Supes Call for Aggressive Enforcement Against Dangerous Driving

In an emotionally-charged discussion, the dangers of walking on San Francisco’s streets took center stage at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the first since an alarming number of San Franciscans were injured and killed by drivers over the holiday season.

Giampaolo Boschetti’s pickup truck at the scene where he ran over and killed Zhen Guang Ng in Crocker-Amazon on New Year’s Eve. Photo: ## 7##

Every supervisor except Katy Tang, Mark Farrell, and Malia Cohen spoke to express condolences to the families of the victims and call for an aggressive increase in police enforcement and physical improvements to make city streets safer.

Mayor Ed Lee also said that he’ll be making an announcement “regarding pedestrian safety” soon, according to Bay City News. “We can’t just sit back and let this happen,” Lee told BCN.

“Vehicles are weapons. Vehicles do kill people, intentional or not,” said Supervisor London Breed. “It is important that we make sure that the enforcement to obey the law, which is to protect us all, is out there.”

After 2013 ended with 20 pedestrians having lost their lives — a six year high — the violence has continued this week, most recently with the year’s first pedestrian fatality yesterday evening on Van Ness and Grove Streets. Police say the 38-year-old man was killed when running across Van Ness, outside of a crosswalk, chasing after a man whom he was apparently involved in an altercation with, according to media reports. An SFPD spokesperson said that “there was apparently no negligence on the part of the driver.”

But in many of the other recent pedestrian crashes, the fault appeared to lie with the driver. Of the six pedestrians killed in December, some were elderly, and one was a six-year-old girl, Sophia Liu. Supervisors drew particular attention to her death, as well as that of 84-year-old Isabel Huie, a well-known Chinatown community activist who was killed by an elderly driver who apparently lost control of her car.

“The past couple weeks have been an enormous wake up call for our city. We can do better,” said Supervisor David Chiu.

Supervisor Norman Yee, a Chinatown native who has been hit by a driver, and whose grandfather was killed by a driver, said he knew Huie. Yee appeared overwhelmed with emotion, making extensive pauses during his comments.

“A lot of times, when people talk about education, they talk about pedestrian education, as if pedestrians, on purpose, will walk out into the street to get run over or something,” said Yee. “I think we need to spend more time on figuring out what’s the best method for us to do driver education and take it more seriously.”

Next Thursday, January 16, a supervisors committee will hold a joint hearing with the Police Commission to discuss SFPD’s treatment of pedestrians and bicycle riders involved in crashes. The SFPD has continued to blame the victim, though the department did arrest the two drivers who killed six-year-old Liu and 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng on New Year’s Eve.

Ng was killed at Rolph and Naples 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. “At 86, you would expect you’d be able to live at that age until natural causes take your life away, not a car,” said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, whose district includes the site of the crash.

To reduce traffic violence, supervisors said they need to seek ways to fully fund the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy, to increase the SFPD’s understaffed traffic enforcement division, and ensure the department is using data to enforce effectively. The department has said it’s committed to its “Focus on the Five” program, an effort to target the five most common violations cited in pedestrian injury crashes. All of them are driver violations.

“I’ve never been in a place with less traffic enforcement than in this city,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who added that work still needs to be done to streamline the implementation of physical safety measures on the streets. Supervisors could also do more to champion safety projects when they face opposition, he said.

Supervisors Jane Kim and Avalos pointed to New York City’s “Vision Zero,” which calls for an end to pedestrian fatalities by 2024. “We have to have investments in enforcement and driver education,” said Avalos. “And I fully support… that we have a zero-tolerance policy, as they have established in New York City, so that we can actually look forward to a year where we have zero fatalities from cars hitting pedestrians. So much has to be done, and as a city, we truly do have to put our resources to improve our streets for the most vulnerable people who are on them.”

“This is not just an issue of policy,” said Kim. “This is an issue of life and death and critical injuries here in the city that are absolutely preventable. There are so many ways to go in this city, and this is the one that’s 100 percent avoidable, and often made by reckless driving.”

  • Sprague

    It’s great to see this issue being pursued by the Board of Supervisors. The speed and inattentiveness with which too many motorists navigate San Francisco’s streets is dangerous and it is in no one’s interest when such unsafe driving isn’t actively discouraged by law enforcement (ie. with “speed traps” and other measures). Traffic deaths are preventable.

  • Upright Biker

    Could this be San Francisco’s “Stop der Kindermord” moment?

  • Casey Bowman

    On Sunday I was on my bike at 5th and Howard when a car driver started honking at me for being in his way at the intersection at a stop light. I was ahead of him at the intersection in the right lane, which is where the bike lane feeds into. Bikes have a right to be in a lane. I told him that politely, in those exact words, to the point. He threw an f-bomb at me in response. When I turned onto 5th going towards Market, he raced around my bike and stopped in front of it. He then got out of his car and threatened to assault me by his stance and obviously aggressive movement and body language. I avoided this by biking a couple of lanes to the left. He said, “You are a smart man.” I continued to bike in the right lane showing him I had a right to bike there and would not be intimidated, even knowing he was coming up behind me in his car. At Market St I stopped at the light beside his car with many people around. I told him it was against the law to harass a bicyclist. At that point he lied, saying he didn’t harass me. Afterwards I realized he must have been scared of the crowd there listening to our conversation. He could do nothing more then but insult me as a school kid might. Afterwards I felt shaken. He was probably half my age.

    Once a month, in my experience, there is such a malevolent driver. In one case near Valencia on 23rd a witness had a license plate number, yet the police said there was nothing to be done; it must be reported on the spot, which is not always feasible when one is busy and has to be some place. I commute every day by bike and have discussed the idea of publishing GoPro videos of the truly egregious drivers, handling this issue in a crowd-driven, social-networking way to identify dangerous drivers who show a pattern to many witnesses, particularly when they explicitly threaten bike riders. Merely by many people being aware of their behavior there would be some dissuasion, one might hope. I agree with one officer at the Mission police station who said that such observation and recording should not be for the normal everyday snafus. This should be reserved for wildly egregious behavior.

  • IHeartPandas

    I’ve been thinking about getting a GoPro too. I don’t come across overly aggressive drivers very often, but when I do — I want to be able to do something about it, and not just feel shaken or scared.

  • Chris

    Start with the cab drivers.

  • djconnel

    That’s exactly on target. Slow the cars down. In the end, slow & smooth is faster than fast & erratic, anyway.

  • Strangerthanfiction

    Bischetti the driver had charges reduced to misdemeanor so much for tough talking