Large vehicle training program launched to create safer San Francisco streets

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday the launch of a large vehicle training program that will educate truck drivers on how to safely traverse the city's streets as part of its Vision Zero strategy aiming to eliminate all traffic deaths in San Francisco by 2024.

Lee said city agencies and community advocates are coming together because "we need a continued, sustained, very serious education program" to ensure that large vehicles traveling in San Francisco are aware of pedestrians and bicyclists.

Lee said that while the urban driving education program will be required for city workers and contractors who drive trucks, it will also be offered to all truck drivers who enter San Francisco via the California Trucking Association, as well as via privately operated commuter shuttles and companies such as FedEx and UPS.

Lee said with so much construction and economic activity in San Francisco, more trucks are entering and exiting the city, making it increasingly important that the city remains safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. "The level of safety has to be at the highest level," Lee said.

John Knox White, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency transportation planner who focuses on sustainable streets and is helping set the curriculum for the training, said interviews with both truck drivers and bicyclists made it clear that "there's a lot of confusion" about bike lanes and who has the right of way.

Knox White said the SFMTA expects to release an instructional video by the end of April that will be used in the training program.

The video will use footage of intersections in San Francisco to show drivers how they should travel on the city's unique streets to ensure bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the SFMTA, said all workers who operate city vehicles or who are engaged in contracts with the city will be required to go through the training program.

The program will run for at least the next two years in order to get the city on track to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.

Reiskin said every year people die in San Francisco just trying to make their way across town and that their deaths are 100 percent preventable.

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents District 6, which includes the South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods, said she has attended many funerals in her district and has spoken with many families who have lost loved ones to traffic collisions.

"Everything the city can do to ensure that we're keeping one more son, one more brother, daughter or sister alive to be loved by their loved ones is a huge achievement for the city," Kim said.

Kim said there is a disproportionate number of traffic fatalities resulting from collisions with large vehicles and that the training program acknowledges that growing a neighborhood does not have to come at the cost of pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Nicole Schneider, the executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy group, said Vision Zero is changing not only the physical landscape of the city, but its culture as well.

Schneider said that as the city redesigns its streets, it's important that the city works together to "make sure every street that we touch becomes a safe street and not just a safer street, because a safer street leaves room for where human error might result in death or serious injury."