The state usually sets speed limits, but the SFMTA has found a loophole by which they can lower the speed limit on many Tenderloin streets.
The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency put up a fairly typical city website blog post on Wednesday entitled Tenderloin Streets Transform During COVID-19. It’s mostly just a rundown of things the SFMTA has already done in the neighborhood, like the Shared Spaces Program, Slow Streets, and various parking lane closures. (Ironically, its mention of outdoor dining uses the terms “a vital lifeline” and “temporarily paused” in the same bullet point.) But there is some news buried deep in the post, wherein they say “the SFMTA is proposing to lower the neighborhood speed limit to 20 miles per hour,” and “If approved, the Tenderloin will be the first neighborhood in San Francisco to have widespread speed reductions.”
Most Tenderloin streets are currently speed limited at 25 miles per hour, and speed limits are set by the state of California. But as the Examiner explains, the SFMTA is using a legal loophole that “allows The City to justify the need for lower speeds using speed surveys.” According to that report, much of the Tenderloin has already been surveyed and determined to be eligible for a 5-mph reduction, and officials expect the entire neighborhood to receive similar determinations.
The SFMTA also wants to put “no turn on red” limitations on more corners, but the lowering of the speed limits is the big change here. The SFMTA’s post notes that “every single street in the Tenderloin on the city’s High Injury Network — the 13 percent of San Francisco streets that account for 75 percent of severe traffic injury collision and fatalities,” and that lowering speeds correlates with lower death rates when cars collide with bikes or pedestrians.
But, how do we put this diplomatically... the Tenderloin is not your typical neighborhood, and you’ll encounter some very aggressive jaywalking, and perhaps a little intoxication on those streets. Lowering speed limits may indeed correlate with lower fatalities, should drivers actually observe those speed limits. But like Vision Zero itself, which aspires to the goal of “Zero Traffic Deaths In San Francisco by 2024,” this seems like a goal that’s nice to have, but unlikely to ever be truly realized just given human behavior.
The lowered speed limits are not a done deal, this is merely an SFMTA proposal on which you can still comment or complain. The SFMTA is hosting a number of Virtual Open Houses and Online Office Hours to discuss these and other proposed Tenderloin traffic safety measures, and these public comment opportunities will extend through January 8, 2021.
Image: Google Street View