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San Francisco Pledges To Boost Traffic Safety After Deadly Crashes

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Accident Scene in Tenderloin

A young girl died and two other people were injured in San Francisco after they were hit by a car while crossing the street on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2013. (CBS)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco city leaders and police officials pledged during a joint hearing at City Hall Thursday night to strengthen enforcement of traffic violations and work to prevent fatal collisions as more and more cars, bicycles and pedestrians make their way around the city.

The hearing came a day after Mayor Ed Lee announced his own plans to boost traffic safety enforcement, training and launch a citywide public awareness campaign meant to prevent the types of collisions that killed four cyclists and 21 pedestrians last year, including a 6-year-old girl in the city’s Tenderloin District on New Year’s Eve.

“I know there are things all of us can do better and I know the police department is working to make sure every San Franciscan is safe,” said Supervisor David Campos, who called the rare joint Board of Supervisors and Police Commission meeting.

The meeting featured discussion of a resolution introduced at the Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting calling on city leaders to commit to a “Vision Zero” policy to eliminate traffic deaths in the city over the next decade.

At Thursday’s meeting, San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr pledged to work within his department and other city agencies to work toward the lofty goal.

“We’re committed to a new normal in San Francisco, where as the staffing bumps up, so will the tickets,” Suhr said. “Enforcement is never popular, but we’re committed to making the city safe.”

That “new normal” includes a heightened focus on some of the city’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists, many of which are found in the South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods, according to police.

The focus will be mostly on drivers, who caused two-thirds of fatal pedestrian and cyclist collisions in the city last year, Suhr said.

A major hurdle of reaching the “Vision Zero” goal will be educating the public and getting drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to slow down and pay attention, the chief said.

Police Cmdr. Mikail Ali told the board that the department’s new goal is to issue half of all traffic citations for some of the most dangerous traffic violations such as speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Police officials Thursday night also committed to more thoroughly investigate who is at fault in injury traffic collisions and to arrest and cite more drivers found to be responsible.

Suhr said the department “can do better” in that regard and reiterated an earlier public apology for what he called the “lacking” investigation into an August fatal crash at Sixth and Folsom streets that killed 24-year-old cyclist Amelie Le Moullac.

Investigators continue to work on obtaining an arrest warrant for the driver involved, he said.

The chief also pledged to help find the driver who struck and badly injured Jikaiah Stevens, a young woman who shared her story Thursday night of the September collision and the resulting long-term health issues she now suffers from.

About 150 people attended the hearing, including local pedestrian and bicycle safety advocates who said a real shift in priorities is needed after years of traffic safety promises from city leaders.

Leah Shahum, executive director of cyclist advocacy group San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told the board Thursday night that while she believes their pledges to make city streets safer, the city’s leaders “haven’t always shown the urgency or the action needed, and now is the time to do that.”

“Something is broken with the current system,” she said. “Stories like Jikaiah’s are not as uncommon as you’d think.”

Shahum said that with a nearly 100 percent increase in the number of cyclists on city streets since 2007, the number of collisions has also risen.

She said she hears about a dozen stories each month from local cyclists and pedestrians who have been involved in collisions.

“These crimes cost the city millions of dollars a month and untold value in squandered human capital,” said Natalie Burdick, Membership and Volunteer Director for Walk San Francisco, a group dedicated to making San Francisco a more walkable city.

Funding to provide the necessary police staffing to enforce traffic laws was another major challenge emphasized by both supervisors and police at Thursday’s meeting.

Supervisors Eric Mar and Scott Wiener said local leaders’ commitment to funding safety strategies will be key to preventing traffic collisions.

Another key component to the city’s traffic safety goals, safer street engineering and design, will be discussed at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors Meeting on Tuesday.

Ed Reiskin, the SFMTA’s Director of Transportation, said at Thursday’s meeting that he looks forward to working with police and local politicians to make needed traffic safety improvements, and that safety is the agency’s top priority.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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