Slow down and behold easy way to save lives
The last time I almost got killed by a car was seven months ago. It was raining, hard. I kept my umbrella over my head as I exited the bus. It wasn’t late — only about 6 o’clock in the evening — but it was winter, and the sky was already dark. Understanding that these conditions made what I needed to do next — cross the street — more dangerous, I waited for the light to change and the little man to glow on the pedestrian signal.
When he popped up, I started walking. At the same time, a driver in the intersection decided to run through a red light to turn left, not yielding to me — or even looking to see if she needed to yield. I heard the squeal of her tires and the roar of her engine in time to lift my umbrella and scream.
The driver had taken off at top speed from a dead stop — she had to be going at least 35 mph. So when she slammed the brakes, her car hydroplaned slightly to the right. She could’ve taken out a couple more cars with her reckless driving.
As it was, she stopped close enough to me that I could — and did — yell in her face for nearly killing me. She was apologetic, but that wouldn’t have meant much if I’d been dead.
Did I mention this was only the last time I almost got killed as a pedestrian in San Francisco?
So far, I’ve only had close calls. But that’s not the case for an increasing number of people. Despite the city’s Vision Zero plan, the number of pedestrian deaths is actually on the rise. Fifteen people were killed while walking in San Francisco in 2018, an increase after three years of declines.
This year is expected to be even grimmer — after the death of Hui Jun Yang, a 79yearold woman who was hit by a car at Fifth and Market streets last Saturday, we’re already at 14 fatal crashes for pedestrians.
San Francisco isn’t alone, either. Pedestrian deaths are up all over the country. A study from the Governors Highway Association found that about 6,227 pedestrians were killed in traffic last year. That’s the largest number in nearly 30 years and a huge increase over 2008, when 4,109 pedestrians were killed in traffic.
Numbers like this are why state Assemblyman David Chiu, DSan Francisco, is thinking of reviving AB342, his 2017 bill that would have created a pilot program for automated speed enforcement in San Jose and San Francisco. (San Jose had 24 pedestrian deaths last year, a whopping 46% of all of that city’s traffic fatalities — although walking represents less than 2% of the modes of transportation people use to get around there.)
“I’ve had many conversations with people about that bill recently,” Chiu told me. “We know that automated speed enforcement has successfully reduced pedestrian deaths in more than 100 other jurisdictions. All we’re asking our colleagues in Sacramento is to give us a chance to save some lives on the most dangerous streets in our state.”
Automated speed enforcement (basically, cameras that measure passing drivers for speed) is a favorite of pedestrian safety experts for good reason: It saves lives. Speed is the No. 1 factor in fatal crashes. But it seems drivers will only slow down if there’s a potential hit to their pocketbooks, not if someone’s life is at stake.
If that sounds harsh, consider why AB342 couldn’t make it out of the Legislature: It was opposed by the police unions (who were upset at the idea of technological support for their jobs), the Teamsters (who didn’t want their members to get even more speeding tickets than they’re already getting) and privacy groups (who don’t like cameras).
Never mind that the San Francisco Police Department’s traffic enforcement unit is understaffed, or that drivers should be obeying the speed limits, or that — thanks to privatesector data breaches — every Ukrainian hacker under the sun already has your name, Facebook profile, credit score and Social Security number.
“Our state laws around speed and transportation are antiquated,” said Jodie Medeiros, executive director of the pedestrian safety group Walk San Francisco. “And as the number of cars on our streets have increased over the past several years, we’re seeing the negative results for pedestrians.”
It is remarkable to me that simply asking drivers to drive a little bit slower has so many potentially positive outcomes — Fewer deaths! Reduced greenhouse gas emissions! Nicer neighborhoods! — yet their kneejerk response is to say no. Worse, many of them choose to blame pedestrians for their own deaths.
Something about sitting behind the wheel of a 4,000pound death machine breeds a sense of entitlement, I guess.
But people’s lives should be more important than drivers’ egos. Until California gets that message, pedestrians will continue to die.
Drivers will only slow down if there’s a potential hit to their pocketbooks.