Editorial: We don’t want to be here again.
My youngest daughter has started taking Muni and walking around the City by herself. I see her absolutely energized by this new moment of independence. On a recent Monday I was en route to meet her, and before she had seen me, I watched her march confidently across a busy Market Street.
The next evening, an 11-year-old boy was run over, suffering life-threatening injuries, by a reckless motorist. The boy was walking confidently across Golden Gate Avenue. He was squarely in the crosswalk, with a walk signal and the brand-new protection of No-Right-Turn-On-Red signage. The 11-year-old, just like my daughter the evening before, had every expectation of safety as he made his way through the City by himself.
Here in the Tenderloin we are deeply distressed. I can’t stop thinking about this child and his family and the pain and anxiety that they are going through. That the intersection had recently been redesigned to better protect people making their way across the street shatters me.
On Friday, September 13th, Tenderloin residents and community organizations came together to organize and shut down the intersection, calling for swift action to put an end to more traffic violence.
The Tenderloin has been here before. On the front page of a March 1988 volume of the Pulitzer-nominated Tenderloin Times reads: “Traffic Safety Rally Spurs City Into Action.”
Thirty-one years ago neighbors hoisted a banner across Eddy that read “Drive Slowly: The Tenderloin Loves its Seniors and Youth.” Tenderloin resident Sarah Murphy is quoted as saying “We don’t want cars whizzing through here and hitting the little ones.” Three decades later and the cars are still whizzing through here and still hitting the little ones.
We don’t want to be here again.
The Tenderloin stands out clear as day on the map of the City’s High Injury Network–the small fraction of streets in San Francisco that have most of the severe and fatal traffic injuries. A coalition of community members, advocacy groups, neighborhood non-profits, including TLCBD, have joined together as the Tenderloin Traffic Safety Task Force, to advocate that the City and SFMTA deliver real changes to our streets. And sooner! District 6 Supervisor, Matt Haney, who lives in the neighborhood and joined the demonstration on the 13th, has also been a strong advocate also demanding faster action.
This ongoing advocacy has resulted in commitments by SFMTA and the Mayor to accelerate physical improvements as part of a “quick-build” program as well as cutting time out of the schedules of longer-term capital improvements like Safer Taylor Street. As mentioned earlier, SFMTA has moved to improve ten intersections with pedestrian scrambles aimed to prevent vehicles turning at the intersection from going at the same time that people are in the crosswalks, which SFMTA has identified as the most dangerous moments for people crossing the street.
But this change to the signals and allowable movements did not prevent the 11-year old from being run over and critically injured the other day because it did not prevent reckless behavior by a driver.
The reality is that the Tenderloin’s streets are not designed for the dense population that fills its sidewalks and crosswalks every day. We are a neighborhood full of children, seniors and other people, such as those experienced homelessness, who are vulnerable to traffic violence. If we want to help the Tenderloin escape from the decades-long cycle that continues today, we need two fundamental transformations in the way that the Tenderloin’s streets are designed and used:
WE NEED TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGES TO TENDERLOIN STREETS
1. We need to rebuild the one-way thoroughfares as neighborhood streets that slow vehicles wherever possible and prioritize the people walking and biking in the Tenderloin.
2. We need to reckon with the way in which the perception of the Tenderloin encourages reckless and illegal behavior by motorists. The neighborhood’s role as a containment zone produces a general disregard for the people here. Whether motorists are speeding through our streets on the way to the freeway or because they are driving in to buy pain pills, that perception produces the kind of recklessness and negligence that kills and injures people.
This has to stop now. To support these transformations, we need to ask the Mayor, the Chief and the new Commander in charge of traffic safety to blitz the Tenderloin with enforcement that focuses on the most dangerous behavior in which motorists engage: speeding, violating pedestrian right-of-way, running red lights, and failing to yield while turning.
In the meantime, TLCBD will do what it can to help. The presence of TLCBD Safe Passage Corner Captains in the morning and afternoon helps calm multiple intersections in the Tenderloin. We will look to establish a Safe Passage presence at additional intersections to help educate both drivers and pedestrians on new safety measures put in place by SFMTA.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
Safe Passage Corner Captains are neighborhood residents who step up and volunteer because they do not want “cars whizzing through here and hitting the little ones.” In exchange for a small stipend, they are out on the corners and in the crosswalks protecting their neighbors every morning and afternoon. We currently have just over 25 Corner Captains. If we are to expand our presence to other dangerous intersections, we need more volunteers. Please consider joining us.
Editorial written by: Simon Bertrang, TLCBD Executive Director