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West Portal’s traffic “Improvements” spark community action Photo courtesy of

Nightmare Plan from Melgar, Breed, and Tumlin

SFMTA’s Slow Streets are Bad for San Francisco

• • • • • • May 13, 2024 • • • • • •

George Wooding
George Wooding

Supervisor Myrna Melgar, Mayor Breed, and SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin attempted to redirect traffic on the first block of West Portal Avenue. The proposed changes will hurt West Portal businesses, cause traffic congestion, and destroy the character of surrounding neighborhoods.

The San Francisco Standard, April 18: “If it were up to me, I would take all of the cars off West Portal,” Melgar said. “I think that this plan takes most of the cars off the intersection, and that is my goal.”

Westside residents and businesses hated Supervisor Melgar and Jeffrey Tumlin’s plan so badly that the SFMTA was forced to allow residents and business leaders three additional months to form a committee to evaluate impacts to parking and traffic congestion and “come to a consensus that works for all parties,” according to a statement from Melgar’s office. Prior to the committee formation, the SFMTA had done none of these evaluations.

Originally, Melgar had proposed only a ten-day community outreach period to accept the SFMTA’s proposed slow streets plan. The SFMTA West Portal plan was not well thought out, and the people involved may have had limited transportation planning capacity. The West Portal plan looked like it was drawn up on a Peet’s coffee napkin in five minutes.

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar is the Vice-Chair of the Transportation Authority Board. Melgar helps guide the agency’s transportation policy, funding, planning, and project delivery efforts. The Transportation Authority oversees the SFMTA.

SFMTA Director, Jeffrey Tumlin was appointed by the mayor.


SFMTA still has no quantifiable road safety data other than right turns are bad, left turns are bad, fast-moving cars are dangerous, slow-moving cars are dangerous, cars are bad, and bikes are good.”

The SFMTA is governed by a seven-member Board of Directors who are also appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The SFMTA’s Citizen Action Committees (CACs): Each member is appointed by the Mayor or the Board of Supervisors.

SFMTA’s Traffic Experiments

The SFMTA’s Slow Streets road experiments are causing more accidents and business failures than they prevent.

The SFMTA’s transportation experiment on Valencia Street has failed by any transportation metric. SF Chronicle, April 12, 2024: “According to the SFMTA’s three-month evaluation of the new Valencia Street bikeway, 12 crashes between cyclists and cars occurred between August and October — a higher accident rate than before the bike lane opened. It didn’t help that new traffic rules on the eight-block corridor, including eliminating left turns, created confusion. In September, a left-turning driver killed an 80-year-old pedestrian at Valencia and 18th streets.

Further, “In the past six months, at least ten businesses have closed on Valencia Street. Reports suggest that many more businesses are on the verge of shuttering. Another rough couple of months, and “FOR SALE” signs might cover much of the eight-block corridor.”

The SFMTA’s experimentation with slow traffic caused one Valencia merchant to go on a thirty-day hunger strike. The SFMTA does not care about traffic congestion in surrounding neighborhoods, parking, or the health of small businesses or local residents

The Slow Street on Lake Street—against the public will—is another looming traffic fiasco.

The SFMTA listened to neighborhood complaints and then altered Lake Street the way they wanted. The SFMTA is claiming that they have reduced traffic to one thousand vehicles per day. This is a false traffic count. Lake Street residents have installed pneumatic traffic counters that are counting almost 2,000 vehicles per day.The SFMTA is no stranger to hyperbole about plans and exaggerating results.

San Francisco Examiner, January 8, 2024: “I feel like it’s (Lake Street) in this terrible middle place where it’s not great for drivers and it’s not great for people using the slow street as a slow street,” said Natalie Kleefeld, who lives in the neighborhood and regularly walks Lake Street with her five-year-old daughter. “It’s kind of in this in-between. Someone’s gonna get hit,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Vision Zero Strikes Out

The SFMTA’s Safe Streets “Vision Zero” program is a failure.

In 2014, after suffering 30 traffic fatalities, San Francisco politicians created the Vision Zero program: San Francisco’s “Vision Zero” policy represents the City’s commitment to eliminating traffic deaths on our streets by 2024. Through building better and safer streets, educating the public on traffic safety, enforcing traffic laws and adopting policy changes, we can save the lives of all road users—people who walk, bike, drive, or ride public transit. Achieving Vision Zero requires leadership and commitment from City agencies, elected officials, community stakeholders, the public and the private sector to find the right solutions for San Francisco.”

Apparently, Jeffrey Tumlin (SFMTA) does not have the necessary leadership or commitment skills to make Vision Zero work. After years of failure, In December 2022, the SFMTA Board of Directors approved a permanent Slow Streets Program. This program amounts to taking over neighborhood streets with impunity.

In 2023, the SFMTA issued a report called the “2023 Slow Streets Evaluation Report”

The report stated that 18% of slow street traffic was reduced. A median speed of 15 mph or slower was achieved.  The median fifteen mph is an average between zero and 30 mph. Thus, many cars are going 30 mph or faster.

The SFMTA also claims that slow streets reduce collisions by 48%. That is a total fabrication, as they have made the surrounding streets much more dangerous. Accidents are bound to happen, but if they occur on a side street, they will not be included in the SFMTA’s Slow Streets analysis.

The SFMTA cannot demonstrate one example of saving a life through quick builds, road diets, and/or slow streets. Over the last ten years, there have been 253 traffic fatalities. The changes the SFMTA is experimenting with will most likely cause a false sense of security and more traffic problems.

“Street design did not factor into a fatal crash that killed a family of four in West Portal earlier this month, according to an initial report from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

SFMTA Provides Details - But Input?

SFMTA officials provided collision details of the March 16 crash in an update to The City’s traffic-death tracking dashboard, noting that the site of the crash that ultimately killed a family of four had highly visible yellow crosswalk markings, solid double-yellow lines constituting a barrier and signs warning drivers not to pass.

“In recent years, pedestrian safety zones with delineators were added,” the report said. It also found that the intersection had no reported injury collisions in the last five years. Staff recommendations included repairing signs that were damaged in the accident.”

The SFMTA cannot claim to be blameless regarding the West Portal Avenue accident and then hide behind the shield of “safety” by remodeling West Portal. It is obvious that the SFMTA changes will begin the destruction of West Portal Avenue.

Why did the SFMTA—with an estimated $12.7M, 2024 budget deficit—try to change what is not broken within a ten-day public summary period? The SFMTA will hear public testimony , but they always do what the SFMTA’s administration—Jeffrey Tumlin’s—Transportation Planning Department wants them to do. The SFMTA will only pretend to accommodate public testimony and/or the newly formed West Portal Committee recommendations.

Public comments against the West Portal redesign will be listened to, agreed to, and then ignored. Unfavorable summaries and letters will disappear. The SFMTA never met with the Midtown Terrace Home Owners Association but nevertheless claimed that the homeowners were for the redesign of Twin Peaks Boulevard—absolutely not true. Caveat emptor.
Project mitigation will amount to larger signs, wider walkways and/or pedestrian walkways that are white, green and violet and then changed to violet, green and white. That is how the SFMTA mitigation process operates.

Other than a bicycle, pedestrian and car death count from 2014 through March 2024, the SFMTA still has no quantifiable road safety data other than right turns are bad, left turns are bad, fast-moving cars are dangerous, slow-moving cars are dangerous, cars are bad, and bikes are good. If the SFMTA could get rid of all cars in San Francisco, they would.

The West Portal Committee negotiating with the SFMTA should develop a strong Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and then vigorously verify what the SFMTA does. The SFMTA does not respect public input. The agency is insular and not used to public oversight or transparency.

Therefore, verify, verify, verify—but please do not trust.

Please take a moment of silence and a prayer for the Ramos family. Their lives had more value than to become the catalyst for the SFMTA’s redesign of West Portal Avenue.

George Wooding, Neighborhood Activist Emeritus

May 2024

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