San Francisco to study dropping speed limit to 20 mph for pedestrian safety

Jikaiah Stevens was injured in a car collision and her driver received no punishment, she said. Will San Francisco dropping the speed limit to 20 mph prevent collisions?
Photos courtesy of Jikaiah Stevens

As a part of a citywide effort to eliminate all pedestrian deaths by 2024, San Francisco will study the impact of reducing speed limits to 20 mph. 

“This is a reasonable issue to look into making San Francisco streets safer,” Sup. Eric Mar said, in a public statement. “There is too much excellent work and research going into it nationally and internationally to ignore.” 

The study was proposed by Mar as part of Vision Zero – a Swedish concept adopted by San Francisco at the behest of Sup. Jane Kim earlier this year. The initiative aims to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero within 10 years, with a focus on educating drivers, engineering roads for safety, and enforcing traffic laws (which the SFPD agreed to reform ealrier this year). Data from the study should be available in early fall. 

Where the speed changes would occur is the subject of the study. "We're going to the experts," Peter Lauterborn, Mar's aide, told the Guardian. That's the whole point of the study, he said, to figure out where and by how much speed could be reduced in the city to save lives. 

Modest adjustment to speed limits lowered pedestrian mortality rates in cities across the world.

Paris, London, cities in Sweden, and New York all implemented speed limit reductions to save pedestrian lives. According to the British Medical Journal, serious traffic-related fatalities or injuries decreased by 46 percent in 20 mph zones in London. 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Police Department got on board with the Vision Zero pedestrian safety plan, proposed by Sup. Jane Kim, earlier this year. 

According to California’s Office of Traffic Safety, San Francisco was ranked number one for traffic fatalities and injuries in 2011, compared to other similarly sized cities. 

“The overall frequency of traffic fatalities in the City of San Francisco constitutes a public health crisis,” the SFMTA warned in its Vision Zero web post. 

The statistics the SFMTA presented may seem dry, but tell the tale of preventable pain pedestrians suffered at the mercy of autos: Over the ten years from 2002 to 2011 the City lost a total of 310 lives to traffic fatalities. Each year alone on average 800 people are injured and 100 severely injured or killed while walking in San Francisco.

Sweden also saw fewer pedestrian crashes, despite increased traffic density. 

Walk SF has repeatedly advocated to fix intersections that are known to be especially dangerous, as only six percent of SF intersections are responsible for 60 percent of pedestrian crashes. Most of these areas are located in SoMa and the Tenderloin districts, the latter is where 6-year-old Sofia Liu was killed on New Year' Eve

Walk SF’s Executive Director Nicole Schneider told us 20 mph zones would make it easier for cars to stop, expand drivers' view of streets, and decrease the force of impact. 

In 2011 the city instituted 15 mph school zones after strong advocacy from Walk SF and other groups. While Schneider didn’t have any statistics about the impact of the speed limit on hand, she did say that there is a “perception of change” in these zones. 

But there are environmental benefits of slower speeds as well, Lauterborn told us: driving slower uses less gas. 

The U.S. Department of Energy says that speeding, rapidly accelerating, and frequently braking can decrease gas mileage by 33 percent. A lower speed limit would decrease driving costs as well as protect pedestrians. 

Lauterborn said even if the study shows a 20 mph speed limit would be beneficial, there are state laws that might prevent SF from lowering the speed limit. Local governments can only set the speed limit lower than 25mph on streets smaller than 25 feet wide or in business, residential, or school zones. To lower the speed limit to 20mph on a street like Sunset, the city would likely need state permission. 

At a fiery Board of Supervisors hearing on Vision Zero in January, a pedestrian who was hit by a car in 2013 named Jikaiah Stevens offered a scathing critique of current vehicle collision policies. "What is their incentive to drive safely when there are no consequences?" Stevens asked the board that night. A 20 mph limit may go a long way towards preventing pedestrian injuries like Stevens'.


We need to accept the concept of reasonable risk. If you want to eliminate all risk for anyone, anywhere, then you might as well just ban everything. 20mph is tantamount to a ban on cars, because it will make driving impossible. For what it's worth it makes getting around on MUNI impossible too. Yes, some people get into accidents. Some people die. That sucks. But in order to eliminate all deaths, you have to make the quality of life unbearable for the 99%+ who don't die in accidents, and that's just too high a price to pay.

I may just have to contribute to this initiative, not just vote for it. Stuff like this underscores the need to restore some balance.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

How does going 20 mph as opposed to 30 mph makes life 'unbearable'? If your trip is 1 mile, that is a difference of 1 minute. My god, nobody will ever be able to get anywhere ever again!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 9:02 am

backfire if adopted.

First of all, nobody's trip is a mile long and everybody has to at some point go back to where they came from even if they are combining trips.

Secondly, road carrying capacity is decreased when traffic slows down. If your theoretical one mile trip at 20MPH takes three minutes instead of two, then the car is going to be using 50% more of the available road space during that trip.

Thirdly--and I'll admit this is a mere theory of mine which I haven't researched to find if it has already been validated--but if people are driving at a speed which is dramatically slower than typical driver hand-eye coordination allows, the attention of drivers is likely to wander with unforseen negative consequences on their driving.

Underlying the idea is that the convenience of bikeys is best acheived through the discomforture of vehicle drivers. This attitude is the *reason* this backlash is occuring and likely to suceed.

More carrot! Less stick!

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 10:15 am

commenting. My bad. I rarely do that and instead made an assumption about the content of the story based on the comment I read and a couple other recent stories.

If London had a significant decrease in fatalities, I'd be curious to see if there might be correlation with their congestion fees or other factors beside speed limit reductions. And as has been pointed out elsewhere, simply enforcing the current speed laws would result in increased safety without penalizing those who currently drive the speed limit safely; turning them into scofflaws just to get the real trouble makers to slow down a bit.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 10:58 am

I have to say that as a driver, I still don't really see what's so wrong with lowering the speed limits. The average speed on streets in downtown SF is actually only 17 or 18 mph because of all the stops and lights.

Actually planning the lights to be timed on the assumption that people are moving 20 mph seems to me like it would make things go a little smoother, perhaps getting people where they need to be faster.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

where you could actually drive 20mph

But since you often have to drive slower, at least let us drive faster when we can

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 8:35 pm

find the owner of the number I cherished
as much as you will obtain performed proper here.
The sketch is tasteful, your authored subject matter stylish.
however, you command get got an nervousness
over that you wish be turning in the following. sick no doubt come more previously
once more since precisely the same nearly a lot often within case you protect this increase.
find the owner of a cell phone

Posted by find the owner of a cell phone number free on Jul. 23, 2014 @ 9:55 am

One part of these equations is getting cops to enforce the law.

Cops will not be writing tickets for breaking the 20 mph speed limit, just as they do not for 25.

Maybe his daughter told him this was a good idea?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

Like Hwy 1 or any of the others which cross through the city on surface streets?

Under this scenario it's easy to imagine 19th Ave at rush hour with traffic heading to and from the bridge backed up to San Rafael on the Marin side and to San Mateo on the SF side. That'll show those drivers!!!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

I knew a guy who got pulled over for splitting lanes in Pacifica on a state road. He told the cop to call his supervisor as splitting traffic is legalized by the state, cities laws do not apply. After some arguing the cop called the main office and dude went about his business.

Posted by Comrade on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 10:14 pm

5-10 would be more like it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

for the citizens to run wild when bike riders are getting a ticket.

If the speed limit is 5 miles an hour expect Guardian pets to run amok in the city.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 6:52 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

is because SFPD is a relatively LAZY force that DOES NOT enforce moving violations; and thus we have a culture of sloppy, careless driving.

ANYONE who has lived here a while knows this.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 8:46 pm

the city is very densely populated.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 8:57 pm

person getting a jay walking ticket?

Typical lazy attitude of yours.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

It's a revenue thing. Cops can stand there all day effectively collecting taxes.

SF doesn't, and rightly so, but I wouldn't put it past the city to see it as an easy revenue source.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

riding a bike or driving a car through Berkley.

Posted by Comrade on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 10:11 pm

weight loss clinic Really when someone doesn’t know afterward its
up to other visitors that they will assist,
so here it occurs. tips to lose weight

Posted by free weight loss programs on Jul. 23, 2014 @ 10:15 am

BAD Pedestrians.
Better solution.
Ban right turns on red lights, especially downtown.
Put a right turn arrow at every light where right turns are banned.

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

sadly, the pedestrian right of way has made many folks think that the laws of physics don't apply to them.

i have been next to a pregnant woman who was looking at her phone when she stepped off the curb into the path of a truck (grabbed her pre-tragedy).

i have seen guys step into the street, cocky that they have the right of way, not appreciating the cars they are playing russian roulette with may not have abs brakes, may not be able to stop on a dime.

i have seen guys on the sidewalk rush into the crosswalk challenging the cars that will be traveling in the same spot in milliseconds.

at night i have ALMOST NOT seen folks dressed in black crossing at the corner and in the middle of the block, not looking at traffic.

the pedistrian laws seem to make some people think they are invincible, the sad truth is otherwise.

i am very worried that darwin's laws may be at work here. are the laws encouraging risky behavior? how can we give pedestians the right of way and make them (us) responsible for their won safety at the same time?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 11:07 am

On a 4-lane road in daylight with little traffic, 40 mph is fine.

A crowded street at night in the rain, it might be 10 mph

It's called judgement and we should let people use it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

We do, many don't, it's not working.

Posted by Rocket J on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 8:32 am

Which is why government needs to make the RIGHT choices for them.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 9:52 am

Because you are that lame?

right and wrong are highly subjective notions

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

that would be how representative democracy works. 

Posted by admin on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

Bay Guardian's self appointed status as guardian of the local political scene.

perhaps "admin" doesn't read the Bay Guardian?

Posted by comarade X on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 8:52 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

"...To lower the speed limit to 20mph on a street like Sunset, the city would likely need state permission. "

This is the only part of this article that makes any sense.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 11:09 pm Your average trip (outside of commuting) should be 6.75 miles long. San Francisco should do what is best for its citizens. And I agree with this measure as well as enforcing the measure right now.

I would think if you are a suburbia resident; you should also agree, as anyone from outside your town would really like to do/ or not do something so you and your community may NOT become safer.

San Francisco, as the city that it is; it has a high ranking of pedestrians; these are likely to be their residents, and they should have safety priority as they are more vulnerable; not someone that is just rushing through.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 24, 2014 @ 11:23 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.