Sep 19, 2023 - News

Transportation safety advocates want SF to ban turns on red

Illustration of a traffic light with the red light lit up and surrounded by letters spelling out NOPE.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Transportation safety advocates want to ban vehicle turns on red lights in San Francisco.

Why it matters: Turn-on-red crashes account for 20% of pedestrian- or bicycle-related injury crashes involving drivers turning at signal-based intersections, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

State of play: Luke Bornheimer, a San Francisco-based sustainable transportation advocate, is spearheading a campaign to stop the practice.

  • In 2021, San Francisco implemented a policy restricting cars from turning on red lights at more than 50 intersections in the Tenderloin.
  • An SFMTA analysis last year found the number of close calls between vehicles and pedestrians decreased following the implementation of no-turn-on-red in the Tenderloin.
  • This month, SFMTA said its recent right-turn-on-red restrictions on Franklin Street, along with other safety improvements, resulted in fewer close calls between pedestrians and drivers.

What they're saying: Bornheimer told Axios he's pushing for the city to restrict turns on red lights because it will be "safer and easier" for children, people with disabilities, seniors and others to cross the street.

  • "Currently, we are not considering banning turns on red lights citywide, however the SFMTA will be expanding no turn on red to locations with high pedestrian activity," Stephen Chun, a spokesperson with the SFMTA told Axios via email.

The big picture: San Francisco had more traffic fatalities during the pandemic than in the three years preceding.

  • The city in 2014 committed to eliminating traffic-related fatalities by 2024 as part of its Vision Zero initiative but recently acknowledged it will take longer to reach that goal.

Zoom out: Cities across the country have banned turns-on-red or are considering implementing policies of their own.

  • Seattle, for example, in May began phasing out right-on-red turns in an effort to reduce collisions involving cars and pedestrians.

What to watch: Implementing no turns on red lights citywide isn't currently on the SFMTA board's agenda, but Bornheimer said he hopes the petition will encourage board members to take action.


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