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Pedestrian Deaths Increased In 2018 Despite Vision Zero Project

A crosswalk sign at a San Diego intersection, April 4, 2018.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS News
A crosswalk sign at a San Diego intersection, April 4, 2018.
Pedestrian Deaths Increased In 2018 Despite Vision Zero Project
GUEST: Joshua Emerson Smith, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

As San Diego looks back at the highs and lows of 2018 one disturbing statistic has surfaced despite a concerted effort to end pedestrian traffic deaths in the city. The number doubled last year. The SD PD reports that 34 pedestrians were killed by cars last year up from 17 the year before. It seems that the city's Vision Zero project to stop traffic deaths is currently headed in the wrong direction. Joining me is San Diego Union Tribune reporter Joshua Emmerson Smith and Joshua welcome to the program. Good to be here. Remind us about the Vision Zero project and San Diego's commitment to it right. So this is a nationwide campaign to end all traffic related deaths and injuries by 2025 and many cities across the country have taken up the challenge. It might be more of an aspirational goal than a reality for a lot of places of course but the idea is to dramatically reduce those statistics and has San Diego actually started efforts to make pedestrians safer. Yes they have in a limited fashion. I believe there have been improvements to a number of dangerous intersections with crosswalk timer's lighted pedestrian signaling and those kinds of improvements so that when people are crossing the street in certain areas that are known to be crash prone There's signage that alerts drivers to their presence. Now despite the efforts that you just mentioned as I said the number of fatalities on the streets doubled last year. What about serious pedestrian injuries. Are they up as well. Oh yeah they're up as well. In 2017 we had about 75 serious traffic related injuries for pedestrians and that increased to 93 last year. I guess I should say that you know as we're making these improvements to intersections there's really no shortage of of places we could be doing these types of projects. L.A. just committed to doing 60 new intersections and San Diego is on its way to completing about 15 by the end of the fiscal year this summer. So even though we've made some strides the advocates are saying we need to do a lot more to make people safe have motorized scooters. Have they factored into any of the injury statistics. I do not believe so. We repeatedly asked the San Diego Police Department to get some clarity on that about whether or not the scooter injuries were involved in these statistics. And we never got a clear answer on that. But I I do not believe that they are part of these numbers which is concerning because we know that there are a lot of injuries out there due to people riding scooters. And when and if they start tracking that it should probably add to the to the total. In fact I have city officials made any statements about the increase in pedestrian deaths. Well we asked the mayor starting last week when we first got these numbers and we have yet to hear back anything from the mayor's office. Councilwoman Barbara Barry spoke out yesterday and said that especially with the budget negotiations coming up we really have to make this a priority. Now you spoke with advocates for safer streets people with circulate San Diego's others. Why do they think the streets are not safer. Well you know I think it has to do with a lot of the improvements that we're talking about so reducing speeds is one that we often hear from advocates as a good way to make streets safer if people are going slower speeds if they do hit someone they're less likely to seriously injure or kill that person. But those are those are hard changes to make right. What's known as a road diet where maybe you take away one of the lanes to put in a bike lane or to widen the sidewalk. Those are changes that can come with serious backlash from the community. And one of the interesting parts of these statistics is wild pedestrian deaths had doubled. There were no deaths of bicyclists last year. Yeah there were no deaths of bicyclists in 2017 or 2018 really good news. And the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition noted that although serious injuries have increased for bicyclists since 2016 from 17 to 19 in 2017 and then to 23 last year. So while no one died serious injuries are an issue for bicyclists as well. Hasn't there been a problem with getting Vision Zero off the ground didn't you write about problems about the lack of meetings and planning in this program. Yeah I mean there just doesn't seem to be a lot of energy behind that Vision Zero program from the city now circulate. San Diego has actually taken it upon themselves to try to hold Vision Zero meetings with stakeholders. But the cities efforts have been less than inspirational. Let's just say that. And I think as you mentioned apparently Vision Zero is having problems in other areas specifically in car centric Southern California. Can you tell us about that right. Like so for example places like San Francisco and New York have made strides on their Vision Zero goals reducing deaths and injuries over recent years. But Los Angeles although it has put some significant dollars behind this effort. They've also seen a surge in pedestrian deaths in recent years and it's just very hard I think in an auto centric Southern California to get people into the mindset of looking for pedestrians as they're traveling through the urban landscape maybe maybe it's a cultural thing or you know and it's probably also the type of thing where we have to redesign the streets you know to a certain extent so that they're not just solely focused on one mode of transportation. And what were you saying about the next round of improvements when our city officials hoping to get to some of those intersections. Right. So the city of San Diego committed in negotiations with circulated San Diego to improving about 15 intersections and nine of which they've completed by the end of the fiscal year this summer and then we'll also have another round of potentially in these budget talks of committing to improving other intersections. One thing that when you look at the statistics becomes apparent is that while there are certain intersections and stretches of roads that have a significant number of deaths and injuries these accidents and these incidents really are spread through out the city. And so you have to make if you really want to make a dent in this. You have to make changes just systemic changes throughout the urban landscape. Are there one or two intersections though that are really are really dangerous. There are a few. I mean there are a handful a handful that circulate San Diego has singled out. But again I really want to stress like if you look at the map of where these are they are just scattered throughout the city in all different locations. The problem areas generally tend to be in places where cars are getting off of freeways and then funneling onto a surface street and they're still in the mindset of traveling at the speeds that they were on the freeway 65 75 miles an hour. And then they get onto the surface streets and continue at a higher speed. Those areas tend to be very dangerous for pedestrians. And I've been speaking with San Diego Union Tribune reporter Joshua Emmerson Smith. Joshua thank you very much. My pleasure.

Despite a concerted effort to end pedestrian traffic deaths in the city, the number doubled in 2018 over the previous year. The San Diego Police Department reports 34 pedestrians were killed by cars last year, up from 17 the year before, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

RELATED: San Diego’s Vision Zero Program To Eliminate Traffic Deaths Behind Schedule

"The bloodshed comes despite efforts by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to improve safety at a number of dangerous intersections as part of the city’s Vision Zero program to eliminate all traffic-related fatalities and severe injuries by 2025," Union-Tribune reporter Joshua Emerson Smith wrote.


Smith joins Midday Edition with more on where the city is targeting its efforts to improve pedestrian safety.

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