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Posts from the Traffic Enforcement Category

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SF’s Freeway-Like Streets Increase the Risk From Distracted Drivers

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Image: Zendrive

Image: Zendrive

Distracted driving in SF is no accident. A new map of cell phone use by drivers in SF reveals where drivers are most likely to use a mobile device, increasing the risk of crashes and injuries, and the pattern is unmistakable.

There’s one thing that streets with high rates of distracted driving have in common: They’re designed like freeways.

According to the map created by Zendrive, which “measures driving safety using only the sensors on a driver’s phone,” the streets with the most mobile device use by drivers were overwhelmingly designed as routes to freeways, leading to on-ramps and off-ramps, especially along the Central Freeway that divides the South of Market and Mission districts.

Sections of Duboce, Folsom, Eighth, 10th, and the interchange at Brannan and Division Streets all ranked in the top 10 of distracted driving streets.

Also high up the list were Fell and Oak Streets and 19th Avenue, which act as surface highways. Fell and Oak whisk west side drivers to and from the Central Freeway, and have synchronized traffic signals so drivers don’t have to worry about stopping often.

It stands to reason that wide, multi-lane streets designed to lull drivers into “cruise-control” mode fail to keep their attention. As Tom Vanderbilt wrote in his book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, “The relative ease of most driving lures us into thinking we can get away with doing other things.

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Chiu Bill Would Let Muni Cameras Ticket Drivers Cruising in Transit Lanes

Muni could get greater authority to ticket drivers violating transit lanes like this one at Third and Howard Streets under a new bill proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Assemblymember David Chiu has proposed a bill to give Muni greater authority to keep transit-only lanes and bus stops clear of cars using the enforcement cameras that are now on every bus.

Assemblymember David Chiu today with his successor, D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen (right), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and SFTRU’s Thea Selby. Photo: Aaron Bialick

AB 1287 would allow Muni to issue citations to drivers who delay transit riders by cruising down transit-only lanes, parking in bus stops, and blocking intersections. It would also make the camera enforcement program permanent, as it’s currently a pilot program due to expire at the end of the year.

It’s the first transportation bill at the state level from Chiu, who was elected to the State Assembly in November after serving as District 3 Supervisor.

Camera enforcement “is about making dedicated space for buses work as well as possible,” Chiu said at a press conference today. “We all know that Muni is simply too slow, with an average speed of 8 mph. Transit-only lanes are critical to letting Muni do more than just crawl through our congested streets. For bus-only lanes to work, they can’t have cars double-parked or driving in them.”

Currently, Muni can only use cameras to ticket drivers who park in transit lanes, as spelled out by the bill that established the pilot program in 2007. Moving violations must be enforced by the SFPD, and drivers who park in bus stops and transit lanes, or block intersections, can only be cited by police or parking control officers on the scene.

Chiu’s bill would allow the SFMTA to send out tickets for moving violations captured on camera. Drivers caught cruising in a bus lane would get a $110 parking citation — which costs less than a moving violation.

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All Muni Buses Now Have Transit Lane Enforcement Cameras

Image: KRON 4‘s People Behaving Badly

Muni has installed front-facing cameras on every Muni bus to ticket drivers who double-park in transit-only lanes.

Muni is the first major American transit agency to have enforcement cameras on every bus. The first transit lane cameras were installed as part of a pilot program in 2008. Like system-wide all-door boarding, the idea could spread to other transit systems.

Muni didn’t publicize the milestone, but we checked up on the effort with SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, who said it was completed last fall (a few months off the target date of spring 2014). Equipping the whole fleet marks a major milestone in the effort to make Muni service more effective, and it nicely complements the city’s growing number of red-painted transit lanes.

So be warned, drivers: If a Muni bus weaves around your parked car in a transit lane, you will get a ticket in the mail. The base fine is $110.

Unfortunately, state law prohibits the cameras from being used to cite moving violations, so drivers cruising down a Muni lane can still only be penalized by the SFPD.

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Eyes on the Street: Idiots Continue to Park in the Oak Street Bike Lane

Looks like some tickets are in order.

Even with planted protective barriers alongside the Oak Street bike lane, some drivers haven’t got the message and continue to park or stop in it. It’s not clear if the violations are happening less often, and it’s still early in the learning curve, but the hope had been that the planters would send a stronger message to drivers to stay out.

The design leaves large gaps in the physical protection around curb cuts and the approaches to intersections, where turning drivers merge into the bike lane. There are no plans to expand the protective islands.

For now, San Franciscans have to rely on the SFMTA and SFPD to provide consistent enforcement against violators. That’s another work in progress.

Photo: Al Sharff

Photo: Al Sharff

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Wiener to SFMTA: Don’t Warn Double-Parkers, Cite Them

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Seventh Street in SoMa. Photo: Matt Montagne/Twitter

Typo correction: The SFMTA says commercial vehicles are only allowed to double park when there is no legal parking space nearby.

At a hearing this week on the prevalence of double-parking in SF, Supervisor Scott Wiener said parking control officers shouldn’t give double-parked drivers a chance to move before receiving a citation.

“If the worst thing that’s going to happen to you is you’re going to be asked to move, how is that in any way a disincentive to double parking?” Wiener asked SFMTA Parking Enforcement Director Cameron Samii.

Samii said that such warnings are only given to delivery drivers, and only when there is no legal nearby parking space and they are not blocking a Muni line or “creating a hazard.” He said an exemption in state law allows commercial drivers to double park while loading under those conditions.

However, private auto drivers have long been known to get off with warnings, and there is no clear evidence that practice has changed. And for people on bikes, any double-parked vehicle creates a hazard.

Double-parking tickets have recently been on the upswing, however, with monthly citations rising from 1,808 in September to 2,947 in January, though they dropped again slightly in February to 2,495 [PDF]. Compared to all double-parking tickets, bike lane violations increased at a faster rate, from 110 in September to 285 in January.

The SF Bicycle Coalition recently conducted a social media campaign called #ParkingDirtySF, asking the public to tweet photos of drivers parked in bike lanes and blocking intersections. With more than 500 responses, the SFBC listed the 15 worst locations and the most common types of violators.

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Police Ticket Cyclists Who Fail to Navigate Market and Octavia’s Bad Design

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City planner Neil Hrushowy was among the few bike commuters who weren’t “behaving badly” at this poorly-designed bike junction, according to KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts. Image: KRON 4

Police were seen ticketing people on bikes navigating a poorly-designed junction at the dangerous Market Street and Octavia Boulevard intersection yesterday in the latest “People Behaving Badly” segment from KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts.

The bike lane’s design is so flawed, in fact, that the only bike commuter Roberts showed navigating it properly happened to be one of the city planners leading its redesign (and, no doubt, has paid closer attention to it than most people).

“Most choose the incorrect way and ended up with a ticket,” Roberts said in the segment. (Roberts said he didn’t know that his model cyclist was a city planner, but I recognized him.)

“We recognize that it is not an intuitive design for cyclists,” said Neil Hrushowy, Roberts’ model cyclist and the program director for the SF Planning Department’s City Design Group. “I think anyone’s going to feel comfortable recognizing that it’s the less appealing route for cyclists, which is why you see them coming through the intersection the other way.”

The junction in question has a path for bicycle riders headed southbound on Octavia as they prepare to make a left turn on Market. People must skillfully maneuver through a curved bike lane that runs between curbs through a traffic island, thrusting them alongside freeway traffic. When they reach the other side of the intersection, the path to the Market bike lane is blocked by a barrier installed to prevent drivers from making illegal right turns on to the freeway — the real danger at the intersection.

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New SFPD Traffic Chief Ann Mannix Hesitant to “Focus on the Five”

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali has been replaced by Northern Station Captain Ann Mannix, the SF Chronicle reported today.

Ann Mannix. Photo: SFPD

Ann Mannix. Photo: SFPD

Ali, who held the position for two-and-a half years, has repeatedly promised that the SFPD is committed to its “Focus on the Five” enforcement campaign. But under his tenure, only one station has come close to meeting the target of issuing 50 percent of traffic tickets for the most common causes of pedestrian injuries — speeding, violating pedestrian right-of-way in a crosswalk, red light running, stop sign running, and turning violations. The share of tickets to people walking and biking, meanwhile, has increased.

In an interview with Streetsblog, Mannix expressed reservations about ordering officers to follow the SFPD’s 50 percent goal.

Those five violations are the most common causes of pedestrian crashes, according to SFPD data compiled and reported by the SFMTA. SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign is predicated on using that data to deploy traffic enforcement resources most effectively. The campaign was announced two years ago, and Ali set the 50 percent minimum one year ago, but thus far only Richmond Station has met the goal.

When asked if she would help get the department to meet its enforcement targets, Mannix questioned the data and told Streetsblog that “it’s a very fine line between issuing a quota to police officers to do something — they observe a violation and cite it. I cannot, by law, make them go out and issue a citation.”

“We will continue to focus on those five. Will they be the highest numbers we cite? Not necessarily.”

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said she hopes that Mannix “embraces an approach to ensure that SFPD’s citations are based on data… for the Police Department to do their part in shifting the culture on San Francisco streets so that a human life is worth more than speed.”

But Mannix contended that speed is likely overrepresented in the data collected through the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) because under the system, unsafe speed is often marked as a primary factor in crashes when drivers weren’t exceeding the speed limit. “If the speed limit’s 25, you could be going 10 mph and be going too fast for conditions — you were speeding,” she said. “That would be a primary factor barring any other obvious collision factors.”

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SFMTA to Push for Speed Camera Enforcement Through State Legislation

Speed cameras could reduce speed-related crashes like the one at Pine and Gough Streets that killed a teen and put his mother in a coma in 2013. Image: NBC

The SFMTA wants to legalize life-saving speed enforcement cameras, and plans to campaign for a state law that would enable San Francisco to install them, the agency’s director of government affairs, Kate Breen, said today.

California currently has no law to allow and regulate the use of speed enforcement cameras, though red-light enforcement cameras are allowed. Speed cameras have been proven to reduce driver speeding, traffic crashes, and fatalities in cities around the U.S. and in other countries. Notably, since France adopted them about a dozen years ago, speed cameras are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives throughout the country.

The SFMTA, however, plans to take a tepid approach in its requests from the governor and the state legislature. Breen told the SFMTA Board of Directors that the agency will be seeking to authorize speed camera use only in areas around schools and senior centers, and that the legislation would also “de-criminalize citations” and set a “$100 flat fine.” The bill would have to be authored by a state legislator such as SF’s recently-inaugurated Assemblymember David Chiu, a former supervisor.

The limitations, Breen said, are mainly aimed at making the legislation palatable for Governor Jerry Brown, who is generally wary of raising fines. In September, Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased fines for dangerous driving in school zones and given the revenue to safe street improvements.

The SFMTA, said Breen, hopes to craft a proposal that “we can build a coalition around, that doesn’t necessarily engender out of the gate what we’ve seen, as practiced by the governor, his propensity to want to veto those things that really raise fines so significantly that the average motorist or person who is receiving one of these citations is unduly burdened.”

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Only One SFPD Station is “Focused on the Five” for Safer Streets: Richmond

An officer from SFPD’s Richmond Station clocks speeders on Fulton Street, including some topping 60 mph in this 25 mph zone. Image: KRON 4

Nearly two years after SFPD announced its “Focus on the Five” program, only one of the 10 police stations is actually meeting its goal of issuing at least 50 percent of traffic citations for the five most common violations that cause pedestrian injuries. Department-wide, that rate was an abysmal 24 percent in September, the latest month for which data is available [PDF]. Southern Station, which covers crash-plagued SoMa, had the lowest rate with just 6 percent.

SFPD Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman is the only captain following the “Focus on the Five” campaign. Photo: SFPD

SFPD’s Richmond Station is the only station meeting that goal. Richmond officers surpassed the target, in fact, issuing 58 percent of their September traffic tickets to drivers speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in crosswalks, or failing to yield to pedestrians while turning. The SFPD’s data shows that just those five driver violations cause a plurality of pedestrian crashes in SF, which is why SFPD’s top brass have repeatedly promised to target them and save lives.

“It’s not particularly complicated,” Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman told Streetsblog. “You just have to dedicate yourself to doing it consistently.”

Silverman’s station has exceeded the 50 percent “Focus on the Five” goal all year, with a 56 percent rate this year to date. No other station has come close.

“It shows that it is possible” to meet the goals, SF Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Tyler Frisbee recently told the Police Commission, which has urged SFPD to pursue them. “We hope that it serves as a beacon for the rest of the police force.”

To sum up his view on traffic enforcement, Silverman said commonly-accepted but dangerous behaviors, like speeding and distracted driving, need to become as much of a taboo as drunk driving has.

“People need to view safe driving as a community obligation,” he said. “I think what happens is, when people are in their cars, they’re isolated from their environment. It’s like being in their living room, but traveling at 35 miles an hour. So I think they’re kind of disconnected, and not necessarily thinking as much about other people as they should.”

The Richmond District is not the city’s most dangerous for walking and biking. Yet the districts with the highest rates of injuries — namely Central, Southern, and Tenderloin — have the lowest “focus on the five” rates. Those stations issued just 13, 13, and 6 percent of their tickets, respectively, to “the five” violations in September. That pattern has held throughout the year.

Tenderloin officers didn’t issue any tickets to drivers violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in September, despite its hundreds of crosswalks. However, they did manage to issue 245 tickets — 43 percent of their total — to pedestrians.

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San Jose Council Calls for Banning Sidewalk Cycling on Five Downtown Streets

Cyclist on Sidewalk Passing Seniors

Bicycling on Santa Clara Street’s sidewalks in downtown San Jose will remain legal, but will be banned on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and San Fernando streets. Photo: City of San Jose

Last Tuesday, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously (9-0) directing the city’s transportation department to draft an ordinance prohibiting bicycling on sidewalks along five streets in the city’s downtown: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and San Fernando. The ordinance would except children aged 12 and under, adults transporting children of those ages, and police officers.

The ban is intended to improve safety for pedestrians, as some fast or careless cyclists have recently struck and injured seniors on sidewalks in the increasingly popular city center.

“It’s obvious that bicyclists travel faster than pedestrians, even on the sidewalks,” said Senior Citizens Commission Vice-Chair Marie Hayter at the meeting in support of the ban. “Pedestrians have an expectation of safety.”

The new ban is much less extensive than that proposed in September by the San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT), which included all downtown streets with bike lanes plus Santa Clara Street, for a total of ten miles of streets. Pressure from bicyclists opposed to the ban, and local transportation advocacy groups, convinced SJDOT to focus only on streets with “high pedestrian activity”, namely Santa Clara, San Fernando, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th streets.

Sections of San Fernando, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th streets, marked in red on this map, where bicycling on sidewalks will be banned. Image: Andrew Boone / Google Maps

City Council member and Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo proposed excluding Santa Clara Street from the ban, and to permit adults transporting children ages 12 and under to ride on sidewalks. The city’s proposal did not include that exclusion.

“On Santa Clara Street, there’s no safe on-street option for cyclists,” said Liccardo. “Obviously with [Bus Rapid Transit] being constructed, that’s something we all need to be thinking about.”

“I heard from several moms who are concerned about the fact that when they are transporting very young children, they need to have a very slow place to do it,” reported Liccardo. “And obviously, it’s easier on the sidewalk.”

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