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Posts from the "Traffic Calming" Category

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Tell SFMTA How the New San Jose Ave Bike Lane and Road Diet Are Working

How does northbound San Jose Avenue feel ever since it got a road diet and buffered bike lane? The SFMTA has launched an online survey where you can weigh in on the project. It’s your chance to let planners know if you think the street’s safer and calmer, and how it could be improved.

As we’ve written, the “Bernal Cut” finally got a road diet in June, following years of advocacy from neighbors who have pushed for traffic calming. Over 20 years ago, Caltrans invited more speeders to the street by adding a 280 off-ramp lane. Under the current pilot project, the SFMTA and Caltrans replaced of one of San Jose’s three traffic lanes with a buffered bike lane, matching the geometry of San Jose’s southbound side.

The agencies are measuring the traffic-calming effects of the change: if the number of drivers traveling faster than 35 mph doesn’t drop to 15 percent or less, Caltrans will test the removal of the second off-ramp lane it added in 1992 as a temporary measure.

San Jose has a speed limit of 45 mph, and before the redesign, 15 percent of drivers traveled faster than 48 mph (a figure known to engineers as the “85th percentile speed”). On the off-ramp, that speed was 57 mph.

The SFMTA said on its website that agency staff made some preliminary observations on how traffic was moving on August 13 “during both the AM and PM peak travel periods,” finding:

  • The two new merges at the foot of the off-ramp, one with San Jose Avenue and one with Monterey Boulevard, are working well, and drivers are negotiating them with no visible difficulty.
  • Motorists were observed driving in the bike lane, particularly between Milton Street and St. Mary’s Avenue.  Project staff are looking into the travel patterns of these drivers and are exploring ways to mitigate this unsafe behavior.
  • Congestion approaching Randall Street has increased, but has not affected the freeway off-ramp.  Staff noted congestion on San Jose Avenue prior to the implementation of the pilot, and are currently measuring detailed queueing times.  Additional wait time is only present for up to half an hour during the AM and PM peak periods.

This unremarkable picture doesn’t quite jibe with the carmageddon-like scenarios described by a few motorists who have jumped into the comment section on our June article, claiming it’s resulted in car backups a mile long. Of course, it typically takes months after street redesigns for changes in behavior to settle in, as drivers adjust and more people decide to try bicycling on the improved route.

In any case, the SFMTA needs to hear from a greater number of people to get a more complete picture of how San Jose’s working.

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SPUR Ocean Beach Erosion Plan Shelves Road Diet for Great Highway

SPUR will not pursue its vision for narrowing Great Highway from four lanes to two, as neighbors fear that traffic will divert onto their streets. Image: SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR has set adrift its proposal to halve the size of the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, as the group strives to avoid distracting attention from implementing the other priorities in its Ocean Beach Master Plan. A road diet may be revisited later, once more pressing concerns have advanced.

SPUR calls the OBMP “a comprehensive vision to address sea level rise, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access.” It also includes proposals to remove other sections of the Great Highway that are threatened by severe erosion, in what’s called ”managed retreat.”

One of SPUR’s highest priorities is converting the Great Highway south of Sloat to a trail. Images: SPUR

Ben Grant, SPUR’s project manager for the OBMP, said one of the plan’s most pressing priorities is closing a short, severely eroded section of the highway south of Sloat Boulevard, and replacing it with a walking and biking trail. Car traffic would be re-routed onto Sloat and Skyline Boulevards, which still would see less traffic than they’re built for.

But the “most controversial” piece of the OBMP plan, said Grant, was the proposal to remove two of the four lanes on the main stretch of the Great Highway, as well as adding parking spaces along that stretch to replace those that would be removed south of Sloat. SPUR doesn’t want opposition to those elements to distract from the more urgently needed road closure south of Sloat.

“We’ve gotten quite a few strong negative reactions to this,” Grant said at a recent SPUR forum. “We’re not going to be pushing for it at this time, because we have much more core, transformative projects to consider.”

Nothing in the OBMP is an official city proposal yet, but SPUR’s ideas are being seriously considered by public agencies that will conduct environmental impact reports for them.

“It’s an interesting thing to think about,” said Grant. “What if we take our one major stretch of oceanfront road and think of it not as a thoroughfare for moving through — [but] think of it instead as a way of accessing and experiencing the coast, as a coastal access or park road?”

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SFPD Cites Light-Running Driver in Crash at Speed-Plagued Oak and Octavia

The SFPD cited a driver for running a red light at Oak Street and Octavia Boulevard on Tuesday night, then crashing into a van and sending three vehicle occupants to the hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the blue Infiniti was traveling north on Octavia when he broadsided the van and sent it into a utility pole, which flipped the van over onto its side.

The intersection is known for high-speed vehicle crashes and light-running drivers, and neighbors have been asking the SFMTA for years to re-configure it and other Hayes Valley intersections to reduce the danger posed by high-volume, high-speed motor traffic. Just last month, a Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association meeting focused on street safety fixes, where D5 Supervisor London Breed told Hoodline that she “got an earful about some of the challenges around traffic in the area,” noting that “we’re hoping to implement some changes sooner rather than later.”

Much of the discussion at the meeting “centered around the contrast of drivers’ freeway on- and off-ramp mentality with the residential nature of the neighborhood,” Hoodline reported. “One concerned mother noted that children play at Patricia’s Green while drivers barrel north up Octavia.”

Oak and Octavia saw a particularly horrific crash in 2011, when a car-carrier truck hit a UCSF shuttle van — the driver of which reportedly ran a red light while traveling eastbound on Oak. Dr. Kevin Mack was ejected from the UCSF van and killed.

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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

Hat tip Jeff Speck.

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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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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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Northbound San Jose Ave Goes on Road Diet, Gains Buffered Bike Lane

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Photo: SF Bicycle Coalition

The northbound side of speed-plagued San Jose Avenue north of 280, a.k.a. the Bernal Cut, is getting a road diet and buffered bike lane that matches the geometry of the street’s southbound side. SFMTA crews were out today, re-striping the road and installing plastic posts in the buffer zone.

Photo: Spencer Goodwine

The change is far overdue for neighbors who have pushed for traffic calming along the Bernal Cut for decades, particularly since Caltrans invited more speeders to the street by adding a 280 off-ramp lane over 20 years ago.

“The San Jose pilot is the result of decades of community organizing around making the Bernal Cut safer for everyone,” said Kristin Smith, communications director for the SF Bicycle Coalition. She noted that the improvements “will make this critical part of our North-South Route safer,” contributing to the SFBC’s Connecting the City vision of a citywide bike route network safe enough for anyone age 8 to 80 to use. “We look forward to seeing following improvements in the area.”

The bike lane upgrade is the first part of a two-phase pilot project, which was originally supposed to start construction in March. By reallocating one of San Jose’s three northbound traffic lanes to a wider bike lane and buffer zone, the SFMTA hopes to bring the number of drivers traveling faster than 35 mph down to 15 percent or less. If traffic speeds don’t drop below the target, Caltrans will remove the off-ramp lane that it added in 1992, in order to accommodate traffic re-routed away from Loma Prieta earthquake freeway repairs.

Currently, San Jose has a speed limit of 45 mph, and 15 percent of drivers travel faster than 48 mph. On the off-ramp, that number is 57 mph.

Spencer Goodwine came across the street construction on his bike ride to work, finding the entire northbound side of San Jose closed to cars. “It was pretty awesome getting all three car lanes to my self,” he said.

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SFFD “Imposing the Authority” to Demand Wider, Speedier Streets

The debate over whether San Francisco’s streets should be wider and less safe just to accommodate fire trucks was aired publicly at a City Hall hearing yesterday. Livable streets advocates and Supervisor Scott Wiener, who called the hearing, challenged the SF Fire Department’s insistence on wider roadways, particularly its recent eleventh-hour push to change street widths that were agreed upon years ago in redevelopments at Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point.

Fire Marshall Michie Wong. Image: SFGovTV

Fire Marshal Michie Wong. Image: SFGovTV

Officials from SFFD and the Department of Public Works asserted that dozens of miles of new residential streets planned in those redevelopments were not limited to 20 feet wide, as stipulated in city plans and agreements. Instead, they insisted that the roads must be expanded to 26 feet. Officials from the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (the successor to the SF Redevelopment Agency), the developers, and community members involved in the decades of planning for those projects all disagreed.

SFFD officials disregarded those agreements, as well as 20-foot minimums set in the state fire code — the same width SFFD defended when it attempted to subvert new 12-foot minimums last yearFire Marshal Michie Wong said the department prefers 26 feet because that’s the standard set in the International Fire Code, even though city policies have set much lower minimums. Wong said SFFD has printed documents telling developers that the minimum street width under the Fire Code is 26 feet.

“We are imposing the authority to use whatever we need to justify the increased width,” said Wong. Using the International Fire Code standard “as a guideline is sound judgment.”

In response, Wiener said, “I have an issue when the legislative body that the voters have elected has chosen not to adopt a particular requirement, that the Fire Department would nevertheless impose that.”

To make the department’s case, SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi showed a presentation of photos and videos from fires in the city where they claimed limited space between parked cars made the job difficult, including the recent major construction fire in Mission Bay, and a similar one in Houston, Texas.

“Using the example of extreme [situations] does not help the conversation; it definitely escalates fear in people,” said Cheryl Brinkman, who sits on the SFMTA Board of Directors but spoke only for herself. “I think we have more to fear every day from poorly-designed streets.”

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Safer, More Transit-Friendly Streets Planned for the Upper Haight

Flickr user Drumwolf writes: “Yes, THAT Haight and Ashbury. Really not all that, is it.”

Update 4/10: The Planning Department posted an online survey where you can weigh in on the design proposal for upper Haight Street.

The Planning Department has drawn up early plans for three of the Haight-Ashbury’s major streets: upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and the southern end of Masonic Avenue. The proposals for the Haight Ashbury Public Realm Plan were developed through two public workshops aimed at re-thinking the streets as friendlier places for walking, biking, and transit.

Although planners set out to consider all of the streets in the Haight-Ashbury, Masonic, Stanyan, and Haight “rose to the top” among streets that residents wanted the city to improve, said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “There was no interest in touching” the smaller residential streets, she said. “We didn’t want to muck up things that are already working well.”

Of the three streets, the strongest consensus so far seems to be around plans for Haight Street, said Smith. The proposed improvements for Haight include several sidewalk bulb-outs along the street, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project‘s plans to consolidate bus stops and add transit bulbs. Those would provide more breathing room along the busy sidewalks, while also speeding Muni boardings.

“Haight Street is a significant path for public transit,” said Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith and a board member of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. The removed bus stops will “free up space for wider sidewalks, which can accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic… on weekends and sunny days.”

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Mapping San Francisco’s Most Speeding-Plagued Streets

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Urban cartographer Stephanie May used engineering and traffic surveys collected by the SFMTA between 2004 and 2010 to piece together this map of speeding. The darker the segment, the higher the average speed. Fatter segments represent streets with a higher incidence of speeding.

A new online map begins to show which San Francisco streets have the worst speeding problems, according to data from SFMTA engineering and traffic surveys. The map was created by Stephanie May, who works for the SF-based organization Urban Mapping and teaches cartography at SF State University and history at Stanford, according to her Twitter page.

Ideally, a map like this could show people where they should advocate for safety improvements, and where city agencies ought to focus enforcement and traffic calming efforts. This map is a start, but the available data has a lot of gaps, since speed surveys are typically done only in response to complaints from residents, May said. The data is also a bit dated, collected between 2004 and 2010. It would be interesting to see how road diets and other traffic calming measures implemented since then have changed the picture.

On Twitter, May said she thinks “the real message of the map is that @sfgov needs to monitor traffic speeds more systematically (and report).”