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64-year-old Zhao Guan was hit and killed late last month at the intersection of 18th and California while she was crossing the street on the way to babysit her grandchildren. She was the third person to die in San Francisco this year while trying to cross the street.

About ten blocks away, at the Richmond Senior Center, elderly men and women gather daily for lunch and social activities. But they are afraid to walk to the park, or to the market, or to other places because they know they could be the next headline, said the center's Community Engagement Specialist, Winston Parsons. Past efforts to improve safety conditions simply aren't working. "The city added daylighting [clearing sightlines by moving parked cars back from the intersection], but people keep parking in it," he told Streetsblog last week during a tour of unsafe intersections around the center.

Seniors gathered for lunch at the Richmond Center. But they walk with fear on the surrounding streets. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Seniors gathered for lunch at the Richmond Center. But they walk with fear on the surrounding streets. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Indeed, failed enforcement is a constant problem around the center, with cars and trucks continually double parking and blocking red curbs. Parsons is lobbying the city to install posts or some physical barrier to keep drivers out of the red zones at the corners, and with the Senior Center has launched a petition to demand that SFMTA act now to fix these streets.

An illegally parked mail truck blocks sightlines at a corner near the Richmond Senior Center. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
An illegally parked mail truck blocks sightlines on Anza street, one block from the Richmond Senior Center. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Parsons has prepared a list of dangerous intersections and regular violations around the center, which he will present Thursday morning to San Francisco's Vision Zero Committee.

On that list, California Street from 18th Avenue to Arguello has been identified by the City as a high-injury street,

...yet it’s one of the few high-injury streets in the Richmond District that lacks a comprehensive plan to fix its dangerous conditions. Parents and staff at Peabody and Sutro Elementary, located on California street, have long called on the SFMTA to take aggressive steps to make the street safer – yet results have been too slow. Members of the Richmond Senior Center’s Safe Streets Team specifically identified California Street as a top concern.

"This Thursday I'll be calling for short-term and long-term improvements on California Street (a comprehensive project), and asking the Vision Zero Committee members to stand up for victims of traffic violence when their constituents say that projects and programs to reduce traffic deaths 'costs too much' or 'this is an assault on drivers,'" he wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

He'll be organizing the center's clients to address the committee.

Meanwhile, Walk San Francisco is also pushing the mayor and other city officials to fix streets everywhere, but especially in areas frequented by seniors. From its letter to the Mayor about the death of Guan:

Changes to California Street follow the exact same pattern we have seen for safety projects across the city: they either don’t go far enough or they don’t move fast enough – or both. Unless there is leadership from the top.

We have seen what’s possible when a mayor stands up for safe streets. Because you’ve done it. Your leadership led to the passage and fast-tracking of the long overdue 6th Street and Taylor Street safety projects last year. Valencia Street and Townsend Street, desperately in need of short-term pedestrian safety fixes, got them because of you.

Parsons is asking for specific and inexpensive treatments around the center. In addition to physical barriers, he wants greater pedestrian countdown times and new paint and barriers to prevent drivers backing out of the parking lot of the nearby Grocery Outlet at Geary and 27th. When cars get stuck trying to enter the parking lot, they block the adjacent crosswalks, he explained.

Streetsblog encourages readers to support seniors and sign the petition and to attend Thursday's Vision Zero committee meeting on Thursday, March 14, at 3:30 p.m. in room 263 at City Hall. Or they can write to Board members, Supervisors Norman Yee (Chair), Catherine Stefani (Vice Chair) and Aaron Peskin directly and ask them to support Parson's demands to make the city safe for seniors and all vulnerable users.

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