Editor's note: we wrote this piece about the small plastic posts that we have twice installed as a pilot to show how the City of San Francisco might use similar tools to slow down traffic in Golden Gate Park. Both times our installations were removed within days. We demand urgent action by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks and SFMTA to make this crosswalk safer. We are waiting.
This tweet says it all. But let’s go deeper.
This parent knows a dangerous road when she sees one. Mothers and fathers are particularly aware of car speeds given the danger they present to children.
Our San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is responsible for the safety of parents and their children as they walk across this community. The best major cities around the world (Melbourne, Copenhagen, Paris, Munich, etc.) have been urgently re-engineering their streets to put people first. San Francisco and the United States are very, very far behind.
Making our streets safe for people will take a lot of work. Our country hasn't had an urban public space transformation this great since the 1950s when we designed streets simply to fit as many cars as possible.
Our goal with SFMTrA is to show how quick and easy street transformations can create immediate safety improvements. Additionally, we want to pressure our city agencies to embark on the massive and urgent effort needed to re-engineer our streets for a world where not every citizen makes every daily journey in a personal car.
The first principle of safe street design is engineering for slow car speeds. Speed limits don’t work. Random speed enforcement doesn’t work (and is a poor use of our police force's valuable time). For 50 years our city streets have been engineered for high vehicle speed and volume. Our streets must be re-engineered for slow speeds. Best practices include narrowing travel lanes, adding turns, alternating street surfaces, etc. You can learn more about safe street design here.
Back to Crossover Drive. We care about the safety of people, whether they are walking, biking, taking public transit, driving a car, or riding as a passenger. The pedestrian crossing on Transverse (visible below) was in need of urgent transformation.
What's wrong with this pedestrian crossing? Wide travel lanes. Multiple travel lanes. No stoplight or sign. Roads like Crossover Drive are engineered to communicate to drivers that our streets are made for speeds of 50 miles per hour. Streets like Crossover Drive sent the wrong message to the driver who killed Heather Miller in Golden Gate Park and the driver who killed Kate Slattery on a four lane, one-way surface highway in SOMA this summer.
If you look closely at the street , you can see that the SFMTA did a paint treatment to claim back road space for pedestrians — but paint doesn't do enough. We have to redesign our roads to be physically more narrow. Poorly designed car-first roads such as this are the direct cause of high car speeds through a space where people are meant to walk, bike, and play, and are indirectly responsible for the death of Heather Miller.
You can see the city made the easiest (both in cost and political capital) attempt at improving this crossing. They painted yellow paint in the left lane ahead of the crosswalk. This is intended to tell cars the left lane is no longer a driving lane and they must merge into a single lane to cross the crosswalk. Guess what — drivers don't stay between the lines. Over and over again, drivers have proven that paint doesn’t work.
Crossover Drive needs to be re-engineered. The city could block the yellow painted area with a curb: drivers pay attention to curbs. They could raise the crosswalk; this would function as a speed hump to slow vehicles as well as make pedestrians more visible.
But until that happens, a few simple changes can improve safety. What we have now done twice with $120 and 20 minutes of effort was one quick step that made this crossing safer. These posts made this intersection more visible, communicated to drivers that they can’t be in the yellow hashed lane, and caused drivers to slow down when nearing the crosswalk.
Crossover Drive is one of many streets in San Francisco that desperately needs to be redesigned for people, not motor vehicles. And our work is only one example of many strategies that can be used to make streets safer. We need our city leaders to act quickly and do more for street safety.