Vision Zero Activists Pressure SFMTA Board on Pedestrian Safety

by Joseph Mayton on January 22, 2014

On Tuesday, scores of supporters headed to City Hall in order to continue to put pressure on San Francisco to make the city’s streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists and other non-drivers. The call to action was initiated by Walk San Francisco and the SF Bike Coalition, which were joined by other groups at a noon City Hall rally that preceded an SFMTA Board meeting at 1:00 pm. Testimony at that hearing urged enactment of Vision Zero as the best strategy for ending pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in San Francisco.

The growing movement behind Vision Zero comes after a string of pedestrian fatalities hit the city on New Year’s Eve and put the spotlight back on the police to ensure vehicles are more aware of their surroundings and traffic laws. Last week, a hearing to address pedestrian safety was packed at City Hall, with throngs speaking towards a better city vision for street safety.

Supervisor David Campos said the hearing and other conversations would be “constructive and productive.”

“It’s important to focus on how we move forward instead of pointing fingers,” he said. “We have the best police department in the country. I really believe that we can always look at what we can do better.” The joint hearing included a presentation given at the Jan. 8 Police Commission meeting highlighting the rise in fatalities juxtaposed with a drop in both officer and citation numbers.

“I am here because it is important to show that we as a city can come together and be a safer place for all of us to walk and to ride [bicycles],” Mark Merrit, 42, told Beyond Chron in front of City Hall after the meeting.

For Merrit, a local businessman who runs a convenience store on Market Street, the idea of safer streets would also increase local business. “It is important that people are able to walk and ride our city’s streets daily because this means they can stop at more shops and get business going.”

According to Walk San Francisco, the demonstration was part support for SFPD’s efforts as well as an attempt to put more pressure on the department to follow through with their official support of pedestrian safety in the city. They argued, in a press statement ahead of the demonstration that “engineering is even more vital to create safe streets.”

They also praised the Vision Zero campaign that the SFPD has already committed to and hope that the public pressure will see it manifest into fruition this year in greater action.

Walk SF added that the SFPD has committed “to a goal of 50 percent of all citations going the Focus on the Five campaign to target the primary collision factors of speeding, running red lights/stop signs, and failure to yield.”

With around 20 people killed on San Francisco streets annually in recent years as a result of driver negligence, the push to increase awareness hits home with families who hope that police, government and NGO action can help to ensure safe streets for all, especially children walking to and from school.

“It is very frustrating and nerve-wracking to know my children are walking to school and the worries we have as parents as to whether drivers will pay attention,” said mother of two Mary.

She added to Beyond Chron just outside the main demonstration area that “we are pressuring police to continue their efforts to make certain that unnecessary deaths don’t happen. We can be a great city for pedestrians and bicyclists, and now is the time.”

Walk SF agrees, saying that while the police department and the government have been discussing new initiatives to continue the previous moves, it is the time to up the pressure to ensure that the government and the police move forward and these efforts are not stalled.

“SFPD is changing its protocol at traffic crime scenes (the previous policy was to refer to the District Attorney without charging); when there is probable cause, SFPD will now cite non-serious, serious and deadly collisions, as well as arrest parties,” the local advocacy group said.

“The next step is to put pressure on the SFMTA to deliver on the street safety improvements that are the foundation of a plan to eliminate all traffic deaths,” it added.

As city residents continue to speak up for safer streets, the question going forward this year is whether it can be made a reality and boost San Francisco into a city that is among the safest in the country for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“We are a progressive city and something we all hope will continue to be a major attractive part of living in San Francisco. I know that myself and other people who bike to and from work this is really important for us and we are excited to see the changes being done by the police to help all citizens,” added Merrit.

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