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The hit and run accident that resulted in a pedestrian death on Mission Street Saturday mid-morning (see update at the bottom of this story) is the most tragic of accidents – one that city and transit officials say is avoidable.

Moreover, they point out, minorities and seniors are most often the victims in pedestrian accidents and for seniors especially, the injuries can be devastating.  Saturday’s victim was Hispanic and in his 40s.  A name has not yet been released.

“We call these accidents –  as if it was a fact of life but it is not. These deaths are preventable,” said Transportation for America director James Corless in a recent telephone interview.

The non-profit organization is advocating for a national overhaul of the country’s transportation policy and wants more investment  in improving the safety of public roads.

Its recent report, Dangerous By Design, underscored the disproportionate impact of pedestrian accidents on senior and minority residents. The rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 is about twice as high for people 70 and over, the report found.   And mortality rates for Hispanics, Asians and blacks are all higher than the 1.38 per 100,000 for whites.

Dr. Edgar Pierluissi,  medical director of the Acute Care for Elders unit at San Francisco General Hospital, talked with Mission Loc@l recently about the difficulty seniors in particular have in recovering from such accidents.

“For someone who is already frail any kind of injury makes you functionally dependent,” said Dr. Pierluissi “This is very different than a person who can recuperate and return to the same level of mobility.”

Recovery is complicated by a number of factors including the age of the victim’s bones, the number of medications a patient is already taking, and the patient’s mental state.

To put the differences in context,  he said,  the data shows that 20 percent of the patients over 70 who fracture a hip will die within a year and another 25 percent will stay at a nursing home for their rest of their lives. Other victims may be independent enough to live on their own or with their families but can suffer negative mental health issues such as depression or fear

“These kinds of accidents will change their lives,” said Dr. Pierluissi.  “The elderly lose muscle mass with age, which affects their mobility and in the process their ability to recover. “

In addition, he said, seniors are more likely to be taking medications such as blood thinners, which help to prevent strokes but can hinder healing.

The trauma of an injury is also more likely to make a senior fearful of walking, causing a decrease in physical activity. “They become weak, lose muscle…it becomes a vicious circle,” said Dr. Pierluissi.

Jane Kim’s District 6, which encompasses part of  the Mission District, Soma and downtown is home to a significant population of elderly and reports far more pedestrian injuries and deaths than any other district in the city.

Over 50 deaths were reported from 2001 to 2009 in District 6, according to a recent report.  In the same time period, the Mission recorded 15 deaths.

“It’s an issue of equity. We have to invest in closing the gaps in pedestrian safety,” District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim said.

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation recently reported that pedestrian injuries cost the city $280 million a year. Direct medical costs alone, based on SF General Hospital records, are $75 million a year.

Mayor Ed Lee recently announced a $248 million transportation bond that includes $50 million for streetscape improvements that increase pedestrian safety.

Lee said the Pedestrian Safety Task Force and various City departments are working to improve street design, speed limit enforcement, better signage and signals.

Federal funds paid for the redesign of Valencia and Divisadero Streets. Both now have pedestrian countdown signals and more visible crosswalks.  Valencia also has wider sidewalks and lights that are timed for smooth traffic flow at 13 mph.

Courtesy of Transportation For America

Reducing speed can increase survival rates dramatically, according to the national report. When a car is traveling at 20 miles per hour  and hits a pedestrian, there is a 95 percent rate of survival, but only a 55 percent rate of survival at 30 miles per hour.

Update on Saturday’s hit and run.

Police offered new details on the still unidentified pedestrian killed in a hit and run accident on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Apparently the victim lost his balance and fell into the street before being struck by a car. The white minivan that witnesses said was involved in the accident fled the scene.

Police are asking for help in tracking the driver of the van with plate numbers 6NJL987.

The victim was transported to San Francisco General Hospital but died from his injuries at a later time.