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Claude Wyle
Claude Wyle
Attorney • 888-787-5718

Tour Bus Strikes Down and Kills Pedestrian In Front of San Francisco City Hall

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Priscila “Precy” Moreta, a 68 year old San Francisco resident and accountant with the City and County of San Francisco,  was struck down and fatally injured while she was walking in the crosswalk on Polk Street right in front of City Hall. This crosswalk is a busy San Francisco crosswalk, teeming with pedestrians at all times of the day and night and it is hard to understand how this tour bus driver could possibly miss Ms. Moreta as she walked  from her work to the park across the street. Polk Street is straight and clear of visual obstructions, the crosswalk itself is wider by far than most crosswalks in San Francisco, and there are ample warnings to drivers to watch out for pedestrians.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family of Ms. Moreta, who  was a staff member at the San Francisco controller’s office. Witnesses confirm that Ms. Moreta was in a crosswalk at the time of the accident.

The tour bus which was designed to look like a San Francisco cable car, apparently struck Ms. Moreta with its back tires.

Tourists on the bus said they did not see the woman get run over, as they were looking up at City Hall, but did mention that the bus was moving very slowly at the time of the fatal pedestrian accident, perhaps only 5 miles per hour. So, where was the tour bus operator looking at the time, and what was Ms. Moreta doing at the time she was struck?

“He’s a very careful, slow driver”, one of the witnesses said “We’ve been out with him for 2 1/2 hours and he’s been very, very cautious”

The tour bus driver remained at the scene, and was cooperating with police. He was overheard stating that he did not see anyone in the crosswalk. We know Ms. Moreta was there to be seen and it is the law in California that each driver maintain a proper lookout for any obstacles in the roadway. Maintaining a proper lookout means to look in the direction of where you are going and to see what there is to be seen. Failure to keep a proper lookout is negligence. The excuse “I just didn’t see him or her” does not relieve a driver of their duty to see what is there to be seen, so clearly this driver was negligent. Unless facts are brought to light that Ms. Moreta made herself difficult to see for some reason or was moving at a high and unforeseeable speed, this driver should have seen her and let her have her right of way as a pedestrian. So, liability is clear, however does it lie entirely with the driver or is the roadway itself perhaps partially to blame?

City employees have suffered personal injury in this crosswalk before, for example former City Supervisor, Susan Leal, who was injured in 2007 when she was struck by a car and tossed 30 feet.

The Municipal Transit Authority is planning to install a signal at the crosswalk, and I for one think that it can’t come soon enough. Although slated for approval in mid-2015, it appears that the danger of this pedestrian crossing will continue unless the roadway itself is improved. Ms. Moreta was clearly in the right, however, did the physical characteristics of this crossing contribute, even in a small way, to her death?

Because this San Francisco pedestrian crossing on Polk Street is not at a controlled intersection, meaning there are no stop signs there or traffic signals, as there would be at an actual intersection, this is known as a mid-block crossing. In California, pedestrians have the right of way crossing at intersections whether the intersections have marked crosswalks or not. Crosswalks without stripes are called unmarked crosswalks. Pedestrians have the right of way at unmarked crosswalks however rarely know this fact. Pedestrians also have the right of way crossing mid-block as long as they are not stepping out into the street suddenly in front of traffic. Most vehicle drivers do not know this and usually don’t give adequate time for pedestrians to cross mid-block, even if the pedestrian gave them plenty of time to do so.

There are engineering studies which say that a mid-block crosswalks can actually increase the risk of pedestrian accidents if they do not have the proper “enhancements”. By enhancements, I mean driver warnings such as signs warning drivers that a painted crosswalk is coming up and/or maybe special lights and other warnings to drivers so that they can anticipate the presence of pedestrians in time to slow and let the pedestrians cross safely. Well, the pedestrian crossing in front of San Francisco City Hall has numerous enhancements, and some of the widest stripes I can imagine, and a tour bus operator sits higher than a passenger car driver, so what went wrong in this case? One of the reasons why some civil engineers say that the mid-block crosswalks actually can increase danger to pedestrians is that they can create a false sense of security for pedestrians. While the enhancements increase the warning to the drivers and should advise the drivers to expect that this is where pedestrians are likely to cross, pedestrians can feel like they have the absolute right to cross in any crosswalk and some pedestrians may walk less defensively or carefully as they cross because the crossing is so striped. If the intersection is not controlled by a stop sign or a traffic signal, pedestrians really don’t know that the vehicles are going to stop, and must pay attention accordingly. Ms. Moreta, like thousands of City workers over decades, probably thought that she was in a pedestrian safety zone and that she could cross Polk Street safely. Perhaps, if this crossing had had a traffic signal with a walk sign with a countdown timer, like those in actual intersections, this tragic pedestrian death would not have happened. Please let me know your opinions about pedestrians and crosswalks in San Francisco and how you feel pedestrian crossing might be made safer.

Hello, I’m Claude Wyle, a San Francisco pedestrian accident attorney. Have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered here? Feel free to contact me or visit www.ccwlawyers.com