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traffic violence

Police Arrest Driver Who Killed Little Girl at 4th and King

That's a good start. But the criminality of this tragedy goes well beyond a single driver

A shrine for a four-year-old girl who was killed at 4th and King in August. Photo from Walk SF’s Instagram.

Police arrested the driver who ran down and killed a four-year-old girl in a crosswalk at 4th and King on Tuesday. From a statement from the San Francisco Police Department:

The driver, identified as Karen Cartagena, a 71-year-old female, was arrested for three counts of failure to yield to pedestrians (21950 CVC) and vehicular manslaughter (192(c) PC).

More from the San Francisco Examiner's story:

Cartagena remained at the scene and cooperated with an investigation into the crash, which occurred about 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday in the area of Fourth and Kings streets.

The 4-year-old girl was in a stroller that was being pushed by her parents in an intersection when they were struck by an SUV allegedly driven by Cartagena.

Streetsblog is glad to see police, for once, treating reckless driving as a criminal offense and not shrugging it off because Cartagena "remained on the scene." At least the department seems to recognize that drivers are actually required to yield at crosswalks in the case of a tiny child. It would be nice if they took it seriously in all cases when an impatient motorist blows through an occupied crosswalk.

Advocates with Walk San Francisco placed a ghost baby stroller and flowers at the site Wednesday, and demanded improvements to the intersection. “There are no sufficient words for this little girl’s parents,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk San Francisco, in a statement. “What should never happen has happened, and we grieve for the family’s unfathomable loss.”

The driver isn't the only culpable party in this tragedy. The traffic engineers and planners who build such intersections and leave them in such deplorably unsafe condition are also to blame. As Walk S.F. underscored in their statement, the driver was making a right turn from a dangerous center turn lane that shouldn't exist in the first place. And both 4th and King are on the City’s ‘high-injury network’: the twelve percent of streets where 68 percent of all severe and fatal traffic crashes occur.

As anyone familiar with the streets of San Francisco knows, the 4th and King intersection has huge numbers of pedestrians trying to get between Muni, the Caltrain depot, the baseball stadium, and the many restaurants, services, and apartments in the area. The design forces them to compete for space with drivers rushing to get onto I-280.

“Intersections and streets like this – very wide, with four and five lanes of traffic and so many pedestrians – need to be designed to prioritize safety,” added Medeiros. “The City must use every possible strategy to bring down speeds, and do everything possible to make people safer in the crosswalk.”

“Intersections must be designed to reduce the chance of a conflict happening in the first place, and keeping driver speeds slow so that if something does happen, it’s not fatal,” said Medeiros. “That means proven solutions like no turn on red, left turn calming, reducing the width pedestrians must cross, and pedestrian safety zones at every possible high-injury intersection.”

Or, as Transbay415 put it on Instagram in response to Walk San Francisco, "This intersection is an abomination, designed to spill blood. We know how to make this intersection safe, with political courage."

Streetsblog can only hope some day reckless drivers will be consistently held responsible for the death and destruction they cause. But let's also hope the jail cells for these drivers have room for traffic engineers and planners who repeatedly and knowingly deploy such deadly street designs in the first place.

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