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Cars, pedestrians in The City should be on the level

 In Media, Opinion

The following originally appeared in the 1/15/2009 edition of the San Francisco Examiner, Opinion section.

“Jaywalker killed” blared off the front page of the Dec. 15 edition of The Examiner with a photo of a grisly scene. The subhead was equally jarring: “Elderly man with walker ignored no-crossing sign.”

When you opened up the paper, you were treated to the headline of “Illegal shortcut claims a life,” and you also learned that The Examiner is running a poll on its Web site asking whether there should be a crackdown on jaywalkers.

Cut and dried. The pedestrian did something illegal and paid for it with his life.

But is that really the whole story? We later learned that the name of the victim was Victor Cinti. He was an 87-year-old man who used a walker to get around.

So why would an 87-year-old man in a walker decline to use a pedestrian bridge and choose to jaywalk against the light? He doesn’t exactly fit the profile of someone who would dart across traffic — damn the consequences — because he was in too much of a hurry.

The first issue is the bridge itself. The bridge was built prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, the bridge is considered too steep for use by people with mobility problems. It is also seismically unsafe. Furthermore, there is no good way to inform blind pedestrians about the bridge, meaning that many blind folks end up crossing the street when they hear cars moving in their direction (as they are trained to do). The irony of this pedestrian bridge is that our most vulnerable citizens can’t use it, and we’ve taken away the one option that everyone can use and from anecdotal evidence many prefer: street-level crossing.

Furthermore, Cinti was killed on the west side of the street, while the bridge is on east side. This means that in order for Cinti to have used the bridge he would have had to cross Webster Street twice just to cross Geary Boulevard on the bridge, in addition to climbing up to cross. That’s a lot of extra effort for someone using a walker.

If the intersection of Geary and Webster allowed crossing at the street level, city standards would dictate more time to cross than what is currently the case. They would also dictate pedestrian countdown signals, along with pedestrian refuge islands in the medians, so someone who couldn’t cross the entire length of the street in one light cycle could continue at the next cycle.

The solution to avoid this kind of tragedy at intersections with a pedestrian bridge is not to crack down on “jaywalkers,” but rather to allow people to cross at street level. We also need to calm the traffic in this area and make it more inviting to people walking at street level, rather than trying to separate people from the street.

Manish Champsee is the president of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian-safety advocacy group.

Pedestrian safety

 Walking in S.F. can be dangerous.

9.4 Percent of San Francisco residents who walked to work in 2000

9.6 Percent who walked to work in ’06

726 Nonfatal pedestrian collisions in ’06

13 Fatal pedestrian collisions in ’06

Sources: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet, October 2008