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Elevating the Needs of Seniors & People with Disabilities through Vision Zero

 In Engineering, Public Policy, Vision Zero

So far this year, three people over the age of 70 have already been victims of San Francisco’s unsafe streets. 76-year old Jeannie Yee lost her life in Cow Hollow, 93-year-old Ka Ben Wong was killed in Russian Hill, and 77-year-old Meda Hacopian died near Lake Merced when she was struck by a car.

When seniors make up only 15 percent of San Francisco’s population, yet account for over 40 percent of all traffic deaths, it is time for the City to make its streets safe and accessible for ALL seniors and people with disabilities.

Since seniors are five times more at risk of dying from their injuries as those under 65, it comes as no surprise that the majority of those who are severely hurt or lose their lives are seniors and members of the disability community.

Beginning in 2014 when the City adopted Vision Zero –– the goal to end all serious and fatal traffic-related crashes by 2024 –– community members have begun to speak up and consistently demand progress towards this life-saving objective. Nonprofit organizations like Senior and Disability Action, Chinatown Community Development Center, and Mercy Housing have partnered with Walk San Francisco and the Vision Zero Coalition to challenge legislators and policymakers to experience what it’s like to try to get around local streets every day as a senior or a person with one or more disabilities. At rallies, public hearings, and through organized formal appeals, safe street advocates have repeatedly urged elected leaders and decision makers to engineer streets that prioritize people walking and the safety concerns of the city’s older population.

After 68-year old Priscilla “Precy” Moreto was hit and killed by a tour bus in a crosswalk in front of City Hall, advocates pushed for and won legislation to prohibit tour bus drivers from simultaneously acting as tour guides.

In 2015, after Ai You Zhou, 77, was killed while crossing the intersection of Kearny and Clay streets, Chinatown advocates pushed for and won a “pedestrian scramble,” an engineering solution that stops traffic in all directions while allowing pedestrians to cross in all directions, including diagonally. This simple solution removes all vehicle-pedestrian conflict.

Less than a year later in 2016, Thu Phan, a 38-year-old Department of Labor employee, was killed while she was crossing Market Street in her wheelchair. Following an emotional rally at the site of her death, the Vision Zero Coalition formed a Senior & Disability Workgroup to focus specifically on policies to shape engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to increase the safety of seniors and people with disabilities.

This Workgroup has won key changes including:

  • Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs), walk signals that provide people crossing with a head start, at six intersections along Market Street, including 7th
  • More visible turn restriction signage at Market & 7th Street where Thu was killed
  • A City Administrator’s policy memo that explicitly states that City drivers are NOT exempt from turn restrictions (a key factor in Thu’s death)
  • A new required driver training and education program for ALL City staff that specifically highlights how to drive safely around seniors and people with disabilities

How to Build Safe Streets for Seniors and People with Disabilities

While the senior and disability advocates have won great progress, much work remains to be done. The Workgroup is now actively urging the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to respond to the primary safety challenge faced by seniors in San Francisco — the lack of adequate crossing times at dangerous intersections.

In addition, the group is supporting solutions to address the leading cause of serious and fatal injuries in traffic crashes: speeding, which is responsible for 10 times the number of injuries as drunk driving. Moreover, a senior that is hit by a car driving 40 MPH has only an 8 percent survival rate, compared to 20 percent for the average adult, making speed exponentially more dangerous for seniors and people with disabilities.

Solutions to protect seniors and people with disabilities who are at higher risk from unsafe speeding include concrete bulb-outs and medians, which shorten crosswalk lengths and reduce the time that seniors spend in the street, increase visibility between drivers and pedestrians, and slow down turning vehicles; leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs), which activate the walk signal for pedestrians before vehicles are given the green light signal; and raised crosswalks and intersections, which slow traffic moving through intersections, where most crashes occur.

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Questions or comments? Contact Walk SF’s Policy & Program Director, Cathy DeLuca.

This news has been made possible by the grant-funded Focus Cities California program, a joint project of UC Berkeley SafeTREC and California Walks that supports increased safety in walking and biking.

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.