---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Edward Evans <edwevans@...>
Date: Sat, Mar 20, 2010 at 9:51 PM
Subject: Increase pedestrian safety, decrease deficit
Published Saturday, March 20, 2010, by the San Francisco Chronicle
Increase pedestrian safety, decrease deficit
By C.W. Nevius
Facing a $522 million budget deficit, San Francisco needs to look at
every possible way to save money. A new study from the San Francisco
Injury Center points to one place that could not only save millions, but
also improve the quality of life for some of the city's neediest
The issue is pedestrian safety. San Francisco is routinely cited as
having the highest rate of pedestrian injury collisions of any major
city in California. It is a sensitive topic for the Municipal
Transportation Agency, which has any number of explanations of why those
stats are deceptive. More people walk to work in San Francisco, for
But tell it to the 3,598 pedestrians who were injured between 2004 and
2008. They are the subjects of a study coordinated by Dr. Rochelle
Dicker, director of the Injury Center at San Francisco General Hospital.
In that period, Dicker found that pedestrian accidents rang up medical
costs of $173 million, 75 percent of which were paid out in public
The fact is, Dicker's study found, by focusing on improving safety in a
relatively small area of the city -- District 6, which includes the
Financial District, SoMa and the Tenderloin -- the city has the
potential to save millions.
"In these times we need to focus on specific areas," she said. "We can't
do this in a blanket way."
Both District 6 and District 4 have the highest incidents of pedestrian
injuries. In District 4, the medical costs for pedestrian accidents were
$4.89 million over five years. In this district, cars roar off the
freeway onto 19th Avenue and treat the city street like a raceway.
Nobody needs to be told that the corridor is a problem, and MTA has
helped to enact measures to make it safer.
District 6 in the lead
But the undisputed champion among city districts for generating medical
cost was District 6, with $13.2 million over five years.
Imagine if the city were to devote time, energy and innovation,
particularly in the Tenderloin, where pedestrians play dodgeball with
cars every day.
Dicker isn't talking about re-engineering the streets, but rather
simple, inexpensive fixes.
"One proven method," Dicker said, "is to change the types of crosswalks
to make them more visible. Blinking lights on crosswalks have been
She also notes the concept of "lead lights," where the pedestrian is
given a head start into the intersection before the light turns green.
It isn't as if city officials are completely ignoring the problem.
They've narrowed streets in 35 locations with what they like to call a
"road diet." Four-lane avenues are cut to three, with one lane in each
direction and a turn lane in the center, which slows traffic and keeps
pedestrians from crossing two lanes of traffic.
They've added pedestrian islands, mounted traffic lights above the
street instead of on corners and increased enforcement. Now, they need
to concentrate those measures in the place where the most costly
accidents occur. Of course, the argument against doing more is simple.
Even if it is relatively cheap, it would still cost money when the city
is in a financial bind.
"But, in the long run, it would actually save money," Dicker said.
"Trauma tends to be a low-income disease. At S.F. General, we are seeing
more people who have lost their jobs and their health care coverage.
They are turning to Healthy San Francisco, and while they are lucky to
have that option, it is expensive."
Crashes not 'accidents'
Working at S.F. General, which is the city's only trauma center, Dicker
can say her data are comprehensive. Nearly every injured pedestrian
comes there, regardless of the neighborhood. Her experience has left her
with one firm opinion.
Nowhere in the report is there a reference to an "accident."
"We don't refer to pedestrian-car crashes as accidents," she said.
"Because we believe they can be prevented."
Which would also save the city money.
C.W. Nevius' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail him