(Courtesy SFMTA)

More crossing guards needed to make our streets safer

Joel Kamisher

One pedestrian or bike rider death or injury in San Francisco is one too many.

According to Vision Zero so far this year 20 pedestrians, a bike rider and skateboarder have died. The city is losing the battle to end those fatalities by 2024.

However there’s a small but dedicated group of city workers who could play a major role in achieving that goal.

Right now School Crossing Guards spend two and a half hours each school day protecting parents and children walking to and from their classrooms as well as other seniors, disabled people and adults on their way to work or out for a walk and errands.

Expanding the guard program to a year round 20 hour a week schedule at busy streets, in business districts and residential areas is a step in the right direction.

Giving the guards, many of whom are immigrants, single parents and seniors living on a fixed income 20 hours a week would make them eligible for prorated health and retirement benefits and full union protection. It would also help the city recruit and retain guards.

It’s a difficult job to fill because the limited hours and split shift make it difficult for guards to find other work. Expanding the program hours along with the $2 an hour equity pay raise that took effect July 1 st in addition to the citywide 11 percent increase over the next three years will make it a lot easier to reach full staffing levels. It’s a win-win for the city, the guards and the public.

During recent contract negotiations with SEIU l021 representing 16 thousand city workers including the guards, the city displayed a slide that said safe and clean streets are one of the mayor’s highest priorities. San Francisco is already sparing no expense spending millions of dollars on a round the clock “Poop Patrol” to remove the excrement, needles and other debris that are a blight and safety hazard to residents and a major deterrent to the tourist industry which is a vital part of the city economy.

Yet the budget only allocates less than $500 thousand to the crossing guard program. How much is a human life worth?

Right now the city is in great shape with record revenues from increased property taxes and other sources. The Warriors are providing money to hire more Parking Control Officers for events at the Chase Center. The Giants at Oracle Park, Community Benefit Districts that are active or proposed could do the same.

To be perfectly clear, the guards are not trying to take work from Parking Control or Police Officers by being a cheaper alternative. We can work with them as part of the team that makes the streets safer around schools, neighborhood street fairs, and large public gatherings like sports events Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Blue Grass and activities at Golden Gate Park.

More money could come from the proposed Ride Share tax as well as Vision Zero and other grant sources to cover the additional guard hours. It would be money well spent.

We’ll never know how many accidents we prevent, but every time there is an accident, even if it’s totally the fault of a driver, lawyers try to find a way to make the city pay because it has the deepest pockets.

Some minor design changes to make the streets safer can happen quickly. Other major projects like adding bulb outs and street calming measures require lengthy public meetings and design and permits that can take a couple of years to finish. More guards could be on the corners a lot sooner.

We ‘re more than guards, we are a neighborhood watch. We report potholes and graffiti to 311. We get to know parents and kids, and regular commuters. We look out for people attempting to break into cars or homes or harm children going to and from school.

We hope the city will be an ally not an adversary and work with us to reduce the dangers of getting across the streets. We all share the common goal of making our city safer.

Joel Kamisher is retired radio news reporter and crossing guard who represented the other guards during SEIU 1021 contract negotiations with the city.

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