City government knows which streets are most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, and they are flagged for safety improvements.
But a review of those projects by The San Francisco Examiner shows that most have long been delayed, even though they target areas where the most pedestrian deaths occur — 70 percent of crashes occur on 12 percent of roads.
Geary Boulevard is one such road. On March 11, The City’s first pedestrian collision death of the year occurred when 87-year old Alfred Lee was struck by a car failing to yield. On March 2, bicyclist Charles Vinson was fatally struck by a car at 14th and Folsom streets.
The March 11 incident comes as a test for The City’s Vision Zero policy, which aims to end pedestrian deaths by 2024 by re-engineering streets to make them safer, increasing street-safety education and improving enforcement of traffic laws.
City leaders have known for at least five years that Geary Boulevard is unsafe to walk along, transportation-safety advocates say, yet streetscape changes have been delayed. Mayor Ed Lee is now facing a challenge on The City’s pedestrian-safety policies.
“Mayor Lee says he’s committed to Vision Zero, so it’s time for him to break away from the years of delay that have plagued safety fixes for people who walk [and] bike,” said Noah Budnick, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Nearly every Vision Zero project Lee identified for safety improvement was delayed, while others were dropped altogether.
In 2014, San Francisco had the highest number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities since 2007 with 17.
Safety advocates “continued to put pressure on The City to act,” Natalie Burdick of Walk San Francisco told The Examiner, adding that in some cases, only pedestrian deaths spurred The City to speed completion of safety projects.
And Tyler Frisbee, policy director at the bike coalition, said the list of delayed projects grows longer by the day.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency confirmed these delays. Though 12 Vision Zero projects have been completed, they were all postponed by months. Even now, streetscape projects on Eddy and Ellis streets were pushed back from December 2015 to August 2016, and six other major streetscape projects citywide were delayed as well. Another safety project was abandoned altogether.
Two weeks ago, the mayor announced his two-year action plan to tackle those and other delayed projects. The projects were chosen, Frisbee said, because they are in high-risk areas where injuries and fatalities occur.
“The entire reason they were chosen is that they are known high-injury locations, where the need for improvement is critical and the improvements were believed to be easily and quickly fixable,” Frisbee said.
The fact that these projects have been delayed, she said, “undermines the entire reason for their original existence.”
THE MAYOR’S TAKE
Amid the slowdown on safety projects, Lee made a comment to Streetsblog that set off activists.
“We shouldn’t promote bicycle safety over pedestrian safety over cars and parking,” Lee said after a Streetsblog reporter asked why decisions were made to curtail some Polk Street bicycling improvements in favor of parking. “I think they’re all going to be important.” The Examiner asked him to clarify his remarks at the news conference held after Yee’s death.
“What I was trying to say was that MTA has a very difficult time in determining, particularly on Polk Street, the level of things that have to occur there, that will seek some kind of balance on the different interests,” Lee said.
The mayor countered criticism over the slow pace of projects by pointing out that voters in November approved a $500 million bond to fund transit-related projects.
“I say we’re doing the best we can,” he said.
As for redesign efforts on The City’s most dangerous streets being delayed for years, “some streets take a little longer time,” Lee said.
“We’re completely redesigning some streets,” he added. “We’re doing this at a pace where you’ll see it very shortly, some of the more complicated streets are getting finishing touches.”
The bike coalition and Walk San Francisco have urged the mayor to take a stronger stand on Vision Zero goals.
“Deaths and serious injuries are preventable, not accidents,” Burdick said.