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Declaring a state of emergency for traffic safety: what it means and what we want

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In the past week, we have seen two pedestrians die in ways that are beyond the pale. Fourteen people have died while walking and biking in our city already this year. This number is twice as what is was as the same time last year.

These tragic unnecessary deaths must stop. Our City needs to do whatever it takes to make us all safe on our streets.

That’s why this morning, together with Supervisor Matt Haney and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we asked city leaders to declare a state of emergency for traffic safety.

Supervisor Haney immediately took this up with the Board of Supervisors this afternoon and introduced a resolution to declare a state of emergency for traffic safety. This was quickly co-sponsored by Board President Norman Yee. Email or call your Supervisor and urge them to sign onto the resolution (look up your Supervisor and their information here).

What a state of emergency for traffic safety means

Imagine a city that has experienced a natural disaster declaring a state of emergency. This brings necessary attention and resources to a situation where people are suffering and at risk, plus can give a government special powers to respond more quickly.

We see San Francisco declaring a state of emergency for traffic safety as a necessary step to both acknowledge the crisis on our streets and support unprecedented levels of action. Safe streets must be at the top of the list of priorities for city leaders. This means finding the funding and forwarding the policies needed for sweeping changes. Now.

While there are no legal obligations to the City in declaring a state of emergency for traffic safety, we believe there are ethical ones. The City cannot claim a crisis without responding in kind. And with your help, we intend to hold city leaders accountable.

What we want to do in response to the crisis on our streets

San Francisco must become a city where dangerous driving is simply not tolerated, on any street, at any time. And the number one factor in severe and fatal crashes in San Francisco is speed.

That’s why we think the City must:

  • Immediately get enforcement by the San Francisco Police Department consistently to target levels and beyond. The SFPD’s goal in support of Vision Zero is to issue 50% of traffic citations to the five most common causes of collisions and injuries (speeding, violating pedestrian right-of-way in a crosswalk, running red lights, running stop signs, and failing to yield while turning). We also think it’s critical that as part of “focus on the five,” SFPD should focus on streets in the high-injury network.
  • Install additional red light cameras at many more major high-injury intersections. Running red lights is one of the most dangerous driving behaviors, yet the City now only has 13 cameras (there used to be 47). We know these cameras are expensive, but this should be a budget priority.
  • Immediately develop a legislative strategy to bring speed safety cameras to San Francisco. We can’t wait years to bring this proven, life-saving tool to San Francisco; the state legislative hurdles must be overcome soon. For comparison, New York City will have a total of 750 speed safety cameras installed at school zones by this time next year.
  • Immediately act to bring lower speed limits to all San Francisco streets. We think that 20 MPH is plenty on all residential streets. The speed limits on commercial streets should also be reduced, as many are designated high-injury and have very high numbers of people walking and biking on them. Portland enacted emergency speed limit decreases on especially deadly streets while working to pass state legislation on speed limits; San Francisco must also look quickly for creative solutions to reducing speed.
  • Design all safety projects on the high-injury network to reach the highest possible standards, prioritizing people over vehicles. SFMTA has many projects in the works for fixing the most dangerous streets, yet we know the planning process can yield a final product that falls short for people walking and biking. No more.

We are going to need your help to hold our leaders accountable to turning things around on our streets so everyone, of every age and ability, can get around safely.

But the first step is getting an official declaration of a state of emergency for traffic safety, so be sure to call or email your Supervisor and urge them to sign onto Supervisor Haney’s resolution (find your Supervisor and their information here).

Thank you to Supervisor Haney and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for hosting the action with us. Special thanks to those who joined us at City Hall and spoke: State Senator Scott Wiener; Assembly Member David Chiu’s District Director Tom Paulino; Tom Maguire, Interim SFMTA Director; Suzy Loftus, former President of the Police Commission; and Kevin Stull, Member of the Tenderloin Task Force.

Many thanks to other elected and agency officials for being there today: Board President Norman Yee; Supervisor Vallie Brown; Supervisor Aaron Peskin; Supervisor Hillary Ronen; and Tilly Chang, SFCTA Executive Director.

And of course, a huge thanks to so many safe streets advocates for taking time out of your morning to stand with us!