Skip to main content

City bans right turn on red at 200 downtown intersections. Activists want more

Cars at an intersection.
Cars pass through the intersection at Eighth and Brannan streets, where turning right on red has already been banned. About 200 new intersections will become no turn on red in the coming months. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

San Francisco is poised to ban right turns for motorists when the stoplight is red at about 200 downtown intersections. City Traffic Engineer Ricardo Olea approved the project on Friday, and construction is set to run from this month to August 2025

Once completed, turning on red will be barred across virtually all of downtown, including SoMa and the Financial District. The Tenderloin is already a no-turn-on-red zone.

The no-turn-on-red expansion is aimed at keeping pedestrians safe. It was one of the top priorities that Mayor London Breed laid out last week as she said that San Francisco’s streets need a “complete overhaul” to eliminate traffic fatalities in the wake of a crash that killed a family of four. It is part of the city’s sweeping Vision Zero initiative that set the lofty goal a decade ago of eliminating traffic deaths in the city by 2024. The initiative failed to reach its goal, but city leaders renewed their commitment to the ideal of Vision Zero during Breed’s press conference last week.

In 2021, San Francisco launched a pilot program to eliminate turn on red across the Tenderloin, covering over 50 intersections. As a result, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency observed a 70% reduction in vehicles blocking or encroaching onto crosswalks while the light was red.

A map of downtown San Francisco.
A map shows the intersections where SFMTA will ban making a turn on red for motorists. The orange dots show where signs still need to be installed, while the blue is a completed intersection. | Source: Courtesy SFMTA

Advocates for street safety want the city to go beyond the new downtown initiative to extend the ban across San Francisco. Last October, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution urging the SFMTA to develop a plan to expand and implement the ban as much as possible.

“I think it’s progress,” Supervisor Dean Preston, who authored the resolution, said of the downtown expansion. “I’d like to see more, and I’d like us to be bold about expanding no turn on red.”

He hopes that eventually, every intersection in San Francisco will be no turn on red.

When asked whether his agency would take the ban citywide, SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin explained that every banned intersection needs eight large metal signs, which are installed by the same crew that installs other street safety measures across the city.

“We do not have enough crews to be putting up thousands of metal signs all over the city,” Tumlin said.

While the outcome of the Tenderloin ban pilot was positive, the results were not transformative, Tumlin said. They suggest that this tool works best in areas where there are a lot of pedestrians.

If the agency moves too fast to expand into areas where there are few pedestrians, he worries that motorists may not respect the right-on-red ban, especially given San Francisco’s low levels of traffic enforcement.

“So our strategy for no turn on red is to now expand incrementally into the downtown and North Beach and South of Market and continue to evaluate,” Tumlin said.

“I’m glad to see MTA expanding no turn on red to more intersections in the city,” said transit activist Luke Bornheimer. “And I am disappointed to see MTA continuing to take this kind of slow bureaucratic approach of essentially going intersection to intersection, which costs us a lot of time and money and contributes to more people being killed and injured on our streets because it takes longer.”

Noah Baustin can be reached at