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Commentary: SFMTA Still Puts Cars over Safety on Franklin

3:10 PM PDT on November 3, 2022

Franklin at Geary. Despite this insanely wide street, SFMTA seems unwilling to consider a lane reduction. Photo: Shanan Delp.

As previously reported, despite a speeding motorist killing an elementary school employee a year ago, the city is pulling back its commitment to safety on Franklin Street in San Francisco. Shanan Delp, a leading advocate for improvements in the area, cc'd Streetsblog on a follow-up letter he sent to the SFMTA board, pleading with them to force the agency to prioritize safety over automobile throughput. With his permission, Streetsblog is sharing the letter with readers, since it sums up the situation concisely.

***

Hi SFMTA Board.

I'm a longtime resident of SF, and I have a car, a bike, and a clipper card. I use all the modes. I have a family and I live on Franklin Street.

Everyone who lives on one of San Francisco's multi-lane Arterials (Franklin, Gough, Bush, Pine, Fell, Oak, etc) knows that these designs are failures. Fundamentally, the idea of three to five one-way lanes pushing cars quickly through dense residential neighborhoods is wrong, and it was a mistake when these roads were reconfigured in the middle of the 20th century. Cars hurrying to "catch the light" and blocking crosswalks turning from one arterial to another is the world we live in today, often without any speed enforcement.

This is the original sin of San Francisco street safety, and we are all living with this. Every elected official in San Francisco, and every planner in SFMTA knows this. Everyone paying attention knows that traffic volume and traffic speeds are the problem.

A year ago, in November 2021, the inevitable happened on one of these arterials. Educator Andrew Zieman was struck and killed while he walked on the sidewalk across the street from Sherman Elementary school on Franklin and Union. Outrage followed, bold statements were made. In the aftermath of this tragedy everything was on the table.

But now what we have gotten, one year later, is a watered down "quick build" solution. It calls for some parking removal, some paint and posts applied to Franklin. It's not bad, and it is made up of a lot of good intentions. But it isn't "quick," and it isn't comprehensive. Perhaps if this plan had been proposed within weeks, as a first step, I would have gladly embraced it. But it's a year later, and it's not solving the underlying problems on this one single arterial.

The most upsetting part of this proposal is the absence of lane removal on Franklin Street. This lane removal scope that had been embraced by planners and leaders earlier this year has now been dropped. Dropped because of a "desire to maintain traffic flow." The lack of courage to remove lanes is the most significant failure on this project.

So I can not support this project. I can not support slow half measures from the SFMTA any more. I'm tired of fighting for paint and posts on one block at a time. I'm tired of "quick" project taking years, and using all that time to be watered down.

I'm asking for leaders to step up and acknowledge that multi-lane arterials are in direct conflict with the city's stated vision zero goals. I'm asking for citywide policies to be applied to the full length of arterials that are on the high injury network. I'm looking for city-wide policy solutions like:

    • Prohibitions on right turns on red at EVERY high injury network intersection.
    • Pedestrian bulb outs by default on ALL high injury network corners.
    • Removal of rush hour only lanes on arterials (these induce speeding, and often prevent pedestrian bulb outs from being installed).
    • Signal re-timing to slow traffic to 15 MPH on all high injury network arterials.
    • Finally, lane removal and lane narrowing (like we did on Mason Street in the tenderloin).

After all, it's official city and SFMTA policy that "Decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk space shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety." Franklin street is an opportunity for San Francisco leaders to deliver on this long-held promise, but this quick build isn't it.

I love San Francisco, but I have lost faith in these watered-down vision zero solutions. We'll need to be bold and city-wide in our steps to address pedestrian safety. This Franklin quick build project does not meet this bar.

Shanan

***

You can also contact the SFMTA board here.

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