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Mayor Lee creates Vision Zero ‘rapid response team’ following public pressure over pedestrian deaths

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A woman with a stroller crosses the street at the intersection of 36th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard in the Sunset District. James Samiere, 47, was struck by a vehicle and killed near the intersection on Oct. 31, and local advocates claim overdue safety improvements may have contributed to Samiere’s death. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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A city policy meant to save money and neighborhood headaches may be slowing down street safety projects and costing people’s lives, according to local advocates, and Mayor Ed Lee is now putting pressure on city agencies to speed up those projects.

Lee directed the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Wednesday to create a “rapid response team” that goes out to sites of traffic-related fatalities and identifies immediate improvements at the intersections or corridors, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The policy in question is known colloquially as the “five-year rule,” and was enacted into The City’s charter in 1998. It dictates that when multiple agencies plan construction on a street or sidewalk for multiple projects within a five-year period, they should coordinate so a street is torn up just once.

When the rule was enacted, it was viewed as a way to save money and also save a neighborhood from enduring multiple rounds of construction on the same street, a street safety advocacy group said. Additionally, disagreement among the Port of San Francisco, the San Francisco Fire Department and the SFMTA led to delays.

But that rule has led to inter-agency morass as the SFMTA, Public Works and other city agencies struggle to coordinate to enact multiple projects in a single dig in a timely manner, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Walk San Francisco wrote in a public letter on Nov. 2.

“Our partnerships with other agencies are allowing for complete street projects that don’t just improve transportation, but protect and upgrade our city’s infrastructure,” said Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson.

“If there are delays,” he added, “we work together to do everything we can to speed up the process and minimize the impact to the communities involved.”

Lee also directed the SFMTA on Wednesday to explore speeding up all transportation and street projects that have Vision Zero benefits — meaning they engineer streets to be safer from collisions — that are more than 12 months away from starting construction.
Lastly, he directed the SFMTA to enact any near-term improvements for those same capital projects first.

Lee’s actions follow the death of a pedestrian, who was struck by a vehicle at 36th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard on Oct. 31, and subsequent public pressure from the Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF.

SEE RELATED: Man fatally struck by car on Sloat Boulevard ID’d

The coalition collected 257 signatures on a petition in the past six days urging Lee to solve the “failure to collaborate” among city agencies.

The bike coalition and Walk SF identified the 11th Street Improvement Project, The Embarcadero Enhancement Project, the Folsom-Howard Streetscape Project, the Townsend Corridor Improvement Project and the Upper Market Street Safety Project as having been delayed at least once due to a lack of inter-agency coordination.

The advocates also singled out Sloat Boulevard, the site where 47-year-old James Samiere was killed last month.

Public Works, Caltrans and the SFMTA plan to build pedestrian hybrid beacons to make 36th Avenue safer, as well as install “bulb-outs” to widen the curbs so pedestrians are less likely to be hit.

That intersection’s pedestrian improvements have been long-delayed due to inter-agency conflict, the advocates allege.

“As on many other dangerous streets in San Francisco, improvements have not come quickly enough, and a man has just paid the ultimate price as a result,” the advocates’ public letter reads.

Last month, the Examiner revealed the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project faces a potential two-year delay. In a San Francisco County Transportation Authority meeting in October, SFMTA staff said it was not their agency alone responsible for the delay, but elements under the purview of other city agencies and changes requested by the Board of Supervisors.

Those elements include an order for replica historic light poles for $6.5 million, unfunded sidewalk upgrades totaling $1.25 million and an $11 million claim for a sewer contract that delayed the project.

Improvements for bus speed, traffic safety, and more were delayed for new lights and sewer pipes, they said.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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