The Dangerous Design of San Francisco’s High-Speed “Arterial” Streets

Where pedestrians are hit. Click for interactive map

It’s no secret that San Francisco could do a lot more to make its streets safer, but a new national report on pedestrian safety issued today highlights a glaring pattern where the bulk of preventable pedestrian crashes with motor vehicles occur: on poorly designed, high-speed “arterial” roads.

San Francisco is renowned for being a walkable city but still has its share of dangerously designed streets that put pedestrians most at risk from cars.

“In urban areas, nearly 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on wider, high-capacity, and higher-speed roads called ‘arterials’,” said Michelle Ernst, co-author of “Dangerous by Design,” a new comprehensive report on the state of pedestrian safety from Transportation for America.

Across the state and the nation, most pedestrian deaths are shown to occur on roads designed for high vehicle speeds with poor pedestrian facilities, and the victims are disproportionately comprised of seniors and people of color. The problem has been historically ignored by governments at all levels.

“If a jumbo jet crashed in this country every month, which is about the equivalent of what happens with pedestrian fatalities, you would be sure there would be no end to congressional hearings and investigations,” said James Corless, the director of Transportation for America.

In San Francisco, the trends are no different. As Streetsblog has reported, District 6 bears the greatest proportion of the city’s pedestrian crashes. The increasingly populated area is cursed with wide, one-way roads that act effectively as extensions of the 280 freeway, imposing some of the city’s most dangerous conditions along with other car traffic sewers like Masonic Avenue. The district also houses a significant portion of the city’s poorest residents.

“The report highlights that in San Francisco, as in the entire country, arterial streets are deadly, speed kills, and that relatively small investments in pedestrian improvements to our streets make neighborhoods in our city much safer, more pleasant places to walk,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe.

People walking on the streets account for 51.9 percent of all traffic fatalities in San Francisco, says the report, ranking it the 7th highest county in California for pedestrian deaths per population. Out of the city’s 11 districts, 31 percent of those deaths last year took place in District 6 alone. Even as speed limits are lowered, many of the city’s streets feature designs that encourage drivers to speed.

“You should be able to walk safely in your neighborhood, whether you live in Pacific Heights or in a residential hotel on Sixth Street,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim. “It’s an issue of equity.”

“I think we need to be looking for a vaccine type of approach where our policies can be prescriptive and progressive,” said Dr. Tony DeLucia, professor of environmental health at East Tennessee State University. “Otherwise, we’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
  • icarus12

    Hey folks, I clicked on your interactive map.  You know what I found?  Out of 50 metropolitan areas surveyed, San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont came in 41st.  It beat out Portland, Oregon at #35 for pedestrian safety.  Maybe you should put that in the article too, to give us some perspective.  We are not Atlanta with its 7 lanes of surface traffic, no sidewalk, and no crosswalk for 1/2 mile (as pictured in article). 

     I think the pedestrian safety issue should be talked about in a more focused way for each city.  In San Francisco’s case there are plenty of sidewalks.  But there are also plenty of elderly folks and statistically few children.  So why not get off the bandwagon about sidewalks, school zones and the like, and really talk about the elderly and crossing intersections, and the sorts of accidents that are killing gramps and grandma.

    And another thing, sometimes pedestrians get hit not because we are jay-walking, but because we are trusting a bit of paint on the ground (a crosswalk) to protect us as we walk across without looking, usually talking into our not-so-smart phone.  How many times have I grabbed a hold of one of these sylvan creatures as they are about to step off the curb into the path of an oncoming car?  Too many to count.

  • guest

    And your point is….what? First of all, did you happen to look at the by-county data for California? SF’s per 100,000 pedestrian-death measure is 2.9, which would put it in 3rd or so if it were a stand-alone metro area.

    Second, so what if there are sidewalks? If you can’t walk safely across 6 lanes of traffic, does it matter?

    Third, what the hell is your point about there being “statistically few children” in SF–that we thus shouldn’t worry about school zones? Have you by any chance noticed population clusters of families with children in SF? In the eastern, southern and western neighborhoods–precisely where one finds a lot of these horrifying traffic sewers.

    And if you’re interested in making some kind of point re. people not looking both ways, let’s talk about drivers who are COMPLETELY ignorant of laws about pedestrian rights-of-way and turning headlights on during inclement weather/dusk first.

  • The latest SF collisions report shows that the city is in fact getting safer for pedestrians.

  • Stu Smith

    It should be noted that the majority of auto-pedestrian fatalities occur in the street and from my lifelong experience as a resident of what is now District 6, most of those in the Street are people who ignore any and all pedestrian responsibility and cross or simply dart in and out of the Streets on 6th, Taylor, Turk, Eddy, Ellis and O’Farrell between Civic Center and Union Square as well as Market to Howard.  It’s a vehicular version of Dodge Ball with human life at stake.  There is no effort to stop pedestrian or bicycle illegal acts which appear to cause most accidents and deaths.  I’ve often thought we should put Police barriers up along 6th Street from Howard to Market, Taylor from Market to Geary; Turk, Eddy, Ellis, O’Farrell and Geary from Mason to Larkin Streets and for very little money, there would be far fewer pedestrians crossing those Streets haphazardly.
    Stu Smith

  • mikesonn

    @f57423b457d7e35571549b9e07d6e093:disqus  This column from Slate might be a good read for you:
    “But the facts simply do not support the idea that jaywalking is the greatest danger pedestrians face, and that drivers should be let off the hook. In San Francisco, for example, a report by the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency looking at collisions in 2007 found that cases of drivers violating the pedestrian’s right of way were more common than pedestrians violating that of drivers.”

  • lmz

    Yea, what’s with all the blame-the-victim mentality?  Especially when it’s anecdotally-based and so therefore possibly (probably) subject to some bias?  My anecdotal experience walking and biking in these same areas is not the same at all.

  • Stu Smith

    I appreciate your comments gentlemen, but I am biased the same way an elected official is biased about constituent complaints about insoluble problems, or the same as a cop on the beat who stops citing people who repeatedly face no consequences for chronic misdemeanor behaviors that affect the majority who try and live within the boundaries of our society.  If you were a cop driving in a patrol car at 3:30 in the morning and a speeding car roared up 6th Street and Taylor and skidded around the corner at Ellis and you chased that car and they stopped and when you approached that car, it had blacked out windows, how would you treat the situation?  I’d be scared, very scared and I’d err, perhaps, on the side of my safety and the safety of anyone who might be affected by what is violent, dangerous behavior.  I do not condone what you call ‘jaywalking’ as I see it daily in the TL.  Ask any Muni operator or cab drivers.

  • Anonymous

    hyperbolize much?