State of Emergency Declared for Pedestrian, Cyclist Deaths

The resolution formalizes calls to prioritize traffic safety improvements amid an uptick in collision deaths.

San Francisco’s uptick in traffic deaths this year is officially a state of emergency, as far as the Board of Supervisors is concerned.

The board unanimously approved a resolution on Tuesday to that effect.

San Francisco is midway through its Vision Zero goal to eliminate street fatalities, which don’t count highways or underground transportation, by 2024 but faced a setback this year. By SF Weekly‘s count, this year has seen at least 24 people die in street collisions and 16 of those have been pedestrians or cyclists. In all of 2018, there were 23 deaths counting against Vision Zero.

At least one additional death came just last week on Halloween.

“San Francisco must take immediate, sweeping action to address the very real and very serious safety concerns of people walking and biking in our city,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who introduced the resolution in July. “With the passing of this resolution, we reaffirm the promise we made as part of Vision Zero to eliminate injuries and deaths on our roadway.”

Instead of making safety improvements in a “piecemeal manner,” the resolution calls on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to be proactive by speeding up projects. This includes doubling the number of red-light cameras, retiming traffic lights, letting pedestrians cross an intersection in all directions (known as a scramble) and extending the sidewalk (known as bulb-outs). All are popular ideas for solutions to increase pedestrian visibility and decrease injuries.

The resolution, however, does not force the SFMTA to prioritize these changes. For its part, the transportation agency began a “quick build” program in June that allows them to immediately implement certain changes, like painting traffic lines and street signs. Several of the 15 projects planned through 2020 have already been completed.

The projects target the high-injury corridor network, the 13 percent of city streets that account for 75 percent of collisions. The most recent death last week occurred on South Van Ness Avenue, which is part of the network. Pilsoo Seong, a San Francisco resident, was 69 years old.

Speed limits, which can dramatically alter chances of surviving a collision, are another target of the resolution and traffic safety advocates. Supervisor Norman Yee, who was critically injured in a collision himself, tried to lower speed limits in San Francisco earlier this year only to be stopped at the state level.

California’s method of determining speed limits, using the 85th percentile of the fastest-moving cars, means that higher, illegal speeds could lift the ceiling on limits later on. But Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian safety advocacy group, is working to change that method through the Zero Traffic Fatalities Task Force. Its report to the California Legislature is due in January.

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