Police Commissioners to SFPD: Focus on Drivers Who Endanger Pedestrians

Members of the SF Police Commission, a civilian body charged with police oversight, urged SFPD officials at a hearing last week to focus their traffic enforcement efforts on the greatest danger facing people walking: driver violations.

A pedestrian suffered serious injuries after being hit by a cab driver near the Broadway Tunnel in April. Image: ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/san_francisco&id=9055111##ABC 7##

An average of three pedestrians are injured by motorists on San Francisco streets every day. As part of the city’s Pedestrian Strategy to reduce the toll traffic violence, SFPD officials say they’re revamping their education and enforcement efforts aimed at drivers and pedestrians, using data to target the most common causes of pedestrian crashes under a program called “Focus on the Five.” All of the top five causal factors of pedestrian crashes are motorist infractions: running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, turning violations, and speeding.

When she was nine years old, Commissioner Suzy Loftus said she was hit by a driver who claimed he didn’t see her in the crosswalk at California Street and 24th Avenue. “The story ended okay for me, but I think what I’ve come to realize as an adult and a mother in the city is that I have a very strong feeling that enforcement is lacking, and that that’s part of why drivers don’t count on getting caught,” she said.

Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco emphasized the need for more effective traffic enforcement, even if it means getting officers at the understaffed department to work overtime. “In my neighborhood, it’s a sport to see who will roll through the stop sign in a Range Rover while texting,” he said.

In expressing her frustration that the number of pedestrians killed has increased in recent years, Loftus initially referred to the deaths as “homicides.” When SFPD Chief Greg Suhr said the correct term is “fatalities,” Loftus said she had misspoke.

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali said officers regularly “admonish” drivers who violate pedestrians’ right-of-way, while also giving “tips” to pedestrians and bicycle riders to behave predictably. “They emphasize that the importance of safe driving is on the driver, the person responsible for the 4,000-pound vehicle,” he said. “They have to bear the greater burden in that regard.”

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. Image: ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=8348103##ABC 7##

But Suhr, displaying the same victim-blaming attitude he espoused in his Walk to Work Day speech in May, made it a point to wag a finger at people who walk while using their cell phones, despite the complete lack of data to support “distracted walking” as an actual cause of pedestrian deaths, and the clear evidence that drivers are at fault for most pedestrian deaths and injuries. Suhr said there has recently been a 12 percent increase in “pedestrian violations” — presumably jaywalking tickets — while citations for drivers failing to yield have recently increased 8 percent.

“It is literally impossible to go anywhere in this city right now and sit at an intersection during the day and not have people crossing the street while completely fixated on their cell phones,” said Suhr. In May, Suhr backed a Taraval Station campaign to hand out cards urging pedestrians along the 19th Avenue motorway to pay attention, lest they get hit by a driver or robbed of their cell phone.

“We’re concerned that the police are blaming the victim here by focusing on walking and texting, when the data is clear,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “The most dangerous behaviors are drivers speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and failing to yield to pedestrians.”

“After almost 1,000 people were hit by cars in San Francisco last year, we hope Chief Suhr will lead the way to prevent more of these tragedies,” she added. “The Chief is a strong proponent of using data to fight crime with the CompStat program; we’d like to see that same smart, targeted approach to fighting traffic crime — and saving lives.”

  • david waggoner

    it’s Loftus

  • Woops, don’t know how that happened, fixed it – thanks!

  • dat

    But.. but.. cyclist run stop signs! Arrogant! Uhh… uh… entitled!

  • guest

    I really dont care if you run a stop sign if there is no one else there, but if there is you better yield to the person with the right of way. That’s all there is to it. But that’s not what happens. Cars roll through stops just as often as bikes, but people just accept that. Even though it’s so little effort and so little time for the driver.

    People need to slow down and be more considerate.

  • Anonymous

    Suhr’s ignorant blame-the-victim attitude is a part of the pedestrian injury/fatality problem, not part of the solution. Let me guess–before cell phones, nobody ever got hit by a car in San Francisco, right Greg?

  • Armando

    Seems to me we all need to work on this.
    Drivers need to slow down and be very mindful of Pedestrians.
    The Police needs to staff dangerous intersections and issue tickets especially during baseball games when people drive drunk and during rush hours.
    Pedestrians need to pay attention when crossing streets or driveways.
    Cyclists must stop at stop signs like everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    “It is literally impossible to go anywhere in this city right now and sit at an intersection during the day and not have people DRIVING while completely fixated on their cell phones.”

    There, I fixed it.

  • Anonymous

    A couple of suggestions that may help traffic safety and flow:

    1) Separate walking signals and driving signals. Put them on different timers. Pedestrians have their turn, drivers have their turn.

    2) Get rid of right turns on red lights.

  • Anonymous

    Most street redesigns incorporate your first point (ex. DPW’s 2nd street plan). This is essential to minimizing risk to pedestrian from turning cars as well as facilitating the flow of vehicles and people.

    As for your second point, I completely agree though I’m guessing this would have to be a new law at the state level. Does anyone know how we could ban right turns on red generally? The way drivers treat turning right on red as an inalienable right always frustrates me as a pedestrian trying to find safe space to cross in the street. Often drivers will give me a mean look as if I’m in their way even though I’m the one with the walk signal.

  • Anonymous

    True, dat.

  • Anonymous

    We need a new Police Chief. Suhr seems incapable of understanding the problem. Blaming Pedestrians is truly awful.

  • Nathanael

    There is one and only one way to get the police to behave themselves in this situation.

    Take away their police cars. No police will be allowed to have cars except under special requisitions.

    Watch how quickly the police start to side with pedestrians and bicyclists when they ARE pedestrians and bicyclists.

  • Nathanael

    As a side effect, this would save a huge amount of money. I can’t imagine how much money your average large police department spends on gasoline and cars.