San Francisco's commitment to eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024, known as Vision Zero, is this year off to a tragic start. Adopted in 2014, the two-year-old initiative seeks to educate the public on safe driving habits while redesigning some of the most dangerous stretches of San Francisco streets. Despite these efforts, the first three months of 2016 have already seen seven traffic deaths (in stark contrast to the one death that had occurred by this time last year), and the Chronicle reports that pedestrian safety advocates are worried some Vision Zero initiatives are being watered down to accommodate merchants' demands for easy and accessible on-street parking.
“Anything we do to redesign streets is going to have trade-offs,” the paper reports SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin as saying, “and one of those trade-offs is parking.”
According to officials, approximately 30 people die on the streets of San Francisco each year. It is with this number in mind that proposals like building concrete center boarding islands on Taraval Street for the L-Taraval line are being put forth. The Chronicle informs us that 46 pedestrians have been hit on Taraval Street over the last five years, and the proposed boarding islands are expected to reduce that number — and remove some on-street parking in the process.
“It will give pedestrians safety but it will suffocate any kind of prosperity on the street,” Albert Chow of the People of Parkside-Sunset merchants association told the paper of the boarding islands. “What we are trying to do is find a solution that will preserve parking and let traffic continue to flow.”
And so merchants like Chow (he owns a Sunset hardware store) are advocating that SFMTA paint stripes in the street telling drivers to stop in lieu of SFMTA's island plan — an idea, the Chronicle reports, that SFMTA is considering testing out.
Cathy DeLuca of pedestrian advocacy group Walk SF, meanwhile, is not impressed. “You can be Vision Zero leaders and not let this plan be watered down,” she reportedly told the SFMTA board before noting directly to the Chron that her comment was "a call to action for the board to put pedestrian safety above all these other issues like parking.”
So is Vision Zero at risk of falling short of its ambitious goal? It's likely too early to tell, as many of the proposed safety improvements have yet to be made and the results from completed changes may take a while to manifest in the data.
“If you ask any good statistician, it takes a few years to see an actual trend,” as MTA senior transportation planner Mari Hunter told Hoodline earlier this month. “Even if we say [fatalities] go from 31 to 30, that would not be, ‘Oh, we’re trending down.’”
So while it is too early in the year to tell if 2016's seven traffic deaths mean Vision Zero overall is stumbling, when combined with merchants' efforts to resist Vision Zero goals, the deaths paint an especially troubling picture for pedestrian safety improvements in our fair city.