At least once a year a cluster of serious traffic collision injuries or fatalities catch the attention of the media, safe streets advocates, and politicians. Last week was particularly awful; 64-year-old Zhao Guan was killed in a hit and run at 18th Avenue and California Street, and Gerard Graybosch, 44, died in a head-on vehicle collision at Mansell Street and Visitacion Avenue. Several other pedestrians were seriously injured. And around 10:30 p.m. last night, a 58-year-old woman was hit by a driver at Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street and was transported to the hospital in life-threatening condition.
The number of incidents that occurred in one week was impossible to ignore. “The events of the last week are yet another tragic reminder of how much work we still have to do to ensure that all of our residents are safe on our streets,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement Wednesday, as she announced a fresh commitment to speeding up street improvement efforts.
The city is currently working a Vision Zero goal toward eliminating all traffic fatalities by 2024, and while much has been done in the past few years, there are still far too many people dying on San Francisco streets annually.
“The current pace of traffic safety improvements in San Francisco is unacceptable and I refuse to allow red tape and bureaucracy to stop us from taking immediate, common-sense steps to improve safety while we undergo long-term improvements,” Breed said. “Every life lost on our streets is one too many.”
In response, Breed is asking the SFMTA to develop a policy to speed up safety enhancements that are easy to install, such as painted buffers, safety posts, and sidewalk extensions — similar to the improvements made to Fell and Baker streets after David Grinberg was killed in the crosswalk in 2017.
SFPD is also being asked to increase enforcement around key areas of the city where collisions frequently occur, otherwise known as high-injury corridors — though more resources are needed. Last summer, it was discovered that only eight traffic enforcement officers were on duty at any given time in the entire city. If a special guest wanted a police escort, that number would drop to zero.
The department has apparently been staffing up, but it now has some extra motivation; Breed requests they raise the number of citations given to drivers who violate the five biggest causes of serious injury or death: speeding, driving through crosswalks when pedestrians are present, running red lights and stop signs, and failing to yield while turning.
Finally, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been asked to install better lighting in dark areas where visibility of pedestrians, cyclists, or other vehicles is particularly bad. Many of last week’s collisions occurred after dark.
Jodie Medeiros, the executive director of Walk SF, praises Breed’s renewed commitment to Vision Zero.
“Walk SF thanks Mayor Breed for coming out strong and taking immediate action to save lives, especially after this horrific past week,” she says. “Installing quick, inexpensive safety improvements on all of our deadliest streets by 2020 will have an impact on dangerous driving behavior. Traffic deaths are preventable, and of all places, San Francisco can lead the way in ending traffic violence.”