Momentum builds for pedestrian safety in San Francisco 

Since moving to the neighborhood in 2006, Rincon Hill resident Jamie Whitaker has assailed various city officials with repeated requests for traffic-calming measures near his home.

Five years later, Whitaker has yet to see any of his requests come to fruition, and his concerns were made tragically clear Friday after the death of 71-year-old Lourdes Richman, who was struck and killed by a truck driver while crossing Second and Townsend streets.

“We’ve heard plenty of talk about traffic-calming measures in the neighborhood, but we’ve never seen any action,” Whitaker said.

Unfortunately, inaction is not unique to the Rincon Hill neighborhood.

A lack of coordination and funding has prevented much-needed traffic-calming measures from being implemented in areas across The City. That point was repeated often Tuesday at a pedestrian safety hearing held by a subcommittee of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, a planning agency governed by the Board of Supervisors.

Board President David Chiu sponsored the hearing, which came after the deaths of three pedestrians in a recent six-day span.

Implementing the necessary improvements — such as intersection bulb-outs, countdown signals and reduced speed limits — can be difficult because no single city agency is responsible for pedestrian safety. According to Tilly Chang, the deputy planning director for the TA, a dozen local agencies have partial responsibility for pedestrian safety in San Francisco.

Similarly, only $23 million is specifically dedicated each year for pedestrian improvements, and there is no regional funding program available for such work. Of the total traffic accidents recorded in San Francisco, 47.7 percent are pedestrian-related — a rate that is more than four times higher than the national average.

The combined lack of funding and coordination can lead to pedestrian safety projects moving forward at a glacial pace.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Chiu said he wanted to continue the discussion at a committee meeting within the next couple months. But before that takes place, Chiu is asking city officials to work on establishing a lead agency for pedestrian safety issues. And he said The City should look into developing a strategic plan for pedestrians, similar to what the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Transit Effectiveness Project did for public transportation.

Until a coordinated citywide effort is started to prioritize pedestrian issues, walkers will continue to face adverse safety conditions in The City, said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of advocacy organization Walk San Francisco.

“I think the key here is implementation,” Stampe said. “We know what works. We need to put those idea into place.”


A big problem with little funding

Risks of walking around The City:

3 Pedestrian deaths in six-day span from March 14 to Sunday

47.7 Percentage of traffic deaths involving pedestrians in city

11.8 Percentage of traffic deaths involving pedestrians in country

$280 million Costs related to traffic accidents in city in 2008

$23 million Funding committed to pedestrian safety upgrades in city

Sources: SFMTA, TA, SFPD

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Will Reisman

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