By Jon Winston
Sunnyside resident Ming Louie is well known and loved by many of his neighbors. They would often see him helping to weed Monterey Boulevard median on Sunday mornings. Late last year he was hit by a car and critically injured while trying to cross Monterey Boulevard at Edna Street. He needed nine hours of extensive orthopedic surgery.
Then, a week later 60-year-old Bob Donjacour was thrown from his bike while riding home from work at University of California, San Francisco by the hit-and-run driver of a black Range Rover SUV. He was hospitalized with severe brain injury and multiple broken bones. He was in an acute long term care facility ever since.
These incidents are well known in the neighborhood but what other serious, unreported injuries have happened? Many are not recorded by the police. Often, after a crash a victim with an ache or a pain will decline medical attention and no report is made. Then a few days later, after a visit to the emergency room she will be diagnosed with internal bleeding or some other severe injury. The hospital has a record but the police don’t. We need accurate data in order to allocate resources to make our streets safe.
That’s why the city’s 2014 Vision Zero policy to end traffic fatalities by 2024, partnered with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the Trauma Center at General Hospital which keeps record of all serious injuries. The SFDPH discovered that twenty eight percent of severe traffic injuries are unreported by the police but still cost the city $35 million per year. By reclassifying the data they have been able to map the number, location and severity of all injuries in the city. The map shows that seventy percent of severe traffic injuries happen on only twelve percent of our streets, the high injury corridors.
With the recent update to the map Monterey Boulevard between Edna and Ridgewood streets has joined Ocean, San Jose and Geneva avenues as such a street, prioritizing it for improvement.
First, some history: Stepped-up enforcement has been happening for a few years, nabbing stop sign runners at Edna Street and the speed limit has been lowered from thirty miles per hour to twenty five. A school zone lowers the limit further to 15 miles per hour when students are around, and in the pipeline are two button actuated pedestrian beacons to be installed at Detroit and Valdez streets. Earlier this year the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee, which advises the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, passed a resolution calling on the city to study how to improve safety on the boulevard. The neighborhood also won a competition for funds from District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee’s participatory budgeting process to pay for improvements.
None of the measures put forward so far would have helped Ming Louie or Bob Donjacour. The SFMTA will have to find a way to slow traffic considerably as well as reduce the amount of traffic on the Boulevard, making the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The SFMTA will be sending a project manager to the neighborhood to hear feedback, share data and develop a project that will change the street to make it safe.
The Sunnyside Neighborhood Association has already rejected bike lanes and a road diet citing unwanted delays for drivers heading toward the freeway entrance. A few years ago the stretch of Monterey Boulevard between Ridgewood and Plymouth streets even went through a pilot road diet, reducing the capacity of the street for four lanes to two. The original striping was restored due to complaints about traffic backups.
The question of how to save lives and, at the same time, serve the ever increasing number of cars that use our streets will need to be answered over the next few months and years.
The answer will lie in what the community is ready to cede in the interest of safety for the most vulnerable of road users.
Jon Winston is a Sunnyside resident and member of the San Francisco Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee.