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Recent senior pedestrian deaths prompt hearing

Seniors in San Francisco are disproportionately affected by traffic collisions, said city officials who work on achieving The City’s goal of zero traffic deaths by 2024, also known as Vision Zero.

Data from 2014 to 2017 showed that half of pedestrian fatalities happened to people who were 65 and older.

Supervisor Norman Yee held a hearing on Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Neighborhood Services and called for city agencies working towards Vision Zero, which included the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Department of Public Health and the Police Department, to report on data and solutions to keep seniors safe when crossing city streets.

The City recorded its lowest number of traffic fatalities last year — 20 deaths —  but Yee said city agencies need to do more to make streets safer, especially those who are most vulnerable crossing the street:

“This is an accomplishment and should be recognized for that, but still, there were 20 people that passed away. It feels like even though we made strides, but we still need to do more.”

Yee, who represents District 7 and had requested the hearing in April, had two seniors killed in collisions eleven days apart from each other in his district. One collision occurred at Ocean Avenue and Victoria Street on April 17, and the other occurred at 19th Avenue and Winston on April 28.

He said:

“Each of these crashes were really preventable and leaves a lifetime of impact for their families and friends.”

In 2017, three of eight fatal traffic collisions involving seniors occurred in District 7.

Ricardo Olea, The City’s traffic engineer, said city agencies formed a rapid reponse team at the request of the late Mayor Ed Lee to respond to traffic fatalities.

SFPD immediately informs the transit agency of each fatal collision, then the SFMTA assigns staff to investigate the collision within 24 to 72 hours, depending on how long it takes officers to investigate the crash, said Olea:

“We get as much details if we can from the Police Department as the events are happening.”

Within five days, SFPD and the transit agency will hold a conference call to discuss more details about the collision.

Based on the details from the conference call, the transit agency makes recommendations to make short-term and long-term improvements if needed.

The SFMTA may also work with state agencies such as Caltrans if the fatality occurred on a state highway.

Olea said the transit agency has already begun retiming traffic lights in The City after senior advocates called for the transit agency to allow more time for seniors and people with disabilities to cross the street.

While changing the more than 1,200 traffic lights may take years to complete, Supervisor Sandra Fewer wanted the transit agency to focus first at intersections where there are senior centers or facilities:

“Are you taking a proactive stance at intersections with senior centers?”

Olea said the transit agency will proactively look at locations where changes would be needed first, including crosswalks near senior centers.

Mark Dreger, a senior transportation planner, said the SFMTA is also working on combining existing programs such its residential traffic calming program and with Vision Zero initiatives.

Dreger said the transit agency would use the data from Vision Zero and speak with seniors and people with disabilities about areas they feel are unsafe. the program and will most likely launch next year, said Dreger.

Another topic discussed was the latest senior pedestrian death at Sloat Boulevard and 36th Avenue.

Dmitry Scotkin, 69, was struck and killed by a vehicle on July 17 at a crosswalk where Caltrans installed a High Intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK). Caltrans has jurisdiction over Sloat Boulevard, also known as State Highway 35.

Pedestrians who want to the cross the intersection, must push a button to activate HAWK, which will first flash a yellow light, then a steady yellow and then a solid red light to drivers to stop.

Pedestrian can then proceed when the walk sign is on. Once the pedestrian countdown is over, drivers will see flashing red lights telling them to proceed as long as no pedestrians are still in the crosswalk.

Supervisors had concerns after the death of Scotkin that drivers might be confused about the HAWK system, including what they do on some of flashing lights.

Caltran officials, who did attend the hearing, said they are working on more outreach to neighborhood communities in The City, but said it would not be possible to reach every single driver, especially drivers who might be passing by and may have never seen a HAWK signal before.

Yee said:

“I think that’s half of the solution. The drivers are the ones who are confused.”

Yee said himself he was confused by the lights when the Caltrans installed the first HAWK and also watched drivers not know what to do:

“How we do educate the drivers who are necessarily living there. Is there more of general public campaign to educate people?”

Jeff Weiss, a spokesperson with Caltrans, said a video has already been made, which people can view on the Caltrans website, on how the HAWK system works.

Additionally, Weiss said the SFMTA and the Department of Public Works will put up large will place a large orange changeable message sign to alert drivers that they are in operation as well as sending out fliers to residents in the radius of the HAWK system to explain how the it works.

Below is a recent video posted by Caltrans on July 18 explaining how HAWK works on Sloat Boulevard:

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