City-Approved Flyers Shame Pedestrians on Mission Sidewalks

"#pedshaming #carfirstcity," writes Twitter user BluTarp.
“#pedshaming #carfirstcity,” writes Twitter user BluTarp.

Flyers warning people not to walk across the street while looking at their phones, or against traffic signals, were recently posted on corners along Mission Street in the Mission District.

The flyers, which sport the official “Vision Zero SF” logo, feature messages like, “Attention pedestrian: Look up from your phone. Your text can wait.” Another reads (in Spanish), “Careful. Stop. Crossing without sufficient time can kill you.”

The flyers taped to the ground on Mission were produced by the Mission Economic Development Agency using a $9,000 “mini grant” from the Department of Public Health, which signed off on them. The flyers came in four versions, which MEDA staff said were also posted on mediums like bulletin boards. One version told drivers to respect crosswalks, and one told people of all modes to obey traffic signals.

The pedestrian-shaming message differs from the SFMTA’s “Safe Streets SF” ad campaign, which has primarily targeted dangerous driving, which police data shows causes the plurality of pedestrian injuries citywide.

On Mission Street south of 20th Street, where the flyers were spotted, it’s unusually common for pedestrians to be struck while crossing against the signal, according to a map that summarizes the data on the city’s WalkFirst website. But as many crashes are caused by drivers who fail to yield while turning left, the map shows.

Teresa Morales-Phillips, MEDA’s community engagement manager, said the campaign wasn’t based on data. The messages were developed based on anecdotal evidence and feedback from SFMTA planners through public outreach by “promotoras/es” from the Mission Promise Neighborhood initiative.

“If you see a poster, it doesn’t necessarily mean something happened there,” said Morales-Phillips. “It just means we know people are looking down when they cross, and that’s where the promotores do their work.”

“When advocating for a safe transportation system, educating individuals on what they should or should not do is often the first, most tangible action for groups,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara. “In preventing injuries, we can make the greatest impact by tackling the root causes of injuries, and that’s in fact the foundation of Vision Zero — acknowledging that humans will make mistakes, and building a transportation system where those mistakes aren’t lethal.”

In a blog post announcing its DPH grant in February, MEDA described “some scary scenes,” equating texting pedestrians with drivers gunning it to beat the light:

A stroll through the bustling Mission this morning revealed some scary scenes. A pedestrian texted while crossing at Valencia and 24th streets, oblivious to the cars turning in his direction. A few places north, a bicyclist brazenly weaved in and out of traffic. Over on Mission and 19th, a car sped up, barely make it through the red light, thereby endangering a mother pushing a baby stroller.

That’s not to say that equal-opportunity shaming would be a sound messaging strategy. Equating drivers plowing through pedestrians in a crosswalk to people crossing against a light on bike or foot downplays the greater potential to cause damage when driving a motor vehicle. Other campaigns from District Attorney George Gascón, SFPD’s Taraval Station, and Mayor Ed Lee’s office have similarly missed the mark.

As for the stickers on Mission, they can be traced to a “targeted mini-grant program” coordinated by DPH “to support and expand community engagement along high injury corridors, including community-based organizations serving vulnerable populations,” as described in the city’s Vision Zero Two-Year Action Strategy [PDF].

The flyers on Mission won’t be replaced without another grant, said Morales-Phillips.

Ferrara noted that MEDA “has been at the table when discussing transportation engineering solutions along Mission Street corridor.”

MEDA “brings a valuable perspective to improving pedestrian safety,” she said, “because their Promotores have been out along Mission, talking with community members to understand the dangerous behaviors on the street, all of which can be addressed through safer street design. “

  • p_chazz

    If I see one of these, I’m scratching it out with my heel.

  • BBnet3000

    I do look up momentarily to check that I have the ped signal/right of way. If I’m going to be hit by a car that’s failing to yield I’d rather be caught unawares so my body doesn’t tense up.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    Shame those scofflaw pedestrians! Exonerate drivers and lay the blame on the most vulnerable! It’s the American way.

  • Easy

    Because if you’re not looking down at your phone while walking you can use your amazing peripheral vision to see & sprint out of the way of that car that’s about to speed into your side from a turn where they “didn’t see you”?

  • If I wasn’t looking at my phone before, I certainly would be after I snapped a photo of this and filed a litter report via the 311 app.

  • ARRO

    I am failing to see how this is pedestrian shaming at all… I thought part of the whole premise of Vision Zero was outreach to all and raising awareness about unsafe habits which include pedestrians distracted on their phones. It would appear that these flyers are right in line with the Vision Zero Program (which is maybe why they have the official logo?) and Safe Streets SF program.

  • murphstahoe

    Are they going to put one of these on every traffic light?

  • the_greasybear

    When walking in the city, the city wants this woman to know she had better watch her behavior so she doesn’t cause harm. But when she’s behind the wheel ? Oh, it’s all good.

  • Chris

    Of course there are too many reckless, oblivious, and/or malevolent car drivers out there. And of course we should be designing our streets, sidewalks, and bike paths to minimize the devastation that those car drivers can cause. That said, do we really need to ignore that there are also too many pedestrians who seemingly obliviously and needlessly put their own lives at risk?

  • GarySFBCN

    Holy crap this is nuts. How about we fine drivers $9,000 for using their phones in any capacity while driving?

    As for my fellow pedestrians, the most traffic-snarling behavior I’ve seen is the apparent inability for them to wait on the corner. Every intersection has pedestrians waiting in the street, preventing cars from making legal right turns and otherwise obstructing cars and bikes.

  • yermom72

    How about shaming them on the sidewalks too? PUT YOUR PHONES AWAY WHILE YOU ARE WALKING IDIOTS

  • yermom72

    As a pedestrian, I don’t feel “shamed” by this. Yes, I think the flyer campaign is a little bit stupid, but those idiots with phones in their faces have got to go.

  • yermom72

    They should take a lesson from the anti-pee paint project and think harder about how to hit their “target audience.”

    Instead of flyers (which won’t be seen) they should use beacons that pop a warning up on your phone.

  • Flyers have no idea where careless drivers are. How about putting the beacons inside cars instead so the police can come and arrest drivers who aren’t paying attention to the world as they plow through it in their 3,000 pound steel box?

  • They’re going! Down the middle of the street, if we’re lucky.

  • We really need a national holiday where everyone is given a paintball gun and 3 shots. You’re only allow to use them while standing on your feet (etc for those who can’t stand) but get to shoot them at anyone who is using our public space in a dangerous-to-others way.

    How about every 2nd Tuesday of the month?

    A paintball-armed society is a polite, colorful society.

  • Andrew Cohen

    9,000 bux hopefully made more thab four flyers…

  • Ada Niemand

    It’s pathetic that people need to be told this, but they do. Some people don’t have the sense God gave to a goose, and yeah, they walk around not paying attention to their surroundings.

    Do they not teach basic common sense in the schools anymore? I remember being taught at a young age that 1) you should always look both way before crossing the street 2) don’t cross against the light 3) pay attention to what is going on around you. All of these fools walking down the street with their eyes focused on their phones apparently didn’t learn this at school.

  • Ada Niemand

    Is that real or Photoshopped? If it is real, why?! How do you even get in that?

  • deus

    What is wrong with you people? Maybe the campaign sound a little bit silly, but shaming pedestrians? If I tell someone to be careful while crossing the street, am I shaming him/her?
    Are you ashamed if you get called out by a flyer?
    Sometimes I wonder how some people manage to get up from bed without being offended by something or someone. Or maybe they are just in a constant state of faux outrage.

  • helloandyhihi

    Really? If you’re looking at your phone while in a crosswalk you’re not aware of what’s going on around you. That’s dangerous. I see it happening more and more.

    People are in a daze, lost in the world of their phones, often hogging crosswalks on clogged Market Street when other traffic has the right of way. Yesterday while on my bike, I almost hit a guy who was mesmerized by his phone while walking against the light.

    A couple of weeks ago, I saw a guy staring into his phone as he was slowly crossing Polk at Market. An ambulance had its sirens blaring and made that buzzing noise at him several times. I was across the street and the noise was painful… even though it was directed right at this guy, whatever was on his phone was so enticing that he just casually kept staring at it and slowly walking while blocking the ambulance’s trajectory.

    I’m certainly against “pedestrian shaming,” but is it too much to ask people to look up and pay attention when walking across the street? I don’t think so.

    And this is a beautiful city. Don’t we spend enough time staring at screens? When you’re out in the world, why not let your eyes stop and view the roses?

  • David D.

    This is not “shaming” pedestrians, this is telling them to do the obvious. Sadly, people are oblivious and need to be told the obvious.

    The transit agency I work for has a serious problem with people looking down at their phones while crossing the street at 4th & Perry. You’d think they’d notice a 45-foot bus coming at them, but they’re too busy looking at their phones to stop walking in front of the bus. And in case you are wondering, the bus is already pulling through the intersection and has right-of-way.

  • p_chazz

    It paid for the art designer who came up with the original design, the graphics designer who developed it, mock-ups of several draft versions, etc.

  • Andrew Cohen

    For sure. I understand designers need to get paid etc. the thing is that these are so jenky and unprofessional looking to me that its hard to imagine spending more than the cost of paper n a printer n duct tape

  • SF_Abe

    You shouldn’t be viewing the roses, you should be making sure nobody will drive into you. It’s your responsibility!

  • MacAnEan

    Aaron, you’re an idiot. As a journalist you should know the definition of words before you decide to use them; especially in a published article.

    This is so obviously not “shaming.”

    By your definition, any public information piece is shaming.

    I’ll tell you what’s a shame: the crap state of journalism in this country.

  • iamjared

    These were paper taped to the sidewalk. So within 3 days most have been ripped or pulled up. In other words, a total waste of our $9,000. The other commenters are right that this isn’t “shaming,” but no matter what you call it, it’s a waste of money.

  • ARRO

    Agreed about it being a waste of money how it was implemented, these should have been stenciled on to the sidewalk with a short term paint.

  • “THIS IS NOT VISION ZERO” is the stencil needed here.

  • I don’t disagree with the sentiment, just the city’s priorities. This is all part of the false equivalency campaign undermining Focus On The Five.

    There used to be a PSA campaign with signs up begging motorists to obey a red light now and then. It even had a “smell the roses” sentiment. But we’ve basically abandoned that expectation.

  • Filamino

    The city is taking a holistic approach to this. Everyone needs to do their part whether it’s a pedestrian, bicyclist, bus driver, taxi driver, car driver, etc. Just because you don’t drive does not make you better than everyone else.

  • Alicia

    Everyone needs to do their part whether it’s a pedestrian, bicyclist, bus driver, taxi driver, car driver, etc.

    Since not everyone is equally a problem when it comes to road safety, that’s a misguided approach.

    Just because you don’t drive does not make you better than everyone else.

    Better, in general? No. But better in some ways. He’s not contributing to pollution as much. He’s not going to kill people in traffic. Et cetera.

  • Filamino

    That’s a very closed minded view not acknowledging that everyone has to interact with each other. It’s good to remind everyone about this.

    Your second part of your comment screams “entitlement’. People who use any one transport mode over another are not superior in any way. People who think that are just spreading the narcissistic entitled stereotype that clouds over advocates.

  • Alicia

    That’s a very closed minded view

    No, it’s a realistic view.

    People who use any one transport mode over another are not superior in any way.

    So you’re saying that helping with decreasing pollution and traffic injuries and fatalities is not a positive choice?

  • Filamino

    I am not saying it’s not a positive choice. I am saying they are not any superior beings over people who drive. I would say my view is more realistic than your closed minded view.

  • Filamino

    No, it’s not misguided. If a pedestrian can do their part in not being a statistic, that is great. Pedestrians make mistakes too, and if they are made aware to pay attention and not walk out into a path of a car, then no harm is done. Prevention in any way by everyone is the message here.

  • Alicia

    You took two weeks to come up with that response, and it’s still nonsense. Cute.


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