Potential safety benefits stir calls to discuss fees for downtown drivers 

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  • Cindy Chew/2009 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • A 2011 study says imposing a $3 fee on drivers going downtown could cut collisions with pedestrians by 9 percent in The City’s center.

As concern grows over the number of vehicles injuring and killing pedestrians in The City, a congestion pricing proposal that studies have shown could reduce such incidents remains little talked about and a political hot-button issue.

A 2011 study conducted by the Department of Public Health found that charging drivers $3 to use the congested northeast downtown area could reduce collisions with pedestrians citywide by 5 percent. Within the payment zone, the decrease could be 9 percent, according to the study.

The charge would reduce traffic volume and therefore reduce collisions, the study said. The fee would generate about $60 million annually, which could be invested in road safety measures.

With 21 pedestrian deaths and four bicyclist fatalities, 2013 was the deadliest year for such deaths in The City since 2001. Drivers were primarily at fault for two-thirds of these fatalities, according to the Police Department. Between 2000 and 2012, the highest number of collisions was in 2012 at 948, and the lowest in 2009 at 734.

As collisions have increased, pedestrian and bicycling advocates and several members of the Board of Supervisors — including Jane Kim, John Avalos and Norman Yee — are calling for adoption of Vision Zero, a plan that commits to having no pedestrian deaths within 10 years. That plan is silent on congestion pricing. Instead it incorporates such methods as requiring at least one pedestrian safety project each month for the next two years.

The congestion pricing proposal was undertaken by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority dating back to at least 2006. The agency, which is established by state law, administers the half-cent local transportation sales-tax program. The authority is overseen by an 11-member board comprising 11 members of the Board of Supervisors.

Kim said Tuesday that she “absolutely” thinks congestion pricing should return for a debate given the rise in collisions.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said congestion pricing may be wise for the Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge, but he was opposed to the downtown charge, at least not until The City “got back to the basics” of traffic enforcement, improved engineering of streets and more reliable public transit. Before that is achieved, Wiener said, congestion pricing is “not going to accomplish anything.” He said it would create a bunch of annoyed drivers on just-as-dangerous streets.

Mayor Ed Lee’s spokesman Francis Tsang said that the mayor is focused on increasing revenue for public transportation and safer streets with a $500 million general obligation bond and an increase in the vehicle license fee for the November ballot.

“There are more effective pedestrian safety measures Mayor Lee believes we should fund and prioritize before pursuing so-called congestion pricing, which is more a regional traffic-management proposal,” Tsang said.

When the proposal was considered in 2010, there was a backlash from business advocates, politicians and drivers. A poll released Tuesday by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce on a myriad of issues suggests congestion pricing may still be a hard sell. Twenty-one percent support a $3 fee on those who drive in and out of downtown during commute hours to reduce congestion and fund transportation improvements, and 72 percent oppose it.

For now, even planning for congestion pricing is stalled. TA planner Rachel Hiatt said the next steps toward implementation would be to do an environmental impact review and seek the needed state law changes in the Legislature. Work on those fronts is not being pursued at this time.

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