Cars traveling on parts of Geary Boulevard near senior centers will soon need to slow down.
Speed limits will be reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph on Geary Boulevard from Laguna to Gough, Steiner to Scott and Baker to St. Joseph’s streets, using a “seldom-used” exception to the state law that enables cities to set their own speeding rules when an intersection falls near a school zone or senior center.
These new speed zones all fall within close proximity to homes where seniors — some of The City’s most vulnerable — reside. Two seniors have been killed by vehicles while walking this year alone, according to city data.
Fatalities and severe injuries have persisted over recent months, despite shelter-in-place orders and The City’s Vision Zero pledge to eliminate deaths caused by traffic violence by 2024.
This year alone, 19 people have died as a result of traffic violence while walking, cycling, driving or riding in or outside a motor vehicle.
On Aug. 11, Mark Berman, 50, was struck and killed by a driver who blew through the intersection at Geary Boulevard and Gough Street. Berman was legally walking through a crosswalk.
His death led to public outcry and, at the behest of many neighbors, prompted Supervisor Dean Preston to advocate for speed limit reductions in his district, where possible.
“It shouldn’t take a senseless tragedy to make common-sense changes for pedestrian safety,” Preston said in a statement. “But working with neighbors and the SFMTA, we have quickly moved on potentially life-saving reduction in speed in areas where we need it most to protect our senior population.”
Preston said he partnered with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, pedestrian advocates and neighborhood groups to identify which areas would most benefit from additional safety measures. He also worked with Supervisor Catherine Stefani, whose district meets Preston’s at the intersection where Berman was killed.
The District 5 supervisor hosted a virtual community meeting and conducted two walkthroughs of the areas around the intersection.
Speed is one of the most critical factors in the deadliness of traffic violence, with higher speeds more likely to cause death or serious injury.
“Speed kills. We need slower speeds on all our streets, but especially near senior centers,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian safety advocacy group that was heavily involved in this effort. “Seniors make up just 15 percent of the population but make up about 50 percent of pedestrian fatalities each year.”
Almost all speed limits are set by the state, limiting San Francisco’s ability to independently respond to calls for reductions, even when there’s political will.
However, state law allows jurisdictions to set their own speed limits at intersections that fall within close proximity to school zones. And as it turns out, that latitude extends to proximity to senior centers.
SFMTA’s recommendation to lower speed limits next to “senior-oriented facilities” is just one of the ways the transit agency is trying to protect “more vulnerable populations” by slowing down cars, according to spokesperson Kristen Holland.
“We continue to support the efforts of The City and traffic safety advocates to push for broader changes to state legislation on how speed limits are set in the meantime,” she said.
Preston called this a creative first step toward “improving conditions for our most vulnerable populations,” and thanked stakeholders for “pushing the boundaries.”
Additional measures to improve safety on the Geary corridor and throughout The City will be required to meaningfully address traffic violence. Some in the works or under consideration on Geary Boulevard include traffic signal timing, crosswalk improvements and increased signage.
Other, arguably more significant interventions, remain further out of reach and controversial.
Automated speed enforcement remains illegal in California, and a bill that would have permitted a pilot program of speed cameras in San Jose and San Francisco died in the state legislature in 2018.
Red light cameras, though sanctioned by law, remain few and far between across San Francisco with just 19 total at 13 locations. Though local transportation officials and Vision Zero advocates have called for an expansion of The City’s network of cameras, SFMTA has cautioned that cameras are expensive, require a time-consuming bidding and installation process and are usually considered a tool of last resort by the agency if other methods haven’t worked.
Stefani has called for a camera at Geary Boulevard and Gough Street since Berman’s death.
“The SFMTA has known that this intersection is dangerous for far too long,” she said in a tweet, after saying the planned expansion to two new locations in her district are “nowhere near enough.”