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The Death Toll From Cars Is Even Higher Than You Thought

Ten days ago, a four-year-old boy near Houston was killed when a neighbor backed his pickup truck over him. At least 50 times a week, people back their cars over kids in the U.S. On average, two of those 50 incidents are fatal. But you won’t see them represented in official crash statistics.

Four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain's death, like the deaths of an average of 1,621 people per year, will not be counted in NHTSA's traffic death statistics because he was hit in a driveway, not a public road. Photo: ##http://www.click2houston.com/news/deputies-child-hit-and-killed-by-pickup/25434032##Click2Houston##

Four-year-old Zain Ali Hussain’s death will not be counted in NHTSA’s traffic fatality statistics because he was hit in a driveway, not a public road. Photo: Click2Houston

Every year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues a grim summation of the death toll on American roads: 33,561 killed in 2012. The year before that: 32,479. The year before that: 32,999. But this statistic leaves out many fatalities caused by cars and drivers. And the victims it undercounts the most are pedestrians and cyclists — and children.

NHTSA does track these other deaths, but it categorizes them differently. The agency recently released its “Not-in-Traffic Surveillance” numbers from 2008 to 2011 [PDF] — which measures injuries and deaths in “nontraffic motor vehicle crashes” off public roadways. The agency explains:

These crashes… are mostly single-vehicle crashes on private roads, two-vehicle crashes in parking facilities, or collisions with pedestrians on driveways. Then there are also noncrash incidents such as a vehicle falling on a person underneath or unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

So, add to the 37,261 people killed in traffic in 2008 another 1,605 killed in “nontraffic.” Between 2008 and 2011, there were 6,483 such deaths and 91,000 such injuries. About 39 percent of the people killed in these incidents weren’t in cars.

Children like Zain account for a disproportionate share of “nontraffic” fatalities. (NHTSA put out a separate report [PDF] on children involved in nontraffic crashes.) Between 2008 and 2011, 13 percent of the victims were 4 or younger, while kids that young account for about 3.5 percent of the overall population. Almost half the children who die in these kinds of incidents are killed by drivers backing up over them. Three percent are killed by rollaway vehicles that no one is driving. Of all children injured in “nontraffic” crashes, 60 percent are not in a car at the time.

NHTSA didn’t collect information on these crashes until 2007, and the agency still doesn’t include them in its annual traffic fatality reporting. The National Safety Council does, however, which helps explain why the NSC’s numbers are always higher than NHTSA’s. The NSC also considers a death to be traffic-related if it occurs within 12 months of the crash; NHTSA’s window is only 30 days.

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Belmont Council Calls Car-Centric Ralston Corridor Study “Balanced”

Ralston Avenue in downtown Belmont

Ralston Avenue between 6th Avenue and El Camino Real in downtown Belmont, the location of the street’s most recent pedestrian fatality. Photos: Andrew Boone

A study of Ralston Avenue in Belmont recommends easing the way for cut-through car traffic while shunting cyclists onto indirect routes — and the City Council seems to think that’s just fine.

The Belmont City Council decided last Tuesday that more public input on the draft Ralston Corridor Study is needed before the plan is finalized, citing feedback they’ve received that many residents aren’t familiar with the study’s recommendations. The draft study wasn’t available for public review until April 4, as part of the council’s April 8 meeting agenda, and still hasn’t been posted on the project’s website.

One more community meeting will be held sometime “in the next month or so,” according to Public Works Director Afshin Oskou. In general, council members approved of the draft plan, calling it “balanced” and not directing the consulting team to make any major changes to it.

“I think this is about as good a balanced plan as you’re going to get,” said City Council Member Eric Reed, referring to trade-offs between driving time and safety in the consultants’ recommendations.

Fellow Council Member Charles Stone agreed: “I think this is in general a very good plan, it does a great job of balancing things,” he said. ”I think it’s important that people understand that there is continued work on improving signage and safe mechanisms for both bikes and pedestrians… that are not part of this study. It’s important that the bike community understands that this is happening.”

But the City Council did not address the concerns of residents who say the plan prioritizes car traffic on Ralston Avenue over safety for people walking and biking.

“The current plan is far from balanced,” wrote Michael Swire, whose online petition calling for lower speed limits and continuous bike lanes on all of Ralston Avenue has gathered over 700 signatures. “The major biking recommendation is: Don’t bike on Ralston – bike elsewhere,” he said, referring to the $148,600 bike route proposed to detour cyclists onto a longer and slower route on Masonic Way, El Camino Real, Emmett Avenue, and Twin Pines Lane, which would include unsignalized crossings of both Ralston Avenue and El Camino Real.

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Eyes on the Street: Polk Contra-Flow Bike Lane Nearly Ready to Ride

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Here’s a little change of pace from the bad news this week. The Polk Street contra-flow protected bike lane, connecting Market Street northbound to Grove Street and City Hall, appears almost ready to go. A Department of Public Works spokesperson said the agency is shooting for a tentative opening date of May 2 or 5 and plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Officials at the SFMTA and DPW seem proud of the project — and rightly so. Photos of the bikeway and median planted with native succulents were tweeted by DPW Director Mohammed Nuru and Tim Papandreou, the SFMTA’s director of strategic planning and policy. DPW surprisingly jumpstarted construction on the bike lane in late January after years of delay, promising completion by Bike to Work Day on May 8.

The project also comes with a couple of bonuses. DPW is installing bulb-outs at the wide intersection of Grove and Polk, and completed one at the northwest corner last week. The pedestrian island and “bike chute” on the north side of Market at Polk were also reconfigured for more practical maneuvering for southbound bike riders. See photos after the break.

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SFMTA Announces 24 Vision Zero Bike/Ped Projects for Next 24 Months

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At this morning’s Walk to Work Day press conference, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin announced a plan to implement 24 bike and pedestrian safety projects over the next 24 months [PDF]. This is the most concrete safety plan unveiled so far, ever since city leaders pledged to pursue Vision Zero.

Nicole Schneider presented Walk SF’s “Street Score” report card for pedestrian safety in SF today, alongside Supervisor Malia Cohen (left). Photo: Aaron Bialick

The projects (listed below) include bulb-outs, traffic signal changes, road diets, turn restrictions, and even a conceptual “raised cycletrack” on upper Market Street. Half the projects are funded (one “partially”), and the SFMTA hasn’t assigned an order to them yet. Some of the projects have already been in planning, like the Second Street and Polk Street redesigns, and at some locations the “WalkFirst improvements” have yet to be designed.

Vision Zero “is something that we’re united around as a city family,” said Reiskin on the steps of City Hall, surrounded by a full roster of elected officials and department heads, minus Mayor Ed Lee.

The 24-project list wasn’t heavily discussed at the city’s second official Walk to Work Day press conference, where city leaders re-iterated the urgency of Vision Zero — the goal of ending traffic deaths within 10 years. Every member of the Board of Supervisors and other officials walked to City Hall, starting at points around the city. The furthest trekkers included Reiskin, who walked from west of Twin Peaks; Supervisor Eric Mar, from Arguello Boulevard; and Supervisor John Avalos, from the Excelsior.

Walk SF also presented a “report card” grading pedestrian safety in San Francisco:

  • Overall progress towards Vision Zero: C+
  • Walkability: A+
  • Pedestrian Safety: D+
  • Funding: D+
  • Engineering: C+
  • Enforcement: B
  • Education and Outreach: B-

“We have the fabric of a walkable city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “But unfortunately, we have a relic of an older generation with our transportation system. We have streets that were designed for speed and not for safety… This isn’t something that our current administration came up with, but it’s going to take a lot of funding and a lot of work to change.”

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Highway Safety Projects Ineligible for Highway Funds in San Mateo County

Shoulder of Highway 1 Coastside San Mateo County

Walking or biking in this shoulder on Highway 1 is often the only option available to get between coast-side towns in San Mateo County without driving. Photo: Matt Hansen, Peninsula Press

San Mateo County’s Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail just barely made it into the list of Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects approved for funding by the Transportation Authority (TA)’s Board of Directors last Thursday. Despite this step forward, building the trail will be difficult thanks in large part to restrictions on how TA funds can be spent, which hamper walking and biking projects.

The $165,000 allocated to the mid-coast trail will only pay for the engineering design and environmental review of the first of four phases, from Half Moon Bay to El Granada. Funds to actually construct the trail and design the three remaining sections to the north, from El Granada to Montara, haven’t yet been identified.

“The coast-side trail is among the most important projects to my constituents since I’ve been elected,” said Supervisor Don Horsley in March. “And this is the first opportunity we’ve had to apply for funding.”

This trail has been recommended by several transportation planning studies over the past ten years, most recently by the 2010 Highway 1 Safety and Mobility Improvement Study, which cites improved safety for people walking and bicycling and a reduction of traffic on Highway 1 among its benefits.

During its March 4 review of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Program projects, the TA’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) “noted concerns regarding safety, traffic congestion, access to schools, and access for people who don’t have cars as strong reasons in support of the Mid-Coast Multi-Modal Trail.”

But this type of project — infrastructure that reduces highway congestion by providing safe alternatives to driving — is surprisingly difficult to fund in San Mateo County.

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Six Months for Killing Hanren Chang: Even Drunk Drivers Get Off Easy

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Lowell High School student Hanren Chang. Image: ABC 7

It’s hard to imagine a more egregiously clear-cut case where a driver deserves a harsh prison term than when drunk driver Kieran Brewer ran over and killed a minor inside a crosswalk. Surely, unlike other cases where sober drivers killed pedestrians and faced few consequences, these circumstances would spur the judicial system into action.

Yet Brewer was sentenced to just six months in jail for driving drunk and killing Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard last year, as she was returning home from celebrating her 17th birthday.

Kieran Brewer. Photo via CBS 5

Brewer’s total sentence includes six months in jail, six months in home detention, five years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a nine-month treatment program for people who have driven under the influence, according to the SF Chronicle. Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy also ordered Brewer to pay the family more than $4,700 in restitution.

In addition, Judge Conroy struck down a bid from the prosecuting attorneys to apply the state’s “three strikes” law in this case. Prosecutors argued that Brewer inflicted great bodily injury, a crime that counts as a strike under the law.

“I don’t think the interest of justice will be served if Mr. Brewer gets this strike,” Conroy said in court, according to the Chronicle. “He has been consistently remorseful and cooperative with law enforcement.”

Remorse and cooperation apparently go a long way in court. So, too, does committing manslaughter with a car rather than a gun. As pointed out in a blog post by GJEL Accident Attorneys, a Streetsblog SF sponsor, “Involuntary manslaughter shootings usually result in sentences of years, not months”:

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Safer, More Transit-Friendly Streets Planned for the Upper Haight

Flickr user Drumwolf writes: “Yes, THAT Haight and Ashbury. Really not all that, is it.”

Update 4/10: The Planning Department posted an online survey where you can weigh in on the design proposal for upper Haight Street.

The Planning Department has drawn up early plans for three of the Haight-Ashbury’s major streets: upper Haight Street, Stanyan Street, and the southern end of Masonic Avenue. The proposals for the Haight Ashbury Public Realm Plan were developed through two public workshops aimed at re-thinking the streets as friendlier places for walking, biking, and transit.

Although planners set out to consider all of the streets in the Haight-Ashbury, Masonic, Stanyan, and Haight “rose to the top” among streets that residents wanted the city to improve, said Alexis Smith, project manager for the Planning Department. “There was no interest in touching” the smaller residential streets, she said. “We didn’t want to muck up things that are already working well.”

Of the three streets, the strongest consensus so far seems to be around plans for Haight Street, said Smith. The proposed improvements for Haight include several sidewalk bulb-outs along the street, as part of the Muni Transit Effectiveness Project‘s plans to consolidate bus stops and add transit bulbs. Those would provide more breathing room along the busy sidewalks, while also speeding Muni boardings.

“Haight Street is a significant path for public transit,” said Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith and a board member of the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. The removed bus stops will “free up space for wider sidewalks, which can accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic… on weekends and sunny days.”

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Fourth Pedestrian Killed by Driver on Deadly Van Ness This Year

Van Ness and Golden Gate, where a driver reportedly killed a pedestrian while traveling northbound. Image: Google Maps

A car driver struck and killed a man who was crossing Van Ness at Golden Gate Avenue at about 11 p.m. last night. According to the SFPD, “Early reports indicate that the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk,” but the crash is still under investigation. Police didn’t say how fast the driver was going, or how close to the crosswalk the victim may have been.

As SFGate reported, the victim was the seventh pedestrian killed in San Francisco this year, the fourth just on Van Ness — and the third just on a two-block stretch of Van Ness behind City Hall:

In January, a 38-year-old man was hit and killed as he tried to run across Van Ness near Grove Street. In early February, a man was struck near Grove Street and later died from his injuries. About a week later  a pedestrian died in a hit-and-run crash near the corner of Van Ness and Pacific Avenue.

Van Ness, like other street-level highways slicing through San Francisco, has a design that facilitates dangerously fast driving, and the result is an unconscionable number of pedestrian injuries. Although cases where the victims weren’t using a crosswalk tend to be met with victim-blaming, the long distances between crosswalks (which hardly ensure safety) and long wait times to cross Van Ness invite pedestrians to “jaywalk” instead. And since Van Ness is designed to prioritize high-speed through traffic, pedestrian crashes are likely to result in injuries and deaths.

After the hit-and-run crash at Van Ness and Pacific that killed 35-year-old Paul Lambert, who also lost his cousin to a hit-and-run driver in New York City last June, KTVU noted that Van Ness isn’t slated to get any substantial pedestrian safety improvements until Van Ness BRT is built. That project, set to be complete in 2018, will reduce the street’s mixed traffic lanes from six to four, while also adding pedestrian bulb-outs and other safety upgrades.

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SFBC, Walk SF Push SFMTA to Make Room for Bike/Ped Projects in Its Budget

Bike and pedestrian advocates are pushing the SFMTA to make more room in its budget for safety projects and programs as the agency’s board of directors weighs its priorities.

Image: SFBC

Image: SFBC

Bike/ped funds currently make up less than 1 percent of the SFMTA’s operating and capital budgets; the vast majority goes towards Muni. And although the agency has professed its commitment to Vision Zero, as well as its Bicycle Strategy and the WalkFirst plan that lay out the map to safer streets, funds for street safety are competing with other funding pushes. Yesterday’s SFMTA Board meeting was packed with dozens of commenters calling for the expansion of free Muni pass programs to low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and extending the youth program to 18-year olds.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, pointed out that “there is not a more affordable option than” walking and biking, and urged the board to “include [those] in the equity lens.”

The SFBC and Walk SF have highlighted that the SFMTA’s operating budget devotes more money to office supplies, over $5 million, than to bike and pedestrian safety programs, which each get about $3 to $5 million.

Shahum pointed out that the proposed SFMTA budget calls for 1.9 new miles of bike lanes, and 4.5 miles of upgraded bike lanes, per year. The middle of the three scenarios laid out in the SFMTA’s Bicycle Strategy calls for upgrades to 10 new miles of bike lanes each year.

Bike and pedestrian funding are poised to get only a slight increase in the share of the SFMTA’s existing revenues in the next budget [PDF]. The agency is banking on three proposed funding measures headed to the ballot this November that altogether could provide about half the funds needed for WalkFirst and the “medium” Bicycle Strategy scenario.

“We did work to find ways to put more revenues in here, although we don’t have a whole lot of flexibility there,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. “You could argue it’s never enough, but it’s a significant investment we’ll be making.”

SFMTA Board Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman asked Reiskin to address the comparisons between bike/ped funding and office supplies at a later meeting. “I know it’s a great rallying cry… safety is our number one goal, but I’d like to know where that number comes from. Hopefully it’s not true that we spend more on paper than we do on bicycle safety.”

“We can’t meet our bike and pedestrian mode shift goals without increasing safety, and we can’t meet our transit demand without including our bicycle and pedestrian mode shift goals,” she added.

The SFMTA will continue to drill down the details of its two-year budget next budget at a hearing on April 15.

“I’m very worried about what happens in November,” said Brinkman. “Do we have a plan B to improve the safety of our streets if we’re not successful?”

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Atherton’s Bike/Ped Plan Calls for Safer El Camino Real and Bike Boulevard

A proposed plan for El Camino Real in Atherton would reduce six traffic lanes to four and add a bike/ped path and bike lanes. Image: Alta Planning + Design

The Atherton Town Council this afternoon will review a draft of its first ever bicycle and pedestrian plan, which it crafted over the past eight months with resident input. The plan has attracted little notice, even though it calls for safety redesigns on major streets like El Camino Real, Middlefield Road, and Marsh Road.

The plan’s primary goals are to improve safety for people walking and bicycling on Atherton’s streets, and to reduce school-related traffic congestion by removing barriers that keep children from accessing key destinations on foot or by bike.

Atherton paid for the $40,000 bike/ped plan using a $350,000 settlement that it won from Facebook in 2012, for declining litigation after claiming that the environmental impact report for Facebook’s Menlo Park Campus inadequately assessed traffic impacts.

El Camino Real, whose six lanes slice through the center of Atherton, is by far the town’s most dangerous street. In October 2010, 55-year-old Honofre Mendoza and 62-year-old Christopher Chandler were killed by drivers in separate crashes while crossing El Camino at Isabella Avenue. Exactly two years later at the same intersection, two women were seriously injured by an SUV while walking together in a crosswalk.

Middlefield Road has also seen its share of serious collisions. A man was killed in September 2013 after being struck by a hit-and-run driver near Glenwood Avenue. Several students are also typically injured each year while walking along or crossing Middlefield near Menlo-Atherton High School.

Alta Planning + Design, the consultant crafting Atherton’s new bicycle and pedestrian plan, recommends $13 million in safety projects, including nearly $7 million of “priority projects.” These include pedestrian safety improvements at key intersections, new walking and biking paths, and new crosstown bike routes — including an overhaul of El Camino Real that would add bike lanes and reduce auto lanes from six to four.

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