Mike Koozmin/The S.f. ExaminerLakeshore Elementary School students explore a life-size street simulation Monday as part of The City’s wider efforts to eliminate pedestrian fatalities.

Life-size street simulation teaches elementary students pedestrian safety

San Francisco officials are taking pedestrian-safety efforts to a new level — this time aimed at children — in response to a rise in pedestrian fatalities in The City.

A life-size street simulation system, Richie's Neighborhood, complete with inflatable cars, flashing signals and realistic traffic scenarios, is set up at Lakeshore Elementary School through today to help teach students the importance of pedestrian safety.

“Is it safe to walk past this driveway?” Santiago Chambers, manager of safety and security at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, asked second- and third-grade students as an inflatable car began to back out of a replica garage.

“No!” the children shouted in response.

Making eye contact with drivers, waiting for the proper traffic signals and looking both ways before crossing a street were just some of the safety tactics taught by Chambers and Helen Arbogast, manager of injury prevention at Children's Hospital.

Supervisor Norman Yee, who helped introduce the recent citywide Vision Zero policy to eliminate traffic deaths within a decade, spearheaded the effort to bring to San Francisco the unique neighborhood replica, named for California politician Richard Alarcon's 3-year-old son, Richie, who was killed in a car accident in 1987.

“It's not acceptable that almost every other week someone gets killed by a car,” Yee said.

Last year, San Francisco saw 21 pedestrian fatalities, including 6-year-old Sophia Liu, compared with 20 deaths in 2012. So far this year, seven pedestrian lives have been lost, according to Yee, who spoke outside the school Monday along with Police Chief Greg Suhr, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza.

“We've got to get better at safety in The City,” Suhr said. “Enforcement is up by over 55 percent, and it's making a difference. Injury collisions are down about 8 percent, but fatalities are still occurring.”

Over the years, pedestrian-safety education has evolved beyond just looking both ways before crossing a street, according to Suhr. That's partly because pedestrians and drivers have become more distracted with the advent of smartphones.

“Now, it's look both ways before you cross the street and make eye contact with the driver, and that's actually in this game,” Suhr noted.

San Francisco General Hospital surgeon Dr. Peggy Knudson helped develop Richie's Neighborhood and its adjoining effort “Ace's Adventures,” an interactive video game that also teaches pedestrian safety in a fun and informative way.

It's the second time the portable neighborhood and interactive video game have been brought to The City, after San Francisco-based online gaming company Zynga paid to bring them to Bryant Elementary School in October, Yee said.

This time, the set, which costs $12,000 to use for two days in The City, is being paid for with money Yee secured in last fiscal year's budget for pedestrian-safety education. Yee and Carranza said they hope to build a version for The City that would travel among the SFUSD's 72 elementary schools.

Lakeshore Elementary School also plans to introduce student crossing guards at the beginning of the next school year, a districtwide program that was revived at Commodore Sloat Elementary School after more than a decade earlier this year.

Greg John, principal of Commodore Sloat, said that after just a few months, the program has already seen success.

“It's really helping and increased safety around my school,” particularly in adult behavior, John said. “With the kids out there doing crossing guard work, grown-ups are so much nicer — more polite, more aware.”

Around 400 students primarily in second and third grades from Lakeshore and Commodore Sloat will take part in Richie's Neighborhood and “Ace's Adventures” this week.

Bay Area Newseducationpedestrian safetyRichie’s NeighborhoodSan Francisco Unified School District

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