He was a 30-year-old working as a database manager who loved his ritual runs. But one day in 2001, John Alex Lowell said he was blindsided by a van that crashed into him, sending him 20 feet and then eventually into eight surgeries.
“I subsequently went to five medical facilities in San Francisco over the next 13 months,” said Lowell, now 43. “It has long lasting impacts that I’m living with today, permanent disabilities I sustained then. It also changed my way of looking at life.”
And it changed how he spent his time. Lowell has become an advocate for pedestrian safety, now serving on the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee which advises the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the SF Municipal Transportation Agency on the issues that seem to be growing more rampant.
In fact, it’s estimated that 17 percent of all trips in San Francisco begin and end with walking. After the deaths of five people in the city this year, in just two months, city leaders are spotlighting their efforts to step up safety on the streets with Thursday’s announcement of “WalkFirst,” a program set to target the city’s biggest problem areas.
After months of analyzing CHP data, the San Francisco Department of Public Health revealed that 6 percent of San Francisco streets and intersections account for 60 percent of the severe and even fatal pedestrian injuries.
The city found 64 percent of the time it was the driver who was at fault, usually for failing to yield, leading to 100 people either severely injured or killed in San Francisco each year.
The program has both short term and long term capital improvement projects. The first ones will be those that are cheaper and take less time, including speed humps, taking away left hand turns at certain intersections, and narrowing lanes.
Some of the longer term fixes include installing radar speed displays, pedestrian warning signs, and flashing beacons.
Extra enforcement has also begun. The San Francisco Police Department said it’s already sent more officers to trouble spots, giving 43-percent more traffic citations this last January compared to same month last year.
“The police department is stepping up enforcement, you’ll be seeing a lot more police officers enforce traffic laws,” said Ed Reiskin, transportation director at the SFMTA. “We’re also developing training programs for commercial drivers, drivers of large delivery vehicles and other large fleet vehicles.”
Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian safety advocacy group, said it’s about being proactive instead of reactive.
“We don’t want to have to say sorry anymore,” said Schneider. “We want to prevent these collisions from happening again in the future.”
“WalkFirst” has secured $17 million in guaranteed funding but need at least $50 million for the first phase. The rest may come in the form of a measure on the ballot to go to the taxpayers this November.
Another effort to prevent tragedy is “Vision Zero,” a resolution with the goal of cutting the number of traffic deaths to zero in ten years. The Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee voted unanimously to approve it today. It heads to the Board of Supervisors for final approval in a week and a half.