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Posts from the Pedestrians Category

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SFMTA Proposes a Car-Free Powell Street in Union Square

Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA has proposed making crowded, traffic-clogged Powell Street in Union Square a car-free street on a trial basis. Removing cars from the equation would make the street function better for pedestrians and cable cars on the blocks between Ellis and Geary Streets.

As we wrote last year, it makes little sense to have cars on Powell, which is seen as San Francisco’s gateway for visitors. On this two-block stretch, private car drivers routinely block bustling crosswalks, create stop-and-go traffic that damages Muni’s world-famous cable cars, and obstruct intersections in the path of the 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line.

The car-free trial has already been delayed due to the Union Square Business Improvement District’s resistance to what it calls a “rushed” timeline and insistence on delivery vehicle access throughout the day.

The SFMTA’s goal “is to have these changes in place before the 2015 holiday shopping season,” with signs and paint installed in November, according to an agency flyer [PDF]. An engineering hearing is tentatively scheduled for October 2, and an SFMTA Board vote on October 20, but agency staff said the dates aren’t confirmed.

The car-free trial was originally listed on an engineering hearing for August 14 but got tabled before the hearing was held.

Union Square BID Executive Director Karin Flood told Hoodline that “the group was concerned about the SFMTA ‘fast-tracking’ the changes without taking into account stakeholder concerns.”

“We are open to the concept of making the area more pedestrian friendly but need to ensure that merchant loading/unloading needs are accommodated and that the timing is right,” Flood wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

Under the proposal, during a 12-18 month trial phase, cars and delivery vehicles would not be allowed on Powell except between midnight and 5 a.m., when cable cars don’t operate. This aligns with how “most business who responded” to an SFMTA survey already handle their deliveries. According to the SFMTA flyer, these businesses “indicated that they conduct their loading on a side street or during late night hours when the cable cars are not running.”

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SFPD Charges Trucker Who Killed Rose Kelly, 61, in Richmond Crosswalk

33rd Avenue at Cabrillo Street in the Outer Richmond. Photo: Google Street View

33rd Avenue at Cabrillo Street in the Outer Richmond. Photo: Google Street View

Updated 6/22 with the name of the driver.

The SFPD has filed misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the truck driver who killed 61-year-old Rose Kelly in a crosswalk in the Outer Richmond yesterday afternoon. It’s now up to District Attorney George Gascón to follow through with the prosecution.

Kelly was walking east in a crosswalk on Cabrillo Street at 33rd Avenue when she was hit by a GMC truck driver at 1:21 p.m, SFPD told the SF Chronicle and Bay City NewsKelly died from chest and head injuries at SF General Hospital.

Kelly was killed at an intersection with four-way stop signs, where pedestrians always have the right-of-way in a crosswalk. [Update] SFPD officials confirmed that the charges were filed against the driver, Bing Zuo Wu, a 62-year-old SF resident.

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara said the organization “sends our regards to the family and friends who are mourning the loss of Rose Kelly, who was killed by a large vehicle driver who failed to yield.”

“It’s a stark reminder that large vehicles result in more severe crashes than smaller vehicles,” Ferrara noted, pointing out that the SFMTA is in “the final stages of developing a large vehicle training curriculum” announced in February. “It’s in the best interest of companies that use large vehicles to require that all employees take this training.”

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As Long as Speed Is King, People Will Get Hurt at Oak, Fell, and Masonic

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Photo: Andy Bosselman

Photo: Andy Bosselman

There’s no mystery to why drivers continue to run people over where Masonic Avenue crosses the Panhandle, at Oak and Fell Streets. The three streets are designed like residential freeways, yet the city has no plans to remove traffic lanes to slow speeds and reduce injuries.

On Wednesday, a driver hit two joggers at Oak and Masonic in the Panhandle crosswalk at about 7:15 p.m.

Hoodline reports:

According to the SFPD, the pedestrians were running across the street against a red light when they were struck by the vehicle, a silver Toyota Prius.

One victim, a 36-year-old man, was left in life-threatening condition with bleeding to the brain. The second victim, a 34-year-old man, suffered pain and abrasions, but was not critically injured.

It’s the second such incident in just three months. Back in April, a jogger was struck by a car while running against the light at that same intersection. When we posted that story, many commenters noted that the busy intersection is poorly designed, with one going so far as to call it a “death trap,” and another warning that you “avoid this intersection at all cost.”

In response to victim-blaming in Hoodline’s comment section, Michael Smith, a co-founder of Walk SF, pointed out that the intersections see so many injuries because Masonic, Oak, and Fell are designed as speedways. Oak and Fell each have four one-way traffic lanes, and additional turn lanes at Masonic, which has six lanes on the stretch that bisects the Panhandle.

Masonic at Oak, looking towards the Panhandle. Image: Google Maps

Masonic at Oak, looking towards the Panhandle. Image: Google Maps

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Driver Kills Ai You Zhou, 77, at Clay and Kearny; Christensen Calls for Action

Photo: Parker Day

Yesterday at about 6 p.m., Tim Pak Wong, 59, ran over and killed Ai You Zhou, 77, in the crosswalk at the notoriously dangerous intersection of Clay and Kearny Streets near Chinatown. Safety improvements have been planned for the location, and today Supervisor Julie Christensen called for swifter action on pedestrian safety from the SFMTA and SFPD.

SFPD issued Wong a citation on suspicion of failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and misdemeanor manslaughter, reports the SF Chronicle.

Zhou appeared to have the walk signal, according to Parker Day, who witnessed the crash from about a block away as he biked toward the intersection. He said Wong was turning left onto Kearny from Clay.

When Day took the photo of the scene above, Zhou “had just stopped breathing and [Wong] was about to pull her out from under the car.”

“It was a terrible thing to witness,” Day added. “I hope I don’t ever see something like it again.”

D3 Supervisor Christensen held a press conference at the site of the crash today to call on the SFMTA to expedite pedestrian safety improvements and the SFPD “to step up enforcement at our problem intersections along our high injury corridors.”

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“Walk [Your City]” Signs Take the Guesswork Out of Hoofing It in SF

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You may have gotten a kick out of some of the signs posted along Market Street in recent weeks telling people how long it takes to walk to destinations like Yerba Buena Gardens, Civic Center, and even the Pacific Ocean.

The signs are the doing of Walk [Your City], a national effort to facilitate what has been called “guerrilla wayfinding” — providing residents the means to “plan, design and install quick, light, and affordable street signs for people.” The campaign started in Raleigh, North Carolina, but the organizers received a grant in February to bring it to other cities, including San Jose.

The signs were featured as part of the three-day Market Street Prototyping Festival, a project of the city’s Better Market Street redesign. The dozens of sidewalk exhibits, which line Market until tomorrow, are intended to “do a lot more with these beautiful sidewalks that we have… they can be much more dynamic social spaces,” said Neil Hrushowy, program director for the SF Planning Department’s City Design Group, in a KPIX segment. Hrushowy said some of the exhibits could be made permanent with Market’s reconstruction.

SF did pilot pedestrian wayfinding signs along the Embarcadero during the America’s Cup races in 2012, but they weren’t nearly as attractive or cheeky. While most of the Walk [Your City] signs are functional and point to actual destinations, some are more whimsical. “It is a 5 minute walk to High-Speed Rail (soon),” one sign said. Another sign points the way to the “Twinkie defense” — presumably, City Hall.

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Supervisors Tang and Yee Propose New Measures to Curb Dangerous Driving

Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee announced measures on Tuesday they say could help reduce dangerous driving on SF streets, bringing the city closer to Vision Zero.

Supervisors Katy Tang and Norman Yee. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Yee called for a study into whether city-owned vehicles could have “black boxes” to record evidence in the event of a crash, and for banning tour bus drivers from talking to passengers. Tang proposed a resolution urging the state to “re-evaluate” fines levied for five dangerous driving violations in SF.

“We recognize that it takes a combination of enforcement, education, and engineering to keep our community safe,” Tang said in a statement. “However, we continuously hear from the community about the prevalence of these dangerous driving behaviors. It is our hope that reevaluating, and perhaps raising, the cost of engaging in these behaviors will prove to be an effective deterrent.”

Tang’s resolution would urge the California Judicial Council “to reevaluate the base fines, and related fees, for violations of the California Vehicle Code related to some of the most dangerous driving behaviors in San Francisco,” says a press release from her office. “This includes: running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, failing to yield while turning, cell phone use while driving, and unsafe passing of standing streetcar, trolley coach, or bus safety zones.”

Three of those violations are part of SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign, a pledge by police to target what the department’s data have identified as the five most common causes of pedestrian crashes. Speeding and red-light running by drivers are on the SFPD’s list, but not on Tang’s, which instead calls for higher fines for cell phone and unsafe passing citations.

“While the baseline [fine] for running a stop sign, violating a pedestrian’s right of way, and unsafe passing of a standing streetcar is $35, the baseline for violating a red light is $100,” Tang said at a board meeting.

Yee, meanwhile, called for the City Budget Analyst to evaluate the cost of installing “black boxes,” also known as event data recorders, on every city vehicle in order to record evidence in the event of a crash. Yee said that he and Supervisor Jane Kim learned about the idea at the recent Vision Zero Symposium held in New York City. Yee said NYC has black boxes on all of its municipal vehicles.

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Bold Visions for the Embarcadero Emerge at Public Design Workshops

A group presents two proposed visions for how to re-allocate space on the Embarcadero at a public design workshop. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Ever since the Embarcadero was uncovered from beneath a freeway more than two decades ago, San Franciscans’ appetite for a more people-friendly waterfront only seems to have grown.

At a series of recent public design workshops this month, groups of attendees were asked to put together a display of how they’d re-allocate street space on the Embarcadero. The main idea was to figure out how to provide a protected bikeway, so that riders of all ages can enjoy the popular waterfront without having to mix it up with either motor vehicles or crowds of pedestrians on the shared sidewalk.

At one of the workshops, two groups suggested that half of the roadway, on the waterfront side, be dedicated primarily to walking and biking, even if it includes a shared-space zone where delivery drivers can move through slowly for loading. Finding a design that allows deliveries to safely co-exist with the bikeway seems to have been the main challenge since the SFMTA launched its redesign process in July.

Overall, the idea of re-thinking the Embarcadero as a street with less room for cars and more for walking and biking has been popular. Most of the groups at one workshop said all car parking should be eliminated from the street. Hundreds of parking spaces sit empty in nearby lots and garages — with more coming.

Even Mary McGarvey, an SF tour bus driver, espoused the idea of devoting the entire waterfront side of the roadway — which currently includes three traffic lanes and one car parking lane — to foot and bike traffic. The Embarcadero’s median streetcar tracks would then provide a buffer from motor vehicles.

McGarvey said she’s personally seen the successes of similar waterfront reclamations in cities in Germany, Austria, and northern Europe.

“Once they’re in, people love it,” she said. “I’ve worked in tourism for practically 20 years. Everybody would love to have a big, wide-open space where they feel safe from traffic and from bicyclists hitting them.”

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Three Recent Assaults By Drivers Show Traffic Sewers’ Danger to Bikes, Peds

A driver recently assaulted a man bicycling on car-dominated Geneva Avenue near London Street. Photo: Google Maps

There have been three disturbing cases in SF within the last month in which drivers assaulted people walking and biking. Such cases are usually rare, but all of the attacks occurred on streets designed for fast driving.

The most recent attack was in the Excelsior on November 11. According to the SFPD Ingleside Station newsletter, a driver was arrested after assaulting a man bicycling on Geneva Avenue. The driver apparently didn’t like the fact that victim was occupying a traffic lane, which the CA Vehicle Code allows in any lane that can’t be safely shared between a bike and a car. But instead of simply changing lanes, this driver took to violence:

The bicyclist told Ingleside officers Trail and Carrasco that he was riding eastbound on Geneva from Alemany, in the slow lane, when the driver of a car started honking at him to “get out of the way”. The bicyclist ignored him and kept riding. However, after he crossed Mission Street, near London, the motorist passed him on his left and then swerved right into the bicyclist’s front wheel. The bicyclist took out his cell phone and took a picture of the motorist’s license plate and then started to dial 911. But, before he could complete dialing, the motorist ran up to him and slammed his body, forcing the cell phone onto the street. The officers detained and questioned the motorist and, after interviewing witnesses, placed him under arrest for robbery and aggravated assault.

Of two recent attacks on pedestrians, the driver in one case ran the victim over and killed him on November 3. Joseph Jeffrey, 54, told a driver to slow down near Eddy and Larkin Streets in the Tenderloin. Police told the SF Chronicle that the driver intentionally ran over Jeffrey, who was homeless and had just left the hospital after recovering from a gunshot wound:

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Stockton Street in Union Square Becomes a Plaza for the Holidays

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Two blocks of Stockton Street in the bustling Union Square shopping district are being converted into a pedestrian plaza for the holidays. The roadway has been occupied by Central Subway construction machinery for a couple of years now, but now crews are taking a break and covering up the site with turf for what’s been dubbed Winter Walk SF, “an inviting open plaza in the heart of Union Square” that will run until the new year.

The two blocks “will be open for winter merriment with a nightly light art show projected on the Macy’s Men’s Building featuring Jack Frost’s adventures as he spreads festive icicles throughout San Francisco,” states the Union Square Business Improvement District on its website. “Expect caroling, demos and other wintery surprises.”

The pedestrianization project should boost the bottom line for Union Square merchants during the big holiday shopping season. When Stockton was closed to cars in 2011, and remained open to buses, taxis, and people walking and biking, they said they saw a jump in business. However, ever since construction ramped up with cranes, and pedestrians have been corralled into a narrow passage, some merchants have complained that they’ve lost business.

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Safe Streets Advocates: “Enough is Enough” — Time to End Traffic Violence

Miles Epstein stands in the crosswalk where Pricila Moreto was killed outside City Hall. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The recent spate of drivers killing or maiming pedestrians has both City Hall leaders and SF agencies running out of excuses for their snail’s-pace implementation of measures that would make city streets safer.

At a rally on Friday, a coalition of safe streets advocates chanted, “Enough is enough.” The 28 people killed in crashes on city streets this year, 18 of them pedestrians, puts SF on pace to surpass last year’s number of fatalities.

At the event, 28 pairs of white shoes were placed on City Hall’s steps to represent this year’s deaths.

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed out that, with about three people hit by cars in SF every day, the shoes represent only a tiny fraction of injury victims whose lives are often ruined. “There are more than 100 times this many people injured,” she said. “People with broken limbs, with irreversible trauma and damage to their bodies.”

“For every person involved in gun violence in San Francisco, there are five people who are hit by cars,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We don’t call this violence for some reason, but cars are also weapons. They take people’s lives, they take people’s limbs.”

Those killed or seriously injured by drivers on SF’s streets are disproportionately likely to be minorities, seniors, and people with disabilities. Over half of those killed this year were seniors — including 68-year-old Priscila “Precy” Moreto, who was killed on October 23 in the crosswalk right in front of the City Hall steps where the rally was held. One man at the event, Miles Epstein, held a sign reading, “Hey City Hall, there is blood in your crosswalk.”

Friday’s rally was not just a call to action, but also a memorial for victims like Moreto, a Filipino-American woman who was run over by a tour trolley driver who was apparently distracted while narrating to passengers. Rudy Asercion, executive director of the National Federation of Filipino American Association of SF, called on the Board of Supervisors to push for legal changes to ban tour drivers from narrating at the same time.

The event was far from the first pedestrian safety rally in SF. Pi Ra of the Senior and Disability Action Network, who has been active in pedestrian safety advocacy since 2000, said pedestrian safety advocates “get a sugar high” every few years when calling for action. Each time, city leaders provide lip service, but lasting change never seems to result.

The typical excuse, Ra said, is that there’s no funding for safer streets, despite the vast economic toll of traffic injuries — $15 million per year just for medical treatment, according to a 2011 report from the SF Department of Public Health. Traffic injuries account for one-fourth of all traumatic injuries in the city.

“We need action. We don’t need more town hall meetings. We don’t need any more plans,” said Ra. “What about the cost of our lives? What about the costs around our injuries? That’s costing far more than the little bit of money we’re asking for to make it safe for everybody.”

“We have the funding, and we have the political will,” said Shahum. “What’s missing? It’s the action.”

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