Alvin Lester speaks to a crowd at San Francisco’s first World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Lester’s son Arman was skateboarding when he was killed by a vehicle. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Mourners march to remember those killed in traffic collisions, push for change

In life, their paths never crossed.

Sunday night, however, their families came together to decry the cause of their deaths: Being struck by vehicles.

Arman Lester, 21, and Dylan Mitchell, 21, are both examples of people who’ve been fatally injured by vehicles.

Sunday evening friends and family members of Lester and Mitchell were among more than 70 mourners who carried candles and marched down Market Street for San Francisco’s first World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

Though the third Sunday of November was designated to honor traffic victims by the United Nations in 2005, Sunday was the first time marchers in The City have honored the day of remembrance.

“It can happen to any of us,” said Julie Mitchell, whose son Dylan was crushed by a 30-ton truck. She called her son’s death “devastating.”

The remembrance comes on the heels of a recent high-profile crash after 30-year-old Kristen Andereck allegedly struck two 12-year-old boys as they walked to Marina Middle School two weeks ago.

The boys lived, but the site of the incident — Bay Street — was due for traffic safety upgrades. This is a similar story across The City, advocates said.

The march was not only to honor those who were injured or killed, but to push to prevent further deaths by supporting Vision Zero. That’s a national effort to bring traffic collision deaths down to zero through engineering, education and enforcement — which San Francisco’s government pledged to do by 2024.

In 2013, traffic collisions killed 42 people in San Francisco and 31 died similarly in 2014. As of the end of October, traffic collisions killed 24 in San Francisco this year.

Now Walk SF and other advocates are calling for automated speed enforcement to boost Vision Zero efforts in California.

With automated speed enforcement, cameras and speed sensors would electronically ticket speedsters. More than 139 communities in the United States use automated enforcement, according to Walk SF — and its largely led to reductions in fatalities.

Washington D.C., for instance, found a 70 percent annual reduction in fatalities since they were implemented in 2003, according to the Washington Post.

Automated speed enforcement may be introduced by state lawmakers this year, Nicole Ferrara, head of Walk SF told the San Francisco Examiner.

“We don’t’ have a sponsor yet,” she said, “we need a push from political leaders, still.”

But enforcement is important because “speed is at the heart” of most traffic deaths, Ferrara said.

Alvin Lester walked down Market Street with his fellow mourners, as the strong winds prompted most to carry electric candles rather than wax ones. Lester’s son Arman was skateboarding when he was struck by a vehicle from behind and killed, he said.

“He was an easygoing, nice, respectful young man,” Lester said of his son. Arman was a student at City College of San Francisco and worked two jobs: Selling jeans at Levi’s and he worked at a sandwich shop.

The court system is weighted to favor drivers and calls collisions “accidents” instead of preventable, Lester said, adding, “It’s merciless.”

Supervisors Eric Mar, Norman Yee, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu all took part in the day of remembrance. Mar said the first traffic collision death of the year was 87-year-old Alfred Yee, in the Richmond district, which Mar represents.

The right road engineering along Geary Boulevard could have prevented Yee’s death, Mar said. Those changes came only after the man’s death.

Those who help craft safer streets also marched — some staff from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick and San Francisco Police Department Traffic Company Cmdr. Ann Mannix.

“We no longer accept people have to die,” Ed Reiskin, head of the SFMTA, told the crowd, as the sun went down.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said, “these deaths are preventable.”

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