How San Francisco Plans to Reduce Pedestrian Deaths

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Early last year, safe streets advocates, alarmed by a spike in fatalities that left 2013 with the highest number of pedestrian deaths in six years, called on the city to prioritize safety improvements on its most dangerous streets.

“We’ve gotten to a crisis point with the number of people that have died in our city,” Nicole Schneider, the executive director of Walk San Francisco, told Streetsblog San Francisco.

That year, 21 pedestrians died, the most since 2007, and four bicyclists were killed.

The city responded to a grass-roots safe streets advocacy movement by adopting Vision Zero, modeled after a safe streets initiative in Sweden, which has an ambitious goal of ending all traffic deaths by 2024.

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In 2014, 18 pedestrians were killed and three bicyclists died, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

While deaths were down slightly compared with 2013,  Schneider says the number can vary drastically from year to year. One way to better measure safety progress on the streets, she said, is to also consider the number of severe injury collisions.

On average, according to data from the city's Walk First program, more than 100 pedestrians are “severely injured or killed” each year, while about 800 are injured.

According to the most recent report from the San Francisco Police Department, there were 144 severe injury collisions as of early December, a decline of 16 percent from the previous year. In 2013, there were 171 severe injury collisions.

City transportation planners studied more than 2,000 collisions involving pedestrians in recent years and found that 60 percent of severe injuries and deaths occur on just 6 percent of streets, mostly in the Tenderloin, South of Market and North Beach.

Many of those streets are dangerous by design, say advocates, and encourage speed and bad driving behavior. That's why city officials have eyed those streets for near and long-term improvements under Vision Zero.

While San Francisco police have improved the department's database, there is currently no central database on collisions that is easily accessible to other city departments.

That is about to change now that the San Francisco Department of Public Health has hired an epidemiologist whose job will be to take collision injury data from a variety of sources and combine it into a first-of-its-kind central database, said health department spokeswoman Rachael Kagan.

"We'll have a fuller picture than ever before of pedestrian fatalities and injuries," said Kagan, adding that no other city that she's aware of has created such a database for pedestrian injuries and deaths.

The data, including demographics, will be culled from the police and fire departments, San Francisco General Hospital, the medical examiner and the SFMTA, said Kagan.

Schneider said city officials will be able to more closely analyze the data, and "that will be really important and a good indicator and benchmark of how we’re doing each year." It will also inform enforcement and planning efforts.

While the city has ramped up planning safe streets projects, and targeted a number for completion over the next five years, advocates say the city has to move quicker in 2015 to reduce deaths, and meet its Vision Zero goals.

"We really can’t wait much longer, to be honest, in terms of getting projects on the ground, " said Schneider. "We have community members and survivors and people who have lost loved ones that really want to see this change happen."

Paul Rose, a spokesman for the Municipal Transportation Agency, said two transportation funding measures approved by voters in November will make it easier to move forward on street safety projects.

"As we head into the next year, we are fully prepared to be as aggressive as possible to make these projects a reality, and get them on our streets to make them as safe as possible," said Rose.

Map produced by Lisa Pickoff-White with data from Walk SF and the SFMTA.