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Seniors say there isn’t enough time to cross SF streets safely

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A group walks across Geary Boulevard during a protest highlighting the dangers of crosswalks for seniors with disabilities near Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue in San Francisco, Calif. Friday July 28, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Amid San Francisco’s sweeping changes to street safety as part of Vision Zero, seniors are calling out a glaring omission of increasing crosswalk signal times to allow seniors to cross safely.

At an unusual protest Friday morning on Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue, a group of about 50 or so white-haired protesters made their point by simply crossing the street.

Jeanne Lynch, an 88-year-old Richmond District resident dressed in stylish glitter-rimmed sunglasses and a purple outfit, carried a sign reading “Don’t Target Me,” with a target symbol in place of the word, while crossing Masonic Avenue, a multi-lane intersection deemed one of The City’s most dangerous, according to a list released by the Department of Public Health.

As the light turned green, she grasped her walker and trekked along with the group of seniors. The light across Masonic Avenue, in front of the City Target (formerly Mervyn’s), turned red when she — and others — were only halfway across.

Cars started to rev their engines and SUVs inched forward, impatiently edging toward the seniors as they finished crossing through a red light.

“Look at the size of this crosswalk,” she said in disbelief, pointing to its length. She added that due to the limitations she has walking, combined with short crossing times, “I’ve had to change my lifestyle” and has stopped coming to that intersection all together.

Advocacy group Senior & Disability Action organized the protest, and SDA organizer Pi Ra said the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency initially sent responses to the group’s call for longer walk times at key intersections, but hadn’t seen much progress yet.

In an email from SFMTA City Traffic Engineer Ricardo Olea to Ra and Walk SF program and policy manager Cathy DeLuca, Olea said the pedestrian crossing times for key intersections — in particular, Third Street — would soon gain new walking times to favor a slower pace.

“For the past years we’ve been changing the 4.0 feet per second clearance times to the newer 3.5 feet per second slower walking rate,” Olea wrote. “We are in the process of upgrading the transit priority and pedestrian signal timing programming to meet the newer 3.5 feet per second guidance.”

Ra responded that while seniors and SDA were grateful for the new 3.5 feet per second cross time, the group was hoping for cross times lowered to 3 feet per second.

“For over 20 years, as pioneers of pedestrian safety, that has been the goal of Senior & Disability Action,” Ra wrote, and noted that the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices recommends a 3 feet per second ratio in areas with high pedestrian traffic from seniors.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said, “We hear their concerns and will work with this group to consider additional specific ideas,” and added that SFMTA has been integrating leading pedestrian intervals, which give another five seconds to pedestrians crossing the street after a walk signal ends.

At the protest Friday, Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who represents the Richmond District, said she supports the SDA, especially because “the largest growing percentage of people in my district is seniors.”

People with disabilities also described difficulty navigating shorter pedestrian walk times.

“For people with a visual impairment, it is extremely confusing when you have to cross” in a hurry, said Alice Chiu, a member of SDA who is blind.

Extra time, she said, allows her to more easily assess the threat of nearby cars by hearing them.

“We rely on our ears, but there’s a lot of traffic, and noise, and it’s really hard to hear,” she said.

With more time, “I would not be as afraid,” she said.

During the protest, a motorist driving a Nissan Altima nearly made the point for seniors by careening around a corner near what used to be the Lucky Penny Diner. One protester, a senior woman, marched up to the car before it had a chance to cut off the group of seniors.

Standing in front of the Nissan, she held aloft a sign that read “Dying to Cross.”

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