San Francisco saw its third pedestrian death in as many weeks Wednesday evening, at an intersection already improved to aid in walking — but advocates still say the death was preventable.
David Grinberg, 90, was struck and killed by a motorist at Fell and Baker streets near Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle at 5:22 p.m. Wednesday, according to the San Francisco Police Department.
Grinberg’s death, as well as two recent pedestrian fatalities, occurred on streets previously studied and known to be deadly, and in need of safety improvements, advocates said.
They allege San Francisco is losing the war against traffic deaths, which The City calls its Vision Zero effort. This purported traffic safety epidemic hurts seniors, who are more susceptible to deaths from traffic collisions, the most.
Witnesses speaking to the San Francisco Examiner said Grinberg was still walking in the crosswalk when the light facing him turned red, and a 28-year-old woman driving an SUV accelerated and struck him. SFPD declined to comment on the investigation or say whether the driver was arrested.
At the same time Grinberg was struck and fewer than two miles away at City Hall, SFPD Cmdr. Robert O’Sullivan presented the latest statistics on traffic deaths to the San Francisco Police Commission. The SFPD is tasked with ticketing scofflaws for the five most frequent dangerous driving behaviors, including speeding.
SFPD has met its ticketing goals, dubbed “Focus on Five,” department-wide since September 2016. However, individual stations still struggle to keep up.
“Our largest increase [of tickets issued] was the number of speeding violations,” O’Sullivan said.
Overall, injury collisions dropped by 6 percent — from 1,718 to 1,607 — between January and June of 2016 to 2017, O’Sullivan said. During the same period, traffic fatalities also dropped from 19 to 8.
But the statistics appear far less rosy after June, and the most recent traffic deaths occurred on high-injury corridors, which are 13 percent of city streets where 75 percent of severe and fatal collisions occur. The City created a map of such streets to help prevent traffic deaths through engineering changes, education and enforcement as part of Vision Zero.
The Sept. 22 death of Gus Vardakastanis, 56, a popular grocer, and 41-year-old Winifred Leshane, who died on Sept. 15 after being struck by a vehicle in the South of Market neighborhood, are among three recent pedestrian deaths in the last three weeks.
Grinberg, who lived in a senior housing facility at the Mercy Terrace apartments at 333 Baker St., was seemingly unable to cross the street in time to make the light Wednesday evening.
Advocates at the nonprofits Walk SF and Senior & Disability Action have called for longer crosswalk signal times for San Francisco’s senior population and those with disabilities.
“A lot of seniors there go to the park,” Pi Ra, an organizer with Senior & Disability Action, said of the Panhandle. “This is definitely a place where we’d like to see longer crossing time.”
Cathy DeLuca, interim executive director of Walk SF, pointed to statistics that paint a grim picture for seniors on city streets. In 2016, 44 percent of all people killed in traffic in The City were 65 or older, even though seniors make up only 15 percent of San Francisco’s population.
When factoring in only pedestrian deaths, and not motorists or cyclists, seniors make up 88 percent of people killed in San Francisco’s traffic collisions.
“People keep getting killed on streets we know are dangerous,” DeLuca said. “I am mad. The senior community is mad.”
Senior & Disability Action and Walk SF have protested the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, urging its planners to extend crosswalk times citywide.
SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said crosswalk timing at Fell and Baker streets has already been extended once in 2010, from a pace of four feet per second to 3.5 feet per second, allowing for more time to cross.
The intersection also has a “leading pedestrian interval” timer, which allows a pedestrian extra time to cross before giving drivers a green light.
Skip Pile, a local IT professional and San Francisco resident, was walking by the intersection with his 11-year-old daughter Wednesday evening after they had just bought ice cream when they came across the collision.
Pile saw a woman in a gray or blue SUV driving in the far north lane. Grinberg was legally crossing and was three-quarters through the street when the light changed, Pile said. The woman in the SUV then accelerated when given a green light.
“He had almost made it all the way and she basically ran him over,” Pile said. As for the driver, “she was clearly young, and clearly distraught.”
Grinberg emigrated with his daughter and their family from Moldova to San Francisco in 1992. Fresh from the former Soviet Republic, Grinberg’s daughter and son-in-law took various exams, worked and built a new life for their family.
“He raised me here in San Francisco while my parents were both trying to make a life,” his grandson, Roman Gertsenshteyn, 29, said Thursday. “He was always there.”
Gertsenshteyn watched video of the crash and said the woman “floored it.”
“She was going much faster, obviously rushing,” he said. Gertsenshteyn did not agree the signal needed more time, because other autos paused so his grandfather could cross — the woman did not.
Gertsenshteyn said his grandfather frequently walked across the street from his home at 333 Baker St. to the Panhandle after lunch for fresh air. Grinsberg was a civil engineer in Moldova, and enjoyed music, walking and chess on his computer.
“He loved chess,” Gertsenshteyn said.
Grinberg is also survived by his wife of 65 years, Gita Goldshlag.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.