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Posts from the "Traffic Enforcement" Category

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Legal System Fails Again: No Charges for Trucker Who Killed Amelie

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: amelielemoullac.com

Note: Amelie Le Moullac’s mother, Jessie Jewitt, and other Bay Area musicians will perform at a benefit concert on Friday in Palo Alto at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will go to Amélie’s Angels, “a fund dedicated to bringing the gifts of education, food, clothing, toys, and most importantly love and laughter, to the children of Haiti.”

The truck driver who hit and killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike at Folsom and Sixth Streets last August will face no charges from District Attorney George Gascón, despite surveillance video showing the driver at fault in the incident.

Gilberto Alcantar, the truck driver, is shown making an unsafe right turn in the bike lane in the video found by an SF Bicycle Coalition staffer. SFPD investigators initially claimed they could find no such video, and blamed Le Moullac for her own death. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr later apologized for the botched investigation, as well as the behavior of the sergeant who purposefully blocked a bike lane at a rally for safer streets in her honor. Suhr declared that the video evidence showed the fault was mainly with the driver, but DA Gascón says prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.

The news was broken yesterday by KQED’s Bryan Goebel, founding editor of Streetsblog SF:

After watching the video, investigators concluded Alcantar was to blame for making an unsafe turn into the bike lane, killing the young public relations professional. Despite that key piece of evidence, prosecutors ultimately felt it wasn’t enough to convince a jury.

“Unfortunately, with the evidence presented, we are unable to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

Micah Liberty, an attorney for the Le Moullac family, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alcantar and Milipitas-based distributor Daylight Foods. She said the family was disappointed and heartbroken that charges aren’t being filed, and that Alcantar wasn’t issued a ticket.

“After reviewing the evidence that we have, looking at the video of the incident, it’s really hard for this grieving family to understand how a driver can do what he did without receiving even a slap on the wrist for a minor violation of the vehicle code,” Liberty said.

“There is no issue about what happened. The video is clear, from what I understand — he made an unlawful turn across the bike lane,” said Shaana Rahman, an attorney who represents pedestrian and bicyclist victims in civil court. “It’s not all the time that you get such a clear piece of evidence in cases, either civil or criminal. There aren’t videos for every bike accident that happens — and here we have one.”

As frustrating as the lack of charges in this case may be, it’s par for the course when it comes to holding drivers accountable for killing people biking and walking. As the Center for Investigative Reporting found last year, 60 percent of the 238 drivers who killed pedestrians in the Bay Area between 2007 and 2011 were found to be at fault or suspected of a crime but faced no criminal charges, and those who did usually only faced a slap on the wrist. Drivers tend not to be charged unless they were drunk or fled the scene.

Even drunk drivers can get off easy. Kieran Brewer, who was intoxicated when he ran over 17-year-old Hanren Chan in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard, was sentenced to just six months in jail last month.

DA Gascón says he’s increasing efforts to prosecute traffic violence, and plans to hire a dedicated vehicular manslaughter unit of prosecutors to specialize in such cases, and it’s expected to be funded in the city budget this year. But his office claims that in Le Moullac’s case, there isn’t evidence to justify criminal negligence on the driver’s part — even with the video.

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SFPD Tickets to Peds, Cyclists, Grow 7X Faster Than “Focus on the Five”

On Bike to Work Day yesterday, SFPD conducted yet another sting on bike commuters on the Wiggle. Meanwhile, another pedestrian was hit by a driver at Sunset and Yorba. Photo: Matt Matteson/Twitter

The SFPD may be working towards its “Focus on the Five” goals — focusing traffic enforcement on the five most dangerous violations, all by drivers — but meanwhile, it’s really ratcheting up its ticket enforcement against those walking and bicycling.

This counterproductive use of limited enforcement resources was highlighted at a Police Commission hearing this week. There, Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition praised SFPD’s stated commitment to pursue Vision Zero, including new quarterly reports on its increased traffic enforcement efforts. But the new data revealed that, between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, tickets for pedestrian and bicyclist violations saw ”by far the greatest increase,” as SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed out, although they have nothing to do with “Focus on the Five.”

As if to highlight the mismatch between the SFPD’s enforcement priorities and the real dangers on the streets, officers conducted yet another sting on bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle yesterday, during Bike to Work Day – even though there has never been a known report of a collision caused by a bicyclist there. On the very same day, yet another pedestrian was struck by a driver within the crosswalk at Sunset Boulevard and Yorba Street. Three pedestrians have been struck there so far in 2014, including 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon, who was killed in February.

Granted, SFPD has targeted enforcement along dangerous streets like Sunset, charged the driver who killed Berenzon, and cited the driver in yesterday’s crash. And department officials report a substantial increase in traffic enforcement overall — 34,000 tickets were issued in the first quarter of this year, compared to 22,000 last year — and the efforts may already be bringing results.

Overall traffic collisions this quarter were down by 8 percent compared to last year, bicycle collisions down 16 percent, and pedestrian crashes down 3 to 4 percent, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr told Streetsblog yesterday. ”We’re not going to achieve [Vision Zero] this year, but we are committed to achieving that,” he said.

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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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Mapping San Francisco’s Most Speeding-Plagued Streets

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Urban cartographer Stephanie May used engineering and traffic surveys collected by the SFMTA between 2004 and 2010 to piece together this map of speeding. The darker the segment, the higher the average speed. Fatter segments represent streets with a higher incidence of speeding.

A new online map begins to show which San Francisco streets have the worst speeding problems, according to data from SFMTA engineering and traffic surveys. The map was created by Stephanie May, who works for the SF-based organization Urban Mapping and teaches cartography at SF State University and history at Stanford, according to her Twitter page.

Ideally, a map like this could show people where they should advocate for safety improvements, and where city agencies ought to focus enforcement and traffic calming efforts. This map is a start, but the available data has a lot of gaps, since speed surveys are typically done only in response to complaints from residents, May said. The data is also a bit dated, collected between 2004 and 2010. It would be interesting to see how road diets and other traffic calming measures implemented since then have changed the picture.

On Twitter, May said she thinks “the real message of the map is that @sfgov needs to monitor traffic speeds more systematically (and report).”

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SFPD Traffic Citations Increasing Towards “Focus on the Five” Goals

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The SF Police Department is issuing more traffic tickets, and a greater share of them are going toward the five most dangerous violations, according to early SFPD data on traffic citations issued so far this year.

This week, a driver was cited for hitting a child and his babysitter in a crosswalk at Fulton Street and 37th Ave. SFPD is issuing more of its citations to the top five causes of traffic injuries. Image: CBS 5

With a new, more efficient database, the SFPD began posting monthly citation data on its website starting in January [PDF] (monthly data on crash reports still isn’t available). The citation reports provide an easy way to track the department’s progress toward meeting the goals set in the “Focus on the Five” campaign, which prioritizes limited traffic enforcement resources for the five violations most commonly cited as the cause of crashes on the streets, all of which are driver violations.

So far, progress on “Focus on the Five” appears promising.

In January, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali announced a goal of having at least 50 percent of traffic citations going toward the top five violations: running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, turning violations, and speeding. Last year, 22 percent of citations were issued for those infractions. In January, the share increased to 33 percent, according to the new data posted from that month.

As the SF Examiner reported today, the SFPD is also dramatically increasing the number of tickets issued overall:

From January 2013 to January 2014, the Police Department reported 43 percent more citations citywide, and from January 2013 to preliminary numbers for last month there was a 54 percent increase, Police Chief Greg Suhr said.

“All the stations are up. Across the board, they are writing more tickets,” Suhr said. “Whereas we might have been exercising more discretion and some sort of counseling, now there’s less counseling and more citation issuing.”

Catching traffic violators has become highly emphasized at all 10 police stations, regardless of what other individual issues they face, said Cmdr. Mikail Ali, who works with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“In every unit, every officer has been given the directive that transit safety is a priority,” he said.

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Eyes on the Street: Third Street’s Abused Muni-Only Lane Gets Red Paint

Third Street approaching Bryant. Photo: Jessica Kuo

Update 6:09 p.m.: SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said “this is a low cost measure to remind and prevent auto drivers from using transit only lanes,” and that the agency will implement the treatments on these street segments this week:

a. 3rd Street between Townsend and Jessie streets
b. Geary/O’Farrell streets between Market and Gough streets – (Note: segments between Grant and Powell will not be painted due to ongoing Central Subway construction)
c. Market Street inbound between  5th and 12th streets and outbound between 8th Street and Van Ness Avenue.

The transit-only lane on Third Street, which tends to have an awful lot of cars in it, got some red paint this week to emphasize what the stenciled paint already says: “Bus Only.” The paint was added to a stretch approaching Bryant Street, where drivers are allowed to cross the bus lane to make a right turn, but not sit in it and block the 30, 45, and 8X lines.

The dashed treatment appears to denote a “merge zone,” similar to the green paint treatments added to bike lanes where drivers can cross, signaling to watch for people on bikes. It’s the first time the SFMTA has added such a treatment to a transit lane. Solid red paint has been used to highlight rail-only lanes on Church Street and the southern stretch of Third where the T-line runs.

We’ll see how far this goes to getting drivers to respect the transit lane. Certainly, it won’t happen without serious enforcement. The blockages are a real problem for Muni riders headed from SoMa to the Financial District and North Beach. Last July, Streetsblog reader Mike Sonn tweeted that he was waiting for his bus near this location when the bus passed him because drivers were blocking the path to the stop.

Drivers were still found blocking the lane. Photo: Jessica Kuo

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SFPD Park Station’s Most Dangerous Intersections: Not on the Wiggle

The SFPD Park District listed six problematic intersections in its most recent newsletter, and none of them are on the Wiggle.

New SFPD data indicates that the Park District’s most dangerous intersections have nothing to do with the Wiggle, where Captain Greg Corrales has devoted his station’s limited traffic enforcement staff to ticketing bike commuters who roll stop signs.

Park District’s “highest collision location involving bicyclists” has nothing to do with stop signs — it’s Fell and Masonic, where drivers notoriously run the red light during a bicycle/pedestrian crossing phase. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Under SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” campaign, captains have pledged to target the five most dangerous intersections in their districts. The latest Park Station newsletter [PDF] listed five intersections with high numbers of collisions attributed to certain traffic violations. The newsletter also lists the intersection with the “highest collisions involving bicyclists.” None of these locations are on the Wiggle, or even in the Lower Haight, the neighborhood that the bike route runs through.

When I asked Captain Corrales if he still plans to regularly post officers on the Wiggle to ticket bicycle riders who don’t fully stop at stop signs, he said in an email that “we will continue to be responsive to community concerns.”

The list confusingly names two different intersections as having the most crashes caused by red light running and speeding, and there is no time frame given. (Corrales said he would try to find out what period is covered by these stats.)

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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?