And there’s a clear relationship between affluence and the number of cars one has in SF… as well as a need to have a CA driver’s license.
San Francisco’s neither a particularly car-friendly city nor a metropolis suited for easy driving. We’re not Los Angeles — thank God. The City By the Bay is, however, a 49-square-mile slice of Northern California that has a pro-public transit twang all of itself. Buses in SF are personified; rail lines, bus networks, and rapid transit trains offer places for contemplation, as well as an ability to go to and from most places in San Francisco with general ease
Car ownership, nevertheless, is still a thing in San Francisco. And Safe Streets activist and unquestionably talented Stephen Braitsch, who’s also the creator of Safe Lanes and Bike Match Network, published a map last year that extrapolates car ownership numbers onto San Francisco’s 36 neighborhoods.
Now months after its release — which used the most recent U.S. Census data to create — it still remains particularly relevant, especially as we continue recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Inspired by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston’s impassioned speech at a rally in support of keeping JFK Drive car-free earlier in 2022 — update, ICYMI: the 1.5-mile car-free corridor on JFK Drive is now permanent, and affectionally known as the “JFK Promenade” — Braitsch’s research showed that of SF’s roughly 874,000 residents, about 66% of them own a driver’s license.
Moreover: Just about 54% of San Franciscans have cars registered in the city — a cohort numbering around 472,000 people.
Compare these figures to 2016 statistics published in a Governing study that revealed 81.9% of Los Angeles residents have at least one vehicle, San Francisco’s car-ownership figure is relatively small. In fact, there are literally more registered vehicles in Los Angeles than there are people living in the city.
SF’s paltry car ownership numbers are also a direct correlation to the city’s density. New York City, which is the only large urban area denser than the seven-by-seven in the United States, showed over half of the city’s households in 2016 were car-free, according to that same Governing-published study; its an almost identical statistic to San Francisco’s.
Braitsch’s map — which was made by using a combination of public DMV and U.S. Census data to build — proved that car ownership has a direct relationship to affluence in San Francisco, as well. And, by proxy, how much more low-income areas in the city rely on accessible public transport than others.
Braitsch found in his research that areas in the Tenderloin and Chinatown had 85% of neighborhood homes sans cars. Communities in Sea Cliff, the Presidio, and other more affluent neighborhoods, on the other hand, had less than 3% of addresses in those zones without a car.
Driving in San Francisco is also a dangerous affair — largely for pedestrians.
“According to [San Francisco Department of Public Health] data, a driver crashes in SF every 4 hours,” Braitsch wrote in a Twitter thread published in March of 2022, explaining his work and calling for safer infrastructure (read: reduced speed limits and better-timed crosswalks) to curb the vehicle-caused injuries and deaths. “That’s 6 times every single day!”
The good news for pedestrians and Mother Nature, alike? Car ownership in SF is actually on the decline. An average 2.2% year-over-year decrease in car ownership has been recorded in San Francisco over the past few years.
But that downward trend isn’t enough to negate the perils automobiles currently present in the city: “500k private cars in SF continue to spew out ~4.7M pounds of [greenhouse gasses] into the air every year, kill ~30 residents & seriously injure 100s more every year,” Braitsch writes on Twitter.
In addition to inadequate public transportation options, research shows that people tend to choose driving over, say, biking or scootering in dense urban areas out of fear for their safety.
Case and point: The overwhelming majority of San Francisco’s city streets boast speed limits between 25 and 30 mph. At the latter speed limit, there’s a 55% chance a person struck by a vehicle traveling at that velocity will die; that estimate drops to about 25% at the former speed limit. At 35mph — a nominal increase of speed, which is commonly driven by private vehicles across the city, even on slow-moving neighborhood streets — there’s an 80% chance of pedestrian death from being hit at that speed.
When you consider most private car excursions in San Francisco are less than three miles in length — a distance that can be easily walked by able-bodied people in an hour or biked in under 20 minutes — so there’s no reason for our streets to be more pedestrian-friendly.
So… yea, let’s trade California license plates for more 20mph speed limit signs, shall we?
To view the entire map, which can be focused on specific zip codes, click here.