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California

San Diego could do more to reduce pedestrian deaths, audit says

A pedestrian was struck and killed by a trash truck in 2014 while walking on an off-ramp along Interstate 8.
A pedestrian was struck and killed by a trash truck in 2014 while walking on an offramp along Interstate 8.
(John Gibbins)

San Diego police and transportation officials are not doing enough to protect pedestrians from being injured and killed, a lack of attention to detail and data that is contributing to a rising number of fatalities, a city audit has found.

Auditors said 270 people died on San Diego streets over the last 15 years, and the frequency of the incidents is climbing.

The three-year period from 2013 to 2015, when 66 pedestrians lost their lives, was the deadliest since 2001, according to the report released Thursday.

“During that time, more pedestrians were killed than any other type of roadway user,” the audit said.

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The 116-page report said police do not enforce traffic laws in ways that would help reduce injuries and fatalities.

At the same time, transportation officials working to upgrade intersections and increase pedestrian safety too often make such improvements at traffic signals that do not generate the most accidents and injuries, the audit said.

“Other cities with substantial pedestrian-safety infrastructure needs have used data to identify and proactively improve the most hazardous locations for pedestrians,” the report found.

The audit included 18 specific recommendations. Among other things, the proposed changes call for incorporating historical data into enforcement operations, upgrading traffic signals, improving training and raising public awareness of pedestrian dangers.

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“The public information campaign should include a core message that can be customized to fit different neighborhood needs,” the audit said.

Nationally, San Diego’s pedestrian fatality rate was tied for 10th place with Los Angeles, among large cities, according to a 2014 report by the National Complete Streets Coalition.

The group found San Diego and Los Angeles had a rate of 1.79 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 population, compared to 2.97 in Tampa, Fla., on the high end and 0.72 in Minneapolis, on the low end.

San Diego officials agreed to all 18 recommendations. In a formal response to the audit, Assistant Chief Operating Officer Stacey LoMedico said the police and transportation departments would make the recommended changes over the next six months.

“The Transportation and Storm Water Department will use available crash data over five years to develop a methodology for identifying locations that pose the greatest risk to pedestrians,” LoMedico wrote.

Pedestrian safety has been an increasing concern as the number of accidents continues to rise.

On Sunday night, a 48-year-old woman was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking along Linda Vista Road near Mesa College. Hours before the auditor’s report was issued, police said a teenager was struck near Mira Mesa High School.

Kathleen Ferrier of Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit group that works to make neighborhoods more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, said the recommendations put forward in the audit mirror a list of suggestions her organization promoted in June 2015.

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“Our streets should be safe no matter where we go or how we get there,” Ferrier said. “The report shows that pedestrians are especially vulnerable. The data is alarming.”

City officials have been aware of the problem for some time.

Last year, city officials adopted a program called Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025. To meet those objectives, the plan calls for action involving engineering, enforcement and education.

“The mayor included $23 million in this year’s budget for Vision Zero projects, including new and improved bicycle facilities, sidewalks, lighting, medians and traffic signals,” city spokeswoman Katie Keach said in a statement Thursday. “Moving forward with the recommendations in the audit report will ensure additional progress on this critical issue.”

San Diego police issue more than 100,000 tickets a year to drivers who commit Vehicle Code violations that can endanger pedestrians, the audit noted. Last year, they also conducted 70 drunk-driving saturation patrols, 50 DUI checkpoints and two dozen targeted enforcement efforts for bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Auditors said police should rely on their own statistics to help improve traffic enforcement in neighborhoods that are historically more dangerous for pedestrians.

LoMedico said police can apply some of the same practices they use to combat more serious crime to traffic enforcement, and will do so by early next year.

“The SDPD regularly uses data to determine criminal activity trends and assist with policing efforts,” she wrote. “These same strategies can be used to address traffic-related issues.”

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The audit said transportation officials could also improve public safety by better prioritizing improvements to San Diego’s 1,600 intersections governed by traffic lights.

City crews improved or plan to improve more than 200 of those traffic signals in recent years, but too often the upgrades were made at street corners that were not the scene of repeat accidents, the audit said.

Of the 207 signalized intersections where improvements were made since 2010 or are planned, 49% experienced two or less pedestrian accidents in the previous 10 years, and 18% had no accidents at all, the report showed.

The transportation department “has the expertise and resources to develop a basic methodology, utilizing existing collision data, to identify locations that have experienced the highest pedestrian collision rates,” the audit said.

jeff.mcdonald@sduniontribune.com 

McDonald writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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