2013 saw the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco since 2007. 21 pedestrians were killed last year and 3 pedestrians have already been killed since New Year’s Eve. The rise in fatalities comes on the heels of reductions to police staffing, traffic enforcement, and a decreased number of traffic citations.

According to the SF Examiner, police staffing in San Francisco reached its lowest total in the past two decades, with only 1,644 officers. Additionally, the total number of traffic citations handed out fell from 118,985 in 2009 to just 87,629 last year.

Breaking down last year’s pedestrian fatalities, only 3 were the result of jaywalking (with another 2 occurring because the pedestrian failed to obey the traffic signal), while two-thirds of the incidents were written up as being primarily the fault of the driver. In these increasingly common instances of drivers failing to properly yield at crosswalks, an increase in traffic citations and enforcement could play a role in discouraging drivers who are in too much of a hurry to obey basic rules of the road. Still, regardless of recent efforts to step up the number of officers patrolling the city’s streets, police can’t be everywhere at once and driver behavior needs to change.

In a recent blog post from SF Streetsblog, Supervisor Norman Yee pointed out the need to not only ramp up enforcement but provide an education component as well, saying, “A lot of times, when people talk about education, they talk about pedestrian education, as if pedestrians, on purpose, will walk out into the street to get run over or something. I think we need to spend more time on figuring out what’s the best method for us to do driver education and take it more seriously.” What exactly driver education would look like remains to be seen, but with 6 pedestrians killed in the month of December alone, it’s clear that something needs to be done.

Mayor Ed Lee conceded the seriousness of this issue, stating, “We have to do something to make our streets safer…We can’t just sit back and let this happen.” Lee plans to address the problem with more details in the coming weeks, and is currently exploring possible options.

Fortunately, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. Not only has the SFMTA received a $3 million grant for signal improvements, it also plans to spend $17 million over the next 5 years on pedestrian safety. Additionally, the police department is scaling up traffic enforcement, with plans to add about 150 new officers per year over the next 5 and a half years.

A problem as complex as eliminating pedestrian deaths isn’t going to be solved by enforcement and education alone. Efforts to improve infrastructure are also vital, and as executive director of Livable City Tom Radulovich puts it, “We can’t have an officer at every street corner, so we need to have better street design.”

Nicole Schneider, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk SF shares a similar sentiment, encouraging residents to help identify dangerous intersections and problem areas by participating in the Walk First program. The program is designed to identify “hot spots” and provide a public forum for planned street improvements.

It’s obvious this problem isn’t going to be solved overnight, but the last year (and the last month in particular) have offered a sobering wake up call that pedestrian safety needs to be improved. You can live by the adage that “accidents happen” all you want, but the reality is these types of deaths are 100% preventable. Whether it’s reckless driving, inattentiveness, or even jaywalking, each “accident” includes a party who had the potential to entirely avoid the tragedy. Now, with all eyes on the problem, it’s time to focus on building a solution and driving pedestrian fatalities down to zero.

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.