The City to prioritize most dangerous sidewalks

Three city agencies are embarking on a yearlong study to establish which sidewalks merit the most attention. Paid for by a $200,000 state grant, the study aims to identify The City’s most dangerous streets and what upgrades might make them safer.

With its urban layout and scenic views, San Francisco is consistently ranked as one of the most walkable cities in the country. However, dangers persist. Pedestrians in the San Francisco metropolitan area accounted for 27.7 percent of all traffic fatalities, a rate that is the second-highest in the nation.

“The ultimate goal is to make every street in The City a safe, walkable environment,” said Christina Goette, a senior program planner at the Department of Public Health, the lead agency in the study. “In order to do that, we need to establish priorities and identify the streets that need the most improvements.”

In the past, addressing concerns of sidewalk safety could be reactionary and disorganized, Goette said. The new list will act as a blueprint for priorities, making it easier to apply for and secure specific funding opportunities.

Finding a unified approach is vital, since The City already has a $17 million backlog in needed sidewalk repair, which doesn’t include the $200,000 it spends each year on injury lawsuits related to gnarled pathways.

Goette said potential infrastructure upgrades include asphalt replacement, sidewalk widening, and traffic bulb-outs that decrease the length pedestrians have to walk when crossing the street.

Manish Champsee, president of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy organization, said slowing down traffic speed is crucial for safe walking conditions. He said that simple aesthetic improvements like adding shrubbery and trees can contribute to traffic calming.

“If you’re driving along and all you see is a concrete jungle, you’re going to drive faster,” said Champsee.

He said that city streets in most need of improvements are the busy, multi-lane arteries like Geary Boulevard, Van Ness Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, Mission Street, and Market Street.

The pedestrian study will begin in October. At the conclusion of the study, the backers of the report will submit the list to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, a city department that regularly gathers and solicits funding applications for infrastructure improvements. Funding for the street upgrades could come from local, state or federal sources.

No cakewalk

$17 million: Backlog cost for needed sidewalk repairs
$200,000: Average annual amount city spends on injury settlements related to sidewalks
27.7: Percent of traffic deaths in SF metro area* that were pedestrians
11.8: Percent of traffic deaths in the nation that were pedestrians

Pedestrian fatalities**

2008: 13
2007: 24
2006: 15
2005: 14
2004: 20
2003: 25

*Includes Oakland and Fremont
**Totals for 2009 and 2010 are not final

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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