About four hours before the clock struck midnight Tuesday, San Francisco police say a driver struck a family of three, killing a 6-year-old girl and marking an endnote to a year marred with the highest number of pedestrian fatalities since 2007.
The accident at Polk and Ellis streets occurred 4½ hours after 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng was fatally hit by a driver at the crosswalk at Rolph and Naples streets, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. The two deaths on the last day of 2013 brought the pedestrian fatality count to 20 for the year, according to Walk San Francisco, the highest number since 24 were killed six years ago.
“It’s a new year with all the sadness, a wake-up call to The City that we need to prioritize pedestrian safety,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Twenty people dying last year alone should be a cause for concern that this is a public health and public safety crisis that The City needs to take responsibility for.”
Pedestrian fatalities in 2013 surged from the previous five years, which saw between 13 and 17 each year, despite a pedestrian strategy released early last year. The Police Department had also launched a campaign in late 2012 focusing on the five leading causes of collisions.
Police Cmdr. Mikail Ali, who works with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, surmises the uptick may be partly attributed to the thousands of jobs that have been created in The City in the past year.
“We’re bringing more and more people into our city and with that is a challenge of managing and getting better behavior on the part of our drivers and in some cases on the part of pedestrians,” he said. “When you behave in such a grossly negligent way, you’re going to find yourself unfortunately going to jail when you take someone’s life on the roadway.”
Economics appear to factor in greatly. Fatality numbers last exceeded 20 before the economic downturn.
“If you have a recession, you suddenly have less people coming into San Francisco to work,” Ali said. “Now you have a boom of people coming into our city and that increases the conflict.”
San Francisco’s population is growing while the Police Department tries to rebuild its depleted force. The 1,600 officers in June was the lowest number Ali has seen in more than two decades. Though still far from the goal of 2,000 officers, the department with about 1,700 officers currently and more recruits in line looks to “see a marked increase in traffic enforcement,” Ali said.
The accident at Polk and Ellis streets, allegedly involving a for-pay driver, that killed Sophia Liu and injured her 4-year-old brother and mother, as well as Ng’s death, speak to a trend the Police Department plans to present to the Police Commission on Jan. 8.
Many pedestrian deaths in 2013 involved the elderly and Asian populations, and the agencies are working to trace the victims’ and perpetrators’ ZIP codes to target education and enforcement efforts.
“I was at the scene of the girl’s death and it’s very concerning, heartbreaking,” Ali said. “We’ve got to do something and everybody has a part to play.”
Pedestrians killed in accidents:
* Number courtesy Walk SF