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Traffic deaths in San Francisco rise as citations plummet

More than half of last year’s traffic-related deaths occurred within San Francisco’s High-Injury Network, according to Department of Public Health reporting.

Officials with DPH presented year-end findings to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board last week, citing 27 traffic fatalities in 2021 — three fewer than the year before. Of those, 16 occurred on sections of road sections designated on the city’s High-Injury Network map which are known streets in The City where a majority of severe and fatal crashes take place.

While the report reflected on 2021, this year is not shaping up to be great either, city officials and advocates said.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who chairs the the SFCTA, said at the meeting that the numbers so far in 2022 are not looking good:

“In fact, with the year just halfway over, we’ve been averaging about one traffic related fatality per week. This is not good, and it’s a strong signal. That we have to bring all the resources we can move in this trend in the opposite direction.”

Supervisor Myrna Melgar said she found the year-end report “distressing” and “frustrating,” adding that funds are available from her district’s participatory budgeting for street safety improvements:

“The money’s there and it takes forever to get them implemented.”

Activist and data analyst Stephen Braitsch created a detailed map showing all of the traffic fatalities since The City adopted Vision Zero — the goal of achieving zero traffic fatalities by 2024. Depending on available information, some crashes have the names of the victim, a photo and the cause of the crash.

Braitsch has tracked four traffic fatalities last month, including a bicyclist, pedestrian, motorcyclist and a driver of a vehicle. While The City has not yet updated its data for the month of June, the four fatalities tracked by Braitsch would put the total number of fatalities at 19 so far this year.

There have also been non-fatal crashes that have concerned officials and advocates, including a crash that happened Monday night in the Inner Sunset. District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar tweeted last night that two vehicles collided with each other with one of the vehicles ending up crashing into a Muni transit stop shelter, injuring four who were waiting for the bus.

Police said the crash injured four people, including a 59-year-old male victim who sustained life-threatening injuries. A 52-year-old female, a 19-year-old female and a 16-year-old make sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

A crash last month at the intersection of Lombard and Fillmore streets injured six when a speeding vehicle crashed into a Muni bus. Streets Director Tom Maguire with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency described the crash, saying the bus spun around 180 degrees in the intersection after impact from the vehicle.

Luke Bornheimer, an organizer with Community Spaces SF, said it has become difficult for the transit agency to install street safety changes without pushback from either other city agencies or from the public:

“There are far too many obstacles and hurdles in the way of making the critically essential changes.”

If there was a silver lining in the 2021 year-end report, there were no traffic fatalities last year where failing to yield to pedestrians was a primary factor in the crash, said Dr. Seth Pardo, director of Center of Data Science at DPH. Though, there was one fatality where failure to yield to pedestrians was a secondary crash factor in March of last year.

The topic of enforcement was brought up at the meeting by Mandelman, but no one from the Police Department was present to answer questions. Mandelman wanted to know where The City was on enforcement, especially the enforcement of the “focus on the five,” or the primary traffic violations that are most cited in traffic crashes.

Those traffic violations include speeding, failure to yield to a pedestrian while making a turn, running stop signs, running red lights and violating the right-of-way of a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

City data shows traffic violations overall have significantly dropped off since the pandemic began in March 2020. The latest Police Department report on traffic statistics department wide for the month of April showed 338 traffic citations were written for the month.

In the same month last year and in 2020, data from the department showed a total of 720 and 407 traffic citations written department wide. A year before the pandemic began in 2019 in April, the data showed officers issued a total of 4,290 traffic citations.

Mandelman said he anticipates getting more answers from city departments at a fall meeting, including what resources are needed to keep The City’s high injury network map updated on an annual basis. The map has not been updated since 2017, DPH officials said.

Click here to read the year-end 2021 traffic fatalities report from DPH.

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