Pedestrians cross the street in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Pedestrians cross the street in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Despite decline in traffic during pandemic, 30 people died in 2020

Advocates sound the alarm about The City’s faltering efforts to achieve Vision Zero

Traffic collisions killed 30 people in San Francisco last year, up from the year before despite a months-long stay-at-home order and a drop in traffic.

These findings worry street safety advocates, many of whom fear The City is not on track to meet its Vision Zero pledge to eliminate fatalities and reduce severe injuries caused by traffic violence by 2024.

“Reaching Vision Zero is imperative for all of our safety, and to honor all those lives lost,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF, a group focused on pedestrian safety.

The non-profit pedestrian advocacy group released a report on Friday that found more than 200 people have died and another 20,000 have sustained serious injuries as a result of traffic incidents since 2014, when San Francisco signed the Vision Zero commitment to make its streets safer.

Walk SF broke down city data from various agencies such as the Police Department, Department of Public Health and the Municipal Transportation Agency on a district-by-district basis to determine San Francisco’s most and least dangerous areas for road users.

District Six, home to the Tenderloin and SoMa, is far and away the most perilous.

Since January 2014, 51 people have been killed in traffic crashes there and another 4,369 were injured.

By comparison, the next deadliest region is District Three, which includes Chinatown and North Beach.

Over the same time period, 32 people were killed and 1,986 injured in traffic crashes.

But Medeiros noted that no district is unscathed.

Even the safest districts — measured by fatalities — that encompass areas such as the Sunset and Richmond Districts, as well as Hayes Valley and Noe Valley, have seen double digit deaths and hundreds of injuries over the last six years.

Traffic violence could — and does — impact every corner of The City, according to Medeiros, who hopes these district report cards will serve as a “wake-up call” for residents to demand more change.

“Every single district has unacceptable numbers of people being hurt and killed,” she said. “When you start to look at your neighborhood and the number of your neighbors who have been hurt, traffic safety is no longer an abstract concept.”

In its report, Walk SF called on the SFMTA to ramp up the pace at which it implements street engineering solutions that are quick, affordable and effective, such as daylighting intersections, left-turn calming and making crosswalks more visible.

The SFMTA has completed more than 80 miles of such improvements citywide, more than 30 of which overlapped with the High Injury Network, the small concentration of streets where 75 percent of severe injuries and fatalities occur, Kato told the Examiner in an email.

These traffic calming and street safety improvements included 6.5 new miles of protected bikeway, more than 300 continental crosswalk upgrades, 11 miles of slower speed limits and over 150 signal upgrades with slower walking speeds.

While Kato conceded that traffic speeds and dangerous driving behavior “appeared to increase” last year and the number of people killed held steady compared to 2019 at 29 people, she said injuries also decreased.

“We experienced an increase in solo-driver fatalities and motorcycle fatalities, and a decrease in pedestrian fatalities,” she added.

SFMTA says it has additional data that will tell a “fuller picture” about what the agency has done to help achieve its Vision Zero goals, which it plans to present to the Board of Directors at the Feb. 2 meeting.

Officials have long said slowing vehicle speeds is the single most effective way to curb dangerous driving behavior, a priority the SFMTA has said it will pursue with state legislative changes that would give The City the authority to set speed limits and use automated speed cameras.

As for what happens if The City fails to reach its Vision Zero goals, a likelihood becoming all the more probable with every passing month, Medeiros says the future of San Francisco could hang in the balance.

“Vision Zero is about what kind of city San Francisco is going to be,” she said. “Reaching Vision Zero goes hand in hand with The City reaching its health, climate, communities, equity and economic goals.”

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