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Safety Activists Close a Lane on Franklin

Advocates, fed up with SFMTA's lack of action, closed one lane on one block outside Sherman Elementary. But the city that claims to never have resources to build safe streets turned it back into a surface-level freeway later the same morning

One lane finally closed on Franklin outside Sherman Elementary, at least for a couple of hours. Photos Streetsblog/Rudick

Two years after a motorist killed educator Andrew Zieman outside Sherman Elementary on the corner of Union and Franklin Street in San Francisco, a simple lane reduction was finally installed.

But that long-promised lane reduction wasn't done by the city in the pre-dawn hours Thursday. It was done by safety activists fed up with the lack of action. From Safe Street Rebel, the group behind the installation:

It’s been 28 months since beloved Sherman Elementary school teacher Andrew Zieman was struck and killed by a driver on Franklin Street. Last fall, after city engineers found the street still didn’t meet safety standards, SFMTA and Supervisor Stefani promised (…) a three-lane to two-lane road diet on Franklin to reduce speeding and protect the lives of pedestrians. With that promise unkept and no signs of progress to tame this dangerous speedway next to an elementary school, Safe Street Rebel is bringing the community together to make this street street safer ourselves before it claims any more victims.

When Streetsblog arrived around 7:40 a.m., some 20 protesters stood on the corners near the new installation holding signs demanding safe streets. James Moore, who has worked as a crossing guard at the school for 16 years, approved of what he saw, noting that he regularly sees drivers running the lights, speeding, and "on their cell phones. I blow my whistle and help the kids along." He agreed just reducing the street by one lane really helped.

School crossing guard James Moore said he continually sees drivers on their cell phones, not paying attention

"It's striking how easy this is to put in," said Franklin activist Shanan Delp. "Look how much safer it feels at this intersection."

Protesters in front of Sherman Market

Indeed, traffic seemed to flow just fine, and was perhaps even a bit smoother, with fewer cars racing up to the lights. "It finally feels more like a neighborhood street," said Katie Duerr, who also came to the protest. "With nearby Van Ness, making this a thoroughfare is so unnecessary."

"I was here two years ago when that teacher was killed," said Josh Kelly, who also joined the protest. "This street is not safe and the city hasn't taken any action." Protesters also noted that Catherine Stefani, the supervisor who represents the district, committed to improving the street when Zieman was killed, but never followed through.

In fairness, the city has taken some action—but only the bare minimum. They've installed plastic wedges at some of the corners to slow turns. And they added some plastic soft-hit posts to maintain daylighting. But, as previously reported, thanks to SFMTA's continued adherence to "level of service" dictates, the city refused to do a promised lane reduction to narrow the street and truly make it safer.

In fact, it was hard to distinguish the flimsy SFMTA installations from those installed by Safe Street Rebel.

I see crashes "every two or three months," explained Chris Shnoudi, owner of Sherman Market, a bodega on the corner. "The biggest one was the school teacher. The city never listens."

"I hope the city sees that people want the city to be safer," said Lian Chang, another of the protesters, during an interview with an ABC-7 TV news crew.

Protesters didn't install these plastic wedges. These are the city's feeble contribution—seen here on just two of the corners at Union and Franklin.

San Francisco Police officers dispatched to the scene said a city crew would be out shortly to remove the posts and re-establish all five lanes (two for parking, three for driving).

The same SFPD officer who was concerned about the safety of the installation opted not to park in the closed lane or in any of the many open parking spots and instead blocked the sidewalk on Union, forcing people to walk on the street

One of the police officers who spoke with Streetsblog opined that the lane reduction would "confuse drivers" and cause crashes and that the protesters should have gone through the proper processes with the city. The protesters did go through those procedures, only to have the lane reduction eliminated by SFMTA traffic engineers behind closed doors. Another officer complained that the unsanctioned installation was "drawing away city resources."

SFMTA claims it doesn't have the resources to install safety infrastructure quickly. But they can rip it out in a couple of hours.

By about 8 a.m., the protesters went home, hopeful that the presence of a TV crew might get the city to act. "I hope the city does something here," said Shnoudi. "We have the school kids."

Two hours later, as seen in the photo above, SFMTA crews were hard at work ripping everything out. By 11, Franklin was a wide, dangerous surface-level freeway again.

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