Supes, SFPD, SFMTA Stand With Crash Victims and Advocates at City Hall

Crash survivor Monique Porsandeh speaks alongside Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider and city officials holding the names of those killed by drivers. Photos: Walk SF

SFPD officials, transportation department heads, and three supervisors stood outside City Hall this morning alongside safe streets advocates and people whose lives have been affected by traffic violence. The press conference served as a call to action and a memorial for victims of traffic violence in the past year, with participants holding Valentines featuring names of the deceased.

Walk SF, which organized the event, was joined by Supervisors Jane Kim, Norman Yee, and John Avalos, the sponsors of the “Vision Zero” resolution introduced at the board. Also in attendance were SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum and top brass from the SFMTA and the SFPD Traffic Company, including Commander Mikail Ali and  SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, as well as SF County Transportation Authority Executive Director Tilly Chang. Mayor Ed Lee was absent.

“The violence has to end,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who pointed out that since December, 11 pedestrians have been killed by drivers, four of them this year. Introducing a segment about the event today, an ABC 7 news anchor Cheryl Jennings said it “feels like open season on pedestrians.”

“We’ve acknowledged that this is a crisis,” said Schneider, “and now we’re calling on city leaders to fund the [SFMTA’s] Pedestrian Strategy and implement Vision Zero — zero traffic fatalities in 10 years.”

“It’s a tragedy that it is becoming a common occurrence for children, parents, spouses, relatives and friends to lose a loved one in San Francisco because of recklessness on the roads,” Supervisor Yee, who has been hit by a driver, said in a statement. “Let’s slow down, be alert, and be respectful. It will take our whole community to make Vision Zero a reality.”

Supervisor Norman Yee, a crash survivor himself, speaks alongside Supervisors Kim and Avalos and SFMTA Director Reiskin.

Also in attendance were several crash survivors, including UC Berkeley neuroscience researcher Monique Porsandeh, who was run down by a reckless driver in the Marina a year ago. Porsandeh has since recovered fully enough to visit SF from Southern California for the event. “I’ve come a really long way,” she told ABC 7. “I’ve gone through many phases, but I’m able to walk again, and I’m able to wake up each day.”

The event was held outside of City Hall at the corner of Van Ness and Grove Streets, where two people have been killed by drivers this year. One of those victims was a man who reportedly ran across Van Ness outside of the crosswalk in the midst of an argument, and the other was killed in the crosswalk by an SUV driver who fled the scene and evaded police. As SFPD data shows, the vast majority of pedestrian crashes are attributable to driver actions and occur on streets designed to facilitate dangerous driving speeds.

Funding remains uncertain for the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy, the plan in development that aims to target safety improvements on the most dangerous streets. As we’ve reported, the SFMTA and Mayor Ed Lee are holding out for funding from three proposed ballot measures this November, but no other major funding boosts for safer streets are on the horizon.

SFPD’s Ali, who has pledged policy reforms to hold drivers accountable for injuring or killing pedestrians, told ABC that police increased traffic enforcement by 43 percent last month. “More is coming, but we’d rather that not be the answer,” he said. “We’d rather the answer be people changing their behaviors.”

  • voltairesmistress

    Q. Who’s missing from this picture?
    A. Mayor Lee

    Without the mayor’s meaningful support, Vision Zero will remain a rhetorical stance in SF. Lee lacks insight on this matter, a relatively new issue in city politics. He did not come of political age when pedestrians mattered; only cars did. He does not appear adept at adopting new ideas.

  • Mario Tanev

    Enforcement helps change people’s behavior. Asking people to change won’t do it. Once you know that really bad stuff can happen to you if you hurt someone else, hopefully you’ll drive more carefully.

    Of course, engineering is the best way to control people’s behavior. Create a framework where speeding doesn’t help, and where the driver must be constantly on alert, and their behavior will change.

  • MadlyBranning

    I agree that engineering is huge but even if you “create a framework where speeding doesn’t help” I think you’ll still have lots of pointless speeding. How many times do you see someone race up a block from one stop sign to the next, gunning the engine, and then slamming on the brake at the stop sign? There are a huge percentage of drivers who just race around even thought it really won’t affect their transit time all that much. I’m starting to come around to the “20 is plenty” idea. If everyone on Van Ness and Lombard drove 20 instead of 35 (or 40) how much longer would it really take to get from say City Hall to the Palace of Fine Arts? When the traffic is congested it goes less than 20 any way;’ when it’s not congested if the lights were timed to accommodate 20 it wouldn’t take that much longer really. Personally I think it’s nuts that there are surface streets in the middle of a densely populated city where vehicles are allowed (heck, encouraged) to go 35 to 40 mph within feet of pedestrians and bicyclists.

  • voltairesmistress

    I think you misunderstand the 20 is plenty idea. It is my understanding that this would apply to all city streets except major arterials like Lombard and Van Ness, 19th Avenue, and the like. Timed lights that make 30 mph the most useful speed would help on these major, multi-lane roads, since speeding on these is still too easy to engage in. Leaving a very few of these roads at higher speeds and with timed lights encourages drivers to stay on them and to leave neighborhood streets to very local uses. This is good for two reasons: SF would not become a bottleneck in the regional highway network. And channeling auto traffic onto these arterials would make it easier to change over to a 20 is plenty environment everywhere else.

  • murphstahoe

    Honestly it feels like he just doesn’t care.

  • voltairesmistress

    Yes, I agree with you. I guess I wonder why he does not care. The above were some ideas as to why — generated from a few years of Lee-watching.

  • murphstahoe

    No money in caring

  • I’ve been pretty impressed with Supervisor Kim’s leadership on this topic lately. It certainly makes sense with District 6 being where the most incidents are happening, but she’s also shown a broader interest in making the city more safe and human-oriented. Nicole has also been doing a good job in her new-ish role with Walk SF, in what would be a challenging time even for an old-timer. Let’s keep it up.

  • 94110er

    Cities should be the bottleneck on their regional highway network. And whether channelling traffic onto arterials would make it easier or not, 20 is in fact plenty all through the city.

  • greg

    I agree that only enforcement will change folks behavior. Asking them to doesn’t do anything. If I suggest enforcing the laws in place against everyone – peds, bikers and drivers, I get down votes on this biker board. Bikers only want the laws enforced against cars.

    This morning I saw a jerk driver change lanes and come too close to a biker (he should be cited) and biker cursed at the driver and then proceeded to bike through two crowded crosswalks and then the wrong way up a one way street. Bikers see that and only see the car violation – the car is bad since it’s heavy (true) and the biker’s illegal actions are fine since it’s not.

  • Mario Tanev

    Enforcement should be focused on behavior that actually kills or injures people. Outlaw cyclists would be low on that list. Also, their behavior is really a product of the wild-west environment they operate in. Some people when deprived of rights and privileges, also feel like they have no responsibilities.

  • EastBayer

    This is only somewhat related, but as I was watching cars accelerate from a stop to a dangerous speed the other day, I started thinking about the commonly held notion that if blocks are short, cars don’t have time to get up to high speeds.

    I started calculating with some rough approximations, and assuming that a car can get from 0 to 30 in 4 seconds or so, and acceleration is constant, you travel the same distance as traveling at 15 MPH for 4 seconds…which if any of you ride a bike, you know isn’t really that far. 88 feet, in fact, or the approximate length of a big intersection. So it REALLY doesn’t take very much space for a car to get into severe injury range. Add catching just one green light to the mix and speeds can get really out of hand.

  • voltairesmistress

    Good point. I was driving in rural northern Spain and encountered one of those timed traffic lights that turn red if you exceed the speed limit on approach. This deters speeding, because you end up having to stop. Maybe not practical on multi lanes, but worthwhile at smaller intersections.

  • THAT IS AWESOME!!!

  • murphstahoe

    This is true in a world of limited resources. People with an anti-bike bias do not believe that we live in such a world. Until the topic switches to the cost of bike lanes.

  • Dave Moore

    “Enforcement should be focused on behavior that actually kills or injures people”

    I think that’s unlikely to help. People don’t break these laws because they don’t care if people get hurt. It’s not that they think “oh, someone might die, but I’m not going to be punished, so screw it.” At least not most people. They break them because they don’t believe it’s likely that anything bad will happen. And that’s because it is in fact unlikely in that given instance that someone will get hurt.

    The only way to get people to stop breaking the laws is to enforce those laws. Recklessness around speeding, red light running, lack of care making turns through crosswalks, etc… These are all things that can be better enforced. Get some police on bikes or motorcycles and make people worried that they’ll get caught.

  • Dave Moore

    Or as I read it again, maybe that’s what you were saying already. Increased punishment after the fact is primarilly punitive, not preventative.

  • sfrobink

    I have changed my behavior as a pedestrian after being hit by a car last fall while crossing in a crosswalk with the green light. I have no memory of the accident – I just woke up in an ambulance. The police report said a car had made a right turn and hit me when I was 2/3rds across. I was lucky – I made it, having to heal a broken arm and leg. Here’s what’s different about what I now do: I scan EVERY intersection I cross to determine where cars could be coming from, and then I watch those directions as I cross. This is a step past what we all normally do, which is to look to see that no car is running a red light before we start to cross. I watch pedestrians now too and I don’t see anyone else watching cars. Neither did I before this accident happened to me. Now I won’t not watch the cars. It’s a new pedestrian behavior for me, and one that I think will keep me safer than trusting that drivers will do the right thing.