Monday, April 11, 2011

Streets of SF are not unsafe for pedestrians

Photo by Q.T. 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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At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk San Francisco, has been stampeded by the herd group think?

At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

I agree that our streets are relatively safe, but they could be a lot safer. One big problem I see, as both a driver and pedestrian, is that there is essentially NO traffic law enforcement in SF. Drivers know they are free to break the law with impunity, and they do.

Crosswalk violations are among the most rampant (I've been hit in a crosswalk myself, fortunately without great injury.) It's illegal to enter a crosswalk when a pedestrian is anywhere within the crosswalk. While I'd acknowledge that enforcing the crosswalk law fully might be impractical in our urban environment, there should be constant enforcement against drivers who think it's okay to pass within inches of a pedestrian in the crosswalk, or who intimidate pedestrians and force them to jump back even though they are crossing legally.

Red light violations are also rampant... there's an intersection near me (Market and Duboce) with a right-turn arrow... frequently when I'm waiting at the red arrow to turn right, a car will come from behind, go around me (driving in the bike lane to do so) and turn through the red right-turn arrow. They do this without any ability to see whether anyone might be in the crosswalk. Someone will eventually be killed by one of these idiots.

So while I'd agree with you that some of the proposed solutions to improve pedestrian safety are not cost-efficient ways to use our scarce dollars, I do think we need to kick up traffic enforcement by several notches. People will only obey the rules if they think they might get caught if they don't. There's no chance of that today.

Clearly, the SFPD doesn't care about traffic law enforcement. I'm not sure what the answer is... I wouldn't trust the MTA to do any better if enforcing the laws were their responsibility. Better use of technology - more red light cameras and the like - might be a start. I think if we started handing out tickets for even a fraction of the traffic law violations that occur daily, we'd make a serious dent in the city's budget problems.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The SFPD is dealing with dwindling numbers of cops to deal with gang violence and gun violence in specific parts of the city. The idea that the city should make traffic enforcement a priority seems a little fanciful. Yes, there are a lot of reckless, dangerous drivers out there. And they are even worse with the cell phones as an added distraction. Just watching the traffic in my neighborhood you see a lot of drivers talking on cell phones.

Nevertheless, in spite of a lot of bad and reckless behavior on the part of pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists, the actual injury accident numbers are in steady decline, though injuries to cyclists were up slightly in the latest MTA reports.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Mikesonn said...

Walk SF is on KPFA right now.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Mikesonn said...

I'm sure you saw this.

How you can continue to say that our streets are perfectly safe is beyond me. I hope she's ok.

"The speeding on Masonic is out of control," said Annika Ehrlich, a UCSF nurse who lives a couple of blocks from the intersection where emergency workers had just picked up the jogger. "This is a neighborhood with families and children, yet motorists treat it like a highway."

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I hope she's okay, too. Of course I didn't write that "our streets are perfectly safe." What I pointed out is that the city's collision reports show that our streets have been getting safer over the years with fewer fatalities and fewer accidents. Like all members of the anti-car movement, you refuse to face the facts and/or actually read the reports I discuss. Every time there's an accident to anyone on the streets of SF, Streetsblog posts it, as if it's all part of the ongoing bloodbath on city streets. It's a lie, as the city's numbers demonstrate.

In fact Masonic Avenue has relatively few accidents---especially considering the volume of traffic it handles---as the city report at the first community meeting to screw up Masonic last year told us.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Mikesonn said...

Any preventable injury should be treated the same. I'm not ignoring facts. Why is 1 injury ok, but 100 aren't? Speeding traffic, drivers lulled into complacency, and poor infrastructure that encourages both should be addressed. Sadly, it is only addressed when something bad happens.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, we should prevent every injury to anyone anywhere if we can. But obviously that's not possible. But your willful ignorance is typical of the anti-car movement in SF. Instead of actually dealing with the reality---the facts show that our streets are actually getting safer over time---you imply falsely that there's some kind of ongoing emergency on our streets. It's simply a lie that's part of a deliberate campaign to further the crackpot, anti-car agenda in San Francisco.

And at what point does your willful ignorance of the facts become dishonest? The anti-car movement should designate someone else to comment on this blog, since obviously your lame comments only discredit that movement.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Mikesonn said...

I'm not anti-car, first off. But anyone who's ever been on a bike is evil-incarnate in your eyes.

And just because I disagree with you does not mean that I am a crack-pot. Though I imagine you think it helps when you marginalize opposing opinions.

For someone who claims to walk the streets, you seem very ignorant to the constant harassment by drivers. I'm on the streets on foot, Muni, and bike every day. I nearly get hit at most intersections I cross because a stop sign is optional and red lights mean speed up. There is no enforcement on our roads and when something does happen, there is no consequence. The driver in this case wasn't even cited.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

A crackpot is someone who clings to a belief despite all the evidence contradicting it. With your comments here, you refuse to engage on a factual level and simply repeat your rhetorical points.

Yes, I'm out on the streets every day, and I don't feel at all threatened by drivers. In fact people on bikes are a bigger worry for me when I cross a street because you can't hear them coming.

Obviously, you have to be careful walking on city streets, but when has that not been the case? You and the anti-car folks seem to think that the city is obligated to make your life risk-free, just like Mommy and Daddy did in days of yore.

City cops are spread increasingly thin over San Francisco, dealing with gang and gun violence, among other things.

Maybe the driver who hit the jogger on Masonic hasn't been cited because it's not evident that he was at fault.

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A crackpot is someone who clings to a belief despite all the evidence contradicting it.

e.g. Rob Anderson is a crackpot.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"City cops are spread increasingly thin over San Francisco, dealing with gang and gun violence, among other things."

If you are careful, you won't get shot. Sheesh.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"A crackpot is someone who clings to a belief despite all the evidence contradicting it."

"e.g. Rob Anderson is a crackpot."

How so? Could I have some specifics? No, of course not, which is my point. Sonn and folks like you are incapable of dealing with a fact-based argument, much like fundamentalists of all stripes. And in your case, you're too gutless to even put your name on your lame gibe.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Mikesonn said...

That isn't even the definition of a "crackpot" anyway. So much for fact based arguments.

And you fundamentally come at this argument skewed against cyclists much more anyone could possibly come skewed against cars. It isn't black and white, bikes bad or cars bad. How old are you? Figured you'd gain some maturity by now.

Yes, the "number" of accidents might seem "small", but I argue that many of them are preventable. Why shouldn't those preventable collisions be avoided? I'm not asking the city to make the streets 100% safe, but why encourage speeding, not give citations when fault is obvious, and design streets that put the most vulnerable users at higher risk? While not quantifiable, it is real.

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FACT: 100% of SF Supervisors voted to support the bike plan.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Two to three people are hit by cars every day on San Francisco’s dangerously motorized streets, and researchers are beginning to paint a clearer picture of the economic toll. The more than 800 pedestrian crashes a year are racking up a $76 million bill for injuries, reports the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC).

But you say...

"City cops are spread increasingly thin over San Francisco, dealing with gang and gun violence, among other things."

SEVENTY-SIX MILLION DOLLARS. Nah, we don't need to worry about that, let's go after the thugs. EIGHT HUNDRED CRASHES. Show me some stats showing more than 800 episodes of gun violence in SF in a year, $76M in costs due to those injuries. You can't because they don't exist.

You crackpot.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm posting these latest comments, but they're not worthy of a response. None of them show any signs of having read the city documents the blog post is based on. I guess I'm supposed to keep repeating what I've already said in the post and cite the same evidence over and over, while pointing out to Mike Sonn that his comment doesn't contain a single fact.

Except for this one:
"FACT: 100% of SF Supervisors voted to support the bike plan."

Yes, they did, and so did Mayor Newsom, which only goes to show how bad our leadership in City Hall has been for the last ten years. It was obvious to anyone who knew anything about the law---in this instance, CEQA---that what the city tried to do with the Bicycle Plan was illegal, but they all did it anyhow. And then the city kept its losing legal case alive for a couple of years longer than it should have just to satisfy the bike people and its "progressive" constituents, a stupid, irresponsible, and deliberate waste of taxpayers' money solely for political reasons.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares about CEQA. Now that the city has complied... you have no argument. You're like a high school QB reliving the glory days.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger John R. said...

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Zeke Krahlin said...

Bicycle fatalities on the rise in Bay Area

"Riding a bicycle in the Bay Area is an increasingly deadly pastime.

The number of bicyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles has increased 28 percent over the past decade - from 18 to 23 deaths per year, according to a Chronicle analysis of data collected by the California Highway Patrol."

Read the rest here:

S.F. streets particularly mean for pedestrians

"More than 800 people are hit by cars in San Francisco each year, making it one of the most dangerous cities in the state - and possibly the country - for pedestrians."

Read the rest here:

Read more:

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, Zeke, this is all old news---or I should say propaganda. You need to read my analysis of Stampe's fact-free hysteria about pedestrian safety.

The post also has a link to the city's latest collision report that shows pedestrians are getting safer in SF over the years. Stampe talks as if this report doesn't exist, which makes her either a liar or an incompetent.

On average only 1.8 cylists die in SF every year, though many more are injured, half of those through their own recklessness.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Zeke Krahlin said...

Like mikesonn, I walk the streets of SF daily...and it is a terrible, frightening mess for pedestrians most every place. The nightmare that is SF traffic can not be excused for any reason whatsoever. Automobiles are death machines, both injury and pollution wise. (Air pollution AND noise, I might add.)

Mikesonn's comment is identical to what I would say to you:

"For someone who claims to walk the streets, you seem very ignorant to the constant harassment by drivers."

These "official" statistics HAVE to be skewed, I have seen NO improvement of pedestrian safety in our unfair city, since I moved here in '83. The same old dangerous streets and intersections are as dangerous as ever, if not more so.

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My experience has been different. I walk and take Muni everywhere, and the streets seem safe to me. Of course you have to be careful, and many pedestrians and cyclists seem to think they are immortal, that they don't have to exercise caution on the streets of the city.


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