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Transit officials approved a proposal Tuesday to reduce traffic speed throughout the San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood.

The proposal, approved by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, will reduce the maximum speed limit in 17 corridors from 25 to 20 mph in effort to reduce severe traffic-related crashes and deaths.

According to an SFMTA staff report, the Tenderloin has had the highest concentration of vehicle collisions, with every street in the neighborhood on The City’s High-Injury Network — the network highlights that 75 percent of severe or fatal injuries occur on 13 percent of city streets.

Since 2015, there have been more than 1,000 injury collisions citywide. The majority of victims who died or suffered severe injuries were pedestrians or cyclists, the report said.

Transit planners said a person hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph has a 90 percent chance of surviving the crash, whereas someone struck by a vehicle traveling 30 mph has a 60 percent chance of survival. The survival rate exponentially decreases the faster a vehicle is traveling, SFMTA traffic engineer Tom Folks said.

The Tenderloin is one of The City’s most dense neighborhoods and is home to children, seniors and persons with disabilities — the same populations most vulnerable to traffic crashes.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, said residents have been pushing officials to lower the speed limit, adding:

“Residents have been very clear that they don’t want their neighborhood to be used as a freeway and, and so this will slow things down.”

There has also been an effort to prohibit motorists from making red light right turns at approximately 54 intersections in the Tenderloin, which Haney said is equally important in keeping residents in his district safe.

He said:

“There’s a lot of data and evidence to show that helps make it safer to walk when you’re not mixing turns with the crossing.”

Folks shared data from Seattle where it was shown that speed limit reduction resulted in fewer crash incidents. In the case study dated July 2020, conducted by the Seattle Department of Transportation, the number of crashes reduced from 517 to 403 after officials in 2019 reduced the speed limit to 25 mph on major streets.

Injury crashes also decreased from 193 to 158 and the number of drivers traveling more than 40 mph dropped by over 50 percent. Folks said:

“These results are very encouraging about what things we can do in San Francisco to also achieve these kinds of reductions in crashes and speeds on our streets.”

Local jurisdictions do not have control over setting speed limits. However, state law allows a city to reduce speeds on certain streets if the reduction is supported by a city traffic engineer survey.

Normally, the speed limit is set to the nearest 5 mph increment closest to the 85th percentile speed. However, speed limits can be lowered based on special conditions documented by the city traffic engineer.

The SFMTA report said while the speed limit should be 25 mph on most Tenderloin streets, staff recommended a lower limit due to the neighborhood’s prominence on the High-Injury Network.

Director Steve Heminger asked staff if they are considering speed reductions and red light right turn restrictions other high-injury corridors.

SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire said he can’t promise the agency will implement those changes across the entire High-Injury Network, but said staff is looking at specific network areas where the approach taken for the Tenderloin may help.

Maguire said:

“There are certainly parts of The City where lots of pedestrians in at risk categories are exposed to high speed traffic.”

The SFMTA said new speed limit signs will be installed mid-April at the earliest. In the meantime, staff plans to continue public outreach efforts to provide information about the upcoming change. Additionally, changeable message signs will be utilized throughout the neighborhood.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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