Pedestrians cross at Jones and Turk streets in the Tenderloin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Pedestrians cross at Jones and Turk streets in the Tenderloin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

DPH receives $100,000 traffic safety grant to reach most vulnerable communities

Vision Zero efforts ramping up as 2024 deadline approaches

San Francisco’s efforts to eliminate traffic fatalities within the next four years will be bolstered by an additional $100,000 dedicated towards some of The City’s most vulnerable residents.

The Department of Public Health announced Monday it had received a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety specifically to fund efforts reaching multilingual communities and individuals with disabilities, who remain disproportionately at risk of being killed in traffic collisions.

“The goal of zero traffic fatalities is, itself, a really precocious goal, but it’s also the right goal to have,” said Shamsi Soltani, Vision Zero epidemiologist at DPH. “We know death and severe injury is disproportionately aggregated in certain communities.”

Officials will partner with community-based organizations and local healthcare providers to reach residents through channels they already know and trust with a focus on education.

Funds will help pay for traffic safety educational materials made available in various languages, workshops geared towards youth and older adults and a number of grassroots-level events to raise awareness of the benefits of walking or riding a bike and how to stay safe while doing so.

According to Soltani, even though communities with high concentrations of low-income families, immigrants, youth or people with limited mobility account for roughly 30 percent of San Francisco streets, those roads are where about 50 percent of severe and fatal collisions occur.

“We know from the jump that these are areas in The City that deserve more focus,” she said, pointing to historic disinvestment and a continued need for more of a focus on traffic safety.

Solanti was clear that improving educational outreach on these streets doesn’t just impact those who live on or near them. There’s a lot of geographic overlap with corridors regularly used by people navigating The City for work, recreation or other needs, regardless of where their home is located.

“We know that there are these high value areas, streets that everyone uses, and they’re the places that you would expect such as larger arterials where traffic is faster,” Soltani said. “Making those areas safer has impacts in safety for everyone.”

Vision Zero is often cast as the responsibility of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency because it has the authority to make the street-level changes that calm traffic and save lives.

While SFMTA certainly plays a leading role in the fight for safe streets, it works closely with DPH, the agency in charge of addressing The City’s most pressing public health crises, which includes the persistence of traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

In 2019, 29 people were killed by traffic violence, and numerous others severely injured.

This year, despite citywide mandates for much of the year to shelter in place, the fatality rate has only declined marginally; 19 people had died as of the end of September.

DPH’s grant runs through September 30, 2021, but there are other ways for local groups to get involved in Vision Zero efforts, too.

SFMTA announced it would be offering up to seven grants total for anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 to community groups to conduct safety education and outreach in their own communities, mostly focused on changing behavior around vehicle left turns.

Last year, almost 40 percent of all traffic fatalities citywide involved a left-turning vehicle.

The Safety — It’s Your Turn Community Grant hopes to empower groups already working within their neighborhoods to share traffic safety information that will complement street designs intended to slow down cars making left turns such as painted safety zones and rubber road bumps.

“The SFMTA recognizes that CBOs are often closer to the communities they serve, have a better understanding of community needs and are better positioned to share relevant health and safety messaging with their communities,” the announcement released in early November said.

The deadline for applicants is November 20.

Soltani emphasized education is a “hallmark pillar” to Vision Zero efforts, but she emphasized it’s just one of the levers The City plans to pull in order to achieve its goals by the rapidly approaching deadline.

She teased The City’s ongoing pursuit of “transformative policy change” at the state level that would give San Francisco more authority to lower speeds on its own streets, work that was endorsed by the Board of Supervisors in a resolution Tuesday.

“We have a lot of proven tools in terms of increasing traffic safety, and it takes all of them,” she said.

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