Pedestrian safety law package takes step ahead in S.F. 

  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner

Last year, 964 people were hit by vehicles in San Francisco — the largest number since 2000 — and 19 were killed, according to a pedestrian advocacy group’s review of Police Department data.

But pedestrian safety projects are slow in being implemented or are being watered down by city agencies during a behind-the-scenes design phase after they are approved, Supervisor Scott Wiener said. Additionally, he said, a fire code requiring that streets have to be at least 20 feet wide can put a damper on visionary street changes.

Wiener has introduced a package of legislation intended to address these challenges.

“If streets are designed in a certain way, you will have more accidents no matter how much enforcement and education you have,” Wiener said.

Wiener’s legislation would create a Street Design Review Committee. Representatives from several city offices and agencies  including the Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Department of Public Works would work to resolve design conflicts with an emphasis on the goal of creating a more pedestrian-friendly city.

Another proposal would change how the Fire Department is able to interpret the 20-foot clearance stated in the fire code. It would allow for the streets to have clearances of less than 20 feet if the obstruction, such as a sidewalk bulb, is not higher than 6 inches.  

 “We do have difficulty trying to bridge that gap of what provides the best pedestrian safety and what actually allows for our operational needs and does not limit our Fire Department vehicle access, especially ambulances,” said Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Harvey of the proposed changes.

He added that when reviewing street changes, the department is “probably more conservative than where your goals are.”

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy group, said that, “Too often the projects to fix these dangerous streets in our city just take too long.”  Stampe said the organization’s review of police data last week found 964 people were hit by cars in 2012.

“That is the largest number since the year 2000,” Stampe said.

Stampe said that the proposed committee could prevent essential elements of plans from being eliminated.

 “The most important elements for pedestrian safety, like wider sidewalks, bulb outs, extension of corners, are often the first to go,” Stampe said, “because often they are expensive and they may be perceived as being complicated when it comes to water pipes, sewer pipes, fire connections, and there’s nobody there to speak up for the overall goal, which is fewer people getting run over.”

The legislation package was approved Monday by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee and is expected to be approved by the full board next week.

“Our streets, colleagues, are not as pedestrian-friendly as they need to be,” Wiener said.

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