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Posts from the "Pedestrian Safety" Category

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Bus Stops and Crosswalks: Does Mayor Lee Care Where His Car is Parked?

Ed Lee is at it again. After the mayor’s car was found parked in a Muni bus stop, he was spotted entering the vehicle while it blocked a crosswalk.

SF Weekly and the SFGate Blog reported that Mayor Lee was photographed yesterday by a Twitter user as he entered his Chevy Volt, which his driver had stopped in a crosswalk at Noriega Street and 46th Avenue in the Outer Sunset. Lee was apparently visiting a merchant at the corner, and seemed not to worry about his vehicle blocking a designated pedestrian crossing.

As we reported last week, Lee’s car was found in a Muni stop, while he ordered food at a taqueria outside Glen Park BART. Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey said that Lee had “was dropped off and he expected that the vehicle would have been parked in a legal parking space,” even though the driver apparently left the car with Lee. Falvey said the SFPD officer driving the car was “admonished,” adding that “the mayor believes this is unacceptable and steps have been taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Given that it did happen again, it’s quite apparent that pedestrian safety and efficient Muni operations are not on the mayor’s radar as he makes his way around the city. Even though the mayor isn’t driving the car himself, he’s now missed at least two opportunities to ask his chauffeur to not illegally park, and thus insult people who walk or ride Muni.

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Supervisor Mar Wants to Study How Lower Speed Limits Could Improve SF

Reducing speed limits could have a big impact on saving lives. Image: PEDS Atlanta

Supervisor Eric Mar requested a city study last week about how lower speed limits could benefit San Francisco. Although lowering speed limits without implementing physical traffic calming measures isn’t a panacea for safer streets, the measure does hold promise as a first step toward saving lives and implementing Vision Zero. San Francisco would follow in the footsteps of New York City, Paris, and the United Kingdom in looking at major speed limit reductions.

Supervisor Mar with one of SF’s 15 mph school zone signs. Photo: Eric Mar

“We must do all that we can do to make sure that our streets are safer for our residents, and a speed limit reduction may have a significant impact on achieving this,” said Mar.

The study requested by Mar would add to a growing body of research showing how lower speed limits would reduce fatal crashes and save money. The UK Department of Transportation, which instituted a “20′s Plenty” campaign that set 20 mph speed limits as the default for residential streets, found that the chances of survival for a person hit by a car at 40 mph are half that of being hit at 30. Fatalities increase six-fold from 20 to 30 mph.

“Getting hit at 20 mph is like falling off a one-story building, but getting hit by a car at 40 mph is like falling off the fifth-floor,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who called major speed limit reductions ”one of the most important next steps we can take in achieving Vision Zero.”

“We need to look towards our partner cities that have done this successfully, and model our efforts on the best practices,” she said.

Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation requiring the installation of 20 mph “Slow Zones.” The New York State Legislature also passed a bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The default speed limit for city streets in California, unless signed otherwise, is already set at 25 mph.

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Will San Mateo County Make Real Changes for a Safer Middlefield Road?

Pedestrians face long crossing distances everywhere along Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks. Photo: Google Maps

Residents of North Fair Oaks have made it clear that they want a safer Middlefield Road with wider sidewalks, but San Mateo County has yet to commit to a redesign that could make a real difference on this important commercial street.

On Tuesday, county officials presented the results of a community survey on the $12.5 million streetscape project for Middlefield Road between Fifth Avenue and Pacific Avenue in North Fair Oaks. The wide, four-lane street is home to most of the local businesses serving this densely-populated, 1.25-square-mile unincorporated area east of El Camino Real and south of downtown Redwood City.

“The common themes found in the survey’s results, how residents and workers want Middlefield Road to be… were safety, accessibility, attractiveness, and a more active and vibrant urban area,” said Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen.

A summary of the Middlefield Road Redesign survey results. Image: County of San Mateo

More than 2,100 people responded to the survey, conducted in April and May. Despite strong support for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, the county has still not committed to a road diet on Middlefield Road that’s needed to create space for them. Planners are instead opting to keep the street’s current four-lane configuration on the table, awaiting a recommendation on the street’s design from the North Fair Oaks Community Council expected at their August 28 meeting.

Middlefield Road’s outdated design presents serious hazards for anyone walking across or bicycling on the street, and it even poses difficulties for car access and parking. The long crossing distances for pedestrians prevent many children and seniors from walking across the street at all, especially at unsignalized intersections. With angled parking in most places, drivers’ view of pedestrians stepping from the sidewalk into the street is often blocked by parked vehicles, and drivers can’t see approaching traffic while backing out of a parking space.

The street’s five-foot-wide sidewalks, narrowed even further by power line poles, make walking in groups uncomfortable and don’t allow restaurants and cafes to provide outdoor seating as in the neighboring downtowns of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. Utilities were placed underground and sidewalks widened in the downtown retail districts of those cities long ago to attract shoppers and diners.

A four-to-three lane conversion would open up room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes. Since the center lanes are often used by left-turning vehicles in the current design, converting them into one center left-turn lane should actually help traffic flow more smoothly, since drivers won’t have to weave as much.

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SFMTA to Add Bike Lane Buffer on Howard, Fix at Folsom On-Ramp

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Howard Street’s bike lane will be widened with a three-foot buffer zone this year. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

The SFMTA plans make upgrades to the Howard and Folsom Street bike lanes, a couplet of one-way bike routes that run through SoMa. A section of Howard will get a three-foot buffer zone added to its bike lane, as well as painted sidewalk bulb-outs. On Folsom, an intersection with the Bay Bridge on-ramp at Essex Street will be re-configured with a new bike traffic signal.

On Howard, the three-foot-wide bike lane buffer will come from narrowing the street’s three traffic lanes, one of which is about 15 feet wide, down to roughly 11 feet, SFMTA staff said at a community meeting yesterday. That differs from last year’s pilot project on parallel Folsom, in which one traffic lane was re-purposed to expand the skinny bike lane to 10 feet, including a buffer zone.

The Howard project can be implemented this year, much more quickly than most bike lane projects because the SFMTA won’t remove traffic lanes and thus incur a lengthy environmental review, said SFMTA Livable Streets Section Leader Darby Watson. The inner section of Howard east of Sixth Street, however, is narrower, and traffic lane removal would be necessary. Watson said that the SFMTA plans to look at improving that section next year.

A handful of painted sidewalk bulb-outs, similar to those installed on Sixth Street, will also be added at corners on Howard at Sixth and Tenth Streets, to slow drivers’ turns. SFMTA staff noted that they won’t include fixtures within the painted bulb-outs, like the boulders and concrete planters that were placed in the painted bulb-outs along Sixth Street in November. In fact, those fixtures will be removed, since they’ve been trashed and are too costly to maintain.

The Howard improvements are branded as one of the 24 Vision Zero projects the SFMTA pledged to implement over 24 months. “These are targeted improvements to help safety where we know there are a lot of collisions,” said Neal Patel of SFMTA Livable Streets.
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Latest Haight Street Plans Replace Most Stop Signs to Speed Up Muni

All but one stop sign (at Cole Street) would be replaced with other treatments under the SFMTA’s plans to speed up Muni. Image: SFMTA

The Planning Department has an online survey about the Haight Street proposals, available until July 3.

City planners recently presented their latest plans for Haight Street, which include two overlapping projects from two agencies. The Haight-Ashbury Public Realm Plan is the Planning Department’s effort to expand sidewalks and add aesthetic treatments along the Upper Haight (between Central and Stanyan Streets), while the SFMTA’s Muni Transit Effectiveness Project will speed up Muni’s 71-Haight/Noriega and 6-Parnassus buses along the entirety of Haight.

Haight and Asbhury. Photo: Drumwolf/Flickr

The SFMTA has proposed to remove all but one stop sign on Haight, replacing most of them with transit-priority traffic signals and others with traffic calming measures that encourage drivers to yield to pedestrians. That, along with transit bulb-outs and removing some bus stops, could cut travel times for Muni riders on Haight by about 3 minutes, said Muni TEP Planning Manager Sean Kennedy. A separate project, currently under construction, adds a contra-flow bus lane on Haight’s easternmost block and is expected to shave off several more minutes.

Kennedy said that Muni plans to increase the 71′s peak frequency, from every 10 minutes to 7 minutes. “If we can make some of these improvements to pedestrian safety and travel times, we think we can make that [increase] mean something — instead of just getting a bunch of bus bunching,” he said.

The transit bulb-outs, and other sidewalk extensions, are expected to provide some much-needed breathing room on Upper Haight — particularly at Haight and Ashbury Streets, a world-famous tourist attraction.

“If you’ve walked down Haight Street, you know it’s cluttered and crowded,” said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “What’s the pedestrian LOS here?,” she said, referring to the Level of Service transportation planning metric used to measure congestion for drivers. “These intersections would be failing if we had a metric for that.”

“Even local foot traffic is too much for Haight Street sidewalks, and any influx of tourists just overwhelms the street,” said Katherine Roberts, a livable streets advocate who lives nearby in Cole Valley. “In my view, it is shameful that the city treats its residents and visitors like this.”

Roberts pointed out that city planners could go much farther to create a more attractive Haight Street by banning private autos, while still allowing Muni buses, delivery trucks, and tour buses. “Then you’d have plenty of room for widened sidewalks, bike lanes, parklets, bike corrals, greenery, et cetera,” she said.

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SFFD OKs Narrower Streets in Candlestick Point Development

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This tentative compromise plan for the Candlestick Point development shows a mix of streets that meet SFFD’s 26-foot standard (in green) and narrower streets (red). Image courtesy of the SF Planning Department

The SF Fire Department will allow many of the new streets built in the Candlestick Point development to remain narrower than 26 feet under a compromise with street safety advocates. SFFD had insisted at the 11th hour that all new city streets must have at least 26 feet of clear roadway for firefighters to set up fire trucks and reach the tops of taller buildings, even though wider roads are known to increase driving speeds and traffic crashes.

SFFD fighting a major fire at the Mission Bay development in March. Image: KTVU

As the SF Examiner reported, a tentative plan presented last week showed a rough middle ground between the share of streets that are wider than 26 feet and those that are not:

In 2010, initial plans for the neighborhood were submitted, including streetscapes. The neighborhood — which will stretch from Candlestick Park to where Alice Griffith public housing now sits — was modeled on dense, pedestrian-friendly inner-city neighborhoods with lively street life.

It was meant to be a thriving city neighborhood, “not some suburban neighborhood out there,” said Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore.

In the Candlestick Point plans approved in 2010, nearly all of the streets were 20 feet wide or less, but SFFD didn’t protest it until this year. SFFD put forward a revised plan in early May where nearly all of the streets would be 26 feet or wider, but Supervisor Scott Wiener and other city planning staff apparently persuaded the department to allow many of the original, narrower street widths. Construction on the development is expected to begin next year.

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SFMTA to Change “Unclear” Sidewalk Parking Guidelines on Website

Image from the SFMTA website

The SFMTA web page that provides guidance on “how to park legally” currently tells drivers that “you may park in your own driveway as long as no portion of your vehicle extends over the sidewalk.” The text is accompanied by a photo of someone walking a bike past cars parked in “driveways,” but with their rear ends extending well into what appears to be the sidewalk.

After I inquired with SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose about the legality of those instructions, he said that the agency will change it. “The page is unclear and may lead one to think that it is OK to park anywhere as long as you are not blocking the sidewalk,” he said. “We are working on changing it now.” The SFMTA hasn’t provided the new language yet.

SF’s rampant sidewalk parking problem seems to stem partially from a widespread belief among drivers that they’re allowed to park in their “driveway.” There’s no telling whether drivers are genuinely confused about parking laws or by the definition of a sidewalk — or whether drivers blatantly disregard the law, and their neighbors’ need for safe and dignified passage by foot, stroller, and wheelchair. But either way, the SFMTA’s instructions on the matter need to be clear.

I pointed out to Rose that the SFMTA’s instructions appear to conflict with the SF Planning Code, which prohibits parking in setbacks, and the fact that all off-street parking spots must be permitted in zoning.

Livable City Director Tom Radulovich confirmed: “The Planning Code prohibits parking in front yards, side yards, or rear yards, so SFMTA is advising San Franciscans to break the law – and risk getting cited by the Planning Department,” he said.

It’s a little troubling that the SFMTA would have illegal and ambiguous instructions posted on its most easily-accessible resource for parking information. Of course, changing it just barely scratches the surface of what’s needed to clean up SF’s car-littered sidewalks. Ultimately, it would mean an upheaval in deep-seated misconceptions among drivers and parking control officers of what constitutes a legal parking spot, and a greater respect for the pedestrian realm. And given that many San Franciscans own cars solely because they can rely on free, illegal parking, bringing parking enforcement in line with actual laws would probably result in a lot of cars going up for sale.

We’ll post an update when the SFMTA website is changed.

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Pedestrian Seriously Injured by N-Judah Train at Judah and 16th Ave

The crash scene on Judah, looking west from 15th Avenue. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Updated 8:07 p.m. The SFPD issued this statement:

An outbound N Judah LRV (Light Rail Vehicle) heading W/B on Judah was crossing 15th St. For unknown reason a pedestrian seen standing on the inbound or eastbound Judah line platform walked out and contacted the rear of the 2nd car and then fell to the ground. The pedestrian suffered a head laceration and trauma and is now at SFGH currently in the operating room and should be in ICU later to night. He is listed with life threatening injuries. The pedestrian is a 29 year old male.

A pedestrian suffered life-threatening injuries after being hit by a westbound N-Judah train at Judah Street and 16th Avenue in the Inner Sunset at about 2:12 p.m., according to the SFPD. Police at the scene said they had no information available about the victim, or how the crash occurred.

The N-Judah is currently shut down, and Muni is running shuttle bus service instead.

At the scene, police were investigating the crash, with the train stopped on the uphill crest approaching the N’s 16th Avenue stop, where visibility can be hindered by the sudden change in grade. N-Judah operators often run the three-block stretch between the Funston and 16th Avenue stops at higher than normal speeds, picking up momentum to help the train climb the crest. There are no stop signs or traffic signals on that stretch of Judah, and the train was stopped between the crosswalks at 15th and 16th Avenues.

SFPD said the victim was taken to SF General Hospital.

The train was stopped short of the 16th Avenue stop and crosswalk. Photo: Aaron Bialick

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Street Smarts: SF’s Kids Aren’t the Ones Who Need a Lesson on Safe Streets

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

How to walk on city streets, and to fear cars while doing so, is something that’s taught to small children everywhere. Once those kids grow up and get driver’s licenses, however, teaching the same kids to avoid running over other people doesn’t seem to be a major part of the curriculum.

It’s been generations since the days when streets were places where kids were expected to walk and play, and drivers were held responsible for keeping them safe. These days, nobody bats an eye when the onus for street safety is put onto school children.

A program called “LA Street Smarts,” using video games and set simulations of city streets to train kids how to navigate without getting hit by negligent drivers, arrived at Lakeshore Elementary this week to sharpen its students’ survival skills. The SF Chronicle reported on the “innovative workshop”:

A group of third-graders waved their hands and screamed – “Stop!” – as a car slowly backed toward them from a garage. The children weren’t in danger of becoming San Francisco’s latest pedestrian casualties, though…

Students began by playing “Ace’s Adventure,” a video game in which second- and third-graders navigate an avatar through a neighborhood on a virtual walk to school, crossing streets and learning to obey signals.

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Dangerous by Design: CA Has Second-Highest Fatality Rate for Older Peds

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 11.27.49 AMSmart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition released their Dangerous by Design 2014 [PDF] report today, showing that California has the nation’s second-highest pedestrian fatality rate for older pedestrians (age 65 and older).

The report highlights the ways car-centric design in US cities makes streets dangerous for walking, and ranks major metropolitan areas using the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), the ratio of annual fatality rates to the percentage of people who walk to work. California was ranked 17th on the PDI, with pedestrians deaths making up 19 percent of the state’s total traffic fatalities.

California’s elderly pedestrian fatality rate, at 5.03 fatalities per 100,000 people (compared to 3.19 nationally), is second only to Hawaii, followed by New York. Nationwide, older adults account for 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities, while only making up 12.6 percent of the population.

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