In S.F., 24 Pedestrians and 5 Cyclists Were Killed in 2015, Despite Safety Efforts

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San Francisco has been making progress fixing its most dangerous streets, but the number of people killed walking and biking did not decline in 2015, despite the city's Vision Zero goal to end all traffic deaths by 2024.

Twenty-four pedestrians and five bicyclists died in accidents in San Francisco in 2015, according to the San Francisco Medical Examiner (this excludes those ruled suicides and homicides). The number of deaths recorded by the medical examiner was higher than the Vision Zero count kept by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which has a full-time epidemiologist who analyzes collision data.

Three pedestrians were killed in collisions on highways, or highway ramps, in San Francisco in 2015, but public health officials don't include those deaths in their count because they weren't on city streets.

They also don't officially count deaths involving collisions with light-rail vehicles, like the crash that claimed the life of 12-year-old Andrew Wu, because they didn't involve motorists. A health department spokeswoman said they hope to put deaths involving light-rail vehicles in the official Vision Zero count in the future.

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In addition, two pedestrians injured in collisions on city streets in 2013 died from their injuries in 2015. Bruce Baird, 86, was hit by a driver near Geary and Webster Streets on April 4, 2013, and died on Feb.  22, 2015. Lai-Sim Lai, 79, was struck by a driver at Sunset Boulevard and Wawona Street on Oct. 4, 2013, and died on March 19, 2015.

The medical examiner also said a pedestrian, 66-year-old Gregory Rausch, was struck by a train in a Caltrain tunnel in a death that was ruled an accident.

Another bike rider, 57-year-old Terence Okuda of Kailua, Hawaii, died August 4, two days after a solo crash on Old Mason Street near Crissy Field. A deputy medical examiner said he crashed on the bike route after swerving to avoid a pedestrian.

As of November, the health department reported seven other traffic deaths in 2015: six people were killed while riding a motorcycle, and one person was killed while driving.

At least five drivers were arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter. Spokesmen for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and the San Francisco Police Department could not immediately confirm the total number of drivers charged, or cited.

Vision Zero

In 2013, safe streets advocates were alarmed by the rising number of deaths and severe injury collisions, and lobbied city officials to adopt Vision Zero, taking a page from an initiative that began in Sweden. The program has spread to other cities around the United States.

The following year the city adopted the program, and transportation and public health officials began analyzing traffic deaths and injuries. They counted all traffic deaths, and determined that more than 70 percent of fatal and serious injury collisions occur on just 12 percent of city streets, now identified as high-injury corridors.

By their count, in 2015 20 pedestrians and four cyclists were killed by motorists. Of those, 13 pedestrian deaths and two bicyclist deaths were on high-injury corridors.

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"While one fatality is one too many, we have been working extremely hard to accomplish safety projects, more enforcement, and more education to ensure that we're making these streets as safe as possible," said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Over the last year, the SFMTA completed "quick and cost-effective" safety projects  at more than 200 intersections, amounting to 13 miles of roadway improvements on high-injury corridors. Transportation officials say a number of safety projects slated to start construction in 2016 should make a big difference.

Those projects include long-awaited street redesigns on Van Ness Avenue for bus rapid transit, Polk Street and Masonic Avenue.

"It might not happen overnight, but one key accomplishment over the past year is that the city of San Francisco is on the same page in doing everything we all can to reach our goal of zero deaths by 2024," said Rose.

Picking up the Pace

Safe streets advocates say they've seen positive change since Vision Zero was adopted, but they feel the city needs to pick up the pace if it's going to reach its goal of zero traffic deaths.

Nicole Ferrara, the executive director of Walk San Francisco, says the Vision Zero projects completed thus far were "pretty small" and "effective but only to a certain extent."

Pedestrians wait to cross 24th Street in the Mission.
Pedestrians wait to cross 24th Street in the Mission. (Mark Andrew Boyd/KQED)

To get a full picture of how the safety improvements are impacting deaths and injuries, Ferrara said you have to consider the total number of severe injury collisions in 2015. There are, on average, around 800 collisions a year, according to the SFMTA. City officials could not immediately provide the number of collisions for 2015.

"What we really need to do to see a change in the number of injuries is essentially to redesign our streets," she said. "We need projects to be delivered quicker, more staff support to turn projects around and more leadership at a higher level."

Most of the collisions, Ferrara said, are preventable.

"I speak with people who have lost loved ones, and the pain and sorrow they go through is just so unnecessary and avoidable," she said.

Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that there were a total of 24 pedestrians killed in 2015, not 25, and that SFMTA officials say they count all traffic deaths.