Chinatown neighbors stop traffic near Portsmouth Square on Thursday night. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Protesters stop traffic in Chinatown to call for more pedestrian safety

Angry Chinatown neighbors briefly stopped traffic near Portsmouth Square park on Thursday night to call attention to a need for more pedestrian safety measures in the neighborhood.

Many in the crowd of about 50 people chanting for safety were elderly residents of nearby single-room-occupancy hotels who want the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to create a pedestrian “scramble” at Kearny and Clay streets.

That’s a design in which pedestrians diagonally cross an intersection while cars in all four directions stop — and no car movement makes for fewer collisions with pedestrians.

“We want full scramble!” the seniors and an accompanying group of youth shouted as they crossed Kearny diagonally to stop traffic.

San Francisco Police Department Cpt. David Lazar crossed with them, stopping traffic safely and diverting it from the protest.

The demand took on special significance, according to those gathered, after a 77-year-old pedestrian, Ai You Zhou, was struck and killed at Kearny and Clay last summer. Many seniors live in the SRO’s surrounding Portsmouth Square and primarily walk to the area.

Chinatown advocates have pushed for a “scramble” there ever since.

Paul Rose, spokesperson for the SFMTA, said “the scramble is in,” specifically in April, when the streetlights were retimed to give pedestrians more than 20 seconds to cross in all directions at once.

Rose acknowledged “there has been a request” to install signal crossings showing countdown displays in diagonal directions, “and we have committed to installing those display screens.”

Protesters also said they wanted street striping that indicated diagonal crossing was allowed, as well as other changes to the intersection.

The protest was organized by Chinatown TRIP, an advocacy organization, in partnership with Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

“We want to say thank you to MTA for starting the scramble,” Chin shouted to the assembled crowd of residents.

“But it’s not finished, is it?” he shouted, to which the crowd answered in a chorus, “No!”

That will require more time, he wrote in an email, because the SFMTA must install new underground signal infrastructure, as the current setup is too old for the upgrade.

Peskin said the SFMTA characterized the “more time” needed as two years, which Chin and other protesters said may allow ample time for more pedestrians to be in harm’s way.

Update 11/18: This post has been updated from its original version.

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