Two cyclists died in crashes last week on San Francisco’s streets.
Kate Slattery and Heather Miller were struck and killed by vehicles on June 22 in separate incidents on Howard and 7th streets and in Golden Gate Park, respectively.
In the wake of their deaths, seething frustration is bubbling from the cycling community. Street deaths are preventable, they say, but The City is failing to act. There’s even an argument about whether city officials are accurately representing how many safety projects are actually in the pipeline.
In the last week, at least two cyclists, as traffic vigilantes, took to the streets to stop cars from entering bike lanes. On Tuesday, Supervisor Jane Kim called for a special hearing on street safety.
And Thursday afternoon, the politically powerful San Francisco Bicycle Coalition rattled the chains of city officials to act.
At a regular street safety meeting of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, nearly 50 cyclists and other advocates packed the small City Hall hearing room. Many cyclists wore yellow stickers that read “Enough is enough.”
The Vision Zero committee hearing is a regular event, chaired by Supervisor Norman Yee. There, officials called on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and others to address public safety concerns.
Vision Zero is San Francisco’s goal of reaching zero annual traffic fatalities by 2024.
In a display of unity, two supervisors who are also state senate rivals — Kim and Scott Wiener — agreed safer streets must come soon.
“The importance of this work is highlighted every time we lose a life in San Francisco,” Kim said.
“We need to stop the excuses and get this done,” said Wiener, who is also the SFCTA board president.
Tom Maguire, head of the SFMTA’s sustainable streets, told the committee the two women’s deaths were results of “criminal acts,” referring to the alleged drunk driver who killed Slattery, and the alleged car thief who killed Miller.
Lisa Yu, a youth advocate with the Chinatown Community Development Center, said the SFMTA only agreed to two specific Chinatown safety projects after two seniors were killed in separate traffic collisions.
“Death has been an initiative of putting things into action,” Yu said.
Elisabeth Snider, a 27-year-old mother who attended the meeting with her three children, told the board she bikes the section of Golden Gate Park where Miller was killed — on John F. Kennedy Drive at 30th Avenue — every day with her kids.
“There’s no enforcement. Cars speed, [and] they don’t give right-of-way where the sharrows are,” she said. There are no buffered or protected lanes on the roadway there.
Snider’s son Gideon shouted, “We need better bike lanes!” to the amusement of the audience.
Randall Dietel, a San Francisco bike messenger, stood up from his bike to police a Golden Gate Avenue bike lane on June 28, as he recorded many motorists entering the bike lane to circumvent gridlocked traffic.
Police should enforce bike lanes, he said at Thursday’s meeting.
One point of contention at the meeting was over an announcement released by the Mayor’s Office on Thursday touting 57 high-priority Vision Zero projects “to keep streets safe,” including construction, education and enforcement.
But bicycle advocates questioned whether all 57 initiatives are actually new.
“The press release sent out by The Mayor’s Office presents [these safety projects] as new,” said Margaret McCarthy, interim executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “That is not correct.”
Some of the projects are even currently underway, McCarthy said, adding, “We are shocked by this seeming attempt to mislead the press, and the city of San Francisco.”
Maguire confirmed to reporters outside the meeting that none of the projects announced Thursday were newly created.
However, he said, “Some are new this year.”
Deirdre Hussey, spokesperson for Mayor Ed Lee, said the announced projects have dedicated funding and a timeline for completion in the next year.
“Since 2010, we have worked with the Bicycle Coalition to identify projects that would make our city streets safer and have created 74 miles of new and upgraded bikeways,” Hussey told the San Francisco Examiner in an email. “This year will add about another 20 miles. Our streets look very differently than they did six years ago and that is because of our commitment to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.”
There are eight miles of new bicycle network improvement projects underway this year, according to the SFMTA, with 19.8 miles of bicycle network improvements currently underway.
“To hear that we’re recycling projects as new initiatives I think is disingenuous to the public,” Kim said. “We have to put forward new projects.”
Mayor Lee met with the bicycle coalition the day after Slattery and Miller were killed. He wrote in a letter to them, “I am outraged at the horrific hit and run incidents.”
Lee said his staff will help coordinate “regular meetings” with the bike coalition to improve street safety.