Film festival organizers call for safer San Francisco streets

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Editor’s Note: Aug. 19 marks the Bay Area Global Health Film Festival, hosted by the Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology. The theme of this year’s festival is “Road Traffic Safety Locally … and Globally,” and is geared toward raising awareness about the need for road traffic safety improvements. In this opinion piece, representatives from the University of California at San Francisco Orthopaedic Trauma Institute, at San Francisco General Hospital, describe how all-too-common accidents can permanently injure pedestrians and bicyclists. And they voice support for Proposition A, the San Francisco Transportation and Road Improvement Bond.

By Amber Caldwell and Nick Arlas

San Francisco is a transit-first city. Everyone shares the need to get safely from point A to point B, preferably quickly. And the various options for doing so span the full spectrum from driving, biking, and walking, to public transit like MUNI and Bart, rideshare programs, taxis, and companies like Uber and Lyft.

As we go about our daily lives, transportation is one of the most important public infrastructure systems that San Francisco relies upon. It encompasses many controversial issues and is linked to other social equity campaigns including housing advocacy and urban gentrification.

Yet the issue of pedestrian and bike safety in San Francisco has made disheartening headlines as of late. 2013 was an especially deadly year, with 21 pedestrian and four bicyclist fatalities. San Francisco General Hospital alone cared for over 1,000 road traffic injuries, with an estimated $60 million annual cost. Organizations like the SF Bicycle Coalition and WalkSF have made biking and walking leading issues in debates over transportation policy and traffic safety. Mayor Ed Lee and our city government have responded by introducing a $500 million transportation bond measure for the Nov. 4th ballot. If it passes, a portion of the funding will be allocated for improving pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Less often discussed, however, is what happens to the pedestrians and bicyclists who are hit while going about their daily routines and permanently affected by all-too-common accidents. At the UCSF SFGH Orthopaedic Trauma Institute (OTI), these patients fill our wards, the operating room schedule and our hearts as we help to heal them from these injuries. We struggle with the balance between doing what we can and what should be done to curb the growing volume of patients we see annually due to preventable accidents.

What is alarming is the socio-economic impact these accidents have, not only on the person affected, but on the hospital and our city as a whole. Even in cases where the driver is at fault, it is rare for them to even be cited for a traffic violation in most cases. More importantly, personal injury insurance and health coverage barely cover the emergency services needed for these accidents, and most services offered at the hospital are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, which means we are paying for this on all sides. This is unacceptable.

There is currently a wave of momentum to address these complex issues and attempt to tease through how we as a city can rebuild, redefine and reinforce the safety in our city. This movement is supported by a global platform addressing road traffic safety as a public health campaign, through the World Health Organization’s Decade of Road Traffic Safety. This campaign tackles the myriad polices and resource investments needed to address the enormous impact road traffic accidents have on the world. 

Injuries, mainly those resulting from road traffic accidents, account for greater disability and death than HIV, TB and Malaria combined.  An average 5.8 million die annually, and for every death caused by these accidents, eight to 10 more are permanently injured.

To bring collective awareness around this issue and to change the landscape, the community needs to stand together not only in San Francisco but also around the world, to demand safer streets. The city is doing its part to outline a roadmap to curbing these alarming statistics, and a greater global campaign is underway to promote awareness and inspire activism.

We must stand up for the injured and for ourselves as local citizens to demand safer streets and protection from when accidents occur.  We may not be able to prevent every accident, but we can improve the choreography of their outcome if we work together.    

Amber Caldwell and Nick Arlas are Director of Development and Community Outreach Coordiator, respectively, at the Institute for Global Orthopaedics and Traumatology, UCSF Orthopaedic Trauma Institute, San Francisco General Hospital.

The Bay Area Global Health Film Festival begins Tue/19 at 6 p.m. at Public Works, 161 Erie, in San Francisco.