San Francisco Moves to Lessen the Impact of Truck Traffic

SFTruckTrafficRoutes_002small.jpgClick to enlarge: The revised San Francisco truck route map. Image: SFMTA

In a city as dense as San Francisco, it’s inevitable that truck traffic often travels along streets where people live. But public health and environmental justice groups, the MTA and the Department of Public Health are now collaborating to ensure that the impact of that traffic is mitigated as much as possible, and doesn’t continue to disproportionately affect the southeast section of the city.

To this end, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell called for an update on the collaborative effort at a hearing last week.

"Southeast San Francisco bears a significant burden of the city’s traffic volume," said Maxwell. "Much of city’s local traffic is disproportionately through communities of color."

A survey of the city’s southeastern communities found that 46 percent of respondents said they smell pollution on their block every week, and 44 percent live within 500 feet of a high volume roadway, said Charlie Sciammas of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER). In addition to greatly increased asthma rates, a recent study found that living within close proximity to such streets correlates with higher body mass indexes in kids.

The MTA has a three-prong approach to solving the problem: the first is an update to the San Francisco truck traffic routes map, which the MTA’s Sam Fielding said hadn’t been revised since before the Embarcadero Freeway and a spur of the Central Freeway were torn down.

"We created a newly updated truck route map and asked for feedback from the public and 40 trucking companies," said Fielding. "It’s advisory, and isn’t incorporated in the General Plan yet, but we’re talking to City Planning to incorporate it in the next update."

That will require going through an environmental review process, but the Planning Department is eager to incorporate the new route map, Fielding said. Simply having a well-distributed map is a major improvement over the previous situation, he explained, since even the MTA’s staff wasn’t certain at first where to find the old map.

The updated map doesn’t solve the more complicated problem of trucks running on housing-lined streets, since that describes just about every street in the city, but it does give truck drivers who aren’t familiar with the city a clear route through, meaning they are less likely to end up lost and driving around more than necessary.

Of course, being a truck route doesn’t mean that a street has to be a completely dire traffic sewer without pedestrian amenities. That’s the second prong in the approach: MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck said the agency is trying to mitigate the negative effects of truck traffic by calming the streets they are advised to use.

"It’s just a fact of life here that some of these streets do get heavier traffic," said Fleck. "We try to make sure they aren’t too fast, slow down traffic, that they’re safe for pedestrians, and good places to live."

Streets near main arterial corridors and those with spillover traffic are also prioritized for traffic calming improvements, said Fleck.

Megan Wier, an epidemiologist with the city’s Department of Public Health, said DPH and MTA began collaborating to address the issue in February of last year, at the behest of the community groups PODER and the Chinese Progressive Association.

The solutions they developed include traffic-calming measures, tree planting, sound walls near freeways, and help with installing double-pane windows and indoor ventilation systems in buildings near arterial streets.

Finally, the third prong is nudging trucking companies to use cleaner, more fuel-efficient trucks.

All of these measures – and probably more – couldn’t come soon enough for Victoria Sanchez, who said she lives close to multiple freeways. "It seems like it’s worse now than before," she said. "Touching the outside of the house, it’s filled with dirt from pollution."

  • I’d love to have any cut down in the hot zone along the Bay Bridge, but I’m realistic enough to know you can’t just stop 280,000 vehicles from crossing beside the high-density, smart growth developments along Harrison Street in Rincon Hill. It would be nice to have some sort of congestion charge on the streets leading up to the 1st Street Bay Bridge entrance during evening commutes to try to cut down on the carcinogens and other pollutants from cars sitting stuck in traffic waiting to get on the bridge from Market Street all the way up to Harrison STreet ….;

  • Oh … 20 MPH speed limits in all of SoMa would be great since cars treat the area like a highway with its long, uninterrupted blocks. Thanks 🙂

  • jamie, 20 MPH in SOMA would be a dream come true. With the CS construction going strong on 4th, I am pushed out into a lane that usually has cars speeding well over 40 MPH to get to the on ramp.

  • Nick

    Take a close look at the routes in green (major arterials) and see how many of them double as cross-town bike routes (Fell, Oak, Masonic, Alemany, Portola, San Bruno, Geneva, and all those in SOMA and the Mission……)

    These are the streets where all the hard battles for traffic claming or bike lanes have been fought throughout the years. There hasn’t been much tangible success. These streets are still a mess and pereceived as unsafe for all but the daring few. How much easier would it have been to build a network of side-streets?

    Did the 1997 Bicycle Plan miscalculate how necessary auto-priority streets are to the City?

  • JohnB


    I think you’re supporting the idea I developed in the Fell St thread i.e. that trying to build safe bike lanes on the high-volume, high-speed major streets like Bush/Pine and Fell/Oak was a tactical error. I agree they should be on the side streets.

    And to Mike and Jamie, somehow my earlier reply got lost here but if it pollution you care about, then slowing trucks to 20 mph will actually cause more pollution, since diesel engines are less efficient and therefore more polluting at artificially slow or idle engine speeds.

    While the profusion of trucks in the SE City is due to nothing more sinister than the fact that that is where all the freeways are.

  • I’d also like to see some incentives or regulations to encourage businesses to use break-bulk services. Why is a 40-foot truck making small deliveries to a restaurant or corner store? Many of the trips these big trucks make can be made by smaller, cleaner vehicles (even by bike!) from a distribution center near the freeway – which is as far as the big trucks would need to go.

  • Robo

    It’s so strange the everyone can yell for years at the MTA (and DPT) about speeding traffic and they do very little about it. The speed limits on Oak and Fell are a joke. The only thing that slows cars down is congestion, and there’s little enforcement. SOMA is the same, except that EVERY street is a traffic sewer, not just two.
    What will it take to make the MTA de-prioritize moving cars in our bike-ped-transit-first city?


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