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SF Chronicle Editorial: Fund the Pedestrian Strategy!

 In Public Policy

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. 

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S.F. streets can be dangerous

May 10, 2013

San Francisco likes to think of itself as the most walkable city in the country.

Just be careful crossing the street downtown. Or South of Market. Or in Chinatown. Or on 19th or Van Ness avenues.

Too many people are dying or suffering serious injury just trying to navigate the streets of San Francisco on foot. In this tiny walkers’ paradise, eight pedestrians have been run down fatally in just the first four months of the year. [Note: nine people have actually been killed so far. – Walk SF]

Argument over who is the most careless, the pedestrian or the motorist, is endless and pointless. But some practical steps can be taken to save lives, and the city finally is starting to take them.

None too soon, Mayor Ed Lee has ordered physical improvements and strategic moves designed to make the walking environment safer. Some of the work is happening already:

Forty-four miles of the most accident-prone streets will be upgraded, 5 miles a year through 2021.

Where appropriate, many of the busiest intersections will be “bulbed-out” – sidewalks at street corners will be widened to make it harder for drivers to make turns at unsafe speeds and shorten the distance walkers must cover to make it to the other side of the street. Other safety measures: highly visible crosswalks, wider sidewalks, lengthening the time of “walk” signals (just a couple of seconds would make a big difference), walk signals that tell pedestrians how much time they have and audible walk signals.

The duration of walk signals will be increased at 800 intersections – the city found that the average pedestrian walks more slowly than the length of time the signal says it’s OK to walk, and in a city where speed limits often are ignored, that’s dangerous.

Efforts will be made to improve safety around schools and senior centers – kids and seniors are among the most vulnerable pedestrians. Crosswalks will get heightened visibility at schools (bright yellow) and senior centers (bright white). Walk signals will be timed to the walking pace of those folks – children and the elderly just walk more slowly than everybody else.

To make the improvements easier, Supervisor Scott Wiener recently introduced legislation to require cooperation among the many city departments involved in any changes in streets. His measure is scheduled to come before a board committee soon.

San Francisco consistently ranks near the top among large cities in the number of pedestrian deaths. The safety of its citizens ought to be the city’s highest priority.

The success of this initiative depends a lot on the cooperation of all those city departments, and not much political discussion will be required. But the Board of Supervisors has an important role to play.

Reconstructing streets costs money. For two more years, a voter-approved bond will pay for some of the work, and some grant money is still available. But that’s just a beginning, and in the long run, these are unreliable sources of funding.

Supervisors, a plan of action has been launched, and lives are at stake. A solid capital investment to support this vital work is the next important step.

As the mayor likes to say: “Everybody is a pedestrian at some point.”

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