“Twenty-seven!” San Francisco resident and Walk SF volunteer Marsi Fraser called out as a red truck rumbled past her.
The truck was moving only two miles over the speed limit, but the number was still recorded by fellow volunteer Michele Francis. In the 30 minutes since the pair had planted themselves between 18th and 19th streets on South Van Ness Avenue on Monday afternoon, Francis recorded car speeds between 10 and 40 mph. She also noticed a pattern where the cars going more than 25 mph had traveled through consecutive green lights.
Like a doctor performing an annual physical exam on a patient, three groups of volunteers spread out across South Van Ness with speed guns in hand. It was time for South Van Ness’ speed check-up. The volunteers were evaluating the effects of South Van Ness’ new “road diet,” which reduced the street’s lanes from four to three. But just last week, a Mission resident was killed in a hit-and-run at South Van Ness and 16th Street, which is raising questions on the effectiveness of the new road diet.
Walk SF has been conducting speed surveys of “high-injury” streets in San Francisco, the 13 percent of city streets that account for 75 percent of the city’s severe and fatal crashes. Data collected from these surveys will be presented to the Municipal Transportation Agency in the fall. Speed surveys are being conducted in all 11 San Francisco districts.
Speeding on South Van Ness has been a conspicuous problem for a long time; it is rated as one of the Mission’s “high-injury” streets. There have been 10 collisions on South Van Ness since the beginning of 2022, according to Vision Zero SF’s data. This data did not include last week’s fatal hit-and-run.
At least 18 people have died in traffic collisions on San Francisco streets this year, and more than a dozen have been killed in the Mission District since 2020, according to Vision Zero. From January to May, 2022, 44 percent of people killed while walking were on one of the high-injury streets.
“It shouldn’t be life-or-death to cross the street in San Francisco,” Walk SF executive director Josie Medeiros said in a press release last week. “We all deserve to be safe when walking.”
The road diet was implemented earlier this year, in the hope of deterring the speed problem. According to Brian Haagsman, a Vision Zero organizer with Walk SF, the recommendations were made as part of the city’s quick-build program. This special program allowed for “cheap” solutions to traffic safety, such as changing the timers on street lights and painting safety zones. One change that was not made by the city, however, is narrowing road lanes in order to decrease vehicle speeds.
Volunteers for Walk SF conducted a speed survey along Guerrero Street last week, which is another “high-injury” street in the Mission. Francis, who attended the speed survey on Guerrero, said that she found “a shocking number of people going over 40 mph in a 25 mph speed zone.”
“My daughter lives on Guerrero, and almost every day she has a close call,” Francis said. “You can’t expect people to follow the rules.”
Karen Rhodes, a Walk SF board member and Mission resident since 1988, hopes the speed surveys will lead to tangible changes in her neighborhood and the city more broadly.
“The Mission accommodates a lot of cars and a lot of people,” Rhodes said. She noted that she has experienced a number of close calls herself. “On a regular basis, cars whip around the corner and don’t see people,” she said.
“We’re here to gather data … SFMTA can’t do it all,” Rhodes said. “They’re limited in time and in staff. So we said, ‘Let us help you with the baseline data-gathering.’”