Advocates Pause to Remember Toll of Traffic Violence
Individuals pay dearly for "levels of service"/prioritizing car throughput over life and limb
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There’s a long deep scar across the side of John Lowell’s head, the result of a 2001 collision. “I was hit at 14th and Mission,” he explained, “I was in the crosswalk, and I had the green.”
He received what’s called “polytrauma,” in the antiseptic lingo of the medical profession. He flew “20 feet through the air” from the force of the impact, and sustained broken bones, busted internal organs, and brain damage–and a changed life.
“We treat 4,000 injuries a year,” said Rebecca Plevin, a trauma surgeon at San Francisco General, who spoke at Sunday’s annual “World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims” event on the steps of City Hall. “Half of those are from traffic collisions.”
In addition to those seriously injured, some 30 lose their lives every year, despite “Vision Zero” efforts to end the carnage.
For trauma surgeons, “This public health crisis isn’t an abstract concept,” Plevin said, flanked by 45 lawmakers, survivors of traffic violence and families of the dead. “It’s a reality that we witness over and over again.”
The event, which this year included a walk around the Tenderloin, is sponsored by Walk San Francisco and San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets. “For those who survive, recovering takes years…and many never return to the life they had previously,” added the doctor.
One of those is Judy Yu, who was hit in 2011. Since then, she has been depressed and prone to rage. “The driver was speeding. Speed was what caused the crash,” said Jenny Yu, her daughter, fighting back tears. “This crash devastated the body of my then 62-year-old mom severely, causing her to have a ruptured spleen, fractured humerus and ribs, and causing traumatic injury to a large portion of her brain.”
State Senator Scott Wiener, who is a regular at the event, was delayed in Sacramento. However, he provided a statement that faulted Caltrans for at least some of the ongoing carnage, most notably because of the agency’s campaign to stop Senate Bill 127. The bill, which required the state’s transportation agency to prioritize safety, was ultimately vetoed by the governor.
“Caltrans just doesn’t get it. They’re stuck in the 1950s,” Wiener wrote. “Solving this epidemic isn’t rocket science.”
The talk was followed by the walk through the Tenderloin. “This one-quarter-square-mile area is home to the greatest number of San Francisco’s seniors, children, and families–and also where we see the most crash fatalities,” said Aly Geller, Vision Zero Engagement Manager at Walk San Francisco. “There is no greater example of the need to slow our streets and treat our neighborhoods like neighborhoods and not speedways.”
“What’s so frustrating is we know how to solve this one,” said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who also spoke at the event. But to gain the political will for real change sometimes “stories are the most effective tool we have.”
Even for those who are spared serious injuries in the Russian roulette that comes with crossing our streets, the mental anguish continues. “About 10 months ago I was crossing 18th and Guerrero, nearing my apartment with a bag of groceries,” said Nancy Harrison, who also spoke at the event. “I had the light and stepped into the crosswalk. I could see a car turning… I realized the driver was coming directly at me without slowing down… I am so lucky–I had no internal bleeding or broken bones, and my cuts and bruises have faded.”
She says the sight of that motorist’s bumper coming at her continues to haunt her. “We are traffic crash victims–not statistics. We are mothers. We are sons. We are fathers, children, grandparents, friends, co-workers, community members. We are all of us.”
Be sure to sign Walk San Francisco’s SlowOurStreets Action petition.