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SF rolls back robot delivery ban on sidewalks

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A Marble sidewalk delivery robot moves down Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District on July 21, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s proposed ban on sidewalk delivering robots got rolled back Tuesday.

Without the votes to pass a ban, Supervisor Norman Yee amended his proposal so that it won’t be an outright ban and sent it back to a board committee for further discussion.

Instead of a ban, Yee said will propose to allow robots in the development phase to obtain a city permit to test on sidewalks in limited areas of The City zoned for industrial uses, referred to as Production, Distribution and Repair districts.

SEE RELATED: SF sidewalk delivery robot ban advances toward approval

That largely includes areas of the South of Market and Potrero Hill neighborhoods, where one robotics company, Marble, is based.

Other restrictions include that robots would only travel 2 mph, and require a human to monitor the robot within 15 feet and provide global positioning data to city officials upon request. A labor harmony agreement is also included to help the Teamsters unionize the workforce at robotic companies. Marble and the Teamsters are in discussion about a labor agreement.

Yee pulled back on the ban amid mounting pressure by robot companies and businesses interests, but he said the amendments strike the right balance between innovation and pedestrian safety.

“I resolutely believe that our sidewalks should be prioritized for humans,” Yee said. “We do not allow bicycles and Segways on our sidewalks.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who passed a sidewalk Segway ban in 2002, recalled that at the time it was seen as a “radical notion.”

“A whole bunch of Silicon Valley bigwigs and investors and billionaires were pissed off about it but it has made our congested sidewalks more livable,” Peskin said, who called sidewalks “pretty sacred spaces for human beings.”

On that point, he said that most residents would agree robots don’t have a place on The City’s sidewalks and suggested that if the board doesn’t pass a law satisfying pedestrian safety advocates, such as Walk San Francisco, it will end up on the ballot next year.

Supervisor Mark Farrell said a ban was a mistake and was open to the amended proposal. “We should be embracing change and looking for ways to incorporate that as a city,” Farrell said.

After being amended, the legislation was referred back to a board’s committee for further discussion. Yee said he believes with the amendments that ultimately the board will approve it.

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