Woman Killed at City Hall’s Doorstep, Right After Ped Safety Ceremony

Photo: Heather Knight/Twitter

Priscila “Precy” Moreto, a 67-year-old employee in the City Controller’s Office, was run over and killed by a tour trolley driver within a wide, clearly-marked mid-block crosswalk on Polk Street, leading to the steps of City Hall, at about 11:30 a.m. yesterday.

About 20 minutes earlier and just across the Civic Center Plaza, at McAllister and Larkin Streets, city officials had just wrapped up a groundbreaking ceremony for pedestrian safety upgrades along two blocks of McAllister. In attendance were D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, and SF County Transportation Authority Director Tilly Chang.

None of those who attended the event, myself included, were apparently aware of the death until they heard reports about it later in the day.

“Yesterday morning, the pedestrian safety crisis hit home at City Hall’s doorstep,” Kim said in a statement today, noting that “the central crosswalk in front of City Hall yields heavy pedestrian traffic as constituents, workers and tourists alike travel to and from this historic building.” Supervisors themselves can often be found using the crosswalk.

Moreto was run over by the driver of a tour vehicle designed to look like a cable car on rubber tires, operated by Classic Cable Car Charters, which issued a statement saying “our thoughts and prayers are with the pedestrian and her family.”

Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement saying that “Precy was a dedicated employee who served our city and residents with great distinction.”

“This incident is tragic, and also reminds us that we all have a shared responsibility to protect and care for one another on our busy streets,” Lee said. “This incident will be thoroughly investigated.”

SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali told CBS that police are considering whether to recommend that District Attorney George Gascón file criminal charges against the driver. “Probably there was some level of distraction from what was taking place in the roadway in front of the vehicle,” Ali told CBS. “Our challenge is to determine to what extent the distraction was in play.”

“If you hit a person in a crosswalk, you’re at fault, bottom line,” said Schneider of Walk SF, pointing out that Moreto was the third person killed by a professional driver out of 14 pedestrian deaths this year. “If you’re operating a huge tour bus, and you’re not looking out for other people in a crosswalk you’re approaching, then there’s a huge problem.”

The crosswalk has no traffic signal, leaving no doubt that Moreto had the right-of-way. The SFMTA does have plans to install a signal there next summer.

But Kim and Schneider said the block in front of City Hall between McAllister and Grove, called Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, needs a road diet. Polk, from Golden Gate Avenue to Grove Street, has two southbound traffic lanes and one northbound traffic lane, with bike lanes in both directions. Plans to upgrade the bike lanes on Polk would remove the second southbound traffic lane between Golden Gate and McAllister, and Polk south of Grove was recently revamped with a contra-flow protected bike lane. But the traffic lanes on Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place would remain untouched.

“We should absolutely take this opportunity to apply this smart design to the City Hall block of Polk Street,” said Kim. “It could save a life.”

Supervisor Jane Kim speaking at the groundbreaking yesterday, before the crash. Behind, from left: SFCTA Director Tilly Chang, Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, PSAC member Kevin Stull, and David Seward of UC Hastings. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The groundbreaking ceremony on McAllister celebrated the start of construction on streetscape improvements and bulb-outs on the north side of McAllister, between Leavenworth and Larkin Streets. The University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, which is located at McAllister and Hyde, provided $660,000 of the $2,505,800 project cost, according to the SFCTA.

“I’ve seen so many times when people, especially elderly and disabled people, try and cross wide streets — and there’s so much traffic going through. And that’s why there are so many people getting hit,” Kevin Stull, a Tenderloin resident who represents District 6 on the SF Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee, said at the event.

Schneider noted that Polk is one of the city’s identified “high-injury corridors,” which are heavily concentrated in the Tenderloin, Civic Center, and SoMa areas. After the groundbreaking, Schneider and the SFMTA led a “Vision Zero” walking tour in those areas, as part of the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Designing Cities Conference, discussing the SFMTA’s efforts to make the most dangerous streets safer.

“The way it’s designed now” on Polk in front of City Hall, Schneider said, “it’s not a place that says, ‘come convene and congregate.’ It’s a dangerous street.”

  • murphstahoe

    Yet strangely we have a right to bear arms but no right to a motor vehicle

  • p_chazz

    If bike and ped activists want to be taken seriously by the general public, they should stop with the shrill anti-car rhetoric. They need to work on making a carfree lifestyle a rational choice, not attack people for the choices they have already made.

  • murphstahoe

    Saying “we should revoke the license of anyone who proves they are a bad driver by being at fault in a pedestrian fatality” is not shrill anti-car rhetoric.

  • SF Guest

    Tell this to all the car dealers.

  • p_chazz

    But comparing cars to weapons is.

  • jd_x

    Right, and their choice to travel dangerously just killed someone (again). Would you say that pedestrian had somebody else’s way of live shoved down their throat? Of course, this isn’t to say that people riding tour buses are directly responsible for this death, but we as a society encourage this kind of transit even though it has enormous costs to society. Sure, there are benefits, but there are enormous costs that are completely ignored. Nobody is saying that some people have to take motor transit, or even that some people might just want to even thought they don’t have to, but we need to properly account for the risks they impose (or, to use your language, “shove down other’s throats”) on everyone else.

  • Flubert

    Do any district attorneys in the US prosecute cases like this? There is a DA for each county so there must be maybe a thousand of them. I’m not sure Gascon is much different from the others.

    DA’s usually love to get convictions so if they don’t pursue a particular crime, I’d assume it is because they do not believe that a jury would convict in a case like this.

    There’s an AllState motor insurance ad on TV right now, promoting their “Accident Forgiveness” feature – your insurance rates won’t go up on your first accident.

    The tagline: “Everybody has an off day.” That is the prevailing mindset of the average juror.

  • p_chazz

    Let’s say Pricilia was crossing McAllister and a 5 Fulton killed her instead of a tour bus, would that have been OK? Because Muni buses kill people too: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Muni-bus-hits-kills-pedestrian-in-crosswalk-2334714.php
    There is risk in everything we do. Thousands of people die each year by drowning. According to the CDC, drowning “is a leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, and the highest rates are among children.” Do we empty swimming pools and fence off beaches? No. we give swimming lessons and teach water safety. In a similar way, we need to make roads safer for all users.

  • SF Guest

    WOW! Are you saying what I think you’re saying? ” I believe I’d feel like an [censored] riding on that bus instead of renting or owning a bike”

    Since when should any bus rider feel shame for riding a bus? I had no idea bike riding is such an elite status.

  • jd_x

    There are risks, so you create policy that minimizes them. In terms of motorized transit, that means making it 1) very expensive to take motorized transit, especially the most dangerous kinds (private cars) or the least useful (tourist buses or party buses), and 2) severe punishment when one “realizes” that risk and actually hurts someone due to negligence (or, of course, intent). By doing those things, then yes, I would agree that we’ve reached a point where we say that the risks are worth it, i.e. the benefits outweigh the costs.

    But this is patently not the case with pedestrian (and bicycle) safety here right now. It’s a well-known fact that you can drive a motor vehicle and be careless and just say “I didn’t see the person” and, unless you were drunk and/or fled, you will be giving nothing but a slap on the wrist. That is the issue at hand. Sure, if tourists want to ride in a tour bus that puts pedestrians at risk, then fine, but the costs need to be high to discourage this (and amazingly, you would be surprised at how many people would suddenly find they don’t really need to take that trip anyway). And certainly when the driver effs up and kills somebody, he needs to pay dearly.

  • murphstahoe

    For example by lowering speed limits. But that would be anti-car!

  • murphstahoe

    You had me until ” I had no idea bike riding is such an elite status.”

  • SF Guest

    There’s still something to be said that we agree there is no shame in riding a bus.

  • So everyone’s clear, this block hasn’t been re-configured except for the angle of the car parking on the plaza side of the street, and some green paint on the bike lanes.

  • Guffie

    if you’re easily distracted by blinking lights, you shouldn’t be driving.

  • rockanne

    Depends on your definition of “recent” or the loose usage. Being a lifetime resident of SF those stupid blinky lights are relatively new. They go off when no one is trying to cross. Instead of looking out for pedestrians drivers look out for automated signals. Not wise. Drivers get dumbed down more and more.

  • Benjamin Pease

    These are no ordinary blinking lights. They’re more like strobe lights. You too might find them strangely attractive. Plus are right in the exact same field of vision where one ought to be looking for pedestrians, and they leave an after-image on one’s eyeballs. Which at dusk makes it even harder to see the pedestrians until one’s hood hides the darned lights (going slowly, of course). There’s a reason they are not widely adopted.

  • Dark Soul

    Whats next you ask me for a citation?
    No need lash out

    I just simply said,
    Polk street was recently upgraded to improve safety specifically for bike riders

  • p_chazz

    Lowering speed limits would be a prudent thing to do.

  • Andy Chow

    Private buses (whether they’re intercity, charter, party, tour, Google, shuttle, etc) are pretty effective in what they do: taking cars off the road. That’s why private companies run them (as supposed to public transit which used to be run by private companies subsidy-free in most cities until 60s-70s) and continue to invest in them. People and companies are willing to pay substantially more to ride/operate these buses than Muni and these providers offer different types of service in different types of vehicles that are far more responsive to market demand than Muni or any other public transit provider.

    With the profit motive, companies aren’t going to operate unproductive services and they are not responsive to political demands for under-performing yet still-lifeline-to-some service. When people decide to hire a party bus, they’re making the right choice to be responsible, making the roads safer and reducing parking demands. Tour buses take tourist traffic off the road, reducing parking demand in tourist sites and making the roads safer as more tourists who aren’t familiar with SF streets are not driving.

    One of the reasons why Google and other companies run their own buses because they can get it started very quickly and can be very responsive to changing demands. Transit operators have a very politicized processes regarding service change and improvements. Just see how slow the TEP gets implemented (with the exception of cutting routes due to budget cuts which can happen much faster).

    Muni experimented tourist oriented service with the Culture Bus and we know how bad it turned out. It took precious resource away from regular transit and unnecessarily competed with private companies that offer better service without public subsidy.

    Private buses are no more dangerous on the road than Muni, and perhaps far more safer than if their customers are driving instead. Muni also involved in crashes that resulted in deaths of pedestrians and cyclists. From the regulatory standpoint, private bus drivers and Muni drivers are essentially the same, with the same hours of service requirement, same drug-alcohol testing requirement, same physical exam requirement, same penalty for traffic violation while driving a commercial vehicle on-duty, etc.

  • Gina101

    “The SFMTA does have plans to install a signal there next summer.” Doesn’t matter and won’t stop pedestrian deaths because some people just don’t know how to freakin’ drive. Pisses me off.

  • murphstahoe

    Now we’re getting somewhere. Understand though that this only works with either draconian enforcement or streetscape changes that result in actual lower speeds – otherwise the speed limit signs are just decorations to be ignored.

  • murphstahoe

    I consider it a source of pride to be using a bus – or bike, or walk – instead of a private car, whenever possible.

  • SF Guest

    I respect all modes of transit, but it’s disturbing to hear those who choose to ride a bus should feel shame for not renting or owning a bike instead.

    It basically telegraphs a politically incorrect biased message that riding a bus, riding a bike and walking are not equal and that riding a bus is inferior to those who can ride a bike.

  • murphstahoe

    I think your latching on to something that isn’t there.

  • I just assumed the ‘traffic signal’ they’d be installing was a blinky crosswalk signal–not a pedestrian wait for permission. I can’t see the city hall leaders intentionally giving themselves a wait.

  • rockanne

    Exactly, this is a more massive problem than the band-aids offered up can fix. It should be a lot harder to get a licence and keep one. That in this first place is a state problem that the city can’t do much about. It is a privilege to drive not a right. Stronger repercussions for hitting pedestrians should be enacted and enforced. That will eliminate a lot of sh*$#y drivers and be the appropriate response for the dignity of the human person hurt or killed.

  • street_equity

    I’m not sure that the car manufacturers agree with you.

    Are you sure these aren’t weapons?

    Charger
    Crossfire
    Commander
    Viper
    Armada

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