If you bike in San Francisco, no corridor may be more dangerous than Howard Street in SoMa. Since 2016, four people have been killed by drivers along a one-mile stretch: Kate Slattery died while biking in 2016. Last September, cyclist Russell Franklin and pedestrian Modesto Figuerido were hit and killed by drivers in separate incidents. And just three months ago, Tess Rothstein was killed while biking to work.
Those are just the fatal incidents. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reports that from 2011 to 2016, 308 people were injured in more than 420 collisions that occurred along both Howard and Folsom streets.
The city hasn’t been completely inactive in response to these unnecessary incidents. Short-term improvements — mostly new signs, paint, and temporary bollards — went up quickly in the wake of Franklin and Rothstein’s deaths. But on Tuesday, the SFMTA’s Board of Directors approved a $36 million plan to drastically alter both Howard Street and its parallel neighbor Folsom Street. In a few years — yes, it will still take years — both thoroughfares will no longer function as the wide, mid-city highways they are today. Instead, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders will be given the space they need to get to and from their destinations safely — without the fear of death.
The design is not yet final, but it includes some significant changes. For pedestrians, corner bulb-outs will shorten crosswalks, limiting the time they spend in the street. Mid-block traffic signals will discourage jaywalking and allow for street-crossing halfway through the long distances between intersections. Parking spots at corners and near crosswalks will be removed, “daylighting” the area for better visibility.
Cyclists will see two-way curb-protected bike lanes along almost the entirety of Folsom and Howard streets. Traffic lights will be changed to include a bicycle-specific light and safer-turning practices.
And public transit riders will get to their destination faster, with a transit-only lane on Folsom that would serve the 8-Bayshore and 8AX.
All of this — and more — will be performed with only a reduction in 27 vehicle parking spots. But it’s not cheap — the $36 million will be spent quickly. For example, it costs between $150,000 to $200,000 to build a bulbout, $150,000 to raise a crosswalk and $1 million to install a new traffic light. The alterations are meant to begin in 2021, and wrap up by 2023.
But you can’t put a price tag on saving people’s lives, and for safe streets advocates, this plan the result of years of hard work. No one can deny the changes aren’t long overdue, but Tuesday’s speakers at the SFMTA chose to focus on the positives.
“This project will transform two of our biggest corridors into safe and livable spaces for all people,” said Charles Deffarges, the senior community organizer at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “This is truly a visionary project, one that will fundamentally shift how people experience these streets in a fast-growing San Francisco. Urgent action and long term investment are not mutually exclusive. [The Folsom-Howard Streetscape Project] is really one of the better examples we have of how getting quickly-built projects in the ground set us up to build capital projects with public support.”
And for many, these changes could have a significant impact on how they get around. Caroline Denmark, age 12, waited for nearly three hours before she had a chance to tell the SFMTA Board about her experiences biking in unprotected lanes.
“I’m so tired of cars merging into the bike lane and blocking my path. … It really irritates me,” she said. “I want to be able to ride from the Mission to the Metreon on Folsom Street to see a movie in a safe way. With protected bike lanes, that will be possible.”