City data shows vulnerability of senior pedestrians

San Francisco’s senior population is struck by drivers and injured — and sometimes killed — more frequently around “priority areas” such as senior centers, libraries and providers of free services, according to new data revealed by The City on Wednesday.

The data was presented Wednesday at a Public Safety and Neighborhood Services committee hearing called by Supervisor Norman Yee around senior traffic collisions.

Traffic impediments like visual obstructions, limited crossing time, fading crosswalks and novel, but confusing pedestrian safety measures were all cited as factors by department officials, citizens and the supervisors themselves.

“A lot of the causes of collisions are turning and speed,” said Cmdr. Teresa Ewins of the San Francisco Police Department.

Ewins cited three recent examples of pedestrian fatalities that stemmed from collisions in a crosswalk, the most recent of which was the death of Dmitry Scotkin, 69, who was killed at 36th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard last week.

Seniors account for a disproportionate number of people killed in traffic collisions, according to analysis from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. In 2017 half of all pedestrians killed in traffic collisions were seniors, even though they make up only 15 percent of San Francisco’s population.

Seniors were struck often near senior centers, libraries, public health programs, free meal sites, and paratransit pickup and dropoff locations. Though the results may seem like common sense, the analysis gives city planners new impetus to bolster safety measures around such sites — basically, a new way to focus on safety for seniors.

Of those streets where seniors were struck by drivers, 35 percent were “traffic calm-able” streets, according to the SFMTA, indicating the agency has the tools to craft those streets to be safer.

“These stats are striking, but we really shouldn’t be calling them stats. These are real people we’re talking about,” Yee said. “Their family members continue to grieve. These deaths are unacceptable and absolutely preventable.”

Still, San Francisco’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero through a combination of traffic engineering, education and enforcement efforts, has seen some success, officials noted.

“Last year we saw the least number of traffic deaths ever recorded in San Francisco,” Yee said. “This is an accomplishment…but 20 people still passed away.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Department of Public Health and San Francisco Police Department, among other city departments, are working together to identify and address the problems.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is also working to give more time to pedestrians crossing the street, revising the crosswalk signal time to reflect a walking speed of three feet per second.

“Flags,” the ads seen on the side of sheltered bus stops, will be filled with multilingual notices reminding drivers to be aware of people crossing the street, particularly seniors.

The adoption of a pedestrian safety measure known as HAWK was also mentioned. HAWK beacons include a number roadway treatments, including multiple red lights, highly-visible crosswalk markings, and illuminated “crosswalk” signs. These measures, however, were called into question by the committee.

“The hybrid signals are relatively new to San Francisco,” Yee said. “There have been issues about people not understanding what all the flashing signals mean.”

This year, 40 percent of all traffic deaths have been in Yee’s district, he said.

Fran Taylor, a senior who came to the committee hearing, said she feels a sense of contempt from passing drivers.

“[Seniors] are regarded as large wingless pigeons that are supposed to flutter out of the way of the more important cars,” she said.

With new data on the table, city departments will collaborate to develop a strategy and make specific improvements to San Francisco’s streets.

CORRECTION: This story was edited to indicate that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is adjusting crosswalk signal times, and not the County Transportation Authority as was initially reported.

Ian Williams
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Ian Williams

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