Thousands walk to work for safer City streets

Thousands of people took to the streets of San Francisco Thursday to take part in The City’s fourth annual Walk to Work Day, an event that aims to make city streets safer for pedestrians.

San Francisco finished second behind New York City in Walk Score’s 2015 walkability ranking, with Chinatown, Union Square and North Beach headlining The City’s walker-friendly reputation. Despite that, six pedestrians have already died in traffic-related incidents in 2016, adding to organizers’ motivation to make San Francisco more walkable.

Twenty pedestrians are killed and 800 more are injured in incidents involving vehicles each year in San Francisco, according to the SFMTA. District three — the Financial District, Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf — and district six — Hayes Valley, Western Addition and NoPa — have the highest concentration of both traffic and pedestrians, and thus have The City’s highest rate of pedestrian injuries, according to the SFMTA.

Pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco organized Thursday’s event, when people were asked to walk at least 15 minutes of their morning commute. The organization set up 15 checkpoints, or hubs, throughout The City where participants were greeted with prizes including tote bags, free coffee and free Clipper cards.

Walk SF’s executive director Nicole Ferrara told SFBay the event adds visibility to The City’s pedestrian safety issue:

When people get outside and walk around our streets, we’ll hear people letting us know where they’re seeing problems and where improvements are needed. Often those are the same streets that we know are dangerous and need to be improved. People’s intuitions are spot on. The most dangerous streets are the ones folks are constantly contacting us about.”

Ferrara highlighted the Masonic Streetscape Project as an undertaking that will:

“… transform what’s currently a very car-centric, unpleasant street to walk on into a much more safe and calm street for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and drivers alike.”

This year’s walkers included local politicians, community activists and everyday citizens. Participants flooded the streets in a show of solidarity despite gloomy early morning clouds hovering above San Francisco a day after record temperatures.

District 1 supervisor Eric Mar spoke alongside board colleagues from the Goodlett steps at the East entrance to City Hall after walking to work from the Richmond District. Mar, who said he logged about 6,500 steps on his fitbit Thursday, said neighborhood leaders have worked hard to improve pedestrian safety, but also said more can always be done:

“Grassroots leaders, many of them family members of victims of traffic fatalities or terrible traffic accidents, are really building a base in every neighborhood and advocating not only for the survival and safety of people, but also for better environmental policies and better ways for walking, biking and multimodal transportation that improves the environment and makes our city better as well.”

One of those neighborhood organizers is Alvin Lester, whose son Arman was struck and killed by a motorist near Hunters Point in late 2014. The 21-year-old was on his way home from work when a car hit him from behind, killing him.

Lester said he was in no way an activist prior to his son’s death, but that he’s since tried to be a resource for people who have lost loved ones in similar fashion:

What I try to bring to the table is my personal experience. Letting people know, ‘Hey, if it can happen to me it can happen to you. You don’t need to go through that devastation in your life. You shouldn’t have to.’ And if we can do something about it collectively, we need to do something about it collectively.

Lester said he walked two miles to City Hall to “get the full experience” of the day’s purpose.

San Francisco’s Director of Public Works Mohammed Nuru was also on hand after walking to City Hall. Nuru said initiatives like Vision Zero, which aims to have zero pedestrian fatalities per year in San Francisco by 2024, show The City is moving in the right direction:

As an older city that’s coming into the new generation, there are new ideas we’re embracing. So [that means] connecting many of the neighborhoods, connecting our parks, connecting our schools, connecting everything together. There’s still a little bit of work to do. … We’re doing our best to get there.”

While final participation numbers for this year’s event weren’t available, Ferrara said 2015’s Walk to Work Day resulted in a one-day 20 percent spike in pedestrians commuting to work in San Francisco, adding more than 5,000 city walkers on the day of the event.