One Year Into Vision Zero, Advocates Call for Bolder Action From City Hall

SF agencies released a new two-year Vision Zero Strategy [PDF], and safe streets advocates say it needs to go farther.
A year after City Hall officials first pledged to embrace Vision Zero, safe streets advocates have released a report [PDF] reviewing the state of efforts to end traffic fatalities by 2024. City officials simultaneously released a “Vision Zero Strategy” [PDF] for the next two years. Both documents were released in conjunction with a new program requiring video training for city truck drivers on safe urban driving, announced at a press conference yesterday.

The progress report from the Vision Zero Coalition, a group of nearly 40 community organizations led by Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition, says City Hall has “made important progress” with nine agencies endorsing the goal. Extensive research has also been done in recent years through the WalkFirst program to identify which streets see the highest rates of pedestrian injuries.

But to ensure that City Hall’s embrace of Vision Zero turns into life-saving action, advocates say efforts need to ramp up in 2015 to slow driving speeds and curb the most dangerous driving behaviors. Physical street design measures, data-driven traffic enforcement, and education campaigns are key to creating a safer driving culture.

Expectations this year “are definitely going to be high,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider.

“There’s huge public support for Vision Zero. Now Mayor Lee and his city team need to turn this into action,” said a statement from Noah Budnick, the new executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, who previously campaigned for Vision Zero in New York City. “The SFMTA must get proven safety improvements onto our streets as fast as they can, and the SFPD must crack down on reckless drivers who put San Franciscans at risk. There’s no time to waste to save lives.”

The Vision Zero Coalition’s report calls for three goals to be met this year, including a city-led campaign already underway to change state law to allow enforcement through speed cameras. The Coalition also want SFPD to increase the share of “Focus on the Five” citations to 37 percent of all traffic citations in 2015 and to meet the department’s official 50 percent minimum by 2016. So far, all SFPD stations except one have yet to come close to that goal, and the new Traffic Company Commander, Ann Mannix, has not promised to meet it.

The report also calls on agencies like the SFMTA and Department of Public Works to expedite physical safety measures on 18 miles of high-injury corridors annually. The city’s two-year Vision Zero Strategy, which is an update to the Pedestrian Strategy and the WalkFirst plan, sets the annual bar at 13 miles.

Walk SF Executive Director spoke with a broad range of city officials yesterday at a press conference at the DPW yard. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“One of the most important things we can do is get those projects on the ground, make sure that every street that we touch becomes a safe street, not just a safer street,” said Schneider. “Vision Zero is about creating a system where human error does not result in death or serious injury.”

Schneider said the language used in the city’s strategy mostly indicates that its authors “get” the concept of Vision Zero. But it includes few measurable benchmarks, aside from already-established goals like the 13 miles of street improvements, and SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” goal.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said the pace of street improvements should ramp up this year, after city voters in November approved funding boosts for transportation improvements through Propositions A and B. Voters also rejected Proposition L, which was aimed at preventing change to the streets.

“We’ve been doing some of the design work in anticipation of the voter approval of Prop A, so we do have projects that are ready to go,” said Reiskin, noting that many of the improvements, such as sidewalk extensions, will “dovetail” with transit upgrades planned under the Muni Forward program.

Reiskin said safe streets advocates “have been at the tip of the spear to rally community groups, neighborhood and business associations, in support of Vision Zero to help increase awareness across the city, but also to hold our feet to the fire, to hold us accountable, and push us to do as much as we can possibly do… to achieve this goal.”

While driving any vehicle at high speeds on city streets poses risks for people walking and biking, drivers of large trucks have the greatest propensity to kill.

Reiskin pointed out that “in a five-year period, large vehicles represented only four percent of all collisions, but accounted for 17 percent of all bicycle and pedestrian deaths.” All four people who died while bicycling in SF in 2013 were killed by truckers, including 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, whose family was awarded $4 million in a civil lawsuit last month after the driver was found to be negligent.

Truckers who work for or contract with the city will be required to undergo a new video-based program on safe city driving. SFMTA officials say it’s the first such program in the country that they know of.

“The goal ultimately is that anyone who’s coming into the city with a large vehicle understands how to move around the city,” said Reiskin, “because it’s a different environment than a lot of them see as they’re criss-crossing the country, with our density and high volumes of pedestrians and cyclists.”

Mayor Ed Lee told SFBay, “As you’re turning corners, as you’re going down our corridors, as you’re coming out of construction sites and into them or you’re at the store delivering and picking up, each and every one of these situations has the ability to hurt someone and we want everyone to be that much more aware.”

SFMTA planner John Knox White told Bay City News that the training video should help clear up deadly confusion among drivers about how to legally make a right turn across a bike lane, which has resulted in “right-hook” crashes like the one that killed Le Moullac in SoMa.

Other safety features can be added to trucks like sideguards that prevent bicyclists from falling underneath the wheels. On Monday, for instance, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that sideguards would be installed on 240 city trucks, the first phase in what could be a much bigger initiative.

Ultimately, Vision Zero is about “changing part of our society that has become so ingrained in what we are today,” said Schneider, “a society that sees a collision as an accident, that sees these things as unavoidable. We’re changing that so we can actually be on our streets, have community on our streets, rather than fear on our streets.”

  • Izsak

    Why don’t they maintain the crosswalks they already have? Probably a third of the crosswalks in my neighborhood are seriously faded. How much would it really take to have someone to drive around once a year and mark ones for repainting?

  • Bruce

    The fastest way to get the City’s attention is to file a 311 service request.

  • Gezellig

    So far the general culture still seems to be…if you get hit here–even in a legal crosswalk–it’s YOUR fault.

    Let the Frogger Games begin!

    http://img2.timeinc.net/people/i/2012/specials/hunger-games/celeb-fans/elizabeth-banks-660.jpg

    Location of the awful intersection below: https://goo.gl/maps/sYiyp

  • Izsak

    I do this quite often. They actually will come out and repaint the crosswalks if you report them, which is quite satisfying (should be expected, yet somehow not)! Still, I think it’s rather absurd that they rely on citizens to do this, since you could probably spend about five workdays every couple years and check all the major intersections. Because not everyone reports faded crosswalks, basically unless I do it, I guess, they will go unpainted and heavily faded for literally years and years.

  • Bruce

    What happened in this intersection?

  • I don’t see the problem. Getting to the “Vision Zero” meeting was easy by car. 15 minutes vs. 60+ on Muni. Tons of free parking down there too! Sorry Muni suckers!

  • jai_dit

    That intersection is a nasty combination of poor geometry and freeway offramps and other comparatively high-speed traffic. Sagamore meets Brotherhood, Alemany, and Orizaba, making a spread-out 5-way intersection. Sagamore carries most of the traffic from a southbound 280 offramp 2 blocks away (and the 54-Felton and a bike lane in each direction), this stretch of Alemany is in between a southbound 280 onramp and a northbound 280 onramp, Brotherhood is essentially a high-speed expressway to the Sunset/Lake Merced Blvd. The traffic speeds on both Alemany and Brotherhood are high in part because there are no houses or businesses for most of this stretch, and the number and width of lanes encourage people to speed, plus there’s a 280/Bart underpass. Finally, compounding all that, the crosswalks are lacking: there are no signals or control devices other than paint, and you have to sometimes have to zigzag across various streets (e.g. turning left from southbound Orizaba onto eastbound Alemany).

    I think it’s probably my least-favorite intersection in the city, beating out the nearby 19th Ave/Junipero Serra mess. It’s very obviously engineered entirely for cars, with little regard to pedestrian traffic. Or for bicycles, for that matter, despite Sagamore’s lanes – routes 98 and 198 go through this intersection, but bicycling on Alemany from that point on to Crystal is terrifying and dangerous.

  • Bruce

    Yes, I traveled through it about two weeks ago on my bike to get to the nearby Habitat for Humanity jobsite. Left turns from Brotherhood to Sagamore are rather daunting on a bicycle.

  • Gezellig

    It’s also terrible as a pedestrian. Blatant and widespread disregard for crosswalk laws by people in cars.

  • Bruce

    I can imagine.

  • jai_dit

    Since I live up the hill in Merced Heights, my usual path is Orizaba to Alemany to get to Mission. There is no good way to traverse it.

  • Bruce

    Not to justify the terrible design, but why not divert to Capitol and turn left onto Sagamore to get to Alemany?

  • Gezellig

    Oh, I know that problem! Former Merced Heights dweller, myself.

    Depending on what part of Mission you want to get to, though, I’d recommend from Merced Heights going down Orizaba (or whatever your north-south street is) to Farallones, which is not bad for biking as it’s pretty flat and relatively low traffic. When Farrallones ends at San Jose take the pedestrian bridge to Alemany and then by that point you’re not far from Mission.

  • jai_dit

    Yeah, I like Farallones – when I’m riding north I just take it to San Jose and onwards.

    Most of the time my problem is that I’m going somewhere in Daly City (either Top of the Hill or Hillside Blvd’s bike route). I also end up passing through on foot when taking late night transit because Mission/Goethe is the closest OWL stop to me.

  • jai_dit

    That made me think. In cases where I’m connecting to the 14/14L or ECR buses, I’d just been taking the most direct path to Mission/Goethe. But I mapped it and it looks like Misison/Sickles is almost the same distance, but a bit less hazardous. It just seems like farther away, so I’m glad I checked the distances. Thanks.

  • Many treatments of a good Vision Zero strategy would make bike lanes unnecessary to begin with. Speeds simply won’t go down as much just by painting the road as they will be redesigning it. Paint is a decent interim, but it can’t substitute for actual change.

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