” lays out proven design measures that make smaller streets more inviting to stay and play on, giving street life priority over drivers moving through. The guide states:

The “Living Alleys Toolkit” cover, featuring the Linden Alley project implemented in 2010.

A living alley is a street designed as a place for people. It can be considered an “Urban Living Room”. Its design can reconfigure the geometry and surfacing of the street, or simply add low cost amenities for residents while maintaining the traditional curbed right-of-way. Whatever approach, living alleys prioritize the entire public right-of-way for pedestrians and bicyclists with alternative but clear physical boundaries. A living alley also has areas of exclusive pedestrian use and areas where vehicles are allowed to share space with pedestrians and bicyclists.

While the concept has been implemented more widely in northern Europe, the guide notes, similar ideas have been applied in Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. In SF, a section of Linden Street was redesigned as a living alley in 2010, and plaza projects have been implemented in SoMA on Annie Alley and Mint Plaza. In Oakland, two alleys in the Temescal neighborhood were converted into pedestrianized retail streets that delivery vehicles can enter.

The new guide, which started development in mid-2013, focuses on the potential for living alleys in Hayes Valley and just south of Market Street near Octavia Boulevard, since it was conceived in the Market-Octavia Area Plan with the removal of the Central Freeway. But in the future, as those initial alley transformations are implemented, the city will look at expanding them citywide, said the Planning Department’s David Winslow.

The guide includes prototype street designs. One is a plan to convert Ivy Street, between Gough and Franklin Streets, to a shared-space zone where cars are still allowed to pass through, as seen on nearby Linden.

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Widening El Camino Real in Menlo Park Won’t Cut Traffic, But Bike Lanes Will

El Camino Real facing south at Middle Avenue. Widening the street to six continuous lanes through downtown Menlo Park will attract more traffic and worsen congestion, according to a W-Trans study. Photo: Google Maps

Redesigning El Camino Real to squeeze in more cars will cause more cars to squeeze into El Camino Real, warned the consultant working on a redesign of the street in downtown Menlo Park last week. But creating a safe street for people to get around without a car can actually cut traffic.

At a community meeting last Thursday about the design options for Menlo Park’s stretch of El Camino Real W-Trans Principal Mark Spencer said that widening the street from four to six traffic lanes through downtown would increase traffic volumes dramatically and worsen congestion. Adding buffered or curb-protected bike lanes instead, as recommended by the city’s Transportation Commission in November, would reduce both traffic volumes and congestion slightly, according to the study.

With the six lane option, “traffic volumes on El Camino would go up because it would open up that pipeline to push more traffic through,” Spencer said. “Because of that induced demand, we’re seeing travel times [for car drivers] getting longer.”

A 2008 community-led Vision Plan for El Camino Real in Menlo Park set several goals that street safety advocates say should disqualify the four-to-six lane expansion from consideration. Among those objectives are “maintain a village character,” “provide greater east-west, town-wide connectivity,” and “provide an integrated, safe, and well-designed pedestrian and bicycle network.”

To help meet these community goals, planners recommended maintaining the existing four-lane cross-section for vehicle traffic while adding buffered or protected bike lanes. But with the adoption of the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan in 2012, the City Council also ordered that a six-lane expansion of El Camino be analyzed as well, in the belief that the city might be able to build its way out of congestion.

W-Trans estimates that due to induced demand, widening El Camino Real to a continuous six lanes through downtown Menlo Park would add between 10 and 45 percent more traffic at Ravenswood Avenue, the city’s most congestion intersection. Most of that traffic would be pulled from parallel routes, including Highway 101 and Middlefield Road.

“This option worsens the pedestrian environment as it places fast moving traffic near pedestrians,” wrote Fehr & Peers Principal Jane Bierstedt in a March 2012 report [PDF]. Even without the effect of induced demand, which its preliminary traffic study did not account for, Fehr & Peers found that the maximum travel time savings for car drivers would be 17 seconds at Ravenswood Avenue.

“With induced demand, the delay reduction would be less and operations would likely mimic the four-lane alternative,” concluded Bierstedt.

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Should SF Streets Go Car-Free to Make Room for Nightlife?

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Vancouver’s Granville Street, seen here in 2013, is regularly closed to cars on weekend nights. Should SF do the same with its nightlife streets? Photo: Aaron Bialick

Polk, Valencia, Castro, Broadway — when bar patrons crowd these streets at night, should they go car-free?

While the idea may be novel to San Francisco, many other cities have done it. Up the coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, downtown Granville Street is often closed to cars on bustling weekend nights for people to roam the roadway, extending the street’s permanent pedestrian mall, which is several blocks long.

In a new report [PDF], city agencies recommend taking a look at nighttime car-free hours to improve streets for patrons and workers.

“Streets are the living room of our cities, where people meet, interact, and socialize,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who requested the report. “We should consider opportunities to foster these urban connections for the sake of supporting nighttime activity and advancing pedestrian safety.”

“So many of the events that really define San Francisco, both for locals and visitors, are events that happen when the streets are shut down and the people are in them,” said Tom Temprano, owner of Virgil’s Sea Room bar on Mission near Cesar Chavez Street, and a member of the city’s Late Night Transportation Working Group, which developed the report. “From Sunday Streets, to Pride, to Folsom Street Fair, to Bay to Breakers, these are all really events that are core to San Francisco’s identity and happen when we take cars off the road and let people have a good time.”

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Alameda’s Second Parking-Protected Bikeway Takes Shape on Shoreline Drive

Alameda’s Shoreline Drive was just striped with a new, 1.8-mile parking-protected bikeway. Image: Robert Prinz, Bike East Bay

The East Bay’s island city of Alameda has laid down its second parking-protected bikeway along Shoreline Drive.

The paint has barely dried on the 1.8-mile, two-way bikeway, but Alamedans are already using it. The city is adding finishing touches before a ribbon cutting set for March 7. Bike East Bay Education Coordinator Robert Prinz, a former Streetsblog intern, captured the below time lapse video showing a roll down the bikeway.

It’s one of only a handful of parking-protected bikeways in the Bay Area, and the first to be installed since SF’s John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park was striped in 2012.

“We really think of this as our first complete street,” said Lucy Gigli of Bike Walk Alameda. “There’s vehicle travel, there’s wonderful bike lanes now, and the path and sidewalk are so much more comfortable for people walking.”

Like other parking-protected bikeways in cities like New York, the Shoreline project uses paint and concrete islands, with a car parking lane between the bikeway and the motor traffic lanes. A buffer zone allows for room to safely open car doors. The curbside bikeway runs along Alameda’s beach and next to a major shopping center (surrounded, unfortunately, by a giant parking lot). 

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