Not long ago, deaths caused by smoking, plane crashes and not wearing seatbelts were accepted as routine and commonplace in ways that are unthinkable in today’s United States. We’ve proven that, as a society, we can improve safety to achieve once inconceivable outcomes.
Last year in San Francisco, 30 people died just trying to make their way around town due to traffic collisions. The loss of these 30 mothers, sons, grandparents, friends and co-workers left many devastated, as have the similar numbers of deaths that have occurred in each recent year. These deaths are especially tragic because each one is preventable.
That’s why in 2014, we as a city adopted Vision Zero and said that by 2024, we would make traffic deaths a thing of the past. It may seem ambitious, or even unattainable, but no other goal is acceptable. We can absolutely prevent traffic deaths if we have the will to make it happen. We have seen dramatic success toward this goal in other cities and countries, and there’s no reason to think we can’t do it here in the City of St. Francis.
But there’s no silver bullet. One part of the solution is to redesign our streets to make them less conducive to dangerous traffic behaviors, like speeding, and more forgiving of the mistakes we all make as humans. You may have noticed, and will continue to see, changes on our streets such as wider sidewalks, speed humps and protected bike lanes. We’ve implemented more than 40 miles of these kinds of street safety improvements in the past three years, and we expect to implement at least 13 more miles this year on San Francisco’s High-Injury Network alone — the 12 percent of streets where, as we know from extensive data analysis, most of our city’s severe and deadly collisions occur.
That data also drives another part of the solution: Ensuring key traffic laws are adhered to by focusing education and police enforcement efforts on the most problematic areas and traffic violations, such as speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians. But police can’t be everywhere at once, which is why we’ve joined the City of San Jose and our other partners to advocate for state Assembly Bill 342, the Safe Streets Act of 2017, to pilot Automated Speed Enforcement in our two cities, a well-proven tool used in cities across the country but not allowed by current state law.
Most important is for all of us to do what we can individually to ensure we don’t put ourselves or others at risk as we’re getting around town. Everyone knows it’s unsafe to drive too fast, to text while behind the wheel or on a bike or walking across the street, to cross the street outside the crosswalk or to run a red light or a stop sign. Yet many of us do one or more of these things on occasion. A recent survey by the AAA Foundation found that while most people understand speeding and distracted driving are not OK, many admit to doing so. We can change that starting today.
There is no text message or social media post more important than someone else’s life. There’s no place we need to be so quickly that makes it worth putting someone else’s life in danger. We can decide to change our behaviors when we’re out in the streets so that no more family members, friends or colleagues need lose a loved one.
There’s a lot of work to be done for our city to truly put people’s safety first. We work every day at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to reshape our streets with a greater focus on safety than there has been in the past. I want to ensure that my family and friends, as well as yours and anyone who steps foot in our great city, can get around safely.
Getting there won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Safety must come first in everything we do.
Ed Reiskin is the director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.