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Posts from the "Pedestrians" Category

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A 2014 Resolution for Greg Suhr and SFPD: Stop Blaming Pedestrian Victims

Despite the glimmer of hope brought by the arrest of two reckless drivers who killed pedestrians, the SFPD is still blaming people walking on the streets for getting hit by motorists.

Greg Suhr. Photo: SFPD

According to recent tweets and press statements from SF police, the reason San Franciscans are getting maimed and killed on the streets at an alarming rate has nothing to do with the people driving multi-ton motor vehicles into them. No, it’s because people aren’t walking in fear of drivers.

After a year in which 20 pedestrians were killed — a six-year high — the SFPD could remind drivers that they have a responsibility to keep other people safe on the streets by exercising caution. After all, motorists are piloting machines that can easily turn into weapons, and they hit nearly 1,000 people in 2012. The department’s data shows [PDF] that the five most common causes cited for those crashes are motorist violations, the top one being a failure to yield to pedestrians’ right-of-way in a crosswalk, accounting for 41 percent of all crashes.

Yet this tweet sent out today by the SFPD might as well have been typed out behind the wheel:

This kind of message is consistent with what the public has heard from SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, who, at every opportunity to issue a statement on street safety, has pointed the finger at people walking with cell phones. It’s as if the people who get slammed by drivers every day in the city are criminals.

This has to stop.

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SFPD Arrests Two Drivers After Holiday Spate of Pedestrian Deaths

Uber driver Syed Muzzafar’s SUV at Polk and Ellis Streets, where he ran over a family of three, killing Sophia Liu, 6. Muzzafar was later arrested. Photo: KTVU

In what could be a departure from the SF Police Department’s usual failure to penalize reckless driving, officers have arrested two of the five motorists who have killed people on San Francisco streets since December 20.

In the last hours of 2013, the year’s pedestrian death toll increased to 20. Both of the crashes in which the drivers were arrested took place on New Year’s Eve, and appear to be the fault of motorists who failed to yield to people in a crosswalk. Last year, none of the other sober drivers who killed pedestrians without fleeing the scene are known to have been charged.

Syed Muzzafar (left) and Giampaolo Boschetti (right) were both arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve. Photos: SFPD

In one incident, at about 3:30 p.m., 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng was run down in a crosswalk at Naples and Rolph Streets in Crocker-Amazon by 69-year-old Giampaolo Boschetti, who was booked on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to stop at a stop sign, according to police.

In a later crash at 8 p.m. in the Tenderloin, an Uber ride-share driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, ran over a mother and her two children in a crosswalk as he turned right at Polk and Ellis Streets, according to reports. All three were hospitalized, and six-year-old Sofia Liu died from her injuries. The SFPD said Muzzafar was arrested on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Before the arrests were announced, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali told the SF Examiner that he mainly attributed the recent rise in pedestrian deaths — a six-year high — to the increased walking and driving that comes with job growth. He also appeared, however, to take a more serious tone towards “grossly negligent” drivers than the department has conveyed in the past.

“We’re bringing more and more people into our city and with that is a challenge of managing and getting better behavior on the part of our drivers and in some cases on the part of pedestrians,” Ali told the Examiner. “When you behave in such a grossly negligent way, you’re going to find yourself unfortunately going to jail when you take someone’s life on the roadway.”

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With WalkFirst, SF Takes a Data-Driven Approach to Pedestrian Safety

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The city recently launched the WalkFirst program to lay a data-driven, participatory foundation for the effort to attain the main goal of its Pedestrian Strategy — cutting pedestrian injuries in half by 2021. In the coming months, staff from the SFMTA, the Planning Department, the Controller’s Office, and the Department of Public Health will field public input on dangerous streets and release new data illustrating the toll of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Pedestrians use an unmarked crosswalk on Mission Street near Fifth. Photo: Aaron Bialick

To start, the new WalkFirst website has easy-to-use, interactive tools showing where most pedestrian crashes occur, the factors that cause them, and the kit of street design tools to reduce them. An online survey also allows people to weigh in on how pedestrian safety funding should be prioritized.

“For the first time, San Francisco will be investing in projects that are data-driven and focused on the most dangerous streets for pedestrians,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. WalkFirst is “a step forward for using the data that we have to the make the biggest impact.”

The feedback from the website will inform a draft plan for safety improvements scheduled to come out in January, with adoption by the SFMTA Board expected in February. The plan will guide an expected $17 million in safety improvements over the next five years. “By combining rigorous technical analysis with significant community outreach, we will target our investments in the communities that need them the most,” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said in a statement.

The city’s goals include “upgrading” 70 miles of streets where injuries are most concentrated — 5 miles per year through 2021. Another aim is to extend pedestrian crossing times at 800 intersections — at least 160 annually. Schools and senior centers with high rates of pedestrian injuries will also be targeted for improvements, while the SFPD is expected to beef up its “Focus on the Five” effort to prioritize traffic enforcement efforts against the most dangerous violations at the most dangerous locations. (Not all SFPD captains appear to have gotten that memo.)

City agencies are also working on a report providing a fuller picture of the economic toll of pedestrian injuries, as well as the benefits of reducing them. As we reported in 2011, DPH and the University of California, SF estimated that the costs of medical treatment, emergency services, and other impacts of ped crashes add up to about $76 million annually. The WalkFirst report is expected to expand upon the economic ripple effects of traffic violence.

“Every life and injury is incredibly valuable, but from a decision-maker’s perspective, it’s also helpful to understand how much this is costing us to help make the case for the improvements that are needed,” said Schneider. “It costs way more to treat someone who’s been injured than it does to prevent the injuries in the first place.”

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Inner Sunset Organizers Take a Serious Look at Irving Street Public Plaza

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This concept for a plaza on Irving Street at 10th Avenue is intended as a “conversation starter” for the Irving Commons project. Image: Chris Duderstadt

The vision for a block-long pedestrian plaza on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset is taking the next step, with the launch of a community-based study. Dubbed “Irving Commons,” the plaza idea was warmly received by neighbors when it was presented two years ago at Inner Sunset Sundays, a street party organized four times per year on the block of Irving between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Chris Duderstadt, an organizer of the Irving Commons Project, at Inner Sunset Sundays last weekend. Photo: Inner Sunset Sundays via Facebook

The Irving Commons Project is being led by a group of local organizers, including Adam Greenfield, an organizer of Inner Sunset Sundays and president of the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors board. He emphasized that the study is not necessarily a campaign for the plaza, but simply an examination of its potential. “We started to realize that doing the occasional street event was so limited in what we could do, so the idea started coming out: What if this were a permanent gathering space?”

Taking cues from successful plazas in SF and other cities, organizers say the location appears to meet all the right qualifications. It’s right next to the bustling neighborhood hub of Ninth and Irving, where four transit lines, including the N-Judah — Muni’s busiest — either pass through or stop nearby. But the block itself has no transit lines or garage entrances. Meanwhile, it’s home to a variety of businesses and gets a lot of walking and biking traffic.

The vast majority of the block, however, is essentially a parking lot. Lincoln Way, one block over, serves as the main thruway for drivers.

“It’s definitely worth a study,” D5 Supervisor London Breed told Streetsblog at Inner Sunset Sundays last weekend. “I think it’s a great idea, and I love the fact that they’re coming together to talk about it, and they’re not trying force anything down anyone’s throat. They’re saying, we want to see what’s possible.”

The plaza study is intended to flesh out traffic impacts (with help from city planners, organizers hope) and the potential benefits to nearby businesses. It will also survey how people get to the street. Surveys done on similar commercial streets like Polk, Columbus, Geary in the Richmond, and Irving west of 19th Avenue have consistently found that the proportion of people arriving without cars is roughly around 80 percent.

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Artist Kurt Dalen, 30, Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver on Valencia Near Duboce

Kurt Dalen, a 30-year-old Mission District artist, was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Valencia Street south of Duboce Avenue at about 2:45 a.m. last Thursday.

Kurt Dalen. Screenshot from a 2009 video about his work on Vimeo.

The SF Chronicle, describing Dalen as “a painter whose work has been heavily influenced by the Mission’s street culture,” reported Friday:

He was struck near Clinton Park, an alleyway, by a dark, four-door sedan that fled the scene, police said.

He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where he later died of his injuries.

Investigators have been looking for leads, but the driver and his whereabouts remained unknown Friday, said Officer Gordon Shyy, a police spokesman. Police have not detailed exactly how Dalen was hit.

According to SFist, a friend of Dalen’s said he had “left a nearby bar and was trying to hail a cab when he was hit in the street.”

Dalen is the 14th pedestrian known to have been killed by a driver in San Francisco this year. Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider pointed out that Dalen is one of six people hit and severely injured or killed by a driver in the past two weeks.

“Unfortunately, the holidays will mark a time of mourning, rather than celebration, for too many families this year,” Schneider said. The city shouldn’t wait to build out the permanent safety infrastructure called for in the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy before taking action, she added. Walk SF is “calling on the city to step up efforts to protect people who walk by building more temporary projects on our most dangerous streets that prevent traffic crimes now.” Last month, the SFMTA installed the city’s first sidewalk extensions using paint and other temporary materials on Sixth Street.

Dalen went by the name ‘Vote’ in street art circles, according to SFist, and his moniker can be seen on memorials placed on Valencia. The Chronicle continues:

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Packed Meeting About Future of Oakland’s Latham Square Shut Down Early

Two design proposals for Latham Square — one with cars (left) and one without (right). Image: City of Oakland

After public pressure, the City of Oakland held a second community meeting Wednesday about the design of the Latham Square pilot plaza, where a lane of car traffic was reinstated prematurely at the behest of Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn. Despite a standing room-only crowd of attendees showing up to weigh in, the meeting was shut down 45 minutes early.

For city officials, the proposal to widen sidewalks but permanently reinstate two-way car traffic at Latham Square appears to be a done deal — though no pedestrian usage data was presented to the public after a six-week car-free pilot period.

“I don’t see us going back to the closure” of Telegraph, said Brooke Levin, interim director of the Oakland Public Works Agency. In fact, she added, it is likely the city will reopen the northbound traffic before construction begins on the final design next summer.

Before Wednesday’s public meeting, city staffers held an invitation-only meeting on November 15 with City Manager Deana Santana. Invitees included several business owners who oppose the car-free plaza, along with representatives of the Downtown Oakland Association (which supports the pedestrian plaza), Popuphood, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

But attendees who packed the public meeting, which was not announced on the city’s website until the day before, appeared evenly divided between supporters of the car-free plaza and those who want to bring back two-way car traffic. “We’re not going to satisfy everybody,” Levin told the crowd.

City planners’ recommended permanent design for the plaza includes restoration of two-way traffic on Telegraph with narrower auto lanes and an expansion of the existing sidewalk in the triangle between Broadway and Telegraph. Opinions and suggestions for the design were mixed among the 50-plus Oakland residents, merchants, property owners, and downtown workers at the meeting.

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SF’s First Painted Sidewalk Extensions Come to Sixth Street

Six new curb extensions were installed using temporary materials, as seen here and Sixth at Mission Streets. Photos: Aaron Bialick

A deadly stretch of Sixth Street received the city’s first painted sidewalk extensions last week, created using low-cost, temporary materials to help make pedestrians more visible. The SFMTA implemented the pilot project between Market and Harrison Streets — four blocks dense with residential hotels and shops — to help curb injuries while the agency develops plans for a road diet.

The six sidewalk bulb-outs replace car parking spaces, marked using a red and white gravel surface and plastic posts, with boulders and portable concrete planters set inside. The measures are expected to make pedestrians more visible to drivers as they enter crosswalks, and send the signal that the street isn’t just an extension of the freeway, but a gateway to a dense neighborhood street that drivers are expected to share with residents.

“We’re hoping that pilot programs like this can be a model for the city, knowing that [pedestrian safety] is an issue for every corridor,” said D6 Supervisor Jane Kim. “People are already, anecdotally, talking about some safety improvements from these very affordable pilot designs that we’re putting out just to see what we should be doing to make Sixth Street safer.”

Sixth is designed primarily to speed drivers between the Tenderloin and the 280 highway through the dense SoMa neighborhood. Between 2005 and 2010, 93 pedestrians were injured and five were killed by drivers on this stretch, according to data from the Department of Public Health.

“If we don’t make our streets safer, if we don’t have proper enforcement, if we aren’t designing our streets to be shared by multiple users, people actually die or lose important parts of their body,” said Kim, who noted that in District 6 alone, pedestrian injuries have racked up a cost of $13.5 million in the last five years in costs for medical treatment and emergency services.

Although many pedestrian injuries occur while drivers are making a turn, neighborhood residents also say pedestrians are often hit on multi-lane streets like Sixth when, as they make their way through a crosswalk, some drivers stop to yield the right-of-way, but others attempt to pass, apparently not expecting a person to be in their path.

“It is not a pretty picture when you see a senior citizen going up in the air and coming down,” said ”Mother” Elaine Jones, a senior tenant organizer who lives at a single resident occupancy hotel at Howard and Sixth. “You’ve got some people laughing. They’re not caring. Enough is enough.”

Sixth and Market Streets.

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Man in Wheelchair Killed by Freeway-Bound Driver at Market and Octavia

Image: NBC

A man in a wheelchair, reportedly in his 20s, was killed by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard around midnight last night. SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said the crash is still under investigation, but that driver appears to have been heading south on Octavia at the entrance of the Central Freeway, where witnesses said the victim was crossing against the light. The man is the 13th known pedestrian to be killed by a driver in SF this year.

In shots from NBC’s television broadcast, the victim’s motorized wheelchair can be seen sitting several dozen feet south of the intersection on the freeway ramp. SFPD investigators have not determined how fast the driver was going.

As media reports have noted, a new enforcement camera was activated Friday to cite drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway ramp, but it doesn’t appear the driver was making such a turn in this case.

“News of another pedestrian death on Market and Octavia is truly devastating, and reminds us of the dangers pedestrian face when freeways intermix with city streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that another pedestrian suffered “major injuries” after being hit by a driver last Thursday at a freeway onramp near Seventh and Harrison Streets in SoMa. “Not only are these intersections dangerous because of the high speeds of cars and trucks entering and exiting, they’re often dark, loud, uninviting, and segment our communities.”

Since the Central Freeway ramp opened at Market and Octavia in 2005, the intersection has seen a higher rate of traffic injuries than any other in SF, with 13 in 2011, according to the SFMTA’s 2009-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF]. Although livable streets advocates and city agencies pushed for a tear-down of the Central Freeway back to Bryan Street after it was damaged in an earthquake, it was rebuilt to touch down at Market and Octavia at the behest of Caltrans and car commuters living in the western neighborhoods.

Schneider pointed to recent calls from John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, for a “freeway-free San Francisco.” At a forum in September, Norquist asked why SF, which protested its planned freeways and prevented most them from being built – and is considering removing another section – doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised.

“Freeways merging with city streets create a terrifyingly dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and truly all roadway users,” said Schneider. “Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco to seriously consider what ‘freeway-free’ could mean for public health, safety, and livability in our wonderful city.”

[Update] SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new enforcement camera cannot capture video footage of crashes to be used as evidence in crash investigations, as it only takes still photos of drivers who make an illegal right turn.

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Noticed More “Continental” Crosswalks? They’re Now Standard on SF Streets

Irving Street and 10th Avenue on Halloween. Photo: Aaron Bialick

It’s not your imagination — crosswalks around San Francisco are being upgraded more rapidly to the “continental” striping style, also known as “ladder” or “zebra-striped” crosswalks, to make people more visible to drivers when they’re crossing the street.

The SFMTA has ditched its traditional crosswalk design comprised of two white lines along the length of a crosswalk, since studies from the Federal Highway Administration have shown continental stripes are much more effective at getting drivers to yield the right-of-way, said Ben Jose, spokesperson for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision.

“Until recently, San Francisco primarily implemented continental crosswalks at mid-block and school area crosswalks,” Jose wrote in an email. “The SFMTA’s current goal is to gradually enhance all crosswalk markings to the high-visibility continental marking pattern.”

The SFMTA adds the treatment whenever there’s an opportunity like a street re-paving, Jose said. Those are occurring more rapidly with the bond funds made available by Prop B. I’ve recently spotted the new crosswalks on streets from Irving in my neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, to Powell Street in Union Square, one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the country. (Finally!)

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider applauded the agency’s move to adopt zebra crosswalks on a wide scale. ”The ladder-style striping helps drivers distinguish the crosswalk from other roadway markings much sooner than the old fashioned double lines,” said Schneider. “This is one example of a quick, cheap, and smart way to prevent pedestrian injuries.”

As a reminder, 964 pedestrians were injured on SF streets last year. This year, 12 have been killed. In 2011, motorists’ failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk was the most-cited cause of pedestrian injury, comprising 40 percent of cases, according to the SFMTA’s 2010-2011 Collisions Report [PDF].

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Oakland Planning Director Cuts Off Latham Square Pilot, Lets Cars Back In

Photo: Laura McCamy

The crowning achievement for Oakland’s new planning and building director so far might be ensuring that cars are being driven through the Latham Square pilot plaza once again.

The Latham Square pilot was supposed to last for six months, but after just six weeks, the widely-lauded, one-block plaza at the foot of Telegraph Avenue is no longer car-free. “The pilot program of having the pedestrian-only area was cut short and one southbound lane was reopened to cars without any warning to pedestrians,” said Jonathan Bair, board president of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. The current configuration leaves some reclaimed pedestrian space in the middle of the street, but it is no longer connected to the sidewalk. Now the City Council will consider whether to keep it that way.

Rachel Flynn became Oakland's planning and building director in March. Photo: SF Business Times

Oakland Planning and Building Director Rachel Flynn told Streetsblog the car-free pilot had been given enough time, and that “there’s only so many people that are going to come into Oakland at this time.”

“If all you’re doing is blocking off the vehicles but not increasing the bikes and pedestrians, are you achieving your goal?” said Flynn. When asked for data on Latham Square’s use, she said, “We don’t know how to measure pedestrian and bicycle activity.”

“It’s not like we’ve seen hundreds of new bikes there, while we’ve seen hundreds of vehicles not going to this area.”

Flynn came to Oakland in March, having previously worked at a planning firm based in Abu Dhabi, following a stint as planning director of Richmond, Virginia, in 2011.

Oakland Planning staff will present a proposal to the City Council later this month for a permanent plaza design that includes two-way car traffic on Telegraph. The plan, which has not been released to the public yet, would expand the current sidewalk space from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet, but leave Latham Square bisected by lanes of motor traffic.

When it was proposed, the pilot plaza project was touted as an effort to emulate the success of on-street plaza projects implemented in New York City and San Francisco.

“The purpose of the plaza is to establish safer traffic patterns,” said Sarah Filley of Popuphood, which curates vending spots on Latham Square. “By opening up both of the traffic lanes, you’re not prototyping anything. You’ve just added a nicer median.”

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