Slow down and be­hold easy way to save lives

San Francisco Chronicle - - DATEBOOK - CAILLE MILL­NER Caille Mill­ner is a San Fran­cisco Chronicle staff editor and writer. Email: cmill­ner@sfchron­i­ Twit­ter:@caillemill­ner

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.

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