Why We’re Launching Human Streets

San Francisco’s population is booming and people are walking and biking more than ever. Yet we are starved for calm streets that welcome people instead of cars. Our streets aren’t transforming fast enough to meet the demand for healthier and sustainable transportation. While the city is making progress, there’s still a dearth of political will to get things done and get them done quicker.

To spur the city into quicker action, we need more activism and more advocacy journalism. That’s why we’re launching Human Streets, a daily news site for safe streets issues. We’ll turn up the heat on city officials who fail to take bold action to achieve zero deaths on our street by 2024, the goal known as Vision Zero.

If you’ve pedaled between a car door and moving traffic on Valencia Street, or stepped into a crosswalk on Geary Boulevard recently, you know frighteningly well that cars are still king in San Francisco. 2016 is set to go down as a record year for traffic deaths. So far, 27 people have died in traffic collisions this year. That is on course to make 2016 the worst year for traffic deaths since 2009.

Since we can’t change behavior overnight, we have to redesign our streets, and transform them into human streets that take into account that no matter how we get around, humans make mistakes. Healthier streets also make it easier for people to be active.

It’s exciting to think about how simple solutions — protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, measures to slow traffic — can transform our streets into healthy spaces where people come first, where we enjoy the public domain, make connections with people, and are free from the anxiety that a driver might hurt us or our friends and loved ones.

To make big safety changes on our streets, it’s largely been up to our elected officials. Mayor Ed Lee wields political power over the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency but he has not a champion of safe streets. San Francisco prides itself as an environmental leader, yet if making the street safer involves parking removal the city agencies cower to the opponents and water down the plans, or they get mired in bureaucracy and dysfunction and take forever to get built.

Sunday Streets has shown San Franciscans what our streets can be like when they’re free of the stress that cars cause.

Human Streets will feature daily original stories, a weekly podcast and breaking news coverage of important safe streets issues. We also want to make sure that every person who dies on our streets in traffic collisions is not forgotten. That’s why we’ll document the human toll of our mean streets, covering every death from collision to court verdict. We’ll scrutinize the police investigations and map and track deaths and injuries.

“Human Streets will help put a face to these tragedies, and challenge the public and our leaders to think differently — more ambitiously — about what’s needed so we can all live in a city where Vision Zero becomes reality.” -Nicole Ferrara,Walk San Francisco

Patrick Traughber, an advocate for safe streets and a products manager at Twitter, has been keeping a running list of traffic deaths in San Francisco since 2013. Patrick wanted to combine his data skills with my journalism skills and it was over coffee that we decided to launch Human Streets. Patrick has joined Human Streets’ advisory board to help support and guide the organization.

Central to our work will be reporting on how traffic injustice impacts disadvantaged communities. Many of the deaths and injuries we see on our streets are happening in the Tenderloin, SoMa and Chinatown in transit-dependent communities where a majority of people don’t own cars.

Community Initiatives has invited us to apply for fiscal sponsorship and we are working to raise $300,000 to hire a few reporters. We’re planning a soft launch in late November, with a full launch in early 2017.

Right now we’re looking to raise $5,000 on Tilt. This will get things off the ground until we become a fiscally-sponsored non-profit. We’ll be producing stories on a part-time and volunteer basis until we reach our bigger goal. We are seeking contributions from a number of foundations, corporations and individuals.

Human Streets will be advocacy journalism to help revolutionize our streets. Won’t you help us get started?

Bryan Goebel covers transportation issues for KQED Public Radio and is the former editor of Streetsblog San Francisco.