Counting Victims

Red circles with numbers have popped up across the southern part of town – but what are they?

One of the mysterious red signs spotted on Brazil Street in the Excelsior. (Photo by Joe Kukura)

A red sign at Mission and Geneva streets says 37. Six blocks away at Persia Street, the sign says 15. Another one at Silver Street says 21. These signs were recently bolted to posts on the southernmost blocks of Mission Street. But what do the numbers stand for?

The explanation is there — you just really have to look for it. The numbers aren’t explained on the signs, but on posters hanging in nearby strorefronts.

“From July 2011 to June 2016, 21 crashes were reported on Mission Street at Silver,” reads a poster at the Silver Cafe, right outside the 21 sign. “Three pedestrians were injured.”

The red signs are part of a program called the Excelsior Safe Speeds Project.

“The program provides bright signage at one pole per intersection to indicate the number of traffic collisions at that location over the last five years,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose tells SF Weekly. “The signs will be up for about a month.”

Each poster features a traffic fatality infographic and lists the website for Vision Zero SF, an initiative seeking to “eliminate all traffic deaths in San Francisco by 2024.” But the signs were spearheaded by neighborhood nonprofit Excelsior Action Group (EAG), with a grant from the Department of Public Health. High school students with the Youth Art Exchange designed the signs and posters.

The program is based on a similar effort in Los Angeles called “X-ing on Adams,” that put red signs indicating the number of traffic collisions on West Adams Boulevard intersections. Those cross-streets were also marked with a red X, as they are here in San Francisco.

But the red signs at the 10 Outer Mission intersections have created confusion along the corridor. We asked 14-Mission bus drivers, none of whom knew what they meant, Nor did many journalism colleagues or the Department of Public Health, and Rose needed four days to figure it out. It’s not immediately clear to many people that the signs are a traffic safety measure, or that they correspond with a nearby poster.

It’s clearer at some intersections than others. In most cases, the red X connects to the poster with a red line painted on the sidewalk. But even then, the red line is often indistinguishable from standard spray-painted DPW sidewalk markings.

And some of the corners with signs don’t have the poster explaining them. At the corner of Mission and Geneva streets — the intersection with 37 collisions —  the explanatory poster is located across the street, nearly 50 feet away from the sign. You’d have to cross Mission Street to read the poster, and that increases your chances of … you know.

Still, if you want to spearhead some similar traffic crash awareness efforts near where you live, the SFMTA may be all ears.

“We are generally supportive of local groups that want to draw attention to the traffic safety issues in their neighborhood,” Rose tells SF Weekly. “EAG reached out to us to make sure they could do it in a way that would not create an unsafe condition.”

You can’t fault concerned residents for wanting to reduce traffic collisions in their neighborhood. These efforts might even cause motorists to drive more carefully  — that is, if they have any idea what the signs are supposed to mean.

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