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Posts from the "Walk SF" Category


SF Still Waiting for DA Gascón to “Send a Message” to Deadly Drivers

At the press conference yesterday to announce the plea deal between prosecutors and Chris Bucchere in the death of Sutchi Hui, SF District Attorney George Gascón said that his “goal is to send a message” to cyclists.

At a press conference yesterday, Gascón said the prosecution of Chris Bucchere for the death of Sutchi Hui should be “a message to cyclists.” Image: ABC

“Cyclists need to understand that they’re held accountable to the same standard as anybody else operating any other type of vehicle, and I believe we have achieved that in this case,” Gascón said. ”Often, bicyclists feel they are above the law.”

But with charges brought against so few of the 27 drivers who have killed pedestrians in San Francisco since the beginning of last year, it’s hard to believe motorists are being held to the same standard that Gascón applied in this case – a standard that all victims of traffic violence deserve.

Have law enforcement officials ever prosecuted a driver with the stated intent of sending a message to all people who drive? Or made broad, sweeping statements about motorists’ view of the law?

As Streetsblog has continually reported, drivers rarely face charges for killing pedestrians unless they’re intoxicated or flee the scene. The Center for Investigative Reporting buttressed that conclusion with an extensive study in April, looking at pedestrian fatalities in the Bay Area’s five largest counties between 2007 and 2011:

Sixty percent of the 238 motorists found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges during the five-year period, CIR found in its analysis of thousands of pages of police and court records from Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

When drivers did face criminal charges, punishment often was light. Licenses rarely were taken away. Of those charged, less than 60 percent had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for even one day, an automatic penalty in drunk driving arrests.

Forty percent of those convicted faced no more than a day in jail; 13 drivers were jailed for more than a year. By contrast, those charged in accidental shootings often serve lengthy jail terms, according to media reports.

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Supervisor Wiener Wants to Remove Clutter From SF’s Narrow Sidewalks

As if San Francisco’s sidewalks weren’t narrow enough, they’re often cluttered with objects like newspaper racks, utility poles, street signs, and utility boxes.

Photo: SFDPW

In a hearing yesterday, Supervisor Scott Wiener set out to question the necessity of such structures, calling on city staffers to answer for things like the empty newspaper racks at busy corners like 18th and Castro Streets.

“Whether or not particular street furniture has value, they can all block pedestrian access and reduce automobile and pedestrian visibility,” said Wiener. “It’s essential that we’re very thoughtful and strategic about what we place on our sidewalks and where, exactly, we place it.”

While Wiener noted that his recently-passed legislation should help streamline sidewalk expansions, he questioned the amount of space carved out from existing walkways, which often don’t meet the new sidewalk design standards set out in the city’s 2010 Better Streets Plan. “There are bus shelters where you almost have to walk single file to get past,” he said.

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe pointed to improvements like bike corrals, which add bike parking in the street bed, as a “great example” of how to avoid cluttering city sidewalks.

“For decades, our roads have been designed to create a clear path for vehicles by shoving people over to the edges, where they need to thread their way between poles and empty newsracks and utility boxes,” said Stampe. “We need to widen the space for people to enjoy on foot. We also need to think creatively about how we can start using some of these elements to calm traffic and make the street safer.”

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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: 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: 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.

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Wiener’s Proposals to Streamline Ped Safety Upgrades Pass Supes Committee

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A package of legislation aimed at cutting through the bureaucratic red tape that encumbers the city’s progress on life-saving pedestrian safety measures was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday. The full board is expected to approve the proposals in the coming weeks.

Supervisor Scott Wiener's legislation is aimed at improving coordination between agencies in making pedestrian safety improvements. Advocates hope that would get DPW to save money by adding bulb-outs when tearing up sidewalks, which it failed to do when adding these curb ramps. Photo: SF DPW

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who proposed the legislation, said it’s aimed at reforming several city procedures that often delay pedestrian safety projects, and that it should help the city meet the goal set out in the SFMTA’s draft Pedestrian Strategy: cutting pedestrian injuries by 25 percent by 2016, and by 50 percent by 2020.

“Pledges and good intentions only get us so far, and in fact, money only gets us so far,” said Wiener. “The process we have in place to implement needed pedestrian upgrades is lacking. We don’t have enough inter-agency coordination, and we have outdated codes.”

Last year, police reported that 964 pedestrians were injured on San Francisco streets — “the largest number since 2000,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. Nineteen of those people were killed, and, she pointed out, 20 to 25 percent of trauma victims in SF hospitals are hit by cars. “That’s a huge amount,” she said. “Too often, the projects to fix these dangerous streets just take too long, and the bigger projects often get whittled down.”

Wiener said the legislation would push agencies to better coordinate with one another on street infrastructure projects by creating a Street Design Review Committee. It also calls upon agencies to “modernize street code provisions” and “formulate clear procedures” for coordination. One ordinance in the package would make it easier for developers to implement pedestrian safety projects as gifts to the city in lieu of impact fees, and another targets strict interpretations of the fire code that can limit sidewalk extensions.

The SF Fire Department has resisted the fire code amendment, since it would relax the city’s definition of roadway obstructions, which department heads say could inhibit fire truck and ambulance access. Changes to street widths in California must adhere to a fire code requirement that 20 feet of clear roadway be provided, and under Wiener’s proposal, curbs less than six inches high would not be considered an obstruction by the city.

“We want less people run over in the streets,” said Fire Marshal Thomas Harvey. “But we do have difficulty trying to bridge that gap of what provides the best pedestrian safety and what actually allows for our operational needs and does not limit our fire department vehicle access.”

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Ped Safety Fixes on Sloat, Where Girl Was Killed, Moved Up to This June

Pedestrian safety fixes on deadly Sloat Boulevard will be installed beginning this June — much sooner than originally proposed.

Photo: DPW

At the intersection of Sloat and Forest View Drive, where 17-year-old Hanren Chang was killed by a drunk driver in a crosswalk in March, the Department of Public Works will install bulb-outs, more visible crosswalks, street lights, an extended pedestrian refuge median, and a button-activated pedestrian beacon, according to the agency’s website. Those improvements are scheduled to be finished by August.

The second phase of the project, which includes similar improvements at Sloat’s intersections with 23rd Avenue and Everglade Drive, would be in place by June 2014, DPW’s website says.

Previously, a city memo on the project had indicated that safety improvements might not be on the ground until June 2014.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, said “this rapid action on Sloat safety improvements shows a real change.”

“It shows that city leaders are listening to the community, to take action to make our streets safer,” she said. “For too long, it’s taken years to get small fixes. Now that the voice for safe, walkable streets is growing, we look forward to seeing street fixes happen faster to prevent more tragedies.”

“This is the kind of action we need to see on the new Pedestrian Strategy, to fix five miles of streets a year,” she added. “This isn’t rocket science. We need funding and political will to fix the city’s most dangerous streets, where people get hit by cars every single day.”

A community meeting on the Sloat improvements with DPW, Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee will be held tonight at 6 p.m. at the San Francisco Zoo.


Mayor Lee on Walk to Work Day: We Won’t Let Ped Strategy Sit on the Shelf

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

On Walk to Work Day, touted as the first official event of its kind in the nation, city officials strolled to a press conference on the steps of City Hall, where Mayor Ed Lee promised to implement the city’s Pedestrian Strategy [PDF].

Since the Draft Pedestrian Strategy was released in January, providing a rough guide for how the city can re-engineer streets and target traffic enforcement to make walking safer in the coming years, street safety advocates have praised the city’s vision, but have been concerned as to whether city leaders will take action to fund it.

“I’m going to see to it that we not have a [delay] where this stays on the shelf,” Lee told a crowd of dozens of Walk to Work Day participants. “We’re going to fund this thing.”

Lee said one-third of the estimated funding needed has already been identified, and that he’s confident the city will find the rest in the coming years. He also said the city plans to launch a website within the next two weeks where residents will be able to track the progress of implementation and “hold us accountable.”

Walk SF is “excited to see” a revised section of the Pedestrian Strategy which more specifically lays out the amount of funding needed and potential sources the city could use to procure it, said executive director Elizabeth Stampe. Of the estimated $363 million needed to implement safety upgrades on priority streets by 2021, the city has a $215 million shortfall, according to the plan. In the coming months, a steering committee is expected to develop criteria for how to prioritize safety projects where they’re needed most.

“It’s up to the mayor and the supervisors to help direct funding to fixing the streets and saving lives,” Stampe said.

So far, seven people have been killed by drivers on San Francisco streets this year. The latest victim was 60-year-old Becky Lee, who was hit and killed by a pickup truck driver Wednesday in a crosswalk at Judson Avenue and Edna Street, just east of City College’s Ocean Campus, and about a block from the 280 freeway. Last year, 20 pedestrians were killed, according to SFPD.

“We shouldn’t be losing 20 people a year. We shouldn’t be losing anybody just to walk in the streets of San Francisco,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin. “We should also be working to make it more enjoyable so that we can attract more people out of their cars and on to their feet, which will make San Francisco an even better place.”

Read more…


Tomorrow: Join SF’s First Official Walk to Work Day

Tomorrow, San Francisco launches the first official Walk to Work Day in the nation. Mayor Ed Lee and nine supervisors plan to take a stroll and join a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

Walk SF will have “hubs” set up around the city where walking commuters can get free coffee, snacks, enter to win prizes, and get a free Clipper card “pre-loaded with a ride home.” Check out the Walk SF website for a list of cafes offering special deals for those who say “I’m walking to work today” or show their hub-issued sticker. Walkers who share a photo of their commute on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with the #Walk2Work hashtag can also win a prize. After work, Show Dogs at Market and Taylor Streets will host a Walk to Work Day happy hour from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Here’s where you can meet up with your district supervisor:

  • D1 Supervisor Eric Mar: Cinderella Bakery, Balboa Street at 6th Ave, 7:45 a.m.
  • D2 Supervisor Mark Farrell: Peet’s Coffee, 2197 Fillmore at California, 8:00 a.m.
  • D3 Supervisor David Chiu: Réveille, 200 Columbus Ave at Kearny, 8:30 a.m.
  • D4 Supervisor Katy Tang will join Sup. Breed at Ritual, Octavia at Hayes, 8:45 a.m.
  • D5 Supervisor London Breed: Ritual Coffee, 432B Octavia Street at Hayes, 8:45 a.m.
  • D6 aide Sunny Angulo will be at the traffic light at Folsom and Russ, 8:45 a.m.
  • D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener: Peet’s Coffee, 2257 Market at Castro, 9:00 a.m.
  • D9 Supervisor David Campos: Philz Coffee, 24th Street at Folsom, 8:30 a.m.
  • D10 Supervisor Malia Cohen will join Sup. Breed at Ritual, Octavia at Hayes, 8:45 a.m.
  • D11 Supervisor John Avalos: Mamá Art Cafe, 4754 Mission at Persia, 7:00 a.m.

After 6 Ped Deaths in 3 Months, SF Needs City Hall Action on Street Safety

In the first three months of 2013, six pedestrians have been killed on San Francisco streets. At that rate, the city is on course for pedestrian deaths to rise for the third year in a row.

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe tells KTVU today, "We know what we need to do" to save lives. "We need action from our leadership."

The trend is striking: Since 2010, when 14 pedestrians were killed on San Francisco streets, more have died each year since. There were 17 deaths reported in 2011, and at least 19 deaths in 2012. (The Examiner reports that police data shows 20 deaths that year, and five this year. By our count, it appears one of those deaths may have been mistakenly counted in 2012. We’ve reported on six deaths this year, with the first occurring on the morning of New Year’s Day.)

From 2000 to 2008, pedestrian fatalities were on a downward trajectory: 2000 saw 32 pedestrian deaths, and 2008 saw 13, the lowest number within the period. The rate of pedestrian deaths in the first three months of 2013 is nearly twice as high as the rate in 2008.

Will Mayor Ed Lee go beyond publicity shots and take leadership to curb the rising number of pedestrian deaths on San Francisco streets? Photo: bubbletea1/Flickr

Mayor Ed Lee’s office says the city’s final version of the Pedestrian Strategy, which will include a plan to fund the pedestrian safety improvements that are needed, is expected to be released this week, KTVU reported today.

“We know how to fix these streets,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF. “Delay here means tragedy.”

The latest victim is Tania Madfes, a retired teacher who died in the hospital last Wednesday after she and her husband were run down by a driver in a crosswalk at West Portal Avenue and Vicente Street. The SF Chronicle reports:

A San Francisco woman who devoted her career to encouraging girls to pursue opportunities that had been denied to her has died after she was struck by a car while crossing a street in the West Portal neighborhood with her husband.

Tania Madfes, 68, and her husband, David Madfes, were returning home March 21 from an evening at the Berkeley Repertory Theater and were walking across Vicente Street at West Portal Avenue when a car struck them at 9:40 p.m.

“We were crossing Vicente and – I can’t reconstruct in my head what happened – next thing I knew this car was there,” David Madfes said Thursday. “It hit my leg just as it came to a stop, and I fell and my wife was lying on the street on her back.”

Read more…


Planning Commission Approves Ped-Friendly Plan for Market and Dolores

As part of a newly-approved agreement, developers will add a sidewalk extension at Market and Dolores to make room for a mini plaza. Image: Prado Group

A plan to add a mini plaza and pedestrian safety improvements at Market and Dolores streets was approved by the SF Planning Commission on Thursday. The project will include new pedestrian refuges and sidewalks as wide as 14 feet, as well as special pavement treatments to highlight crosswalks on the block of Dolores between Market and 14th Streets. The crosswalk on Dolores at Clinton Park, a side street, will also be raised.

Image via Curbed SF

The plan received unanimous approval from commissioners, who were not swayed by some neighbors who opposed the conversion of two traffic lanes to pedestrian space on a short, lightly-trafficked section of Dolores. The improvements were part of a city agreement with the developers of an 85-unit apartment building and Whole Foods Market under construction at the corner. The arrangement calls for the developer to install the street upgrades in lieu of $510,000 in impact fees.

“The current design allows cars to whip around the corner quickly onto Dolores, endangering people who are crossing,” Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe wrote in a letter to the Planning Commission in support of the project. “Dolores itself is also a high-speed street, making conditions more dangerous for all users, since any collisions are made much more serious at higher vehicle speeds.”

D8 Supervisor Scott Wiener praised the plan because it “appropriately balances pedestrian safety with traffic flow in the area. It’s a unique opportunity that we’re not gonna have again to do this upgrade.”

“If you’ve ever walked that intersection or driven by it, it is an incredibly wide, long pedestrian crossing — one of the longest in the area,” he said.

Read more…


Driver Kills Hector Arana, 69; SFPD: “It Was Just an Unfortunate Accident”

Image: Google Maps

A driver hit and killed 69-year-old Hector Arana on Wednesday morning at 6:26 a.m. on six-lane San Jose Avenue in the Outer Mission neighborhood. According to reports, the driver was headed northbound in the direction of the nearby 280 freeway, when he hit Arana near the intersection of Liebig Street, where Google Maps shows legal but unmarked crosswalks.

SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told SF Weekly, ”The driver was not speeding, there were no drugs or alcohol involved, it was just an unfortunate accident.”

“The police are right that this is tragic, but calling it an accident tends to assume that there’s no fault and that it’s not preventable,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF.

Stampe pointed out that in New York, police have officially dropped the term “accident” as of this week. As the New York Times reported Sunday, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that police reports will use the term “collision” instead. ”In the past, the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event,” Kelly wrote in a letter to City Council.

Will SFPD Chief Greg Suhr step up and make a similar policy change?

“It is possible to find fault,” said Stampe, “and it is possible to prevent [crashes].”

When Streetsblog asked how investigators ruled out speed as a factor, Esparza said in an email, “We reconstruct the collision. There is math, science, physics to determine speed, distance, etc.”

Was the driver who killed Arana watching the road? Could his death have been prevented with better enforcement and traffic calming measures on a street designed to be hostile to pedestrians? According to the SFPD, there are no lessons to learn from San Francisco’s fifth pedestrian fatality this year.

“San Jose is, in all but name, a freeway,” said Stampe. “It could really use gateway treatments to communicate to drivers that they have left the freeway and are now in a community where people live and walk, and they need to watch out.”

“We are eagerly awaiting the mayor’s Pedestrian Strategy, which will lay out how the MTA and the police will do what they can to penalize those at fault and prevent more of these tragedies.”