A sign hangs at the intersection of Fifth and Market streets as pedestrians cross earlier this year. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supes declare ‘emergency’ as traffic-related deaths increase

San Francisco adopted a goal in 2014 to reach zero traffic fatalities by 2024, but the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

To draw more attention to the deaths and increase The City’s effort to reach the 2024 Vision Zero goal, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Supervisor Matt Haney “declaring a state of emergency regarding pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in San Francisco.”

Resolutions are policy statements and cannot require city departments to act, but Haney said “it’s going to take continued leadership from this board to shine a light on this, to hold folks accountable, to partner with the [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency], Mayor’s Office, to make sure this happens.”

There were 24 traffic-related fatalities as of Oct. 22, according to a recent city report, which included one bicyclist death, 14 people killed while walking and nine people killed in vehicles. In 2018, there were a total of 23 traffic-related fatalities.

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee said that the “majority of those impacted are pedestrians while in crosswalks and many of them are elderly.”

“If these were homicides, we would be seeing headlines and protests but because they are pedestrian and bicyclists some don’t even make it on our radar,” Yee said. “We must do everything in our power to prevent these crashes. These are not accidents. They are preventable. This is an emergency.”

Walk SF, a nonprofit that advocates for pedestrian safety, praised the board for adopting the resolution.

“I applaud the Board of Supervisors for recognizing the very real public health crisis happening on our streets today in terms of traffic safety,” Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk San Francisco, said in a statement. “Our City needs to do whatever it takes to make us all safe on our streets, and this resolution makes that very clear.”

Walk SF noted the most recent pedestrian death, which is not included in the Oct. 22 count, occurred on Oct. 31 when a 69-year-old woman, Pilsoo Seong, was fatally hit at South Van Ness and 19th Street.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission on the board, memorialized Seong on Tuesday.

“It’s beyond tragic that once again we are memorializing a victim of this awful crisis that we have in our city,” Ronen said. “SFMTA is taking a close look to see if there are things that we can do via engineering and construction to make that intersection and SFPD is investigating the incident.”

Medeiros said in a statement that “so much can be done to stop these devastating crashes.”

“Today’s declaration of a state of emergency sends a message that it’s time for unprecedented levels of action. And we intend to hold city leaders accountable to this,” she said.

The resolution calls on the City and SFMTA to do such things as reduce and enforce speed limits, add more red-light cameras, re-time traffic lights for safety and increase enforcement of dangerous driving behavior.

Haney said that there is a commitment by the transit agency and the Mayor’s Office to work on these measures.

In light of the increasing trend of traffic-related fatalities, some supervisors have expressed support of eliminating vehicles from certain roadways, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

In other business, the board gave second and final approval to increase the Jobs Housing Linkage Fee, which increases the fee developers of office space must pay. The existing fee plus the increase approved by the board is expected to generate up to $400 million within eight years, under the legislation introduced by Haney.

Mayor London Breed has 10-days to decide whether to sign it, return it unsigned or veto it. It takes eight votes to overturn a mayoral veto. The law would still go into effect if Breed returns it unsigned, but it would indicate whether she supports the legislation.

Also on Tuesday, Supervisor Ahsha Safai called for a hearing on The City’s efforts to open more sites to allow people living in their vehicles a place to sleep. The first of these “safe parking lots” is expected to open in his district in the first week of December. It was initially expected to open this month. But it’s for only 33 vehicles and he said there is a demand for much more in other parts of San Francisco.

“Thirty-three spots is obviously not enough,” Safai said.

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