We at The Cartwright Law Firm have been trying to raise the public’s awareness of the significant number of pedestrian-related car accidents plaguing our City. In San Francisco, Geary Boulevard, 19th Avenue and Mission Street were the most deadly streets for pedestrians to cross. This is in spite of all the work San Francisco has done in the past few years to address the issue of pedestrian safety. Nearly 500 – or about half – of the city’s intersections have been updated, according to Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Yet there continues to be a serious problem with vehicles striking pedestrians, even in clearly marked crosswalks. Just last month, a taxi driver ran a red light and fatally struck a pedestrian. That driver is now the subject of a warrant and police have had no luck finding him.
The number of such incidents across the U.S. in recent years has barely dropped, despite more public awareness of the issue. While contributing factors such as talking or texting while driving and other types of driver distraction are making the news more frequently, there appears little reduction of the actual numbers. Speed, as well, is a major factor. About 60 percent of pedestrian deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2009 took place on roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or more, while 1 percent of the deaths in which the speed limit could be determined happened on roads with a 20 mph limit or less. Certainly, some incidents are related to pedestrians crossing streets in an unsafe manner, but those that occur within crosswalks are as prevalent as ever. The Bay Area stands out from the rest of the country in pedestrians being killed in crosswalks. More than a third of the 434 who died during the five years of a study done by the Center for Investigative Reporting were hit in legal crossing spots, about three times the national average.
A major contributor to such fatalities is the dearth of responsive traffic engineering. “Streets sometimes favor cars in subtle ways. CIR found that some crosswalk signals where pedestrians were killed were not timed to federal standards – and therefore not giving people enough time to cross.” Roads are for cars, first, pedestrians and bicycles second, if at all. “Traffic engineering for so many years was just not mindful of pedestrians; for so many years, it was just about moving cars,” said Michelle Ernst, lead author of “Dangerous by Design,” the national pedestrian fatality study by research and advocacy group Transportation for America. And this is made even worse by the poor or utter lack of response to notice of dangerous conditions by many agencies, most particularly CalTrans.
The Cartwright Law Firm has led the way on demanding improved traffic engineering for safer roads, for both drivers and pedestrians. But using the courts is only one way to reduce pedestrian-related roadway deaths in the Bay Area and nationwide. Raising greater driver awareness of roadway rights and responsibilities is even more important. Pay attention – eliminate distractions, and watch for pedestrians. In California, they have the right of way – it’s the law, and it’s just common sense.