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Pedestrian Infrastructure

Painted Bulb-Outs Arrive at Howard Street — Are More Coming Soon?

One year and four months after SF's first painted curb extensions came to Sixth Street, the SFMTA has implemented its second set at three intersections on Howard Street, in tandem with a wider and greener bike lane.

But for such a seemingly simple safety measure -- using low-cost gravel and epoxy to expand sidewalk corners and slow drivers' turns -- the question remains: Why does it take SF so long to implement?

Expectations were raised when deadly Sixth Street received the city's first six painted bulb-outs at the intersection of Market, Mission, and Howard, even if SF's extensions were much smaller in size and number than painted curb extensions in NYC.

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who grew up in Manhattan, said at the time that “it’s been amazing to see the difference they’ve been making for the quality of life of pedestrians and cyclists."

A painted bulb-out in New York City. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

NYC's big public space expansions mostly happened under the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Jannette Sadik-Khan. After a speech from Sadik-Khan in SF in June 2013, where she credited her mayor's political courage, we asked SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin what's holding SF back from painting its streets red. He told us at the time that he’s “not sure that there are that many great candidates” for more public space expansions.

SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose said that a similar level of planning goes into painted bulb-outs as concrete bulb-outs, so they can easily be upgraded when the funding becomes available.

"While a near-term improvement, painted safety zones have to go through planning, design and legislation, all of which we try to expedite to improve safety as fast as possible," said Jose. "Technical work varies by location and the SFMTA coordinates the proposed improvements with other city agencies as well as with the surrounding community."

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said the organization "worked with SFMTA to ensure that pedestrian safety improvements were" part of the Howard bike lane upgrades, "and we're excited that they're included."

After SF voters approved transportation funding in Propositions A and B in November, Schneider said she expects "San Francisco will see more and more of these quick, effective improvements, with many treatments being installed this year."

The only known painted bulb-outs expected this year are on Polk Street, as part of a package of interim safety improvements announced after the redesign was delayed by a year. Jose said the agency has also focused on upgrading crosswalks to more visible zebra-style striping, and is implementing 80 daylighting zones in the Tenderloin to improve visibility at corners.

The improvements made on Howard last week, which were originally promised to go in last fall, included five bulb-outs at three intersections. But each one only extends one side of the sidewalk, rather than wrapping around corners. And some of them seem to be placed at corners where no drivers actually turn -- where bulb-outs are needed the most.

For example, the bulb-out below is located at the northeast corner of Howard and Tenth, which are both one-way streets (south and east), so no drivers will be turning around that corner.

Here are each of the bulb-out locations, according to an SFMTA report [PDF]:

- Two on the east side of Howard and Sixth (a two-way street)
- One at the SW corner of Howard and Ninth (one-way south and west)
- Two at the east side of Howard and 10th (one-way south and east)

Last year, SFMTA tapped NYC's Tom Maguire as the new head of the Sustainable Streets Division, who has promised to streamline street safety fixes at the agency.

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