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Posts from the "Pedestrian Safety" Category

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Polk Street Redesign Delayed a Year, Interim Measures Coming in Spring

The already watered-down redesign of Polk Street, with a protected bike lane only on one segment, will begin construction in Spring 2016 – a full year behind the original schedule. The SFMTA announced that final approval of the project is approaching with a preliminary hearing next Friday, January 30, followed by a vote at the SFMTA Board of Directors in February or March.

The SFMTA did say in an email blast, however, that Polk will get some interim improvements starting this spring:

These improvements will include a southbound bike lane between Union Street and Post Street, leading pedestrian intervals which allow pedestrians a few seconds of a “WALK” signal before vehicles receive a green light at certain intersections, and red curb “daylighting” to increase pedestrian visibility at certain intersection approaches.

Additionally, painted bulb outs at certain locations of future concrete bulb outs, bicycle safety measures at key intersection approaches, and new loading zones to reduce the amount and frequency of double parking on some blocks will all be installed.

The delay only adds insult to injury after original plans for protected bike lanes along the vital north-south corridor were largely scuttled due to vociferous opposition from parking-obsessed merchants. And the SFMTA is reportedly not planning to move forward with the full-length bike lane pilot option requested by the SFMTA Board in November 2013.

Chema Hernández Gil, community organizer for the SF Bicycle Coalition, said that despite the “positive elements” planned in the project, “this half-hearted approach calls into question the city’s commitment to achieving Vision Zero.”

“It is dismaying to see the SFMTA ignore the community’s desires for a safety-first approach by neglecting to include a safe design for people biking between Pine and Union Streets — half of the project area — even though it ranks as one of the most dangerous bike routes according to the SF Department of Health’s Cyclist High Injury Corridor network,” said Hernández Gil in a statement. “For the sake of a vibrant, thriving and safe Polk Street, we urge the SFMTA to put forth an improved design that includes continuous protected bikeways from McAllister to Union Streets. We also urge them to advance the implementation to prevent injuries and provide safe, comfortable access on one of the city’s most important north-south bike routes.”

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Eyes on the Street: Another Driver Jumps the Curb in the Tenderloin

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Photo: Cheryl Brinkman

No sidewalk is safe.

Another driver jumped the curb and crashed into a building at Post and Taylor Streets near Union Square on Sunday. Cheryl Brinkman, who sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors, captured this photo of the aftermath and remarked: “I’ve been keeping a mental list of ‘Things we can’t trust car drivers not to do.’ Add ‘drive into buildings’ to that list.”

Drivers careen on to sidewalks more regularly than you might think — often on high-speed streets in dense neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, which is criss-crossed by one-way “arterials.” Two blocks away from the scene of yesterday’s crash, a driver destroyed a Muni shelter at Sutter and Taylor Streets in June 2013.

Miraculously, it appears no one was injured in either of those crashes, but people are not always so fortunate.

In November, a driver crashed onto the sidewalk and struck someone on a bike at McAllister and Leavenworth Streets, where a heavy flow of cars heading north from Seventh Street makes a zig-zag movement to get on to Leavenworth.

It’s not just a problem in the Tenderloin. Just two weeks ago, a driver smashed into Olea restaurant while making an illegal left turn at California and Larkin Streets. In September, another driver barreled into Comstock Saloon on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. According to ABC 7, that driver wasn’t arrested for the crash, but was arrested for an outstanding warrant for drug possession.

It’s typical for drivers to face no legal penalties for jumping curbs and destroying property, despite the threat to public safety and the costs they impose. They may be arrested or cited for driving under the influence, or for another violation that led to the crash, but driving into a restaurant or coffee shop in San Francisco is apparently not a crime.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike/Ped Safety Tweaks on Upper Market, Valencia

The Market Street bike lane was widened and painted green between Octavia Boulevard and the Wiggle, among other tweaks in the neighborhood. Photos: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA recently made some upgrades to bike lanes and pedestrian crossings around Valencia Street and Market Street.

Near Octavia Boulevard, the Market bike lanes were widened and painted green, and a buffer zone was added, making it a bit more comfortable for commuters pedaling up the hill from lower to upper Market towards the Wiggle. The traffic lanes, formerly 12 feet wide (which encourages drivers to speed and is unusual in SF) were narrowed to 10 feet to make room for the bike lanes, said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. Continuing east toward downtown, the Market bike lanes got a fresh coat of green paint and some new plastic posts at Tenth Street.

Cheryl Brinkman, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, was spotted in a platoon of bike commuters climbing the hill in the newly widened Market bike lane.

“I think it feels more welcoming for cyclists, and it helps drivers realize that that’s a different kind of space,” said Brinkman. “I think for San Francisco, the green has really come to symbolize that that’s a space where there’s going to be a bicycle. And extra buffer zone is really nice because you can really ride out of the door zone.”

A couple of relatively new treatments (for SF) were also implemented on northern Valencia, at the intersections of Duboce Avenue and McCoppin Streets.

Duboce, which Jose noted sees “the fifth highest number of injury collisions citywide” (fourth highest for bicycle injuries), received a number of safety tweaks. Jose said these are the first of two phases for “Vision Zero improvements” planned for the intersection.

At Valencia and Duboce, a “mixing zone” was created by widening the bike lane approach.

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When Streets Are Torn Up, SF Agencies Are Failing to Build Them Back Safer

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Even after this corner at 19th and Dolores Streets was torn up, a five-year-old plan for sidewalk extensions was not implemented. Photo: Tom Radulovich

Opportunities to expand sidewalks and make streets safer go to waste too often when the pavement is torn up in SF. A year ago, the city announced efforts to improve coordination between agencies so that when a street undergoes repairs, safety measures are added, saving time and money in addition to saving lives.

But agencies still haven’t got the hang of it. Even longstanding safety proposals for at least two streets in the Mission have sat on the shelf while sidewalks are torn out.

Livable City Director Tom Radulovich pointed out an especially egregious case this week at 19th and Dolores Streets, a major entrance point to Dolores Park, where plans for sidewalk extensions to make it safer to cross the intersection were adopted in the Planning Department’s 2010 Mission Streetscape Plan. The sidewalk on the southeast corner was recently re-done for the conversion of a church into an elementary school, but the refurbished corner doesn’t have the curb extensions called for in city plans.

Radulovich brought up the wasted opportunity in an email to several city department heads:

I noticed that the curbs, gutters, and sidewalk had been completely removed.

Mostly I knew better, but some part of me hoped that my City might have seized the opportunity reconstruct an important street corner to the Better Streets standards and in so doing implement one of its own plans, and that we might see a long planned and hoped-for pedestrian safety improvement at this heavily-traveled intersection. Alas no; this morning, a new curb had been laid in the exact same location as the old one, without the bulbouts or any other improvements called for in the Mission Streetscape Plan.

This is all incredibly disappointing.

Radulovich referred to the citywide Better Streets Plan, also adopted in 2010, which calls for sidewalk bulb-outs to be standard at most intersections whenever the opportunity arises to install them.

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SFPD Traffic Commander’s Strategy for Safer Streets: Finger-Wagging

For SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali, the reason so many people are getting killed by drivers on SF’s streets apparently has nothing to do with the fact that every station but one is failing miserably to adhere to the department’s “Focus on the Five” enforcement strategy.

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali. ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=9386826##Photo: ABC 7##

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali. Photo: ABC 7

Nor is it because SF’s streets are overwhelmingly designed to put motor vehicle movement first, rather than the safety of people walking on them. That’s according Ali’s comments in yesterday’s column from the SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight, who didn’t seem to question Ali’s take.

Apparently, Ali’s strategy for making streets safer is to keep wagging fingers at the victims who “took major risks” and died. “The hope is that the public will change their behavior voluntarily,” he told Knight. Ali said he’s “been accused of blaming the victim,” then proceeded to blame last year’s victims.

“A lot of it is just really, really bad behavior,” Ali told Knight. “If we play this kind of sterile, numbers-only game, people surmise that it’s fairly innocuous behavior that’s causing these fatalities when in fact it’s very clear what the behaviors are.”

It’s “clear” indeed for those who do pay attention to numbers and statistics. SFPD’s data shows that the five most common causes of pedestrian injuries are all driver violations: speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in a crosswalk, and failing to yield while turning. A year ago, SFPD’s top brass promised that officers would devote at least 50 percent of traffic citations to those violations under its “Focus on the Five” campaign.

But Ali, who has previously told media that confused Asian immigrants are to blame for many crashes, shirked those responsibilities in yesterday’s column. He also showed that he’s missed the point of Vision Zero. Crossing the street wouldn’t be such a “major risk” if city agencies implemented design and enforcement measures to slow driving speeds and minimize the chance of crashes, even when people make errors.

“It’s really troubling that the San Francisco Police Department sees this only as an individual behavior problem, considering that six percent of streets account for 60 percent of severe and fatal injuries,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Until they actually meet [their Focus on the Five] goals, I really don’t think it’s important appropriate for them to call on individuals to change their behavior.”

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SFMTA to Push for Speed Camera Enforcement Through State Legislation

Speed cameras could reduce speed-related crashes like the one at Pine and Gough Streets that killed a teen and put his mother in a coma in 2013. Image: NBC

The SFMTA wants to legalize life-saving speed enforcement cameras, and plans to campaign for a state law that would enable San Francisco to install them, the agency’s director of government affairs, Kate Breen, said today.

California currently has no law to allow and regulate the use of speed enforcement cameras, though red-light enforcement cameras are allowed. Speed cameras have been proven to reduce driver speeding, traffic crashes, and fatalities in cities around the U.S. and in other countries. Notably, since France adopted them about a dozen years ago, speed cameras are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives throughout the country.

The SFMTA, however, plans to take a tepid approach in its requests from the governor and the state legislature. Breen told the SFMTA Board of Directors that the agency will be seeking to authorize speed camera use only in areas around schools and senior centers, and that the legislation would also “de-criminalize citations” and set a “$100 flat fine.” The bill would have to be authored by a state legislator such as SF’s recently-inaugurated Representative David Chiu, a former supervisor.

The limitations, Breen said, are mainly aimed at making the legislation palatable for Governor Jerry Brown, who is generally wary of raising fines. In September, Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased fines for dangerous driving in school zones and given the revenue to safe street improvements.

The SFMTA, said Breen, hopes to craft a proposal that “we can build a coalition around, that doesn’t necessarily engender out of the gate what we’ve seen, as practiced by the governor, his propensity to want to veto those things that really raise fines so significantly that the average motorist or person who is receiving one of these citations is unduly burdened.”

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Second Sleeping Man Killed by a Driver at the Same Driveway

For the second time in two years, a homeless man was run over and killed by a driver exiting the same garage exit on Third near Bryant Street in SoMa.

Drivers have struck and killed two people lying on the sidewalk in front of this garage in the last two years. Photo: Google Maps

The SF Chronicle reports:

Randy Jacobs, 53, fell asleep Friday night in the driveway of a private apartment garage at Third and South Park streets, in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, before a vehicle leaving the complex ran him over about 6:40 p.m. Jacobs was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said the driver of the SUV was not negligent, so charges are not likely to be filed in the case.

“When the vehicle was exiting the garage, he was unable to see the guy sleeping there,” said San Francisco police Officer Grace Gatpandan. “The car was exiting and just ran over the victim.”

The driver, a 55-year-old man, failed to see the victim in front of his car and killed him “accidentally” as far as the SPFD is concerned. Not “carelessly” or “negligently.”

A similar scenario played out in November 2012, when a 28-year-old woman was absolved of any responsibility when she drove forward and ran over 55-year-old Elvis Presley. The report on Friday’s incident didn’t say whether the driver was also pulling forward.

Let’s remember that this driveway is also a sidewalk. Falling asleep there isn’t a smart move, but that’s beside the point. It’s the person driving across the sidewalk who needs to exercise caution and make sure that the path is clear. But it seems clear that running over a person lying on a sidewalk is “not negligent” in San Francisco, where the rule is cars over people.

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Only One SFPD Station is “Focused on the Five” for Safer Streets: Richmond

An officer from SFPD’s Richmond Station clocks speeders on Fulton Street, including some topping 60 mph in this 25 mph zone. Image: KRON 4

Nearly two years after SFPD announced its “Focus on the Five” program, only one of the 10 police stations is actually meeting its goal of issuing at least 50 percent of traffic citations for the five most common violations that cause pedestrian injuries. Department-wide, that rate was an abysmal 24 percent in September, the latest month for which data is available [PDF]. Southern Station, which covers crash-plagued SoMa, had the lowest rate with just 6 percent.

SFPD Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman is the only captain following the “Focus on the Five” campaign. Photo: SFPD

SFPD’s Richmond Station is the only station meeting that goal. Richmond officers surpassed the target, in fact, issuing 58 percent of their September traffic tickets to drivers speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in crosswalks, or failing to yield to pedestrians while turning. The SFPD’s data shows that just those five driver violations cause a plurality of pedestrian crashes in SF, which is why SFPD’s top brass have repeatedly promised to target them and save lives.

“It’s not particularly complicated,” Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman told Streetsblog. “You just have to dedicate yourself to doing it consistently.”

Silverman’s station has exceeded the 50 percent “Focus on the Five” goal all year, with a 56 percent rate this year to date. No other station has come close.

“It shows that it is possible” to meet the goals, SF Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Tyler Frisbee recently told the Police Commission, which has urged SFPD to pursue them. “We hope that it serves as a beacon for the rest of the police force.”

To sum up his view on traffic enforcement, Silverman said commonly-accepted but dangerous behaviors, like speeding and distracted driving, need to become as much of a taboo as drunk driving has.

“People need to view safe driving as a community obligation,” he said. “I think what happens is, when people are in their cars, they’re isolated from their environment. It’s like being in their living room, but traveling at 35 miles an hour. So I think they’re kind of disconnected, and not necessarily thinking as much about other people as they should.”

The Richmond District is not the city’s most dangerous for walking and biking. Yet the districts with the highest rates of injuries — namely Central, Southern, and Tenderloin — have the lowest “focus on the five” rates. Those stations issued just 13, 13, and 6 percent of their tickets, respectively, to “the five” violations in September. That pattern has held throughout the year.

Tenderloin officers didn’t issue any tickets to drivers violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in September, despite its hundreds of crosswalks. However, they did manage to issue 245 tickets — 43 percent of their total – to pedestrians.

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SFMTA’s Tom Maguire Promises Reforms to Streamline Safe Street Fixes

Tom Maguire, the SFMTA’s new Sustainable Streets Director, said he’s working on reforms that will fast-track implementation of numerous street safety fixes that will help SF accomplish Vision Zero.

Tom Maguire. Photo: SFGovTV

Maguire, who started at the SFMTA two months ago after serving in an executive role in New York City’s Department of Transportation, told the supervisors’ Vision Zero Committee last week that he’s taking on the 10 “primary challenges” [PDF] that delay small infrastructure projects. The primary challenges were identified in last year’s SF 2040 Transportation Plan.

Street safety advocates have long pushed for the SFMTA, and other agencies, to cut the red tape and lack of coordination that result in the painstakingly slow roll-out of pedestrian and bike safety measures.

“I certainly walked into a situation here where project delivery was the primary challenge,” Maguire told the committee. As a veteran of NYC DOT, where safety projects seemingly appeared overnight under former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Maguire is expected to both bring a fresh perspective and improve the SFMTA’s tempo.

While SFMTA officials haven’t set specific targets that would measure progress on bureaucratic reforms, their current goal is to implement safety fixes on at least 13 miles in each of next two years. Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider pointed out that that falls well short of the 18 mile goal (targeted to “high-injury” streets) requested by the Vision Zero Coalition of advocates at a recent rally. However, it does best the SF Pedestrian Strategy adopted last year, which calls for fixes on five high-injury miles per year.

Tim Papandreou, SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy, said a goal of 13 miles annually — not necessarily along high-injury corridors — seems to be a realistic expectation. ”At least there’s one bar that we can cross, and say ‘we did that,’ ” said Papandreou. “Anything above that would be great.”

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Supervisors Tang and Yee Propose New Measures to Curb Dangerous Driving

Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee announced measures on Tuesday they say could help reduce dangerous driving on SF streets, bringing the city closer to Vision Zero.

Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Yee called for a study into whether city-owned vehicles could have “black boxes” to record evidence in the event of a crash, and for banning tour bus drivers from talking to passengers. Tang proposed a resolution urging the state to “re-evaluate” fines levied for five dangerous driving violations in SF.

“We recognize that it takes a combination of enforcement, education, and engineering to keep our community safe,” Tang said in a statement. “However, we continuously hear from the community about the prevalence of these dangerous driving behaviors. It is our hope that reevaluating, and perhaps raising, the cost of engaging in these behaviors will prove to be an effective deterrent.”

Tang’s resolution would urge the California Judicial Council “to reevaluate the base fines, and related fees, for violations of the California Vehicle Code related to some of the most dangerous driving behaviors in San Francisco,” says a press release from her office. “This includes: running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, failing to yield while turning, cell phone use while driving, and unsafe passing of standing streetcar, trolley coach, or bus safety zones.”

Three of those violations are part of SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign, a pledge by police to target what the department’s data have identified as the five most common causes of pedestrian crashes. Speeding and red-light running by drivers are on the SFPD’s list, but not on Tang’s, which instead calls for higher fines for cell phone and unsafe passing citations.

“While the baseline [fine] for running a stop sign, violating a pedestrian’s right of way, and unsafe passing of a standing streetcar is $35, the baseline for violating a red light is $100,” Tang said at a board meeting.

Yee, meanwhile, called for the City Budget Analyst to evaluate the cost of installing “black boxes,” also known as event data recorders, on every city vehicle in order to record evidence in the event of a crash. Yee said that he and Supervisor Jane Kim learned about the idea at the recent Vision Zero Symposium held in New York City. Yee said NYC has black boxes on all of its municipal vehicles.

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