The City’s plan to address dangerous speeds falls far short of what’s needed
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In 2021, together with our members, 35+ groups in the Vision Zero Coalition, and Families for Safe Streets, we successfully pushed the City to commit to create a comprehensive speed management plan.
We envisioned an outcomes-based plan that brought new levels of focus, funding, commitment, and coordination to significantly bring down speeds – and save lives as a result.
Last week, the SFMTA released a document that it is calling a speed plan. But the ‘plan’ is only a summary of what’s already happening, when we need the City to do much more.
Walk SF analyzed the document and just sent the letter (see below) to the SFMTA Board of Directors asking them to require the SFMTA staff to produce a real plan. We will be addressing this at the SFMTA Board meeting this upcoming Tuesday.
This letter is only the first step in getting more than lip service on the biggest threat we all face on our streets. The City needs a comprehensive speed plan, and we won’t rest until that happens.
TO: SFMTA Board Chair Eaken and Vice Chair Borden; SFMTA Directors Cajina, Heminger, Hinze, and Yekutiel; and SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin
RE: Serious shortcomings in City’s speed management plan released on March 7
Dear Chair Eaken, SFMTA Board of Directors, and Director Tumlin:
Speed kills and injures, again and again, on San Francisco streets.
And year after year, speed is the #1 cause of severe and fatal traffic crashes in our city.
This is why Walk San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets, and the 35+ groups in the Vision Zero Coalition have asked the City to take on dangerous speed in a strategic, focused way.
In 2021, we celebrated when the City committed to developing a comprehensive speed management plan as part of its new Vision Zero Action Strategy. We envisioned an outcomes-based plan that brought new levels of focus, funding, commitment, and coordination to significantly bring down speeds – and save lives as a result.
On March 7, the SFMTA released what it’s calling a ‘speed management plan.’
Yet if you read this ‘plan,’ it’s simply a summary of what the City is already doing.
And that’s the problem. The City is currently not doing nearly enough to address dangerous speeds.
SFMTA holds the greatest responsibility given how much street design influences driver speeds, which is why we are first sharing our assessment of the ‘plan’ with you as SFMTA Directors. We are looking to you to ask for better.
Walk San Francisco’s report, Making San Francisco a ‘Safe Speeds City: Solutions to Slow Our Streets and Save Lives, details the range of ways the City (and especially the SFMTA) is currently addressing speed – and how existing solutions can be better utilized.
Many of the speed solutions the SFMTA is using are severely underutilized despite most being inexpensive, are not sufficiently layered, and have no strategy behind them. The SFMTA’s speed ‘plan’ does nothing to address this – meaning there will be no significant improvement to the daily threat we all face.
SFMTA’s Speed Plan Does Not Better Harness Underutilized Solutions
As our report details, there are many street design solutions that are proven to reduce speeds that the SFMTA has at its disposal.
Speed humps, cushions, and other vertical speed reducers. There is no more tried-and-true solution for slowing drivers. But currently, speed humps and cushion placement isn’t tied to an overall speed strategy, nor are there publicly available locations or design standards for speed reducers (height, width, spacing for wheel cutouts if it’s cushions) to max out the effectiveness of this solution.
SFMTA’s speed plan mentions the continued use of speed humps (installing 30 each year around schools and as part of the Residential Traffic Calming Program). But there’s no systematic plan for expansion of this powerful solution, such as on cut-through streets near arterials that drivers use to avoid traffic.
Reducing, reconfiguring, and narrowing lanes. This is likely the most powerful solution available to SFMTA. The plan gives a great example of this on Brannan Street, where a suite of fixes including most importantly reducing travel lanes from four to three made such a difference that this street is no longer designated as a high-injury street.
The Vision Zero Quick Build projects that SFMTA is bringing to multi-lane high-injury streets that have yet to get any improvements are where lane reductions are needed and can happen ASAP. But having seen the SFMTA back off a lane reduction on Franklin Street with the Quick Build project there, despite a pedestrian fatality and significant speed issue, has us on alert.
Every Quick Build and capital project on multi-lane streets on the high-injury network needs to max out its potential for slowing speeds, with lane reductions as the default design.
SFMTA’s speed plan notes how effective lane reductions are, and states that it is ‘securing funds for 2023 Quick Build projects as a venue.’ Ensuring that SFMTA. gets and stays on track with its Quick Build commitments – prioritizing equity communities and the deadliest streets – continues to be a critical need for the SFMTA Board.
Left turn calming. Despite how cheap, simple-to-install, and effective left turn calming is, it’s only been at a handful of intersections since 2020. In 2021, SFMTA committed to bringing it to only 35 more intersections by 2024; it has completed seven of these. The slow pace and scope of harnessing this solution are confounding when people are being hit and killed in the crosswalk. 64-year-old Wan Mei Tan was killed by a left-turning driver on January 10, 2023.
SFMTA’s speed plan states that SFMTA is ‘analyzing eligibility list for next set of intersections.’ This analysis should already be done, with the plan laying out the completion of the 35 intersections and what’s next after that’s completed.
Speed radar signs. San Francisco only has about 30 permanent signs, despite studies showing these decrease driver speeds by 3-9 MPH. A speed radar sign program is needed to map out where permanent and mobile signs are most needed – with a timeline and specific goals for speed reduction.
SFMTA’s speed plan includes adding only five speed radar signs, in just one neighborhood.
Timing traffic signals. SFMTA has shown how effective timing signals to keep traffic moving at certain speeds can be. This solution is especially effective on the wide, one-way streets where the biggest speed issues occur.
SFMTA’s speed plan makes no mention of this solution. It includes only an update on other signal upgrades that while incredibly important for protecting pedestrians, are not speed solutions.
Slow Streets. The role of a permanent and expansive network of low-traffic, low-speed streets is an important one. Slow Streets can shift norms and awareness around speed, and shift more people to sustainable modes. The SFMTA Board has asked for the SFTMA to bring forth plans to expand Slow Streets to a total of 100 miles by 2024.
SFMTA’s speed plan mentions the benefits of Slow Streets, but no specifics on expanding the program citywide.
Addressing dangerous speed enough to reduce citywide crash rates and severity is going to require a systematic and layered approach at scale. The SFMTA must develop a detailed plan for doing this. The plan needs to define which actions it will prioritize, with deadlines and a way to measure and track progress – on specific streets and systemwide. Notably lowering average and outlier speeds on all high-injury streets should be the goal.
We also believe that a robust plan can help identify barriers to delivering projects on time, which is of the essence. A detailed speed plan that maps out steps and sets deadlines will show where there are capacity limitations (so the SFMTA can look to outside contractors) or other the support of other agencies (like DPW) is needed so this can be built into their workplans, too.
Fortunately, funding does not seem to be a barrier. According to the SFCTA’s calculations, approximately $21 million in revenue from Measure D (the TNC tax passed in 2019) will be available throughout the next 15 months. This funding is meant to be allocated for Quick Build projects and installing traffic-calming solutions like speed humps. Plus, voters’ recent passage of Measure L means there’s available funding for street safety projects.
We want to acknowledge the SFMTA’s great progress in bringing 20 MPH speed limits to 28 commercial corridors in 2022, totaling 20 miles so far. This is a crucial foundation for becoming a ‘safe speeds city.’
But with addressing dangerous speeds, it’s not just one thing – it’s many things focused in the right places. The SFMTA needs a plan that will harness solutions strategically to really move the needle on speed and save lives.
And we are looking to you to be sure that happens. Please let us know how you will hold the SFMTA accountable – soon – for a real plan to address dangerous speed.
Thank you for your leadership and commitment to Vision Zero.
Walk San Francisco
Honorable Mayor London Breed City of San Francisco
SF Board of Supervisors