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Right on red

SFMTA and Mayor Refuse to Support Citywide Ban on ‘Right on Red’

City to get "no turn on red" signs for 200 intersections, rather than an outright ban

Safety demands an end to right on red. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution last October written by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, "urging the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) to develop and implement a plan for No Turn On Red (NTOR) at every signalized intersection in San Francisco and approve a citywide NTOR policy."

However, the mayor is so far not backing the resolution. And, as explained in the Tweet below from safe-streets advocate Luke Bornheimer, although SFMTA is moving forward with a welcome expansion of No Turn on Red it's still not committing to a citywide ban.

Streetsblog readers will recall that in a recent campaign rally, Mayor London Breed promised to cut through red tape and she recommitted to Vision Zero.

"The Mayor mentions she is exploring the expansion of No Turn on Red (but explicitly not a citywide No Turn on Red policy) even though the Board of Supervisors already passed Supervisor Preston’s citywide NTOR Resolution unanimously, and she returned the Resolution unsigned," wrote Preston Kilgore, a spokesperson for Supervisor Dean Preston, in an email to Streetsblog. "Strange to support NTOR, but not a resolution that is in line with what you are calling for."

SFMTA banned right on red at intersections in the Tenderloin in 2021, and it was a clear success in reducing conflicts. So why would SFMTA engineers spend time studying and testing a slow roll-out of more NTOR instead of just adopting a citywide policy, as has existed for decades in New York and most cities in Europe? New York, after all, has done what San Francisco leaders say they want but repeatedly fail to do—make tangible progress in reducing traffic deaths and serious injuries.

The San Francisco Standard reports that "City Traffic Engineer Ricardo Olea approved the [200-intersection NTOR] project on Friday, and construction is set to run from this month to August 2025." Apparently, the point is to install them only in areas with lots of pedestrians. The Standard story also quotes SFMTA's Jeffrey Tumlin saying that "We do not have enough crews to be putting up thousands of metal signs all over the city" indicating that right on red is banned (there are 1,300 traffic-signal intersections in San Francisco, according to an SFMTA memo).

A look at where SFMTA will be adding NTOR signs (the Tenderloin isn't indicated).

Here's a reminder that this is the city that has resources and crews to remove and paint over a safety installation in an hour. Furthermore, according to internal memos shared with Streetsblog, one of the explanations for why SFMTA's engineers don't want a citywide ban is because NTOR is the primary and clear cause in only a relatively small percentage of serious crashes.

However, that misses the point of Vision Zero.

Tumlin's explanation doesn't make sense on another front: according to Kilgore, his office is calling for installing NTOR signs every time a street crew works on an intersection. That is a way of minimizing the resource issue. Moreover, by failing to implement a citywide policy, the agency is limiting its ability to apply for state and federal grants that would enable them to get more signs. "Without a citywide plan, or a plan at all, the City is unable to apply for funds to implement a NTOR proposal," said Preston.

What's Streetsblog's view: I grew up on Long Island, not far from the New York City border. It's where I learned to drive—and we all had it drummed into our heads that as soon as you go west of Little Neck, you're in NYC, and no more right on red. Things are different in San Francisco because of state laws, meaning that New York City doesn't have to post signs at every intersection indicating NTOR. But even without signs telling us what to do, we did not turn on red once in the city. That's because there's consistency, and drivers know what's expected of them inside the city limits.

Only an SFMTA engineer such as Olea, Tumlin, and apparently Mayor Breed would conclude that 200 additional intersections is enough, and that a citywide NTOR policy is not needed. Speeches and Vision Zero political rallies on the steps of City Hall will never make a real difference in crash statistics as long as the mayor doesn't follow through—and as long as she allows traffic engineers at SFMTA to water down or veto globally tested safety measures.

Note/update, April 4: in response to the question of whether Mayor Breed will back a citywide ban on right on red, a spokesperson wrote in an email to Streetsblog that the mayor has "... asked the SFMTA to bring a No Right on Red Policy to the SFMTA Board within the next three months to prioritize the treatment at intersections citywide."

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