Half of the patients seen at San Francisco General Hospital’s Trauma Center are there because they were injured in traffic collisions, according to San Franscisco’s Department of Public Health.

Trauma surgeons respond to a serious traffic injury about every 17 hours. Treating such injuries costs about $35 million annually.

To shed light on the trauma and cost of traffic injuries and deaths, some 100 advocates, family members who have lost loved ones to crashes, pedestrians and cyclists walked from 16th and Mission BART plaza through the Mission and then to City Hall on Sunday afternoon sporting yellow scarves and holding photographs of victims.

Their procession, organized by the city and Walk San Francisco, marked the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. 

Gabi Quiroz of San Jose lost her five-year-old niece Aileen to a crash – a distracted driver hit her, an aunt, and her sibling on the way home from school. Quiroz and her family walked with the group to help increase awareness of the effects of traffic incidents and the importance of traffic safety.

“This is an important issue that gets overlooked because they don’t hear enough noise from people,” Quiroz said. “Only when it happens to someone that they care about do they do something about it.”

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Alvin Lester’s son Arman was killed at 21. He was getting off a trolley bus, stepped into the street, and a driver struck him from behind, killing him instantly. Lester said the driver was not charged with any crime.

Alvin Lester holds a photo of his son, killed in a collision. Photo by Laura Wenus

Alvin Lester holds a photo of his son, killed in a collision. Photo by Laura Wenus

Now, Lester campaigns for legislation and infrastructure to create Automated Speed Enforcement, a system that photographs the license plates of speeders and sends tickets for fines to their address. The Department of Public Health is advocating for the system as well, hoping to help the city reach its “Vision Zero” goal, to have no deaths on San Francisco streets, by 2020.

“I’m here to bring honor to my son’s death,” Lester said.

Several of those who walked with the procession did not personally know the victims of traffic incidents they had come to remember, but the death still left its mark.

Benjamin Horne remembers a motorcycle crash near Union Square that he didn’t see, but heard happen just 10 feet or so behind him.

“I had just crossed the street there myself,” he said. “It’s a pretty horrific thing to hear.”

Horne watched as paramedics and police officers responded to the scene to help the victim, but the man died.

“It’s gotten utterly shocking to me, the way people drive,” said Sally Martin, who walked carrying a photo of a woman slain when she was crossing Pine and Leavenworth streets and was hit by a driver. Martin herself had had a close call on the same street two weeks earlier.

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Drivers, she said, should make an effort to be aware of their surroundings.

“Be conscious, be present,” she said. “How would you feel if you killed somebody? I don’t think I could live with that.”

One local artist, cyclist, and former ambulance worker, Miles Epstein, attributed collisions at least in part to infrastructure.

“We cannot control human behavior. Where’s my speed bump?” he asked.

Epstein also criticized the city’s Transit Agency for removing safe-hit posts and other bicycle safety devices recently installed by the guerrilla street safety group calling itself the San Francisco Municipal Transformation Agency (SFMTrA).

“I’m sick of the city cowing down,” he said. “I want more SFMTrA, I want smart, science-driven infrastructure.”

Brian Wiedenmeier, the director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, has met with several families of people who have been killed or seriously injured on the road, and refers to collisions as a form of violence.

“Using words like ‘accident’ makes these collisions and crashes seem like something that’s inevitable,” he said. “Traffic violence does have an impact, just like other kinds of violence…This is a day to remember the victims, and a day to recommit ourselves to doing more.”

Fran Taylor, a longtime traffic safety and transit accessibility activist, hoped having the families of victims present would send a message.

“I hope it starts to penetrate the “me, me” mentality,” she said.