Despite efforts of a pedestrian Safety Task Force set up by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Safe Streets initiative announced by the president of the Board of Supervisors, David Chiu, himself an avid cyclist, pedestrian accident numbers are on the rise in San Francisco. According to SFMTA's 2012 State of Cycling Report, bicyclists are up 71 percent over five years, amounting to 75,000 per day in the city and rising still. Are the increases for reasons other than sheer numbers?
Sad Fatalities on Our Streets
While bicycle accidents leading to pedestrian fatalities are far rarer than those involving cars, Dionette Cherney, 68, from Washington, D.C., was killed at Mission Street and The Embarcadero when crossing with her husband on July 15, 2011. She was struck by Randolph Ang, 23, who was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for running a red light while hurrying to work on his bicycle.
In a statement read to the court last March, Colburn Cherney spoke of the numerous traffic violations he observed by San Francisco bicyclists during the month he spent here while his wife was in intensive care. "There needs to be stricter enforcement of the laws," Cherney said, adding that he hoped his wife's death would help create change, according to the San Francisco Examiner. A remorseful Ang, pleading guilty, received three years of probation and 500 hours of community service. He also was ordered to pay the family more than $15,000 in restitution.
Within days of that plea bargain, Sutchi Hui, 71, of San Bruno, was struck by cyclist Chris Bucchere on March 29, 2012, when crossing with his wife at the crosswalk of Mission and Castro streets. In court yesterday, Superior Court Judge Andrew Cheng ordered Bucchere, 36, to stand trial on one count of felony vehicular manslaughter, which could carry with it a maximum of six years in prison. Bucchere is said to have run two lights and a stop sign at speeds over 30 mph before hitting Hui, whose injuries led to death four days later at San Francisco General Hospital.
Strong Court Action
This is being widely reported as California's first felony manslaughter charge against a bicyclist. "Today the judge reaffirmed our decision to charge this case as a felony," said District Attorney George Gascon. "I hope this case serves as a reminder to all that there are life-altering consequences to not following the rules of the road." Both sides argued over who had the right of way in the intersection at the time; surveillance video footage from a camera mounted on the corner of Twin Peaks Tavern was shown at the hearing.
Rules of the Road
In the wake of the Hui incident, in an April 9, 2012, interview on KQED, Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, said, "It's simply not OK for people to be hit in the crosswalk and killed in San Francisco. Three people a day are hit by cars, over 800 a year, and that's an underestimate, according to hospital data."
Herbert Weiner, community advocate, added, "No pedestrian has ever run over a bicyclist. Something has to be done about bicyclists' responsibilities."
Bicycle advocate Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, stressed how rare pedestrian fatalities caused by bicycle collisions are. Shahum stated that SFBC is continuing its ongoing work to "educate bikers on the rules of the road: Pedestrians always have the right of way."
What Can Be Done?
"All of these crashes are preventable," Stampe reasoned during the KQED interview. Numerous studies, including those by the Department of Public Health, indicate that "5 percent of the streets account for over 50 percent of the serious and fatal accidents," said Stampe. Safe streets studies and residents point at Van Ness Avenue, Masonic Avenue, Market Street, and SoMa, because the wide, fast streets are being treated like freeways.
The "inability to stop due to speed is the primary collision factor," according to Al Casciato, captain in the San Francisco Police Department, on KQED. Accordingly, the speed limit was reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph on Howard, Folsom, Harrison, and Bryant streets last summer.
Should Police Crack Down?
With more and more bicyclists taking to the roads and generations of new cyclists taking bicycling up as a green form of commutation, new standards, training, a crackdown on speeding, and more citations may be called for from police.
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