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Avalos’ Eyes on the Street: SFPD Blocks Crosswalk During Traffic Stop

Supervisor John Avalos posted the above photo on Facebook with the following explanation:

Ironic traffic stop on Mission and Ocean. Police vehicle stopped in the middle of the intersection blocking the cross walk and sending the 49 bus into the next lane. We have a ways to go to coordinate our pedestrian safety effort.

Indeed. Avalos, the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, posted this on the same day he joined Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders at a press conference announcing the five-year WalkFirst plan. The same day, a Board of Supervisors committee held a hearing on Vision Zero, the city’s goal of ending traffic deaths within ten years. It’s worth noting Avalos launched the Vision Zero campaign at City Hall along with Supervisors Jane Kim and Norman Yee.

If SFPD is going to lead in those efforts, as Chief Greg Suhr has pledged to do, the department’s officers are going to need to start with some basic awareness of how they can stop contributing to the problem.

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What SFPD Could Take From NYPD: Monthly Crash and Citation Reports

As illustrated in this graph by Streetsblog NYC, the New York Police Department’s January report on traffic citations showed a 66 percent increase in failure to yield summonses over the previous year. SFPD could highlight its enforcement efforts by releasing monthly reports as well.

Here’s a good practice the SFPD could adopt to help the public keep track of the department’s progress toward Vision Zero: monthly reports showing the department’s traffic crash and citation data. It’s already a practice at the New York Police Department, where it was mandated by law.

Now that SFPD seems to be turning a corner with recent policy reforms and pledges to pursue Vision Zero, these monthly reports could show people what’s changing. As Streetsblog NYC reported today, NYPD’s latest report showed a 66 percent increase in citations in January for drivers failing to yield to pedestrians, though the department has received a lot of press attention recently for its crackdown on jaywalkers.

Currently, the SFPD only releases crash data on an annual basis, and full collision reports released by the SFMTA take up to two years to be released, since the data has traditionally had to go through the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. The SFPD recently changed this by adopting a database allowing for far more efficient data delivery within a month or two, which should provide the department the ability to publish monthly reports on its website, as NYPD does.

The Board of Supervisors certainly has an interest in seeing recent crash and citation data. Acting the SF County Transportation Authority Board, the supes created a subcomittee yesterday to monitor the city’s progress towards Vision ZeroMonthly data releases would go a long way towards making those efforts more transparent policymakers and the public.

See snapshots of what the NYPD’s most recent collision report looks like after the break.

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SFPD: No Charges for Trucker Who Killed Woman, 91, on Fillmore Street

Police have declared no wrongdoing on the part of a cement truck driver who ran over and killed a 91-year-old woman on Fillmore at California Street last Thursday afternoon. According to reports, the woman was crossing Fillmore mid-block, in front of the stopped truck, when the driver began driving forward and ran her over. She was taken to SF General Hospital where she died of her injuries:

Image: KTVU

Investigators found that the truck driver, who stayed at the scene and cooperated with officers, was not at fault, [SFPD Sergeant Eric] Mahoney said. The driver had just crossed through the intersection at California Street when he came to a stop behind a couple of other vehicles, according to police. As the other vehicles started moving again, the woman stepped in front of the truck and was hit.

Of the four other drivers who have killed pedestrians in San Francisco this year, the SFPD has cited three, except one who fled and evaded police.

SFPD won’t cite or charge the driver in this case because, as Mahoney told KTVU, he “did not do anything to violate the vehicle code.” The victim was apparently jaywalking (an offense which, as the BBC recently pointed out, was invented by the American auto industry, and is not illegal in most countries, including the UK)

There are, however, two sections of the CA vehicle code that the driver may have violated.

The cement truck was partially blocking the crosswalk after the driver hit the woman. Image: KTVU

The cement truck was partially blocking the crosswalk after the driver hit the woman. Image: KTVU

CVC Section 21954 is the clause that requires pedestrians to yield to vehicles when crossing outside of a crosswalk, but it also says, “The provisions of this section shall not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.”

In addition, CVC Section 22106 says a driver may not “start a vehicle stopped, standing, or parked on a highway… until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.”

KTVU footage also shows the truck stopped with its rear encroaching on the crosswalk, indicating that the trucker could have been blocking it when the woman attempted to cross.

What it comes down to is this: Does the SFPD really believe this truck driver, before stepping on the pedal, exercised all due care to look for people crossing a bustling, two-lane shopping street like Fillmore?

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Eyes on the Street: SFPD Tickets Illegal U-Turners in the Castro

Photo: Bryan Goebel

Here’s another sign that the SFPD is continuing to make good on its pledge to increase enforcement against reckless driving.

This update comes from Bryan Goebel, Streetsblog SF’s founding editor, who lives in the Castro. He said he’s noticed a recent uptick in enforcement in his neighborhood against illegal u-turns. Illegal turns are on the SFPD’s list of the five violations most commonly cited as a primary cause in pedestrian crashes.

Goebel said he spoke to one of the officers, who confirmed that the enforcement efforts are a response to the recent rise in pedestrian injuries. He told Goebel that drivers pose the greatest danger on the streets.

“Pedestrians are distracted, yes, but cars are what’s going to get you,” the officer reportedly told Goebel.

“It was refreshing to hear,” Goebel said.

Richmond Station officers have also been spotted recently performing crosswalk stings against drivers who violate pedestrians’ right-of-way on Fulton Street along Golden Gate Park.

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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.”

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Speeding Driver Arrested for Killing Pedestrian, Walking Away on Van Ness

Image: KTVU

SFPD has arrested 27-year-old Mageb Hussain of Emeryville for hitting and killing an unidentified pedestrian on Van Ness at Pacific Avenue at about 1 a.m. last night. Hussain was reportedly driving a rental car and attempted to walk away from the scene of the crash.

Mageb Hussain. Photo: SFPD

Police said Hussain faces felony vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run charges. According to KTVU and the SF Chronicle, Hussain was traveling at freeway speeds when the unidentified victim attempted to cross mid-block. The impact of the crash was so severe, the car’s hood and windshield were smashed in.

The Chronicle reported that Hussain has a “checkered driving record”:

In March and April of 2011, he was cited twice for speeding and once for driving on a sidewalk in three separate incidents. He later failed to make court appearances, records show, and his license was suspended in November of 2011 – an action that ended in October of last year. Hussain’s license is currently valid, the DMV said.

Hussain is the fourth driver to be arrested by SFPD for killing a pedestrian since New Year’s Eve. The drivers in the previous three cases stayed on the scene. Prior to those incidents, it was unusual for police to arrest drivers who were sober and didn’t attempt to flee. But this year SFPD has adhered to its recent change in policy, which allows officers to arrest drivers in fatal crashes when there appears to be probable cause.

In the most recent crash on Sunset Boulevard last Tuesday, 71-year-old driver Jenny Ching was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. In Hussain’s case, it appears the manslaughter charge may have been elevated to a felony since he attempted to flee.

The victim, whom police haven’t identified, is at least the third pedestrian killed by a driver this year. Today’s KTVU report said a fourth pedestrian, who was previously reported to have suffered critical injuries, has died after being hit by a driver in a crosswalk at Van Ness and Grove Street last Wednesday. That driver fled and evaded police.

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SFPD Arrests Driver for Manslaughter for Killing Man on Sunset Boulevard

Photo: CBS 5

The SFPD has arrested, cited, and released a driver for killing 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon as he crossed Sunset Boulevard at Yorba Street in the Outer Sunset Tuesday at about 11 a.m. This is the third known instance of the SFPD arresting a driver who killed a pedestrian, and wasn’t drunk or fleeing the scene, since New Year’s Eve. Previously, such drivers typically faced no legal penalties.

Jenny Ching, 71, was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, police told the SF Chronicle:

Berenzon was walking east across Sunset Boulevard at Yorba Street in or near a crosswalk just before 11 a.m. when Ching, traveling south, hit him with a Toyota Corolla, police said.

The road has three lanes in each direction, separated by a median. The crosswalk near where Berenzon was struck features warning lights that flash when a pedestrian hits a button to cross, but police have not said whether the lights were in use at the time of the crash.

Berenzon was pronounced dead at the scene. Ching and her two passengers were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

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Who’s Parking in the Fell Street Bike Lane Today? Oh, It’s SFPD

Photo: Aaron Bialick

You’d better have a pretty good reason to park a car in the heavily-used Fell Street bike lane during the evening rush hour, forcing commuters to squeeze by alongside three lanes of motor traffic. Police response to an emergency might qualify, but the two SFPD officers who returned to this cruiser from the adjacent Bank of America, carrying an envelope, didn’t appear to be in any particular rush.

On Tuesday, the day I spotted this cruiser, 1,707 people used the Fell bike lane, according to the SFMTA’s live counter feed. The next day, it was 1,845. By leaving a car in the lane during the peak hour, there’s hardly a more effective way to maximize the number of people you endanger and stress out on their way home. All for a lazy parking job.

While there’s some hope that the concrete planters planned for the Fell bike lane this year will go a long way toward ending the routine illegal parking, it’s pretty dismaying to see the very officers responsible for enforcing the violation committing it themselves.

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SFPD Commits to “Vision Zero” With Policy Reforms to Back Up the Rhetoric

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[Editor's note: Streetsblog will not be publishing Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]

The conversation is changing when it comes to the SFPD’s approach to traffic violence. That much was clear at a four-hour hearing at City Hall last night, where SFPD Chief Suhr and Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali pledged to pursue Vision Zero, the call to end traffic fatalities within ten years.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: ##http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/01/17/san-francisco-pledges-to-boost-traffic-safety-after-deadly-crashes/##CBS 5##

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: CBS 5

Suhr told city supervisors and the Police Commission, in a room packed with citizens, the SFPD’s command staff, and every police captain, that “we are committed to a new normal in San Francisco.” And the SFPD backed up the rhetoric by announcing real performance metrics and procedural changes.

The raft of SFPD changes to investigations, citation issuance, and arrests marks a “seismic shift in policy,” Suhr told the Bay Guardian in a video interview after the hearing. It’s too early to say how deep and lasting these reforms will be, but there is real substance to them.

For the first time, SFPD presented a goal to measure the performance of its “Focus on the Five” program: At least 50 percent of tickets issued should be for the five most common violations in crashes in pedestrian crashes — drivers’ violation of pedestrian right-of-way, speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, and turning violations. In 2013, during which the program was in effect, the number was 22 percent, according to Ali.

A policy change initiated in 2013 also allows officers to arrest drivers in fatal crashes where there appears to be “probable cause,” Ali said. That appears to explain the unusual instance of two drivers being arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve.

In a new policy change for 2014, Ali said SFPD can now also issue citations to a party found to be at fault. Previously, police policy was not to issue a citation in a crash unless the officer witnessed the violation him or herself. One major reason SFPD said they often refrained from issuing tickets was to avoid double jeopardy — charging someone for the same crime twice — the theory being if the SFPD issued a citation, the district attorney may not be able to legally file charges as well.

Police will also issue citations or make arrests off-scene, when an investigation later determines fault in a case, said Ali. In fact, Suhr said that SFPD would review collision cases throughout the past year for such opportunities, including that of Jikaiah Stevens, who was hit by a driver who admitted to running a red light, yet faced no penalties. Stevens spoke at the hearing after a short documentary telling her story was shown.

“That driver will be issued a citation,” Suhr said. “Going forward, we’re committed to making a decision at the scene and/or doing a mailer if it requires follow-up investigation.”

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NYC Mayor de Blasio Pursues “Vision Zero” While Ed Lee Displays Zero Vision

“There is an epidemic of traffic fatalities and it can’t go on… Every one of us thinks: ‘What if that was my child?’” The mayor of a major American city said this today, announcing efforts to pursue Vision Zero, the goal of ending traffic deaths within ten years. Standing at the site where a child was killed by a driver, he said, “That is, in fact, how we have to make public policy and how we have to implement public policy.”

Meanwhile, Ed Lee put out a press release. Photo: Asian Week

The mayor who spoke those words was not SF’s Ed Lee — it was Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of New York City. Coincidentally, Mayor Lee did issue a press release today addressing traffic violence, but unlike the message de Blasio sent at his press conference, Lee’s statements appeared to be aimed more at placating city residents who’ve been calling for safer streets than demonstrating a serious commitment to making that a major priority.

Lee’s press release, which he did not hold a press conference to announce, touted a new SFMTA safe driving awareness campaign, an increase in SFPD traffic enforcement staff, and the SFMTA’s procurement of funds for planned traffic signal upgrades along Polk Street and South Van Ness Avenue — in 2017. A safe driving training program for truckers contracted by the city will also start in 2015.

The “Be Nice, Look Twice,” campaign will comprise a safe driving fact sheet to be distributed starting next month. Nice, yes, but the campaign is being produced by the SFMTA, not the SFPD — the agency that has the force of law behind it. (The only traffic safety flyers recently issued by the police department were basically a middle finger to pedestrian victims.)

While de Blasio stated today that he and his top commissioners “are standing with” the families of traffic violence victims (and they literally stood with victims’ families at the announcement), and that “we’re starting immediately to make changes to protect our children, and to protect all New Yorkers,” Mayor Lee’s printed statement was essentially a tepidly generalized “be careful, slow down” PSA, softened to the point of near meaninglessness:

Pedestrian safety continues to be a key focus as our City grows. San Francisco is a City that walks, and we all have a shared responsibility to protect and care for the most vulnerable users on our City streets. By looking out for each other and by driving more slowly and carefully, we can make a big impact on improving safety for those walking in San Francisco. This new campaign will be culturally competent and will touch all corners of San Francisco.

“The mayor’s announcement acknowledges the long-standing and pervasive problem of traffic crimes on our city’s streets, but it does little to end the preventable injuries and deaths from the daily crashes plaguing our streets,” said Natalie Burdick of Walk SF. ”When there are solutions that can save lives, no loss of life should be acceptable. Rather than taking a scattershot approach that doesn’t even offer safety training until 2015, or engineering improvements until 2017, the city should adopt a Vision Zero goal now to eliminate every traffic death, whether it’s a driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian, over the next 10 years.”

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