Doubled fines fail to deter crashes

Doubling the traffic fines on city streets that also serve as highways does not prevent car crashes and pedestrian accidents on the busy thoroughfares, according to new statistics.

In January 2009, a new state law doubled the fines for traffic violations on two stretches of roadway in San Francisco — state Route 1 and U.S. Highway 101.

One year into the five-year trial period, however, accidents on one stretch of the roadway covered by the fines have increased by 40 percent, pointing to the ineffectiveness of the penalties alone to make the streets safer for cars and pedestrians.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, sought for years to implement the double-fine zone on state Route 1 through The City, a
5.2-mile stretch of road that includes 19th Avenue and Park Presidio. In a compromise to have the legislation passed, the double-fine zones included Highway 101 through The City, which includes Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street.

To act as a test, Lombard Street and Van Ness Avenue doubled the fines for traffic violations. On the 19th Avenue corridor, however, a series of other traffic-calming measures were implemented, including a recent speed limit reduction, intersection “bulb-outs” that shorten the sidewalk-crossing lengths at intersections and more pedestrian countdown signals.

The number of traffic collisions on Van Ness Avenue increased by 40 percent in the past year, according to statistics on the two roadways.

The number of accidents the on 19th Avenue corridor decreased.

Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said the double-fine zones need more examination, but he conceded that, “while it’s tough to base things on a one-year study, if you were to do that, you could conclude that the double-fine zone doesn’t seem to work in and alone of itself.”

Keigwin said Yee never contended that double-fine zones were the sole panacea for deterring traffic accidents — his ultimate goal was to improve safety conditions on 19th Avenue, which did see a drop in injury collisions during the last year.

Manish Champsee, president of Walk San Francisco, a local pedestrian-advocacy group, said he was “very surprised” about the increased number of traffic collision incidents on Van Ness Avenue.

“I’m glad to see we’ve had an improvement on 19th Avenue, but it’s hard to believe that with the existence of a double-fine [zone] on Van Ness Avenue we’d see such a big jump in the number of accidents,” Champsee said.

Champsee agreed with Keigwin that the double-fine zones are not a “magic bullet” and that they work best with other traffic-calming tools.

He believes that state and city officials should now shift their focus to determine the root cause for the accident increase on Van Ness Avenue.

Yee’s legislation doubles the base fine for motorists violating traffic laws. For example, a driver caught speeding up to 15 miles over the limit normally faces a base fine of $25, but with the legislation, that total increased to $50. With additional local, state and court fees, the total ticket cost rose from $87.50 to $112.50.


Safety upgrades

Steps that have been taken in addition to the double-fine zone on the 19th Avenue corridor:

•Reduced speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph
•Installed pedestrian countdowns at crosswalks
•Upgraded traffic signals
•Increased visibility of overhead signage
•Installed bulb-outs at intersections to reduce length of street crossings

Source: SFCTA, Caltrans

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