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Pedestrian deaths remain steady as SF rolls out new safety measures

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A report from the budget analyst estimates The City will spend $66 million on pedestrian safety projects in the next five years. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Unreliable pedestrian injury data may mean San Francisco’s streets are more dangerous than previously thought, and inconsistent police enforcement under a new campaign to crack down on bad drivers is certainly not helping matters, according to a new city report.

With an unwavering number of pedestrian deaths and injuries annually, The City in 2014 joined other cities rocked by similar fatality statistics by adopting Vision Zero, a plan to stamp out all traffic-related pedestrian injuries and deaths. The City’s goal is a 50 percent reduction by 2021 and reaching zero deaths by 2024.

But a new report on pedestrian safety by the budget analyst — which estimates The City will spend $66 million on pedestrian safety projects during the next five years — indicates a need for a more aggressive approach.

“While The City has implemented programs to increase pedestrian safety, The City needs to do more,” reads the Dec. 15 budget analyst report. “The number of injuries and deaths has not changed significantly over the past 10 years and San Francisco has the second highest rate of pedestrian injury and death after New York City.”

As of November this year, there were 13 pedestrian deaths (more than half of all vehicle-related deaths), according to the Department of Public Health. That’s the same number of pedestrian deaths in 2010, according to report, but lower than the 20 deaths last year and the 21 deaths the year before in 2014.

Paul Rose, spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said Vision Zero is a long-term commitment that will require a sustained effort. “While The City has made progress, there is still more work to do,” Rose said. “Getting to zero traffic deaths will not be easy or quick and will require us all to think differently about traffic safety.”

He added, “San Francisco’s traffic death rate may be relatively flat, but compare this to the enormous growth our city has been seeing in recent years.”

The report specifically looked at senior pedestrian deaths. “While people 65 and older are only 14 percent of The City’s population, they made up over one-third of the pedestrian deaths between 2005 and 2012,” the report found.

The City’s Vision Zero effort launched a program called “Safe Streets for Seniors” in April.

Nancy Sarieh, a Public Health Department spokesperson, said the program “lays down the groundwork for more education and outreach to save the lives of seniors on our streets.”

Traffic enforcement is a key to achieve Vision Zero, and in 2014 the San Francisco Police Department created a goal to make sure 50 percent of all traffic citations are for five traffic violations — called “Focus on Five” — that put pedestrians most at risk, such as running red lights, failure to yield and speeding.

While between 2014 and 2015 the department “made substantial increases” in the “Focus on Five” citations, as of the second quarter of this year the department’s goal of 50 percent had not been reached.

In 2015, there were 120,133 total traffic citations issued by police, of which 41,827 — or 35 percent — were “Focus on Five” citations, and in the first two quarters of the year, the percentage was 38 percent.

The report found that some district police stations are doing better other others. The Central and Tenderloin stations issued 17 percent of traffic citations to Focus on Five violations, but both districts had a high rate of pedestrian injuries and deaths, while others exceeded 40 percent. The Richmond station surpassed 60 percent earlier this year.

In October, the SFMTA announced the deployment of new anti-speeding effort using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) units. “We are working to stop excessive speeding,” Rose said. “We are re-engineering our streets, educating the public on safe driving behaviors, and focusing our traffic enforcement efforts on the most deadly traffic violations.”

Between 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 there were 208 pedestrians killed and 959 severely injured, the report reads. But the report noted there is likely an underreporting of injuries in recent years because of discrepancies between data from the Police Department and San Francisco General Hospital. City departments are working on fixing the data accuracy.

The report makes seven recommendations, such as having the police chief report to the Board of Supervisors and Police Commission by March 31 on achievement of the Focus on Five goal or how the department plans to hit the goal as well as receiving an update on the capital projects.

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