SPUR Talk: Checking in on Vision Zero

SFMTA crews improving crosswalk viability. Photo: SFMTA.
SFMTA crews improving crosswalk viability. Photo: SFMTA.

“Every year, 360 people are killed in the Bay Area as a result of traffic crashes,” said Jenn Fox, with the Vision Zero Network. “Each of these tragedies is a person–a family member, a community member … we must get over our complacency.”

Fox gave these morbid statistics as part of a review of the founding principles and policies behind ‘Vision Zero,’ during a talk this afternoon in SPUR’s San Francisco location. The panel, which included advocates and representatives from transportation agencies, was an update and review of the programs, plans and efforts to eliminate traffic deaths in the Bay Area. “22 cities in the US are committed to Vision Zero,” she said. “So much of the work happens at a city level, but it’s a regional issue and a national issue.”

A chart reminding people that speed kills. Image: Vision Zero Coalition
A chart reminding people that speed kills. Image: Vision Zero Coalition

Achieving those goals takes data, a change in cultural priorities, getting motorist to drive at safe speeds, and, above all, money. Distributing money for Vision Zero programs is, in large part, the job of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). Anne Richman of the MTC reviewed some of her agency’s grant programs. Those include the One Bay Area Grant (OBAG), that offers about $350 million to counties, over a five year program, for safety projects. They also administer the Active Transportation Program (ATP), at $19 million per year, the ‘Lifeline’ program, which goes to safety projects in traditionally poor and working class areas, and ‘Safe Routes to Transit,’ a $20 million grant. She also talked about Regional Measure 3, a bridge-toll increase that, if it gets on the ballot and is passed by voters, would provide $150 million towards complete streets programs.

Clarrissa Cabansagan was there for the advocacy group Transform. She argued that efforts to achieve Vision Zero have to be addressed differently in minority and low income areas. “African-American children are two times more likely to be killed while walking than white children,” she said. “There’s a vicious cycle of a lack of investment in transportation choices for these communities.”

She talked about some of the southeastern communities of San Francisco, and how “There is a lack of choices, a lack of affordable housing, and that ties into why people use cars.” She showed a photograph of a sidewalk in West Oakland that was completely obstructed by garbage. “There’s so much illegal dumping on the sidewalk… garbage on the streets is a visceral reality for some communities,” she said, making the point that when existing sidewalks are completely blocked by trash and encampments, talk of safe bike lanes, safer crossings, etc. can seem downright absurd. After all, if residents can’t even use the sidewalk, what difference does it make if the city adds bulbouts or the crosswalk is improved?

Transform's Clarrissa Cabansagan made the point that when existing sidewalks are completely blocked off by trash and encampments, talk of safety improvements to the sidewalk seem premature (and perhaps even absurd) to the community. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Transform’s Clarrissa Cabansagan made the point that when existing sidewalks are completely blocked off by trash and encampments, talk of safety improvements to the sidewalk seem premature (and perhaps even absurd) to the community. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The last speaker on the panel, SFMTA’s Luis Montoya, reviewed the history of San Francisco’s commitment to Vision Zero–which became official policy in 2014, although he said the agency was working on Vision Zero issues long before that. “By setting the goal to zero, you’re saying that all [traffic] deaths are preventable.” One of the simplest ways to move the city in that direction is through Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE)–cameras that automatically ticket speeders, he said. But ASE is currently illegal in California and attempts to get legislation to authorize a pilot ASE program in San Francisco and San Jose have failed so far, although efforts continue.” ASE would be a game changer, to multiply the effects of traffic enforcement,” he said, adding that it’s “a color-blind way” to do traffic enforcement.

Unfortunately, the speakers had to report that, thus far, Vision Zero efforts are showing only marginal–at best–results. As Montoya reported, there are still about 30 people who die every year in San Francisco and that number, although there are some hopeful signs, isn’t showing definitive signs of improving. He added, hopefully, that streets may be getting safer, but the death rate may be flat because of the increase in San Francisco’s population. Richman said that MTC is looking at traffic deaths as a health crisis, and, despite some progress, their figures also show that the Bay Area is not on track towards Vision Zero. That data, by the way, is available for public study on the MTC’s ‘Vital Signs’ webpage.

VitalSigns
A screenshot of MTC’s ‘Vital Signs’ traffic death data. Image: MTC

“Even though the Bay Area is a very progressive place, with political leadership around Vision Zero, we have big push-back on projects,” said Montoya. “We still have 50 percent of trips happening by auto, so while we’re trying to redesign our streets, we have to keep in mind the political realities on our projects … and we still have a culture that prioritizes speed over safety.” He said that it’s a challenge convincing people that adding bike lanes will cause motor traffic to improve, but he pointed out that the evidence is there. “After the Loma Prieta earthquake, roads fell,” he said, and that reduced demand for traffic (sort of ‘induced demand’ in reverse). “Traffic actually did go away.”

That said, all of the speakers stressed the importance of thinking regionally and not focusing too much on downtown San Francisco. “It’s important to realize how privileged you are if you can walk or bike to transit or your destination,” said Cabansagan. “But 81 percent of low-income families are still driving to work, so think about prioritizing investment in suburbs, where people often don’t even have sidewalks and they can’t think about walking to a strip mall–even when it’s just down the block.” She encouraged investment in programs such as ‘Safe Routes to Transit.’ “Concord was able to plan a pedestrian and bike master plan…let’s make it possible for people to chose a different behavior.”

Jenn Fox, Luis Motoya, Clarrissa Cabansagan and Anne Richman, with Nick Josefowitz, who intro'd the panel, at the podium. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Jenn Fox, Luis Motoya, Clarrissa Cabansagan and Anne Richman, with Nick Josefowitz, who intro’d the panel, at the podium. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

For more events like these, visit SPUR’s events page.

  • Eric Johnson

    If the best photo you can come up with is of painting a picture of a pedestrian bulbout, it just shows how unserious SF is about Vision Zero.

  • Maurice

    San Francisco City Government needs a culture change if it wants to be taken seriously. Brown paint applied once, and not maintained, is not a serious policy.

    Wonder what it will take to change this culture?

  • Corvus Corax

    It took two cyclist’s deaths on the same day for our big-money mayor to step out for a photo-op, of him with a shovel in his hands (yeah, right) to build a few speed-humps in Golden Gate Park.

    It would be very inexpensive to put parking-protected bike-lanes on Valencia (one of the scariest places to cycle) – they have been yakking about doing that for such a long time, but where are the results? They manages to install two blocks of PP bike lanes starting two blocks south of Cesar Chavez and ending at Cesar Chavez, the only place on Valencia that has little traffic and where the PP lane is not needed. But where are they on the crowded strip of Valencia? All they need is some paint and signage; no big expensive infrastructure needed.

    But where is it? Why is SF not stepping forward with Vision Zero?

  • Maurice

    I think it’ll take a new mayor who either cares passionately about street safety, or one who feels like he/she can garner coverage with the issue.

    Or one with vision.

  • Corvus Corax

    ditto

  • Harris

    You answered your own question. So-called “parking protected” bike lanes won’t work on Valencia because it is so crowded, at least in the evenings. The crowds on the sidewalk would simply spill out onto the bike lane if they were adjacent to the sidewalk.

    In fact, even with the bike lane where it is, I sometimes walk along the bike lane to get away from the hordes. But locating it on the nearside of the parking would see many more do that, not to mention wheelchairs, skateboarders, shopping carts, strollers etc.

    Your average speed would decline dramatically even if there was a marginal increase in your perception of safety.

  • Corvus Corax

    This is another sockpuppet of RichLL

  • Harris

    And it’s another successful argument that defeats your point, so you try and deflect with personal attacks and snide allegations. You quite simply cannot refute me.

    Nearside bike lanes are not viable on Valencia, and similar pedestrian-heavy arteries. The authorities, voters and decision-makers understand that; you do not.

  • Harris

    The mayors we elect are typically fairly similar to each other. I can’t recall the city every having “green party” type mayor although the odd one sneaks in as a supervisor.

    The reality is that although cyclists punch above their weight, due to being mostly professional white males who know how to work the system, they are still a small minority – the real votes are with the 70% plus of SF voters who drive.

  • That’s my wittle HarryWitchll decwawing his own victowy.
    So Cute!

  • Harris

    If you were capable of refuting me you would. The puerile nonsense tells readers that you cannot.

  • Bernard Finucane

    It’s really hard to find an intersection in San Francisco that isn’t poorly designed. The traffic engineers just don’t seem to have the instincts they need to see it.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Yep. It’s back.

  • Parque_Hundido

    OMG, it’s the same signature: vapid, content free posts peppered with wild-eyed, baseless bravado. What you lack in knowledge you more than make up for in unwarranted confidence.

  • Harris

    Why are you?

  • Harris

    Who are you?

  • Harris

    They are only “poorly designed” if your idea of what they should look like is at odds with what the majority think. Intersections are designed to maximize throughput. They are not designed to make very cycling snowflake feel special and loved.

    Designing an intersection to suit a 3% modal share would be poor planning. The economy comes first.

  • Parque_Hundido

    You know who I am. And you know very well that I know who and what you are. Quit while you’re ahead.

  • Parque_Hundido

    Care to write a complete sentence? A thought?

  • Harris

    You are not known here.

  • Harris

    You seem to be new here. It behooves newcomers here to respect the rgulars

  • Harris

    We don’t know you here.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I think the casualty figures speak for themselves.

    Incidentally, being insulting does not make you look smart.

  • Harris

    But do they speak for how the voters see it?

  • Bernard Finucane

    Hmm, your story has changed. You are wrong about maximizing throughput, and you realize that I’m not impressed by your insults, so now you are pretending not to care about engineering issues and be a man of the people.

  • citrate reiterator

    at least someone’s modding the latest gish gallops these days

  • Corvus Corax

    Curse you, you made me work! I had no idea what your comment meant, not ever having heard some of the words before. But I googled gish-gallop and found a long article about it, pretty much understood it, but got interested and hadda read the whole thing. (Now my brain hurts). But I am grateful as I got to use gish-gallop to a commenter this very morning! I also read about modding, pretty much got it in relation to computers, but I still don’t get it in this context. I would welcome a translation: I may bitch and moan, but I really do like to learn. Cheers.

  • citrate reiterator

    haha whoops, sorry to be opaque! I meant “modded” as short for “moderated,” as in, the bad-faith trolling was finally getting deleted.

  • Corvus Corax

    Ok, I absolutely agree. I despaired it would never happen. Thanks for the translation. Cheers.

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