by Zusha Elinson and La Toya Tooles, The Bay Citizen
With dense, lively neighborhoods, San Francisco is often ranked as one of the top U.S. cities for walking.
The city scored an average of 4.6 on a scale of 1 to 10 for pedestrian safety, according to the online poll. The Bay Citizen conducted the unscientific survey after reporting the city was on pace to have more pedestrian fatalities this year than each of the previous two years. The survey was conducted using the Public Insight Network, a platform for connecting journalists and sources.
Click on the balloons in the map to see which intersections San Franciscans said were the most dangerous for pedestrians.
“As a frequent pedestrian, I never feel safe,” wrote Stephanie Shaner, a San Francisco photographer. “I’m always on the lookout for crazy people, crazy people on bikes, and drivers who make their own rules.”
Nearly half of the 98 respondents said they wanted the San Francisco Police Department to ticket more drivers or cyclists for disobeying traffic laws. Several said they’d like to see the city ban right turns at red lights, while others suggested lowering speed limits.
“Increase enforcement of traffic laws for cyclists and drivers alike,” said Andre Morand in his response.
The survey also asked people which intersections they feel are dangerous for pedestrians. More than 20 percent of respondents said that intersections along three of the city’s major thoroughfares – Market Street, Van Ness Avenue and Masonic Avenue – were the most perilous for pedestrians. About 15 percent mentioned the South of Market area, with its long blocks and fast-moving traffic.
Last year, there were 807 accidents involving pedestrians who were injured, the most since 2003, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Already this year, 11 pedestrians have been killed on the city’s streets. Last year, there were 17 pedestrian fatalities; in 2010 there were 15, according to the police department.
Between 2005 and 2009, most pedestrian collisions that resulted in serious injuries and fatalities were concentrated in the downtown, Tenderloin, South of Market and Mission District neighborhoods, according to a recent report from the city’s health department. Many occurred along Market Street and Van Ness Avenue.
The city has made some efforts to improve pedestrian safety in the past year. It is extending crosswalk times, according to Paul Rose, spokesman for the SFMTA. Pedestrians will have 34 seconds to cross Market Street instead of 30, for example. The extra seconds are a result of a change in federal guidelines for determining the amount of time needed to cross a street. The city has since adjusted the countdown clocks at 400 out of 1,200 intersections.
Police are also targeting areas with high rates of pedestrian injuries and deaths, said San Francisco Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza.
“We’ve increased enforcement in corridors where there have been serious or fatal collisions,” Esparza said.
In June, the city lowered the speed limits on four South of Market streets – Howard, Folsom, Harrison and Bryant – from 30 to 25 mph. But the survey indicates that pedestrians believe drivers are still going too fast.
“I walk and ride those streets every day and have noticed no change in motorist speeds (and no enforcement either),” Caryl Gay said in her response. “Not that surprising though – if you design a street like a freeway, people will treat it as one.”
Esparza said that SoMa residents concerned about speeding should bring their complaints to community meetings at the police station in the area.
Gay and other SoMa residents like Katy Liddell say the numerous freeway entrances contribute to the problem, with cars blocking intersections and speeding onto the freeway.
Liddell, who lives near Main and Harrison streets, said that she walked home for lunch one day only to see a body under a tarp at the intersection. It was her neighbor, Beverly Kees, a longtime newspaper editor, who had been hit by a big rig.
Eight years after the fatal collision, the intersection is still “a hotbed for road rage and dangerous pedestrian issues,” wrote Liddell, who is the president of a neighborhood association in the South of Market area.
“One day I was crossing and a young man blew me a kiss as he almost ran me over … making a left turn,” she added.
Liddell gave the city a 3 for pedestrian safety.
The city earned high marks from a handful of poll respondents, including a recent Chicago transplant, Jerad Weiner, who wrote that he was pleased to see drivers in San Francisco stop to let people cross the street.
“I just moved from Chicago where drivers rarely stop for pedestrians in crosswalk,” said Weiner, who worked as a transportation planner in the Windy City. “They treat it more as a yield and will aggressively accelerate if you do not clear the intersection quick enough for them.”
The survey also asked if the city had improved pedestrian safety in any areas. Joseph Steinberger said that Valencia Street is safer, thanks to new, wider sidewalks and lower speed limits.
“The bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, parklets and bulbouts make the street and traffic seem calmer,” Steinberger wrote.
In the survey, readers were quick to point the finger at drivers, cyclists or pedestrians themselves. But Doug Broussard said in his response that he’s tired of blaming one group or another for the city’s pedestrian safety woes.
“Each group of people (car drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists) who use the road feels utterly entitled to their behavior,” Broussard wrote.
“Pedestrians could put down the phones and look both ways before entering the intersection. Car drivers could actually pay attention to anything without wheels and an engine,” he continued. “Perhaps everyone can stop behaving like groups of angry children on the playground.”
This story was produced by The Bay Citizen, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.baycitizen.org.