Mayor Lee on Walk to Work Day: We Won’t Let Ped Strategy Sit on the Shelf

Photo: Aaron Bialick

On Walk to Work Day, touted as the first official event of its kind in the nation, city officials strolled to a press conference on the steps of City Hall, where Mayor Ed Lee promised to implement the city’s Pedestrian Strategy [PDF].

Since the Draft Pedestrian Strategy was released in January, providing a rough guide for how the city can re-engineer streets and target traffic enforcement to make walking safer in the coming years, street safety advocates have praised the city’s vision, but have been concerned as to whether city leaders will take action to fund it.

“I’m going to see to it that we not have a [delay] where this stays on the shelf,” Lee told a crowd of dozens of Walk to Work Day participants. “We’re going to fund this thing.”

Lee said one-third of the estimated funding needed has already been identified, and that he’s confident the city will find the rest in the coming years. He also said the city plans to launch a website within the next two weeks where residents will be able to track the progress of implementation and “hold us accountable.”

Walk SF is “excited to see” a revised section of the Pedestrian Strategy which more specifically lays out the amount of funding needed and potential sources the city could use to procure it, said executive director Elizabeth Stampe. Of the estimated $363 million needed to implement safety upgrades on priority streets by 2021, the city has a $215 million shortfall, according to the plan. In the coming months, a steering committee is expected to develop criteria for how to prioritize safety projects where they’re needed most.

“It’s up to the mayor and the supervisors to help direct funding to fixing the streets and saving lives,” Stampe said.

So far, seven people have been killed by drivers on San Francisco streets this year. The latest victim was 60-year-old Becky Lee, who was hit and killed by a pickup truck driver Wednesday in a crosswalk at Judson Avenue and Edna Street, just east of City College’s Ocean Campus, and about a block from the 280 freeway. Last year, 20 pedestrians were killed, according to SFPD.

“We shouldn’t be losing 20 people a year. We shouldn’t be losing anybody just to walk in the streets of San Francisco,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin. “We should also be working to make it more enjoyable so that we can attract more people out of their cars and on to their feet, which will make San Francisco an even better place.”

Photo: Aaron Bialick

In his speech, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr pledged to focus the SFPD traffic company’s enforcement efforts on the most dangerous behaviors and intersections, but spent about half of his time warning pedestrians to take care not to get run over by drivers.

“When you cross the street… you’re vulnerable to somebody else not paying attention, and you can mitigate that by paying attention yourself,” said Suhr. “Don’t assume anything before you put yourself out into the street in San Francisco, and for god’s sake, do not walk and text.”

Suhr briefly mentioned that “drivers need to be aware,” but apparently didn’t see fit to call upon motorists to slow down or say, “For god’s sake, do not drive and text.”

Nearly every member of the Board of Supervisors walked to City Hall for the event, except D7 Supervisor Norman Yee and D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, whose aide stood in for the District 6 walk. D11 Supervisor John Avalos had planned to make the longest trek of them all at 5 miles, but Stampe said a family emergency prevented him from attending (his staff did make the walk).

A comparison of total traffic fatalities among peer cities, from New York City's 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study & Action Plan (## Click to enlarge.

Some supervisors spoke, but they didn’t say much about pushing for pedestrian safety funding in their roles on the SF County Transportation Authority Board. Supervisor Mark Farrell described how pleasant his group walk from District 2 to City Hall was, and D4 Supervisor Katy Tang, the board’s newest member, only mentioned the importance of getting more exercise.

Supervisor David Chiu said SF should set a vision beyond the Pedestrian Strategy’s goal of cutting injuries by 50 percent by 2020. “There are cities around the world that have a zero-tolerance goal when it comes to fatalities,” he said. “We have to set it in our minds that some day — some day, we will have years where no one gets killed on our streets.”

“Promises can be easy to make, but hard to follow up on,” said Thomas Rogers, a member of the SF Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee. “It’s gonna come down to those yearly funding decisions, those actual actions, not just goals.”

  • mikesonn

    Shaking my head at Suhr’s comments.

  • Elephant! Elephant! Elephant in the room! Too high general speed limits not mentioned in this article, and dissed in the linking one:

    15 mph school zone/time limits are a step, but – um – kids and even more frail elders cross the fast and noisy motory parts of streets at many other times in the day, as does everyone else.

    Do Europeans in general value their children, elders, everyone (!), more than San Franciscans!?! There is an initiative in progress for an EU-wide 30 kph (about 18 mph) urban speed limit, with exceptions possible: This limit already exists in central parts of many towns — and in general the top speed limit anywhere else in built-up areas is 30 mph. And in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium, Germany, Sweden etc. the bicycle traffic is separated anywhere the speed is above 30 kph, and where there is significant motor vehicle traffic, such as buses.

    That’s it. That is why many western European cities are safer than ones in the USA. Freedom? Mobility? Whose freedom? Whose mobility? You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, drivers. Grow up a little.

  • It’s a huge step for the city to clearly lay out this strategy, along with measurable goals and transparent plans for funding the capital projects. Kudos to Elizabeth Stampe for her dedicated work to get those clear, actionable goals.

    Thanks, Streetsblog, for pointing out the hypocrisy in Suhr’s statements. I hope SB will continue to hold the city’s feet to the fire as each of these deadlines approach.

  • My husband walked to work yesterday, 3.5 miles each way. He said he was surprised at how aggressive drivers were to him as a pedestrian, not stopping when he had the right of way or buzzing by him extremely closely. (He thought drivers only did this to bicyclists!)

    San Francisco wants to make walking and bicycling safer without discouraging, slowing or making car driving inconvenient in any way. This is because even San Francisco views car driving as the most necessary and legitimate form of transportation. Walking and biking are all well and good, but only if they can be sandwiched in and among the serious business of moving cars around the city. Level of service is the holy metric that all abide by, and it applies only to driving.

    Speed kills. Cars need to go slowly where there are bicyclists and pedestrians around. (Most of the city.) Car exhaust kills. Cars need to be fundamentally discouraged as transportation in the densest part of the city. Sedentary lifestyles make people wildly unhealthy. Cars need to be discouraged for short trips so that people will get enough moderate exercise each day. Cars take up an enormous amount of space that just doesn’t exist in dense cities (and San Francisco is growing denser by the minute.) People in SF should be discouraged from owning multiple cars, people who own no cars should be rewarded, and people from the suburbs should be severely discouraged from ever bringing their car to the city.

    The city should design our streets for level of service as it applies to pedestrians, transit and bicyclists. Then, if there is still space and it won’t do much harm, cars can be added in. Lower speeds (enforced through speed humps), less through routes for cars, reduced parking, much higher prices for parking, wider sidewalks, and protected bike lanes on any road where bicyclists are adjacent to heavy traffic are all useful tools the city can use if it so chooses. But though politicians hate upsetting anybody at anytime, the city can’t simultaneously encourage people to use forms of transportation other than cars while keeping our streets designed so that driving is the fastest and safest form of transport, not to mention the most respected, catered to, pleasant and convenient.

  • Sounds great! Just don’t remove any parking.

  • Als

    Maybe, just maybe, if the SFPD officers got out of thier patrol CARS and walked the streets they might notice “how aggressive drivers were” and Suhr’s attitude might change.

  • As other commenters have already noted, speed is a critical factor. I’m encouraged to see “automated speed enforcement” in the Pedestrian Strategy, although I know that’s going to be challenging to implement (see: how some drivers already react to red-light cameras). I’m also encouraged to see that regular updates to the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), of which I’m a member, is now part of the “Monitoring and Accountability” section. That wasn’t part of the draft that we saw earlier this year, but PSAC requested ongoing reporting- the Mayor delivered, so thanks on that.

    Side note: PSAC has a number of vacancies at the moment, so we’re encouraging folks to get involved! Things are always in flux with appointments/reappointments, but I believe there are currently openings for residents of Districts 3, 4, 9, and 11 (appointed directly by the respective Supervisor) and individuals representing Senior and Disability Organizations (Seat #3), Bicycle or Non-Motorized Organizations (Seat #5), Public Health Organizations (Seat #8), and the Public at Large (Seat #9) (all of which are appointed by the full Board of Supervisors, after review/recommendation by the Rules Committee). Feel free to let me know if you want to talk through the PSAC expectations and appointment process-

  • guest

    To be honest, this is all political fluff bullshit.
    Just look at where all the sups started there “Walk to Work” from.
    All like five blocks away from city hall and I know they all don’t live that close…
    How’d you all get there? Oh right. Probably by car….

    Walk to work the entire way guys, not the ‘last mile’ bullcrap.

  • Trey Allen

    thank you for mentioning bicycling. A safe pedestrian city is only as good as its safe bicycling access. We need to include all transportation into future plans and goals, not just pedestrian. However, SF adopted the “Complete Streets Policy” as required by the MTC. In fact, all regional monies require the projects funded include the accommodation of pedestrians and bicyclists, unless there is a high level justification for not doing so. When will our supervisors abide by the initiatives SF adopts?

  • Anonymous

    SFPD Chief Greg Suhr pledged to focus the SFPD traffic company’s enforcement efforts on the most dangerous behaviors and intersections

    By writing more Jaywalking tickets, presumably.

  • Ryan Brady

    Best way IMO is to make more ‘green waves’ timed at no more than 20 mph, and then put up *obvious* signage. I think cars will be less likely to speed if they know it won’t get them places faster.

  • Mario Tanev

    If the city wants to be serious it should impose a 20mph limit on all city streets (which would require a change to state law). Then on streets where speeding is observed, either increase enforcement or institute traffic calming changes. The city should provide a monthly report with histograms of speeds in the city, per neighborhood, per street length and per block and should track that in its goals. While there certainly are areas with a high concentration of pedestrian injuries, the sheer volume of streets that have high speeds means that statistically at least half the deaths will continue to occur at various random places. A 20mph limit will both reduce the number of injuries that turn into death, and make drivers more accountable.

    When there is a crosswalk on a 35 mph street, and the driver doesn’t stop on time for a pedestrian, they can claim they are going the legal speed limit. They should have slowed down when they noticed a crosswalk, but that’s not currently required because it’s imprecise and hard to enforce. Thus so many accidents occur with the driver off the hook. So we have a paradox where everything was done legally by all parties, yet someone died. A 20mph limit removes that paradox – it becomes much harder to not be able to stop on time and to kill someone without clearly breaking the law.

  • Mario Tanev

    And to those who claim that 20mph will create gridlock on the streets, consider that the city is less than 10 miles end to end, so worst case it would take 30 minutes to get from end to end. Transit riders have had to endure much longer travel times for a long time, why should drivers deserve to kill and maim people to get a speedier commute?

  • Mario Tanev

    The transit comparison is even more valid if you think that we purposefully slow down transit in order to allow access to the vulnerable: elderly and disabled. Why is transit the only thing we’re willing slow down to protect the vulnerable? Why is driving untouchable? There should be a rule that going faster than transit will not be prioritized over vulnerable road user safety.

  • gneiss

    Mario, The answer to that question is found in the article on CEQA that Streetblog linked to this morning. Most of the people commenting failed to realize that ‘auto congestion’ or LOS analyses were being used to reduce the effectiveness of transit projects as well as bicycle lanes, their primary target. The threat of increased congestion leading to the potential increase in dwell times at intersections that is being used as a cudgel to prevent reduction in car speeds along with other measures that could increase livability in our neighborhoods. We really must find a better way to evaluate our street network than using automobile LOS as the default option.


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