a women on the right holds a speed gun while the women on the left records the speeds
Michele Francis, on the left, and Marsi Fraser, on the right, record the speed of cars driving down South Van Ness Avenue. Photo by Carolyn Stein.

“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.’”

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Intern reporter. Carolyn grew up in Los Angeles. She previously served as a desk editor for her college newspaper The Stanford Daily. When she's not reporting, you can find her going on an unnecessarily long walk.

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  1. Please do a story on MUNI busses and the fact that no MUNI drivers have been issued a moving violation in more than five years! The MUNI busses speed on all lines, EVERYDAY with no repercussions! Vision ZERO is laughable when the most dangerous vehicles on SF streets do not need to adhere to the posted speed limits !!

  2. Until I see hard statistics, I say this is … well, misleading. One death shows the reduction of lanes was ‘not enough?’ HOw about putting the blame where it belongs…on the driver? I live on 20th & SVN, and walk around a lot, often on SVN. There’s hardly any real speeding during the day, and I’ve never seen a close call between ped. and vehicle. I feel perfectly safe, and I’m over 70. How many crashes were late at night when there will be speeders?

  3. Guerrero light cycles could use some serious tweaking. Because it leads to 280, many people drive significant distance along this street. North bound and south bound have very uneven predictability of consecutive greens, and there are a few places where flooring the gas will allow one to catch a green wave and drivers do it for that reason. If it could be made more like Valencia but with a different speed target (25 instead of 13), people would have stronger incentive to keep a consistent speed.

  4. I drive, walk, Muni and BART in the city. I studiously drive at 25MPH and cars are whizzing by me all the time. The street I most frequently drive on in Potrero which has red bus only lanes. These might as well be marked as the fast lane because that’s how I see people use them. I am tailgated, watch people hot foot it from stop lights, etc. I wait a beat or two when a light turns green to see if a speeding car is going to blow the light. I am skeptical that passive changes will slow things down. There seems to be no consequences for the speeding and until there are I don’t think it will stop.

  5. I support traffic calming on SVN. The lanes are way too wide. But why is the SFMTA not doing this field work as part of Vision Zero? Why was SVN traffic calming not included in Eastern Neighborhoods TRIPS?

    And how should we evaluate the high injury corridor given the Vision Zero Network’s guidelines to “magnify threats?” We’ve been lied to by the SFMTA for years in order to garner political support.

    Overstating risks has not come without its own risks. Advocates work themselves into a self righteous froth over risks that are not as bad as they say. And potential cyclists see hyped risks and never start cycling.

    1. Yes it is unfortunate a pedestrian was run over at 16th and SVN last week – that was a botched robbery getaway which isn’t suitable as input to any traffic planning.
      That aside: Smooth traffic = safe traffic. The more obstacles are put in the way – deliberately mistimed traffic lights, diversions off of Mission street come to mind – the rougher things are going to get. Example from the westside: Out on Sunset Blvd, they put in an adversely timed light at Yorba some five years ago. All in the name of traffic safety. Result: Just a few weeks in, somebody got run over by a getaway car that ran the new light after a bodged robbery in Daly City. That at least led SFMTA to pull back on the “calming” and brought back a little more sanity. Nonetheless – ppl remember how you could get through on Sunset Blvd without much hassle and now you”ll regularly see drivers trying to beet the signal timing. Now they ramp the same nonsense on SVN it seems. Good luck with that.

      1. Daniel, If instances of a driver breaking the law “isn’t suitable input for traffic planning” then almost no traffic deaths would ever be relevant. Someone is always at fault, and designing roads expecting everyone to drive perfectly all the time is the very reason why we are nowhere near vision zero yet. We have to take into account the way the roads are being used, that’s the purpose of this entire study, and the way they are being used is getting people killed. So we change what we can control, and that is the road design.

        1. I’m talking police chases and the like. Intentional reckless driving. Running red lights without regard. What you’re going to do. More red lights? All that’s leading to is agitating regular drivers. Repeating myself: Smooth traffic is safer traff. Turning a roadway into an obstacle course leads to less safety.

      2. You’re excusifying for drivers breaking the law.

        A getaway car is not going to stop no matter how the street is configured.

        Traffic calming is only a problem for drivers that put their convenience ahead of obedience to traffic laws.

        You realize that it is not possible to synchronize traffic lights in both directions of a street at the same time, right?

        1. Gaslighting. You can do a better job at it, or you can deliberately mess things up like SFMTA likes to do. See Sunset Blvd. before, and after SFMTA gave it the “treatment”. California Street is another even better example. Gosh SFMTA is not alone, a few months back I drove EB 3rd Ave in San Mateo between downtown and 101. They may have gotten to their senses and turned it back, but signal timing there: Deliberate, adversarial. It irritates drivers when an arterial is handled like a neighborhood back alley and ultimately ppl will race shortblocks to try beat the lights. And yes, SFMTA turned SVN into an arterial after they chased everybody off of Mission St.
          If you want ppl to drive 25: Time the lights accordingly, they will accept it because, smooth.