Supervisor Aaron Peskin lays down a bouquet in memory of Rui Xai Zhen at a news conference at the intersection of Geary and Taylor streets on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, where Zhen was struck and killed by a city street cleaner in a pickup truck on March 1. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Bouquet marks the spot of traffic death involving city worker

Slow pace of street safey improvements frustrates advocates

A handful of street safety advocates gathered Wednesday afternoon to watch Supervisor Aaron Peskin lay a bouquet of flowers at the corner of Taylor and Geary streets in memory of Rui Xai Chen.

Chen, a 67-year-old Chinatown resident, took care of other seniors as an in-home healthcare worker. She was walking inside Taylor Street’s west crosswalk on her way to work Sunday morning when a city street cleaner driving a pickup truck turned left onto Geary Street and struck her.

She died of her injuries and is survived by her son and husband.

“On behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, I want to apologize,” said Peskin, the representative of the district where the collision occurred. “I’m here, not only to mourn Mrs. Zhen’s memory, but to talk about what we can do.”

Peskin said police are still investigating the collision, aided by the black box that all city vehicles carry to track speed and other data.

Zhen’s death marked San Francisco’s second traffic-related fatality this year, and both occurred south of Chinatown in the Tenderloin, one of The City’s most dangerous neighborhoods for pedestrians. On Feb. 21, another senior pedestrian, David Chow, was struck and killed by a driver six blocks away.

Almost every street in the Tenderloin is part of San Francisco’s High Injury Network, the 13% of streets identified by The City as where 75% of collisions occur, according to city data.

Peskin noted that The City has made changes to improve safety. Scramble signals, which allow pedestrians at all corners of an intersection to cross simultaneously, were implemented on Stockton Street many years ago. New scramble signals will come to Kearny and Washington streets in April, and Peskin’s Office is seeking funding for another scramble at Kearny and Jackson streets, according to his legislative aide Calvin Yan. The City is also adding new signals and pedestrian improvements at 20 different intersections.

The intersection itself already has installed daylighting and posts to improve the visibility of drivers making left turns, and the surface is relatively level, making it one of the less dangerous intersections in the area, Peskin said, leading him to believe that the driver could be at fault. He said he wasn’t aware of any other changes being planned for that intersection.

However, two community leaders said the changes aren’t coming fast enough, and both called for The City to do more to improve education and enforcement relating to traffic safety.

“She was fine one day, and the next day she was gone,” Queena Chen, co-chair of Chinatown Transportation Research and Improvement Project, said about Zhen.

She said she hoped that the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency would collaborate more to enforce traffic safety. Red-light enforcement and cameras at intersections could also help lighten the loads of SFPD and SFMTA staff, she said, and more periodic driving training could help drivers avoid crashes.

“I don’t understand why they keep happening, and it’s affecting our community, and it feels like no one is doing anything about it because it happens so often,” Chen said. “I do feel like the city is doing stuff, but they’re being really reactive instead of being proactive, and they have been trying to be a little bit more proactive but it’s not fast enough.”

Rosa Chen, a senior community organizer with the Chinatown Community Development Center, also advocated for better education and enforcement.

She said her center, with funding from a law firm that worked on pedestrian safety issues, created two PSAs for Chinese media years ago, one teaching drivers about making left turns safely and the other on senior pedestrian safety. Many pedestrians in the neighborhood, she said, will run lights to chase buses.

She wants to see more PSAs, but noted that cost was the barrier.

“This should be really done by The City,” she said. “And so it shouldn’t be something that we’re scrambling to look for funding for — this is something Vision Zero should have in their budget and funding to do.”

She also wanted to see officers placed at specific intersections to perform stings at certain times of the day.

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