SFMTA Cancels Planned Safety Measures on Franklin – Streetsblog San Francisco
A motorist killed Andrew Zieman outside Sherman Elementary on Franklin last November. The SFMTA has promised a road diet and other “build fast” measures to help reduce speeds and narrow the one-way thoroughfare to five lanes (three lanes of traffic, with two lanes of parking). But apparently the lane reduction was quietly dropped from the plan over the summer. The culprit, it seems, is an engineering and planning culture that still uses “level of service,” an obscure and thoroughly debunked metric used to analyze projects based solely on projected traffic congestion at intersections.
First, some background: Shortly after Zieman’s death, supervisor Catherine Stefani made it clear that she believed the streets of San Francisco needed to be safer, especially near schools.
We have a duty to ensure that pedestrians of all ages can cross the City safely and we must consider all possible interventions to reduce the speed of traffic along this corridor.
— Supervisor Catherine Stefani (@SupStefani) November 11, 2021
And SFMTA responded with a rapid construction plan that included sharper turns, new crosswalks, natural lighting, and most importantly, reduced lanes.
As seen in the images above, the SFMTA presented the plans to the Pacific Heights Residence Association in July. Shanan Delp told Streetsblog that SFMTA planners told him that a reduction in lanes was fundamental to the plan. But then he was fired. “I had a strong feeling that a road diet was a logical solution to this problem, so it’s disturbing to see this so carelessly set aside,” he said.
Delp, who lives in Franklin and regularly rides his bike or walks with his two young children, asked why. He received this response Tuesday from Shannon Hake, an SFMTA planner:
Thank you for contacting me, and I understand your frustration and disappointment. It’s the same process we follow with every Quick-Build project – determining which of our tools work to meet the specific needs of a corridor. In Franklin’s case, our initial scope included the full suite of tools from the Quick-Build Toolkit (including a road plan), and we planned to develop a design with either or all of these treatments. Once we started the design process to meet community needs, we modeled the impacts of all potential treatments. In the case of a lane reduction, our modeling showed that the impacts of this change were significant and would lead to significant queues along Franklin Street and spillover effects on adjacent streets. [emphasis added].
“To say I’m disappointed with this change is a huge understatement,” Delp wrote in his response to Hake. “When we did our walkthrough a few months ago, the door was wide open for a road diet (maybe even more than wide open, this was pointed out as a no-brainer), and that really breaks my heart that this was removed from the motive proposal. And pulled because of a generalized desire to ‘move traffic’ which always seems to trump all other outcomes.”
So what was in the SFMTA modeling that led to the determination that a lane reduction would cause an intolerable traffic overflow? And why is it more important than the lives of schoolchildren and pedestrians like Zieman? According to an internal email also obtained by Delp from SFMTA traffic engineer Alan Uy, writing to planning staff:
I assumed the vehicles would turn right onto Vallejo and onto Van Ness as soon as they realized the road diet. Of course, this degrades the left turn to the east Service levels in Vallejo/Van Ness from C to F. There is no EBLT in Broadway/Van Ness. If these hijacked vehicles turn before Broadway, the NB Service levels on Broadway/Van Ness would be a worse F. [Emphasis added]
For readers unfamiliar with the level of service, it was a legally mandated car-centric measure for major project engineering that caused much of the carnage of the traffic today. Essentially, focusing on LOS drives every intersection to be constructed so that traffic speeds during peak periods are nearly the same as in the middle of the night. This practice has resulted in a vicious cycle of road widening that has increased crossing distances, traffic speeds and, ironically, congestion in American cities. In many places, designs aimed at maximizing the level of service have made it nearly impossible to get around without a car. SFMTA chief Jeffrey Tumlin helped lead the charge to end mandates for using LOS to measure projects during his time as a consultant. “So a street [ends up] three times wider than it should ever be,” he told an audience at a SPUR presentation in 2016. “But now walking down the street is a miserable experience and public transit won’t work, so the street lowers the value of adjacent properties.
California environmental scans had been required to use the level of service, but that requirement was dropped in 2016. Yet many traffic engineers and planners continue to base their decisions on this outdated, discredited, and destructive measure.
This, apparently, includes SFMTA engineers.
“Franklin Street is a design waste and this rapid construction project is a unique opportunity to make progress towards making it a livable street,” Delp said. “If we don’t take this opportunity, we’ll wait another generation to make this a street where people want to walk.”