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Vision Zero Project: Rethinking 'Safe' Pedestrian Infrastructure in San Francisco

Walking through downtown San Francisco can have an appeal similar to a game of Russian roulette. But in this game of chance, the bullets are one to two ton cars. Within half an hour, I had the unfortunate privilege of witnessing a bicyclist get run off the road and a skateboarder slam face first into a driver's side door. Even I was given a round as a service truck nearly flattened me as I crossed the street and proceeded to yell and curse in my direction. These circumstances are a common thread in any large city dynamic, but San Francisco's injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians has reached an all time high. Over eight hundred people are injured each year with over fifteen incidents resulting in death. 

Pedestrians in Chinatown, San Francisco, California.

So how is San Francisco taking action? They are implementing a plan to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024 called "The Vision Zero Project." This project is led by the principle that a human life should never be secondary to the city user's vision of personal priority. It calls for an increase in numbers of traffic enforcers, the improvement of infrastructure by adding traffics lights in higher risk locations, and educating the public, both driver AND pedestrian alike. These three approaches are all progressive steps forward, but when it comes to setting forth a wave of dramatic shifts in statistics, there needs to be more than just a few extra crosswalks and after school crossing guards. A shift in the paradigm of public awareness and the potential for urban design needs to take place.

Segregated bicycle lane, San Francisco, California.

How can you resurrect the conscious driver or pedestrian? Design of course! In a world of infinitely tight budgets, rethinking a city's pedestrian infrastructure may be reserved for the idealist, but simple design solutions can make the difference between life and death. Here are just a few examples:

  • The integration of visual cues such as color-coded and distinctly marked bicycle lanes, car lanes, and pedestrian ways.
  • Setting barriers (i.e. posts, vegetation) between car lanes and bicycle lanes.
  • Develop raised sidewalks reserved for bicyclists and foot travelers only.
  • An elevated pedestrian and bicycle highway that weaves above and within the city fabric.

The elevated highway may lie slightly more on the optimistic side, but when you turn on the Bay Area news to see two more pedestrian incidents each day, the city, along with its users, needs a dramatic shift. San Francisco has made steps with incorporating bright green lanes for bicycles and the occasional set of barriers, but they are few and far between. Taking Amsterdam as an established precedent for harmony between pedestrian and vehicle, you can see some of these similar tactics working congruently to the city's pulse. Elevated or completely separate bicycle lanes separate pedestrian walkers from vehicle lanes. Even bicycles and cars are considered more as equals, abiding by the same rules with their own stoplights and crosswalks.

Market Street pedestrians and bicyclists, San Francisco, California.

Although daunting, these circumstances provide an exciting opportunity for designers and urban planners to transform the city's future pedestrian framework.

What solutions do you think could be utilized in re-imagining safer pedestrian infrastructure?     

Credit: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data and images linked to sources.