If you live in San Francisco, you may have seen this sentence emblazoned across a blurry black-and-white image of an elderly woman with a walker, a terrified look on her face.
The message is harsh, but the high number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in the city are even more startling. Last year, with 31, San Francisco had the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in California. It was the fifth straight year the city led the state.
For comparison, Las Vegas reported 42 pedestrian fatalities in 2000, while Boise had but one. The U.S. total for 1999 was 4,906.
"It's a crisis situation," says AAA's Traffic Safety Manager Merry Banks. In addition to a jarring safety awareness campaign of which the poster is a part, the city has enlisted the help of AAA and the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, who will partially fund a new, experimental program.
Countdown clocks are being installed alongside the traditional "walk/don't walk" traffic signals in 14 locations around the city. (The first, at the busy intersection of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue, was scheduled to go up in February.) These clocks tell pedestrians how many seconds they have left to cross the street and may discourage them from starting when there's insufficient time.
Northern California communities that have already installed the clocks include South San Francisco, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, and Monterey. Though no conclusive studies have been completed on the usefulness of these clocks, a Sacramento County poll shows that 94 percent of pedestrians interviewed found the new devices more effective than the standard signals alone.
Safe Walking Tips
Here's a review of the basics rules, many of which we learned as kids:
- Cross at crosswalks, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security—the majority of
pedestrian injuries occur at intersections.
- Before crossing, look all ways and keep looking until you're across the street. Make eye contact
with motorists to be sure that they have seen you.
- At crosswalks, cross on the proper signal. A flashing hand means the light is changing; it's not
a sign to start across the street or to run.
- Beware of the "hidden vehicle syndrome" in which a car stops for you but the driver behind the stopped
car becomes impatient and pulls around the first vehicle into the crosswalk.
- Avoid crossing between parked cars. When you surprise drivers, you give them less time to
- When it's necessary to walk in the road, walk on the left side, facing traffic. The motorist's
scanning pattern will pick up a pedestrian faster when you are facing him or her.
- At night, wear reflective material or carry a light.
Illustration by Tim Carroll
This article was first published in March 2001. Some facts
may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.