Mayor’s “State of the City” Offers Tepid Support for Vision Zero

The mayor’s “State of the City” speech last Friday was a major opportunity for Ed Lee to call for the changes needed to sharply reduce traffic deaths in San Francisco. Lee did endorse the Vision Zero goal, though it wasn’t exactly a full-throated call to action. He also re-affirmed his desire to repeal metered parking on Sundays, ignoring the benefits reported by the SFMTA.

Image: Mayor's Office
Image: Mayor’s Office

The idea that San Francisco should aim to eliminate traffic fatalities has recently picked up momentum from many different quarters in city government. Vision Zero resolutions proposed by the Board of Supervisors and the SFMTA Board of Directors appear to have broad support, and the SFPD backed the goal last week with policy reforms that should improve police response to crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. At a meeting immediately following a rally at City Hall yesterday, the SFMTA Board directed its staff to draft a Vision Zero resolution, as proposed by vice chair Cheryl Brinkman, who noted that “we play a major role in ensuring that pedestrians can safely walk the streets of San Francisco.”

“People shouldn’t be killed or seriously hurt just trying to get around our city,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, who praised the “leadership from the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.”

The mayor’s address on traffic violence, while touching on several aspects of street safety, lacked the sense of urgency and moral commitment that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio conveyed in a Vision Zero announcement earlier this month. Here’s what Lee had to say:

And let me say a few words about another public safety challenge on our City’s streets that last year grew at an alarming rate, and that’s the safety of our pedestrians and bicyclists.

This week I announced a renewed strategy to keep people safe, including stepped up enforcement, especially against reckless drivers, better training for commercial drivers and those who drive the most, our “Be Nice, Look Twice” public education campaign, and improvements in places like Polk Street and South Van Ness, where we most urgently need improvements.

It’s another reason the transportation measures I discussed earlier are so important, so we can dramatically expand our segregated bike lanes and pedestrian bulb-outs.

I also support the goals of Vision Zero to eliminate traffic-related deaths in our City, but to get there, we need a little more common sense as well. For everyone, be more aware of your surroundings. And drivers, slow down and for darn sake, don’t ever text and drive at the same time.

San Francisco is one of the most pedestrian and bicycle-friendly cities in America. Let’s work together in 2014 to make it the safest city in America for those activities as well.

To be sure, it was encouraging that Lee mentioned infrastructure like “segregated bike lanes” and bulb-outs, as well as “stepped up enforcement, especially against reckless drivers,” but a big chunk of this passage about street safety consists of just telling San Franciscans to behave. “Common sense” isn’t going to achieve Vision Zero. Public policy will.

The Bay Guardian’s Steve Jones wrote that the mayor’s endorsement of Vision Zero was a “nice sentiment, but one that is totally disconnected from how he’s choosing to spend taxpayer money and use city resources.”

Lee was also sure to talk about the ballot funding measures proposed by his Transportation 2030 Task Force, stressing the need to increase funds for transit, walking, and biking. But he also insisted on tying those measures to his preposterous push to end parking meter enforcement on Sundays. Of course, no mention was made of the SFMTA’s report that metering has cut cruising times for parking spots in half and increased parking turnover at businesses by 20 percent. Instead, Lee claimed that Sunday meters have “made our residents’ lives a little more frustrating and expensive.”

If we’re finally going to take a comprehensive approach to Muni’s funding, let’s tear off a band-aid we applied in more dire financial times that made our residents’ lives a little more frustrating and expensive.

I’m talking about Sunday meters. It generated several million dollars last year, almost half of it from parking tickets, and I hear about it. Nobody likes it. Not parents. Not our neighborhood small businesses. Not me.

With a more sustainable approach to funding our transportation system, we can give our meters, our parking control officers and most importantly, our families a rest on Sunday.

The mayor seems to have forgotten what he said back in 2011, early in his tenure, when he lauded the launch of SFpark, espousing the very principles he is now working against by pandering to the free parking crowd. “How many of you have been dumb in your past? How many you have acted dumb? I know I have,” said Lee said at the 2011 press event. “You know, when you’re driving around looking for a parking space and you’re double parking and you’re running around trying to see whether something will open, you’re dumb.”

So Mayor Lee is obviously smarter than the recent drivel coming out of his mouth about parking meters. Taking a hypocritical stance against good transportation policy to appease motorists who complain about parking tickets? That’s dumb.

  • bobster1985

    Mayor Lee is just pandering on the Sunday meter issue. What a disappointment.

  • If he’s backpedalling on Sunday meters because he’s “hearing about it” from opponents, what’s the best way to make sure he hears from proponents? I know there’s a petition going, but I personally think decision-makers get annoyed by robo-emails more than anything. More articles like this certainly help:

    But what else? Regular tweeting to @MayorEdLee about how meters helped me find a spot near Little Star so I could easily get pizzas on Sunday? A photo series of crazy busy Sunday shopping districts, to disprove any notions that meters hamper business? The establishment of a new religion, Shoupism, which demands equivalent benefits as the church double-parkers? Let’s get creative here, people!

  • gneiss

    It’s clear that he’s carving out a coalition that he hopes will get him elected for another term as Mayor. It includes the city family – fire fighters, police, SFMTA and other city employees, the high tech firm owners, which he has become endeared by advocating for the tax rebates and employee tax reform, small shop owners, who don’t want *any* change to the streetscape as that brings to their eyes uncertainly to their businesses, people in the western neighborhoods who drive everywhere, and real estate developers, who want to build *right now* while the market is at an unprecedented peak.

    He also wants to differentiate without alienating himself from potential rivals like Scott Wiener, who has taken on the banner of the livable street movement, small property owners, SFBC, and the home/condo/apartment owning property class in the middle and eastern part of the city. I would suspect that he’s essentially written off the Mission, the southern neighborhoods, and much of the Castro/Haight/NOPA areas, so now he needs to firm up whatever support he can in the western and northern parts of the city which is far more car dominated then in the more dense areas.

    It’s a strategy that worked well for Frank Jordan (remember that Art Agnos lost a reelection largely because of his political fumbling on the teardown of the Embarcadero Freeway), and I’m sure Ed Lee knows very well the history of people who ignore the desires of the high car ownership neighborhoods. This is nothing more than an effort by a career municipal official to get just enough voters in the next election to give him another four years in city hall.

  • Mark Dreger

    If the SFMTA’s own data doesn’t sway Ed, don’t hold your breath that anything else will.

  • Upright Biker

    Good read on the motivations behind it all, @gneiss. You are obviously a learned student of the dark art of SF politics!

  • jamiewhitaker

    What a bullshit factory.

    No Sunday meters? Okay, No VLF and No Bond for MUNI. Everything is fine for pedestrians and bicyclists apparently. Just vote No.

  • Chris J.

    By Ed Lee’s logic, parking meter enforcement should stop on Saturday as well, and probably also weekdays. Parking meters can be “frustrating and expensive” every day.

    Yes, people think meters are frustrating and expensive when they’re putting in coins. But when people are circling for parking, it’s even more frustrating. The problem is that the cause is sufficiently indirect that people don’t associate circling with lack of meter enforcement.

  • Jamison Wieser

    I think this is a good time to post the link to the San Francisco Transit Rider Union’s poll asking Mayor Lee not to defund Muni.

  • Jamison Wieser

    I think this is a good time to post the link to the San Francisco Transit Rider Union’s poll asking Mayor Lee not to defund Muni.

  • sebra leaves

    I suspect that Mayor Ed Lee, as most of us, would like to end the war between bikes and cars. Stress levels are at an all time high. Remember live and let live? Do your own thing and leave everyone else alone.

  • While I like the analysis Gneiss gives, it’s important to remember we don’t live in Frank Jordan’s San Francisco anymore. First off, only a third of our firefighters and a quarter of our police force live in city limits and are eligible to vote here, although their endorsements certainly carry weight. (I heartily wish more of our city employees did live in the city.)

    Ed Lee is certainly a high grossing fundraiser bankrolled by corporations and extremely wealthy individuals, and anyone more progressive would be hard pressed to outdo him on that front. But looking at the 2011 election results, he wasn’t all that popular, especially with the 18 – 34 year old crowd, progressive/liberals, and non-Asians (roughly 2/3rds of voters). He did do comparatively well with the outer neighborhoods such as outer Sunset, outer Richmond, Bayview, Ingleside, Visitacion Valley and Portola that are car-dependent and also have high Asian populations, (although even here he wouldn’t have had a majority the first round) and the 60+ crowd seems to skew a bit towards him, but even in Chinatown, where 84% of residents speak Chinese in the home and 40% are over 60, he only got 43% of round one votes.

    He did dreadfully in Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, the Mission, the Haight, Potrero Hill, the Western Addition, and the Castro. Inner Sunset, SOMA and Laurel Heights were lukewarm to him. Interestingly, even wealthy neighborhoods such as SeaCliff, the Marina, Presidio Heights and Pac Heights didn’t like him all that much. What got him elected was a combination of low voter turn out and so many candidates widely splitting not only the first vote but also the second and third votes.

    For the next election in 2015, Lee will be the incumbent which is a huge advantage in terms of fund raising and name recognition. But demographics are rapidly swinging younger, to the eastern half of the city, and to car-lite and car-free lifestyles. If progressives can manage to consolidate behind one strong candidate rather than diffuse their efforts every which way between half a dozen, and if they can get the 18 – 34 year old crowd to actually vote, Lee will be outflanked next election.

    It’s worth noting that one in eight residents of San Francisco are not citizens and so are not eligible to vote. And that another twenty-five percent or so who are eligible aren’t registered. Of those who are actually registered, nearly 6 in 10 can’t be bothered to vote in mayoral elections. So it only takes 110,000–120,000 votes to become mayor of this city.

  • Chris J.

    Six more signatures to meet their goal of 200.

  • murphstahoe

    Sounds good. My own thing is riding a bike, and I want you to let me live.

  • coolbabybookworm

    yeah, and I’d like to breath clean air and have clean water

  • aslevin

    How much would the transpo ballot measure campaigns benefit from an active volunteer base among transportation progressives? How much do volunteers contribute to SF campaigns, compared to media spending and other campaign tactics?

  • FL

    I think another reason why Ed Lee is calling for the end of Sunday meters is because people are tired of feeding meters where there is no need for parking turnover. I commented to the MTA about this when Sunday parking was announced. Meters were intended to encourage turnover – NOT a revenue generator that many anti-car people here want it to be. I noticed in the MTA report that many of the blocks they got data from were from already heavily used commercial areas that were well known to have >85% occupancy. That is why the report is biased toward those heavily used commercial areas to make it look like Sunday meters work everywhere. That is not true because it leaves out the non-heavily used commercial areas. The western SOMA, northern Mission, western Taraval are some examples of largely metered areas that had plenty of free parking BEFORE Sunday meters were started and continue to have lots of parking available. The difference is now they have to pay for it which is the problem. There is no need for turnover in these areas because there is no demand for parking on Sunday in these areas. So why is the City charging for it? Greed. That is NOT what meters are for. Sunday meters should ONLY be enforced in areas where parking is in high demand and NOT in places where there is low demand.

    Drivers can figure out which meters are enforced by reading the meter display. That’s one of the reasons the City bought these expensive meters in the first place.

  • Bob Gunderson

    I like Mayor Lee’s campaign “Look Over Your Shoulder, and Carry a Boulder” a lot better.

  • Nicely done!

  • Sprague

    In our contemporary culture, where car use is so entrenched, it is understandable that compromise be achieved. Rather than scuttle the entire Sunday metering program (which has been successful, by objective standards), why not modify it? If there truly are streets that have great amounts of empty spaces, the cost to park can be decreased (a la SF Park)…


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