City Plans Changing Hundreds of Traffic Signals By 2020 To Help Reduce Pedestrian Deaths

Traffic fatalities this year have SFMTA speeding up safety projects but advocates warn they can only go so far without proper enforcement.

A woman crosses at the intersection of Taylor and Eddy streets in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Faced with an increase in traffic deaths, the SFMTA is ramping up safety improvements that may even include ending right turns on red — and if they have enough officers to catch people in the act, Vision Zero would have a fighting chance.

Traffic collisions have killed at least 22 people so far this year and 14 victims were pedestrians, compared to 23 in all of 2018. (The hit-and-run of 59-year-old Bruce Romans on Aug. 4 is pending investigation and not counted by Vision Zero.) San Francisco’s goal is to eliminate all street fatalities by 2024, just five years away.

“This year we have been reminded far too often that we have so much more work to do to reduce traffic fatalities in our city and make our streets safe,” said Mayor London Breed last week. “Until our streets are safe we need to keep doing more, and this package of safety improvements is going to make a number of important improvements at dangerous intersections to keep people safe.”

Some improvement projects are already fast-tracked but Breed is having the SFMTA prioritize other ways to improve street safety. By the end of the year, the SFMTA will have updated 260 signals to give pedestrians more time to cross while implementing 165 “leading pedestrian intervals” where signals give pedestrians the okay to cross before cars to increase visibility. The agency will also have completed nine new diagonal pedestrian crossings, 25 new pedestrian countdown signals, 46 new corner red zones known as daylighting, and seven new signals on intersections.

By early 2020, the SFMTA will also install markings to curb left-turn speeds at eight intersections and analyze a policy to restrict right turns at red lights, which already exists on more than 200 intersections. Breed first announced the package on Thursday, which SFMTA Pedestrian Manager Chava Kronenberg detailed for the SFMTA Board of Directors at its regular board meeting on Tuesday.

“You’re going to have a lot more coming your way,” Kronenberg said. “Just know these projects are rooted in this goal.”

The SFMTA also approved a Quick Build program in June to swiftly implement non-capital projects, like painting traffic lines and street signs. Ten projects are planned for the rest of 2019 and another five by the end of 2020, partly funded by $5 million from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Improvements include reduced lanes, left turn restrictions, sidewalk extensions, and painted safety zones on what’s known as the city’s high-injury corridor network. More than 75 percent of severe and fatal traffic injuries occur on just 13 percent of San Francisco’s streets from part of Innes Avenue to most of Market Street.

“It feels disheartening that we are getting further and further away from our goal,” said Jodie Medieros, executive director of street safety advocacy group Walk SF, at Tuesday’s meeting. “Please don’t stop pushing. We are counting on all of you.”

Enforcement has been a key sticking point for Walk SF. Speeding, violating pedestrian right-of-way, failing to yield while turning, running red lights and running stop signs are the top five driving behaviors that cause collisions. Under Vision Zero, SFPD’s goal is to have half of all traffic citations focused on those violations for months in which data is available going back to 2015, police hit the goal 11 out of 47 months.

In June, SFPD started dedicating a small group of officers purely to traffic enforcement and has issued more than 500 citations since then, nearly all of them being “Focus on the Five” violations. It was recently roughly doubled to nine but Acting Captain of Traffic Luke Martin told directors that number would ideally be tripled or quadrupled.

“Nine is not enough at all,” Martin said, adding that there are 46 officers in the unit. “On top of doing traffic enforcement, we’re doing those [traffic] investigations and several other duties we also get pulled for.”

San Francisco police plan to spend three days in September focusing on enforcement to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety thanks to a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, the department announced last week. Another obstacle is lower speeds, which is set by the state but may be up for a change through a working group on traffic safety that will report back to the California Legislature by January.

“It isn’t just because we can’t do it because the state won’t let us,” Kronenberg told SFMTA directors, referring to speed limits and congestion pricing. “It is incumbent to get the state to help us. The thing that moves is the transformative policies.”

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