Guest Editorial: Safety Must Come First on Taraval

Concrete boarding islands (right) make streets safer than letting people board in the middle of the street (left). Photo: SFMTA

Every day 29,000 Muni riders and countless walkers travel on Taraval Street, one of the city’s 12 percent of streets responsible for over 70 percent of traffic deaths and life-changing injuries. On average, every five and-a-half weeks someone is hit while walking on Taraval.

This afternoon, walkers and MUNI riders will have a once-in-a-generation chance as the SFMTA Board of Directors considers a proposal to reshape this deadly street into a safe place for everyone.

But whether the SFMTA will deliver a life-saving project, or a watered-down conciliation that will continue to put our fellow community members’ lives at risk, is yet to be seen.

Nearly three years ago, the City of San Francisco adopted Vision Zero–the goal to end all severe and fatal traffic crashes by 2024. Under Vision Zero, no loss of life on our transportation system is acceptable, because traffic crashes are preventable; they are not helpless “accidents” without solutions. In Sweden, where Vision Zero originated, engineers hold themselves responsible, declaring, “In every situation a person may fail, the road system should not.”

The result is the lowest traffic death rate in the world.

San Francisco became a national leader by adopting Vision Zero–a data-driven, morally sound commitment to end the unnecessary and inequitable carnage on our streets. But will the city hold true to the proud words adopted in their policy statements by building the life-saving projects necessary to reach Vision Zero by 2024?

On Taraval Street, both crash patterns and solutions are clear.

Fifty percent of crashes happen when people get on or off the L at stops without boarding islands, because people are forced to step into moving traffic.

The solution is simple: add boarding islands.

The remaining 50 percent of crashes are related to behaviors such as failure to yield and speeding, where, again, there are proven solutions to slowing speeds and making pedestrians more visible.

Instead of these clear-cut solutions, SFMTA is planning to pilot “stop here” painted markings at five of the 16 stops, appeasing complaints about parking relocation required to make space for concrete boarding islands. Worse yet, even if 10 percent of vehicles never yield at these stops, after the pilot, the paint treatment will become permanent. Would you accept a guaranteed 10 percent failure rate for you and your loved ones?

In addition, treatments to prevent the remaining 50 percent of crashes along Taraval are meager at best: only six intersections along the 31-block project will receive improvements, leaving dozens of intersections by schools and senior zones unsafe.

After the Mayor’s recent Executive Directive, which calls for the highest quality Vision Zero infrastructure, will the city adopt deficient projects that continue to put lives at risk?

Join us in demanding more by signing our petition.

Nicole Ferrara is Executive Director of Walk San Francisco

The SFMTA Board will hear public comment today, Tuesday, Sept. 20, on the L-Taraval project at 1 p.m., City Hall Room 400, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl., S.F.

  • This isn’t rocket science, folks and shouldn’t be an issue. Concrete boarding islands are available on every single surface line, minus the L-Taraval. Just do it and while you’re at it remove more stops. Surface stops should be 4 blocks minimum from each other. Paratransit is available if you require special assistance. If the elderly can use the NYC subway without a problem, people can walk one or two extra blocks to wait for their train on a safe, boarding island.

  • Boarding islands. While a great concept and used somewhat effectively on other MUNI lines, the problem with Taraval is that the islands will have to accommodate 2-car trains. There are several islands on Ocean that are still too short for the 1-car Bredas. If done, the islands must be able to handle the full length of the train. Also, the question of ADA compatibility. Should all islands be ADA complaint and provide a ramp?

    Another concern that’s more annoying, but still needs mentioning, is the egregious usage of advertising on trains that covers windows and doors to the point that even in daylight it’s difficult to see outside, including oncoming traffic.

  • The right to get on and off transit without risk of death or injury is a higher, more fundamental human right than the right to park one’s car conveniently. However happy (and adamant!) Taraval residents might be to sacrifice their neighbors’ lives and health on the altar of their driving convenience, it is not ethical for the city to choose to do so. And just because the city in the past has prioritized driver convenience over health and safety does not make it ethical to continue to do so.

    That the SFMTA would propose a substandard design that they know is unsafe and that will lead to death and injury seems to me grounds for a lawsuit each and every time anyone is injured or killed on the flawed painted boarding areas.

  • gneiss

    It’s unfortunate that no one can be held personally financially responsible for the decisions that make these unsafe conditions. The fact of the matter is, it’s city taxpayers that suffer in such a lawsuit. In the end, transit riders are shafted twice. Once for unsafe boarding zones, and a second time for reduced service from money lost due to payouts of lawsuits resulting from those conditions.

  • I ride this line every day and I’ve seen my fair share of drivers blowing by when people are trying to get on/off. One of the problems is that some drivers don’t know where the stops are. It’s not like they are clearly marked (yellow paint on a pole), but it’s still no excuse. “Stop Here” painted on the street really isn’t going to solve the more pressing problem of rider safety. It’s ridiculous that other streets get boarding islands but Taraval does not. Merchants/neighbors who have signed petitions blocking boarding islands should be help accountable for any injuries or damages.

  • zippy_monster

    Sure you can hold them responsible. Don’t shop at those merchants, and most importantly TELL the merchants why you won’t spend your money at their businesses. For a list of merchants that are supporting Albert Chow check out:

    * Parkside Mailboxes
    * Rolling Out Cafe
    * Sam and Associates
    * Albert Chow’s very own Great Wall Hardware
    * K-Net Karaoke
    * Avenues Pet Hospital
    * Ninki Sushi
    * Sterling Bank and Trust

    These are the businesses who think that their profits are more important than your safety.

  • SF Guest

    Has the City of SF and/or SFMTA been served with any lawsuits for unsafe boarding zones? If yes that would be sufficient ammo to change the current configuration.

  • p_chazz

    The City has more resources to defend lawsuits than litigants have to bring them. For the City, it’s just part of the cost of doing business

  • SF Guest

    Agreed. The impending tree litigation will be an interesting one.

  • dat

    Well God bless these brave merchants for standing up for our God given right to go speeding up and down residential streets! Someone needed to stand up for us!

  • neroden

    All new islands are *required* to be ADA compliant, no exceptions. That’s what the ADA is all about. (There’s actually an exception for stations which board directly from the street, or from the sidewalk, but an island isn’t the sidewalk. It’s best practice to have ADA compliance with sidewalk extensions too, though.)


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