Spike in San Francisco Pedestrian Fatalities Sparks City Response

Written by William Chadwick. Posted in Crime, News, Politics, Transportation

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Published on January 19, 2014 with 3 Comments

A special joint meeting of the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee and the Police Commission was held Thursday at City Hall to address soaring pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco.  Photos by Luke Thomas.

A special joint meeting of the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee and the Police Commission was held Thursday at City Hall to address soaring pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco. Photos by Luke Thomas.

By William Chadwick

January 19, 2014

A special joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Police Commission was held Thursday at City Hall to address an alarming spike in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in San Francisco.

The packed meeting in Board chambers was attended by Chief of Police Greg Suhr, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Supervisors Eric Mar, Scott Wiener, Jane Kim, Norman Yee and David Campos.

The focus of the meeting was the simmering issue of traffic collisions leading to a six-year high of 25 fatalities last year – 21 pedestrians and 4 cyclists.

Although there were a large number of police officers and disgruntled accident victims and community leaders in attendance, Campos warned that the hearing should, “Focus on how we can move forward without pointing fingers.” Public outcry reached a fever pitch after Sophie Liu, 6, was killed by a motorist in the Tenderloin on New Year’s Eve.

Committee Chair David Campos and Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco.

Committee Chair David Campos and Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco.

Supervisor Kim, who has been championing the issue of pedestrian safety since her election to the Board, was keen to ensure, contrary to the current system, that guilty parties “are being prosecuted by the District Attorney.” She stressed that the “press plays a very important role in educating people about safety.”

Whilst Kim pushed for the adoption of Vision Zero, a policy which seeks to eradicate pedestrian road deaths altogether, Supervisor Norman Yee, who was himself seriously injured by a motorist in 2006, argued, “No one strategy will reduce fatalities. We need all three,” referring to proper enforcement of traffic laws; improved traffic controls and public safety awareness campaigns.

“There is a very poor culture of safety in San Francisco,” Yee stated, citing a multitude of drivers observed texting and talking on cellphones while in control of a motor vehicle.

Supervisor Norman Yee.

Supervisor Norman Yee.

The fact is, “two thirds of pedestrian accidents are the fault of the driver,” stated Supervisor Wiener. “When you are driving a vehicle, that vehicle, when it hits someone, is a deadly weapon.”

Jikaiah Stevens, who was struck by a motorist in September while using a crosswalk in Nob Hill, spoke passionately at the hearing stating she wanted to “show a face to a system that doesn’t support its victims.”

Walking to work at her hair salon, Stevens, 31, waited until the walk sign glowed and started to cross the road. She was hit by a motorist who failed to yield to her on the crosswalk. She is lucky to be alive, but suffered a traumatic brain injury which left her a loss of motor skills, chronic back and neck pain, memory loss, social anxiety, and a loss of taste and smell.

A hair stylist and photographer, Stevens lives paycheck-to-paycheck and cannot afford medical insurance. Four months since the accident, she has tentatively been able to go back to work, but risks losing her apartment due to a loss of income during her recovery. She incurred over $140,000 in medical bills, which she has no way of covering.

The motorist who struck Stevens was not issued a citation for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Furthermore, the motorist carried the minimum amount of liability car insurance required by law – only $15,000. So Jikaiah is left to seek remuneration from the city to help pay her medical bills.

“What is their incentive to be a safer driver when [motorists] suffer no consequences?” Jikaiah asked the panel.

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Jikaiah Stevens is still recovering from her injuries after being struck by a motorist in September.

But this is the way it goes: police do not arrest drivers (until this week at the behest of the District Attorney, according to Commander Mikael Ali), and often do not issue citations. Ali said from now on, “when any fault is established at the scene of a non-serious injury collision, a citation shall be issued.”

Ali claimed that the fall in traffic citations in the last year was partly due to a record low number of police officers, citing retirees and a lack of police academies to train new officers.

SFPD Commander Mikael Ali.

SFPD Commander Mikael Ali.

Leah Shahum of the SF Bicycle Coalition, said the city’s avowed ‘Transit First’ policy, that should put pedestrians and bikers first, was “not getting down to all the line officers.” She stated that many victims who contacted her organization claimed that, despite department initiatives, police officers regularly failed to issue citations, apportioned blame to pedestrians and cyclists, and claimed that if victims didn’t need ambulances, then they weren’t “that badly injured.”

“We are hearing of people not being reported or given the required attention,” Shahum added.

Shahum then thanked the police department for committing to adopt Vision Zero.

Supervisor Eric Mar echoed Shahum’s comments when, having praised his predecessor Jake McGoldrick’s Pedestrian Safety Committee, claimed efforts thus far were “not making a difference.” He stressed that difference would be largely down to where and how the city spends its money.

“There has to be a lot more sensitivity towards victims,” Mar said. “Blaming victims is wrong.”

Supervisor Eric Mar.

Supervisor Eric Mar.

He was backed up by Wiener who cautioned that the city had “passed many resolutions… but the situation doesn’t improve.” Wiener went on to say that he was committed to “finally ending the era of negligence where we didn’t have any police academy classes. We need to make sure in two to three years time, we are not reducing traffic enforcement, which is always one of the first things to go during budget cuts.”

Natalie Burdick, Membership Director at WalkSF, pleaded with those in attendance to “End the carnage on our streets. These crimes cost the city millions each year, and untold costs in human suffering.”

“We must put an end to all traffic deaths,” Burdick added.

SFWalk direcor Natalie Burdick.

SFWalk director Natalie Burdick (center).

The Reverend Norman Fong of the Chinatown Community Development Center made an impassioned speech listing the number of members of his parish who had been killed, hit, or nearly hit by motorists in the last year. He warned how new regulations and requirements were not going to be popular, but that policymakers should “Go for it and slow down San Francisco.”

“I believe people’s licenses should be suspended and they should have to go to traffic school, and they should have to pay the bill,” Jikaiah told Fog City Journal following the meeting. Perhaps there should even be stricter driving tests and requirements too, so as to ensure that drivers are safe before they are allowed on the road.

Police Chief Suhr personally stated towards the end of the hearing that Jikaiah’s case would be reopened and the driver who hit her would be issued a citation. He also apologized for the department’s mishandling of several other cases, including a “poor police investigation” of the cyclist killed at 6th and Folsom in August. Changes are definitely now afoot for the safety of those on bike and foot.

SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

You can see a documentary about Jikaiah and her accident here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPXSXC6bXTM

You may also donate towards her medical bills here:
https://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/justice-for-jikaiah/96817/donate#pp

See below for links to other articles:
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/san_francisco&id=9396840

http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/01/16/the-life-altering-impact-of-traffic-violence-jikaiah-stevens-story/

http://m.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/In-S-F-pedestrian-deaths-shine-light-on-street-5146884.php

http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/lee-unveils-push-for-pedestrian-safety-measures/Content?oid=2678662

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/San-Francisco-Police-to-Issue-More-Citations-Over-Vehicle-Pedestrian-Accidents-240690571.html

William Chadwick

William Chadwick

William Chadwick is a young English writer who has recently moved to San Francisco from London. He has worked on-and-off in journalism for almost ten years. He is passionate about the theater, and has directed and written several plays. He is currently trying his hand at teaching English.

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  • David Sloane

    In other areas and countries it is illegal for vehicles to go through a
    cross walk when the pedestrians have the right away, SF has a very
    unsafe law giving vehicles the OK to do this.
    Every week or so I
    have had near misses in front of me or behind me with a vehicle trying
    to save a few seconds, At times one is putting their life on the line by
    using crosswalks when they have the right of way, especially for older
    people as they are not agile enough to move fast. As I wrote earlier it
    is a very unsafe law for pedestrians.

  • David Sloane

    As an after thought, There is a way of quickly making our streets safer. A $500 fine for car, and bike riders also for pedestrians jay walking, plus mandatory traffic school for the car and bike folks, not sure what for would apply for the jay walkers, suggestion readers.

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    Some useful links are provided here. While you’re at it, why not provide links to the UC study that found that San Francisco has been significantly under-reporting cycling accidents by relying only on police reports and ignoring all the cycling accident victims treated at SF General Hospital, the primary trauma center in the city.

    Here’s a link to the abstract of the study. Since there’s a paywall to access the whole study, I’ve transcribed it here. Since it’s written by public employees at a public hospital, the public shouldn’t have to pay to read a study that has important public safety implications for San Francisco.

    If the city has been ignoring accidents at SF General and relying on police reports when counting cycling accidents, has it been doing the same for pedestrian and other accidents on our streets? Until the city corrects its methodology for counting accidents, we really don’t know how safe/unsafe our streets are.