SAN FRANCISCO (Map, News) - San Francisco streets are statistically safer now than they were at the turn of the decade, but while the number of injury collisions has dropped since 2000, traffic and pedestrian fatalities spiked in 2006.

According to a year-end summary recently completed by the San Francisco Police Department’s traffic company, unsafe speed is consistently the number-one reason for traffic and pedestrian injuries and deaths.

As San Francisco police conduct targeted enforcement citywide to crack down on speeders, a staffing shortage has taken its toll on the traffic company, which, with 40 patrol officers, is at about half its full compliment, Sgt. Bob Guinan said Friday.

In addition to staffing shortages, the company needs about 20 new radar guns. Guinan said the company is asking for a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety to pay for the new equipment.

Unsafe speed can refer to drivers who travel over the posted speed limit, as well as those who travel too fast for conditions, Guinan said Friday. “On a city street, [with] heavy pedestrian action, a lot of traffic movement, bicycles, you’ve got somebody doing 30 mph when he should be doing 15.” Guinan said.

The number of collisions caused by speeding has gone down 28.43 percent since 2000, and fell 12.34 percent from 2005 to 2006.

However, the number of collisions for which police cannot determine a cause rose by 57.69 percent from 2005 to 2006. “I think it might be circumstantial that there’s a rise in that [unknown] category,” Guinan said. He indicated that, by their very nature, collisions that happen for unknown reasons are hard to analyze.

In 2006, according to the department report, violations of pedestrians’ right of way accounted for 39 percent — the greatest portion —of pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Pedestrian violations accounted for 34 percent. Unsafe speed accounted for 6 percent. For the seven years starting with 2000, vehicle violations of pedestrian right of way and pedestrian violations each accounted for 37 percent of pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

Guinan said the department’s latest education and enforcement campaign targets drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike. “We’re a very dense city. We’ve got 16,000 plus [people] per square mile,” Guinan said. “We need to get everybody to respect each other.”

But Manish Champsee, president of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, said the statistics indicating pedestrian fault tell “only half the story.”

“If it’s a question of, was it a red light or a green light, obviously the driver’s going to say, it was a green light for me,” Champsee said. He said speed reduction citywide is one of the most important factors in reducing pedestrian injury and death. A pedestrian who is hit by a car traveling 25 mph or less has a 60 percent chance of surviving the encounter,

Champsee gave as an example a child who runs after a ball that rolls into the street. “You want policies where drivers will be able to stop,” he said. “If they’re traveling at a safe speed there’s a reasonable chance that they can stop in time.”

Northern districts see most traffic collisions

The highest number of collisions, 442, in 2006, took place in the Southern district, which includes the South of Market neighborhood, including Market Street, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s traffic company. That district saw 450 collisions in 2005.

The reason for the high numbers, said Sgt. Bob Guinan, is that the Northern and Southern districts include approaches to the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. The Southern district includes onramps to Interstate Highway 80, which crosses the Bay Bridge, and the Northern District includes Gough and Franklin streets, high-speed, one-way thoroughfares that bring traffic to and from the Golden Gate Bridge approach of Lombard Street.

The most dangerous district for pedestrians in 2006 was the Southern district, where 126 people were injured or killed.

Historically, the Taraval district, which includes 19th Avenue along the California Highway 1 corridor, has seen the most fatalities, pedestrian and otherwise. Fifty-three people — 27 pedestrians and 26 others — died in collisions in that district between 2000 and 2006. The Northern district experienced 27 pedestrian deaths over the same time period, while the Southern district had 20.

“We’re seeing more of an increase in residents than before, and traffic heading to the bridge 24 hours a day,” Guinan said of the Northern and Southern districts. “What you’re seeing is a larger concentration of people in these two areas,” he said.

“What that says to me is that more attention needs to be placed in those areas. I don’t think having a bridge approach should be an excuse for high level of pedestrian death and injury,” said Manish Champsee, president of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco. “In the areas of high pedestrian death and injury, those are the areas where we should concentrate our resources to bring those deaths and injuries down.”

It may come as no surprise that downtown and South of Market neighborhoods see high concentrations of traffic collisions, but it’s the Northern police district, which includes Pacific Heights, Western Addition and the Marina districts, that had the highest number of collisions — 517 — in 2005, and the second-highest — 435 — in 2006.