San Franciscans call for a “culture of life and safety”

by Leah Shahum | November 19, 2015 | in News

San Francisco families who have lost loved one to traffic violence
San Francisco families who have lost loved one to traffic violence | Photo by

As I walked with more than 100 people in San Francisco’s first-ever commemoration of the World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims, I saw signs of hope.

Tragically, we know the commemoration and action of millions worldwide will not bring back the loved ones lost to traffic violence, nor take away the suffering of those injured in crashes.

But, I believe the focus on safe mobility that so many brought to light with World Day of Remembrance events – from Boston and New York City to Portland and St. Louis — will make a difference in how we advance the goal of Vision Zero: zero traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

Walking to the WDR vigil | Photo by
Walking to the WDR vigil | Photo by

The vigil in San Francisco was evidence of that progress. It’s been less than two years since the city committed to Vision Zero. Yet, speaker after speaker clearly identified traffic crashes as “preventable,” a paradigm shift and an acknowledgement that I couldn’t have even imagined just a few short years ago.

“These are not accidents,” said City Supervisor Norman Yee, who was hit and severely injured while walking in San Francisco’s car-laden South of Market neighborhood in 2006. “They’re crashes that are preventable.”

Yee was one of four members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who participated in the solemn proceedings, along with a member of the California State Assembly and leaders of key city departments — all of whom pointed out that we have control over the factors that put people at risk on our streets.

“Now in San Francisco, we are no longer accepting that people have to die just trying to get around our city,” said Ed Reiskin, Director of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

WDR vigil | Photo by
WDR vigil | Photo by

“We know what we need to do to make streets safer,” added City Supervisor Scott Wiener. “We need our streets to be set up in ways to encourage safe speed. Design matters.”

City Supervisor Eric Mar spoke of our current acceptance of a “culture of speed and death,” and the need to make the politically difficult but critical changes to move to a “culture of life and safety.”

This sentiment was shared most strongly by the half dozen speakers at the vigil who were victims of traffic violence themselves or who had lost their loved ones in crashes.

Monique Porsandeh was hit by a car moving at 40 miles per hour when she was walking. “My life has changed,” she said. After sustaining injuries to her brain, she spent a year in rehab, lost her graduate school position, and still suffers serious memory and attention span problems. “I wish drivers would get off their cell phones and stop texting,” she urged. “And I wish they were more aware of their speed.”

Julie Mitchell spoke of her 21-year-old son Dylan, who was hit and killed in San Francisco by a professional driver while bicycling in 2013. “It’s a nightmare that I can’t wake up from,” she shared. “And our family will never be the same. For my children and yours, we must take measures to make the streets safe.”

WDR vigil | Photo by
WDR vigil | Photo by

Their stories and these types of public mobilization are having an impact. Measures being considered to advance San Francisco’s Vision Zero goal are dramatically more ambitious – and appropriately so — than those considered even a few short years ago.

Most significantly, policymakers and community members across California are publicly calling out the disproportionate role that speed plays in severe injuries and traffic deaths. We know that someone struck by a vehicle traveling 40 miles per hour has an 80% chance of dying; at 20 miles per hour the fatality rate drops to 10%.

The same week that the world remembered traffic victims, the San Francisco Controller’s Office released a new report showing the positive impact of automated speed enforcement in encouraging safer speeds. Across the country, more than 130 communities have found these cameras to be an effective tool in improving safety for all road users. For instance, Washington D.C. reported a 70% reduction in traffic fatalities after implementing cameras.

WalkSF Executive Director, Nicole Ferrara speaking at the vigil | Photo by
Walk SF Executive Director, Nicole Ferrara, speaking at the vigil | Photo by

Yet most states still do not allow for the use of automated speed enforcement. This is something the speakers at the San Francisco vigil pledged to change — and you can help. Walk SF and the SF Vision Zero Coalition are organizing to win state approval of Automated Speed Enforcement – a proven, life-saving device – in California communities. Sign their online petition here.

As the events of last week showed, with the heartbreaking stories of too many families impacted by traffic violence, action cannot come soon enough.

As I stood at the vigil in downtown San Francisco, holding a candle on a cold, windy night and listening to victims of traffic violence share their experiences, I felt sorrow for their pain, as well as gratitude for their courage. I also feel a renewed sense of urgency to work even harder at both the local and state levels to change the things we can change to keep our loved ones safe in the future.

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