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Pedestrian Death Shakes Cow Hollow Neighborhood

Arthur Sebastian saw the grizly aftermath from his hair salon, which overlooks the intersection. Photo: Streetsblog

Yesterday afternoon marked San Francisco's first death from traffic violence for 2017. From a Walk San Francisco release on the incident:

A woman, estimated to be in her 60s or 70s, was walking at the intersection of Union and Buchanan, when a person driving a truck struck her in the crosswalk. She died within hours from the trauma of injuries at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Trauma Center.

The woman was struck by a pickup towing a trailer. It's unclear how the crash happened, but one witness to the aftermath said the truck didn't seem to be turning. The driver, according to reports, stayed on the scene. "I heard it," said Arthur Sebastian, whose salon looks over the intersection. "I ran to the window and saw the person's legs shaking under the trailer."

Kalina Vitela works in Shaw Shoes, across the street from where the collision occured. "I heard tires screeching and expected a crash, but that never came," she said. "Then I heard yelling and screams. I walked out and saw a large black pickup truck."

Vitela in front of her shop. Photo: Streetsblog
Vitela in front of her shop. Photo: Streetsblog
Vitela in front of her shop. Photo: Streetsblog

It's not yet known if any laws were broken, but it appears--going by a photo taken by Fox 2 News--that the truck was altered in a way that could make it harder for the driver to see a pedestrian or cyclist. "The front of the truck was was more elevated towards the front," said Vitela, who thinks that cut the driver's visibility and contributed to the tragedy. "He didn't know he'd hit someone and he began to back up...people were yelling at him to stop." The yelling stopped him from running over the victim a second time, she explained.

"California law limits the degree to which a vehicle can be jacked up. Even if a vehicle is within those parameters, it is clearly less safe than a standard vehicle," said Andy Gillin of GJEL Accident Attorneys. "The same is true of oversize tires."

Streetsblog has reached out to the San Francisco Police Department to try and confirm Vitela's theory. But it speaks to a point this publication was trying to make at the start of the year: street engineering is important, enforcement is important, and drivers have to pay strict attention to the road, but achieving Vision Zero requires accountability on all fronts. And modifications such as raised suspensions, tinted windows, and some after-market bumpers present a serious hazard to cyclists, pedestrians and other motorists. Gillin said shops that install some after-market treatments "can be held partially negligent."

"Regardless of the car or truck being driven, failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and speeding continue to be the top causes of death and serious injury in San Francisco," wrote Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk SF, in an email to Streetsblog. But, she added, "The larger the vehicle, the more likelihood of death when a crash occurs."

Perhaps it's time to restrict dangerously modified and over-sized vehicles from San Francisco?

Vitela said police and fire had the intersection closed for a few hours, but it was open again and back to normal at five p.m. By the next day, when Streetsblog came to the scene, there was no sign whatsoever of the tragedy. Why aren't there temporary signs, obstacles, or a traffic officer, to slow things down until investigators can fully establish what happened?

The intersection doesn't fall on the high-injury network. And it does not appear that SFMTA has any plans to upgrade the intersection. And maybe the crash was just a horrible oddity, but more likely there are things that can be done to the intersection to make it safer--bulb outs and raised crosswalks are an obvious one. Couldn't some safe hit posts or planters and paint be put in right now, until something more permanent can be done? In other words, shouldn't SFMTA learn from any tragedy, collect as much data as possible, and make sure it isn't repeated? Or will this be another case of cleaning up the blood, shrugging, and moving on to the next horror?

Streetsblog, of course, will revisit these issues. In the meantime, it is chilling to learn of yet another macabre incident on our streets--and that the year is off to such a disheartening start.

By the next day, there was no sign of what happened. Photo: Streetsblog
By the next day, there was no sign of what happened. Could better crosswalks, bulb-outs and strategically placed planters prevented the tragedy? Photo: Streetsblog

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