The phrase “dangerous by design” embodies the reality of San Francisco streets. Biking down Market street during the five o’clock rush, I had no idea my biggest fear would come true: I lost a hopeless battle with a bus for a spot in a shared bike lane. I was pushed onto streetcar tracks where my front wheel caught, causing me to go airborne over my handlebars into a street of moving traffic. I still cannot recall what happened after hitting the street, but I was one of the lucky ones. Every day, 1 in 3 people are hit by cars in San Francisco. How is it that one of the most walkable cities is also one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians?
Vision Zero is the beacon of hope for restoring safety to San Francisco pedestrians. By 2024, the city is aiming to eliminate all traffic-related deaths. Vision Zero means no death is acceptable, yet the statistics presented during the San Francisco SPUR event regarding the Vision Zero Project were unsettling. At the San Francisco General Hospital trauma center, 1 in 4 of the patients is admitted due to being hit by a car while walking. The majority of these incidents involve the elderly and lower income populations. San Francisco spends over $500 million each year on economic costs relating to pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Director of Transportation Planning, Tim Papendreou, stated that “More people are killed by cars than by guns in San Francisco.”
Why do these incidents happen? Poor signage, limited visibility, and the unpredictable nature of human decision are all contributing factors. But ultimately, speed is the common leading cause of serious and fatal collisions. A pedestrian has a 95% chance of survival when encountering a car running a light at 20 mph and only a 10% chance of survival with a car going 40 mph. To address the issue, a Vision Zero city by 2024 is said to be achievable through “the three E’s:” Engineering, Enforcement, and Education.
- Engineering - Building safer streets to facilitate slower speeds is key to reducing collisions. A few elements are: high visibility crosswalks, additional medians, curb extensions, pedestrian refuge islands, and increased signal timing.
- Enforcement - Installing red light cameras to slow traffic has led to a 34-62% reduction in both severe and fatal injuries. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is also giving 50% of its traffic enforcement to high injury corridors including Market street, the Tenderloin, Chinatown, and SoMa.
- Education - The city, private companies, and nonprofits are developing an education program focusing on training professional drivers on collision prevention. Along with this, the Safe Streets SF campaign hopes to raise public awareness of traffic safety to help prevent traffic incidents and deaths.
What about cyclists battling for a spot on Market street? Adjusting Market street to accommodate a separate bike lane can present itself as a complicated venture within a tangled web of cars, taxis, buses, streetcars, and bicyclists. Tyler Frisbee, Policy Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said that a designated rather than shared bicycle lane on Market street is a large undertaking, but is a future possibility. With proper signage, visual cues, additional infrastructure, and the values of the “three E’s”, a completely separate bike lane could be viable. Beyond the Vision Zero mission, these approaches serve as part of the Better Market Street Project. Through this project, Market could serve as the backbone of San Francisco, complete with public spaces and safer modes of transportation.
San Francisco has a long journey to make before arriving at a Vision Zero future, but by taking inspiration from Sweden’s original Vision Zero Initiative, the city is on the right track. As Sweden’s core Vision Zero value states: In every situation a person might fail. The road system should not.
In what ways can the program draw upon other cities’ Vision Zero success for inspiration? What is your city doing to ensure transportation safety? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.