Lifeguards concerned about the safety of swimmers would never install a feeding station known to attract sharks. So why would a city that claims it cares about safety for people walking and biking encourage construction statistically shown to attract more cars?
Worse still, why would it encourage such construction at a transit-rich hub like 16th and Mission Streets, atop BART at the intersection of six Muni lines and a block from one of the busiest bike lanes in The City?
Vision Zero is a policy goal to eliminate all traffic-related deaths in San Francisco by 2024. The effort, led by the Department of Public Health, is backed by stacks of statistics linking avoidable deaths and serious injuries to a treatable cluster of driver behaviors, ineffective or discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws, and poorly engineered streets. The project has already pushed through safety improvements in the Tenderloin and Chinatown and targeted other dangerous corridors.
But San Francisco’s ongoing glut of market-rate development threatens to undermine these laudable efforts to make our streets safer for anyone walking or biking. Development for the rich is almost statistically guaranteed to lead to an influx of cars, and an influx of cars in The City’s highest injury corridors would exacerbate, not reduce, traffic violence.
City data show that the richer you are, the more likely you are to own a car. Today, 92 percent of the wealthiest one-fifth of households in San Francisco (earnings above $146,000) have at least one car, and more than half of these households have two or more cars. In contrast, two-thirds of households in the lowest one-fifth income group do not own an automobile.
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial argued that transit officials should support affordable housing, not market-rate housing, near rail lines, noting that “workers who earn less than $25,000 and live within half a mile of a transit station are three times more likely to take transit than those who earn more than $75,000 and live close to a station.”
Even when the wealthy individuals who can afford market-rate housing aren’t driving, they’re frequently using Uber and Lyft, which does nothing to reduce the number of cars on the road or alleviate traffic violence. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle estimated that these companies have actually added up to 15,000 cars to our streets. Drivers for Uber and Lyft receive no professional safety training.
As the Board of Supervisors considers legislation that would put a temporary pause on luxury development in the Mission District in an effort to prioritize affordable housing, the supervisors would do well to consider the impact more luxury development would have on the safety of our neighborhoods.
The corner of 16th and Mission is not only one of The City’s most active and important transit hubs. It is also the intersection of two of the most dangerous corridors for pedestrians and cyclists, according to research reported through Vision Zero.
The approval and construction of “the Monster in the Mission,” a proposed 10-story 331-unit project of mostly luxury housing with 163 parking spaces, at 1979 Mission Street, which would bring more cars and more traffic violence to this neighborhood. Whereas the development of housing for less wealthy residents would likely result in comparatively fewer cars and less traffic violence.
If the city is serious about achieving the goals of Vision Zero, the kind of housing it should be building at our transit-rich high-injury corridors should reflect these goals and target residents less likely to increase traffic violence.
Fran Taylor is a retired medical editor and transportation justice activist. Tony Robles is the housing collaborative director for Senior and Disability Action.