The latest of [San Francisco Municipal Transporation Authority]'’s efforts to speed up [major bus] lines to run into some neighborhood opposition involves its proposed replacement of stop signs with transit-priority traffic signals. Some Western Addition neighbors have protested a proposal to signalize five intersections on McAllister Street to speed up the 5-Fulton, one of the designated “Rapid” routes receiving upgrades under the Muni Forward program (also known as the Transit Effectiveness Project).
Initially, the complaints were driven by fears that signals would bring dangerous speeding to McAllister. Muni planners responded by holding more outreach meetings, and presented data showing that pedestrian injuries declined on similar streets after signals were added. They also say speeds won’t go up significantly, since signals will be synchronized for speeds below 20 mph. [emphasis added]
Aaron emailed to ask my opinion, which is emphatically: "Who could oppose something that's good for both pedestrian safety and transit speeds?"
Apparently, the remaining opposition is based on "feel":
Sean Kennedy, the SFMTA’s Muni Forward program manager, said the data seems to quelled some neighbors’ fears, but that the complaints have shifted. “What we hear is that there’s a lot of concern over the neighborhood feel,” he said. “And that’s something we can’t really dispute with facts. It’s an individual preference if people do or don’t like signals.”
So how much should we worsen transit, and maintain higher levels of pedestrian injury, for the sake of "feel"?
And how exactly does a signal change feel? We're talking about small streets here, mostly striped with a single wide travel lane each way. Will a signal make the street feel wider? Are people associating signals with more traffic and just assuming signals will have that outcome? Not if they're timed for transit rather than cars. Well-timed signalization can be very effective at discouraging car traffic on transit-intensive streets, when that's the objective.
I spent a decade of my life as a San Francisco pedestrian, in dark ages when pedestrian safetly mattered a lot less than it does now. Sure, it was nice to encounter a 4-way stop where stepping into the intersection was enough to stop traffic.
But among global pedestrians like me, San Francisco is famous for very fast signal cycles, and it's not a place where you'll be ticketed for crossing on red if there's obviously nothing coming. As a pedestrian, I find a few seconds of delay a small price to pay for a transit system that's actually respectful of its customers' valuable time, not to mention the high cost to the public of its drivers' time.
Remember: If you want frequency, you want less delay, because that makes frequency cheaper!