Three blocks of Fell and Oak streets between Scott and Baker streets are getting a much needed complete streets style makeover. SFMTA has approved a plan to implement separated bike lanes, to install bulb-outs to 12 corners, and to slow traffic signal lights.
The renovations will mean that the streets will lose a total of 50 parking spaces, a negative consequence that had many local business owners up in arms. At the same time, however, cyclists and pedestrians praise the changes, saying that they are a long time coming. “[The changes] will help people of all ages walking to and from some of the most beloved parks in San Francisco,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy organization. “For too long, the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park have been like islands in the middle of these freewaylike streets.”
In the United States riding without a helmet is often viewed to be as dangerous and irresponsible as smoking. Needless to say, the stigma against it is significant. Helmets are seen as life-saving devices, the cycling version of seat belts. To ride without one is to take your life in to your own hands.
In many Euroepan cities, including Amsterdam and Paris where cycling is extremely prevalent, however, the percentage of people who wear helmets is negligable (and mostly limited to tourists). Yet, these cities are some of the safest for cyclists in the world. From experience, I can say that a person feels safer cycling without helmet in Amsterdam than cycling with a helment anywhere in the United States. What could account for this disparity?
Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, argues that the deterrence factor associated with helmet-wearing is so significant that it outweighs the safety benefits. This may seem like a strange or outlandish claim, but in many respects it makes sense. Wearing a helmet is a significant social faux-paz. Any child who grew up in California (and has experiece in cycling) can attest to the many embarrasing occasions when mom or dad forced them to put on a helmet before a bike ride. As we grow older this stigma, and the one which makes a person irresponsible (and sometimes a law-breaker) when they do not wear a helmet, can become so strong that it prevents a person from riding bikes altogether.
Professor de Jong argues that the fewer cyclists on the road, the more dangerous cycling is for those who do it. More cyclists= safer cycling. Look at the Amsterdam and the Paris examples. Both cities have a large number of daily cyclists and both cities have an entrenced cycling cuclture. This culutre, de Jong argues, is essential to biking safety, and if helmet laws are preventing this culture from floiurishing, then hemlet laws are in fact making cycling more dangerous.
In big cities that are trying to appeal to the toursit crowd, helmet laws can be especially contentious. Tourists want to take the easiest, most convenient route. Having to worry about safety equipment, like a helmet, could be a practical deterrent. In addition, helmets make a fairly safe activity seem inherently dangerous. “Recent experience suggests that if a city wants bike-sharing to really take off, it may have to allow and accept helmet-free riding. A two-year-old bike-sharing program in Melbourne, Australia — where helmet use in mandatory — has only about 150 rides a day, despite the fact that Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate. On the other hand, helmet-lax Dublin — cold, cobbled and hilly — has more than 5,000 daily rides in its young bike-sharing scheme. Mexico City recently repealed a mandatory helmet law to get a bike-sharing scheme off the ground.”
Instead of worrying avout enforicing helemt laws, European ccycliung advocates recommend that U.S. cities focus on making safer lanes, safer intersecxtions and ultimately safer streets for cyclists.
This is obviously a contentious issue. Helmets have saved people’s lives. On that issue there is no dispute. But, is making helmets mandatory (and thereby deterring some riders) the best answer? Maybe. Maybe not.
Streetsblog has reported a crash near a vehicle ramp southbound Potrero Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard over Cesar Chavez Street in which a drunk driver killed a pedestrian. The junction of Cesar Chavez and Highway 101 is known as “the hairball” for its dangerous intersections, and the particular danger for pedestrains and cyclists who venture into the mix. “This whole area is incredibly unfriendly and unsafe for walking right now, and local workers and residents have been asking for new crosswalks and other improvements,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF. It is no suprise that the victim was reportedly in the road and not in a crosswalk, since, according to Streetsblog the “nearest crosswalks on that stretch of Potrero, at Cesar Chavez and 25th Street, are roughly 1,056 feet apart”.
The driver, a 25 year old San Francisco native, was arrested for driving under the influence and felony vehicular manslaughter in the death of the unidentified man.
Chicago is leading the way in pedestrian safety in the United States by pledging to eliminate all pedestrian fatalities by 2022.
Now, that’s not a phrase you would expect to hear. Chicago is a car-centric, midwest, urban center. Currently about 50 pedestrians are killed annually on Chicago streets. Not exactly the city that you would imagine to take the lead in a campaign for pedestrian safety. After an extensive sudy which included public input, City Officials announced a plan with 250 short-term and long-term projects and goals. As grist.org points out “a city that cares about walking is a city that cares about people”. This plan has great potential not simply to protect pedestrians from vehicles, but to make Chicago a more desirable tourist destination (walking is always a plus with tourists), to improve safety, and to improve living conditions in general. An investment in pedestrians is an investment in the city.
The plan includes some features which are common throughout the Bay Area and some that it would be nice to see implemented here. Besides marked sidewalks, in-road stop signs at crosswalks (it’s a state law to stop at crosswalks), pedestrian refuge islands (as seen in Berkeley and elsewhere in the East Bay and pictured above) and better signals, the plan also proposes ‘Road Diets’. This blog reported on Road Dieting a while back, but for those of you who don’t know, putting a road on a diet means shifting emphasis from cars to pedestrians and cyclists by reducing traffic lanes, widening sidewalks, adding bike paths and greening medians. These road diets are long-term investments for the neighborhoods which they service. Road diets can decrease the number of cars, increase the number of pedestrians, improve safety conditions, reduce collisions, increase demand for restaurants and store-front businesses and generally improve the conditions of the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, San Francisco city transportation officials say San Francisco has put more roads on a diet than anywhere else in North America.
Still, San Francisco could learn a lot from Chicago’s Plan. One idea which I don’t think is implemented consistenly throughout the Bay Area is the lagging left turn during which the left turn signal is delayed to give pedestrians time to cross with traffic moving parallel across the intersection. Another interesting proposal are chicanes (see picture below) which essentially act like speed bumps with out the speeding up and speeding down and subsequent noise pollution.
Perhaps most interesting is Chicago’s focus on taxis. Chicago’s taxis account for 30% of pedestrian fatalities. Chicago’s plan includes revoking more licenses, engaging in significant outreach to taxi companies not just drivers, implementing the use of bumper stickers on taxis encouraging people to report dangerous driving, and the long-term goal of developing a safety-based incentive system. In addition, the Chicago Plan proposes integrating pedestrian safety into police training and improving the pedestrian connectivity to buses and trains.
The rest of the Country will be watching closely to see whether Chicago can meet the seemingly impossible goal of Zero Fatalities by 2022. While I am skeptical of their achieving this goal, I look forward to seeing the many (hopefully) positive changes Chicago undergoes from the effort.
Masonic Avenue is being considered for a Boulevard Makeover. The San Francisco street has been in the news recently as the site of two high-profile fatality accidents in the past two years. And the rest of the numbers clearly support the argument that a change is needed. “Between 2004 and 2009, before traffic-calming measures were implemented, there were 116 collisions resulting in 131 injuries on Masonic.” Indeed, 32,000 vehicles use the street everyday.
The new design would remove two traffic lanes, and implement 1.2 miles of separated bike paths, add a center median and install sidewalk extensions to better accommodate transit vehicles and pedestrians. The new design is consistent with the Complete Streets movement discussed in an earlier post. The goal of ‘Complete Streets’ is to “ensure that all public roads in California are designed and operated to accommodate all roadway users, including bicyclists, public transit riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities”.
This new design has the support of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association and will be put before the SFMTA on Tuesday, September 18th. Not everyone is behind the proposal, however, and the point in contention is that which could most successfully stall the improvements, the money. The project has an estimated cost of $18 million and right now funding is at only $1 million. SFTMA is hoping to find more funding from regional grant sources, but even if the project finds the funding and goes forward, it will be years before residents see any change.
The California Bicycle Coalition has adopted a number of campaigns in its advocacy for better cycling in California. One of those is the ‘Complete Streets’ Initiative.
The goal of ‘Complete Streets’ is to “ensure that all public roads in California are designed and operated to accommodate all roadway users, including bicyclists, public transit riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities”.
Complete Streets will vary significantly depending on the conditions (rural, urban, flat, hilly, etc). They may include:
Bike Lanes (or wide paved shoulders)
Special Bus Lanes
Comfortable and Accessible Transit Stops
Frequent Crossing Opportunities
Accessible Pedestrian Signals
In California, Complete Streets are the law. On January 1, 2011, the ‘Complete Streets Act’ went into effect. The law requires “cities and counties, when updating the part of a local general plan that addresses roadways and traffic flows, to ensure that those plans account for the needs of all roadway users.” As the result of the passage of the act in 2008, California became the second state to implement the ‘Complete Streets’ policies.
‘Complete Streets’ are not a partisan issue. Everyone can and should support making streets more accesible for all peoples since ‘Complete Streets’:
Bay City News and the SF Examiner are reporting a solo motorcycle crash at Kezar and Martin Luther King Drives in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, September 2nd at 9:40 p.m.. The motorcyclist was killed in a solo crash in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park that involved a motorcyclist and a light pole near the intersection, according to police. Police said the motorcyclist, identified only as a white man in his 30s, was pronounced dead at the scene.
An investigation into the collision is underway, and no further details were immediately available.
With its dense shops and restaurants, beautiful vistas and diverse neighborhoods San Francisco is a city in which walking is often the most desirable mode of transport. However, a recent poll by Bay Citizen shows that many pedestrians do not feel safe walking in the city.
The Bay Citizen’s nonscientific poll found that nearly half of the 98 respondents said “they wanted the San Francisco Police Department to ticket more drivers or cyclists for disobeying traffic laws. Several said they’d like to see the city ban right turns at red lights, while others suggested lowering speed limits.”
Recently, the City has been working to make some improvements to pedestrian safety. An updated federal guideline has forced the City to extend crosswalk times in many intersections, including along Market Street. In addition, Police are focusing their efforts in corridors where there have been serious or fatal collisions. In June, the city lowered the speed limits on four South of Market streets – Howard, Folsom, Harrison and Bryant – from 30 to 25 mph.
Areas that went on a “road-diet”, where sidewalks and medians were extended, lanes were decreased and other measures were taken to reduce traffic and increase pedestrain activity, seem safer. “The bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, parklets and bulbouts make the street and traffic seem calmer” one respondent wrote.
Yet, many people feel that the City has just not done enough. A SoMa resident who responded to the survey suggested that pedestrians who still do not feel safe, and people who feel like the city has not done enough, should bring their complaints to community meetings. Another respondent suggested that everyone stop pointing fingers and laying blame, and instead acknowledge that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike have responsibilities when they share the road. It is when these groups work together that San Francisco’s streets will become safer.
A map detailing the intersections that the survey respondents identified as the most dangerous in San Francisco for pedestrians can be seen by clicking on the link below.
As part of its Bikes on Bart Advocacy, the San Francisco Bike Coalition interviewed a few of the cyclists taking advantage of the lift on the rush-hour ban to find out how it was affecting people’s commute.
Eric, Fruitvale to SOMA: The ban on bikes during rush hour completely prevents Eric from biking to work. He can usually make it to the station early enough to take BART before the blackout hours start in the morning, but he cannot hang around in San Francisco until rush hour is over after work. Because of the restrictions, he drives to the Bart station and walks to work. The lift on the ban on Fridays during the month of August allows Eric to bike to the Fruitvale station and bike to work, then bike home. His commute is quicker, cheaper and more efficient. It is the ideal situation.
Hopefully, people like Eric who responsibly utilize the services BART has to offer, can help to permanently change BART’s policy on bike. Lifting the ban on bikes on BART during rush hour is beneficial for commuters, for the Bay Area and for the environment.
According the SF Examiner roads sometimes need to diet in order to become healthier. This means shifting emphasis from cars to pedestrians and cyclists by reducing traffic lanes, widening sidewalks, adding bike paths and greening medians. These road diets are long-term investments for the neighborhoods which they service. Road diets can decrease the number of cars, increase the number of pedestrians, improve safety conditions, reduce collisions, increase demand for restaurants and store-front businesses and generally improve the conditions of the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, City transportation officials say San Francisco has put more roads on a diet than anywhere else in North America. These projects and their results have been observed on Divisadero Street corridor, San Jose Avenue, Eddy and Ellis streets, Valencia Street and Folsom Street. Business owners and residents in these areas laud the new security pedestrians feel when crossing the street, the more leisurely pace of cars and cyclists and te improvement in the overall atmosphere and value of the neighborhood. Although not everyone is completely convinced, most people agree that the renovations add value to a neighborhood.