San Francisco is a walker’s city. When compared to places like New York or Chicago, the temperate climate and compactness of the neighborhoods and downtown make perambulation pleasant and necessary here. Even people who rely on other transit options, including driving and Muni, often begin or end their trips on foot.
With the vast number of walkers on the streets each day, San Francisco needs to do everything it can to ensure the safety of pedestrians. For too long, too many city streets have been treacherous for people traversing them on foot. Already this year, accidents involving vehicles have killed seven pedestrians, including a teenage girl who was walking home from celebrating her 17th birthday.
San Francisco has the chance to become a model U.S. city for pedestrians by fully embracing the proposed new Pedestrian Strategy, which Mayor Ed Lee unveiled Friday. The document is an example of what clear, concise planning can look like when city departments use information to articulate tangible goals. Instead of just setting a goal for safer streets, the pedestrian strategy lays out the steps needed to get there.
The strategy’s goal was first laid out by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom: reduce serious and fatal pedestrian injuries 50 percent by 2021. In a city where 800 pedestrians are injured in accidents with motor vehicles each year and dozens more are killed, this reduction would mean a momentous impact on the well being of hundreds of people each year.
With a clear goal, the next issue was the roadmap to getting there. San Francisco’s streets are managed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, but road building is done by the Department of Public Works, enforcement by the San Francisco Police Department, and data about accidents is largely maintained by the Department of Public Health. Mayor Lee took the step of bringing these departments and others into a working group in which they could share knowledge, insights, goals and, most importantly, data regarding pedestrian safety.
The Pedestrian Safety Task Force eventually identified the most dangerous 44 miles of roadway in The City, where infrastructure improvements and traffic-law enforcement can be combined to improve safety. The document suggests that fixing just five miles of roadway each year could get The City to its goal of reduced pedestrian accidents and deaths. Setting out strategies rather than mere goals, though, is the key to the document.
For example, laying out exact upgrades, like the fact that 160 intersections should be fixed each year to increase crossing times for pedestrians, will help properly guide funding. Officials will not have to blindly place their faith that money will be spent properly — they can see upfront where and how it will be used.
San Francisco has already done much to make the streets a place where walkers feel safe. But the fact that 25 percent of the car trips made in The City are less than 1 mile shows there are still many people who feel safer in a private vehicle. San Francisco now has a strategy that could help get these people out of their cars, which would be better for them and for the environment. Now it is time for officials to make sure funding for implementation moves ahead so the idea does not stumble and fall.