Thursday, May 09, 2019

Reiskin's legacy #2: Vision Zero

Heather Knight on May 3 in the SF Chronicle:

It’s been a terrible season for the Westside Waves, but not because of anything that happened on the soccer field. The girls, ages 12 to 14, were supposed to spend their spring season having fun, kicking the ball around, trying to beat their competitors. Together since third grade, they were supposed to play one last season before many head to high school in the fall. 

They were supposed to be whole. But instead, the season has been about making get-well cards that didn’t work. About the shock and grief of losing one of their teammates, 14-year-old Madlen Koteva, to San Francisco’s deadly streets. About attending her funeral in their matching teal jerseys and bravely walking past her open casket to say goodbye.

Knight tells us how Madlen died:

...That evening, she and her mother walked in a crosswalk near their home. At 6:16 p.m., everything changed. For Madlen. For her family. And for the Westside Waves. A 91-year-old driver, Margie Brady of San Francisco, hit Madlen, reportedly telling police the sun’s glare made her hard to see. Her mother was injured but survived. Police cited Brady on May 1 for vehicular manslaughter and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Evidently Brady was driving west into the sun. That she is 91 suggests she shouldn't have still been driving at all. But she hit Madlen and her mother because she apparently didn't see them. According to Vision Zero doctrine, this is the kind of accident we're supposed to think is preventable.

More from Knight:

..Madlen, a native of Bulgaria who moved to San Francisco while in elementary school, was one of 12 people to die in San Francisco traffic in the first four months of this year. If that pace holds, the city will tally 36 traffic fatalities in 2019. 

That would be the highest on record since Vision Zero began five years ago. The program set a target of eliminating all traffic deaths in the city within a decade. But halfway through, San Francisco is nowhere near achieving that goal. And considering the city’s reactive, piecemeal approach to improving streets over the past five years, it might as well be called Zero Vision.

As I've been pointing out for years, Vision Zero is a slogan and aspirational, not a realistic goal for a big city with a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians. (Which big city in the US doesn't have the same?)

Hard to believe that this is the same Heather Knight who wrote a sensible story on this subject back in 2015: S.F. traffic fatalities dip, but not bad behavior.

Knight's lauds the girls for

demanding City Hall make long-overdue, simple improvements to its streets so that no other group of friends has to lose a beloved member of its pack. “It shouldn’t take our friend to die to fix this problem,” said Leela Sriram, 14, a classmate at A.P. Giannini Middle School in the Outer Sunset...If simple changes had been made to John Muir Drive alongside Lake Merced — the same road where another pedestrian, 50-year-old Galina Tuchfeld, was struck by a car and killed in 2015 — maybe Madlen would still be playing soccer...

Exactly what "simple improvement" could prevent accidents caused by elderly drivers blinded by the sun?

Knight provides an answer of sorts:

The city’s strategy has centered on looking at each bike lane or intersection where somebody has died and trying to make it safer. But those obvious fixes — building protected bike lanes, removing parking spaces at intersections so drivers can see pedestrians entering crosswalks, installing speed humps — should happen now. All over the city. To prevent deaths rather than fix a problem after someone is killed.

None of those fixes would have prevented the accident that killed Madlen.

Knight writes for San Francisco's major daily newspaper, which failed to run a single story on that UC 2012 study on cycling accidents in San Francisco. The NY Times did a story on it, since it addressed a problem common to New York and other American cities---the safety, or lack thereof, of riding a bike in the city.

If she's concerned about traffic safety in the city, why didn't Knight write a story about the study? It provided a sobering look at the inherent dangers of cycling, which, by the way, don't necessarily have anything to do with "infrastructure" or cars. 

Maybe she didn't know about it, since none of the other papers in the city published anything about it. That no one at the Chronicle reads the NY Times, including Knight's editors, is hard to believe.

No, it must have been a deliberate editorial decision, the motives for which are unexplained.

Instead of warning people in the city of the actual dangers facing cyclists, the Chronicle, the Examiner, SF Weekly, et al embraced the Vision Zero fantasy about traffic safety, as if a change in terminology and determined political leadership could somehow change human nature, that in a city of more than 800,000 people, some of them will not sometimes behave recklessly or negligently with tragic consequences---the "really bad behavior" that Knight wrote about back in 2015. 

Ed Reiskin was quoted in the Chronicle in 2016:

“The goal of Vision Zero is that nobody should be dying on our streets just trying to get around town,” said Ed Reiskin, transportation director for the MTA. “While lots of good things have been put in place, it is troubling and tragic that people are dying.”

The Vision Zero bullshit is one of Reiskin's most important legacies. It's shocking to think that Reiskin actually believed his own Vision Zero propaganda. That's a crippling intellectual handicap for anyone managing such an important city agency.

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At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evidently Brady was driving west into the sun. That she is 91 suggests maybe she shouldn't have still been driving at all. But she hit Madlen and her mother because she apparently didn't see them. According to Vision Zero doctrine, this is the kind of accident we're supposed to think is preventable.

You answered it yourself. Brady should not have had a valid license.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Not necessarily. She had the kind of accident that could also happen to younger drivers.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

The S.F. solution would to ban all motor vehicle traffic eastbound during sunrise hours and westbound during sunset hours. Bicycles and pedestrians only during these times.


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