There's a Plan to Boost Pedestrian Safety; the City Should Implement it - Voice of San Diego

Opinion UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

There's a Plan to Boost Pedestrian Safety; the City Should Implement it

Our streets should be safe no matter where we go, or how we get there. Clearly, a business-as-usual approach to traffic safety will simply result in more deaths. Something has to change.

The city auditor released a report earlier this month outlining 18 recommendations the city should take to improve pedestrian safety and help save lives.

The report comes on the heels of five serious injuries and deaths of pedestrians in the last six weeks and exposes a deadly trend. Between 2001 and 2015, 270 people were killed by cars while walking and more than 8,000 were injured. Numbers were especially high in 2013 through 2015, with almost 2,000 involved in crashes and 66 killed. For every person killed while walking, another 29 are injured.

Last year, Circulate San Diego released a report that called on the city of San Diego to end traffic fatalities within 10 years. The mayor and the City Council embraced that report, called Vision Zero. The Council even adopted a resolution calling for the city to enact a Vision Zero plan. But the auditor’s findings show that the city still has much more work to do if we are to make our streets safe for more than just cars.

One of the key findings of the city auditor report is the danger at many specific intersections. Intersections like University and Marlborough avenues in City Heights have the highest number of crash, injury and fatality rates and have not been modernized to improve safety. Yet, the city has data showing where improvements could be made to save lives: The city auditor cites 214 of the city’s intersections, 12 percent, where five or more crashes have happened.

In addition to infrastructure improvements to make our roads safer, we also need drivers to act more responsibly behind the wheel. The city auditor found that five types of driver violations caused 38 percent of pedestrian injuries between 2001 and 2015. The most frequent violations were the driver’s failure to yield the right of way to a pedestrian and to exercise due care for the safety of a pedestrian. Police data shows that officers, however, are not prioritizing enforcement targeting these types of violations.

In addition to the human suffering caused by pedestrian injuries and deaths, there is a real economic cost to our region. The city auditor conservatively estimates that the net economic cost of crashes, injuries and fatalities in the city between 2013 and 2015 totaled $134 million. That is roughly the same economic impact of Comic-Con International.

The city’s ambitious Climate Action Plan relies on an increase in the number of San Diegans who walk to work. These targets will be difficult to reach if pedestrians do not feel safe using our busy streets.

Our streets should be safe no matter where we go, or how we get there. Clearly, a business-as-usual approach to traffic safety will simply result in more deaths. Something has to change.

As the city moves forward to implement the recommendations in the Vision Zero report, Circulate San Diego has the following recommendations.

First, dangerous intersections must be modernized. The auditor’s data found an alarming number of intersections where repeat injuries and fatalities have occurred. These dangerous locations should be a top priority for infrastructure improvements. The city is large and there are infrastructure needs in all neighborhoods. Crash data, however, illustrates the need for safe infrastructure investments in the city’s older, denser neighborhoods. Investing heavily in those neighborhoods, and in those dangerous intersections, will save lives.

Second, the city must continue to plan and construct safety improvements for eight specific corridors, areas where Circulate San Diego identified the largest share of traffic fatalities occur. The city auditor report focuses on intersections, it’s important to modernize those. But the city needs to continue approaching the problem by making other changes to those eight corridors that will help slow speeds and improve safety for everyone on the road.

The city began planning improvements to those corridors last year, on sections of University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard, two of the city’s most dangerous places for pedestrians. The important task of improving safety must guide those efforts, even with community pushback for loss of parking.

Finally, the city must finalize and approve its action plan for Vision Zero. Since the adoption of the Vision Zero resolution in October 2015, staff in the mayor’s office has worked with Circulate San Diego and a Vision Zero Task Force to create this one-year action plan. While the city’s claims in its response to the auditor that it has already adopted the action plan, the plan has currently only been shared with stakeholders in draft form. The city should finalize its plan, and immediately begin implementation.

As the city auditor’s report sadly shows, San Diego’s streets are dangerous to pedestrians. The city needs to immediately and vigorously pursue a strategy to end traffic injuries and deaths. 

Kathleen Ferrier is the director of advocacy at Circulate San Diego. Ferrier’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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