In an emotionally-charged discussion, the dangers of walking on San Francisco’s streets took center stage at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the first since an alarming number of San Franciscans were injured and killed by drivers over the holiday season.
Every supervisor except Katy Tang, Mark Farrell, and Malia Cohen spoke to express condolences to the families of the victims and call for an aggressive increase in police enforcement and physical improvements to make city streets safer.
Mayor Ed Lee also said that he’ll be making an announcement “regarding pedestrian safety” soon, according to Bay City News. “We can’t just sit back and let this happen,” Lee told BCN.
“Vehicles are weapons. Vehicles do kill people, intentional or not,” said Supervisor London Breed. “It is important that we make sure that the enforcement to obey the law, which is to protect us all, is out there.”
After 2013 ended with 20 pedestrians having lost their lives — a six year high — the violence has continued this week, most recently with the year’s first pedestrian fatality yesterday evening on Van Ness and Grove Streets. Police say the 38-year-old man was killed when running across Van Ness, outside of a crosswalk, chasing after a man whom he was apparently involved in an altercation with, according to media reports. An SFPD spokesperson said that “there was apparently no negligence on the part of the driver.”
But in many of the other recent pedestrian crashes, the fault appeared to lie with the driver. Of the six pedestrians killed in December, some were elderly, and one was a six-year-old girl, Sophia Liu. Supervisors drew particular attention to her death, as well as that of 84-year-old Isabel Huie, a well-known Chinatown community activist who was killed by an elderly driver who apparently lost control of her car.
“The past couple weeks have been an enormous wake up call for our city. We can do better,” said Supervisor David Chiu.
Supervisor Norman Yee, a Chinatown native who has been hit by a driver, and whose grandfather was killed by a driver, said he knew Huie. Yee appeared overwhelmed with emotion, making extensive pauses during his comments.
“A lot of times, when people talk about education, they talk about pedestrian education, as if pedestrians, on purpose, will walk out into the street to get run over or something,” said Yee. “I think we need to spend more time on figuring out what’s the best method for us to do driver education and take it more seriously.”
Next Thursday, January 16, a supervisors committee will hold a joint hearing with the Police Commission to discuss SFPD’s treatment of pedestrians and bicycle riders involved in crashes. The SFPD has continued to blame the victim, though the department did arrest the two drivers who killed six-year-old Liu and 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng on New Year’s Eve.
Ng was killed at Rolph and Naples Streets in Crocker-Amazon by 69-year-old Giampaolo Boschetti, who was booked on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to stop at a stop sign. “At 86, you would expect you’d be able to live at that age until natural causes take your life away, not a car,” said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, whose district includes the site of the crash.
To reduce traffic violence, supervisors said they need to seek ways to fully fund the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy, to increase the SFPD’s understaffed traffic enforcement division, and ensure the department is using data to enforce effectively. The department has said it’s committed to its “Focus on the Five” program, an effort to target the five most common violations cited in pedestrian injury crashes. All of them are driver violations.
“I’ve never been in a place with less traffic enforcement than in this city,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who added that work still needs to be done to streamline the implementation of physical safety measures on the streets. Supervisors could also do more to champion safety projects when they face opposition, he said.
Supervisors Jane Kim and Avalos pointed to New York City’s “Vision Zero,” which calls for an end to pedestrian fatalities by 2024. “We have to have investments in enforcement and driver education,” said Avalos. “And I fully support… that we have a zero-tolerance policy, as they have established in New York City, so that we can actually look forward to a year where we have zero fatalities from cars hitting pedestrians. So much has to be done, and as a city, we truly do have to put our resources to improve our streets for the most vulnerable people who are on them.”
“This is not just an issue of policy,” said Kim. “This is an issue of life and death and critical injuries here in the city that are absolutely preventable. There are so many ways to go in this city, and this is the one that’s 100 percent avoidable, and often made by reckless driving.”