In the United States alone, car crashes kill nearly 40,000 people a year — roughly equal to 4 to 5 airplanes crashing every single week!
How does a public health crisis of this scale go unnoticed? Particularly when so many of these deaths are completely preventable. It’s clear, change is needed.
In San Francisco, over 70 percent of all serious and fatal traffic crashes are concentrated on only 12 percent of city streets, making obvious the change needed to turn these ‘high-injury corridors’ into safe, traffic-calmed streets. Particularly for seniors, who suffer disproportionately from the impacts of traffic violence.
An animated short film There’s Always a Way, written and directed by Darryl Jones, envisions a San Francisco where civic action and city planning go hand-in-hand to create a community where the public right-of-way is safe for everyone who walks.
The film’s production was underwritten thanks to a grant awarded to Walk San Francisco by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The animated short depicts a young boy who is visited by the ghost of his grandmother — a family member who was struck and killed while crossing Geary Boulevard, one of the city’s most dangerous, high-speed streets.
Through stop-motion animation, intricately designed and touchingly expressed by artists Jessica Wassil and Mads Ludvigsen, the boy imagines a street that’s been transformed through simple, yet proven safety improvements like corner bulb-outs, painted crosswalks, and countdown signals. These proven engineering designs help slow down speeding traffic, increase the likelihood drivers will yield to people walking, and make turns more safe by reducing conflicts.
To the film makers, bringing the vision of a city transformed to prioritize safety and walkability was worth all the added attention and extended studio time required to make sure every tree, street light, vehicle and each individual’s face was perfectly constructed.
“Stop-motion animation was the best way to communicate this unique message” says Jones. “Trying to explain wonky issues of urban design, transportation planning, and related policy advocacy is really difficult. By telling a story that’s rooted in an all-too-common the human experience, through an artistic medium such as animation, we can connect with viewers’ hearts and their minds and bring these traffic engineering solutions to life”.
Since the short was finished in late 2016, it has been viewed by thousands and screened on a variety of stages, including at Woonerven (Walk SF’s annual member event) and the San Francisco Green Film Festival. The short has provided Walk SF with an additional tool in its advocacy shed. It can be used as interstitials between films at local festivals, before features, or as a public service announcement. The film makers believe that by creating a vision that gives viewers the ability to think about streets in a different way — as public spaces that can be reclaimed for people to safely enjoy — the choice to re-make our streets into places that prioritize people will be a more obvious and easy one to make.
“In 2014, the city of San Francisco adopted Vision Zero — the ambitious, but achievable goal to end all severe and fatal traffic crashes by 2024. Three years into Vision Zero, there have been no significant reductions in the number of people killed or severely injured — despite the fact that these crashes are predictable and preventable.” says Walk San Francisco’s outreach director Natalie Burdick. “Moreover, while seniors make up only 14 percent of the population in San Francisco, they account for more than 60 percent of the people who are killed in traffic crashes involving pedestrians. That’s why a film like is critical in engaging the public. As There’s Always a Way so poignantly expresses, it’s critical that the City step up its efforts to adopt strategies that are proven to calm traffic and save lives.”
There’s Always a Way shows how the public at large can play a role in achieving safe streets, including demonstrating how people can turn their grief into action, echoing the spirit of a new advocacy group, the San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets, which includes people affected by traffic violence who want to advocate for change and support others in the community experiencing a similar tragedy. The film ends with a call to action urging viewers to stand up for safe streets for seniors by signing a petition to prevent future crashes from plaguing this at-risk group.
There’s Always a Way, can be found here in English with Spanish, Chinese and Russian subtitles on YouTube.