Skip to main content

West Portal tragedy exposes Breed’s failed Vision Zero leadership

The mayoral candidate vows to boost traffic safety with speed cameras and protected bike lanes, ending bureaucratic delays that endanger lives.

A black and white photo of a man in a suit, with a microphone in the foreground. He has slicked-back hair and a serious expression.
Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

By Mark Farrell

Following the deadly crash in West Portal last weekend, the Standard asked the leading candidates for mayor what they would do to make city streets safer and reach the goal of zero traffic fatalities. Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, former mayor and supervisor Mark Farrell and non-profit executive Daniel Lurie submitted responses. 

In 2014, San Francisco adopted Vision Zero, an ambitious goal to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by 2024. Although we have clearly fallen short 10 years later, the goal and work to make Vision Zero a reality must remain.

Last weekend, we had a devastating reminder of the work we still have left to do. Our city was shaken by a horrific crash in West Portal caused by a driver allegedly speeding and going the wrong way, killing three members of a family and critically injuring their 2-month-old infant. The tragedy has caused enormous suffering and left a lasting mark on the community, a painful reminder that pedestrian fatalities due to car collisions remain stubbornly high in San Francisco.

On average, 30 people are killed every year on San Francisco’s streets and over 500 are severely injured. This year, the city has seen more traffic-related deaths than average and is on track to surpass total traffic deaths in 2023. This is unacceptable. Our families deserve better. 

Unfortunately, much of this boils down to failed leadership. Mayor London Breed has bungled or abandoned one half-baked initiative after another and stalled critical projects that would improve road safety. This is all while allowing her San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to force ideological-driven streetscape initiatives on communities that don’t take unique neighborhood needs into account. 

Our city’s Better Market Street project, which I consistently voted to support while in office, was intended to breathe new life into downtown, promising a safe Market Street for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles. Millions of dollars and countless hours went into the project. But Breed gutted the effort with no explanation. Not only did it never come to fruition, but her decision to ban cars on Market Street has simultaneously failed to stop collisions there and caused nightmarish traffic on arterial streets.  

This unfulfilled promise was soon followed by the contentious Valencia Street bike lane project. After dedicating significant resources and undergoing two redesigns, Breed managed to upset neighbors, bicyclists and small businesses on the corridor, earning a rare trifecta of opposition. This is just the latest example of her inability to get any semblance of community support for streetscape projects and road use changes, which has prevented the city from making faster and real progress. Incidents along the corridor have only gotten worse since then.

San Francisco cannot afford to keep putting lives in danger due to poor leadership. As mayor and District 2 supervisor, public safety was always my North Star, and it will continue to be my top priority. I helped advance thoughtful projects in my district, making improvements to Bay, Euclid and Lombard streets that balanced safety, convenience and neighborhood concerns. I helped install traffic calming measures, circles and stop signs across the city to slow down traffic on notorious unsafe streets. I even supported installing a new bike lane in front of my own home. 

I’ve heard directly from residents who had raised safety concerns about the very intersection where the recent West Portal tragedy occurred, asking for streetlights and clearer pedestrian markers. Their concerns were ignored, and now, it's too late. Breed has let SFMTA be distracted by pet projects and virtue signaling rather than the difficult and necessary work to make our streets safer. 

We’ve seen this incredibly sad story play out before, as when a 4-year-old child in a stroller was killed by a motorist last year at Fourth and King Streets. We shouldn't wait to make road improvements until there is another tragic loss of life, but that is exactly what we expect to happen now in West Portal. We need a proactive, comprehensive citywide plan that constantly prioritizes safety and the well-being of all San Franciscans. I promise to work with communities, not at them.

As mayor, I will take bold, aggressive action to ensure all road users, especially bicyclists and pedestrians, are safe on our streets. I am committed to installing bollards on sidewalks at major intersections that have multiple modes and are near places like hospitals, parks and schools that are exposed to more vulnerable road users. These have the benefit of also being easy to remove and replace as traffic and neighborhood needs inevitably shift over time. 

As mayor, I will support the installation of more speed cameras. Speed is what kills, and we need more tools to deter speeding and enforce speed limits. I also support installing protected bike lanes on streets that are wide enough to support them and heavily used by cyclists. Some of the most famous promenades in the world in Paris, Barcelona and Rotterdam have managed to balance and promote safety, public transit, bicycling, private vehicles and convenience for all road users, and so can we. 

We need to continue to strive for Vision Zero because one life lost is too many. But we need a change in leadership to drive the real change and progress San Francisco deserves. 

Mark Farrell is the 44th mayor of San Francisco and a former District 2 supervisor and is running to be the 46th mayor of San Francisco.

We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our opinion articles. You can email us at Interested in submitting an opinion piece of your own? Review our submission guidelines.