Why We Cannot Ticket Cars Enough to Stop Pedestrian Deaths

I make no excuses for fast-driving, red-light-running, I-yield-to-no-one-drivers. I do not minimize the pain caused by aggressive and distracted operators of cars, trucks, SUVs, or MUNI buses. But folks! We have to move beyond the eco-politics paradigm where pedestrians are always good, bicyclists okay, and motor vehicles are evil, if we are going to decrease the number of traffic injuries.

The news media unhelpfully hypes the vision of vehicular berserkers. For example, Sunday’s Examiner lamented the lack of outrage against one motorist who “struck and killed a pedestrian.” Are we sure that the driver was at fault in that accident? Or, maybe there is a reason why there is no outrage directed that particular person?

Most every day I both walk and drive places. I obey every law when I‘m behind the wheel. But, I admit that I routinely jaywalk in mid-intersections, cross against the “Don’t Walk”, and start crossing early against the red.

At the same time, I cannot drive from home in San Francisco’s Noe Valley district for 15 minutes without having to take action to avoid a collision with a bicycle rider or pedestrian who is violating a traffic law. Ever.

Pedestrians regularly cross against red lights when they see a bus coming or jump out in front of right-turning cars because they have only 5 seconds left on the Don’t Walk timer. Bicyclists split lanes on the right and surge straight in front of right-hand-signaling and turning cars. Bicyclists also frequently run stop signs, turn left and right from weird lanes, ride against traffic for a few hundred feet, and blow red lights.

In San Francisco there is no enforcement of traffic laws for pedestrians or bicyclists. I’m not talking about LA-style “Don’t Walk at an empty intersection” jaywalking tickets, but about tagging people doing truly unsafe things.

San Francisco’s anti-car attitude is proving stronger than the desire to truly reduce death and injury. Official enforcement is completely mono-focused. The police department says bicyclists aren’t ticketed because they are hard to catch. Huh? Are armed robbers easier to nab?

Meanwhile, the cops always blame the motor vehicle driver when there’s a pedestrian involved. I saw a young man do the countdown-timer sprint at Castro and 18th two weeks ago in the middle afternoon. The runner lept in front of a SUV which was turning right on a green light and had already entered the crosswalk. There was a cop car waiting at the intersection which lit up and stopped the SUV driver, even though the pedestrian was charging up on the SUV from the right, rear blindside.

We are rightly concerned about traffic safety. But, the “massive internal self-policing from cyclists after the incident on Castro and Market” that one academic sees as a solution for bicyclists’ misbehavior is politically correct horse manure. It’s dangerous excrement, too. Pedestrians and bicyclists are no more likely to self-police than are road-raging BMW jockeys. But, they are more likely to be injured or killed.

Let’s be less biased. Let’s, instead, be effective. Let’s mount a well-publicized, balanced campaign of education and enforcement.

Article first published as Why We Cannot Ticket Cars Enough to Stop Pedestrian Deaths on Technorati.

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