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San Francisco Should Embrace Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Policy

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Vision Zero is a policy to reduce traffic deaths to zero in 10 years. Photo by Madeline Ragan/PT2

By Madeline Ragan
Staff Writer

On New Year’s Eve, six-year-old girl Sophia Liu was killed while walking in a crosswalk at Polk and Ellis streets in San Francisco.  That same night, 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng was also killed at the intersection of Rolph and Naples streets. Both were struck by cars.

In 2013, San Francisco saw a spike in traffic-related deaths, including 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists. These recent deaths highlight the need for a better understanding of road safety and better adherence to the laws of the road, for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. Several leaders in other major U.S. cities have made statements of commitment to Vision Zero, which is a policy to reduce traffic deaths to zero in 10 years.

Until San Francisco embraces such a vision, people, regardless of their mode of transportation, should educate themselves on the laws and practice safe road etiquette in order to make the roads safer until greater city changes emerge.          

If you have ever biked, driven, walked or bused around San Francisco, you have probably seen an accident, near collision or elements of road rage. Oftentimes, these accidents and aggression are a result of misunderstanding of the rules of the road.  For example, the right turn can be a cause of confusion for drivers and bikers.  When a car turns right through a bike lane, the driver is supposed to merge into the bike lane, and the biker should exit the bike lane, and pass on the left.  If the bike lane is occupied by construction work or a delivery truck, a biker can merge out of the bike lane. 

If there is no bike lane, a biker is allowed full use of the lane; however, two bikers cannot ride side by side in a lane unless they are traveling the speed of traffic.  If a car wants to pass a biker, there needs to be at least three feet between the car and bike.  And, while rarely practiced, all vehicles — cars, bikes and roller-bladers included — need to come to a full stop at a stop sign.  If you are on a bike, this includes unclipping a foot, and placing it on the ground.  

For most people, it has been years since we’ve revisited traffic rules, especially those that pertain to bicycles. Luckily, there are a lot of resources in the bay area community that address bike law and bike safety.  The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (sfbike.org) offers bicycle maps, including bike parking and bicycle law information. 

The organization also offers classes focusing on urban biking, family biking and traffic skills. Classes scheduled this spring range from free to $25. There are several resources on 511.org (http://bicycling.511.org), including bike maps bike safety videos and a list of local classes and resources.  In addition, Bay Area Bicycle Law (bayareabicyclelaw.com) and their Facebook page (facebook.com/SanFranBicycleAccidentLawyer) provide up-to-date information on bicycle law and happenings in San Francisco, including updates for new laws that come into affect. 

I have been an avid bicycle commuter in San Francisco for the last four years, and in that time, I have seen the city transform such that each time I hit the road, I see a new bike path that hadn’t previously been there.  When I started biking, it was very rare to see green separated bike paths anywhere.  The roads are getting safer, but at the end of the day, the roads are only as safe as the drivers, pedestrians and bikers using them. 

I can’t say that I come to a complete stop, unclip and put my foot on the ground at every single stop sign I have ever encountered, but I can say that when I do, I see some of the most amazing reactions.  Once, a pedestrian even clapped for me because, he said, he had “never seen a biker stop at a stop sign.” Imagine what this city might look like if all drivers, bikers and pedestrians took a moment to re-educate themselves on the laws of the road, and tried, just a little more, to slow down and watch out.    

Madeline Ragan is a second-year physical therapy student.

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