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SFMTA Bucks Uber, Bans Private Autos From Turning On to Mid-Market Street

Uber's Wayne Ting told the SFMTA board the company opposed "preferential treatment" for taxis on Market Street. Video screenshot from Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/YouTube

Uber’s Wayne Ting told the SFMTA board the company opposed “preferential treatment” for taxis on Market Street. Video screenshot from Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/YouTube

Private auto drivers will be banned from turning on to Market Street between Third and Eighth streets after the restrictions were approved unanimously by the SFMTA Board of Directors yesterday.

The board dismissed the last-minute protest from Uber, who complained that its ride-hail drivers would be included in the ban, while taxis wouldn’t. In the roughly three hours of public comment, the vast majority of speakers supported the bans — safe streets advocates and taxi drivers alike.

Uber had initially criticized the plan outright, saying that it would “increase gridlock around town, with no improvement to safety.” But reps from Uber and Lyft, which have long fought the kind of regulations applied to the taxi industry, told the SFMTA board they support turn bans to make Market safer as long as they’re also applied to taxis.

“It creates a preferential treatment for one form of transportation over another,” Wayne Ting, Uber’s SF general manager told the board, eliciting jeers from members of the audience.

“If Uber wants to be regulated like a taxi then they can have the benefits of being regulated,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara told Bay City News.

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Memorial for Wilbert Williams Calls on Caltrans to Fix SoMa’s Freeway Ramps

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara speaks with safe streets advocates  near Fifth and Harrison, where Williams was run over in his sleep. Photo: Walk SF

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara speaks with safe streets advocates near Fifth and Harrison, where Williams was run over in his sleep. Photo: Walk SF

One year ago yesterday, 62-year-old Wilbert Williams was sleeping in a tent next to a Highway 80 off-ramp at Fifth and Harrison Streets at about 1 a.m. when he was run over and killed by a drunk SUV driver who veered off the road.

Wilbert and Yvette Williams. Photo courtesy of Yvette Williams

Wilbert and Yvette Williams. Photo courtesy of Yvette Williams

“That morning, I woke up and got ready to see my husband,” wrote Williams’ widow, Yvette Williams, in a statement:

I turned on the television, and heard the story of a man hit by a car in his sleep. The car drove straight through the 5th Street offramp into an adjacent park. I saw my husband’s friends talking to the camera. As I searched for Wilbert on the screen, all I could see were his belongings — a sign written in his handwriting, his hat, his pillow and his wagon. My heart began to drop. I raced over to the scene as quickly as possible. As I was driven to the morgue — not the hospital — I prayed I would not find my husband… that it was someone else.

That day, my hopes were shattered and my life forever changed. I lost the love of my life. And on top of it, I faced prejudice.

Safe streets advocates held a memorial yesterday near the site where Williams was killed, highlighting the dangerous driving encouraged by the freeway ramps.

The Vision Zero Coalition, led by Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition, called for urgent action from Caltrans, the state agency that controls highways and the city streets where freeway ramps touch down. With a decades-long legacy of gouging highways through cities, the agency still tends to disregard the burdens that grade-separated limited-access roads impose on urban neighborhoods like the South of Market District.

“Caltrans is notorious for focusing their engineering on facilitating vehicle traffic, and regularly misses the mark on safety goals,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara in a statement. “Today, we’re asking Caltrans to stop with business as usual, and start building roads to protect the lives of people who travel on them.”

Caltrans recently pledged a new focus on safer streets, and took a first step by “piloting a pedestrian safety program, which uses injury data to inform investments,” according to the coalition’s press release. But “waiting for a potential program to help address the dangerous conditions freeways have created on our local streets is no longer an option,” said Ferrara. “Caltrans needs to prioritize safety and take steps to make corrective improvements now.”

The data collected by the SF Department of Public Health in recent years reinforces what’s already known by just about anyone who walks in SoMa: The city’s most dangerous streets are those designed for speed, and they’re the deadliest at freeway ramps.

“Freeway ramps in San Francisco are where fast moving traffic merging on and off freeways literally meets our local streets — and the people walking and biking along them,” said SFDPH’s Megan Wier, co-chair of the city’s Vision Zero Task Force. “This can be a fatal combination. Tracking these deaths and where they occur helps us to recognize patterns and opportunities to save lives.”

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Tomorrow: Support Car Restrictions for a Safer Market, Which Uber Opposes

Image: SFMTA

Image: SFMTA

You can email public comments on the “Safer Market Street” car restrictions to the SFMTA board at MTABoard@sfmta.com.

The SFMTA Board of Directors is set to vote tomorrow on whether to ban private auto drivers from turning onto mid-Market Street, part of a package of safety improvements and transit upgrades.

While the improvements seem to be backed by a wide coalition, Uber doesn’t belong to it. At the eleventh hour, the ride-hail app company launched a petition to exempt Uber drivers from the restrictions. Though Hoodline reported that the petition had gained 15,000 signatures after Uber’s email blast, the petition webpage was hacked and subsequently taken down by Uber, according to Business Insider.

The “Safer Market Street” improvements are short-term measures aimed at reducing injuries, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire told reporters last week. “Our most iconic street should be our safest street.”

On Market between Third and Eighth Streets, where the turn bans would go into effect, private auto drivers make up just 10-30 percent of roadway traffic but were involved in 82 percent of the 162 injury collisions in 2012 and 2013, according to Maguire. Most pedestrians were injured in crosswalks.

The mid-Market stretch contains four of the city’s top 20 intersections for pedestrian injuries, and the two intersections with the most bicycle injuries citywide.

“These types of crash patterns are just not acceptable to us,” said Maguire.

“The Safer Market Street Project is a strong example of a data-driven proposal that is purely focused on safety,” SF Bicycle Coalition wrote in a blog post today. “It’s important that the project moves forward promptly in its strongest form to help protect the thousands of people who walk and bike on Market Street every day.”

Uber dismissed the data while demanding that its drivers be exempt from the turn bans, as taxis will. Uber spokesperson Eva Behrend told the SF Chronicle last week, “Market Street is a major artery of the city, and cutting off riders and driver-partners from accessing this thoroughfare will increase gridlock around town, with no improvement to safety.”

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim stands by the car restrictions, her aide told Hoodline:

When she championed the legislation to establish the Vision Zero policy citywide two years ago, this is the type of engineering change that she had in mind. Engineering to create safer streets, with a priority focus on the corridors and intersections with the highest rates of collisions between vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, is a critical component of the Vision Zero policy. This change will target four of the worst collision intersections where drivers fail to yield to pedestrians.

Andy Bosselman, a transit activist who uses Uber regularly, blasted Uber’s opposition in an open letter to the SFMTA board.

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Fisherman’s Wharf Parking-Free Street Revamp Boosts Sales, Will Expand

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

Two years after the city gave Fisherman’s Wharf a people-friendly redesign on two blocks of Jefferson Street, business is booming. Despite merchants’ fears that removing all car parking on the blocks would hurt their sales, they now say it had the opposite effect.

The second phase of the project, which will bring a similar treatment to three blocks of Jefferson from Jones Street east to Powell Street, is taking a step forward. D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen and other city officials announced today that $1.7 million has been allocated for design and engineering for the expansion. The rest of the funds for the second phase, totaling $13 million, haven’t been identified, but it could be constructed as early as 2017.

Gross sales of businesses on Jefferson Street compared between 2012 -2013. Image: Fisherman's Wharf CBD

Gross sales of businesses on Jefferson Street compared between 2012 -2013. Image: Fisherman’s Wharf CBD

In June 2013, the two blocks of Jefferson between Hyde and Jones Streets were made safer and calmer with wider sidewalks, textured pavement to calm motor traffic, and the removal of curbside car parking. One-way traffic was also converted to two-way.

Since then, sales on the street have risen. The Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District surveyed 18 of the 33 businesses on those blocks, and they reported month-over-month gross sales increases between 10 to 21 percent on average:

From July through November 2013, these 18 businesses generated an additional $1.5 million dollars in gross sales from the previous year. This added approximately $140,000 more in sales tax for the city during this 5 month period.

“People are staying longer and spending more money,” said Troy Campbell, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf CBD. “Drivers are a little more cautious, I would say.”

Removing car parking to widen sidewalks provided more room for crowds and made storefronts more visible, said Campbell. “You look down the street, and you don’t have a string of cars that are part of the landscape. The businesses become the landscape.”

“A lot of the merchants came back to me and said, you know what, I thought losing the parking was going to be a problem, but I feel like people can actually see my windows now, and they’re engaging with us more.”

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Sup. Christensen: Make the Stockton Tunnel Better for Walking and Biking

Supervisor Christensen (left) listens as Richard Ow speaks, along with SF Planning Director John  Rahaim and Department of Public Works Director Mohammend Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Christensen (left) listens as Richard Ow speaks, along with SF Planning Director John Rahaim and Department of Public Works Director Mohammend Nuru. Photo: Aaron Bialick

D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen wants to make the Stockton Tunnel more comfortable to walk and bike through. She announced today that she procured at least $100,000 in the city budget for a study of improvements in the next fiscal year.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Photo: Aaron Bialick

“Union Square is known all over the world. Chinatown is known all over the world,” Christensen told reporters today. “This is the wormhole that connects the two of them, and we’ve sort of left it as a transit afterthought.”

“Lots of us walk through the Stockton Tunnel, mostly out of necessity. I’d like people to do it because it’s safe and fun, if that’s possible… I know when I’m cycling, those flat shortcuts are really preferred.”

Christensen said the specifics of the study would be developed through community participation. But she suggested ideas ranging from public art and better lighting to removing a traffic lane, which could quell the roar of motor traffic and make room to physically separate cars from people walking and biking.

Richard Ow, a senior who lives in Chinatown, said he’s been walking through the tunnel since he was 10 years old. “This should’ve been done a long time ago,” he said. “We want to see some action.”

The idea of removing one of Stockton’s three traffic lanes already seems to have strong support. Pius Lee, chairman of the Chinatown Neighborhood Association, told the SF Chronicle in February that local merchants and residents already agree it’s a good idea. He noted that it would skirt the merchant controversy of parking removal.

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Five Key Lessons From Europe’s Vision Zero Success

Cross-posted from the Vision Zero Network

Berlin, Germany

From the moment that Vision Zero began capturing attention in American cities, we’ve heard many admiring references to its success in Europe, particularly in its birthplace of Sweden.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to research those experiences and their lessons for the growing number of American communities working to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. As part of a fellowship with the German Marshall Fund, I’m spending two months visiting Stockholm, Sweden; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Berlin, Germany to interview experts and observe first-hand their approaches to traffic safety. The goal of my research: to gather and share replicable lessons for American communities, particularly in urban areas, where we’re seeing the most momentum for Vision Zero.

First, a disclaimer: I’m still actively researching and interviewing, so it’s too soon to share my sense of the “full story.” Please consider these early impressions.

And, second, a clarification: What the Swedes — and to a lesser extent the Germans — call Vision Zero, the Dutch call Sustainable Safety. While there are many similarities to what can generally be termed a “safe systems approach” to transportation, there are more differences than I realized between their efforts. (But more on that in a future post…)

So what have I observed thus far? Here are five initial  takeaways, focusing on areas that seem relevant to the U.S. experience and worthy of more exploration.

1) Managing speeds — and speed differentials — is a top priority

In all three of these countries, the leaders of traffic safety efforts emphasize that managing speed is the number one determinant in their successes in improving safety.

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East Palo Alto Bay Trail Will Be Built. Will Current Residents Benefit From It?

Ravenswood Bay Trail Map

The missing 0.6-mile segment of San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto requires crossing SFPUC property and protected wetlands. Image: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

The pieces are in place to build a key link in the San Francisco Bay Trail, providing a continuous bike route through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Given the trail’s proximity to Facebook and the lack of housing close to the company’s campus, East Palo is also looking to strengthen its affordable housing policies to ensure that current residents can afford to stay in the city and benefit from the new path.

Local officials from five different agencies met on Monday to iron out the details of an agreement that fully funds the San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto, filling in the 100-mile network of off-street trails connecting Redwood City and Union City with downtown San Jose, Mountain View, and central Santa Clara.

“This is one of the most difficult gaps in the Bay Trail to complete,” said San Mateo County Parks Director Marlene Finley, whose department will manage funds for the project. “It’s wonderful that all the project partners are able to come together and get this done.”

The missing section lies within both East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and is subject to a number of regulatory agencies where the trail will cross protected wetlands in the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. The multi-jurisdictional nature of the project and complex political environment has delayed it for decades while every other section of the San Francisco Bay Trail in the mid-Peninsula region has been built or improved. The network of continuous off-street trails now stretches nearly from the Union City BART Station to downtown San Jose, except for this remaining gap.

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Wiggle Safety Upgrades Delayed Over Turn Bans to Reduce Thru Traffic

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The Wiggle would become safer and calmer with upgrades like a traffic diverter at southbound Scott and Fell streets. But Lower Haight neighbors oppose left-turn bans aimed at attracting cross-town drivers to Divisadero Street. Image: SFMTA

Improvements that would make the Wiggle calmer and safer have been delayed after continued driver protests against three left turn bans on Divisadero Street proposed as part of the project. Approval of the project was removed from the SFMTA Board of Directors’ Tuesday agenda and postponed until June.

Hoodline reported that some members of the Lower Haight Neighbors and Merchants Association can’t stomach the all-hours left turn bans from Divisadero on to Haight Street, and peak hour bans for turns on to Hayes and McAllister Streets.

The SFMTA says the bans are intended to complement the Wiggle improvements, which include a traffic diverter on Scott Street. By keeping cut-through drivers moving on Divisadero, the main driving route, that street would become the more attractive driving option. “This will reduce Scott Street’s appeal as a cross-town route, making it a more pleasant place to walk, bike, and live,” says an SFMTA fact sheet [PDF] on the Wiggle improvements.

“We want people to get where they need to go safely while keeping heavier traffic on Divisadero,” Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire said in a statement. “The SFMTA’s proposals for Divisadero will improve traffic flow, cut down on congestion and reduce spillover traffic into the neighborhood. We have worked with the community extensively on this project, and we wanted to take a little more time to better understand the concerns of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association.”

A major feature of the planned Wiggle upgrades is a large sidewalk bulb-out which would physically block drivers from entering southbound Scott at Fell Street. That would reduce the car traffic on Scott, which runs one block parallel to Divisadero, that degrades the livability of the neighborhood and congests the intersection at Haight. The improvements also include raised crosswalks, bulb-outs with rain gardens, and textured pavement.

“Thousands of people bike and walk through the Wiggle every day, and they and the neighborhood residents deserve a street that works for them,” said Tyler Frisbee, policy director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. The SFMTA’s project “enhances the residential, family-oriented nature of the community and ensures that everyone is able to walk, bike, and enjoy the area in a safe, inviting place. This project will reduce the amount of water pollution and runoff from these streets, minimize traffic congestion for neighbors, and improve safety for people walking and biking. That is a clear win-win.”

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SFPD Increasing Tickets for Pedestrians Faster Than Tickets for Drivers

SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” tickets for dangerous driving violations dropped 6 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to that of last year. Image: SFPD

First, the good news: In the last quarter of 2014, SFPD increased speeding enforcement 91 percent, from 933 to 1,781 citywide.

The bad news? Tickets to pedestrians more than doubled, from 436 to 1,110, continuing a recent trend of increasing tickets for people walking and biking faster than those for dangerous driving. All told, pedestrian fines accounted for 3.6 of total traffic citations in San Francisco, up from 1.7 percent over the same period the year before.

More than two years into the SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign, the department still shows no signs of changing an agency culture that seems unable to prioritize enforcement of motorist behavior that endangers life and limb.

SFPD Traffic Commander Ann Mannix. Image: SFGovTV

At a supervisors committee hearing yesterday, SFPD Traffic Commander Ann Mannix, who took her post in January, expressed no intention of meeting the department’s official goal of issuing 50 percent of traffic citations to the top five most dangerous violations, which are all driver violations.

Mannix presented SFPD’s latest enforcement stats [PDF], showing dismal progress. The share of “Focus on the Five” tickets increased just two percent last year compared to 2013, from 22 percent to 24 percent. The trend is looking worse so far in 2015: In the first quarter of the year, the share of “Five” tickets dropped by 6 percent compared to the year before.

“We won’t change much from 2014 to 15,” Mannix told the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee. “I believe that you’ll see the numbers rise. Will we be at 50 percent? I don’t think so. Richmond District will be at 50 percent.”

Richmond Station continues to be the only station to meet the 50 percent goal. Mannix asserts that SFPD can’t meet its self-imposed Focus on the Five goal because officers can’t be choosy about what they enforce, and that police staffing is occupied with non-traffic duties.

Mannix repeated the argument of her predecessor, Mikail Ali, that the SFPD is increasing traffic enforcement overall, with a 54 percent increase in total traffic citations between 2013 and 2014.

But that statistic masks troubling enforcement trends. For instance, tickets for failure-to-yield, a leading cause of pedestrian fatalities, actually declined in the last quarter of 2014 compared to the last quarter of 2013, from 104 to 81.

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San Jose to Adopt Vision Zero But No Target Date to End Traffic Deaths

Vision Zero San Jose As Soon As Possible Logo

San Jose’s Vision Zero plan doesn’t set a target date to eliminate traffic fatalities, only declaring a goal of “ASAP” — as soon as possible. Image: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council is expected to adopt a Vision Zero plan [PDF] tomorrow, making it the third major city in the Bay Area and the tenth in the nation to commit to ending traffic deaths. But San Jose isn’t setting a timeline to achieve this goal.

“For years, San Jose created a roadway system exclusively for cars — not for people on bikes, pedestrians, or transit,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. “Vision Zero is San Jose’s commitment to prioritize street safety and ensure all road users – whether you walk, bike, drive, or ride transit – are safe.”

Unlike San Francisco and New York City, which adopted ten-years goals, San Jose’s version of Vision Zero doesn’t include a target date. Instead the plan calls for an end to traffic fatalities “ASAP”:

Vision Zero San Jose purposely has avoided setting a particular timeline as a practical matter and has instead chosen to pursue Vision Zero goals, as soon as possible (ASAP). The history of change particularly with regards to state and federal policy makes 10-years seem “unrealistic.” However, the urgency for safe streets makes a 10-year goal seem “too slow.” For now, our goal is to continue to make progress with advocacy, action and results, ASAP!

“While we understand concerns that a 10-year timeline may be too ambitious,” said California Walks Planning and Policy Manager Jaime Fearer, “we need to commit to a date for our goal, even if it is 15 or 20 years.”

Elijah Alvitre, 3, was killed in a crosswalk at Vine and Oak streets. The driver who struck him faced no legal penalties. Photo: Legacy.com

Dozens of supporters, including friends and relatives of people killed by reckless drivers, packed a committee meeting last week to plead for an end to the city’s traffic violence.

“Anything that can be done to improve safety should not only be considered but embraced, to help prevent this from happening to anyone else,” said Jenny Alvitre, whose 3-year-old grandson Elijah was killed in November 2013 by the driver of a pickup truck. The driver was not cited or charged for failing to yield to the 13-year-old girl pushing Elijah’s stroller in a crosswalk, hitting both of them, as well as a six-year-old girl holding the older girl’s hand.

Just hours later, 14-year-old Bianca Valdez was killed by a driver while walking across White Road near Hyland Avenue in east San Jose. A week later, 17-year-old Anthony Garcia was killed by an SUV driver while riding his bicycle on Branham Lane in south San Jose.

The death toll on San Jose’s dangerously-designed streets has risen in recent years, and a growing proportion of victims are killed by drivers while walking and biking. In 2013, 44 people were killed on San Jose streets, and 42 in 2014. In both years, 21 of the victims were killed while walking. Most fatal crash victims in SJ are now people walking or biking. That wasn’t the case between 2008 and 2012, when an average of 31 people were killed each year, 46 percent of whom were pedestrians or cyclists.

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