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Even When a Driver Intentionally Causes Mayhem, Media Call It an “Accident”

A witness described seeing the driver of this Prius back up intentional over the other car, but CBS LA improperly persisted in referring to this as an "accident." Image: CBS LA

A witness described seeing the driver of this Prius intentionally back up over the other car, but CBS LA persisted in referring to it as an “accident.” Image: CBS LA

The New York Police Department stopped using the term “accident” to refer to car collisions because it conveys the “connotation that there is no fault or liability.” In the press, however, “accident” remains standard practice, even when a driver rams another person on purpose.

The Safe Roads Alliance, an organization that promotes safe driving, tracked down five examples just from the last few weeks where media outlets referred to intentional collisions as “accidents” (the reports also tend to say the crashes were perpetrated by vehicles, not the human beings who drive them). Here are the pieces they sent along, with the headline that ran with each story.

Seattle Times: “Road Rage Incident Leaves 1 Dead on I-5″

According to the Seattle Times, the driver of a Chevy SUV pulled in front of the driver of Dodge Neon on I-5, apparently enraged at his slow speed. The SUV driver proceeded to “brake check,” causing the collision. A 23-year-old passenger in the Neon was killed, and three others were injured. Both drivers are being charged with vehicular homicide, and yet the Seattle Times goes on to say: “The State Patrol is seeking information regarding the accident.”

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As Tenderloin Crosswalks Get Safer, KPIX Weeps for Lost Parking Spots

At Jones and Ellis Streets today, drivers yield to pedestrians at a corner clear of parked cars. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA recently implemented a simple measure to improve visibility at crosswalks in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood with very high concentrations of both pedestrian injuries and children.

Corners at 80 intersections got the “daylighting” treatment, which improves visibility by clearing parked cars that obscure sightlines between drivers and people in crosswalks. It’s one of the latest efforts in the city’s Vision Zero campaign, which is targeting the 12 percent of city streets that account for 70 percent of severe and fatal traffic injuries.

To hear KPIX reporter Ken Bastida tell it, these measures to reduce traffic violence are just an annoyance for people who need to find a curbside parking spot right now

Ken Bastida solved the mystery of the "vanishing meters." Image: KPIX

Ken Bastida solved the mystery of the “vanishing meters.” Image: KPIX

“Think it’s getting harder to park in San Francisco? Well, it is,” Bastida said by way of introduction alongside the text, “Vanishing meters.”

Here’s how Bastida explained daylighting (a “fancy word”) in his best muckraker voice: “The curb gets painted red, the meter disappears, and we’re left with what the city calls ‘a safer intersection.'” Truly a devious plan by the city.

Bastida didn’t cite any safety statistics or interview anyone on camera who uses the crosswalks, but he did find a driver to complain about how hard it is to find a parking space. With testimony from that one guy in the bag, Bastida then declared, “Frustrated drivers say they’re all for safety, but they’re quick to point out, visibility is a two-way street.” Apparently, we’ve all got to wear more DayGlo.

What Bastida didn’t mention is that drivers’ failure to yield in a crosswalk is among the top five causes of pedestrian injuries citywide (the other four are also driver violations). That’s according to the SFPD data behind the department’s “Focus on the Five” campaign.

Tenderloin Station is actually the worst SFPD outpost in the city when it comes to focusing enforcement on those five violations. In September, the most recent month for which citation data is available, officers didn’t issue any tickets to drivers violating pedestrians’ right-of-way. However, they did manage to issue 245 tickets — 43 percent of their total — to pedestrians.

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Police Ticket Cyclists Who Fail to Navigate Market and Octavia’s Bad Design

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City planner Neil Hrushowy was among the few bike commuters who weren’t “behaving badly” at this poorly-designed bike junction, according to KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts. Image: KRON 4

Police were seen ticketing people on bikes navigating a poorly-designed junction at the dangerous Market Street and Octavia Boulevard intersection yesterday in the latest “People Behaving Badly” segment from KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts.

The bike lane’s design is so flawed, in fact, that the only bike commuter Roberts showed navigating it properly happened to be one of the city planners leading its redesign (and, no doubt, has paid closer attention to it than most people).

“Most choose the incorrect way and ended up with a ticket,” Roberts said in the segment. (Roberts said he didn’t know that his model cyclist was a city planner, but I recognized him.)

“We recognize that it is not an intuitive design for cyclists,” said Neil Hrushowy, Roberts’ model cyclist and the program director for the SF Planning Department’s City Design Group. “I think anyone’s going to feel comfortable recognizing that it’s the less appealing route for cyclists, which is why you see them coming through the intersection the other way.”

The junction in question has a path for bicycle riders headed southbound on Octavia as they prepare to make a left turn on Market. People must skillfully maneuver through a curved bike lane that runs between curbs through a traffic island, thrusting them alongside freeway traffic. When they reach the other side of the intersection, the path to the Market bike lane is blocked by a barrier installed to prevent drivers from making illegal right turns on to the freeway — the real danger at the intersection.

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Phil Matier Needs to Do His Homework on Transit and Bike Policy

Phil Matier, a pundit for KCBS and the SF Chronicle, has been betraying a rather stunning lack of policy knowledge recently, painting transit in the Bay Area as a boondoggle and wagging his finger at “bicycle lobbyists” for opposing a statewide mandatory helmet law.

Phil Matier. Photo: KCBS

In a KCBS radio segment this week, Matier did seem to understand the case against the mandatory helmet law proposed by State Senator Carol Liu:

[Bicycle lobbyists] feel that the requirement of helmets for adults would be another barrier to more people getting on bicycles and that it would be a disincentive. Safe or not, they seem to think it’s more important to get more people to ride their bikes.

The concept that Matier was apparently trying to convey is called “safety in numbers” — the well-documented phenomenon that biking is safer the more people are on bikes. As CA Bicycle Coalition has argued, helmet laws have been shown to only discourage bicycling, countering the safety in numbers effect. Focusing on helmets distracts from the implementation of changes that actually make streets safer and prevent crashes in the first place.

But then Matier went on to ignore that point and paint bike advocates as a constituency that just wants something for nothing:

San Francisco has already started to spend $3 million on bicycle awareness and will continue to do so for the next few years. This will include safety campaigns and improvements to bike lane infrastructure. The city has also called to increased citations to motorists by 50 percent in the next two years in an effort to cut down on injuries.

But when you turn it around on the bicycle groups, they don’t want to adhere to things like mandatory helmet wearing or even chipping in money on the new bike lanes. This is making state lawmakers and politicians wonder if this is a one-way street.

There’s a lot to unpack here. For one thing, the SFMTA has barely increased its bike spending in recent years, and $3 million remains only about 2 percent of the agency’s total budget.

Matier is also dead wrong when he claims that people who bike don’t “chip in on new bike lanes.” The vast majority of funding for local street infrastructure, including bike lanes, comes from general taxes paid by everyone. People who bike instead of drive also impose much less in the way of maintenance costs on the street system.

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SFPD Traffic Commander’s Strategy for Safer Streets: Finger-Wagging

For SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali, the reason so many people are getting killed by drivers on SF’s streets apparently has nothing to do with the fact that every station but one is failing miserably to adhere to the department’s “Focus on the Five” enforcement strategy.

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali. ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=9386826##Photo: ABC 7##

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali. Photo: ABC 7

Nor is it because SF’s streets are overwhelmingly designed to put motor vehicle movement first, rather than the safety of people walking on them. That’s according Ali’s comments in yesterday’s column from the SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight, who didn’t seem to question Ali’s take.

Apparently, Ali’s strategy for making streets safer is to keep wagging fingers at the victims who “took major risks” and died. “The hope is that the public will change their behavior voluntarily,” he told Knight. Ali said he’s “been accused of blaming the victim,” then proceeded to blame last year’s victims.

“A lot of it is just really, really bad behavior,” Ali told Knight. “If we play this kind of sterile, numbers-only game, people surmise that it’s fairly innocuous behavior that’s causing these fatalities when in fact it’s very clear what the behaviors are.”

It’s “clear” indeed for those who do pay attention to numbers and statistics. SFPD’s data shows that the five most common causes of pedestrian injuries are all driver violations: speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrians’ right-of-way in a crosswalk, and failing to yield while turning. A year ago, SFPD’s top brass promised that officers would devote at least 50 percent of traffic citations to those violations under its “Focus on the Five” campaign.

But Ali, who has previously told media that confused Asian immigrants are to blame for many crashes, shirked those responsibilities in yesterday’s column. He also showed that he’s missed the point of Vision Zero. Crossing the street wouldn’t be such a “major risk” if city agencies implemented design and enforcement measures to slow driving speeds and minimize the chance of crashes, even when people make errors.

“It’s really troubling that the San Francisco Police Department sees this only as an individual behavior problem, considering that six percent of streets account for 60 percent of severe and fatal injuries,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Until they actually meet [their Focus on the Five] goals, I really don’t think it’s important appropriate for them to call on individuals to change their behavior.”

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Leave it to KTVU to Sensationalize One Car-Share Parking Space

KTVU reporter David Stevenson is at it again, with a new report about reserving one on-street parking spot for car-share vehicles. With Stevenson’s history of muckraking about lawfully helmet-less bicyclists, and a handful of re-purposed parking spaces, this sort of scandalous scoop is right up his alley.

Somerville and Stevenson bring you the latest parking scandal. Image: KTVU

Stevenson glosses over the fact that car-share vehicles open up more parking spaces, since each can replace nine to 13 privately-owned cars. He knows that, if you find enough uninformed people on the street to quote, the real story will come out: “Drivers and businesses in the neighborhood tell us they’re bracing for the impact,” he says.

That’s right. A single parking space, at Clement Street and 24th Avenue in the Richmond, is poised to be used more efficiently. So naturally, “Some people are saying changing just one parking place can disrupt an entire street,” as KTVU anchor Frank Somerville said to introduce the story.

There will indeed be an “impact,” and it may even “disrupt” the street, in the positive, tech-culture sense of the word. More residents can either sell their cars, or forego buying one, since they’ll have more convenient access to car-share. A nationwide study from UC Berkeley confirmed this.

But it’s probably a safe bet Stevenson didn’t explain that to people on the street, since otherwise he might not have elicited the sort of soundbites that fit his narrative: “a waste of a parking spot,” one man says. “I think it’s ridiculous,” one woman says.

“Everybody kills each other for parking out here, so it’s going to have a huge impact,” says a grocery store owner.

Let’s hope it does.

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Mayor-Funded BeyondChron Attacks Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

BeyondChron editor Randy Shaw, who gets funding from the Mayor Ed Lee’s office for projects like the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, penned a predictable defense of Lee’s recent attack on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s transit funding ballot measure today. Shaw backed Lee’s decision to drop support for the vehicle license fee increase, and argued that Muni’s share of the city’s general fund has increased enough in recent years, compared to other city services.

Screenshot from BeyondChron

Much like Shaw’s January article lauding the mayor’s call for free Sunday parking — which ignored the SFMTA’s report on its impacts — his latest piece just mimics Lee’s position. Mayor Lee said on Monday that Wiener’s measure is “disturbing,” that it “can be very damaging” to the city budget, and that he “has to hold the supervisors [that voted for it] accountable.”

Shaw argued that, by mandating a set-aside for Muni and safer streets, Wiener’s ballot measure would “reduce the ability of elected officials to set budget priorities” such as the Children’s Fund and increased wages for non-profit worker contracts. Shaw targeted his arguments towards Wiener, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (one of the five other supervisors who supported the measure), and Streetsblog:

Wiener, Chiu and many transit advocates like to depict Mayor Lee as Scrooge when it comes to transit funding. They continually point to the mayor’s “abandoning” the Vehicular License Fee for the November ballot, despite this being “recommended by his own task force.”

Mayor Lee only “abandoned” the VLF for this November because polls showed voters strongly opposed it. As the SF Chronicle’s Matier & Ross reported on May 7, “a poll of 500 likely San Francisco voters – conducted for Lee by EMC Research from March 21-27 – found just 24 percent supported the fee increase. That is far short of the simple majority required for passage. Sixty-nine percent were opposed, and the remaining 7 percent were undecided.

Curiously, Aaron Bialick of StreetsblogSF cited the Matier & Ross story in reporting that the poll found 44% approval for the VLF. Bialick has repeatedly bashed Lee for not moving forward on the VLF, yet even with his misreading of the poll results—and 24% v 44% is a big difference—you can’t go forward with ballot measure when your support is under 50% before the opposition campaign kicks in.

The cherry-picking there is blatant. The Matier and Ross article Shaw refers to says, “When pollsters told survey respondents about the improvements the money would provide for Muni, road repairs and the like, support climbed to 44 percent — still below the majority threshold.” It would raise $1 billion over 15 years for pedestrian safety projects, bike infrastructure, transit improvements and vehicle purchases, and road re-paving — just by restoring the VLF to the rate that it was at statewide for over 50 years.

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Watch: ABC 7 Talks With Officials, Advocates Supporting Vision Zero

ABC 7 news anchor Cheryl Jennings talked to some of San Francisco’s key city officials and advocates about Vision Zero, the campaign to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024, on her show “Beyond the Headlines” Sunday.

ABC's Cheryl Jennings speaks with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Image: ABC 7

ABC’s Cheryl Jennings speaks with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Image: ABC 7

Pedestrian and bike safety was the theme of the half-hour show, during which Jennings interviewed SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin; the family of Dylan Mitchell, who was killed on his bike by a truck driver in the Mission; SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali; and Cheryl Brinkman, vice chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors. Jennings also spoke with Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn, who addressed the issue of deaths at railroad crossings.

The show begins with a segment featuring Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who explains why streets like Van Ness Avenue are so dangerous. It’s a great overview of street safety in SF, especially for folks just getting introduced to the issues.

“If we don’t do something different,” Reiskin said, people will continue to die while getting around on SF’s streets. “We’re absolutely committed to doing something different, to redesigning our streets.”

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Dance Performance Celebrates Temporarily Car-Free Lombard Street

Last week, cars once again took over SF’s crooked block of Lombard Street, following the last of a series of weekend trials that banned most cars from the street and opened it up to people instead. The Bay Area Flash Mob celebrated the last car-free day with a choreographed dance all the way down the winding road, set to the tune of Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

Deland Chan, one of the initiators of the dance, said the group wanted to “create a moment of joy” on the street that would become impossible once it’s re-opened to cars.

“Some of the tourists actually jumped in and started dancing. The street is a lot steeper than we thought it would be, so it was an intense workout,” said Chan, who lives four blocks away and is an urban studies lecturer at Stanford University. She recently held a workshop in Chinatown on “public spaces and how different communities play,” and previously worked as a senior planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center.

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Car-Free Lombard Street, Filled With People, is KPIX’s Vision of “Chaos”

KPIX reporter Brian Webb, live at ground zero, with car-free mayhem in the background. Image: CBS-KPIX

Last weekend, San Francisco’s world-famous crooked block of Lombard Street saw most of its car traffic disappear as part of a month-long trial, opening the street up for people. The SFMTA’s goal is to eliminate the gridlock caused by tourist drivers who queue up for blocks to cruise down the street.

To KPIX, SF’s CBS affiliate, however, this scene was nothing but “chaos,” a move that clearly “backfired” by filling the street with people:

Tourists found a way around Lombard Street’s first weekend closure by walking straight through it. Lombard’s been turned into a pedestrian path. Closing the crookedest street in the world to tourists was supposed to give residents a break, and some privacy. Instead, they got chaos.

Thank the heavens we have reporter Brian Webb to expose the atrocity of tourists walking down the middle of Lombard, without fear of cars. To hear it from Webb, these folks are all out-of-control mavericks exploiting a loophole. A really big loophole.

Whether this sort of asinine reporting can be attributed to Webb’s inability to understand the purpose of the project, or a newsroom desperate to concoct a controversial narrative to drive ratings, we may never know.

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