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SFUSD May Soon Get on Board with Vision Zero Policy on Pedestrian Safety

 In Media, Public Policy, Safe Routes to School, Vision Zero

Monday, March 2, 2015 – San Francisco Examiner by Jessica Kwong

Slightly more than a year after governing agencies citywide began pushing for a Vision Zero policy to eliminate traffic deaths in San Francisco by 2024, the one entity with a focus on pedestrian safety that has yet to adopt the plan is the San Francisco Unified School District.

That could soon change, as Board of Education Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer decided during a city and school district hearing on traffic-calming measures Thursday that she would work to author a Vision Zero resolution within a month to bring before the board.

“The resolution would reinforce our commitment to pedestrian safety and school safety, which I feel we’re doing a lot of already,” Fewer said. “It will be a statement that we are aligned with The City’s vision to have zero pedestrian fatalities and also reduce the amount of accidents.”

Vision Zero emerged after 2013 saw 21 pedestrian fatalities, the most in The City since 2007.

The victims included 6-year-old Sofia Liu, fatally struck by an Uber driver late on New Year’s Eve, but no deaths occurred during the school commute, in part, Fewer said, because of the district’s proactive traffic-calming measures.

“We want to keep ensuring that none of our students are part of the data points,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who called the hearing.

The Department of Public Health, which adopted Vision Zero last year, manages the Safe Routes to School program, which aims to make walking and bicycling to school safer and more accessible to students. As part of the program, the department since 2010 has collected data to determine which elementary schools have the highest rates of walking to campus and the highest rates of pedestrian injuries within one-fourth of a mile from the schools.

The list was updated last summer to include middle and high schools, and the top locations were referred to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for traffic-calming evaluation.

“Previously, it was the squeaky wheel gets the grease and schools that need it the most are too busy to request that the SFMTA evaluate their streets and sidewalks,” said Ana Validzic, manager of the Safe Routes to School program.

Jean Parker Elementary School, ranked No. 1 in need of traffic-calming improvements and located near the Broadway Tunnel in Chinatown, will benefit from pedestrian-safety measures in the third phase of the Broadway Streetscape Improvement Project.

According to the department, second-ranked Bessie Carmichael School in the South of Market area, has had speeding issues on Sherman Street, an alley used to drop off and pick up students.

Though the speed limit is 15 miles per hour, 85 percent of speeds were recorded at 22 mph. In addition to upgraded crosswalks and new traffic signage at the school, pedestrians are given a head start at crosswalks when entering an intersection with a corresponding green signal.

“I like to think of it as a success story,” said Darby Watson, a senior planner for SFMTA, adding that more work remains to be done at the school.

Aside from Safe Routes to School, the district in the last couple of months rolled out a crossing guard program that currently engages 172 students at 103 schools.

“I think they’re really great,” Genaro Escarzaga, family and schools program coordinator for Walk San Francisco, said of the initiatives, “but it’s important to factor in roadblocks like some arterial roads that can’t be made to be 15 miles per hour even though they are in school zones.”

City agencies need to find creative solutions to those instances, Validzic said, like timing traffic signals in a way that makes crosswalks safer for students.