SFMTA Plans to Install Painted “Safety Zones” at 40 Intersections This Year

A painted bulb-out, a.k.a. “safety zone,” at Sacramento and Stockton Streets, where 78-year old Pui Fong Yim Lee was killed. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA has ramped up its roll-out of painted curb extensions, which the agency calls “safety zones,” at some of the city’s most dangerous corners. Twenty-one have been installed at at least 11 intersections, and the tally should reach 40 intersections by the end of the year, said SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose.

Painted bulb-outs are a low-cost measure to slow down turning drivers, using khaki-colored gravel and epoxy to expand sidewalk corners. When the bulb-outs replace parked cars at street corners, they also make people more visible to drivers approaching intersections, a measure known as daylighting. Once funding becomes available, they can be upgraded to concrete sidewalk extensions.

“We are installing painted safety zones on the city’s pedestrian high-injury network, where just 6 percent of city streets account for 60 percent of pedestrian injuries and fatalities,” Jose wrote in a recent blog post. “Painted safety zones are one of the elements we are quickly installing to improve safety in support of our Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic deaths.”

So far, most of the bulb-outs can be found along Howard Street in SoMa and as part of the first phase of safety upgrades on Polk Street.

One painted bulb-out was recently installed at Stockton and Sacramento Streets in Chinatown, where Pui Fong Yim Lee, 78, was killed by a turning driver last September. The intersection also received an exclusive walk phase in all directions, also known as a “pedestrian scramble.”

The SFMTA began rolling out the current wave of painted bulb-outs in March on Howard, 16 months after installing the first set at four intersections on deadly Sixth Street.

A painted "safety zone" at Second Street and South Park. Photo: Nicole Schnedier, Walk SF/Twitter
A painted “safety zone” at Second Street and South Park. Photo: Nicole Schnedier, Walk SF/Twitter

SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire, who was tapped from New York City’s Department of Transportation and joined the SFMTA in October, has promised to speed up the delivery of safety fixes. If SF sticks to its promised rate of expansion, painted curb extensions are set to be as much a part of the agency’s regular toolkit as they are in NYC.

SFMTA emphasizes the term “safety zones” for legal reasons, said Jose. Safety zones, writes Jose, are not curb extensions, and people aren’t supposed to stand in them. “Since these are new to city streets, it’s important to know what painted safety zones are not.” This is different than New York, where painted sidewalk extensions are considered to be pedestrian areas.

SFMTA isn’t ready to finalize the rest of the locations set to get safety zones just yet, Jose told Streetsblog. But last week, the SFMTA Board of Directors approved two large ones at Division and Ninth Streets, scheduled for installation in the fall. Nearby at Division and Eighth Street, one of the city’s largest safety zones was installed at a traffic circle in April.

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