There have been 5,000 seriously injured on the streets of SF over the past decade. Most of the victims were pedestrians

Liz Colomello woke up to the disorienting glow of an overhead light and medical staff hovering over her, frightened and confused as to how she landed in the trauma center at San Francisco General Hospital.

The night before – December 7 – Colomello, her husband and their three dogs were crossing the intersection on Monterey Boulevard and Ridgewood Avenue, less than a block from their home in the Sunnyside neighborhood of San Francisco. A high-speed Toyota Corolla approached in an easterly direction. The Corolla driver blew through a stop sign at the intersection and crashed into Colomello, throwing her over 15 feet. The accident injured his head and neck and fractured his pelvis and four vertebrae, requiring spinal fusion surgery. A larger vehicle or a higher speed would likely have resulted in his death.

“I was very lucky,” said Colomello.

Since 2011, SF General has treated 5,337 patients for serious traffic accidents such as the one in Colomello, according to a new report by the city’s Department of Public Health, examining trends in traffic accidents over the past decade.

The city’s latest report comes as San Francisco and other cities in the Bay Area struggle to meet their Vision Zero goals of eliminating traffic accidents by 2024. Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting. on the part of residents and advocates for greater and faster improvements in street safety. The contentious issue again came to the region’s attention last week after the death of Alameda County supervisor Wilma Chan, who was struck by a motorist at a waterfront intersection in Alameda on Wednesday. morning while walking her dog.

In San Francisco, the overall number of serious road injuries has declined slightly since 2019, according to the report – from a peak of 592 in 2018 to 512 last year – while the most serious “serious injuries” are remained constant before and during the pandemic.

The state defines a serious injury as an injury that includes broken or fractured bones, dislocated or deformed limbs, severe lacerations, severe burns, or a state of unconsciousness when a person is extracted from a collision scene.

While some categories saw notable increases or decreases during the pandemic, the report warns that the trends for the 2020 pandemic year “may be a brief aberration,” from a period when fewer people were driving during closures. .

Pedestrians account for the highest share of serious injuries reported to SF General. While serious pedestrian injury cases notably declined from 186 in 2019 to 137 in 2020 during shelter-in-place orders, motor vehicle-related injuries were still the most common type of serious injury during the year. the pandemic.

Serious injuries among cyclists fell to 76 in 2019 – a record high in the past decade – but jumped to 115 last year. Two dozen of those serious injuries in 2020 were classified as critical, up from 16 in 2019.

The report also pointed to electric scooters as an “emerging fad” that “could be particularly vulnerable to traffic accidents.” Four of the five electric scooter-related injuries that required hospitalization last year were serious injuries, and the city recorded its first two scooter-related deaths last year.

In 2014, San Francisco made the Vision Zero pledge to eliminate fatal traffic accidents within a decade. Since then, other Bay Area cities such as San Jose, Berkeley, Alameda and Fremont have set similar goals focused on ending deaths.

But the deaths alone do not fully illustrate the extent of the road safety crisis in the city and region, advocates say, and serious injuries can dramatically affect a person’s quality of life.

“Serious injuries don’t make the headlines, but it should make the headlines as hundreds of people are seriously injured each year in traffic accidents,” said Marta Lindsey, spokesperson for Walk San Francisco .

With less than three years to its self-imposed 2024 deadline, there are signs that San Francisco is planning to pursue safety improvements on the streets more aggressively.

The Board of Directors of the Municipal Transportation Authority last week approved a strategic plan calling for accelerating 20 safety improvement projects each year and completing an “active transportation network” connecting slow streets, segments car-free street and protected cycle paths throughout the city.

The agency is also using a new state law to reduce speed limits – one of the main indicators of crash survival – on seven busy streets in January.

“To be honest, I don’t know if we’re going to reach zero road fatalities by 2024,” said Tom Maguire, director of the streets division of SFMTA. “But we have to stay at the forefront of the cities. “

Witnesses said they saw the Toyota Corolla hit Colomello at a speed that appeared to be over 40 mph on Monterey Boulevard – where the speed limit is 25 mph, the limit for most street segments in the city. A pedestrian has a 20% chance of surviving a car crash at this speed, according to data cited by the agency.

Colomello’s recovery was long and exhausting. She wore a neck brace for six weeks and spent months on a walker trying to regain her strength. The mobility of her neck has not fully returned and doctors have told her that it probably will not return to 100%, she said.

Nonetheless, she is grateful that she was able to take two months off work to try to recover, and that her husband, Steve, was there to help her get rid of her. They cherish their walks around the neighborhood with their two greyhounds, Bodhi and Franny, and their chihuahua mix, Bruno.

Liz Colomello, who was hit by a high-speed car last year, and her partner, Steve Poleri, with their dogs in San Francisco.

Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

According to city data, hundreds of other road accidents have probably occurred in the year since the Colomello crash, and the experience “makes it even more heartbreaking every time I see it’s happening to someone else, ”she said.

“It can change your life,” Colomello said. “Even if you are doing well physically, you can automatically lose your ability to care for your family, your income. Each of these accidents has a huge ripple effect for those involved. “

Ricardo Cano is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ByRicardoCano

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