S.F.'s “Vision Zero” Isn't Stopping Bad Drivers, Or Hit-and-Runs

What we know following the deaths of two cyclists Wednesday in San Francisco is that both were biking legally, the streets are considered high-injury corridors, and advocates say the city isn’t following through on its Vision Zero promises to end traffic fatalities by 2024.

We also know the actions of both drivers in the separate collisions were woefully illegal, including fleeing the scene in each case. That begs the question: No matter how many improvements are made to streets in the name of protecting pedestrians and cyclists, will drivers stop running red lights or making illegal lane changes? And will they stop trying to get away after the fact?

[jump] In both fatal incidents Wednesday — the first two cyclist deaths in San Francisco this year, according to the SFMTA — the drivers fled after striking the cyclists. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety’s 2013 data, the most recent year available and the year before Vision Zero policies started in the city, there were 242 hit-and-run collisions in San Francisco out of 2,571 total that produced injury or death. That ranks 10th among the state’s 14 largest cities. Excessive speed was a factor in 417 collisions. The hit-and-run collisions dropped dramatically in 2013 from the previous three years, which all had more than 300.

Statistics from Vision Zero SF for 2015 do not show incidents of hit-and-run, but they do show that bad driving habits are the leading cause of fatal collisions. Of the 31 deaths reported in San Francisco last year, 9 were caused by failing to yield to a pedestrian, 8 were due to speeding, 4 happened by running a red light, and 2 were attributed to “unsafe driving.”

So what could’ve been done to prevent Wednesday’s deaths? As the Bicycle Coalition pointed out, at least in the case of the JFK Drive collision in Golden Gate Park, a protected bike lane would have kept the cyclist away from vehicle traffic. In the South of Market collision at Seventh and Howard streets, perhaps the threat of a ticket from a red-light camera would’ve stopped the driver from speeding through the light — although, as this law firm and others point out, there are plenty of ways to get those tickets tossed, lessening the incentive to obey the law.

In places like the U.K. and Sweden, where Vision Zero was born in the late 1990s, statistics show that red-light cameras help reduce collisions. In San Francisco, only 26 intersections have such cameras.

For now, city officials like Mayor Ed Lee believe Vision Zero is working and it’s the drivers who need to change. Cycling advocates say that’s not enough. They want more protected bike lanes and more police enforcement on high-risk streets.

Meanwhile, a vigil is planned next week for the two cyclists, Heather Miller and Kate Slattery, killed Wednesday

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