Mourners call for pedestrian safety improvements in wake of woman’s death


SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — Mourners draped a wheelchair with purple flowers today at a San Francisco intersection where a woman was killed when she was hit by a city vehicle last month.

Friends and family of Thu Phan, 38, joined disability and traffic safety advocates to call for safety improvements in the wake of her death and a stronger commitment to the city’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths in the city.

Phan, a Berkeley resident who used a wheelchair, loved the color purple, so many mourners today dressed in purple themselves and carried purple flowers that they placed on top of an empty wheelchair near the corner of Seventh and Market streets today.

Phan was hit by a car assigned to the South of Market Mental Health Services clinic on Harrison Street driven by a city worker at about 10 a.m. on Feb. 5. She was taken to a hospital but died there the next day.

San Francisco police investigators found that the driver, identified as 67-year-old James Harris of Antioch, was at fault in the collision. Police recommended today that Harris be cited for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, San Francisco police Officer Grace Gatpandan said.

Exactly what charges Harris might face remain unclear as the case was only forwarded to the district attorney’s office today. He was making a left turn onto Market Street in violation of posted signs there, though city vehicles are exempt and allowed to make that left turn, according to police.

That exemption is one of the things that the safety advocates are calling for the city to change in the wake of Phan’s death.

They called on the city to remove the exemptions for left turns for commercial and city vehicles turning onto Market Street between Third and Eighth streets, arguing allowing some cars to make left turns but prohibiting others is confusing for drivers.

They also advocated clarifying signage to make it more obvious what kinds of turns are legal at city intersections and to change the timing on traffic lights to give pedestrians a head start in crosswalks before cars get a green light.

Phan’s sister, Holly Michna, spoke today in support of those efforts on her sister’s behalf, saying her family is “devastated” and wants no other family to share their grief.

“Living in San Francisco, you hear stories all the time about people being hit by cars — but you never imagine it could happen to you, or your loved ones,” Michna said. “In our grief, we realize changes need to be made in San Francisco; people shouldn’t die crossing the street in our city.”

Phan “was doing something that she did every day for the last eight years and now she’s gone,” Michna said.

Jessica Lehman, executive director of Senior and Disability Action and a wheelchair user herself, said Phan often worried drivers wouldn’t see or pay attention to her while she was crossing the street at that intersection.

Joanna Fraguli with Mayor Ed Lee’s Office on Disability, who also uses a wheelchair, said “traffic crashes do not discriminate” and that people with disabilities can be particularly at risk.

“We are out. We are not sitting at home and we are not sitting in hospitals,” Fraguli said. “You folks need to look below eye level.”

Supervisors Jane Kim, Norman Yee and Eric Mar all spoke at the memorial in support of pedestrian safety improvements.

“It’s so incredibly hard to lose a member of your family and turn your grief and sorrow into a strength,” Kim said, commending Phan’s family for campaigning for safety improvements while still mourning.

“Every time I attend a funeral, every time I attend a memorial, it makes this effort even more real,” she said.

Yee said the city is moving forward with Vision Zero “but we still have a long way to go.”

He said the fight for pedestrian safety is particularly important for him as he was hit by a car and nearly killed while walking near the intersection of Fourth and Bryant streets in 2006, when he was president of the school board.

His grandfather was killed when he was hit by a car, Yee said.

Yee called for city vehicles to have tracking devices installed on them to monitor drivers’ behavior, a precaution he says has improved city drivers’ behavior in other cities where it’s been implemented.

The crowd then headed to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meeting at City Hall to advocate for the safety
improvements there. SFMTA officials said the city is already working on new training for city drivers and looking into ways to make signage improvements on Market Street.

The meeting was adjourned in Phan’s honor.

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