More SFPD Pedestrian Victim-Blaming: Taraval Station’s Insane Flyer

Image via the Taraval Station newsletter.

If you’d like to make your voice heard by policymakers on the SFPD’s handling of bicycle and pedestrian safety issues, the Police Commission and the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee will hold a joint hearing next Thursday, January 16, at 5 p.m. at City Hall in room 250.

If you can make it to speak, the SF Bicycle Coalition is taking RSVPs. If you can’t speak in person, you can also email comments to Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org.

The SFPD has gone off the deep end with this one, folks.

The department’s campaign to chide pedestrians for getting run over by reckless drivers has manifested itself in a flyer distributed by Taraval Station in the Sunset since last summer. SFPD has even had students from Lincoln High School handing them out, according to the station’s newsletter from last July [PDF].

SFPD Taraval Station Captain Curtis Lum and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr (right) at a press event last May, where they handed out flyers in front of a gas station on 19th Avenue. Photo via Taraval Station newsletter

“YOU’VE BEEN HIT BY A CAR! … It’s little comfort to know you had the right of way, while you recover from serious injury in the hospital,” the flyer reads, next to an image of a chalk outline of a person drawn on the pavement, the kind typically found at the scene of a homicide investigation.

But pay no attention the culpability of the hapless driver who left skid marks on this poor soul’s body — this wouldn’t have happened if the victim wasn’t using a cell phone or wearing headphones, according to the SFPD. The pedestrian should’ve been ready to jump out of the way of a reckless driver — what was this person thinking?

As Natalie Burdick of Walk SF pointed out, it’s absurd to insist that people would stop getting run over if only they were reminded that drivers can run them over.

“What public service message could have more deterrence to those walking than the violent and lethal threat they face when hit by two tons of fast moving steel?” she said. “Years of collected data show the leading causes of death and serious injury to people walking are speeding and the failure of drivers to yield to pedestrians crossing; not distracted walking.”

Yet we haven’t seen the SFPD launch a safe driving campaign with flyers reading, “YOU HIT A PERSON WITH YOUR CAR! It’s of little comfort to them knowing they had the right of way while they recover from serious injury in the hospital.”

The danger plaguing the streets of the Sunset — one of the most car-oriented districts of the city — is not people who are crossing the street without a sufficient sense of fear. It’s the wide streets designed for moving large amounts of fast-moving car traffic, especially on “arterial” streets like 19th Avenue, Sloat Boulevard, and Sunset Bouelvard, where most pedestrian injuries happen.

Indeed, according to the SFMTA’s 2010-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF], the massive, crash-prone intersection of 19th and Sloat dropped off the list of the eight intersections with the highest number of traffic injuries (it was listed on the previous report in 2009) — but not because pedestrians started paying attention. The report attributes the drop in injuries to the fact that “SFMTA has taken various measures at these locations, including signal timing and hardware changes.”

Residents from Supervisorial District 7, which encompasses the southern part of SFPD’s Taraval District, spoke to the need to tame speeds in their neighborhoods at a supervisors hearing last April.

“The most effective way to reduce traffic crimes,” said Burdick, “is to design better, safer streets and to target enforcement for the most dangerous driving behaviors, which are the primary cause of an overwhelming majority of the crashes plaguing our streets.”

Chief Suhr hands out flyers reminding Sunset residents that if they’re “distracted,” it’s their fault if a driver illegally runs them over. Photo: Taraval Station newsletter

As a longtime Sunset resident who lives blocks away from 19th, and used to commute to City College and SF State University, this flyer hits a nerve for me. The department in charge of protecting me, my neighbors, and visitors is basically saying that people are getting maimed and killed because crossing dangerous traffic sewers isn’t already enough of a hair-raising experience to keep them on edge.

As the SFMTA’s Collision Reports show, the five most common violations that cause pedestrian injuries citywide are all driver violations, the top one being motorists’ failure to yield to a pedestrian’s right-of-way. “Distracted walking” is not, as the flyer blithely claims, “one BIG reason pedestrians are getting hit by vehicles.” That message seems to be simply pulled out of thin air, born from windshield perspective.

The Police Commission and the Board of Supervisors rightly recognize the need to tackle reckless driving. But until the SFPD drops its campaign to keep San Franciscans fear-stricken when they walk the streets, and instead commits to using its resources to effectively address the real sources of traffic violence, the department will fail to do its job of protecting the vulnerable public.