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Posts from the Pedestrian Safety Category

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Lesson in Upcoming Memorial for Thu Phan: Stop Compromising on Safety

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SFMTA crews are improving crosswalk viability. Photo: SFMTA.

SFMTA crews are improving crosswalk visibility. Photo: SFMTA.

On Tuesday, March 1, at noon, advocates for vulnerable road users will hold a memorial for Thu Phan, a woman who was killed by a city vehicle while she was crossing the street at 7th and Market in her motorized wheel chair. The memorial will be held at UN Plaza, adjacent to the crossing where she was hit. Afterwards, participants will walk to City Hall to testify at 1 pm at the SFMTA Board Meeting. 38-year-old Phan of Berkeley was fatally struck on the morning of Friday, Feb. 5, by a white Ford sedan making a restricted left turn across the crosswalk.

The turn was restricted to commercial and Muni vehicles. Although the car was owned by the city and was driven by an employee of a city clinic, it was not permitted to make that turn, despite conflicting reports at the time of the incident.

“It has been confirmed that city drivers are not exempt from traffic laws,” said Jessica Lehman, Executive Director of Senior and Disability Action, an advocacy group. However, trucks, taxis, and Muni vehicles are held to a different standard at that intersection.

It’s hard to imagine how a turn can be unsafe for private vehicles, but safe for everyone else. Is someone less dead if they’re hit by a taxi or a truck? Also, in defense of motorists, the intersection is confusing. Imagine being in the lane behind a bus, which makes the turn, and a cab, which makes the turn, and a truck, which makes the turn. How can a driver at the back of that queue, ideally watching out for pedestrians and other vulnerable users, also be expected to read a list of allowed and not-allowed vehicles and figure out what applies? The sign is a driver distraction. Safe street advocates intend to use the memorial to demand fewer exemptions from that turning restriction.

“It’s a ridiculous thing,” said Lehman, adding that she still does not think “confusion is an excuse for any driver making an illegal turn.” That said, both Lehman and Nicole Ferrara, her counterpart at Walk San Francisco, want the city to take a look at the engineering of that turn and how it can be made safer.
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Muni Taraval Meeting Met with Grimaces Groans and Grumbles

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Supervisor Tang greeted the Crowd. Sean Kennedy, Muni Forward Program Manager, standing to her right, gave the main presentation.

Supervisor Katy Tang greets the crowd. Sean Kennedy, Muni Forward Program Manager, standing behind and to her right, gave the main presentation.

Over a hundred people braved the wind and rain yesterday evening to attend the latest public outreach meeting about SFMTA’s planned “Muni Forward” improvements to the L-Taraval streetcar line. The meeting was held at Dianne Feinstein Elementary school, about two blocks south of Taraval.

District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang kicked off the meeting. “I am here to listen,” she stressed, talking about the importance of public comment in formulating transit improvements. The main presentation was given by Sean Kennedy, SFMTA Muni Forward Program Manager. He talked about how SFMTA, as part of the Vision Zero goals, had identified Taraval as a street where safety improvements are needed. “22 people have been hit in the past five years getting off trains,” he said. “And 46 total,” making it part of the city’s “High Injury Network.”

To reduce these collisions, the agency is looking at installing more concrete platforms in some places and improving markings and law enforcement in others. Kennedy explained that a common problem is too many motorists do not understand that it is illegal to pass a stopped train when it is loading and unloading passengers. “Around a third of motorists ignore state law, putting passengers in danger,” he said.
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Via Streetsblog California
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Joe’s Parking and Vision Zero Comics

Parking Comics #1 from Melthology #14, art by Joe Linton

Parking Comics #1 from Melt-Thology #14, art by Joe Linton

It’s a bit of shameless self-promotion, but I wanted to share of pair of comics pages that I drew. These comment on issues that many Streetsblog L.A. readers care about: parking and Vision Zero. I think that parking, of all the issues that dramatically affect cities, is highly misunderstood, and I wanted to see if I could use a fun visual medium to begin to scratch the surface of the insights I’ve learned from parking expert Donald Shoup.

Vision Zero Comics from Melt-Thology #16. Art by Joe Linton

Vision Zero Comics from Melt-Thology #16. Art by Joe Linton

Apologies that these aren’t highly polished and thoroughly plotted masterworks. Read more…

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A Problem We Can Solve: Commercial Vehicles Blocking Our Lanes

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DHL truck parked on raised Market Street Bike Lane. Photo: Roger Rudick

DHL truck parked on raised Market Street Bike Lane. Photo: Roger Rudick

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for pedestrians and cyclists in the Bay Area. On Monday, we brought you the sad story of a woman in a wheel chair run over and killed on Market Street and a woman in Berkeley who barely survived getting hit by a car on Fulton Street. Yesterday word came down about another possible road-rage-hit-and-run on a cyclist, this one on Russian Hill. There were also hit-and-run deaths in San Jose.

A few weeks ago, Janice Li, advocacy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, took Streetsblog on a tour of the Wiggle and Market Street bike infrastructure. It’s a work in progress for sure; SFMTA is using Market Street as a test bed for different treatments for protected and raised bike lanes.

The moment we started the tour, a DHL delivery truck overtook us and pulled right up onto a new section of raised bike lane. Anybody can ride in any American city and see delivery trucks, private cars, Ubers, Lyfts, and, even more maddeningly, police cars, parked on bike lanes. It says we need protected bike lanes, but even that isn’t a perfect solution: we’ve all seen cars that will use the openings left for driveways as parking spaces. As Supervisor Scott Wiener said in an interview with Streetsblog, it’s a frustrating cultural norm for people to double park. It’s so pervasive in fact, that “there is a misconception that commercial vehicles are indeed allowed to park in and block bike lanes when loading/unloading,” explained Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of Bike East Bay. “The vehicle code section people are misreading is CVC 22502(b), which states that commercial vehicles can park further than 18 inches from the curb if necessary in order to load/unload safely. However, this does not permit double parking or blocking bike lanes, which is still illegal.”
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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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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…

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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].”