Should San Francisco ban right turns on red lights to protect pedestrians?

New York City has banned it and so has Washington, D.C.

Making a right turn against a red light is illegal at all traffic lights in Manhattan and at 101 lights across the country’s capital. Now, a movement is bubbling up in San Francisco to introduce a similar law with the aim of reducing pedestrian fatalities.

Fourteen people have died on San Francisco streets this year and “more than the lion’s share were pedestrian deaths,” said Amanda Eaken, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency  board member.

At a meeting of the SFMTA Board this week, Eaken asked the board to think about whether it’s safe to allow drivers in the city to make right turns against red lights. She brought up the issue in light of the city’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities by 2024.

“I was thinking about this idea that you’re waiting to cross the street and then you get the little walk man and he says go. And there’s this signal I believe that sent, that it’s safe to be here at this time and in this place, but it’s truly not always safe to a pedestrian in that place when you have right turning cars and left turning cars moving across that space.”

Ed Reiskin, San Francisco’s director of transportation, agreed the issue should be explored.

Right turns on red are already prohibited at some San Francisco intersections and clearly marked with signage.

For decades, in many states it was illegal, but in the 1970s, some states and municipalities changed their laws to save fuel by decreasing the time cars idle at an intersection in response to the 1973 gas crisis, according the the U.S. Department of Energy.

A turn on red became even more widely legal across the country in 1975 when the Energy Policy and Conservation Act required states to adopt the law to receive federal assistance in developing mandated conservation programs.

But, according to USA Streets blog, studies show making right turns on red lights “increases pedestrian crashes by 60 percent and bike crashes by 100 percent, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found in the 1980s.”

“The biggest thing I think about is my 11- and 12-year old daughters walking home from school and crossing Divisadero,” Eaken told SFGATE. “I try to teach them to cross the street safely but if cars are allowed to run out into the street at a time when we say it’s safe, but fundamentally it’s not safe, that’s not safe.”

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/ban-right-turn-red-lights-San-Francisco-13894062.php.

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