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District 6

Will Deadly Sixth Street Finally Get the Pedestrian Safety Fixes It Needs?

A map of pedestrian injuries between 2005 and 2010 using data from the Department of Public Health

The deadly stretch of Sixth Street between Market and Howard Streets in the South of Market District may get some long-overdue pedestrian safety fixes. The SF Municipal Transportation Agency kicked off the first of several community planning meetings on Tuesday for a project that could add pedestrian bulb-outs, marked crosswalks, and other measures that could make for a more livable street.

Sixth Street, designed to speed drivers between the Tenderloin and the 280 highway through a dense SoMa neighborhood, has an alarming rate of traffic violence. According to data from the Department of Public Health, 93 pedestrians were injured by drivers between 2005 and 2010, including five people who were killed.

"Right now, the design of Sixth Street prioritizes fast car travel to the freeway instead of the safety and comfort of the people who live and work here," said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. "It's time for that to change."

On a recent walking tour of the neighborhood organized by the SF Planning and Urban Research Association, D6 Supervisor Jane Kim noted that her district, which sees nearly 30 percent of the city's pedestrian crashes, "has the most collisions in the entire city."

"San Francisco has one of the worst vehicle-pedestrian collision rates in the country," she said. "It's the worst in the state of California, worse than New York City, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and a lot of major cities. We have some work to do."

Sixth and Mission Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Sixth Street has seen some minor improvements in recent years, including street trees, corner bulb-outs, and more visible "continental" crosswalks striped at the Market, Mission and Howard Street intersections. The SFMTA also lifted a ban on curbside car parking during rush hours in the eastmost lane of Sixth between Folsom and Market Streets, since parked cars provide a physical barrier between pedestrians and fast-moving vehicle traffic. Prior to October 2011, the lane was designated for moving traffic instead of parking during rush hours to make room for car commuters, leaving pedestrians on the sidewalk exposed and encouraging drivers to speed up. South of Folsom, extra curbside traffic lanes are still in effect during rush hours.

The alleyways of Minna and Natoma, which cross Sixth, also received traffic calming measures like chicanes and raised crosswalks between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and a plan to extend those improvements west to Ninth Street was approved last year.

However, Sixth Street itself still lacks the kind of major changes needed to put a substantial dent in the number of injuries.

Residents at Tuesday's meeting complained of a lack of mid-block crosswalk markings, narrow sidewalks cluttered with objects like sign posts, and dangerous traffic conditions unfit for kids and seniors in the neighborhood.

"They're terrified to cross the street to go to the store because people are speeding down the street," said "Mother" Elaine Jones, a senior tenant organizer who lives at a single resident occupancy hotel at Howard and Sixth. "A lot of people are getting hit."

"Many people here live in SROs," said Stampe, "with little room and without the ability to have friends visit -- the street really is the living room for many residents."

"The community has been asking for a long time for fixes on Sixth Street. For years, more people have been hit while walking here than anywhere else in San Francisco," she added. "Bringing mid-Market back to life requires space for people and foot traffic, not car traffic that speeds past local businesses."

Planners didn't present any specific proposals for the project, but reviewed general traffic calming measures that have been used elsewhere, like sidewalk widenings and new street trees, before asking residents what improvements they'd like to see. Ken Kwong, an SFMTA traffic engineer, said the agency is collaborating with SPUR to add a new parklet between Market and Mission. It's unclear if a road diet is on the table.

The SFMTA hasn't set a timeline for the project or identified where the project's funding could come from, but the agency has identified $200,000 in Prop K sales tax revenue that it could receive to plan it. Planners said they would hold two more community meetings in the summer and fall.

The Russ Street crosswalk on Folsom. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The pace of safety improvements in the area so far isn't promising. On the walking tour, Kim pointed to a crosswalk and traffic signal installed last April on Folsom, just west of Sixth, that provides a direct connection at Russ Street to Victoria Manalo Draves Park and Bessie Carmichael Elementary School.

Getting the project installed, she said, took ten years of advocacy from neighborhood and senior advocates.

The crosswalk's opening was important enough to warrant a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "Folks and families can actually walk to the park without having to walk these really long blocks to get there," said Kim, "or jaywalk, as many of our residents did."

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