Pedestrian safety advocates and city officials are calling for urgent action on street safety after two deaths in the Tenderloin in the past week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Pedestrian advocates call for ‘state of emergency’ after two deaths in past week

SFMTA commits to immediate safety measures in area of most recent fatal collision

Two pedestrian deaths on San Francisco streets in just four days are spurring a call to action for more safety.

Street safety advocates and Supervisor Matt Haney are calling on Mayor London Breed to declare a “state of emergency” in San Francisco after two pedestrians are struck and killed on city streets within four days.

Benjamin Dean was struck and killed by a Tesla vehicle at Taylor and O’Farrell Streets on Sunday, while he and his wife Kelly Dean were celebrating their anniversary. Kelly was also injured.

And just last Thursday only a few blocks away from where Dean was killed, Michael Evans was struck and killed by a big rig truck, which dragged him for blocks.

“This is a crisis. People are dying on our streets. We need proactive and immediate traffic safety changes throughout the Tenderloin to save lives now,” Haney said. He represents the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors.

“These are neighborhood streets,” he added. “We aren’t a freeway.”

At the same time, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has committed to short term safety changes on Taylor Street and throughout the Tenderloin near the sites of the two recent deaths.

Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition joined with Haney to call for the state of emergency, which may clear a path for funding and help bypass some approval processes to make San Francisco streets safer.

Advocates will gather at City Hall Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. and are calling for people to join their effort.

That call to action came with a laundry list of other moves the advocates hope The City will take including applying greater investigative scrutiny to deaths from traffic violations, budgeting more police for traffic enforcement, “immediate action” to install speed safety cameras and lower speed limits, conducting an “analysis of all severe and fatal traffic crashes” in the last five years to “identify root causes,” installing red-light cameras and designing all safety projects on dangerous streets “to reach the highest possible standards” instead of protecting parking.

While The Mayor’s Office didn’t immediately declare a state of emergency, Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s spokesperson, said Breed already supports increasing traffic enforcement, is supportive of Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee’s advocacy effort to lower speed limits citywide, and supports additional research into the causes behind traffic deaths.

However, some of the advocates’ asks are matters of state law that city legislators and the mayor have no control over, including lowering speed limits and installing speed safety cameras. That last effort, led by Assemblymember David Chiu, was strongly opposed by statewide law enforcement agencies and killed in the state assembly.

A state of emergency may give The City more clout at the state level to wrestle through those roadblocks, said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of Walk SF.

“Within four days, we have seen two pedestrians die in ways that are beyond the pale,” Medeiros said. “The City needs to declare a state of emergency for traffic safety.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency already installed “quick-build” safety treatments to Taylor Street — the site of Dean’s death after being struck by a Tesla driver — just this month, which advocates celebrated July 10.

Those treatments included removing a vehicle travel lane because fewer lanes result in drivers moving slower, painted safety zones at intersections which slows turning vehicles and turn restrictions to protect pedestrians.

After a Monday meeting with Haney, SFMTA committed to adding additional traffic posts to prevent cars from using non-vehicle spaces, which drivers are known to violate, retiming traffic signals north of Market Street to slow Tenderloin traffic, and collecting the data on traffic speeds to compare to their project before the changes.

Notably, SFMTA also committed to upgrading traffic signal head sizes from eight inches to 12 inches, to make them more visible, at Taylor Street.

Early media reports reveal the Tesla driver may have blown through a red light before hitting Dean.

The San Francisco Police Department has a goal to prioritize ticketing speedsters but has failed to meet its own traffic ticket goals in the last two years.

SFPD only hit its “Focus on Five” goals, which prioritizes ticketing speeding, among other dangerous driving behaviors, one time since May 2017, in April this year. Every other month SFPD has failed to reach that goal, according to city data.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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