After a dangerous 2009, traffic accidents dropped dramatically last year in four double-fine zones in San Francisco, including a 35 percent decrease on 19th Avenue. The decline seems to spell success for this form of accident deterrence.
For years, local state Sen. Leland Yee tried to pass a law that would double the cost of traffic fines on 19th Avenue, a busy thoroughfare that doubles as state Highway 1.
He succeeded in 2009, on the condition that similar zones were implemented on Lombard Street and Van Ness Avenue, which collectively comprise U.S. Highway 101 in The City.
In 2009, the first year the double fines were implemented, the policy appeared to fail. Traffic accidents, including pedestrian injuries, rose on Van Ness and 19th avenues, and decreased only slightly on Lombard Street.
However, 2010 statistics show a different story. Compared to 2009, accidents dropped by 29.3 percent on Van Ness, 35.1 percent on 19th and 73.2 percent on Lombard. Accidents on Park Presidio Boulevard, which was included in the study because it acts as state Highway 1, decreased by 32.5 percent.
In 2007 alone, there were four deaths on 19th Avenue. There has been just one since.
Yee said a combination of several traffic-calming methods is the best way to combat accidents, but double fines can be the ultimate deterrent.
“The double-fine zone is sort of the big hammer that comes down,” Yee said. “When you add this method to the equation, you see a consistent drop.”
San Francisco police Capt. Al Casciato attributed the drop in accidents to greater awareness of the higher fines.
Yet Susan Shaheen of UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center said the accident decline could be attributed to several different factors. The struggling economy, construction in the affected areas and underreporting might all have played a role in the change.
Increased fines have not improved pedestrian safety on Van Ness Avenue — from 2008 to 2010, pedestrian injuries increased from nine to 30.
Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of pedestrian-advocacy organization Walk SF, said it was a shame that Van Ness Avenue has not received the same array of traffic-calming measures as 19th Avenue.
Over the years, 19th Avenue has benefitted from significant traffic-calming measures, including signal upgrades, lower speed limits and increased enforcement. Lombard and Van Ness have not received similar attention, so they were included in the state legislation as a control to determine the effectiveness of double fines as a sole deterrent.
“Double fines are a good start, but we need a more complete redesign of our streets to make it safer for everyone,” Stampe said. “It shouldn’t take some people dying to achieve that.”
The double fines apply to the base citation fine. In the zones, a motorist driving 16 to 25 mph over the speed limit would have their base fine doubled from $25 to $50. Along with other fees, the total cost of the fine would rise from $175 to $225.