Pedestrian deaths are increasing nationally and are surging in San Francisco. Nationally, pedestrian deaths increased ten percent in 2015. San Francisco is California’s most dangerous City for pedestrians. Fifty percent of all traffic deaths in San Francisco are pedestrian accidents. One out of every four trauma cases at San Francisco General Hospital involves a pedestrian hit by a vehicle.
Speeding is the leading cause of pedestrian accidents and increases the severity of any collision. At 20 mph, nine out of ten people hit by a vehicle will survive (ten percent will be killed). At 30 mph, four out of ten pedestrians will be killed and at 40 mph, 80 percent of the pedestrians will suffer fatal injuries.
The faster the car is traveling, the longer the driver’s reaction time and the increased braking distance makes it less likely to stop or swerve to avoid a collision. At 20 mph the braking distance is under 100 feet but at 40 mph the braking distance is almost 300 feet. Further, at speeds over 20 mph the drivers peripheral vision decreases and prevents drivers from seeing people who may be stepping off a curb into a crosswalk.
Pedestrians safety is clearly a growing problem. The increasing use of cell phones and handheld devices distracts both drivers and walkers. Nearly three-fourths of pedestrian deaths occur after dark. The Amalgamated Transit Union which represents city bus drivers estimates that roughly one pedestrian is killed every 10 days by a city bus because of blind spots in poorly designed buses.
Nationally, pedestrian fatalities have been rising since 2005 and now account for 15 percent of all traffic deaths. Large population states like California accounted for 42 percent of the pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2015. In San Francisco, 20 pedestrians died in traffic collisions in 2015 according to a report by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and at least 100 people suffered serous life-changing injuries. These deaths and injuries are caused by speeding, not yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk, running a red light, making an improper turn and not stopping at stop signs. It is difficult to change personal behavior of speeding and distracted drivers. There is a need for designing roads and traffic systems that take into account the inevitability of human error.
Potential solutions to decrease the number of pedestrian fatalities include lowering speed limits and increasing law enforcement including automated safety enforcement cameras. The cameras photograph speeding vehicles like red light cameras and they automatically generate and send a citation to violators. These cameras activate only when a car is going ten miles over the speed limit. The timing of signals should be changed to allow more time for crossing. Street designs can be changed to include “bulb-outs” which are sidewalk extensions at intersections to shorten walking distance and “day lighting” near crosswalks that push parking back from the intersection to open up lines of sight between people and cars. Increased use of “pedestrian scrambles”, where all vehicles stop to allow pedestrians to safely cross intersections in all directions, are needed. Countdown crossing signals can be changed to have it count down to zero and then include a “stop” sign and add a few more seconds before the light changes.