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Asian women and seniors are disproportionately killed by SF drivers. What needs to change?

Pedestrians stroll through San Francisco's Inner Sunset. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Three pedestrians have been killed on San Francisco streets this year, and at least two of the fatalities—or possibly all three—have been Asian women.

On New Year’s Day, 50-year-old Bessie Chui was leaving a party in the Mission when she was killed in a hit-and-run incident. Ten days later, 64-year-old Wan Mei Tan was also hit and killed at the intersection of 16th and Valencia streets.

A third victim, who died in a collision on Jan. 23 near Eddy and Franklin streets, was believed to be a middle-aged Asian woman, according to sources. But officials declined to identify the victim at the moment and not much information is publicly available.

“We see these very often on the news, that lots of pedestrians killed were older Asian females,” said Rosa Chen, the community planning manager with the Chinatown Community Development Center, who has been very outspoken about street safety within the Asian American community. “It is troubling to hear, as our community is facing many hardships through the year, from hate crimes to pedestrian safety.”

Data from previous years also showed that Asian seniors are one of the likeliest demographic groups to be struck and killed by drivers.

This year is hardly an anomaly, either. Last October, 66-year-old Huansu He was killed in the Sunset by a driver who was allegedly on drugs.

At least two, and possibly all three, pedestrians killed in San Francisco so far in 2023 have been Asian women. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Chen emphasized that the city as a whole should pay attention to the increase in traffic deaths. Changes must happen in both street engineering and in-language education for drivers and pedestrians alike.

She suggested that the policy changes should also look into how people are behaving in dangerous street situations with a culturally competent lens. For instance, seniors in Chinatown running to catch a bus may start across an intersection while a traffic light is yellow.

“What we truly need is more education for both pedestrians and drivers that are culturally sensitive,” Chen said.

San Francisco has only one year left to achieve its Vision Zero plan's aim of eliminating traffic deaths. However, 2022 saw the greatest loss of life since the city launched its road-safety goal in 2014, with 37 people killed on city streets last year.

In the meantime, a community still reeling from mass shooting events across California has also been mourning those individuals lost to traffic fatalities.

Bessie Chui’s family held funeral services two weeks ago in Colma. Community Youth Center, a nonprofit organization specializing in Asian American victim support, told The Standard that it has been in contact with the Tan family. On Jan. 20, two days before the Lunar New Year, multiple community groups and street-safety activists gathered in the Mission to mourn her loss.

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com