SFMTA Shows Off Vision Zero Upgrades, Promises Quicker Implementation

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin leads state and national transportation officials on a tour today at deadly Market and Sixth Streets. Photo: SFMTA
SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin leads state and national transportation officials on a tour today at deadly Market and Sixth Streets. Photo: SFMTA

Several top officials from state and national transportation agencies were in town today to see some of the SFMTA’s latest street safety measures. Meanwhile, local street safety advocates continue to push the SFMTA to pick up the pace on delivering pedestrian and bike safety infrastructure.

At a City Hall committee hearing yesterday, SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire reported on some solid steps the agency is taking to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that holds up street safety fixes.

While the reforms are “definitely a work in progress,” Maguire told Supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener that the SFMTA has adopted new processes and hired new management to speed up the delivery of safer streets.

“There does need to be a bit of a culture change and a raised expectation that we do need to be doing more, better, faster within MTA if we’re going to reach the Vision Zero goal,” Maguire said.

In recent weeks, he said, project managers at SFMTA and SF County Transportation Authority have attended an “intensive training course” focused on rolling out a “capital project control system,” so that managers at both agencies “are on the same level.” The SFMTA is also hiring a project delivery director to “re-engineer and streamline the project delivery process across the entire Sustainable Streets Division” while “providing a single point of accountability.”

The SFMTA also holds regular meetings with other agencies like the Department of Public Works and Caltrans to ensure that coordination is “baked into projects,” said Maguire. He said there is higher priority on “getting the scope right the first time” and making sure other agencies “are at the table” up front, to ensure smaller projects don’t become unexpectedly larger and slow down the original plans.

The SFMTA has shown that it can move faster for high-priority projects, such as the parking-protected bike lane coming to 13th Street in the next couple of months, which was announced in late January. As part of the project, the SFMTA began installing painted curb extensions today at the traffic circle at Division, Eighth, and Townsend Streets.

SFMTA crews install painted curb extensions today at the traffic circle at Eighth and Division Streets. Photo: SFMTA Livable Streets/Facebook
SFMTA crews install painted curb extensions today at the traffic circle at Eighth and Division Streets. Photo: SFMTA Livable Streets/Facebook

At the hearing, Supervisor Kim also noted that pilot projects like the bike lane widening on Folsom Street and a pedestrian scramble signal phase at Stockton and Sacramento Streets seem to have been installed “within two months” of traffic fatalities at those intersections.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m accusing MTA of this, but it feels like, from a general public perspective, that it takes a fatality to get a project into place faster,” she said.

Maguire pointed out that such pilot projects don’t have to undergo the lengthy environmental review process required by the CA Environmental Quality Act. The recent Howard Street bike lane widening didn’t have to either, since it didn’t remove a traffic lane. But, he added, “I want to get to a point where we’re moving much faster through the design, legislation, and environmental processes.”

The SFMTA said in a press release today that city officials “are asking their state and federal counterparts to help in several areas, including cutting red tape for funding and making the environmental review process more efficient.”

Photo: SFMTA
Photo: SFMTA

While SF has plenty of room to improve, the city is apparently ahead of the curve nationally when it comes to re-shaping streets for safety.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin today showcased recent street safety measures to senior officials from the California Office of Traffic Safety, the California State Transportation Agency, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The tour included Polk Street, where the SFMTA is installing an initial batch of safety measures. Already completed are painted bulb-outs at five intersections, zebra-striped crosswalks at 25 intersections, and an extended but unprotected southbound bike lane.

But that installation came after a two-year planning process, during which the project was delayed by a year and heavily watered-down due to some merchants obsessed with preserving car parking. Construction on the main changes that require concrete work is set to begin in a year.

Still, California OTS Director Rhonda Craft said in a statement that SF’s Vision Zero efforts “can stand as a model for others who are trying to make their communities safer for all roadway users.”

“Having these organizations and delegates here to learn about our Vision Zero efforts really underscores San Francisco’s recent work to create a culture of traffic safety,” Reiskin said in a statement. “While our goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2024 has a long time horizon, we are working quickly today to increase safety citywide while larger projects and initiatives are being developed.”

  • I’m glad the SFMTA is realizing that they need to streamline their process. The Polk Street process was a disaster. The SFMTA asked everyone and their dog what they wanted for dinner over 2 years with lots of expensive hearings and proposals on what the SFMTA can cook, then they went into the kitchen and made everything that everyone wanted, threw it all into a blender, and served it to everyone! This is process is flawed and won’t make our streets safer. The SFMTA should do trials and phased deployments on safety improvements like other cities have. Denver added a protected bike lane in practically overnight, and told everyone that it will be a 9 month test period while they welcome feedback.

  • I know that international flights are expensive and emit carbon, but these folks really should be going to Stockholm to see how Vision Zero is done, certainly not San Francisco. Highly, highly premature to tout Vision Zero success here.

  • M.

    I participated in the full afternoon of Vision Zero SF Task Force discussions and workshops subsequent to the survey walk. Rhonda Craft’s commented on SF as exemplary for the energy and diversity of its V0 community. We’ve been chosen as a vanguard city for how to proceed, missteps and all, not as a fully realized, extant V0 city. And it’s true that we’re unique for having been primarily community-initiated involved (Kudos to Leah S. and Nicole F.) and now added to the usual City agencies have a huge boost of talent from the SF Dept. of Public Health lead by Meghan Weir, and unprecedented contributions from the SFPD lead by Commander Mannix.

  • Filamino

    Polk Street was an example of everyone getting a little bit of everything. This is a democracy so everyone gets a say in the project. I don’t understand why it is so hard for you people to understand that. It was only a “disaster” because bike advocates didn’t get what they wanted. Bike advocates are not the only stakeholders on Polk Street.

  • Filamino

    Sounds like a typical hater here. “Just copy the Dutch, Sweden, etc. and be done with it!” Typical narrow minded thinking that policies/standards/etc. in one part of the world can be implemented here. It doesn’t work that way. The US is not Sweden, Netherlands, etc.

  • Democracy works great for electing leaders. But leadership based on consensus is no way to lead. Progress is never achieved without upsetting a few people. The question is what is the greater good. Do we want a city that is congested with cars and smog, where it’s unsafe to bike anywhere and stressful to even cross the street?

    Giving everyone a little bit of everything while not accomplishing anything is not leadership. The changes to Polk street won’t make it significantly safer, and these changes are unlikely to convince anymore people to use bikes. Does anyone seriously think that most people will feel safe on riding their bikes on the unprotected and congested Polk street shared with trucks and cars? This city is going to continue to grow and it’s impossible to grow sustainably while we continue to engineer our streets to prioritize parked cars over peoples’ lives and safety. Other cities realized that protected bike lanes are the best way to convince more people to use bikes and make streets safer. Every city with protected bike lanes saw those areas commercially thrive and saw a reduction in accidents.

    So yes, it’s hard to me to understand why the solution for making our streets safer for thousands of cyclists is being hijacked by a few dozen merchants over a few hundred parking spaces.

  • Aron

    “Typical narrow minded thinking that policies/standards/etc. in one part of the world can be implemented here.”

    But that’s the thing. For many things, those policies/standards actually can be copied. But it’s not being done, or watered down to the point of ineffectiveness.

  • Filamino

    Yes it is. They take the parts that can be used in the US and adopting it here. That is the way it should be done instead of just blindly copying other country’s laws that you want to do.

  • Filamino

    No, that is not leadership. Leadership listening to all stakeholders involved. You are just one stakeholder, not everyone. Dismissing important stakeholders like these “few” merchants is basically saying they are no one. If it was only a few merchants, I am sure there would have been a northbound bike lane along Polk Street. However, that is not true. It’s only true on Streetsblog. No leader would have changed the plan if there were only a “few” merchants complaining of parking loss.

    Losing a few hundred parking spaces is a lot of business. Maybe you don’t drive, but only the merchants themselves know how many of their customers drive. Just because people drive doesn’t make it unsafe.

  • Justin

    SFMTA promising speedier implementation, I’ll believe it when I see good sufficient proof of that, but for now I have my doubts. I have had enough of the talk. I want them to walk the walk and make those promises a reality!

  • sbrisend

    “a few hundred parking spaces” serve thousands of neighbors who walk, bike and drive. My 91yo older neighbor runs errands on Polk for groceries and other stuff and needs her car. She’s not the only one. Polk Street is a city village that was not designed to be a bike corridor and The Polk Street proposal was very unbalanced against the neighborhood. At least there was some compromise. We love our neighborhood and we live in it, unlike the bikers who speed though, not always so safely. EVERYONE needs to compromise and everyone needs to be safe.

  • Dark Soul

    Well… Some dont want protected bike lanes to cause ubalanced safety over parking rights…. mostly want Balanced Safety

  • @Filamino – The Polk Street plan was liveable streets treatment to benefit a variety of street users, not a “bike advocates” plan. Focusing on one mislabeled party like this is nothing but ad hominem fallacy. What makes the outcome a disaster is something that’s actually substantive: the plan took the circulation of all street users into account and was designed around all moving parts working together.

    Breaking some of these moving parts and calling it “everyone getting a little bit of everything” (itself a logical fallacy, the Fallacy of the Middle Ground) sidesteps the fact that the overall plan to improve circulation has been ruined.

  • @sbrisend – The original plan would have shifted parking half a block for the 15% of the people who arrive at Polk by car. Merchants who purport to care about this 15% could proactively park half a block further than normal, since they arrive earlier than their customers.

    As for your 91yo neighbor and similar anecdotal scenarios, anyone with a legitimate accessibility need to have parking directly in front of an entrance can arrange to have a space reserved.

  • @M. – Disappointing that we’re a vanguard. NYC is running into similar problems:

    It seems that politicians are mostly on board with using the words “Vision Zero” but the actual heavy lifting is going to have to come from advocates for the words to mean anything.

  • sbrisend

    Jym, you and the biker lobby (not legally registered with The City, btw) seem to have all the answers, yet an inability to understand others POV. Making everything great for bikers does not make it great for all. Yes, things are changing and it’s great that streets are safer for bikers. But it really isn’t all about what’s best for bikers vs. small business. It’s about ALL of us. And the bike lobby fakes a “safety-for-all” PR spin, but really acts as though it is all about bikers. Tired of Biker Spin.

  • murphstahoe

    cool story bro

  • M.

    Political life-preservers for politicians morally adrift. otoh, there’s way too little action coming from the mass of professed sustainability activists. Excitement addicts that we’ve become, projects are allowed their 15 minutes then out of mind. Of all the tools in the toolbox for change, three stand out: Perseverance, sticking together, and showing up. The first two can be outsourced somewhat but there’s no substitute for real face time and our tribe is notably reticent.
    No one enjoys confrontation but it’s essential to pop our own ideological bubbles, interact with the opposition, and both challenge them and find common cause. Yesterday, I met with an alpha male of the (still active) opposition and it was interesting but decidedly uncomfortable to work around his biases, poor grasp of cause and effect, and slippery ideology. If there was a shortcut, I would have found it. But there isn’t.

  • M.

    We can mimic the infrastructure to mitigate the consequences of an aggressive, individualistic culture for sure, but the culture isn’t here. There’s very little buy-in to a Common Good.

  • M.

    Incorrect: people who are untethered from the burden of facts were permitted to: decide how we spend a lot of public funds and where our future lies, delay action and drive up construction costs and complications, foster a climate of irrational rage, and ultimately determine that we’re all going to die sooner. GIGO – That’s not democracy.

  • M.

    Not ruined, but certainly dismally compromised – for a while.

  • M.

    *Confirmation Bias: Bikers just pass through? Many unsafely? You ever observe those many waiting at red lights who ignore the drivers honking at them to start up faster? You ever notice drivers texting, phoning, looking at GPS? You know how many who get around SF on bike live, work and recreate on Polk?
    If we all should pay for every stripe of individual scofflaw you, as a driver, have the heavy burden for our epidemic of drivers raging, red-light-running, slow reaction times, vision impairments, preoccupations, distractions, and most of all intoxicated people commandeering tons of equipment (vehicles).
    Now, people on bikes must ride in the middle of the NB lane to be safe and endure irritated honking and yells from drivers impatient to exceed the 25 mph speed limit (yes, SF has one that 25 mph is it). On any given ride NB, it’s very likely someone with an itchy pedal foot will try to pass a cyclist unsafely (3′ min. is the law) and/or force them into the door of a driver who hasn’t looked before opening it (a young woman on Middle Polk was seriously hurt that way just the other day).

    Let’s get a grip on Relative Risk here.

  • M.

    Nonsense, sbrisend. I meet day-to-day with the few self-proclaimed, equally ‘unregistered lobbyists’ who invisibly and with zero experience/education in the public issues they insinuate themselves into. These very few determine our fate and squander our money, without the support of the *many* thousands that SFBC, WalkSF, SFTRU, et al have. And yes, when things are safer for one one type of non-driving road-user, they’re safer for everyone. Wake up.

  • M.

    Just yesterday, one of the vaunted merchants of Polk, well-acquainted with his fellows for decades, admitted that not only do many of them want the parking for themselves, but also that many are poor business people who don’t really understand their market. That’s from the Source. Deal with it.

  • sbrisend

    @M quite a rant there. I am one of those walkers who do not text in the crosswalk and one of those drivers who make eye contact with walkers and bikers – those who bother to pay attention. Every person I know is afraid of being hit by a biker. Why? Because no one knows if the biker will follow the rules of the road or run the stop sign. There are a lot of very careful considerate bikers, but many are not. If bikers were required to get a license, just like drivers, and suffer consequences when they break the law, then we might be able to trust that they follow the rules of the road.

    Polk is a very narrow street that bikers have decided they want it. They did not ask the neighbors, who have already shared a lot but are not in 100% agreement with the Polk Street Bikers’ Takeover. Did bikers consider an alternate WIDER road with more room for bikes? NO because Polk is flatterer.

    My challenge to the self-righteous, screaming bikers out there – if you want Polk Street, can you work with EVERYONE, not rant and screech that we’re so wrong and you bikers are always so right? Because this is a bigger issue than a few angry bikers. It’s a community you are trying to tear up, just for your own needs. And you are a very small minority. Very small. Stop screaming and try working with everyone.

  • sbrisend

    Insulting tax-paying registered voters & licensed drivers who live in and love the Polk Street neighborhood does not make you right – it only proves my point, M. You talk as if your opinion is the only one that matters, which is really helpful, because in Commission hearings your cohorts don’t dare express such an attitude. But the disrespect is palpable. This is exactly what makes neighbors wary. We all want bikers to ride safely, just as we want the same for walkers and drivers. As progressive a city as San Francisco is, it typically does not reward such arrogant self-righteousness. Last I looked, we live in a voting democracy.

  • M.

    Getting input is great, but trying to follow it all isn’t. Urban planning is a professional skill, not a collection point for opinions. If you were diagnosed with a serious illness would you look for a remedy by asking what the word on the street is? And our streets are seriously ill.

  • M.

    1. The max parking removal proposed two years ago was well under 100 parking spots. It went up from there; 2. most very seniors are high risk drivers and need to use other ways to get about; 3. Most people do not *have* to use a car most of the time. It’s that unquestioned entitlement that each individual must have access to a personal vehicle all the time – except the other guy b/c *they* cause congestion – that’s literally killing us; 4. Polk was ‘designed’ as a valley with a stream, not a ‘city village’ (read any good banners lately?) Like all valleys, it was the path of least resistance for travel which was via bicycles well before it was in vehicles. In fact, cyclists pushed for better roads long before cars existed; 5. People are quite resilient. If there’s insufficient parking curbside, they walk a bit further, therefore there’s NO acceptable compromise if life is at stake – and it is. A low figure is 3 hits per month on Polk alone. Imagine you’re one of them and then decide if someone else’s inconvenience was worth the ‘compromise.’ The battle it took to make sure every intersection on Polk was made visible (daylighting) is scandalous in a society that prides itself on being civilized – progressive, even.

  • M.

    To someone who doesn’t like – nor apparently reads – facts that contradict their beliefs, presentation of them feels like a rant. That was no rant, it was a response to repeated unthinking bias.

    Once again, I’d already pointed out that you wrote, ‘…bikers who pass through, not always so safely…’ Then think about how tedious it would be if, as a safe walker and safe driver (who isn’t?) you were constantly being tarred with the same brush as those who aren’t by people reciting their echo chamber ‘truisms.’ Or if the presumption was made that you’re ‘just passing through’ in your car and don’t belong there. How do you know what all cyclist destinations are?

    Making a point of noting cyclists who are less than polite is absurd in the face of the killing and maiming happening from driver v. walker crashes of which there are over 1000 hits/year in SF.
    ‘Every person I know is afraid of being hit by a biker.
    Why?’ A: Because you seem to not know anyone who knows statistics. If they did, they’d be terrified of driving a car, being a non-driver in SF, not getting enough physical activity, having both a child and a swimming pool, getting bladder cancer…The chances of getting hurt by a person riding a bicycle is virtually nonexistent. If we replace some words in your statement, we have a spot-on assessment of true risk:
    ‘Because no one knows if the [driver] will follow the rules of the road or run the stop sign. There are a lot of very careful considerate [drivers], but many are not. If [drivers had proper training to operate a deadly machine and] to get a license, just like [deadly machine operators], and suffer consequences when they break the law [like the violent offenders that they are], then we might be able to trust that they follow the rules of the road.’ For good measure, let’s add ‘And if drivers would not operate their deadly machines while impaired…’ A veritable epidemic.
    Further ‘bikers’ didn’t ‘decide’ anything, Polk is a State bicycle route, just like the state highway that’s one block to the west. Speaking of which, who ‘decided’ that every other parallel street within miles should be the domain of cars?
    What sacrifice exactly did that vocal parking-at-all-costs minority make? As soon as they were accommodated, they went on to demand a free-for all-of loading at all times/places.

    I could go on.

  • M.

    Truth ≠ insult. The vast majority are tax-paying, many are registered voters and drivers. Do they all recoil at facts, too? I cited facts, statistics, data, not opinions. That includes my observations from working with all sides of those involved with the Polk redesign.
    ‘[SF] does not reward such arrogant self-righteousness.’ Incorrect. See above re. uninformed minority.
    Who disrespects whom exactly? How about we remove road safety measures like stop signs, traffic lights, guardrails, street lights, center lines, turn arrows…? That would clearly be disrespect for the well-being of drivers but those are the conditions that non-drivers have to hope won’t kill or maim them. That includes your 91 year old neighbor who eventually have to cross a street and will be extremely at-risk. Your begrudging using state-of-the art protection of non-drivers reflects a profound disrespect for others. So yes, people like that don’t earned anyone’s respect because convenient parking ≠ sanctity of life. In case that’s not your value, maybe squandering public funds is: we spend up to $28m a year on Polk St. alone because of crashes.

  • Filamino

    OMG. You are comparing apples and oranges. Urban planning and medicine are two very different fields. First of all, people’s opinions are part of urban planning! Not taking into account people’s opinions in a design is not professional at all. It is obvious you are not an urban planner and if you are, you’re not a very good one.

  • Filamino

    Only because the bike advocates didn’t get what they wanted (NB bike lane all the way up Polk) . The pedestrian amenities (bulb-outs) are still part of the plan.

    It’s unfortunate that you think that middle ground is a bad thing. I really can’t see how anyone here can live by always having everything it your way instead of working with others fairly.

  • Filamino

    How do you know they don’t need parking to run their business? Maybe they need to run errands, do deliveries, etc. to run their business. Have you ever thought of that? Probably not because you are not them. Besides, It’s a public street. They can park there if they want as long as they follow the parking rules.

    If they were poor business people, they would have been out of business by now.

  • M.

    I repeat: ‘Getting input is great, but trying to follow it all isn’t.’ There’s a defined core of data that we know works to keep neighborhoods vital and its citizens safe. If uninformed individuals have contrary *opinions* and cannot cite anything to support them, we have no obligation to implement them.
    I’ve been working locally for more than two years in an absurd conflict: folklore vs. facts.
    It seems that logic isn’t enough so fyi, here’s my cred:
    I was an architect with training and experience in Planning. Before that, I worked in medicine in world class academic/clinical institutions. I also conducted a global literature review on built infrastructure and how it affects every aspect of public health.

  • M.

    I’ve spoken with virtually every merchant along the project length and beyond; clearly you haven’t or you’d donned your pro-business rose-colored glasses when you did. Some are good and forward-looking, others aren’t and refuse to alter their practice with changing times. It takes no skill to rent a storefront, and lots to stay in it. There’s considerable churn amongst the businesses on Polk, an unhealthy persistent ~12%+ storefront vacancy rate, and some of the most vocal opponents to change have gone under in the past 2 years without any changes.
    If you care to defend the more vulnerable businesses on Polk you can join me in pushing the City to assist them in surviving the min. 18 months of construction that begins next year. Contact: folks@folksforpolk.org

  • @sbrisend – Your mind is clearly made up, and apparently sealed in amber if you’re calling that a “rant” and alluding to “self-righeous, screaming bikers.” You responded to my earlier point that it’s not about bikes as if some entirely different conversation was going on.

    Since you’re so terribly upset about ranting and screeching, you may wish to take it up with the gentleman who thinks the phrase “Agenda 21”, at any volume, has anything whatsoever to do with Polk Street.

  • Filamino

    No, I am more open-minded to knowing what different type of business needs – including parking. Merchants can tell you what you want to hear to move you along, but they will tell the decision makers what they really feel. That is what David Chiu (the most bicycle-friendly person on the BOS who doesn’t own a car) heard and decided to find a consensus.

  • Filamino

    You are saying the parking is not needed is a fact for all businesses. That is not a fact. I am sure you are pointing to studies that say removing parking for a bike lane improved businesses in other cities. Again, you are comparing apples and oranges. Just because it works in one area doesn’t mean it works in other areas. Polk Street is different because it’s not near a subway and there are fewer (if any) parking garages on the northern end.

    Again, it all comes down to balancing the needs of the area. If safety was truly the only criteria to look at, we would ban all cars, transit and bikes. All can harm people. However, this is a city with many different needs and balancing them means not everyone will get everything.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Do you really think people who own their own cars make up a majority of the Polk street “Neighborhood”? I don’t know who your neighbors are, but most of mine don’t have a car because it’s too expensive and too inconvenient. I have many neighbors that ride Muni or walk, and would love to ride a bike if it were safer to do so. If a bike lane is shared with cars trucks and buses, it’s useless for all but the most experienced and fearless riders, making biking inaccessible to most people. The point of protected bicycle lanes is to make biking safe and viable for everybody from ages 9-90. The current Polk street redesign compromise fails to make biking any safer, and it will fail to convince more people to choose biking.


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