Pedestrians Scramble for Diagonal Crossing

Demonstrators breathed new life into the push for a diagonal pedestrian crossing at Kearny and Clay streets in San Francisco’s Chinatown this past November. Over 50 Chinatown community members, young and old alike, occupied the streets.                                                                                                  

The intersection is one of the busiest and most dangerous corridors in the city, according to Vision Zero, San Francisco’s official road safety policy.

The protest, which was organized by Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Phil Chin, the co-chair of Chinatown Transportation Research and Improvement Project (TRIP), gathered about 50 Chinatown residents and their families to form a “human scramble” at the intersection.

According to Connie Chan, Peskin’s legislative aide, the protest was to demonstrate the importance of pedestrian safety and the importance of a full diagonal “scramble,” which would allow pedestrians to walk diagonally across the Kearny and Clay streets intersection without the threat of illegal turns from cars.

“I can’t understand why the city is so hesitant about the crossing because the right turn is deadly,” said 68-year-old Harvey Louie, a former member of Chinatown TRIP. “I drive into Chinatown everyday, so I see the problem and thought ‘Jeez. Why don’t we have a scramble system so pedestrians can cross safely.’”

Founded in 1976 by a group of MUNI bus drivers, Chinatown TRIP has led efforts to implement pedestrian scrambles for years, according to the Chinatown Community Development Center. Scramble street lights, also known as “partial scrambles,” extends the pedestrian crossing time, in hopes to reduce pedestrian-automobile collisions.

Chinatown TRIP was successful in pushing the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to install scramble street lights on most Stockton Street intersections except for one. Tragedy struck when a 78-year-old, Pui Fong Yim Lee, was killed by a car at the intersection of Stockton and Sacramento streets on Sept. 20, 2014. Three days later, another Chinatown senior was hit at the same intersection.

After her death, Lee’s son, Geen Lee, worked alongside Chinatown CDC to install scramble street lights at the dangerous intersection. The SFMTA implemented the partial scramble in January 2015, according to the Chinatown CDC.

“The saddest part is meeting people that have either lost someone or been injured themselves,” said Becky Hogue, chair of the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee, recalling her interactions with Geen Lee.

Lisa Yu, Peskin’s youth commissioner, shares the same sentiments about meeting Geen Lee. “It was putting it in perspective,” said Yu. “We were outsiders. We only heard the stories.”

Before Peskin hired her in 2014, Yu worked with the Chinatown CDC to improve pedestrian safety. Now, Yu continues to work closely with Peskin to construct future plans for a district-wide “full scramble.”

Now, the Chinatown community and Peskin’s office turn their attention to the Kearny and Clay streets intersection. The idea for a scramble was raised in a participatory budgeting meeting held by former Supervisor David Chiu in March 2014, according to The Barbary Coast News. However, another Chinatown senior was struck and killed by a car at the intersection before SFMTA implemented the partial scramble.

Ai You Zhou, 77 years old, died at the scene on June 17, 2015, according to the Green Street Mortuary.

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timeline of deaths and scramble implentation

Since then, community activists have pushed for a full scramble at the intersection of Kearny and Clay. According to the SFMTA, the SFMTA implemented a “right angle scramble” in April 2016. Currently, the stoplights are timed during a specific interval to allow pedestrians to cross in all four crosswalks. Cars are banned from turning during this interval.

“They did put a ‘no right turn’ sign right there. It’s a blessing in disguise. The sign has allowed more people to cross with confidence that they won’t get hit,” said Louie.

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“no turn” signs on Kearny & Clay

However, the Chinatown community and Peskin are demanding more. According to the media advisory that was sent out from Peskin’s office, the “human scramble” was a “protest against pedestrian safety infrastructure at the intersection.” The media advisory said the community and Peskin’s office have been negotiating with the SFMTA for the past year.

“With our protest in November, we hope SFMTA will see that we need the scramble,” said Yu.

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preventative barrier in front of Portsmouth Square Plaza Garage

Although hopeful, community leaders doubt that the SFMTA will deliver the full scramble anytime soon. Hogue is one of them.

“I don’t think MTA will do any more scrambles unless they are forced to,” said Hogue. Though hopeful, Hogue said only more injuries or deaths will force SFMTA’s hand.

Louie shares the same doubts as Hogue. “They’re waiting for an accident,” said Louie. “And I wish they would do a full report on the near misses that occur. It’s money.”

Paul Rose, the spokesperson for SFMTA, explained to The San Francisco Examiner that the cost of the right angle scramble was around $30,000. A full scramble on the Kearny and Clay streets intersection, like the one on Stockton and Montgomery streets, would cost about $350,000.

The SFMTA is also hesitant because a full scramble at the Kearny and Clay streets intersection may cause MUNI delays, according to Yu. Bus lines numbers one and eight go straight through the intersection.

Some Chinatown community members are wary of the idea of a full scramble. Among them is Janice Villanueva, the manager of Hotel North Beach. Hotel North Beach is a single room occupancy living space with a combination of tourists and Chinatown seniors.

“I think it’s a good idea for certain streets, but it goes both ways. The pedestrians would have to be considerate to the drivers too. It goes both ways,” said Villanueva.

The SROs is one of the reasons why the intersection is so important, said Yu. The Kearny and Clay streets intersection is right across from Portsmouth Square park. “Lots of seniors hang out [at Portsmouth Square park] because they can’t bring their friends back to their rooms.”

Other seniors, like 82-year-old Cheng Zhong Ceng, have seen too many of their friends and acquaintances come and go to risk another chance of an untimely death.

Despite the obstacles, Yu suggests that the Chinatown community should continue going to SFMTA board meetings and community hearings. “Watching Mr. Lee inspire others inspired me. I work in the community, and it is my job to share the story and help make the community better,” said Yu.

Important Medical Centers in Chinatown

The North East Medical Center and Self-Help for the Elderly are two of the most important services Chinatown offers to its under-served community. Both centers offer a wide range of services that extend far beyond medical duties. They offer low-cost care, and all of the staff are bilingual.

North East Medical Center

1520 Stockton St

415-391-9686

Mon – Fri 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sat 8:30 a.m. – noon and 1 p.m.- 5 p.m.

Not only is this non-profit helping the Chinatown community get access to healthcare, they will also walk you through the process of applying for medical insurance.

Self-Help for the Elderly

731 Sansome Street, Suite 100

415-677-7600

Mon-Fri 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Self-Help for the Elderly offers a wide range of services for Chinatown seniors. This includes everything from social services to medical care.

Chinese Fresh Flower Fair

Ring in the spring at the Chinatown Fresh Flower Fair! Come support local Chinese florists and merchants and indulge in beautiful orchids and fresh fruit.

Where: All throughout Chinatown!

When: Jan. 21-Jan. 22, 2017

Lunar New Year is steeped in traditions. Make sure to ring in the Year of the Rooster right by picking up some fresh oranges and tangerines for wealth and luck. You can also pick up beautiful flowers for health and prosperity! Or maybe just some candied coconut to promote togetherness.

 

This year’s fair is sponsored by Southwest Airlines.

If you are a merchant that wishes to set up your own booth, click here for the application and for more information.

Homesickness in Chinatown

One of my favorite moments as a young girl was letting go of my father’s hand with a fistful of tickets, and barreling toward the rides at the Lunar New Year festival back home.

Today, I find comfort in the bright festivities in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 300 miles away from home.

Though a novelty to tourists and even San Francisco residents, I find the Chinatown community familiar. The familiarity comforts me during times of homesickness, especially around Lunar New Year.

The red of the lanterns and decorations is the exact color of the ao dai, the Vietnamese traditional dress, that my mother helped me fasten when I was 12 years old. The elders in Portsmouth Square park reminds me of my own grandparents.

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Ngo among the crowd during Lunar New Year 2016

Lunar New Year is a celebration of life, rebirth and most importantly, family. When I left Southern California, I left behind the traditions I participated in year in and year out.

Chinatown is the perfect middle ground.

There are endless festivities during the new year celebrations and familiar comfort food. Though it lacks the space for a fast rides and game booths, Lunar New Year in San Francisco’s Chinatown embodies what I loved and continue to love: togetherness.

Profile: Huy Lu

Huy Lu organizes rallies and parades and speaks out during board of supervisors meetings at San Francisco City Hall. Lu is proactive but doesn’t consider himself to be an activist.

“Looking at me, I don’t look like an activist,” Lu laughs, wearing a worn-out sweater and metal frame glasses. “I just needed to do something. Even pass out posters.”

When he isn’t working his day job as a land surveyor at the San Francisco Department of Water or enjoying the night with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Lu, 49, dedicates himself to Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that was banned in China in 1999. With every rally, protest and poster passed out, Lu hopes to reverse the condemnation of the practice.  The practice, which Lu likens to Buddhism and tai-chi, brings him peace.

Falun Gong is a cultivation practice. Cultivating the mind and heart. We practice compassion and tolerance,” Lu says. To Lu, Falun Gong is not controversial. Rather, the practice is a state of mind. Lu says the controversy is contrived and criminalized because the insurgence of people who followed the practice after its introduction in 1992 was a threat to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Despite his current advocacy, Lu admits he was not always so proactive. “I was very introverted as child. I never complained,” Lu says.

Born and raised in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City–Lu prefers not to use that name), Vietnam, Lu’s childhood was not occupied by much besides survival. “I was very poor. We only worried about feeding ourselves,” Lu laments. “My dad helped me put together a newspaper box to sell cigarettes at restaurants.”

By the time he immigrated to the U.S. and settled in San Francisco, he was 17 years old and lacking in a formal education. “I couldn’t even do basic algebra. My teacher took an apple and cut it into fourths to teach me fractions,” says Lu.

Until discovering Falun Gong, Lu felt as though his life had no direction. “I stumbled into Falun Gong. I broke an ankle, and I went to a Chinese chiropractor who practiced Falun Gong. That was 1998,” Lu says.

Despite discovering the practice in 1998, Lu did not become involved until 1999, when Zemin criminalized the practice throughout mainland China. Lu learned of the ban and the vilification of practitioners at Golden Gate Park, where many Falun Gong practitioners in San Francisco gather to do their exercises.

Amidst the outrage following the ban, Lu heard news of a demonstration in Washington D.C. Though he only dabbled in Falun Gong, attending group practices here and there, he decided to join the demonstration along with almost 1000 other practitioners.

“I remember it being so hot in Washington D.C. We had a rally outside the Washington Monument,” says Lu. He wanted a resolution. He wanted a response. Now, Lu just wants to spread awareness.

“He is so involved,” says Peter Loo. “He wants to spread the truth.” Loo met Lu at Portsmouth Square Park in Chinatown 15 years ago and has been part of the movement ever since.

The movement has no official title, and there are no official roles. Everyone at the demonstrations and meetings are volunteers. However, that doesn’t stop Lu from taking action.

Lu calls himself the coordinator when applying for city permits to put on demonstrations. That’s only on paper, however. He prefers not to be attached to any title. “We are the same level,” Lu says, referring to the group. Lu’s humility and willingness to pour his life into Falun Gong is consistent with its teachings.

“If I need help, he will come to help because we practice compassion,” says Kerry Huang, another long-time friend and fellow practitioner.

Some days are harder than others, however. “I’m not the kind of person who is good at socializing. Working with other people is hard for me,” admits Lu. Land surveying 40 hours a week is a breeze. Applying for permits and getting the public to listen is a whole other beast.

“In a perfect world, I would be good. Everyday, I struggle with the practice because I’m not compassionate enough to deal with co-workers or other people. Sometimes they step on your foot,” says Lu. “Before the practice, I had a very short temper.”

To Lu, Falun Gong is more than a practice. To him, Falun Gong is a state of being. To be able to reflect upon himself at the end of every day is a feat in itself. The practice brings

Lu happiness, not to mention patience to juggle work, family and the Falun Gong advocacy work.

“My wife always complains about it. That I spend too much time with this,” Lu sighs, referring to his devotion to ending the persecution of Falun Gong. Despite his wife’s objections, Lu wants to prove that his efforts will make a difference, and he hopes continuing to practice Falun Gong will make him a better man and a good father.

Huang has no doubts that Lu is already there, however. “He loves his family. He is a good daddy. Every time I call him, I can tell he loves her so much. I hear ‘Papa! Papa!’ in the background,” Huang laughs. “Everyone who practices Falun Gong are honest people.”

Opinion: A reaction to “The O’Reilly Factor” Chinatown segment

In a recent segment of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly sent his protege, Jesse Watters, to New York City’s Chinatown to interview locals about the election. Bill O’Reilly, of course, is a journalist and political commentator.

Instead of a thoughtful, dignified piece, the segment accomplished what Watters set out to do: turn Chinatown into a joke. Watters interviewed non-English speakers, elders and people who simply had no idea what was going on. The interviews were only interjected with patronizing remarks from Watters and cuts to outdated movie clips from The Karate Kid.

In other words, the segment was ignorant. Watters defended himself on twitter after major backlash from the Asian-American community.

@jessebwatters: “As a political humorist, the Chinatown segment was intended to be a light piece, as all Watters World segments are.”

I am not Chinese. Yet, I have spent enough time in San Francisco’s own Chinatown to see its underbelly. I see the closely knit community that drives Chinatown. I see kindness. I see ordinary people making honest livings. I see dignified people. Nothing in Chinatown, not its culture nor its people, invites ridicule.

Though I am not Chinese, I am an Asian-American woman. The Asian-American experience is not a singular experience, but we share many similarities. I know what micro-aggressions feel like. I know what micro-agressions within my own community feel like. It is demoralizing. I will never forget stares from white strangers when my parents speak Vietnamese in public or when my parents try to communicate in their broken English. I used to be embarrassed. But now, I’m angry.

No, the anger isn’t directed toward my parents but rather, for my parents. The anger is for my community. I am angry that hard-working people, such as my parents, are the butt of jokes that willfully ignorant Americans tell. And for the most part, they don’t even know that they were part of any joke at all.

A PSA to Watter and O’Reilly: a joke is only funny if the other person is aware of what’s going on. If not, it’s just bullying.

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a tweet by MJ Lee, CNN National Politics Reporter

The portrayal of the Chinatown community in Watters segment is a contrived narrative. The narrative’s only purpose is to invite ridicule and to perpetuate a cycle of hate and ignorance.  The reclaiming of this narrative isn’t about whether Chinese-Americans and Asian-Americans are allowed to do so. Stories about Asian-Americans by Asian-Americans already exist. A movement already exists. I invite white America to listen.

Watch Comedy Central’s  Ronny Chieng’s Chinatown Segment instead.

Passport 2016: Chinatown

October 23: noon-4 pm

Portsmouth Square
733 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108

After Party: 4:30-6:30 pm

Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House
1 Pagoda Place
San Francisco, CA 94108

The San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries is working close with the Chinatown Community Center and Chinese Culture Center to celebrate local Chinatown artists and businesses! Collect “passport” stamps in your own customized journal by supporting local businesses.

Collectors will follow a map through Chinatown to collect the stamps from local artists, while experiencing the vibrancy Chinatown and what its businesses have to offer. The passports are for sale for $25 here. The starting line will be at the second level on Portsmouth Square. Have fun and support one of San Francisco’s most spirited communities! And don’t forget about the after party.

To find out more, click here.