Safe Streets Advocates Demand S.F. Declare a Traffic State of Emergency

Outrage over San Francisco’s deadly streets reaches critical mass, as advocates demand the city declare a state of emergency and prosecute drivers.

San Francisco’s deadly year for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists has street-safety advocates clamoring for city leaders to formally declare a “state of emergency.”

The call comes in the aftermath of two pedestrian deaths in just four days. Benjamin Dean was struck and killed by the driver of Tesla who ran a red light at Taylor and O’Farrell streets on Sunday, July 21. The 39-year-old was visiting from Clovis to celebrate a wedding anniversary, with ad his wife, Kelly Dean, who was seriously injured. Three days earlier, the driver of a big rig fatally struck 54-year-old Michael Evans, dragging him two blocks to Fifth and Market streets before fleeing the scene.

On Tuesday, outside City Hall — where the Deans were married — street-safety advocates and San Francisco representatives called on Mayor London Breed to formally proclaim a citywide emergency. Doing so could unlock funds needed to speed up street-safety projects, advocates urged.

“We’re only being reactive,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the district where Dean and Evans were hit. “We need to make our actions match our words.”

Haney and several other politicians joined advocacy groups Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in a pledge to prevent deaths on San Francisco streets. Lower speed limits, particularly around schools, more red light cameras, speed safety cameras, timing traffic lights for safety instead of speed, and allowing pedestrians to cross intersections in multiple directions at once in what’s called a pedestrian scramble are all proven methods to reduce serious collisions.

In an interesting turn, advocates also ramped up calls for police and the District Attorney’s office to investigate and prosecute deaths resulting from traffic violations in the same manner as they would a homicide. At the very least, citations of traffic violations must increase, they said.

Haney put these calls to action into a resolution, and introduced it at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. But it’s unclear how much impact this could have, as past efforts to lower speed limits and add safety cameras in San Francisco have failed in the state legislature. State Sen. Scott Wiener called California’s laws inclusion of pedestrians and cyclists “an afterthought, at best,” adding that a statewide movement is needed.

“We need to do more and we need to do it faster,” Wiener said. “It’s the Wild West out there.”

By SF Weekly’s count, 22 people have died on San Francisco’s streets so far this year, far outpacing 2018’s total of 23 Vision Zero deaths. The goal is to have no traffic-related deaths on San Francsico streets but this summer alone, seven people have been killed by drivers, including Dean and Evans. 

On June 23, two cars collided at Park Presidio Boulevard and California Street around 3 a.m., resulting in the death of 56-year-old Alexander Reyes. That same weekend, a Lyft driver, 26-year-old Syed Waseem Ali, and his passenger, 49-year-old Sela Henriquez, were killed when a Mercedes ran a red light at Third Street and Paul Avenue, hitting their vehicle.

Alexander Norton, 30, was sent to the hospital with life-threatening injuries after a driver hit him on First and Howard streets on June 26. He died the next day. 

On July 1, the driver of a Ford Expedition hit three pedestrians at San Francisco International Airport. Jedidiah Crews, 33, died shortly afterward.

“San Francisco must become a city where dangerous driving is simply not tolerated, on any street, at any time,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF. “This is possible, but the city must act quickly and aggressively to move this direction.”

Tom Maguire, who has succeeded Ed Reiskin as SFTMA’s interim director of transportation, appears to agree. At Tuesday’s rally, he said he heard the call to speed up safety improvements. The transit agency plans to complete 10 projects along high-injury corridors like Valencia Street by the end of 2019 under a program called Quick Build, which was established after the death of cyclist Tess Rothstein in March.

But infrastructure changes can’t fix it all; education and enforcement must be included in the plan, as well. Taylor Street was the site of a recent safety makeover, with the reduction from three lanes with high speeds to one lane with painted safety signs and turn restrictions to protect pedestrians. Even under Quick Build, Dean’s life was not saved.

“We need to get it down to zero,” Maguire said. “It’s the only acceptable number.”

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