Three pedestrian deaths elicit varied reactions in San Francisco 

click to enlarge A fatal accident at 18th and Hartford streets in San Francisco is one of three in the Castro neighborhood withing a year’s time that involved pedestrians. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner file photo
  • A fatal accident at 18th and Hartford streets in San Francisco is one of three in the Castro neighborhood withing a year’s time that involved pedestrians.

Since August, there have been three tragic pedestrian deaths in a seven-block radius near the Castro and Upper Market area.

While each of the incidents included acts of negligence, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, the public reaction to the fatalities has been notably varied.

If the names of Wallace Loggins and Chris Bucchere — a Muni driver and cyclist, respectively, involved in two of the deaths — are searched for on the Internet, several indignant stories pop up. However, a search for the name of a third person — Gregg Wilcox, a motorist who struck and killed a pedestrian — yields considerably less outrage.

The actions and Loggins and Bucchere stirred up considerable debate — the latter prompting a slew of media exposes — but Wilcox’s story generated little notice, a dichotomy that has signified the public’s blasé reaction to stories of motorists killing pedestrians.

“I think for a long time, people have assumed that car crashes are inevitable — that somehow it’s an act of god,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy organization. “But these accidents are both preventable and tragic, and its time we started paying attention to them.”

Last year, 17 pedestrians were killed on city streets, and 14 of them died after being hit by private autos. Two were fatally struck by Muni vehicles, and another died after a collision with a cyclist.

“Collisions involving a bicyclist and a pedestrian are so rare,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “There is almost a sensational aspect to it, which kind of fuels the fire of media interests and public discussions.”

After Bucchere is alleged to have sped through an intersection at Market and Castro streets, fatally colliding with 71-year-old Sutchi Hui, local policymakers revived a proposal to implement mandatory bike-safety lessons for cycling scofflaws. Shahum and Stampe also were visible in the aftermath, encouraging all travelers to be mindful of the rules of the road.

However, there was no push for increased driver safety rules after Wilcox, who was allegedly driving with a cast on his foot at the time of the accident, killed William Cox on 14th and Noe streets.

“There was massive internal self-policing from cyclists after the incident on Castro and Market,” said Jason Henderson an assistant professor of human geography at San Francisco State University. “But with drivers, there is a long history of lack of accountability. There is no Walk SF or Bike Coalition for drivers.”

Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Supervisor whose district covers the area of the three accidents, said residents have become somewhat numb to stories of cars killing pedestrians. However, he said there is a renewed push from the community to improve traffic conditions and street designs, and increase enforcement.

“I think that there is a lot of frustration starting to mount about pedestrian fatalities,” said Wiener, who noted that there was strong local outrage following the death of William Cox. “I think people are starting to understand that everyone needs to be safe on our roads.”

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Will Reisman

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