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Unforgettable stories at World Day of Remembrance show urgent need for safe streets

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Sometimes you hear something that you know in that moment you’ll never forget.

At this year’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims here in San Francisco, Dr. Christian Rose, an emergency physician, told his story. It took a surprising turn.

Christian first spoke of the many people he treated in the ER with devastating injuries from crashes. But then he shared this.

“I was at San Francisco General Hospital, but instead of looking down at the patient on a backboard, it was me who was looking up into a surgical light, being told I might never walk the same again,” said Christian.

A driver had hit Christian in the crosswalk, sending him spiraling through the air and landing like a rag doll on the pavement. Christian was rushed to the very ER he worked in. After his colleagues told Christian he may never walk the same again, he started on a long road to recovery.

“When I eventually could get from my bedroom to rehab, I saw how tragically common my story was,” said Christian. “I now advocate for safer streets not just because of the trauma that I have experienced and seen – which is completely preventable – but because of the memories and beautiful lives stolen or changed forever by traffic violence.

I will also never forget what high school senior Maureen Loftus said that day. Maureen’s friend and soccer teammate Madlen Koteva had been killed while crossing the street.

“The clearest memory I now have of middle school is of walking into homeroom and seeing my teacher in tears,” said Maureen. “Madlen was a ray of sunshine. She was a kid. We all thought she was going to get better because she was a kid. I learned then that kids die. But they shouldn’t.”

And the words of San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets founding member Jenny Yu may be the most important to remember. Jenny’s mother Judy was hit by a speeding driver in 2011. While Judy survived, she suffered severe brain injuries.

“My family and I provide round-the-clock care, and it’s so, so hard,” said Jenny. “I need you to raise your voice so you don’t ever have to suffer like my mother. Learn about these issues. Tell our city leaders there’s no more time to wait. Make our streets safe.”

At the national level, these words were echoed by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

“We could be doing more, as a country and as a society, to make sure that nobody – no family, no dinner table, no workplace or sports team – has to have an empty place because of a preventable crash,” said Secretary Buttigieg in a conversation with Families for Safe Streets founder Amy Cohen about how the United States is lagging so far behind its peers with road safety.

And there couldn’t be more urgency when it comes to safe streets, especially given fatality trends.

But our voices are getting stronger and our choir is getting bigger. This was the largest World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims we’ve held in San Francisco, and these were held in 60 communities nationwide this year.

Thank you to everyone who stood with us at City Hall and stands with us every day for safe streets. I’m especially thankful to the San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets community for bringing voice to their pain and channeling their grief into action.

I’m also thankful to the many city leaders who stood with us this year. This includes State Senator Scott Wiener, District Supervisor Dean Preston, District Supervisor Myrna Melgar, District Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, and Jeff Tumlin, Director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

If you have lost a loved one to a crash, or have been injured yourself, the San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets community welcomes you. We will hold a virtual information session on Thursday, December 1st, from 5-6 PM. Register here to receive the Zoom link.

World Day of Remembrance is hosted by San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets and Walk San Francisco. 

Photos by William McLeod and Walk SF, copyright Walk San Francisco 2022