Thousands of San Francisco tourists each year flock to Chinatown as an attraction. But to the neighborhood’s thousands of residents, it’s something much more vital: home.
The residents of The City’s most densely packed neighborhood face more treacherous streets than ever. Now, those streets will soon be tamed, through engineering.
And just last week, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority released the blueprints of what that may look like.
It’s called the Chinatown Neighborhood Transportation Plan, and it draws a roadmap to Chinatown pedestrian safety.
“These have historically been very dangerous intersections,” said Supervisor Julie Christensen, of the streets that will soon be made safer. She’s also a Transportation Authority commissioner. “I am fully supportive of the study, and look forward to the continuing dialog over the coming weeks.”
That dialog may include insight into the impact of the new Central Subway, which is still an unknown, she pointed out in previous TA meetings.
Most problematic, the study shows that autos tend to speed up as they exit the mouths of the Broadway and Stockton tunnels towards Chinatown, leading to high numbers of collisions with pedestrians.
These Chinatown streets are designated “high injury corridors” by The City. High injury corridors make up only 12 percent of San Francisco streets, but account for more than 70 percent of severe and fatal traffic collisions.
It doesn’t have to stay that way. The study recommends the following fixes for Kearny, Broadway and other nearby intersections: restricting turns, timing lights to give pedestrians a head start, retiming signals to reduce vehicle speeds, creating crosswalk “scrambles” where pedestrians cross diagonally, and painting “zebra stripe” crosswalks, among many other changes.
Meifeng Deng, 17, and Shirley Tsang, 19, are two local students interning with Chinatown Community Development Center this summer. While other teens play video games, the soon-to-be Galileo High School senior and soon-to-be San Francisco State University sophomore spend their days taking care of the elderly in Chinatown.
“We cook with them, and hang out,” Tsang said, with a smile. They also go on daily walks together, or “Sanbu,” Deng said. Deng lives in Chinatown, and Tsang has spent much time in the neighborhood. Consequently, they both readily say the streets are dangerous.
The pair helped CCDC reach out to the community and gather data for the Transportation Authority’s safety report. Along with Angelina Yu, an organizer with CCDC, the students played tour guide for the Examiner recently. Street by street, they highlighted intersections that most endanger their elders.
The first stop on the tour is at the mouth of the Stockton Street Tunnel, where an elderly neighborhood resident was hit and killed in 2014. Tsang pointed at the intersection where Pui Fong Yim, 78, was struck: Stockton and Sacramento streets.
Deng said, “As I walk by these intersections, I feel in danger too.”
The intersection lacked a “scramble,” or safer diagonal crosswalk. When Fong Yim died, the CCDC picketed along the street to highlight that it was a preventable death. By January 2015 a pedestrian scramble was painted in the intersection by The City – too little, too late.
Tsang and Deng led their tour down Sacramento to Kearny streets. A stooped, older man in a straw hat and cane slowly climbed the hill as we strolled. Our next stop was Kearny and Clay streets, the shoulder of Portsmouth Square.
The intersection “stands out as a problematic intersection,” the study notes. As Tsang and Deng explained, it’s easy to see why. Kearny near Clay is a one-way street with four lanes, so cars tend to barrel down Kearny like a freeway.
It’s also an intersection where an elderly woman, Ai You Zhou, 77, was struck and killed in June as a vehicle turned left around the corner.
The girls are worried, as they point to a nearby single room occupancy hotel, home to many seniors. Since seniors live in such small homes, the square is like a “living room” for the community, they say. Walking around the square, the girls point out seniors gossiping, playing Chinese checkers, reading magazines, and advocating for political causes.
At the corner of the square, the study notes “frequent conflicts” occur between pedestrians and vehicles.
The study will go before the Board of Supervisors in September, and the SFMTA may incorporate its recommendations into new streetscaping projects. For Tsang and Deng, those changes can’t come soon enough.
“I see seniors struggling to cross the street,” Deng said, pointing back to the intersection. Fixing Chinatown’s intersections “will save lives.”