SFMTA Backs Vision Zero, Drops Ball on Market Street

by Andrew Szeto on February 5, 2014

With ongoing discussion on pedestrian and cyclist safety, yesterday’s SFMTA Board meeting proved that the agency is perhaps not up to the task Its presentations showed little progress on Market Street vehicle restrictions and a lukewarm strategy for increasing pedestrian safety. The Board unanimously adopted Vision Zero, a resolution aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist traffic fatalities to zero in ten years, but could not offer concrete plans to ensure its implementation. With yet another pedestrian fatality yesterday morning, the second of this year, the meeting underscored the necessity of SFMTA to move forward with near-future plans to mitigate traffic deaths.

Around 30 transit advocates attended yesterday’s SFMTA meeting, listening to presentations on the agency’s updates on its Strategic Plan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategy, and Capital and Operating budgets among others. Each put forward compelling proposals that would indeed fight the city’s increasing pedestrian safety crisis, but many in attendance felt that they were not enough and that the agency has yet to prove that it can even implement these plans.

The failure of the agency to push forward with a car-free Market Street initiative is perhaps most telling. A resolution was passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2011 and reaffirmed last week, but SFMTA has dropped the ball. With an expected surge of new residents in downtown’s new sky rise apartments, Director Malcolm Heinicke spoke of his frustration of the inability of the agency to present a proposal after numerous promises and guarantees. “What’s the delay?” he asked frankly.

Other Commissioners echoed Heincke’s disappointment in the lack of progress. Three members noted that they had asked four times in the past year for action on proposals for near-term improvements on Market Street, including vehicle restrictions, and nothing has been done.

Director Ed Reiskin shouldered some of the blame for the delay, suggesting that a proposal would be coming soon after budget hearings in February. Heinicke requested that, after four calls for a proposal, SFMTA submit something, whether finished or not, noting that there will still be a long process of public input.

The Board’s Bicycle Strategy proved more proactive in addressing the needs for increased bicycle safety. Four cyclists were killed in San Francisco last year, and the Board agreed that much needed to be done to address this. Among the suggestions were to reallocate space and public right of way to prioritize transit.

“If we say we agree with these things, then we as a board need to be willing to step up and make these hard decisions,” Vice Chairman Cheryl Brinkman said. “We need to allocate space that has been misallocated for so long.”

Many cycling advocates from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition made appeals at yesterday’s meeting for the Board to increase bicycle funding to above 8%. Leah Shahum, the executive director, called out the Board for its lack of follow through and for a budget draft she said was “business as usual.” She challenged the board to display a greater sense of urgency because the Board’s rhetoric and action did not seem to be syncing up.

This frustration was echoed through the presentation on the WalkFirst Capital Improvement Program and the Vision Zero resolution. Director Joél Ramos said that the plan was not a strong enough resolution that displayed the agency’s competency and capacity to deliver should transportation ballot measures be approved in November.

Public commenters pushed for plans for pedestrian safety to hit the ground. One commenter, Thomas McDonald, urged the Board to adopt Vision Zero after his daughter was struck and killed last September, providing a face to the agency’s maps and data driven solutions.

After brief discussion, the Board unanimously passed Vision Zero, but as commenters suggest, more needs to be done to carry out its plans.

In light of SFMTA’s inaction, the Board of Supervisors needs to more directly intervene in moving interim reforms on Market Street. Supervisors Chiu, Wiener and Kim have strongly pushed for such actions, which are long overdue.


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