SFMTA wants Tenderloin speed limits lowered to 20mph

If approved, it would be the first neighborhood-wide speed treatment

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency wants to lower the speed limit across the Tenderloin to 20 miles per hour, making it the first neighborhood in San Francisco to have widespread speed reductions, the agency announced Wednesday.

Speed is considered the single most important factor in determining whether someone will survive traffic crashes. The Tenderloin has the highest rate of pedestrian severe injuries and fatalities citywide, according to the SFMTA.

In fact, the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Safety Committee unanimously passed a resolution last October calling for speed limits to be capped at 20mph citywide in an effort to save lives.

An average of one person is hit walking or biking every nine days on Golden Gate Avenue or Leavenworth Street, two of the Tenderloin’s primary corridors, and 47 percent of those crashes are caused by drivers failing to yield, running a red light or speeding, according to city data.

“There is no Vision Zero without huge systemic investment in making the Tenderloin safer,” Evan Oravec, co-chair of the Tenderloin Traffic Safety Task Force, said of San Francisco’s pledge to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2024.

The state holds the power to set speed limits in most cases, but a loophole allows The City to justify the need for lower speeds using speed surveys. Many of the Tenderloin’s main corridors have already been surveyed and deemed eligible for the reduction of five miles per hour, and the rest are set to be evaluated in the coming weeks.

“The streets of the Tenderloin are finally getting the pedestrian and street safety improvements they need, and the best part is, the changes are happening in partnership with the people who live and work there,” District Six Supervisor Matt Haney said.

SFMTA will also propose ‘no turn on red’ restrictions at approximately 50 intersections throughout the Tenderloin neighborhood. From 2014 to 2018, 103 pedestrian crashes involved vehicles turning on red, with the majority clustered in the Tenderloin, Vision Zero data shows.

Both these proposals require approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors. Multi-lingual community outreach has already begun in partnership with Haney’s office and local organizations.

‘Decades of neglect’

The coronavirus pandemic has made more visible many of the longstanding challenges facing the Tenderloin, one of The City’s densest neighborhoods where roughly half of residents live below the poverty line and two-thirds identify as persons of color.

Two of its central bus lines disappeared in April with Muni service cuts, and it took nearly six months for the neighborhood to successfully lobby for changes that gave more space to pedestrians and opened up streets for people and businesses.

Local organizers say the challenges faced by the Tenderloin are the consequence of decades of neglect from The City. Recent efforts to enhance street safety are a meaningful start to rectify the longstanding feeling of many locals that those in power simply don’t care about them, but only a start.

“Streets can be safer. We know how to do it. It’s just a matter of not neglecting these corridors and taking pedestrian safety seriously,” Oravec said. “And the reason every intersection in the Tenderloin is more dangerous than average is decades of neglect.”

Most immediately, SFMTA will start on two Quick Builds, a strategy to swiftly improve road safety using low-cost, reversible traffic tools. The first will be on Golden Gate Avenue between Market and Polk streets, and the second on Leavenworth Street from McAllister to Post streets.

Measures under consideration include protected bicycle lanes; the removal of metered parking spaces in areas that don’t provide cars access to essential services; the reduction of travel lanes; painted safety zones; protected left turns and traffic signal retiming.

Members of the public can see details and submit feedback through virtual open houses that run through Jan. 8.

“No one should have to live in fear of being struck by a car or not having enough physically-distant sidewalk space to walk down the street,” Haney said. “Lowering speeds, expanding sidewalks, opening streets up to pedestrians, are especially critical for this dense neighborhood.”

Oravec called the two Quick Build projects an “important step” in advancing street safety improvements in the neighborhood. The task force he sits on has worked closely with partners at SFMTA to come up with creative solutions unique to the Tenderloin’s needs and effectively communicate with residents.

As to whether efforts during and around the coronavirus pandemic signal the beginnings of a new relationship between the neighborhood and The City, he says, “well, let’s see what 2021 looks like.”

“If we don’t have serious change in the coming years, we aren’t going to achieve Vision Zero, and it will reveal that The City was never serious about this,” he said. “The budget is tight, but especially when a budget is tight, where you put your money is, again, a reflection of your values.”

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