Bicyclist advocates Thursday were reeling from the loss of two cyclists killed within several hours of each other in separate hit-and-run collisions in San Francisco.
The first incident was reported at 30th Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park around 6 p.m. Wednesday, in which a white Honda that was speeding on the wrong side of the road struck San Francisco resident Heather Miller, 41, who later died.
While investigators were still at the scene of that crash, a second fatal hit-and-run collision was reported in the South of Market neighborhood near the intersection of Seventh and Howard streets around 8:30 p.m.
The suspected driver of that crash allegedly ran a red light before fatally striking 26-year-old Katherine Slattery, also a San Francisco resident, and fleeing the scene. Officers apprehended the alleged driver, later identified as Farrukh Mushtaq, 32, a few blocks away.
Mushtaq was booked into San Francisco County Jail on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Mayor Ed Lee cited the drivers’ “irresponsible speeds” in both cases as factors in the deaths of the bicyclists.
“We’re saddened and outraged [by their deaths],” Lee said.
But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on Thursday asserted that safety infrastructure and enhanced police enforcement could have prevented the speeding-related fatalities.
The argument that traffic deaths can be prevented by engineering and enforcement is the crux of the Vision Zero policy adopted by San Francisco in 2014, which tasks The City with eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024.
As part of that policy, the San Francisco Police Department has a self-stated goal called “Focus on Five,” which means each station should make 50 percent of its citations for the five most dangerous driving behaviors, like speeding.
Just three of the department’s 10 stations are meeting that goal, according to the latest data provided by police.
Chris Cassidy, a spokesperson for the bicycle coalition, said it’s problematic that the San Francisco Police Department is failing to cite more drivers who speed.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also has not built enough infrastructure to protect cyclists, Cassidy said.
The bicycle coalition, in conjunction with the Department of Public Health and other agencies, has previously released a list of 60 streets all deemed “high injury corridors” that are most likely to see collisions.
None of the streets, Cassidy said, are slated for bicycle safety improvements this year — including John F. Kennedy Drive, the location of the first fatal collision Wednesday.
But Cmdr. Robert O’Sullivan of the SFPD’s Traffic Company emphasized both crashes Wednesday involved “criminal behavior.”
“With regards to Focus on the Five, there’s always room for improvement,” O’Sullivan said.
When asked if these deaths signal a need to build more protected bike lanes, Lee said, “We have to prioritize where” we build them, but, “we’re willing to spend.”
The street where Miller was killed in Golden Gate Park doesn’t have protected bike lanes, nor does it have “sharrows” to indicate a lane shared between autos and bikes, Cassidy said.
Cassidy said The City’s top elected official needs to bolster traffic safety efforts by the SFPD and SFMTA.
“Instead of transformative leadership, we have Mayor Ed Lee,” he said, “It’s unprecedented to have two fatalities in one night.”
Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the SFMTA, disagreed street safety changes would’ve helped.
“The best bike infrastructure in the world would not have prevented these collisions,” he told the San Francisco Examiner.
Meanwhile, cyclists who witnessed the crash in Golden Gate Park were horrified by the scene.
Timmory Johnson was riding a bicycle in the park with her boyfriend Wednesday evening when she heard the impact of the crash and saw the driver flee the scene.
The windshield of the car was “completely” caved in, Johnson said.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s horrible to see somebody get hurt like that in front of you, and horrible to see somebody take off and not take responsibility or help.”
While the suspect in the SoMa crash was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter, the driver of the Golden Gate Park crash remained at large Thursday.
The Honda from that crash was later recovered near the Angler’s Lodge, but the driver had fled the scene apparently on foot.
O’Sullivan implored the driver to surrender to authorities at Thursday’s news conference, and urged the public to come forward with information.
“No tip is too small,” O’Sullivan said.