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Chinatown pedestrians scrambling out of harm’s way

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The Chinatown Community Development Center is calling upon The City to install a new safety measure at the intersection of Kearny and Clay streets in Chinatown. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
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Chinatown advocates are sounding the call over pedestrian deaths in their neighborhood.

Vulnerable elderly pedestrians have died from car collisions in intersections across Chinatown, they say. Now they’re demanding safety measures at the intersection of Kearny and Clay streets, which city pedestrian studies show is among the most dangerous intersections in the neighborhood.

That safety measure the advocates are asking for is called a “pedestrian scramble” — a design whereby pedestrians can diagonally cross an intersection while cars in all four directions stop.

Geen Lee, a 44-year-old software engineer and longtime San Franciscan, says a similar pedestrian scramble on Stockton and Sacramento streets would have saved his mother’s life.

Advocates long asked for a scramble at that intersection, which was only installed after Lee’s 78-year-old mother died after being hit by a car.

“For me, it’s an easy fix,” Lee told the San Francisco Examiner.

“If back in the day they implemented the scramble on Stockton, my mother would still be alive,” he said. “Every life matters.”

As the Examiner previously reported, an elderly woman, Ai You Zhou, 77, was struck and killed at Kearny and Clay streets in June as a vehicle turned left around the corner.

The intersection is at the corner of Portsmouth Square, a popular playground and recreation area for youth and seniors in Chinatown.

The Chinatown Community Development Center, Chinatown TRIP and the Portsmouth Square Garage are all united in calling for a scramble at Kearny and Clay streets. They’ve collectively gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a petition they plan to soon present to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, in hopes to urge them to move fast to implement the scramble crosswalk.

Dozens came out to a rally at Kearny and Clay streets last week to advocate for the changes.

“This is the one thing everyone in the community wants immediately,” said Angelina Yu, an organizer with CCDC.

The SFMTA, for its part, said it’s moving forward to evaluate the Neighborhood Transportation Improvement Program, which studies the Kearny street corridor — much of which runs through Chinatown.

“To reach our Vision Zero goal of zero traffic deaths by 2024, we need to be strategic in where we implement the most effective safety measures,” said Ben Jose, an SFMTA spokesman. “The SFMTA is working fast to increase pedestrian safety in the neighborhood, as well as study what more we can do.”

The timeline for the study was set in August at the behest of Supervisor Julie Christensen, Jose said. This month, the SFMTA plans to study existing traffic conditions in Chinatown and develop initial concepts for change.

The SFMTA will host a public meeting in November, refine the plans based on public input between December 2015 and May 2016, and issue a final report on pedestrian safety changes by December 2016.

And, Jose pointed out, the SFMTA recently painted Kearny and Clay with continental crosswalks, and installed pedestrian timers which give a “head start” to walkers.

Supervisor Julie Christensen, whose district includes Chinatown, said the lengthy process is due to the complexity of pedestrian safety in Chinatown – and the complexity of the intersection itself.

“The challenge is, it’s not that simple,” Christensen said. “The entrance to the Portsmouth square garage is a mess,” she said, in terms of traffic concerns. Muni also is planning public transit changes along Kearny, she said, and has to balance considerations of new bike lanes along the street.

The intersection of Kearny and Clay streets is also a key aspect in the forthcoming Central Subway, she said. Basements underneath the intersection also complicate construction.

“It’s pretty complicated,” she said, of making pedestrian scrambles at Kearny and Clay.

This, she said, makes adding a pedestrian scramble at the intersection a challenge. That said, “We support the idea of a scramble,” Christensen said, and she’s pushing the SFMTA to make that happen.

Though progress is coming, Yu said each day without change puts pedestrians at risk.

“What we want to see is action on the ground,” she said, “We don’t want to see any more delays, we want the change implemented.”

This story has been updated from its print version.

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