Gascón’s “Message” Evolves, But Motorists’ Victims Still Await Justice

At the press conference held yesterday for the sentencing of Chris Bucchere, it was clear that District Attorney George Gascón’s rhetoric concerning traffic safety has evolved somewhat, toward a more accurate reflection of the dangers on city streets. In a departure from the “message to cyclists” that was his focus last month, Gascón emphasized that “traffic safety is a shared responsibility,” regardless of one’s mode of transport:

Photo: ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/san_francisco&id=9207580##ABC 7##

I know there are people in the community who don’t like to hear this, they like to blame one group or another. Some people will say, well, it’s only the motorists, if they were to behave differently, we would be safer. Other people will say, well if only the pedestrians would pay attention, we wouldn’t have these problems. And certainly, others would say, if only the cyclists were more courteous, we would not have as many accidents.

Regardless of the role you’re playing at that moment, whether you’re walking, you’re driving, or you’re cycling, if you’re violating the rules of the road, fatalities are foreseeable. And if they’re foreseeable, they are preventable.

On the last note, Gascón absolutely hit the mark. But he still didn’t acknowledge the reality that people operating multi-ton motor vehicles have a far greater capacity to inflict injury upon more vulnerable users of the road, and that the vast majority of pedestrians are injured by motorists.

The SFPD reported this week that 423 people were hit by drivers in the first five months of this year. Last year, the total was nearly 1,000. Yet, as we’ve reported, drivers are rarely prosecuted for killing pedestrians and bicycle riders as long as they’re sober and stay on the scene.

Even if Gascón hasn’t mentioned it in his remarks on the Bucchere case, he has shown that he understands the lack of accountability for drivers who kill. When the Center for Investigative Reporting published a Bay Area-wide analysis of fatal motorist-pedestrian crashes in April, Gascón told CIR, “If we had 700 people being shot every year, we would be jumping up and down. Reckless driving is just as bad as people using a firearm recklessly.”

Acknowledgement of that reality from law enforcement officials is necessary if victims of traffic violence are to receive equal justice. But while Gascón has touted his prosecution of Bucchere — the first person in the country to be prosecuted for felony vehicular manslaughter for striking someone with a bicycle — and highlighted the injustice suffered by Hui and his family, the DA and the SFPD continue to fail to devote the same level of attention to pedestrians and bicycle riders killed by motorists.

San Franciscans are still waiting for the DA to call for justice for Amelie Le Moullac, who was killed on her bicycle Wednesday by a big rig driver who appeared to have made an illegal right turn in front of her, as well as Dylan Mitchell and Diana Sullivan, who were killed this year under similar circumstances.

Meanwhile, the deaths of Becky Lee, Tania MadfesEileen Barrett, and Hector Arana — all killed by drivers while walking in San Francisco this year — all seem to be nothing more than “unfortunate accidents” in the eyes of police and the DA.

At the presser yesterday, Gascón said his insistence that all road users have responsibility for safety “may be unpopular in some corners.” But regardless of whatever straw men he’s arguing against, it’s clear that the record of prosecution against deadly driving in San Francisco comes nowhere close to representing the fact that it’s the most prevalent danger on our streets.

Until Gascón and other city officials at least acknowledge that fact, his “message” will carry no weight.

Thanks to Bryan Goebel for providing audio for this report.

  • aka “Nice Way Code.”

  • Give ItUp

    Aaron, I think that axe is ground to a nub. Yes more people are injured by motorists. A big reason is because cars are at least 25 times more likely to be on the sf streets than bikes. That’s based just on number of trips. I bet if you measured in based on number of minutes on the streets it’s even higher.

    People got upset about this specific case because he posted to a blog in a way that indicated he didn’t care about the life he had taken. I don’t know of a similar case of a driver in SF but I bet if there was one he would have been prosecuted in a similar way.

  • Anonymous

    So let me get this straight: it doesn’t matter to you that a 1000 pedestrians are hit in the city each year because everybody is driving a shit-ton? That’s insane. It’s not a relative issue (how many people per x miles or minutes driven), it’s an absolute thing (how many pedestrians/cyclists get hit each year). Looking at it in a relative sense creates a horribly unlivable city, for extending your argument to its logical conclusion, we should just encourage everyone to drive as then you your ratio of people hit to miles driven goes down and those unfortunate pedestrians and cyclists who get eat are just part of the accepted statistics.

  • Anonymous

    Aaron, I think that axe is ground to a nub.

    No kidding. Those homosexuals have ground this same sex marriage thing to a nub. And don’t get me started on Lincoln and going over and over and over about slavery.

    “People got upset about this specific case because he posted to a blog in a way that indicated he didn’t care about the life he had taken.”

    http://www.cyclingmusings.com/2012/04/bucchere-report.html

    “Another thing I’d like to point out, CB actually mentions the victim twice in the email, not once like most outlets report. He first says: “I really hope he ends up OK.” And then two paragraphslater, after listing his own injuries, he writes:“The guy I hit was not as fortunate. I really hope he makes it.”

  • Give ItUp

    It doesn’t matter enough to justify the types of changes that are thrown around on this board, which make the City harder to live in except for the tiny number of people who ride bikes.

    3 a day out of over 1M people (800K + 265K commuters) is not a horribly unlivable city.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong. The better you make it to cycle, the more who cycle. That’s like going back to 1910 and say, hey, since nobody is driving, we clearly don’t need any roads. Or looking at a spot where there is a bridge over the river and remember the time before there was a bridge, and going, “Hey, nobody is swimming across this river, so why build a bridge.” People will use whatever mode of transit is made convenient and safe. Right now, cycling (and to a lesser extent, walking) is neglected in our urban design, so of course few people do either.

    And the changes that are being “thrown around this board” have proven to make the city more livable for *everyone* including motorists. Of course, there is an adjustment period where the motorist may suffer from inconvenience (note that they never suffer from danger like cyclists or pedestrians though), but in the long-term, it’s been proven over and over again that building cities around people instead of cars makes it a more pleasant place for *everyone* to live.

    And yes, it’s unlivable not literally because it’s unlivable (clearly 800,000 people live here) but because, using the jargon of the “livable streets” movement, it means the city is designed to prioritize cars at the expense of all else and therefore there is an accepted cost of this design (pollution, noise, the death and maiming of cyclists and pedestrians, contribution to the obesity epidemic, etc.).

    Finally, not only is it unlivable to build cities around cars, but it is ultimately unsustainable. For that reason alone, we must find a more efficient and healthy way to move people through the city than 4000 lbs and 150 hp just to move 1.4 people a bag or two.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t matter enough to justify the types of changes that are thrown around on this board

    Justify the status quo for us, please…

  • Give ItUp

    Are you actually equating your cause with that of homophobia and slavery? Or just trying to paint me with the same brush? There are countless examples of strident defenders of wrong causes too, but I’m not equating you with Holocaust deniers.

    I notice you’re quick to judge the truck driver but equally quick to apologize for the cyclist. Maybe they’re just both people who made horrible mistakes that they will have to live with the rest of their lives.

  • Give ItUp

    Saying it over and over again doesn’t make it true. It just makes you sound like the Fox News hourly report. It may be that some people find some examples of biking focused cities good for them. That doesn’t mean that the specific changes proposed will make this City a better place for the bulk of the people who live here. Some will. Some won’t. Each should be judged on its own merits. But slow traffic == good is nonsense.

  • PSAC

    Thank you for your wonderful article. The SFPD reported that cars have hit 423 people between Jan. 1, 2013 through May 31, 2013.

  • Thanks for keeping on this, Aaron. The last few years, there have definitely been areas of improvement, but we’ve still got a long way to go. I encourage everyone to continue to support Walk SF (http://walksf.org/), which will soon be in transition with a new Executive Director, as well as potentially get involved with SF’s Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) (http://www.sfmta.com/about-sfmta/organization/committees/pedestrian-safety-advisory-committee-psac). We meet every month on the second Tuesday at 6:00pm in City Hall Room 400 (note new time/location).

  • Mr Rogers

    Thanks for taking the time to counter (and balance out) the Bucchere apologists on this blog, who judge any given event of a person being killed based on whether the killer was in a car or on a bike.

    I wonder if they saw this: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Murder-charge-for-Pleasanton-driver-in-bike-fatal-4733084.php

    The point being that when a driver acts just like Bucchere did (in this case, posting online about his speeding), they’re treated in a similar way.

  • Give ItUp

    Not liking these specific changes is not the same as only wanting the status quo. I think lots of changes should be made. But they’re complicated, need to be evaluated, measured and modified when reality intrudes. The changes proposed here amount to “We want more lanes for bikes and anything that makes biking better because biking is good and anything else is bad”. It’s justified with the superficial argument that more biking is somehow better for everyone, when it’s really just a self interested land grab to make biking better for the tiny number of people who bike.

  • • The fallacy of the middle ground strikes yet again. The affectation of evenhandedness is just a veneer when it only serves to distract us from the huge misallocation of resources away from the far, far greater danger.

  • I’ve never seen a “Bucchere apologist” on Streetsblog. The very concept makes no sense, since Bucchere’s actions have been an effective tool for the stupid or dishonest opponents of bicycling.

    I have, however, seen (and posted) defenses of the truth and the law. These have been necessary because so many lies and myths have emerged from that tragedy, and again, stupidly or dishonestly generalized to the thousands of bicyclists in this city that have nothing whatsoever to do with Bucchere.

  • Reading for comprehension: try it on a sentence today!

  • Saying “slow traffic == good is nonsense” is nonsense, whether over and over again or just once.

    In contrast to the unsupported regurgitated opinion featured on Fox News or in comments by @0adef7308767a1f02ef96407d57f12f1:disqus, Streetsblog does present actual research.

  • Elizabeth

    “3 a day…is not horribly unlivable.”
    Unless of course it’s you and you lose your life or someone you love does. Then it is not livable because you have no life to live.

    Sf could be much better. Amsterdam is about the same size and a similar number of people, but it is safer because people got fed up with children being killed and demanded change.

    There are hardly any safe places to ride in sf even compared to nearby suburbs. Walking is even very dangerous and you cannot claim that pedestrians are a small minority. i believe that most people are good and we have to rise up against people like you and say Enough. Being able to cross the street without getting run over is not an unreasonable request. this must stop.

  • Give ItUp

    I never said that being able to cross the street without getting run over is an unreasonable request. Clearly the vast majority of pedestrians do that every single day. I said that the specific changes proposed (turning Folsom 2 way for example) were not commensurate with the problem. And that the problem is not as big as cyclists make it seem. And that they do that as a means to rally more people to their true cause of making riding easier because their numbers are so small that otherwise it would never happen. It’s a selfish act, being justified (or perhaps rationalized).

    Should we make it easier to be a pedestrian? Sure. Should we make the streets safer by intelligent changes to traffic patterns or intersections? Sure. Should we make it impossible to cross the city in a reasonable amount of time by a motorized vehicle? I say no.

    You’re free to try to change the city if you wish it was more like Amsterdam or the suburbs. As far as I know though, those places would welcome you. Perhaps you’d be happier there.

  • Mr Rogers

    Yes, poor Chris Bucchere, prosecuted due to deeply bike-discriminatory double standards and then maligned with lies, mythologizing, dishonesty and stupidity. Spoken like a true Bucchere apologist.

    I say this as someone who owns two bikes and zero cars: by defending and rationalizing the actions of this manslaughtering asshole rather than condemning him as he so richly deserves, you and others have done more damage to cyclists in SF than “stupid or dishonest opponents of bicycling” could ever hope to do.

  • Anonymous

    Not liking these specific changes is not the same as only wanting the
    status quo. I think lots of changes should be made. But they’re
    complicated, need to be evaluated, measured and modified when reality
    intrudes.

    I have heard this before. More specifically, heard it from you via one of your other troll accounts.

  • Anonymous

    Should we make it impossible to cross the city in a reasonable amount of time by a motorized vehicle?

    Please describe how any of the changes propose make that impossible.

    Also, define “reasonable amount of time”

  • Anonymous

    I say this as someone who owns two bikes – a Ducati and a Kawasaki.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Your kinds loses at the ballot every time. You tried to save the Embarcadero Freeway, you lost. You tried to save the Central Freeway, you lost. You want to make it fast and convenient to zip across town in a car, to the detriment of everyone else, move to LA. You would like it there.

  • You must have been very upset indeed to spend your Saturday evening fuming about this. The only defense I’ve seen anybody write is that he’s met him and didn’t think he came across as an asshole. Otherwise I’ve seen no defense, rationalizations, nor apologia of what he did, nor have I written any such. But then again, I do read for comprehension.

  • Anonymous

    More people biking is better for everyone.

    In addition to the environmental improvements that we all benefit from (cleaner air, slower global warming) it reduces traffic for *you* and improves *your* chances of finding a parking spot.

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