Safety Scramble - Page 2

SF Examiner photo by Mike Koozmin

"We're hearing a lot of incidents go unreported," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition. Incidents that normally don't get written up, like an accident that only results in a bruise or a scrape, are just as important to record, she said, because thorough reports can help identify problem intersections. "Without solid, good accounting to show where things are happening, we're not going to necessarily see change," she said.

But that would require a cultural shift in the SFPD, Shahum said. For now, the police seem as interested in blaming the pedestrians as they do the drivers.

Victim blaming

The first shots fired by the SFPD on pedestrian safety amounted to a public relations gaffe.

"YOU'VE BEEN HIT BY A CAR! ... It's little comfort to know you had the right of way, while you recover from serious injury in the hospital," reads an SFPD flyer, the message typed next to a picture of a chalk outline on pavement. "Distracted walking is one BIG reason pedestrians get hit by vehicles," it continues. To emphasize the point, the chalk outline is wearing headphones connected to an iPhone.

Streetsblog San Francisco reporter Aaron Bialick, in his article about the flyers, responded to them thusly: "The SFPD has gone off the deep end with this one, folks."

His response is understandable. With a choice of two perpetrators, one walking across the street, and another behind the wheel of a two-ton steel killing machine, one would think the latter would be the obvious target. Shahum thinks the problem goes deeper than bad messaging, saying the SFPD's enforcement is skewed.

"We've seen some officers not knowing people's rights when walking or biking. We've seen 'blame the pedestrians' from police, in the media," she said. "We're hearing things like 'you should've been riding on the sidewalk,' [showing] a really basic lack of understanding" about regulations cyclists must adhere to.

This issue came to a head when Sgt. Richard Ernst pulled up to a streetside memorial for cyclist Amelie Le Moullac, who died in a fatal collision last August, to lecture those gathered on bicycle safety.

As Guardian Editor Steven T. Jones noted in his article at the time, "apparently Ernst didn't stop at denouncing Le Moullac for causing her own death, in front of people who are still mourning that death. Shahum said Ernst also blamed the other two bicyclist deaths in SF this year on the cyclists, and on 'you people' in the SFBC for not teaching cyclists how to avoid cars."

Still, Shahum sees potential for change. "This is the area where I think we're seeing the most promises from them," she said.

At the Police Commission meeting, Ali noted the challenges police face when assessing traffic collisions. Training officers in the methods to deduce how a collision occurred is no easy task.

"It requires a high degree of science," Ali said. "Geometry, physics, basic mathematics. Its not just about getting facts from people, but making conclusions from physical evidence."

Chief Greg Suhr expressed confidence that the new recruits to come out of the academy were abreast of the latest techniques, and commissioners said they may use the need for traffic enforcement as a call to the mayor to help bring more officers into the SFPD's ranks.

Enforcement and police culture are just some ways pedestrian safety needs to be addressed. Walk SF, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the SFPD all will present their cases at the joint meeting on Thu/16. But as many of them would note, many of these promises have been made before.

Slow momentum

"We're going to re-engineer streets around at least five schools and two areas that have the highest levels of concentration of senior injuries every year," Mayor Ed Lee said at a press conference, responding to pedestrian deaths that rocked San Francisco.