87-Year-Old Louis Van Velzen Killed by Driver on Deadly Sloat Blvd

Sloat and 43rd Avenue, where 87-year-old Louis Van Velzen, a retired SF Chronicle printer, was killed by a driver. Photo: Google Maps

Another life has been taken on Sloat Boulevard — the deadly, too-wide street slicing through SF’s southwestern Parkside and Sunset Districts past the San Francisco Zoo. Louis Van Velzen, an 87-year-old father, was killed by a driver while crossing Sloat at 43rd Avenue at 7:00 a.m. this morning, the SF Chronicle reported. Van Velzen was reportedly trying to catch a bus when he was hit:

Sloat Boulevard has two lanes in each direction, separated by a wide median. The intersection at 43rd has crosswalks but no signal. Police said it appeared Van Velzen was not in a crosswalk when he was hit by a westbound vehicle, and that the dim early-morning light may have been a factor.

That section of Sloat is a wide highway with four lanes, even though it sees less than half the car traffic of two-lane Valencia Street in the Mission. With that much open asphalt, drivers are tempted to speed and too often kill people who are merely attempting to cross the street.

In March of 2013, 17-year-old Hanren Chang was killed in a crosswalk on Sloat and Forest View Drive by drunk driver Kieran Brewer. She had just stepped off a Muni bus to walk home. Brewer was sentenced to just six months in jail.

Van Velzen was reportedly outside of a crosswalk when he was hit. It’s unclear exactly where he was, but crosswalks on that stretch of Sloat only exist on every other block.

Van Velzen’s daughter, Louisa, who didn’t want to give her last name, told the Chronicle “she frequently heard tires screeching from her home on Sloat Boulevard, where she lived with her father and mother. She wants to see a stop sign or traffic light installed at the intersection where her father was killed.”

Stop lights and signs don’t necessarily achieve the goal of slowing drivers and making streets safer. Broader street redesign, including roadways narrowed to a slower, more human scale as on streets like Valencia, have been proven to work.

SPUR’s proposed redesign of western Sloat. Image: SPUR Ocean Beach Master Plan

SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Plan recommends narrowing Sloat’s zoo-side western section to two thru-traffic lanes, widening bike lanes and sidewalks, and moving all car parking from the center median to the sidewalk curbs. Although SPUR has shelved a similar road diet plan for the Great Highway, the organization may still push for the Sloat redesign.

Van Venzen’s daughter told the Chronicle more about her father:

[Louisa] said her father was born in Holland and had moved to New Zealand and then San Francisco more than 50 years ago. He got a job as a printer for The Chronicle in 1959 and retired in 1992, records show.

More recently, Van Velzen spent his days gardening — and decorating his home for Halloween to get ready for trick-or-treaters.

“He was so kind. He was very active and he went to the gym three times a week,” Louisa said. “We’re all in shock right now.”

“The traffic on Sloat goes way too fast,” she said.

Van Velzen is the 14th pedestrian killed in SF this year, following 78-year-old Pei Fong Yim’s death at Stockton and Sacramento Streets in Chinatown nearly a month ago.

  • Joel

    Maybe there are too many driveways on the north side of Sloat, but why-oh-why isn’t SPUR proposing the south side have a parking protected bike lane (or a two way protected cycle track?)

  • Why did they make Sloat so wide in the first place? Was it supposed to go somewhere besides the zoo?

  • Bruce

    I’ve always wondered that. A mile or two east, Junipero Serra was originally planned to become the “Western Freeway” but I’m not aware of any plans for Sloat. Perhaps it was designed to whisk drivers to the planned freeway, much like Army’s widening?

  • p_chazz

    Sloat was laid out at the beginning of the Automobile Age, as part of a system of scenic drives including Great Highway, Portola and Skyline Blvd. at a time when going for Sunday drives was the thing. I believe it was around the time of the Pan Pacific International Exhibition in 1915.

  • murphstahoe

    It sucks. I would spend 20 minutes convincing my wife we should take the 48 to the L to go to the zoo. No problem there. But crossing Sloat to the zoo with a toddler was flat out scary.

  • shotwellian

    Sloat was originally called Ocean House Road and was the first road out to southwest SF, when the area had a race track and a scattering of roadhouses. Foundsf has some great photos (http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Lake_Merced_100_years_ago) one of which notes that what’s now Sloat was 60′ wide in 1872.

  • Easy

    Yup. We always make a trip to the beach on the way from the L to the zoo to avoid crossing Sloat. But it’s a pain to do that in both directions, and of course you should never have to do that.

  • Bacon

    seriously why narrow the road if cars are moved to the curb edge bikes will still be 3 feet or less from cars… why does someone have to die to design the street in a safe manner for ALL? this happens way too frequently with proposed redesign. seems like a monthly occurence with adding lights or modifying roads due to fatalities.

  • p_chazz

    Wow, I had no idea Sloat went back that far! I remember seeing it on a 1915 guide for PPIE visitors showing pleasant drives in San Francisco, so I figured Sloat was developed around that time, but it had already been in existence for 40-50 years. Thanks for the history lesson!

  • Joel

    A signal was recently installed at 47th Ave. Not sure if it’s working yet.

  • Liz Brisson

    Sloat used to have streetcars on it http://www.outsidelands.org/sunset_streetcars.php

  • 94110

    “The intersection at 43rd has crosswalks but no signal. Police said it appeared Van Velzen was not in a crosswalk when he was hit”. Isn’t it San Francisco law that if there isn’t a signalized intersection and both ends of a stretch of road, it’s legal to cross anywhere?

    I’m a little confused by how this works. Someone posted a diagram previously but it didn’t include info on whether smaller streets, or three way intersections count.

  • 94103er

    I think you’re thinking of CVC 21955 (that is, state law) clarifying when crossing is legal at minor intersections, like when an alley meets at a 3-way intersection.

    That law won’t apply to this section of Sloat because there are multiple uncontrolled crosswalks along that stretch. So crossing at any unsignalled intersection is legal, in other words. I guess the comment about the man not being in the crosswalk is meant to speak to the accidental nature of the collision. ….Not that I’m particularly swayed by such arguments really, for as we all have figured out by now, the design of Sloat encourages dangerous driving and people in general do not drive defensively enough around here.

  • Dark Soul

    Sometimes, have seen many people dash out crosswalks…what you think? (These elders need someone to help them cross to assure safety) Seeing alot of these happening….i am guessing Walkfirst or VisionZero once again will ask SFMTA to place Traffic Lights there…because there was accident with ped..

    SLOAT BLVD meant to be a be Travel Time Saver and no on protected lanes to assure safety.

  • Hopefully the police and the reporter understand all the places that are legally crosswalks that aren’t marked with paint before they start talking about someone being ‘in a crosswalk’.

  • murphstahoe

    Good point! Let’s take the money from the Doyle Drive reconstruction and hire full time crossing guards for Sloat!

  • jrg

    I don’t understand how an 87-year-old man could be “not in a crosswalk” crossing at Sloat and 43rd Avenue. Did he jump over one of the fences that run continuously for two blocks either direction? Or did he step two feet beyond the zebra stripes? And an 87-year-old man “dashed out”???

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