Mayor Lee, It’s Time for an Executive Order on Senior Safety

The victim's family, daughter Inessa Grinberg and grandson Roman, with a photo of David. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The victim's family, daughter Inessa Grinberg and grandson Roman, with a photo of David. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

David Grinberg, 90, was crossing Fell Street at Baker, returning to his home at the Mercy Terrace Apartments, a senior facility, yesterday around 5:20 p.m. He was struck by a motorist and died of his injuries later that evening.

“He crossed every day to get to the park,” said Roman Grinberg, the victim’s grandson, who came to the Mercy Terrace building with his mother to watch a security camera video of the intersection in order to find out what happened. Mercy asked Streetsblog to hold off watching the video until the family was given a chance to view it and grieve. According to a spokeswoman for the facility who had seen it, Grinberg was apparently in the crosswalk when he was struck by a motorist heading west on Fell. This is consistent with a story in SF Weekly, which cites witness testimony via Twitter:

tweet

Walk SF’s interim executive director, Cathy DeLuca, was horrified by this latest incident, which comes on the heels of two other pedestrian fatalities.

From the Walk SF release:

Walk SF, the Vision Zero Coalition, and the entire community is saddened and outraged to learn that another person walking was killed on October 4… David’s death follows on the heels of two other recent pedestrian deaths – that of Gus Vardakastanis on September 22 and Winifred Leshane on September 15. That makes three pedestrians who have been killed on city streets in less than three weeks.

How many more people have to die before we realize that we can put an end to these preventable crashes?

Walk SF also stressed that Fell and that section of Baker are “streets that the City has identified as high-injury corridors, the 13 percent of city streets that account for 75 percent of severe and fatal crashes.”

Streetsblog reached out to SFMTA to find out if any safety improvement, such as bulb outs, are planned for the Fell and Baker intersection. The agency has not yet replied, but the most recent information on the web page goes back to 2013 and concerns adding posts to the bike lane. It’s unclear if any further improvements are coming. That said, readers will recall that there’s an ongoing fight between two neighborhood groups over extending the protected bike lane on Fell down the Panhandle, which would narrow crossing distances. If done correctly, it would also be an opportunity to add a pedestrian refuge island, between the car space and the bike space, so senior citizens have a place to pause as they cross the street.

“I don’t know why there aren’t any bulb outs, especially with all the seniors,” said Rob Miller, who lives on Fell across Baker Street from Mercy Terrace. “It’s not safe,” said Raisia Solodkin, 94, who knew Grinberg and also lives at Mercy Terrace. “Put in some signs, like the kind they have at schools, to get people to slow down. 153 old people live here and drivers must slow down.”

Indeed, as Streetsblog watched, it was difficult to find a car that seemed to be following Fell’s posted 30 mph speed limit. Several pushed the yellow light. A few were still blowing through the intersection when it turned red. This, of course, is a typical situation on a wide street that seems designed to encourage speeding.

Fell Street. The wide crossing (in the foreground) where Grinberg was hit. Photo:: Streetsblog/Rudick
Fell Street. The wide crossing (in the foreground) where Grinberg was hit. Photo:: Streetsblog/Rudick

“I know that intersection–it’s very popular for people entering the park,” said Pi Ra, a director with the advocacy group, Senior and Disability Action. “Because of the width of the street, people tend to drive really fast through there and there isn’t enough crossing time for seniors.”

Indeed, the countdown timer only goes for 12 seconds, which is hardly enough time for a senior to get across such a wide intersection. SFMTA needs to re-time this crossing immediately and then place planters or temporary barriers to narrow the intersection until permanent bulbouts can be installed.

But more than anything, the Mayor needs to show the leadership he expressed in August of 2016, when he ordered SFMTA to install three protected bike lanes within a few short months of the deaths of Heather Miller and Kate Slattery. Too many pedestrians are getting killed at our intersections. And as the SF Weekly points out, seniors are getting killed more than any other group. So the Mayor can start with Fell and the crossings around Mercy and order SFMTA to make those intersections safer without delay, followed by any other intersection near a senior center or school.

Because this latest death was not an outlier. It was the direct result of bad road design that prioritizes speed over life and limb.

And as a result of this known and entirely preventable hazard, San Francisco’s streets have claimed yet another victim. “He just had his dinner,” said Grinberg’s daughter Inessa, fighting through tears. “He just stepped out to go to the park.”

  • City Resident

    Thank you for this article. We owe it to our seniors and to our aging selves to do much more to prevent such deaths. Automobile speed and haste kills far too often in San Francisco.

  • nolen777

    I know I’m in fantasy land here, but it seems to me the way this should work is that after any fatality collision, authorities quickly determine whether

    (a) there was a true, freakish, difficult-to-predict event, ie a driver suffered a seizure, had to speed or swerve away from a falling object, alien invasion, whatever;
    (b) the driver was being completely reckless — driving drunk, speeding through a long-red light, drag racing, etc — the kind of thing for which you *should* lose your license if you’re convicted; or
    (c) road design was at least a major contributor.

    (a) and (c) do not absolve the driver of responsibility, of course. Pending further information it certainly appears that the driver messed up here badly. But clearly (c) applies here.

    In the case of (c), as Roger says, we should be taking steps *immediately*, though I’d go even further. If we need neighborhood input, elaborate planning, environmental reviews, whatever, then *close the intersection to motor vehicle traffic entirely* until that can happen. That would incentivize people to find the right solutions quickly. But when someone dies due to road design, maintaining the status quo should not be an option even temporarily. Until we make the infrastructure safe, it shouldn’t be used.

  • nhburdick

    Thank you for a salient and reasoned post.

  • Dave Campbell

    Dare I say that traffic engineering dogma in America is the NRA of the transportation profession?

  • Vooch

    meanwhile over in Munich they DOT installs bump outs as fast as possible- humorous video

  • Harris

    The problem is that there are two conflicting goals here. One is safety, sure, but the other is throughput. The primary aim of a traffic department is surely to ensure that traffic can get to where it needs to go. Zero accidents with everyone immobile is not an option.

    If we design roads to ensure 100% safety for someone who is aged 3 or 103, then nobody would ever be able to get anywhere. So in practice the question has to be asked – “what is an acceptable number of accident victims that is consistent with a baseline level of traffic throughput?”

    And despite catchy slogans to the contrary, that ain’t zero. It can never be.

  • City Resident

    Commercial air travel in the U.S. consistently achieves a zero fatality rate, year after year. Why is this unattainable for automobile traffic/throughput?

  • Harris

    Air travel is highly regulated, practiced only by professionals, and is vastly expensive to operate.

    It’s like saying because El Al airport security is 100% effective, American Airlines should adopt it. In theory, that is true, but in practice Americans would not tolerate El Al type security at US airports.

    Likewise, US drivers would not tolerate the massive regulations and restrictions that are implied by a zero accidents mandate. Safety is a compromise, not an absolute.

  • jimlawruk

    Sure, zero is not attainable, but over 30 thousand deaths annually should certainly NOT be acceptable. And that figure doesn’t count the many more injuries. We should be closer to 0 than 30 thousand.

  • Harris

    Well sure, obviously other things being equal, the number should be smaller. But I suspect that it may be quite easy to get that down to 20,000, quite tough to get it to 10,000 and impossible to get it to zero. Zero is a goal; not a reality.

    It’s the 80/20 rule. As the number declines, the cost and inconvenience involved in getting it even smaller exponentially increases.

    But ultimately it is the voters who decide what is an acceptable number, and what they will tolerate in terms of cost and delays to reduce it.

  • City Resident

    Fair point that most drivers are amateurs (and too many aren’t paying sufficient attention to driving safely). Regardless, we can aim to obtain a near zero pedestrian fatality rate in San Francisco with a variety of measures (such as engineering, education, and enforcement measures, as well as improved automobile safety features – all of which will not result in immobility). In regards to the collision at Fell and Baker, it sounds like it could have been easily prevented if the motorist involved had exercised greater caution and been mindful of the possible presence of pedestrians just after the traffic signal turns green. Mobility and zero pedestrian fatalities are not mutually exclusive.

  • Harris

    “Fair point that most drivers are amateurs”

    Yes, and when you consider general aviation, where the “drivers” are amateurs, the fatality rate is far from zero.

  • City Resident

    As with the automobile-pedestrian fatality rate, if society/public health professionals/political leaders, etc. consider the fatality rate amongst amateur pilots and their passengers to be unacceptable, reasonable changes can presumably be implemented to reduce this. Certainly when it comes to commercial aviation, government agencies and private businesses and individuals study and learn from airplane crashes to prevent them from occurring again. As a society we are learning how to prevent collisions that result in pedestrian fatalities and we can implement measures that save lives with little to no impact on throughput.

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