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Posts from the Speed Limits Category


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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Despite Evidence, SFMTA Denies It Increased Speed Limits in Forest Hill

Woodside Avenue, seen earlier this week. Photo: Mark Dreger

The speed limit on Woodside Avenue was recently raised from 30 miles per hour to 35 MPH, according to Mark Dreger, who’s lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Dreger posted a photo in the Streetsblog comments section of a 30 MPH sign on Woodside, with a 35 MPH sign seen right behind it, in what appeared to be slip up by the crews who switched them out.

But those speed limit increases never appeared on the agenda for the SFMTA’s bi-weekly engineering hearings, which are required for such changes, as far as we can tell. When we asked the SFMTA about it, however, spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency had no record of a 30 MPH speed limit on those streets.

“There has not been a change in speed at this location, as it was always legislated for 35 MPH,” said Rose. “We do not have records of installation of a 30 MPH sign at Woodside/Laguna Honda, so we removed that sign.”

The response is especially perplexing since images from Google Street View, dated March 2011, clearly show the 30 MPH sign seen in Dreger’s photo, while the 35 MPH sign is nowhere to be found.

When that was explained to Rose, he still shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, it was legislated for 35 MPH and we have no record of a 30 MPH sign installation. According to records, the 35 MPH sign was down and was recently repaired.”

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Belmont Council Member: “Cars Come First” on Deadly Ralston Avenue

Belmont residents fed up with dangerous conditions from speeding drivers on Ralston Avenue have launched an online petition with nearly 600 signatures so far, calling on the city council to implement safety improvements.

But proponents of safer streets apparently can’t count on support from Belmont City Council Member Coralin Feierbach, who voiced her opposition to bike lanes and red-light cameras this week. “Cars come first,” said Feierbach, according to the Daily Journal. “It’s our lifeline.”

Coralin Feierbach

Coralin Feierbach. Photo: Belmont Patch

Feierbach seemed to have no problem with the fact that “when you ride your bike on Ralston you take your life into your own hands,” deeming it “impossible” to reduce speeding from drivers.

With crosswalks typically placed up to a quarter-mile apart, and the street spanning five wide lanes of motor traffic, walking on Ralston can also be nerve-racking, and often deadly.

But Feierbach’s defense of the dangerous status quo on Ralston won’t do much to help mothers like May Dembowski, who lives in downtown Belmont and regularly walks her 8-year-old daughter on Ralston to Central Elementary School.

“I’m nervous all the time — it’s very stressful to cross. We’ve almost been hit by cars several times,” said Dembowski. “The crosswalk lights don’t give children enough time to get across — even many adults can’t make it. And many drivers are in a hurry and just run the red lights.”

There are 10 schools on or near Ralston, a 2.5-mile long street where drivers often exceed speed limits, which vary from 30 to 40 mph, according to data from the Belmont Public Works Department [PDF]. The street serves as a connection for drivers between the 101 and 280 highways.

According to data from the Belmont Police Department, Ralston saw 70 traffic crashes last year — an average of one every five days. Since 1998, the street has seen an average of 65 crashes annually, according to data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS). In those crashes, 193 people suffered injuries — 160 drivers or passengers, and 33 people walking or biking.

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SFMTA Sets 25 MPH Limits on Four SoMa Streets. Time for Speed Cams?

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Speed limits have been lowered from 30 MPH to 25 MPH on Howard, Folsom, Harrison, and Bryant Streets in the South of Market area, the SFMTA announced yesterday.

Howard Street. Photo: geekstinkbreath/Flickr

The agency approved the speed limit reductions last year as “an effective way to improve pedestrian and traffic safety in the area,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin in a statement. “When traveling at a slightly reduced speed motorists have more time to react, making the roadway safer for everyone.”

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe applauded the measure to calm traffic on “wide, fast, freeway-like streets,” which see the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the city. “Every day, more people are living, working, and walking in SoMa, and safer speeds here will be better for everyone.”

But while physical changes to the street will also be needed to effectively slow car traffic, SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman said that “enforcing those speed limits will continue to be a challenge,” and she’s “determined to get camera-based speed enforcement on the legislative agenda for next year.”

“If we cannot afford the level of police officer coverage needed to keep drivers from routinely breaking the law and endangering our citizens, we need to move with the technology of the times and start automating enforcement as Chicago is doing,” said Brinkman. Chicago recently approved a program that enables the city to blanket streets near schools with speed enforcement cameras.

A statement from SFPD Chief Greg Suhr didn’t mention any plans to increase enforcement in the area, though he said “traffic safety is one of the many missions of the SFPD.”

“Through the combined efforts of SFMTA traffic engineers and SFPD education and enforcement campaigns, we can make the city’s streets safer for all who use them,” said Suhr.

The new speed limits are now in effect on Howard from the Embarcadero to South Van Ness Avenue; on Folsom and Howard from the Embarcadero to 13th Street; and on Bryant from the Embarcadero to 11th Street. The SFMTA said it installed 13 signs in addition to the ones they replaced to help ensure drivers are aware of the change.

Brinkman said she’s “thrilled that we’re continuing to review and lower speed limits in SOMA and across the city,” adding that she “can see a time coming when all but a few key streets will have 20 MPH speed limits, making walking, biking and just being on the street much more pleasant and safe.”


Tomorrow: Why Is the SFMTA Raising a Speed Limit and Closing Crosswalks?

Tomorrow’s bi-weekly SFMTA engineering hearing has a couple of peculiar items on the agenda:

The SFMTA is planning to raise a speed limit on Winston Drive (top) and close crosswalks on Fulton Street at Funston and 14th Avenues (bottom). Photo: Google Maps

Winston Drive between Buckingham Way and Lake Merced Boulevard (existing speed limit is 25 miles per hour)

Closing of the western crosswalk (between the northwest and southwest corners) at the intersection of Fulton Street and Funston Avenue, and close the eastern crosswalk (between the northeast and southeast corners) at the intersection of Fulton Street and 14th Avenue

Speed limit increases and crosswalk closures are unusual for the SFMTA these days — you’ll more typically find speed limit decreases and crosswalk openings on the agenda instead. As the agency notes on its website, the city’s adopted Better Streets Plan recommends “that closed crosswalks be evaluated for opening in order to improve access and pedestrian network connectivity” and that the city “reduce speed limits as appropriate and strictly enforce existing speed limits.”

So why is the SFMTA taking measures that appear to contradict the city’s goals?

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SFMTA Completes Implementation of 15-MPH Zones at 181 Schools

Students on Walk to School Day 2010. Photo: Adrienne Johnson/Flickr

San Francisco became the first major city in California to implement all of its planned 15-MPH school zones, the SFMTA announced today. With proper enforcement, the measure promises make the streets surrounding 181 schools safer and more inviting for students and parents walking and biking.

An SFMTA worker installs a 15-MPH school zone sign last August. Photo: Bryan Goebel/Flickr

“This is a big step forward for everyone who walks in San Francisco,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe in a statement. “We applaud the Mayor’s leadership on this, the SFMTA’s quick action to establish the zones, and the Police Department’s commitment to enforcing these new safer speeds.”

The SFMTA began installing 15 MPH speed limit signs at schools in August. Although the agency originally estimated the zones would go in at around 200 private and public K-12 schools, only 181 “are eligible under a 2008 state law which allows the 15-mph zones on two-lane streets for 500 feet around a school,” reads an SFMTA statement. Captain Denis F. O’Leary, head of the SFPD Traffic Company, said police are out enforcing the signs.

“Walking in San Francisco should be inviting and safe for all residents,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, who added that the agency “is committed to working with our city partners to ensure that kids can get to their schools safely. We will continue to seek out comprehensive and innovative street improvements for everyone.”

“Hopefully,” said Stampe, “this will be the first of many cities.”


Whose Streets?

Market and Kearny and 3rd Streets, 1909. (Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library)

“Whose Streets? OUR Streets!” yell rowdy demonstrators when they surge off the sidewalk and into thoroughfares. True enough, the streets are our public commons, what’s left of it (along with libraries and our diminishing public schools), but most of the time these public avenues are dedicated to the movement of vehicles, mostly privately owned autos. Other uses are frowned upon, discouraged by laws and regulations and what has become our “customary expectations.” Ask any driver who is impeded by anything other than a “normal” traffic jam and they’ll be quick to denounce the inappropriate use or blockage of the street.

Bicyclists have been working to make space on the streets of San Francisco for bicycling, and to do that they’ve been trying to reshape public expectations about how streets are used. Predictably there’s been a pushback from motorists and their allies, who imagine that the norms of mid-20th century American life can be extended indefinitely into the future. But cyclists and their natural allies, pedestrians, can take heart from a lost history that has been illuminated by Peter D. Norton in his recent book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. He skillfully excavates the shift that was engineered in public opinion during the 1920s by the organized forces of what called itself “Motordom.” Their efforts turned pedestrians into scofflaws known as “jaywalkers,” shifted the burden of public safety from speeding motorists to their victims, and reorganized American urban design around providing more roads and more space for private cars.

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25 MPH Speed Limits on Harrison and Bryant Approved at SFMTA Hearing

Harrison Street in SoMa. Image: Google Maps

SFMTA staff approved a measure today to lower speed limits on Harrison and Bryant Streets form 30 MPH to 25 MPH in the South of Market (SoMa) District.

Harrison and Bryant are the third and fourth east-west corridors in SoMa to have their speed limits lowered after the board approved reductions on Folsom and Howard Streets a month ago.

“This is another good step toward taming San Francisco’s wide, fast, dangerous streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “Enforcement of these new safer speeds will be critical – we should see the police out there to educate drivers and ticket speeding cars.”

The high-speed, one-way streets of SoMa, which lie in District 6, have long been notoriously dangerous to walk or bike on. On Harrison, the SFMTA plans to implement safety measures at the hazardous Main Street intersection thanks to the work of local advocates.

When similar speed reductions for Folsom and Howard were approved at a hearing in May, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose explained that they came from the agency’s regular citywide review of speed limits. “We see this cycle as an opportunity to adjust speed limits, especially in areas which have undergone significant land use and activity changes like SoMa,” Rose said at the time.

The new speed limits, from the Embarcadero to 13th Street on Harrison and from the Embarcadero to 11th Street on Bryant, are expected to receive final approval from the SFMTA Board of Directors in the coming weeks.


SFMTA: 15 MPH School Zones Could Be Implemented Within the Year

Flickr photo: Lynn Friedman

Many streets could become safer for children walking and biking to school with a project in the works to lower speed limits within school zones to 15 mph. New signs warning drivers could be in the ground as early as this winter, according to an SFMTA staff report [pdf], granted the funds are approved next month by the SF County Transportation Authority.

“It’s a very important item because it’s very visible and we think it will have a measurable impact on school safety and it can be done fairly quickly,” SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Bond Yee told the Board of Directors yesterday.

About 200 schools have already been identified by staff as potentially eligible within the criteria of the California vehicle code, the report states. The project was mandated in an Executive Directive issued by former Mayor Gavin Newsom last December and has been urged by advocates and city officials.

“I know there’s a lot of thought from the supervisors and the public that we’re not doing enough,” said Director Cheryl Brinkman.

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Move to Give Cities Power Over Speed Limits Gains Ground in Sacramento

It’s hardly a state secret that California’s speed limit laws are designed to increase traffic speed at the expense of communities and urban design. AB 529, a hot piece of state legislation by Assemblymember Mike Gatto that already quietly cleared the lower house, seeks to give communities a little more leeway in setting local speed limits. The Senate has yet to assign the bill to committee, but Senate Transportation Committee staffers have told me they’re expecting it “any day now.”

While campaigning last year, Gatto says he was repeatedly asked to do something about speed limits, which has been a major issue throughout both Valleys and Glendale. But Gatto didn’t need much urging to take up this issue, “I was born and raised in my district and I know there are speeding problems in the streets,” he told Streetsblog in an interview last week.

State law involving how speed limits tilted even more towards maximizing car travel speed in 2004, often times at the expense of creating and maintaining roads that are safe to live and walk on. Before that, cities could set speed limits within a range of the speed at which traffic traveled on a street. After the 2004 change in law however, cities have been forced to round up their speed limits starting at the eighty-fifth percent of car travel speeds, which some drivers treat as permission to drive even faster. AB 529 gives local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic survey, which will slow the process of escalating limits on roads unsuited to higher speeds.

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