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SF may consider cutting speed limits to 20 miles per hour

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Pedestrian safety committee says slashing speed will save lives

A sign posting a 45 mile per hour speed limit, attached to an orange-painted girder on a suspension bridge (the Golden Gate Bridge). Via Shutterstock

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) voted on a resolution to set maximum speed limits to 20 miles per hour citywide.

Now it’s up to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to consider whether to pursue it as legislation.

The plan, proposed by committee member Jon Winston earlier this year, stems from concerns about the number of driver-related deaths in San Francisco, according to ABC 7.

“If you are hit by a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour, you have a 90 percent chance of surviving,” said Marta Lindsey, a spokesperson with Walk SF, noting that the odds of survival diminish exponentially as speed increases.

According to notes from October’s monthly PSAC meeting, Winston’s original proposal wanted to reduce the default speed limit to 20 miles per hour on all San Francisco streets where speed limit signs aren’t posted.

But PSAC ended up fielding a much more aggressive—and possibly life-saving—speed limit cap.

By August, SF’s traffic death toll already matched 2018’s count for the full year. At least fifteen of those were pedestrians, and one a cyclist. On Wednesday morning, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed a woman in the Excelsior District, which brought the number up to 27.

SF’s traffic death toll rose to more than 30 in 2014, 2015, and 2016, then dropped to 20 in 2017. Considering that the citywide goal is zero deaths, the current tally looks grim.

In 2016, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety published data that corroborates Walk SF’s claims about pedestrian safety.

“Once cars reach a certain speed (just above 20 mph), they rapidly become more deadly,” Pro Publica reports, calculating that a person is “about 70 percent more likely to be killed if they’re struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph versus 25 mph” (although there are other variables that affect the odds of death, including a victim’s age).

The most common speed limit in San Francisco is 30-25 miles per hour on most streets.