Playing hardball for 19th Avenue

Meeting community needs via the rough-and-tumble political process is generally no game for the faint-hearted or overly nice. That is why The Examiner believes that state Sen. Leland Yee and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are doing the right thing in actively opposing Assembly Bill 112 — which might save lives on a particularly bloody stretch of state Route 12 where five people died in March alone.

As AB 112 author Lois Wolk, D-Vacaville, explains, Highway 12 “is a two-lane rural highway that has become … a major commuter corridor.” Some 800 collisions took place there in the last five years.

It is not as if Bay Area lawmakers want the S.R. 12 carnage to continue. But if AB 112 passes, not only would San Francisco pedestrians regularly continue dying in 19th Avenue crosswalks, it could become harder to enact future bills improving safety along the west side’s major Peninsula-to-Marin artery.

AB 112 would double fines for serious traffic infractions specifically on S.R. 12 between state Route 80 and state Route 5 — and also on any other state highway meeting equal criteria. The Bay Area’s conflict with AB 112 is that its eligibility rules require a highway’s head-on collisions to be 1.5 times the statewide average.

This would permanently stop a double-fine zone from ever going onto the seven miles of 19th Avenue and Park Presidio, which had 1,205 injuries and 12 deaths from 786 collisions between 2000 and 2005. Six of those 12 deaths were pedestrians trying to cross the dangerous thoroughfare.

San Franciscans who get run over in the poorly protected crosswalks of 19th Avenue are just as dead as the victims of head-on collisions along rural S.R. 12 — and their survivors are just as grief-stricken. It is absurd and insulting to value one type of highway fatality more than another.

A spokesman for Yee said the senator strongly requested Assemblyman Wolk to widen AB 112 eligibility to include pedestrian deaths and other major collisions. Wolk flatly refused, claiming that Caltrans insists on limited criteria and will not support an expanded bill. (Yee had two prior 19th Avenue double fine bills vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, on the grounds that there should be a comprehensive statewide policy.)

Of course double-fine zones in themselves are hardly the single cure-all for reckless driving. But according to the S.F. supervisors’ Tuesday resolution, “Caltrans studies show that double-fine zones are effective when implemented concurrently with enhanced enforcement, public awareness campaigns and other traffic safety measures.”

The Bay Area taxpayers who traverse deadly 19th Avenue are entitled to every protection possible, and should settle for nothing less. If Wolk and her North Bay allies are unwilling to act in a united front with The City, unfortunately they are asking for trouble.

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