Walk SF holds annual Day of Remembrance for victims of car crashes, loved ones


SAN FRANCISCO — It's been nearly ten years since San Francisco embarked on an ambitious program called "Vision Zero" to end all traffic fatalities in the City by the year 2024. But as the deadline approaches, the City is nowhere close to reaching the goal. 

On Sunday, those whose lives have been torn by traffic collisions met for an annual Day of Remembrance.  

It is a club that no one would want to be a member of. Traffic crash survivors and families of those killed gather each year for a march and vigil at San Francisco City Hall.  

The World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims is an international observance, honoring the memory of 1.3 million people killed in traffic crashes around the globe each year.

They are bound together by a shared grief for a moment that no one could have predicted, and, now, no one can escape. That's how it is for Elizabeth Chavez. Ten years ago, her 5-year-old daughter Aileen was hit and killed in a crosswalk by a driver in San Jose.

"So, she was basically a couple of weeks away from graduating kindergarten," said Chavez. "She was happy because she was going to go into first grade."

Now, Aileen will always be 5 years old in her mother's mind and, in some ways, Chavez's life will be frozen in time as well.

"There's times when my grieving is talking about her, remembering how she was," Chavez said. "But then there's times like today, that it's as if it was like yesterday because you're living again what actually happened."

But as painful as it may be to attend the annual Day of Remembrance, she said it also helps to be around others who understand what she's going through. Jodie Medeiros, Executive Director of Walk SF, organizes the gathering and said it's more than just an opportunity to grieve.

"It's also to let our decision-makers know that this is not OK. That people are banding together. That people are angry that this is happening," she said. "Yeah, we might be hurt and devastated and our hearts go out, but there's a lot of anger because this is not something that's unsolvable. Traffic crashes can be eliminated."

They call them crashes not accidents, because they believe they can be prevented.  One idea to do that is gaining momentum in San Francisco and across the nation: prohibiting right turns at red lights.

Supervisor Dean Preston said the danger comes when drivers naturally look to the left to watch for oncoming cars.

"So, that creates a situation where drivers are hitting the gas to make that sharp turn without really focusing, usually, on what's on the right side. And often, that is a cyclist or a pedestrian crossing in the intersection," Preston said.

A pilot program banning the turns already exists in the Tenderloin and studies show that 92 percent of drivers are actually obeying the signs.  Similar bans are being considered in Denver, Chicago, Seattle and Washington D.C., and SF Supervisors have asked their transportation department to look into the feasibility of banning right turns at red lights city-wide. 

If that happened, it would be a major adjustment for drivers, but, if the group assembling in San Francisco every year can have a few less members, they say it will be worth it.


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