Lives depend on drivers staying alert in the dark

This past month, we saw three traffic fatalities in as many weeks in San Francisco. Ninety-year-old David Grinberg was going about his day, crossing the street at Fell and Baker streets, when he was struck by a car and killed in the crosswalk. We all mourn his death and offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Even though we had already added a protected bike lane, upgraded the crosswalks and increased the allotted time to cross the street safely, we are exploring what else we can do to make the area as safe as possible. And as we approach the end of daylight saving time, it is important to remind people that, historically, this is the time of year when collisions tend to spike as our bodies adjust to the new sleep patterns and people are out on the streets in the dark more often. Bottom line: Now is a good time to call on all of us to be even more aware and step up our safe driving skills.

Grinberg’s death was tragic, and, sad as it is, we know that every traffic death is preventable. Through our commitment to Vision Zero, we in San Francisco deem these deaths to be unacceptable. His death — and the death of the 14 other people who have lost their lives this year just trying to get around The City — serves as another reminder that traffic safety is a major problem in San Francisco. The overall number of traffic deaths in 2016 was 30, compared to 31 in both 2014 and 2015. Through August, there were 12 traffic deaths in 2017, but September was a particularly tragic month. So we wanted to take stock of what is happening, what we are doing about it and what you can do to keep people safe.

We know that seniors are five times more likely to die in a traffic collision than any other demographic. We are committed to eliminating these deaths and injuries and we are providing funding to community-based organizations to advance a Safe Streets for Seniors program that educates seniors and collects feedback about where and how we can improve streets for our most vulnerable street users.

Since adopting Vision Zero in 2014 to eliminate all traffic deaths, we have implemented dozens of miles of targeted safety improvements, such as updated or new crosswalks, protected bikeways and traffic calming.

We are in the process of redesigning many of the streets with the highest concentrations of crashes such as Market Street, Geary Boulevard, Mission Street and many other streets in the Tenderloin and SoMa. We are closely coordinating with other city departments to take advantage of infrastructure upgrades to add safety improvements on Masonic Avenue, Lombard Street, 19th Avenue and Columbus Avenue.

We know that even small increases in speed can have a big impact. For instance, when you drive just five miles per hour over the speed limit, you are twice as likely to kill someone. Research from the National Transportation Safety Board found that speeding is one of the most common crash factors nationally, something we already knew here in San Francisco. Through Vision Zero, we are pursuing the strategies that NTSB recommends as proven ways to reduce speeding, such as the use of automated speed enforcement.

As a result, we have focused communications on raising awareness that speeding is a problem on San Francisco streets. We launched a Safe Speeds SF campaign last September with radio and digital media ads to raise awareness that speeding is a leading cause of death in San Francisco. We paired the media with a high-visibility enforcement campaign to remind drivers that they will be cited for speeding in our city.

Fifteen people have died on our streets this year, just trying to make their way around town. These people were mothers, sons, grandparents, friends and co-workers, whose deaths left many devastated. While there is no silver bullet, we must all do our part by making the streets safer. As we move into the fall and winter months, let’s all remember to be alert, because lives depend upon it.

Ed Reiskin is the director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

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