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Solemn memorial honors lives lost in traffic collisions

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Pedestrian advocates turned the steps of San Francisco City Hall into a memorial Sunday afternoon with 187 pairs of shoes laid out to represent pedestrians, cyclists and drivers killed in traffic collisions. 

On this sixth annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, city officials and pedestrian safety advocates read aloud the 187 names of those killed in traffic incidents since 2014 — the year San Francisco supervisors and transit officials adopted Vision Zero, a goal to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.

Twenty-one people have died as a result of traffic collisions so far this year, nine of which were pedestrians.

Many pedestrian advocates and city leaders say that reducing the speed limit is key to achieving Vision Zero goal.

Ching Wong/SFBay A victim’s portrait sits on a step of City Hall during the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Stressing the need to get handle on speeding drivers, Walk San Francisco’s Executive Director Jodie Medeiros said:

“We know that speeding is the number one most dangerous thing that can determine whether a person lives or dies. And so we need to be doing everything in our power to curb speeding.”

Medeiros said transit officials need to continue re-engineering streets using inexpensive and easily accessible resources to slow drivers. She also urged further implementation of road diets, which are inspired by European street models that reduce vehicle space and increase safe areas for pedestrians and cyclists.

State law currently prohibits local jurisdictions from lowering speeds below 25 mph, with exceptions for areas near school zones and senior centers.

Transit officials have for years said that survival rates are higher for a person hit by a driver traveling at 20 mph compared to a someone struck by a vehicle traveling 30 mph.

The City has already reduced the speed limit near schools to 15 mph and has begun the process of reducing limits from 35 mph to 25 mph near senior centers along portions of Geary Boulevard, Supervisor Dean Preston announced last month.

Ching Wong/SFBay Fennel Doyle, of San Francisco, a survivor of traffic collision, lights a sage during the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Transit officials are looking make those same reductions along portions of 19th Avenue near senior residential care facilities and on Bush Street between Polk and Larkin streets near On Lok Senior Health Services.

Still, much work lies ahead. City officials are somewhat at the mercy of state approval in use of certain tools, such as automated speed enforcement, Medeiros said. Additionally, they hope efforts to change state speed limit laws will prove successful. 

Jenny Yu, the daughter of a woman who was injured in a traffic incident, said while her mother survived the 2011 crash at Park Presidio Boulevard and Anza Street, she suffered traumatic brain injury and severe cognitive impairment.

Ching Wong/SFBay Fennel Doyle, of San Francisco, a survivor of traffic collision, leaves flowers during the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Yu said she attends the memorial every year to act as a voice for her mother and others in the Asian community. She said:

“It was very important for me to make it still visible that traffic violence is a serious health crisis for the city, and we need to do something.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is tasked with making streets safe for all modes of transportation. Commenting on the importance of Sunday’s memorial, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said:

“This memorial event is important to honor the dead, and to also hold ourselves accountable for doing what is necessary in order to prevent this sort of violence in the future.”

Transit officials have gathered data to better understand where traffic collisions commonly occur and have over the several years prioritized safety improvements on those streets with use of paint, road diets and daylighting. Tumlin said that while there are additional tools the transit agency can utilize, state law currently prohibits their use. Tumlin added:

“We do not have automated speed enforcement. We cannot even set speed limits for safety outcomes. We set speed limits based upon the convenience of the least prudent motorists.”

Ching Wong/SFBay Assemblyman David Chiu reads victims’ names during the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Assemblyman David Chiu, who also attended the memorial, proposed a pilot program for automated speed enforcement cameras, but the legislation failed in 2017.

Tumlin believes that given the confluence of events across the state, there is potential for the proposal’s success if it is revisited in Sacramento. Tumlin said:

“I think there’s greater awareness that traffic stops can have inherent bias. Automated speed enforcement takes the bias out of the equation.”

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, who himself survived a traffic collision in 2006, introduced two resolutions that recommit The City to Vision Zero and urges the SFMTA to be more aggressive in efforts to slow drivers. Both resolutions passed at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Ching Wong/SFBay Shoes and placards with names placed on the steps of City Hall represent 187 people who have been killed in traffic crashes since 2014 during the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, November 15, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Yee said he also wants transit officials to avoid syncing traffic lights on corridors he describes as freeways.

The City saw a total 29 traffic fatalities in 2019, which is higher than in previous years — there were 20 traffic-related fatalities in 2017 and 23 in 2018.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn covers transportation and City Hall in San Francisco for SF Bay. Email: jerold@sfbay.ca. Twitter: @Jerold_Chinn. Instagram: jeroldwashere.

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