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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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Supe Kim, SFMTA Get Tips From Copenhagen on Creating a Bikeable City

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Supervisor Jane Kim (left) rides in Copenhagen with SFMTA officials. Photo: People for Bikes

Supervisor Jane Kim and SFMTA officials took a trip last month to learn about best practices from two leading bike-friendly cities: Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden.

“I’d assumed that [Copenhagen] always had a bike culture,” Kim told Streetsblog. “I was surprised to learn that they also had a cars-first culture through the 60s and 90s. They’ve actually spent the last 25 years working to shift that.”

Kim joined a delegation including SFMTA Chief of Staff Alicia John-Baptiste, Communications Director Candace Sue, Livable Streets planner Mike Sallaberry, and board member Gwyneth Borden. The trip was organized by the national advocacy group People For Bikes.

“Not only are senior citizens getting around in a healthier way,” noted Kim, “they feel safe doing it. And that’s exciting.”

The delegation met with Copenhagen planning officials and a former mayor to learn about how the city made bicycling the most convenient way to get around.

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Mayor, Eight Supervisors Promise to Ride Muni Every Day Until June 22

Supervisor Avalos speaks with Supervisor Wiener and SFTRU's Thea Selby in front of City Hall yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Avalos with Supervisor Wiener and SFTRU’s Thea Selby in front of City Hall yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days kicked off yesterday with late sign-ons from Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisors London Breed and Mark Farrell, who had initially declined to commit. Supervisors Katy Tang and Malia Cohen still declined, and Supervisor Norman Yee has not confirmed a pledge since he tweeted a selfie on Muni after the challenge was announced in April.

Supervisors David Campos, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and Eric Mar came out for the press conference at City Hall yesterday. Supervisor Jane Kim was expected, but reportedly unable to make it. Mayor Lee was also absent, though he signed on to the challenge Friday, according to SFTRU.

In April, when SFTRU announced the challenge to ride Muni for 22 days straight, early commitments came from Supervisors Kim, Wiener, Avalos, Campos, Mar, and Julie Christensen. Tilly Chang, executive director of the SF County Transportation Authority, also tweeted a ride photo and attended the event.

“When city officials regularly ride public transportation, they prioritize funding for a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it,” said SFTRU organizer Thea Selby at the event. “A commitment to this challenge is a commitment to better serve the needs of the people of San Francisco.”

“There has been a real lack of commitment to making the investments that we really have needed to make at Muni for decades,” said Avalos. “We’re now seeing that they’re finally being made,” he added, pointing to the voter-approved $500 million general obligation bond for transportation and a $48 million increase in the SFMTA’s share of the general fund.

Avalos reminded the crowd that Willie Brown promised to fix Muni in 100 days when he ran for mayor in 1995. After he was elected, “He succeeded in doing just the opposite in taking care of Muni the way it needed to be done.”

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Supe Kim, Mayor Lee Activate New Sixth Street Crossing Signal

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A new pedestrian crossing signal was installed at Sixth and Minna Streets, seen here before it was activated. Photo: Google Maps

Mayor Ed Lee and D6 Supervisor Jane Kim held a press conference yesterday to activate a new pedestrian signal across deadly Sixth Street at Minna Street, a narrow cross street. Although a marked crosswalk had already existed there, drivers routinely failed to yield to people within it.

The button-activated signal is part of a package of pedestrian safety measures planned for Sixth Street, which decades ago had been designed to speed drivers between the Tenderloin and the 280 highway through the dense SoMa neighborhood, which resulted in an alarming rate of traffic violence. In the past seven years, Sixth has seen more than 50 pedestrian injuries and two fatalities just between Market and Howard streets, according to a Mayor’s Office press release.

“Our families and seniors on Sixth Street know that mid-block crossings, turn restrictions and sidewalk bulbouts can actually save lives,” Kim said in a statement.

“These tragic statistics are simply unacceptable, and we are working towards our new Vision Zero goal: zero traffic fatalities in the next 10 years,” said a statement from Mayor Lee. “Building safer, better streets is a critical part in saving lives.”

Long-term plans for Sixth include a road diet that would remove two of its four traffic lanes and replace them with wider sidewalks and conventional bike lanes. That’s expected to calm car traffic dramatically, but there’s no construction timeline yet.

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Neighbors Celebrate the New “McCoppin Hub,” Dog and Skate Park

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The McCoppin Hub, along Valencia near Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Neighbors near McCoppin Street recently celebrated the completion of the McCoppin Hub, a plaza created from a street stub that sits against the Central Freeway ramp towards Market Street. The plaza, a nearby dog run, and skate park have been in the works for years as a package of newly depaved public spaces planned after the freeway’s partial reconstruction.

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Lynn Valente, a neighborhood activist, at the plaza last month. “This was a true grassroots effort. The neighbors worked on this for ten years with the city to have some amenities in our neighborhood, for pedestrians and traffic and bicycles… It would kind of mitigate the effect of the Central Freeway ramp which goes over the neighborhood.”

“I couldn’t be prouder, because it was a lot of people really sticking to it and making sure we got these amenities,” she added.

Waiting for the spaces has certainly required patience among neighbors. When we wrote about the neighborhood in July 2011, the projects were already considered a long overdue follow-up to the freeway’s completion in 2005. At that time, construction on the McCoppin Hub was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012.

Other improvements in what’s officially called the SoMa West Improvement Projects included traffic-calming revamps of side streets like Elgin Park and Stevenson Street, as well as greenery, bike lanes, and raised crosswalks along McCoppin Street.

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Woman Killed at City Hall’s Doorstep, Right After Ped Safety Ceremony

Priscila “Precy” Moreto, a 67-year-old employee in the City Controller’s Office, was run over and killed by a tour trolley driver within a wide, clearly-marked mid-block crosswalk on Polk Street, leading to the steps of City Hall, at about 11:30 a.m. yesterday.

About 20 minutes earlier and just across the Civic Center Plaza, at McAllister and Larkin Streets, city officials had just wrapped up a groundbreaking ceremony for pedestrian safety upgrades along two blocks of McAllister. In attendance were D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, and SF County Transportation Authority Director Tilly Chang.

None of those who attended the event, myself included, were apparently aware of the death until they heard reports about it later in the day.

“Yesterday morning, the pedestrian safety crisis hit home at City Hall’s doorstep,” Kim said in a statement today, noting that “the central crosswalk in front of City Hall yields heavy pedestrian traffic as constituents, workers and tourists alike travel to and from this historic building.” Supervisors themselves can often be found using the crosswalk.

Moreto was run over by the driver of a tour vehicle designed to look like a cable car on rubber tires, operated by Classic Cable Car Charters, which issued a statement saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the pedestrian and her family.”

Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement saying that “Precy was a dedicated employee who served our city and residents with great distinction.”

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Sup. Kim Gives Warm Send-Off to SFMTA’s Seleta Reynolds, Headed to LA

Soon-to-be LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaks before the Board of Supervisors on July 8. Watch full video here, Reynolds’ item begins at 00:43.

For a quick preview of what Seleta Reynolds has to offer Los Angeles as the new chief of its Department of Transportation, watch this video of her commendation appearance before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week. Reynolds’ item begins at 00:43.

Supervisor Jane Kim, in a glowing speech, praised the departing San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency manager. Kim states, in part:

We will really miss your leadership, but mostly your passion advocating for residents here in San Francisco. And, we want to honor you today for the incredible groundwork that you have done that we will continue to push on to effect a culture change at the city level. Thank you for putting us on the map for pedestrian and bike safety.

Reynolds’ response includes:

I’ve been working on safety for pedestrians for 16 years. It’s really hard to compete with some of the cool, glamorous things that we have in transportation, things like bike share and cycle tracks and SFPark and smart signals, but I am so so thankful that pedestrian safety is finally getting its day.

Watch and listen to the full exchange starting at 00:43 here.

Seleta Reynolds was nominated by Mayor Garcetti to become General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. She was recently confirmed by the City Council’s Transportation Committee and by the full Los Angeles City Council. She is expected to begin her tenure at LADOT on August 11.

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Imagine No Deaths: Supes, Safe Streets Advocates Call for “Vision Zero”

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Duboce Avenue at Noe Street. Photo: Aaron Biailck

A coalition of safe streets advocates, community organizations, and city supervisors have launched a campaign for San Francisco to join leading cities in adopting a “Vision Zero” goal — an end to traffic deaths on city streets within ten years.

“We need a culture shift in San Francisco, and it has to start from the top down,” said Supervisor John Avalos, also the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority, in a statement. “We’re calling for our mayor, our police chief and our SFMTA director to commit to allocating resources to the three areas that we know can save lives,” he said, referring to engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to reduce crashes.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Leaders in Chicago and New York City have adopted Vision Zero policies, following the lead of Sweden, which launched the official campaign in 1997, though the country’s traffic deaths have been declining since the 1970s despite increasing population.

In a press release, Supervisors Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee said they’ll introduce a resolution calling for a “Vision Zero Plan” based on three major components:

  • The establishment of a “crisis intervention” team by the SFMTA that would be tasked with getting at least two dozen pilot projects into the ground over the next two years, using “near-term, low-cost safety improvements in the areas with repeat traffic collisions.”
  • SFPD to direct its traffic enforcement resources to “cite the most problematic dangerous behaviors and locations.”
  • A “citywide safety awareness program for drivers.” Supervisors Yee and Avalos are “targeting state funding opportunities through the Transportation Authority” to fund it, and Supervisor Kim has called for the formation of “an interagency work group to develop a large vehicle and city fleet driver education program for all city employees or drivers who contract with the city.”

Last year, the number of people killed while walking and biking — 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists –- was the highest since 2007, noted a statement from Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition:

Despite calls for critical safety improvements to the streets and more data driven enforcement of traffic crime and widespread education, the Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney and SFMTA Director have made only small commitments to street safety and have not committed to any larger vision toward keeping our residents safe on increasingly chaotic streets.

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SFMTA Unveils 6th St. Proposal With Road Diet, Bike Lanes, Wider Sidewalks

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Sixth Street today, and as envisioned in the new proposal. Image: SFMTA

SFMTA unveiled a proposal last week to redesign northern Sixth Street by trimming traffic lanes from four to two, widening sidewalks, and adding unprotected, green-painted bike lanes. Intersections on the stretch between Market and Howard Streets could also get features like raised crosswalks, speed tables (like speed bumps, but wider), and textured pavement to tame driving speeds.

“This is super exciting,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim. While the plan already calls for converting many curbside parking spots to pedestrian space, Kim would like to see the plan for Sixth go farther, especially between Market and Mission Streets, because residents complain that parked cars are often used to obscure illegal behaviors like drug dealing. “Our residents don’t have cars, so they don’t feel the need for the metered parking,” she said.

Adam Gubser, project manager for the SFMTA, said environmental review on the project is expected to begin in January, which will flesh out how the redesign would affect street safety, car congestion, and the diversion of traffic to other streets. That process is expected to take 16 to 18 months, but there’s no firm construction timeline set yet.

When asked about including parking-protected bike lanes in the plan, SFMTA planners said the unprotected lanes in the proposal should be sufficient since traffic will be calmer and much of the lane will be curbside. They also said greater separation from motor vehicle traffic could potentially be added in the future if more parking is removed on Sixth.

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SFMTA Looks to Tame Sixth Street With Road Diet, Temporary Parklet

Sixth at Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Sixth Street, which has one of the highest rates of pedestrian injuries in the city, could receive a road diet after the SFMTA analyzes the impacts of removing two of its four traffic lanes to improve safety.

In the meantime, the agency is planning a pilot project this fall on the street’s northern end at Market Street, likely in the form of a parklet-style installation in the parking lanes, to test out “gateway” treatments to signal freeway-bound drivers to slow down.

“There’s nothing telling you so much that you’re entering someone’s neighborhood,” said Mike Sallaberry, a planner at the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at a community planning meeting yesterday. “It just looks like a continuation of a freeway that leads to another freeway. So maybe we can do something really soon that announces to people that, hey, you’re coming into our front yard.”

Though the SFMTA won’t present proposals for the pilot until the next community meeting in the coming months, planners said it will likely occupy parking spaces for roughly two months on one or both sides of Sixth between Market and Stevenson Street, an alleyway. Sallaberry said the pilot would help inform the larger plan to redesign Sixth for the long term. In addition to calming traffic, removing two of the street’s travel lanes will open up space for improvements like sidewalk expansions, bike lanes, and greenery.

“Lowering the speed saves lives,” said SFMTA project manager Adam Gubser. In response to residents’ calls for police to issue more tickets to drivers violating Sixth Street’s 25 mph speed limit, Gubser said, “It is enforcement, but it’s also engineering and education. We can’t rely on one leg. The facility should be designed for the speed we want.”

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