Tenderloin nonprofit leader on the traffic safety silver lining of shelter-in-place

This commentary is from Nils Behnke, CEO of St. Anthony’s, a nonprofit working to feed, clothe, heal and lift the spirits of San Franciscans in need.

COVID-19 has changed many of our lives in heartbreaking, isolating, arduous ways. But it also has made changes possible that are good and should last, one of which is the increased focus on traffic safety in the Tenderloin district, which is literally a matter of life and death.

One cyclist or pedestrian is hit by a car every nine days on average on Golden Gate Avenue or Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin. The neighborhood is the most dangerous in San Francisco in terms of severe injuries and fatalities to pedestrians, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which announced last week it is proposing a 20 mph speed limit across the district.

St. Anthony’s is located on the 100 block of Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin. As a Franciscan Catholic organization, we’re the hands below the social safety net in this city. For the past 70 years, we have provided much-needed services to the marginalized and underserved communities in San Francisco. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve no longer been able to provide our guests free food, clothing, medical care, social work services and addiction recovery help inside. St. Anthony’s innovated. Thanks to a block closure that SFMTA collaborated with us to put into effect in April of this year, we have continued to serve our guests curbside, under tent cover without a single day of closure or a single instance of staff transmission of the virus in the past nine months.

While serving our guests on the sidewalk each day during the closure, we noticed some extremely positive effects on our block that extended beyond St. Anthony’s to the other organizations nearby and their communities: the children attending De Marillac Academy, the parishioners visiting St. Boniface Church, transitional-age youth at Larkin Street Youth Services and seniors at Vera Haile Housing.

The most important change is increased traffic safety, which is desperately needed in the Tenderloin. Almost 50% of accidents involving a pedestrian or cyclist are the result of a driver’s red signal violation, unsafe speeds, or a failure to yield. Golden Gate Avenue is part of San Francisco’s High Injury Network, which is the 13% of streets in the city that account for 75% of severe and fatal collisions. Last year, a child was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Leavenworth and Golden Gate Avenue, a stone’s throw from St. Anthony’s doors. He survived because of the prompt action of our staff, but others (mostly seniors in the past few years) have not.

The Tenderloin is home to some of the most culturally colorful, vibrantly diverse and historically marginalized communities in San Francisco. People commonly engage in what the SFMTA has categorized as vulnerable modes of transportation: walking and cycling. People experiencing homelessness and seniors sometimes move slowly through intersections. Children and people in wheelchairs may be below a driver’s typical line of sight. As a Franciscan Catholic organization called to serve those who are most vulnerable in our community, we add our voice to the community chorus in support of SFMTA’s increased safety measures.

Now, we are at crossroads. Do we go back to the status quo of injuries and fatalities here in the Tenderloin or do we want to build on the success in safety achieved in our neighborhood in this difficult year?

St. Anthony’s wholeheartedly supports the proposed 20 mph speed limit in the entire Tenderloin. These measures protect the most vulnerable in our city, whom we are called to serve and protect. Now is the time to address the injustice that is this lack of basic safety. We ask you all to join us with your support, and ensure that the Tenderloin community can celebrate Christmas — and simply live, every day — in safety.

Originally published by St. Anthony’s Foundation: Source

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