Pedestrians cross Geary Boulevard at Divisadero Street in front of a speed limit sign on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supes urging SFMTA to prioritize fight against traffic violence

Resolution advances to the full board after clearing committee

San Francisco lawmakers want drivers to slow down, and they’re urging transit officials to use every available tool at their disposal to lower car speeds and protect pedestrians, cyclists and all others on the road.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution from board President Norman Yee calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to come up with a plan for lowering speed limits, identify engineering street changes that can be made to slow drivers down and create a timeline for optimizing traffic signals at high-risk corridors.

A board committee recommended the proposal for approval Monday.

The resolution is not binding but would signal the board’s commitment to pedestrian and cyclist safety and emphasize The City’s desire to make mitigating traffic violence a top priority at the SFMTA.

The resolution comes as San Francisco is approaching its 2024 deadline to meet its Vision Zero goals of eliminating traffic fatalities and significantly reducing severe traffic injuries.

“The state of our street has been in crisis for quite a while now,” said Yee. “We have to think differently about how we are going to get to zero by then.”

Yee is a longtime advocate for Vision Zero who is approaching the end of his tenure on the Board of Supervisors. He is himself a victim of traffic violence having been hit by a car while crossing the street and severely injured more than a decade ago. He has since made pedestrian safety a key part of his platform during his time on the board.

Through the end of September, a total of 19 people have died in San Francisco due to traffic violence this year alone.

Although this number marks a marginal decline from the five-year average at this point in the year, it’s still a far cry from zero, and officials have said over the last few months that without a paradigm shift in how to address ongoing traffic violence, The City will likely not get on track to meet its deadline.

Certain populations are far more likely to be the victims of traffic violence.

This year, roughly 60 percent of fatalities have occurred within communities of concern, or rather in parts of The City that are considered particularly vulnerable, often as a result of historic disinvestment.

About 31 percent of fatalities were seniors over the age of 65.

Yee made sure to remind his colleagues Monday that “behind stats are real lives changed,” as he emphasized the need to “double down on our efforts” to make San Francisco streets safe.

Reducing speeds is an essential to that effort, experts say, estimating that a person hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour has a 90 percent chance of survival.

That chance of survival drops to just 10 percent should that same person be hit by a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour.

“[The] resolution sets speed management as the top priority for SFMTA — as it should be,” said Jodie Medeiros, the executive director of Walk SF. “We need SFMTA to be laser focused on reducing speed to save lives.”

Currently, the power to adjust speed limits rests with the state.

The resolution includes a commitment from supervisors to advocate for legislative action from Sacramento that would give cities more power to set their own limits in order to systematically address speeding.

In the meantime, there are exceptions in state law that give cities the ability to set their own speed limits in close proximity to certain facilities such as schools or senior centers.

Supervisor Dean Preston recently took advantage of this little-used loophole by pushing theSFMTA to reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on three segments of Geary Boulevard near senior centers — a ten mile per hour decrease from their original standard.

The resolution passed Monday calls on SFMTA to swiftly take advantage of these exceptions, and craft a plan to implement lower speed limits around facilities serving “vulnerable populations, including, but not limited to senior centers and school zones.”

Still, the areas potentially subject to this workaround mark only a small portion of city streets where walkers, cyclists and road users are at risk of death or severe injury should they be hit by a speeding car.

The SFMTA has historically directed its much of its effort toward engineering tools that calm traffic, which the agency says is the key to improved pedestrian safety.

It has instituted a series of lower-cost, more easily implemented Quick-Build projects like painted safety zones or protected bikeways in The City’s most unsafe areas for pedestrians and cyclists.

Agency officials say these interventions can scale across The City with proper funding to make a big difference in traffic safety without requiring substantial financial resources and manpower.

“Reaching Vision Zero and comprehensive speed management go hand-in-hand,” Medeiros said. “SFMTA must pursue every possible way to reduce speeds, from simple street-by-street solutions to state legislation for speed cameras.”

Automated speed enforcement — or speed cameras — is another tool that’s unavailable to local government. It’s illegal per state law, and the legislature shot down a bill that would’ve created a speed camera pilot program in San Francisco in 2018.

On the question of resources, the resolution includes a pledge from the board to work with relevant agencies in order to secure the proper funding needed to make the Quick-Build approach more widespread.

The SFMTA estimates it would cost $85 million to finish all the Quick-Build projects on the High Injury Network, the 13 percent of streets where roughly 75 percent of fatalities or severe injuries occur.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will also vote on a separate resolution to recommit The City’s Vision Zero pledge and redouble its willingness to use creative, innovative solutions to meet its goals.

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