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San Francisco Police Vow Tougher Enforcement to Curb Pedestrian Deaths

| January 17, 2014
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San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr is promising to implement new enforcement measures to help curb a disturbing rise in pedestrian deaths in the city.

At a four-hour joint hearing of the San Francisco Police Commission and the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee Thursday night,  Suhr said the department plans to target drivers at the city’s most dangerous intersections.

Officers will prioritize citations for the five primary causes of collisions that injure pedestrians and bicyclists: speeding, red light violations, failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, failure to yield while making a left or U-turn and failure to stop at the limit line. (Limit lines are the broad white lines painted at major intersections to stop cars from encroaching in crosswalks.)

‘We’ve been hearing stories of people … being told they’re not hurt badly enough.’
— Leah Shahum,
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

“We are committed to a new normal in San Francisco, where as our staffing bumps up, so will the tickets,” Suhr said. The department plans to beef up staffing levels in its traffic company over the next year.

Last year, 21 pedestrians were killed by drivers on San Francisco streets. Six of those fatal collisions happened in December, putting the total number of pedestrian deaths at a six-year high.

“We will work collaboratively toward a goal of zero fatalities,” Suhr said, referring to a resolution introduced by Supervisors Jane Kim, John Avalos and Norman Yee that calls on Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to adopt a “Vision Zero” policy to cut traffic deaths over the next ten years.

The City Hall hearing, which drew a crowd of more than 200 people, was the second to look into how the department investigates collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

The hearings were called following the bungled investigation into the death of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, a bike rider killed by a truck driver in SoMa last August. Biking and walking advocates said the Police Department has a history of not properly investigating these types of collisions.

“We are concerned that there is a bias among some in the Police Department against people who walk and bike,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition. “We’ve been hearing stories of people not getting reports taken, being denied and people told they’re not hurt badly enough.”

In what Suhr described later as a “seismic change” in policy, officers will now issue citations or arrest motorists at the scene of serious collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists if the drivers are found to be at fault. The previous policy was to refer cases to the district attorney without making an arrest.

The department has also stopped referring to these types of crashes as accidents because they are preventable, said Suhr. Instead, the department officially calls them collisions. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time there can be a determination as to who’s at fault,” Suhr said.

During the hearing, a number of people, including some who have been hit by drivers, urged the city to take stronger action to prevent pedestrian deaths and injuries.

“Only 20 percent of the trips in San Francisco are made by foot,” said Natalie Burdick of Walk San Francisco. “Yet 50 percent of the traffic deaths are pedestrians. That’s an injustice.”

She played a documentary that tells the story of Jikaiah Stevens, who was hit by a driver in a crosswalk last year. The driver was not charged or ticketed and Stevens, who is still recovering, has medical bills totaling more than $141,000.

Biking and walking advocates are pushing for a “Vision Zero” policy in San Francisco, a street-safety initiative that originated in Sweden and which has already been adopted by cities like New York and Chicago.

While Mayor Ed Lee has not taken a public position on Vision Zero and the policies it calls for, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said the agency is likely to support it.

“I think this is the direction that we need to go. We shouldn’t have people dying on our streets just trying to get around the city,” Reiskin said.

He added: “While I think there’s a lot of good work that’s been happening, both in education and enforcement and the work that we’re trying to do to redesign the rights of way, I think we all need to step up the effort.”

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About the Author ()

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco and a producer and anchor at KCBS radio. He's a lifelong Californian and over his 20-year radio career has worked at stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento. Reach Bryan Goebel at bgoebel@KQED.org.
  • JugsPutin

    Here’s the deal:

    1. Motorists in SF have several problems, which make them prone to do really stupid things. One of these is the lack of parking spaces – so when a motorist sees one, the desire to get to it often blinds their judgment to safe driving practices. So they end up making sharp rights into bike lanes, etc. In fact, motorists failing to look behind them when they make right turns is a huge awareness problem in general. Not saying this is right, but this is what ends up happening. You ever drive around for 45 minutes looking for parking? If you haven’t, then you should preemptively shut your mouth because you can’t possibly fathom the depths of rage and frustration the motorist feels at that moment.

    If you want less fatalities, maybe you should strive for less cars in the city, eh? Which is never gonna happen if people keep having to keep driving in to work every day – since, you know, they have to eat and pay rent and all. I don’t see a high speed train line connecting Marin to SF. I don’t see bike lanes linking Oakland to SF. I don’t see BART running 24/7. Frankly, I don’t see how vehicle traffic ISN’T going to keep increasing steadily as this rent-raising tech boom continues.

    2. EVERYONE in SF (and I guess other cities) has the “cheap tech” problem, which is that half the people out there are glued to some sort of device, despite being out and about in a dangerous environment with lots of heavy, fast-moving objects. Pedestrians are at fault too – I have seen too many people start walking across the crosswalk after no more than a cursory glance at the light to make sure it’s the right color. No looking around to see if any cars are coming, the earbuds shutting off any auditory cues… This is a blatant disregard for reality, and frankly, I have no pity for any stupid ditz who dies while wearing their headphones and staring at their screen.

    Hark, human! You are NOT safe, and you never will be. You are a monkey-being made of fragile perishables, and death awaits you at every corner of reality…if you are not careful and you let your guard down, that is! SO DO NOT LET YOUR GUARD DOWN, EVER.

    3. Cops are cops, and they don’t care. They are an organized gang whose only real prerogative is self-preservation, and they certainly won’t do anything unless forced to. So if all they have to do to keep their jobs is go after low-hanging fruit, then yeah, they’ll do so. But they will avoid their duties like the plague the moment the job gets difficult – like trying to figure out who’s at fault at the scene of an accident. Why would a cop go “above and beyond” the call of duty? It’s a hard, thankless, miserable, dangerous job.

    Who thanks cops?? A great deal of society resents them for giving out tickets and locking up children for drug-related offenses. The ones that don’t are the ones who drive big SUVs and European-model cars, and would prefer that the cops have a bias against pedestrians and bicyclists. After all, what is a bicyclist other than a poor hippie who refuses to conform and make enough money to afford a real car! Important people don’t bicycle anywhere – it dirties their expensive tailored suits, and should only be done as a weekend leisure activity, out on highway 1 with the spandex shorts and the odometer and all that stuff!

    • sfparkripoff

      MUNI vehicles struck and killed several pedestrians and cyclists last year. Were these public transit vehicles making sharp rights into bike lanes in an attempt to park the buses? No they weren’t.

      This was the most likely scenario:

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    The problem the author and everyone he quotes has: we really don’t know exactly how safe or unsafe our streets are, since the city has been relying completely on police reports to count accidents on city streets while ignoring accident victims treated at San Francisco General Hospital, the city’s primary trauma center.

    This is what a recent UC study on cycling accidents in the city found—that 54.5% of the injury accidents to cyclists treated at SFGH between 2000 and 2009 were not matched with a police report and were thus 1,377 cycling accidents were not counted.

    Until City Hall assures the public that it has corrected this remarkable bit of incompetence in compiling street accident numbers, we can’t be confident that we’re getting anything like an accurate picture of the danger cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists face on city streets.

  • Joe A. W. Fitzgerald

    Goebel is the man!

    • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

      Goebel is a bike guy who used to run SF Streetsblog, the anti-car, pro-bike blog. He—and you—need to man up and come to grips with the implications of the UC study.

  • sfparkripoff

    Many pedestrians hit by cars are self distracted, most likely looking at their smartphone instead of paying attention.

    Sourced from Liberty Mutual Insurance Company:

    51% of pedestrians talk on the phone while crossing the street

    26% of pedestrians text or email while crossing the street

    34% of pedestrians listen to music while crossing the street

    60% of pedestrians use a smartphone while crossing the street

    Heres another fun fact! City Hall is now providing free WIFI on Market Street. Now we will have more people watching videos and checking their email when they should be looking both ways as they cross streets and exit public transit vehicles.

    Sourced from Liberty Mutual Insurance Company:
    51% of pedestrians talk on the phone while crossing the street
    26% of pedestrians text or email while crossing the street
    34% of pedestrians listen to music while crossing the street
    60% of pedestrians use a smartphone while crossing the street

    How does that work with San Francisco’s Vision Zero policy to eliminate pedestrian and bicycle related traffic deaths? Lets take a minute to thank Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Board of Supervisors for contradicting their own safety policies.

    *CLAP* *CLAP* * CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP*

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUlFZmH1C64&feature=youtube_gdata

  • sfparkripoff

    Yes, lets spend millions of dollars redesigning the streets because this will stop people from using their cell phones when crossing the streets.