Protected streets have emptied my emergency division — we should always hold them – The San Francisco Examiner
From Dr. Stephen Gamboa
I was having my picnic at church in Golden Gate Park in April 2019 when I heard someone yell for help. As an ambulance, I’m always ready to respond to major or minor disasters, so I ran to see if I could help. A young woman was riding a bike on John F. Kennedy Drive when she was hit by a U-Haul truck that used the park as a shortcut. She was conscious but hurt; likely a broken arm and a concussion. I helped stabilize her and called emergency services. As she was loaded into the ambulance, I noticed how annoying it was that someone trying to enjoy a nice day wasn’t safe to ride a bike in a city park.
After that worrying incident, I began to pay attention to the daily flow of pedestrians, runners and cyclists injured by cars in my emergency room. Prior to the pandemic, JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park was a predictably dangerous place for people walking or cycling. I took care of many park visitors who were seriously injured there. In fact, The City’s JFK Drive is classified as a high-injury corridor, meaning it is one of the most dangerous streets in The City for pedestrians.
This is no longer the case. After JFK Drive was closed to motor vehicle traffic in April 2020 to allow for more social distancing, something strange and wonderful struck me: I didn’t see a single patient in my emergency room due to a traffic accident on JFK. By staying safe and car-free for children, JFK Drive prevented many serious injuries. Data supports my observations: in 2019, nine people reported injuries to JFK, some of which were quite serious (in particular, most injuries, including many I see in the emergency room, are never officially reported). No serious injuries have been reported since the road was closed to cars.
I tell almost everyone I see in my emergency room that the most dangerous thing they will do in San Francisco is crossing the street, and the statistics back it up. This is especially true of children: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading killer of young people aged 1 to 29 in California. As a father of two young children, this is especially true when you’re near home. This is a public health crisis. We have to do better for our children.
Franciscans should be very proud of the leadership our city has shown in its pandemic response. I’ve seen on the front lines in the emergency room and as part of the Department of Health’s COVID response how strong and proactive leadership can save many lives. Now is the time for our San Francisco city guides to demonstrate the same proactive, proven and proven approach to road safety in our city.
As an emergency doctor and a father, I will always advocate approaches that save lives. If we have the opportunity to make our city safer for children and other vulnerable people by maintaining car-free spaces and slow streets, we must take advantage of them. Conversely, when JFK Drive reopens to motor vehicles, we must live with the knowledge that any injury or God forbidden death we suffer is within our power to prevent, and we have chosen not to to do. San Franciscans, especially children, deserve a consistently child-safe, car-free JFK.
Dr. Stephen Gamboa is a father of two, a resident of the Richmond District and an ambulance doctor at Kaiser Medical Center in San Francisco.
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