Double impact: S.F.'s busiest streets as dangerous as ever 

Despite efforts to improve safety, walking and driving on some of The City’s busiest streets is as dangerous as ever.

On streets where drivers face steeper fines for infractions, there was a significant increase in accidents and collisions — calling into question the efficacy of the safety measure.

Click on the photo to the right to see more on this story.

Since 2009, base fines have doubled on 19th Avenue, Park Presidio Boulevard, Van Ness Avenue and Lombard Street, which within city limits collectively act as state Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 101. The double-fine zones came at the behest of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored legislation with the intent of improving safety conditions on 19th Avenue, a historically dangerous corridor.

However, in 2011, there were 124 traffic-related injuries on 19th Avenue, a 67.6 percent increase from 2010, according to statistics from the Police Department. There also was a fatality on the street in 2011 for the first time since 2008.

Traffic injuries increased significantly on Lombard Street and Park Presidio Boulevard as well. There were 42 on Lombard and 60 on Park Presidio — totals that marked annual increases of 281 percent and 122 percent, respectively. And there was a traffic fatality on Lombard for the first time in five years.

Of the four double-fine zones, only Van Ness Avenue had a drop in incidents from 2010 to 2011, with traffic injuries decreasing 6.9 percent.

Pedestrian injuries on the four roads increased from 45 in 2010 to 61 in 2011. On 19th Avenue, the number tripled, from eight to 24.

Adam Keigwin, a spokesman for Yee’s office, said one year’s worth of data is not enough to make a conclusion about the effectiveness of double-fine zones. He added that the measure was never intended to be a magic bullet, but instead a complementary initiative to work along with other traffic-calming measures.

The double-fine zones are set to expire after 2013, but Keigwin said Yee will pursue an extension of the program.

Capt. Denis O’Leary of the Police Department’s traffic division said a 2010 shift to focus on community policing has reduced the number of motorcycle officers and taken away resources from the traffic division. Officers are spending more time responding to service calls than actively enforcing traffic developments, he said. When officers are on duty, they’re mostly focused on downtown neighborhoods — but O’Leary said when problem areas arise, resources are allocated to those spots.

He also speculated on whether traffic detours related to the Doyle Drive closure, which has diverted motorists to Park Presidio Boulevard and 19th Avenue, could explain the increase in accidents. Motorists might be unfamiliar with the roads, and more traffic leads to more collisions.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of pedestrian advocacy group Walk SF, said police enforcement needs to increase, along with the double-fine zones, to make a real impact.

“Double-fine zones only work if we have enforcement,” she said. “These numbers seem to indicate that The City hasn’t been prioritizing enforcement of the laws to protect pedestrians.”

Over the years, 19th Avenue has benefited from significant traffic-calming measures, including signal upgrades, lowered speed limits and increased police enforcement. But since Lombard, Park Presidio and Van Ness did not receive similar upgrades, they were included in the state legislation as a control to determine the effectiveness of double fines as a sole deterrent.

In the zones, motorists driving 16 to 25 mph over the speed limit would have their base fine doubled from $25 to $50. Along with other fees, the total cost would rise from $175 to $200.


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Will Reisman

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