(BCN) — San Francisco supervisors and city department officials on Thursday discussed an urgent need to amend the city’s current Vision Zero protocols to increase information transparency and public engagement after traffic fatalities. In the Board of Supervisors’ public safety and neighborhood services committee meeting, Supervisor Dean Preston introduced his proposal to hold public town halls within two weeks after a traffic death as part of the city’s Vision Zero policy.
His proposal first came out last month in light of the 15 traffic fatalities on the streets of San Francisco this year, and the seven deaths that occurred in May alone. Four additional traffic deaths happened after the proposal was made in a board meeting.
“In the aftermath of a fatality, we are often left with many questions,” Preston said. “My impression has been it is not a lack of work occurring behind the scenes to assess the situation…but all of that happens with virtually no communication with the public whatsoever.”
Preston said that the heart of Vision Zero is that traffic crashes are not inevitable, and when a tragedy does happen, corresponding departments should ensure it won’t occur again. By holding town halls and directly communicating with the public, departments such as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Police Department may better address community concerns and make their efforts more visible, Preston hoped.
San Francisco adopted Vision Zero in 2014, a road safety policy that vows to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024. Although the city has embraced strategies to create safer streets, such as limiting speeds and adding high-visibility crosswalks, the number of traffic tragedies continues unabated. Nearly 30 people died in traffic collisions in each of the last three years.
Supervisor Gordon Mar endorsed the proposal at the meeting and noted how resident concerns were often not addressed. A fatal vehicle collision happened at 46th Avenue and Lincoln Way intersection in January.
Mar said residents had actually requested to add all-way stop signs at the location for years, but SFMTA traffic engineers turned it down.
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“I think this highlights the need for better engagement with the community to prevent these types of tragedies in the first place,” Mar said.
In fact, the current Vision Zero Traffic Fatality Protocol already includes an item requiring the SFMTA to initiate a public outreach process at the crash site following a fatality, including having one-on-one conversations with residents, merchants and commuters who live and work in the area.
However, this outreach process is currently on hold due to a lack of funding. SFMTA officials responded that the funding issue is still being discussed and has not been resolved so far. The agency proposed several outreach strategies other than holding town halls, such as producing standardized public reports that summarize investigation details of a collision and posting on-site notifications to inform the public about the fatal crash and how to obtain additional information.
Posting a public notice after every crash may cost approximately $150,000, and conducting more thorough outreach strategies may double the cost. Several residents showed their support for Preston’s proposal at the public hearing. Preston’s proposal will be further discussed, and he said he would be open to discussions about other ways to achieve the purposes of a town hall.
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