The early-morning death of Roger Kardosky in a hit-and-run accident last month at the corner of 19th and Folsom streets was the Mission’s first pedestrian fatality this year and the sixth citywide, according to San Francisco Police Department spokesman Samson Chan.
While that represents a decline from 2009, when 17 fatalities were reported for the entire year, pedestrian deaths remain a serious problem for the city and the Mission District in particular, according to safety officials and SFPD statistics.
“San Francisco has had a chronic problem with pedestrian safety for years,” said Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety. The traffic safety office suggests that California cities apply for its pedestrian safety grants every year. “We don’t have to tell San Francisco to apply,” he said. “They know they have a problem.”
San Francisco ranks first in pedestrian fatalities statewide, with the highest number of deaths each year since 2003, and it’s currently fourth on the national level, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Roughly 48 percent of all fatal collisions in the city involve pedestrians, which is four times higher than the national average of 11.3 percent.
“I’m not surprised by any of it,” Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said during last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, where the board accepted a $200,000 grant to the city health department for citywide pedestrian safety research. “Pedestrian safety is treated like a second-class citizen in this city.”
The grant, awarded by the state traffic safety office, will be used to evaluate streets and intersections that are dangerous for pedestrians, Cochran said. The health department will research and develop a list of recommended improvements for pedestrian safety between October 2010 and June 2011.
Cochran said the funds won’t be used to make any physical changes to improve safety in the city, but rather to study key safety improvements to be added to the city’s general plan by September 2011.
Reports released earlier this year by the Department of Public Health show that more pedestrian deaths occurred in the Mission District than in any other city neighborhood.
Between 2004 and 2008, nine people died after being struck by vehicles in the Mission District, according to data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. Citywide, pedestrian deaths dropped from 20 in 2004 to 14 in 2008. In 2009, however, 17 fatalities were reported, according to the SFPD.
“Everyone’s at fault,” said Gina Castro, a Richmond District resident. “My friend always told me, there’s nothing more important across the street than your life.”
Castro said that she never crosses the street without a crosswalk or against the light, in the Mission District or downtown.
Of the 17 pedestrian fatalities in 2009, six were due to violations of the pedestrian right-of-way, while five were caused by pedestrian violations, according to the SFPD.
Mirkarimi said he blames city departments for not being involved in pedestrian safety, specifically criticizing the SFPD for having “zero involvement.”
SFPD spokesman Chan said that police have stepped up enforcement of right-of-way violations by both pedestrians and motorists at intersections with the highest numbers of injuries and fatalities. He couldn’t verify which intersections are being targeted, but said every district will be involved.
The SFPD is using a $302,000 grant from the state traffic safety office to fund pedestrian safety enforcement campaigns through September 30, Cochran said.
In 2003 and 2004, the health department and the Department of Parking and Traffic installed $3.2 million in pedestrian safety infrastructure upgrades in the Mission, including countdown signals at crosswalks along 24th Street and additional red-light photo-enforcement cameras on Potrero Avenue. They also increased the pedestrian signal time on Cesar Chavez Street.
Pedestrian fatalities citywide dropped from 25 in 2003 to 14 in 2005, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. That success was short-lived, however.
In 2007, a 60 percent surge in pedestrian fatalities brought the death count to 24. In response, the health department created an application process to fund community-based projects to increase pedestrian safety and pinpoint dangerous areas.
The health department has not responded to calls requesting details of the community pedestrian safety projects it funded in 2008.
In the Mission, the MTA is currently working on small traffic-calming projects designed to slow vehicle traffic between 14th and 16th streets along Capp, Minna and Natoma streets, according to Oliver Gajda, a planner for the MTA’s Livable Streets Program.
Speed humps and traffic circles are among the tools being considered to slow traffic. There were more than 100 collisions in the project area between 2004 and 2009, according to MTA.
The health department’s longterm goals include research into pedestrian safety concerns, Cochran said. The traffic safety office can revoke the department’s grant if it fails to meet its longterm goals or to submit quarterly progress reports, he added.
“If the Department of Public Health can’t do it, we’ll go to some other city department,” he said. “These projects are longterm; it’s not a black-and-white situation.”