Commute speeds have slowed down for San Francisco drivers

That morning drive to work is getting a lot slower for San Francisco motorists.

Average traffic speeds on The City’s streets and highways have fallen in the past two years, including a 17 percent drop on local freeways during the morning commute.

Click on the photo at right to see a comparison of average speeds between 2009 and 2011.

In 2009, drivers on thoroughfares such as Interstate Highway 280 and U.S. Highway 101 moved at an average of 48.9 mph. Now, those speeds have dropped to 40.6 mph, according to a new traffic report by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, a local planning body.

The authority examined speed levels in four traffic categories — portions of state highways in The City during the morning and evening commutes, and local city streets or “arterial” routes over the same time periods. In all four areas, traffic speeds dropped, with the biggest decrease coming during the morning highway commute.

Gary Drew, an East Bay resident who commutes to San Francisco and drives frequently in The City, said he has noticed traffic slowing down “a bit” over the past few years.

“I try and plan out my commute around the worst traffic times here,” Drew said. “But it’s always pretty tough doing that. It’s hard to say how much slower traffic is, but I know it’s definitely not getting any faster.”

Michael Schwartz, an authority planner who helped compile the report, said the Bay Area’s economic recovery could be responsible for the slower traffic speeds during the morning commute.

“In 2009, we basically saw the trough of the recession,” said Schwartz. “We’re seeing that some people are coming back to work, so that puts more cars on the road.”

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy organization, said the drop in speed limits on arterial roads is a welcome development for walkers.

“It is good news if we have somewhat safer speeds on these wide, fast dangerous streets, because that is where the majority of people get hit and killed in San Francisco,” Stampe said. “A small reduction in travel speeds can save lives.”

While drivers found themselves moving slower during morning hours, the report found that travel times during the evening commute hadn’t changed much from two years ago.

Tilly Chang, the authority’s deputy planning director, said traffic speeds slowed the most during the morning because that is the region’s most concentrated work commute time. Traffic trends were less stark in the evening, because commuters tend to depart for home at more varying times, she said.

Even sluggish drivers are still besting Muni

Muni buses travel less than 4 mph on some city roads, and on many streets cars move several times faster than their public transportation counterparts, according to a new report by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

On a section of Main Street in the South of Market district, Muni buses moved at an average of just 3.6 mph, the slowest pace recorded in the authority’s congestion management report. By contrast, cars travel at 14.3 mph on that same stretch — roughly four times faster than Muni.

Gaping speed discrepancies between Muni vehicles and cars can be found on streets all over The City. On portions of Van Ness Avenue, Muni buses move at 5.5 mph, whereas private cars travel at 21.9 mph. Transit vehicles travel at 5.3 mph on segments of North Point, yet autos move at 20.2 mph.

Tilly Chang, the authority’s deputy planning director, said data from the report is further evidence for the need of a bus rapid transit network and more dedicated transit lanes in The City.

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