Paul Mitchell and his father Jim Mitchell stand on the corner of 16th and Mission holding a sign with the smiling face of Paul's son Dylan Mitchell, who was killed when he was struck by a garbage truck while he was riding his bike. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Families who saw loved ones die in traffic collisions form new advocacy group

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, the Vision Zero Coalition.

These groups fight every year for more safety measures on San Francisco’s streets, as The City grapples with preventing traffic collision deaths.

But now a new advocacy nonprofit will be comprised of traffic victim’s families themselves, putting a personal face to the deaths on The City’s streets.

The San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets group launched today, and marched about 70 mourners for the Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims from 16th Street BART to City Hall.

Founding member Paul Mitchell, a San Francisco native and electrician, stood with his father Jim Mitchell on the corner of 16th and Mission shortly before the march began. The pair held a sign with the smiling face of Paul’s son Dylan Mitchell, who was 21 when he was killed on his bicycle by a garbage truck making a right-hand turn.

“He was hit a block away from here,” said Paul, as he turned to point down 16th Street.

Both Paul and Jim Mitchell are electricians, and Dylan had moved to San Francisco only a week before he died. Dylan meant to follow in his family’s footsteps, and had just started an electrician apprenticeship.

“They loved him, he was learning. He’s missed every day,” Paul said.

The new advocacy group counts about a dozen families in its membership, said Nicole Ferrara, of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk SF, which helped Families for Safe Streets with the nitty gritty of forming an advocacy group. Mitchell and others said the group’s first focus will be urging lawmakers to bring automated speed enforcement cameras to California, an effort that has failed in the past.

Many joined the march, including representatives from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Francisco Police Department, and Supervisor Eric Mar was set to speak at City Hall with the groups.

Assemblymember David Chiu, who also marched with the families down Mission Street, said his office supports automated speed enforcement, and is researching options to address concerns of the proposal’s opponents.

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the bike coalition, said the voice of families can make real what advocates often only describe.

When you talk to someone who has suffered a traffic fatality in their life, “a brother, a mother,” he said, “it humanizes what we too often see in the abstract.”

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