City Report Suggests Policy Change to Decrease Collisions, Speeding on City Streets

A city report detailing the health and safety benefits San Francisco could garner by reducing speed limits on city streets was lauded by bicyclist and pedestrian advocates following its release this week.

The report, commissioned by San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar and written by the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office, based on analysis of other cities that have systematically reduced their speed limits, determined that a reduction of San Francisco’s speed limits could decrease injury and fatal collisions, which is in line with the city’s commitment to Vision Zero, the reduction of all traffic fatalities to zero by 2024.

Reducing speed limits and amending state law to allow cities more flexibility in doing so, could save lives, according to the new report released on Wednesday.

In the report, the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office point to traffic violations issued by the San Francisco Police Department in 2014 which show that of the almost 130,000 violations issued in 2014, speeding accounted for 7,454, or only about 20 speeding tickets per day citywide.

In 2014 San Francisco police officers also issued 4,415 tickets for drivers failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and to 13,061 drivers who failed to stop at stop signs, behaviors that are also known to cause collisions.

The report confirms that drivers traveling at higher speeds not only face an increased risk of getting into a collision, but that collisions that do occur result in far more serious injuries.

Countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands, famous for being bike and pedestrian friendly, commonly determine their speed limits based on an injury minimization approach, according to the report.

Meanwhile the United States, the speed limit is determined based on the speed up to which 85 percent of free-flowing traffic travels on a road, plus adjustments in accordance with traffic and infrastructure conditions, the report states.

The city report analyzed how the city of London has managed to reduce its speed limits to 20 mph, with the exception of several thoroughfares, and put in place self-enforcing traffic calming measures.

Over a 20-year period, the establishment of London’s 20 mph slow zones was associated with a 40 percent decrease in collisions and collisions with injuries, according to the report.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s director of transportation, Ed Reiskin, said that since 2011, the SFMTA has managed to reduce speed limits on 13 streets across San Francisco, and recognized the importance of speed reduction.

“With high traffic speeds being the strongest predictor of whether people are killed or seriously injured when hit by a car, improvements like these really make a difference and help us move the needle on our Vision Zero goals,” Reisken said.

The Budget and Legislative Analyst Office offered a combination of policy alternatives for consideration by the Board of Supervisors in order to reduce vehicle speeds and reduce the impacts of higher speeds on collisions, injuries, the economy and the environment in San Francisco.

The report suggests that the city could benefit from enhanced enforcement of current speed limits using additional police officers.

The report also suggests the city should advocate for amendments to California laws to allow for enhanced enforcement through automated speed enforcement technology, or speed cameras and city speed limits lower than 25 mph, and to eliminate the requirement that speed limits be set at the actual speed of most drivers.

Implementing and enhancing city traffic calming measures was also suggested in the report.

Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk San Francisco, the city’s pedestrian advocacy organization, said Walk SF fully supports the new report and that San Franciscans are eager to see the solutions identified in the report applied “before any additional people are injured or killed on our streets.”

Tyler Frisbee, policy director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said state and local policies need to be examined to make sure they support safe behavior on city roads.

According to Supervisor Mar’s Office, he and the SFMTA plan to work with the City Attorney’s Office and the city’s state legislative delegation to amend California law as necessary.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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