Pedestrian Safety

Town Hall Addresses SF’s Serious Traffic Safety Issues

By Thomas K. Pendergast 

At a town hall meeting about traffic safety on July 13, hosted by District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar and the recently formed community group D4ward, Madlen Koteva was on everyone’s minds. 

Last March, 14-year-old Koteva was walking a dog around Lake Merced with her mother at about a quarter past six in the evening on John Muir Drive, near the intersection with Skyline Boulevard, when a car driven by a 91-year-old woman struck her.

Mar traffic safety 7-13-18

On Saturday, July 13, District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar hosted a town
hall at the Wah Mei School to focus on street safety in the Sunset. The program included a presentation on the City’s Vision Zero goal for reaching zero traffic fatalities, the projects in progress in the Sunset District and a panel of subject matter experts discussing priorities for making the City’s streets safer for all. Photo by Michael Durand.

Her mother was also struck and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Koteva clung to life in an intensive care unit but eventually succumbed to her injuries, dying 10 days later.

“They realized she was brain dead,” her friend and soccer teammate Leela Sriram, 14, said. “She was taken off of life support and she died two minutes later.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the 91-year-old driver, Margie Brady of San Francisco, told police the sun’s glare made Koteva hard to see. Police cited Brady on May 1 for vehicular manslaughter and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

“We knew how dangerous this intersection was for some time. And time matters and how quickly we move to protect the people that are most vulnerable,” said Suzy Loftus, who is running to be the next SF district attorney. “When I was 9 years old in the Richmond I was hit by a car going to the corner store…. I was hit by a car because there wasn’t enough visibility. We have a crisis on our hands.”

Mar also spoke about this tragedy.

“My daughter is actually the same age as Madlen and Leela, and is a ninth grader,” Mar said. “So this is something that really touched me.”

According to ABC 7 news, as of July 23, 14 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed in traffic accidents this year.

Jaime Parks, Livable Streets director of the Sustainable Streets Division for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) described the unsafe conditions in stark terms. 

“We are facing a public health crisis on our streets right now and we’ve been facing it for decades,” Parks said. “On average about 30 San Franciscans die every year in traffic crashes, It’s also really critically important that we remember every time we see a data point that that’s a person with a face and a family.”

Parks said an average of 500 people per year are seriously injured in vehicle accidents in San Francisco. 

“Almost 50 percent of the trauma cases at Zuckerberg General Hospital are the result of traffic collisions, so this is truly a serious public health crisis,” he said. 

Parks also said 13 percent of the city streets account for 75 percent of serious injuries and fatalities, so he thinks those streets need to be physically redesigned or reformed to make them safer. In the Sunset, he included Lincoln Way, 19th Avenue, Sloat Boulevard, Taraval Street and portions of Sunset Boulevard in that special group. 

Parks described safety improvements either in the process or slated for the district, like the L-Taraval Improvement Project, which includes: pedestrian safety improvements, such as new crosswalks and bulbouts at intersections along Taraval; similar improvements along 19th Avenue; intersections on the Lower Great Highway are getting more redlining or “daylighting” paint jobs (parking spaces and visual obstructions are removed and red lines are painted on the curbs covering about 10 feet before the crosswalk); painted safety zones; back-in angled parking; four “speed tables” for mid-block traffic slowing on Irving, Ortega, Santiago and Ulloa streets; a median island at Lawton Street; plus stop signs on Moraga, Ortega, Ulloa, Cutler and Wawona streets. 

There is also the Neighborhood Way project along 20th Avenue, which will provides dedicated bike lanes going uphill with buffer zones between bicycles and cars, plus speed humps between Lawton and Moraga streets. 

Cat Carter of San Francisco Transit Riders, a public transportation advocacy group, said the rise in pedestrian deaths can be attributed at least in part to increased traffic congestion. 

“Year after year in San Francisco there’s been increased traffic congestion. Our approach to the whole concept is to improve transit, so that people have an option to get out of their cars and we don’t have so many cars,” Carter said. “We have more and more Lyfts and Ubers because they are so competitive with public transit. We want to build transit improvements that keep riders safe, pedestrians safe and allow more people to ride and have fewer cars on the road.”

Kristen Leckie, a community organizer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, urged quick action. 

“We committed in 2014 to get to zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. And I think it’s important to highlight that if we continue at the pace that we’re at now, we’re not going to reach that goal,” Leckie said. “This is definitely a very serious change that we need to address.”

Brian Haagsman, the outreach coordinator with the pedestrian advocacy group Walk SF, spoke about designing streets with senior citizens and disabled people in mind. 

“The way that you design streets that work for seniors and people with disabilities is by listening to them because they’re the experts on their experience,” Haagsman said. “They know what it’s like to need more time at an intersection and know particular problems with using assistant devices and how different road changes affect them.” 

He suggested increasing crossing times at every intersection in the city.            

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