Speed Limit Reductions on Howard, Folsom a Small Victory for Ped Safety

Howard Street. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Folsom and Howard Streets in the South of Market (SoMa) district will see speed limits lowered from 30 miles an hour to 25 after SFMTA staff approved the change at a hearing today, marking a small step towards safer streets in the city.

If enforced, the measure could bring safer conditions for people walking and cycling on a pair of corridors known for dangerous speeding by drivers.

“Reducing traffic speeds is one of the most powerful ways we can save lives and prevent injuries,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “It’s an excellent idea. A lot of the community in SoMa has been very concerned about pedestrian safety, and this is a smart step towards making the streets in SoMa safer.”

The one-way freeway-like arterials lie within District 6 where pedestrian injuries and deaths far exceed those of any other area in the city. The problem has worsened over the years as more people moved to the SoMa district, which has historically been devoted to industrial uses and moving high volumes of car traffic from nearby freeways. The pair of one-way corridors also serves thousands of daily bicycle commuters as a major route connecting jobs in SoMa.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose explained that the change came out of the agency’s regularly scheduled review of speed limits throughout the city, which the California vehicle code requires them to do every seven years.

“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,” said Rose. “The Engineering and Traffic Survey results indicate that lowering the speed limit to 25 MPH is appropriate and justified. These reviews and changes allow us to ensure that the speed limits are where they need to be to ensure the highest level of safety for automobile drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and Muni.”

Growing awareness of the drastic impacts speed has on fatality rates in pedestrian crashes has led to a shift in some cities towards setting safer, more civil speed limits.

In London, a grassroots campaign known as “Twenty’s Plenty” has led the city to begin setting a consistent and safer 20 MPH speed limit in areas where people live, and the idea has spread among many livable streets advocates in the U.S.

New York City is beginning to follow suit with its establishment of “home zones” and the launch of its “That’s Why It’s 30” campaign, which aims to discourage speeding by spreading awareness of a striking statistic: the chances of survival for a person hit by a car at 40 MPH are half that of being hit at 30. Stampe also noted that fatalities increase six-fold from 20 to 30 MPH.

“If we reduce speeds that cars are going throughout the city by five miles an hour, that would cut fatalities in half,” said Stampe. “That’s really powerful.”

The imperative to lower vehicle speeds in San Francisco could be starting to set in with some city officials. A growing body of data presented by the Department of Public Health has made clear the enormous benefits to be gained, and the SFMTA has said they are exploring a pilot program for 15 MPH limits within school zones.

Stampe pointed out, however, that lower speed limits can only be effective with a coordinated effort between city departments. “I hope that the SFMTA and the police department are working together on how to make drivers aware of the change and how to actually enforce the new speed limit,” she said.

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