City’s Pedestrian Crash Toll Dwarfs Preventative Safety Costs

An unidentified woman was hit by a driver on Masonic Avenue yesterday in the city's latest known pedestrian crash. Photo: ## Smith, SF Weekly##

Two to three people are hit by cars every day on San Francisco’s dangerously motorized streets, and researchers are beginning to paint a clearer picture of the economic toll. The more than 800 pedestrian crashes a year are racking up a $76 million bill for injuries, reports the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), and advocates say it’s imperative the city invest in preventative measures.

“It has a huge impact on the economic stability of our residents,” said PSAC member Dahianna Lopez of the San Francisco Injury Center, who highlighted that pedestrian injuries in the city cost $15 million per year in medical treatment alone and comprise a quarter of all traumatic injuries. Professionals from the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the University of California, San Francisco presented their findings to city supervisors at two hearings on pedestrian safety this past week.

The statistics shed light on the staggering financial toll disproportionately born by the city’s youngest, oldest, poorest, and disabled residents, who suffer the most severe injuries with the greatest frequency. On average, the price of admitting an injured pedestrian to the hospital is nearly $80,000, said Lopez, and 76 percent of that is paid for with public funds. The DPH also estimates at least 20 percent of pedestrian crashes go unreported to the police.

Pedestrian crashes are reported to be the most highly concentrated in District 6, including the South of Market (SoMa) and Tenderloin neighborhoods, where around 240 people were hit last year, including four killed, according to Walk SF. Last Thursday, D6 Supervisor Jane Kim held a hearing that drew more than 100 attendees, many of whom attested to poor safety conditions in the district. Many seniors and low-income residents pleaded for safer streets.

“I know if I can walk by [a crossing] every day and not realize it’s a legal crosswalk, someone doing 45 or 50 in a car really won’t be able to see it and won’t stop for pedestrians,” said Sylvester Guard, Jr. of the Central City SRO Collaborative, who organized fellow Sixth Street residents at community meetings to determine what they felt the greatest pedestrian safety needs were.

A number of community-based organizations, including the South of Market Community Action Network and the Community Tenants Association, helped organize the turnout at the hearings. Crosswalks with poor visibility, inadequate crossing times from traffic signals, and a lack of police enforcement against drivers were among the top issues voiced by residents.

The highest instances of pedestrian fatalities are reported to center around freeway ramps that spill the highest volumes of motor traffic onto wide, one-way arterial roads in the city’s eastern neighborhoods. In SoMa, a growing residential population is walking in some of the city’s the harshest conditions.

“This is a walking city,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “But how do we call ourselves that when you’re four times more likely to die when you’re walking in this city than if you’re driving? More walking shouldn’t mean more dying.”

“It should be clear that pedestrian improvements are a smart investment and a just investment,” she said.

Physical safety improvements can be perceived as expensive, but they pale in comparison to the status quo, said SFMTA Deputy Director of Transportation Planning Tim Papandreou. The agency’s available toolkit for safety improvements ranges from striping visible crosswalks at $10,000 a piece to reconfiguring an entire block of “complete streets” for $1 million.

Image: SFMTA

However, with less than $1 million in revenue available each year for pedestrian improvement projects, SFMTA staff claims obtaining funding is the biggest hurdle.

“It’s literally about the funding,” said Bridget Smith of the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division, who explained that many projects like 15 mph school zone pilots are waiting on grants to do study and implementation.

Although pedestrian safety efforts have historically lacked traction because of bureaucratic dysfunction, the SFMTA has been seen as the lead agency. However, time-consuming analysis and funding procedures encumber many of the agency’s most important projects.

“Speed is so important in whether someone lives or dies when they’re hit by a car,” said Smith. “But the major capital improvements on [arterial roads] are just outside the budget of the funding we have available through sales tax dollars for traffic calming, generally.”

“But when the city family can get together in certain locations, like we’re doing on Cesar Chavez right now, where we have a major street reconstruction project, we have an opportunity to change streets in a dramatic way,” she said.

  • icarus12

    I drive through the Tenderloin and South of Market several times a month. The challenges to drivers and pedestrians are quite different in each neighborhood.

    In the Tenderloin, many pedestrians act erratically. It is very stressful as a driver to try to anticipate all the crazy situations — people staggering out into and through traffic oblivious to their surroundings, etc. But if one is a reasonably aware pedestrian, the Tenderloin is easy to walk.

    South of Market (beyond skidrow) presents the opposite situation. It’s easy to drive there but really hard to walk. Most pedestrians are almost over-disciplined and it’s hard to amble and enjoy one’s walk. Cars are still king there and speeding rightly unnerves pedestrians.

  • Winston

    Lowering the speed limits on most streets to 15MPH would drastically reduce pedestrian deaths and be fairly inexpensive to do. It would take a change in the state’s speed trap law to enable it, but this wouldn’t be impossible to do if it were restricted only to San Francisco. No, it isn’t complete streets everywhere, but should be considered.

  • Evil Car Driver

    I’m glad to see focus on the comparison of city-funded health care costs for trauma to the cost of providing simpler, less-expensive traffic calming. By focusing traffic calming measures in the most dangerous streets and intersections, we could save the city of SF A LOT of money.

  • MichaelSF

    We anticipate and expect “the city family” to continue to come together for the Masonic “Boulevard” proposal as well, another opportunity to change a street in a dramatic way to help prevent the pedestrian injury that occurred yesterday.

  • I’m a resident of San Francisco who has chosen to rely solely on public transportation. I walk to and from work every day and have been nearly struck DOZENS of times along Bush Street including one time where I was actually tossed by a vehicle who sped through a crosswalk in my attempt to not be crushed – only a small bruise and shaken confidence thankfully. My co-worker is still dealing with medical/legal issues from being struck on her bicycle by a MUNI bus two years ago! Urban drivers need to be alert at ALL times, just as us pedestrians. What bothers me most is I’ve lived and worked in the busiest metropolitan areas in the country (try crossing 7th Avenue on 34th Street multiple times a day in midtown Manhattan or getting around without a car in Boston proper) and have never even come close to being struck by a vehicle. I’ve lived in SF for two years now and have had more close calls than ever before! I’ve even been honked at multiple times by turning vehicles while in a crosswalk with a green light! Really, folks? For such a laid back region of the country, our urban drivers sure are in a hurry to get SOMEwhere…perhaps it’s the freeway to get out of the city.

  • This is so frustrating. I can tell you this weekend walking in the Mission, Castro, Hayes Valley, Tenderloin, and Nob Hill – I was nearly hit by a car in every single one of these neighborhoods. It’s simple. Drivers are either not paying attention or drivers are too aggressive to round the corner before the pedestrian enters the crosswalk. I cross when I am supposed to. I don’t see any enfrocement but enforcement alone is not going to solve this problem.

    We need to educate the public. Make them very aware through signs throughout the city, commercials on TV, radio and the internet. I am not sure many of these drivers who almost killed me are even aware of pedestrian/vehicle traffic laws.

    The city is wasting time and dragging its feet. Time to act now!

  • I must disagree with you my fellow Tenderloiner. Yes it is very true that pedestrians can be a challenge to drivers in the our neighborhood. I am both a driver and pedestrian. As a pedestrian I have come very close to death – where others have died – like at the intersection of Leavenworth & Geary. Drivers need to slow down and pay attention.

  • Fran Taylor

    Sweet irony that Bridget Smith is touting the Cesar Chavez project when she refused to even talk about that street during discussions of Bernal Heights traffic calming some years back — it was an “arterial,” not residential, and considered outside the purview of traffic calming, even though it was obviously the source of many of the problems being addresses Enough sour grapes on my part. Better late than never.

  • The problem is many SF streets especially in SOMA are 3 to 4 lane, one-way “superhighways” where cars are encouraged to drive fast. In the old days, when SOMA was mostly warehouses, this made sense because the city wanted cars to get to the Bay Bridge as quickly as possible. Today, when SOMA has been converted into a living neighborhood, it is extremely inappropriate. The only way to fix this is to “tame” the car by: (a) putting real separate bike lanes, (b) making these wide streets 2-way instead of 1-way and (c) putting cops at the intersections. I have lived in SF for 3 years now and I’m shocked at how many people run red lights, turn right from the left-most lane, ignore pedestrians and cyclists. Most of these people are very distracted (texting, looking at their iPhone) or in a hurry.

    As for pedestrians, SF seems to have an inordinate amount of totally distracted people walking around staring at iPhones. I really watch where I am going and when I cross a street I make eye contact with the driver who is approaching the crosswalk. This is the ONLY way to survive in SF.

  • Jamie Whitaker

    I think the America’s Cup “People Plan” totally overlooks the fact that when the crowds are ready to disperse following the boat show on the Bay, they will be driving as fast as they can to freeway ramps, primarily onboarding in South of Market. I think pedestrian advocates should be taking advantage of the City’s lust to host America’s Cup in order to get pedestrian crosswalks painted with zebra stripes at every intersection in SoMa/Mission Bay to make those streets look less like freeway ramps and more like roads to be shared with pedestrians. I also think there are many intersections that, while America’s Cup is before us, should get an exclusive cycle for pedestrians to cross without fears of a car coming through the intersection at an excessive speed to make a wide right or left turn into any one of 4-5 lanes on Brannan, Bryant, Harrison, Folsom, or Howard.

    If we don’t get these cheap pedestrian improvements done as part of America’s Cup, I think we should drop a bomb on the Transit Center District Plan that would upzone office buildings and supposedly bring in another 85,000 workers, many of whom will be driving in and out of the City.

    Also, why not implement the 15 MPH School and Senior Community speed limit zones now?

    Finally, if Mayor Ed Lee has no political ambitions, he should push forward the SFCTA’s Congestion Pricing Plan so that it can start encouraging weekday commuters to use BART, Caltrain, Ferry Boats, or otherwise think twice about driving alone into downtown San Francisco every weekday. The Plan is forecast to raise $60-$80 million per year – money that could help fund painting crosswalks, reprogramming traffic signals, improving bicycling infrastructure, and help out MUNI.

    Who else wants to hold a knife to the City’s throat in regards to America’s Cup and the Transit Center District Plan with me? When your concerns have been dismissed for years and years, you have grab ’em where it hurts the most – new revenue sources.

  • gneiss

    The National Safety council estimated that pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the United States cost an estimated $22.8 Billion in 2005. The US DOT estimates that each fatality resulting from a traffic collision is an estimated loss of $3.0 Million. And as this article points out, an estimated $76 million was spent on 800 pedetrian injuries. When you consider these costs, the amount we’d need to spend in order to bring real benefit to vulnerable road users pales in comparision to these numbers

    Think of it this way – a “road diet” treatment of 30 miles (at $100,000 per mile) of streets would pay for itself if only one more traffic fatality (that car, bicycle, or pedestrian) was prevented from that change.

  • poncho

    3 years for a traffic signal?!?!?!?

  • Toby

    It took 8 years for one on Guerrero and Duncan – providing the only traffic control for 5 blocks of a residential street that feeds I-280 south.

  • All the recent hysteria about pedestrian safety in SF is just that. According to the city’s annual accident reports—available on the MTA’s website—city streets are in fact getting safer, with fewer fatalities and injuries.

    And after New York City, SF is the most densely-populated city in the country. According to the MTA’s “San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet,” SF has a population of 818,163, but that swells to 945,480 during the day. And there are more than 461,000 motor vehicles registered in SF, which means we have 9,936 registered vehicles per square mile. There are more than 1,000 Muni vehicles in SF and 1,500 taxi cabs on our streets, and 35,000 vehicles drive into SF every weekday.

    According to another MTA study, “New York City’s Pedestrian Safety Study and San Francisco Data,” SF is somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as pedestrian safety goes. But San Francisco’s fatality rate (4.33) on its streets per 100,000 people isn’t radically higher than—wait for it—Copenhagen (3.92)!

    And SF has a very low number of “Pedestrian Injury Collisions Per Walk Trips to Work.” Only Anaheim is a safer ctiy in which to walk to work, but there are ten times as many “annual work walk trips” in SF than there are in Anaheim. People walk to work more in SF than in any other city except Los Angeles, which has ten times our population.

    The notion that somehow City Hall should make us perfectly safe on city streets is fanciful. I cross Masonic Avenue every day and never have any problem doing so, but of course I’m always very careful

  • Kevin

    A warning to everyone: please don’t feed the trolls

  • Kevin’s definition of a troll: someone who says something he doesn’t agree with.

  • Eugene

    Go tell this woman that SF streets are safe and that we don’t need traffic calming on Masonic, Rob:

  • taomom

    I think it’s cute how we like to run over pedestrians in San Francisco. It makes our town such a warm and cozy place to live. I’m surprised we don’t set up stands, sell tickets, and make “Run Down the Pedestrian” a spectator sport. We could even place bets–you know, “I’ll put $20 on the old lady in lane 3 getting creamed by the red Camaro.”

    Our prediction for killing our walkers is very likely a competitive advantage for us. Take Paris, example. While the drivers there seem as if they want to run you over, it’s all just a show. In San Francisco, we actually do the job! Paris kills 29% less people per capita than we do. What a bunch of wimps. Since we all know tourists love being knocked about like bowling pins, this clearly makes San Francisco the superior tourist destination. $76 million a year in injuries is a small price to pay for such an economic boon.

    But the fact is, it’s not just Paris–big cities all over the world are getting soft when it comes to pedestrians. Tokyo, London and New York have all dropped their fatality rates, and Berlin now has a per capita rate that’s 37% of ours! Just where are those people’s priorities, I’d like to know.

    Luckily, this is a simple problem to fix, if only their public officials would give it a little attention. Since the research clearly shows that pedestrian fatalities correlate with the speed of car travel, all these cities need to do is up the speed limit! Couldn’t be easier! (I told you it was simple.) At 40mph, you have almost a 90% chance of killing a pedestrian if you hit one. (How great is that?) Compare this to a mere 5% chance if your car is going 20mph–you might as well be playing pat-a-cake with them. So pedal to the metal, folks. That 20 mph difference means pedestrians are on their toes with healthy fear. And gosh, accidents are what paramedics are for! Without accidents you’re depriving people of jobs! What could be more productive than scraping human beings off pavement and reconstructing them in surgeries, I can’t imagine.

    So remember, this speed thing is important. Without it, pedestrians might get insolent and think public streets belong to them (especially the 30% who don’t even own a car.) More people might find walking pleasant, people might become healthier and happier, and before you know it, cars won’t be the dominant, alienating force in our cities that we’ve come to love and cherish. Repeat after me: getting places faster is always, always, always more important than human life.

  • Rob, a total of five people died on the streets of Copenhagen in 2009. It continues on a downward trend.

  • Anonymous

    WI stepping up and looking to get a vulnerable users law. I really hope this gets serious attention. The fight will be long and hard, but it is one worth fighting.

  • Hi,

    its great information guys about that, City’s Pedestrian crash toll dwarfs preventative safety costs.

    Economic Trend Forecaster


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