Despite Evidence, SFMTA Denies It Increased Speed Limits in Forest Hill

Woodside Avenue, seen earlier this week. Photo: Mark Dreger

The speed limit on Woodside Avenue was recently raised from 30 miles per hour to 35 MPH, according to Mark Dreger, who’s lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Dreger posted a photo in the Streetsblog comments section of a 30 MPH sign on Woodside, with a 35 MPH sign seen right behind it, in what appeared to be slip up by the crews who switched them out.

But those speed limit increases never appeared on the agenda for the SFMTA’s bi-weekly engineering hearings, which are required for such changes, as far as we can tell. When we asked the SFMTA about it, however, spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency had no record of a 30 MPH speed limit on those streets.

“There has not been a change in speed at this location, as it was always legislated for 35 MPH,” said Rose. “We do not have records of installation of a 30 MPH sign at Woodside/Laguna Honda, so we removed that sign.”

The response is especially perplexing since images from Google Street View, dated March 2011, clearly show the 30 MPH sign seen in Dreger’s photo, while the 35 MPH sign is nowhere to be found.

When that was explained to Rose, he still shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, it was legislated for 35 MPH and we have no record of a 30 MPH sign installation. According to records, the 35 MPH sign was down and was recently repaired.”

Google Street View shows the 30 MPH sign in place in March 2011 (top), while at bottom, the new 35 MPH sign seen above the "Scenic Drive" sign in Dreger's photo is nowhere to be found.

“It’s a little disheartening that the city doesn’t have a record of this,” said Dreger. “A month ago they installed 35 MPH signs along Laguna Honda from 7th to Woodside, and just last week they did the same on Woodside up to Portola. So, clearly a work order was put out.”

The last known speed limit increase in San Francisco took place on Winston Drive next to SF State University last summer. That change was approved at an SFMTA engineering hearing and subsequently by the SFMTA Board of Directors. At the time, Rose explained that the 5 MPH increase was necessary to comply with a hidebound state “speed trap” law which says that for a speed limit to be “legally defensible,” 85 percent of drivers must obey it. If too many drivers speed, the city must raise the limit if police want to issue tickets.

In response to our follow-up question about whether this is just a records snafu, or if there’s any other explanation, Rose said, “We are not saying the 30 mph sign wasn’t there, we are saying we have no record of a 30 mph sign being installed by this agency.”

“Something smells fishy,” said Dreger. “That 30 MPH sign has been there as long as I’ve lived in the area.”

  • This reminds me of the time Sunset Boulevard from Irving to Ocean had accidentally put up 30 MPH speed limit signs while other signs along the route said the correct speed of 35.

  • Bobbie Garnet Bees

    Gotta love the great defenders of car culture. If the vast majority of car drivers break the law, then the law has to be modified so that they aren’t breaking the law? So, does that mean that stop signs are soon to be replaced with “coast on through” signs?

  • IpsoFacto

    A cyclist ticketed for performing an Idaho stop should try this defense. “85 percent of cyclists roll through this stop sign so therefore the ticket is void.”

  • Aaron Priven

    The speed trap law is an implicit acknowledgement that people drive in accordance with (their perception of) the road’s design, not according to whatever regulatory signs say. The answer is not to change the law to allow arbitrarily low speed limits that will not be honored, but to redesign the streets so that people naturally drive more slowly.

  • Peter M

    I did some searching to see if the speed limit was officially raised recently and didn’t find anything, but the limit on Woodside is listed as 35 in August 2008 here:
    So I guess they had the wrong speed limit posted for at least five years? At least the sign was lower than the speed limit rather than above it.

    For those interested, the current Transportation Code can be found here:
    Speed limits are under Transportation Code -> Division II -> Article 700 -> Section 702.

  • Erik Griswold

    Yes, but you know very well that “Public Safety” will be trotted out to prevent any such thing. We must be able to race the defibrillator down to 90-year-old Aunt Suzie on the Hook’n’Ladder so she can stay alive for a couple more months!

  • Mark Dreger

    I agree – I think the change was legislated a while back. But still, in a city where most streets are 25 mph, why are we installing a bunch of signs to remind people they can drive faster here?

  • Ian Turner

    People drive in accordance with their perception of the road’s design and what they believe to be safe for themselves, which is different from what is safe for other road users, especially vulnerable users like bicyclists and pedestrians.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it was installed by a tactical urbanist. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I used to make this argument, but now I think it’s bullshit. How realistic is it that residential streets in established areas will be redesigned? And what, in the end, is really so hard about driving slower than the “design speed”? As Ian Turner says below, car drivers need to be trained to be sensitive to bikes and peds. Maybe driver’s ed should include cyclist’s ed and pedestrian ed–so new drivers get a feel for what it’s like on the other side of the metal cage.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I guess Ian didn’t exactly say that — but the comment suggested a lack of awareness on the part of drivers.

  • mission resident

    What’s most annoying about this article is that Paul Rose will never, not even in the most minor SFMTA snafu, like this one, give an inch of ground or admit to even the slightest mixup, even when SFMTA is glaringly in the wrong (not in this case but many others). That’s why he has no credibility on any issue.

  • ≈ The speed trap law (CVC § 40802) does not specify the 85th percentile guideline. As I understand it, that was Department of Transportation policy whose strict interpretation was given the force of law by a judge’s ruling. This was eased by the Assembly in 2012 to allow local authorities to round speed limits to 5mph below that percentile, and petition to round it down another 5mph (CVC § 21400).

    The problem with this system overall is that most roads are designed for what is thought to be an appropriate speed for the environment, then made a bit wider to provide a margin of safety, say one standard deviation above a normal distribution of speed. Motorists respond to this treatment by speeding, and there’s your 85% percentile.

  • johnjohn

    I guess that means everyone can continue speeding at 50mph+ on Marina Blvd as they come off the GG Bridge even though it’s a 25mph zone because hey, everyone else is driving just a fast! Nevermind the terrified pedestrians at the Baker St crosswalk which has no signal, stop sign, or even flashing lights.

  • wsegen

    so how does one contact sfmta?