Monday, April 11, 2011

Streets of SF are not unsafe for pedestrians

Photo by by QT Luong

Seems that every six months the SF Chronicle runs essentially the same story about the allegedly dangerous streets of San Francisco. One of the sources for this morning's story is the head of Walk San Francisco:

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk San Francisco, said a lack of accessible statistics makes the problems difficult to track. "It's so hard to actually get the information on how many people are hit and how frequent it is that people don't realize the danger that exists to the pedestrians in this city," she said. "Two to three people are being hit every day in the city. It's an outrage."

With all due respect, that's bullshit. I understand that Stampe is just doing her job as an advocate for pedestrians, and that to a hammer the whole world looks like a nail. The folks at the Bicycle Coalition also sometimes talk as if there's an ongoing bloodbath on city streets, but it's simply untrue. In fact city streets have been getting steadily safer for everyone---cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians---over the years.

It's also untrue that the city doesn't have "accessible statistics" on pedestrian injuries. Every year the city publishes a "collision" report on injuries to cyclists and another on injuries to other users of city streets. Go the MTA's website, click on "reports," and you will find those downloadable reports. Click on "Pedestrian-Specific Reports" and you will eventually find the MTA's "New York City’s Pedestrian Safety Study and San Francisco Data," published last October, which I wrote about in January.

This report tells us that "central cities like San Francisco can be much more active during the day, so using population figures from the US Census can underestimate actual levels of traffic and pedestrian activity" (page 8). On the next page, there's a graphic comparing traffic fatality rates of cities in the US and around the world. Turns out that SF is in the middle, with Stockholm having the safest streets and Atlanta the most dangerous streets. But San Francisco's fatality rate (4.33) on its streets per 100,000 people isn't radically higher than that of Copenhagen (3.92), one of the cyclists' favorite cities.

Turning to page 11, we learn that SF has a very low number of "Pedestrian Injury Collisions Per Walk Trips to Work." Only Anaheim is a safer ctiy in which to walk to work, but there are ten times as many "annual work walk trips" in SF than there are in Anaheim.

People walk to work more in SF than in any other city except Los Angeles.

And streets in SF are busy during the day, with 35,500 additional vehicles driving into the city every workday, which we learn in another document easily available on the MTA's website: the annual San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet. According to the Census Bureau, SF has a population of 818,163, but that swells to 945,480 during the day. And there are more than 461,000 motor vehicles registered in SF, which means we have 9,936 registered vehicles per square mile. There are more than 1,000 Muni vehicles in SF and 1,500 taxi cabs on our streets.

After New York, SF is the most densely populated city in the United States: "The only consolidated city-county in California, it encompasses a land area of on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula, giving it a density of 17,243 people/mi² (6,655 people/km²). It is the most densely settled large city (population greater than 200,000) in the state of California and the second-most densely populated large city in the United States."

Add it all up, and our streets are relatively safe, when you consider population density and how intensively city streets are used by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.

Having said that, I expect to be writing a similar post in six months when the Chronicle does its semi-annual scare story on the allegedly dangerous streets of San Francisco.

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