A 45-year-old man who was crossing Sloat Boulevard at 36th Avenue was hit and killed by a driver Tuesday evening, shortly after 8 p.m. The San Francisco Police Department reports that the victim died at the scene, and that the driver stayed to cooperate with authorities. But the tragic fatality is unfortunately not a unique incident on the busy boulevard — several people have been hit and killed crossing the wide road in the past ten years.
In 2007, 21-year-old Sandy Kim was killed as she stood on the sidewalk at Sloat Boulevard and 19th Avenue near Stern Grove. A driver heading west on Sloat struck a vehicle whose driver was attempting to make a left turn. During the collision, one of the cars hopped the sidewalk, hitting Kim.
In 2010, 54-year-old Feng Lian Zhu died after a driver struck her as she crossed Sloat at Forest View.
Hanren Chang, 17, was killed by a drunk driver on Sloat near Vale Avenue in 2013. Chang, a Lowell High School student, had just gotten off a Muni bus and was on her way home after celebrating her birthday.
And in October of 2014, 87-year-old Louis Van Velzen, a former printer for The Chronicle, was hit early in the morning as he crossed Sloat at 43rd Avenue (near the San Francisco Zoo) on his way to catch a bus. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital, but he died from his injuries.
So it’s not news that Sloat Boulevard is a problem area — the high speeds and proximity to thousands of residential homes is a recipe for disaster. In recent years, Caltrans has made a number of improvements to the busy state highway. In 2010, then-Supervisor Carmen Chu asked Caltrans to improve pedestrian safety along the corridor, which two years later resulted in reduced speeds (from 40 to 35 mph) and “yield to pedestrian” signs at all intersections. In addition, the street lost a lane in each direction for vehicle traffic between 21st Avenue and Everglade Drive, which were turned into striped bike lanes for cyclists.
More improvements broke ground last year. Caltrans is repaving the road between Skyline Boulevard and 19th Avenue, and are adding in bulbouts on Sloat at El Mirasol Place, and 21st, 26th and 36th avenues — the latter of which is where Wednesday’s fatality took place.
In addition, HAWK beacons are going in at the above intersections. Cathy DeLuca, policy and program director at pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, describes the lights as “a hybrid between full traffic lights that run through a cycle, and flashing beacons.” HAWK lights are pedestrian-activated — through, for example, the pressing of a button — and turn to red to stop traffic so a person can safely cross the road.
Robert Haus of Caltrans tells SF Weekly that all of the underground work and the bulbouts have been completed on Sloat, and that the HAWK lights will be installed and running, by mid-January. While that doesn’t help last night’s victim, “Help is on the way,” he says.
Perhaps as a result of some of these improvements, parts of Sloat have slowly been taken off the Vision Zero list of high-injury corridors. In 2016’s map, the stretch between the Great Highway and 33rd Avenue was listed as high-injury. But in this year’s edition, only five blocks of Sloat, between 45th and 39th avenues, were included.
DeLuca disagrees with this interpretation. “This is a street that the city has known is dangerous for a long time,” she says. “A dangerous street is designed as a dangerous street. It’s not block by block. If it’s a high-injury corridor three blocks away, you can bet it will be dangerous on 36th Avenue as well.”
Tuesday’s fatality marks the 16th person to die in 2017 in a traffic crash on city streets. Less than a month ago, 90-year-old David Grinberg was killed as he crossed Fell and Baker streets near his senior home.