Something that distinguishes San Francisco from most other American cities is its walkability. Granted, going for a walk here might feel more like a hike than a stroll with all of the hills, but it is pedestrian friendly nonetheless — SF is widely ranked in the top five most walkable cities in the U.S. The city has recently made pedestrian safety improvements around USF’s campus, which should improve the short uphill battle from lower campus to Lone Mountain.
The street improvement initiative is an ongoing project being completed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), according to USF’s ongoing construction projects website. Over spring break, pedestrian safety zones — sidewalk extensions that serve as buffer zones between the road and the sidewalk — were installed at Chabot and Tamalpais Terraces. The crosswalks at Chabot, Tamalpais, and Kittredge Terraces were repainted, and an additional crosswalk was added at Tamalpais Terrace. Most prominently, a flashing beacon has been installed at the intersection of Roselyn Terrace and Turk Boulevard to improve pedestrian visibility.
In our time at USF, we have often found ourselves halfway across Turk, wondering if the speeding cars would slow for us. The new safety installation has proven to be effective in alerting cars that they do, in fact, have to stop when there are people on the road, and we are thrilled about it.
San Francisco is making improvements for pedestrians all over the city. In December of 2022, SFMTA authorized city-wide “Slow Streets” to help curb traffic and build community in neighborhoods. SFMTA’s overarching goal is to encourage residents to use low-carbon modes of transportation, and this program aims to make people feel safe enough to do that. Slow streets include design elements like speed humps and traffic diverters like medians that help to narrow roads and reduce through traffic. The Slow Streets program works in conjunction with a program called “Play Streets,” which allows residents to permit regular block closures for community gatherings.
Last year, San Francisco also voted to keep JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Park permanently car-free (the street had closed temporarily during the pandemic to provide people a large outdoor space to gather safely). Since then, the promenade has come to life with art installations, public pianos, and recreational spaces with ping pong tables and bean bag tosses. San Francisco also voted to close the upper Great Highway on weekends, stretching from Lincoln Way to Sloat Boulevard, making room for live music and other events.
Increasing the city’s walkability is good not only for the immediate safety of pedestrians, but also for the environment. According to the Congress for New Urbanism, an organization which aims to improve walkability in urban design, “a walkable environment reduces greenhouse gas emissions by four tons a year.” One way that cities can use urban design to simultaneously improve the environment and prioritize pedestrians is by funding public transportation. According to the United Nations, choosing public transportation over driving can reduce an individual’s annual carbon footprint by 2.2 tons. If we forego four-lane streets and busy intersections, and fund better public transportation, we can get more cars off the street, cut carbon emissions, and improve pedestrian safety.
USF and SFMTA have made great steps towards improving our area in terms of safety and walkability, but there will always be more ways to make San Francisco a safer and greener space for its denizens. Until then, we’re happy we can cross the road without panicking.