SF examines lowering speed limits in the name of safety 

click to enlarge The speed limit at Fourth and Market streets is posted as 10 miles per hour, but not many drivers obey the sign. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • The speed limit at Fourth and Market streets is posted as 10 miles per hour, but not many drivers obey the sign.
A new report from the Budget Analyst’s Office on speed limits, which examines changing San Francisco’s threshold to as low as 20 mph, builds a case for speed limit reductions and increased traffic enforcement.

Some of the report’s findings include that more than 21 percent of San Francisco drivers are speeding on some streets, and drivers average speeds of 27 to 33 mph on residential or commercial thoroughfares, not the 25 mph speed limit.

The report comes as The City has adopted a goal to eliminate pedestrian and bicycle fatalities by 2024 under a campaign referred to as Vision Zero. Similar campaigns exist in New York and Boston, along with cities in The Netherlands and United Kingdom.

But unlike other Vision Zero locales, San Francisco has neither lowered speed limits to 20 mph nor implemented automated speed enforcement cameras. In other cities, these measures have resulted in reduced speeds.

The problem for The City in taking this route is that it would require a change in state law, the budget analyst report confirmed.

San Francisco “has limited authority over altering speed limits as they are largely governed by State law which allows for speeds of between 25 and 65 miles per hour only,” the report said. The City could adjust speed limits within that range if such a move is “demonstrated to be needed by an engineering and traffic survey which finds that the speed up to which 85 percent of free flowing traffic is traveling is higher or lower than the existing speed limit.”

For streets where no speed limit is posted, the maximum is 25 mph. It can be lower in limited areas, such as 500 feet from schools and on blind alleyways.

Today, the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the report, which was requested by Supervisor Eric Mar, and discuss traffic-calming programs on arterial streets.

“It’s a good start to look at what other jurisdictions have done,” Mar said of the study.

He noted that places like New York City have already implemented “slow zones” and San Francisco needs to start talking about these policies. Mar said he supports cities gaining more control over speed limits and the authority to use technology to combat speeders.

When it comes to pedestrian safety, vehicle speed can make all the difference. Studies show that there is a nine-times greater chance of a pedestrian being killed when struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph instead of 20 mph, and 17-times greater a chance if the vehicle is traveling 40 mph.

The report stated that in 2011, there were 3,111 collisions in The City that resulted in injury. Of those, 844 were between vehicles and pedestrians and 630 were between vehicles and bicyclists, or 27 and 21 percent of total collisions with injuries, respectively.

Of the 28 fatal collisions that occurred in 2011, 17 were between vehicles and pedestrians and four were between vehicles and bicyclists.

A study of 20 mph zones in the London metropolitan area saw a 40 percent decrease in collisions, the budget analyst report said. The report found that “the combination of reducing speed limits in the City through advocating for a change in State law, enhancing speed limit enforcement and installation of traffic calming measures would be most effective at reducing vehicle speed and collisions.”

At least one San Francisco driver thinks the speed limit should not change.

“In my personal opinion, if there were additional, varied speed limits in any jurisdiction, there would be more confusion among drivers and infrequent compliance,” said William Larkin. Larkin added that there is “only one solution” and that is “strict enforcement of existing traffic laws by all city police officers, including motorcycle officers, whom one would think would make that their principal effort. “

Last year as of Sept. 30, the Police Department had issued 5,674 citations for speeding. That was 1,203 more citations than the 4,471 issued in all of 2013.

The 2014 citations amounted to approximately 630 tickets per month, for nine months, or approximately 21 tickets per day. But the report notes there are clearly more speeders than those caught.
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