MTA and SFPD Launch Campaign to Improve Safety Near Muni LRVs

IMG_0531.jpgSupervisor Carmen Chu, with a demonstration of the new safety sign in the background. Photo: Michael Rhodes
The Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Police Department have launched a new initiative with Supervisor Carmen Chu to improve pedestrian safety around Muni light rail vehicle (LRV) boarding islands. The MTA has added new stickers to the front and back of LRVs warning drivers that they must stop and wait for pedestrians disembarking from the trains, and the SFPD says it will begin enforcing the law more aggressively.

At a press event announcing the initiative, Chu said she's been working with the MTA to address the issue. The problem is especially prevalent in her district, where the N-Judah and L-Taraval lines stop exclusively in the center of the street. "We see, a lot of times in our district, near misses, where individuals are coming off of the train and vehicles are not stopping because either they are unaware and they can't stop in time, or are going too fast, or maybe just simply don't know that it is a rule."

The new bright yellow signs on LRVs were added last week and read: "Motorists must stop for pedestrians." While many train stops already have signs mounted high up on utility poles, MTA Deputy Chief Operating Officer Samuel Lau said the new signs are far more visible to motorists. "Motorists don't really have their eyes trained on what's 20 feet on the right hand side," said Lau.

"They're looking at the LRVs, they're looking at the lights. So, we've designed these stickers as bright yellow as they are to communicate to customers and motorists, mainly, that you need to stop whenever a train is stopped and the doors are opening."

IMG_0523_1.jpgSupervisor Chu demonstrates the new sign. One of the old signs, which the MTA believes are not visible enough, is visible in the background. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Just in the past five years, Chu said, there have been two dozen incidents where people have been hit by cars that fail to yield and pass stopped LRVs. "This is a big district issue for Sunset. It's also a big issue in all parts of the city where you do see passengers disembarking from the trains."

"I really hope that we get the message out, number one, to the drivers, please do yield, just wait a little bit longer so that the people can safely get off of the trains. And then of course, for all passengers of Muni, just make sure you look outside before you step off the light rail vehicle."

The signs are the education component of the safety initiative; Taraval district station captain Paul Chignell said he was instructing officers to step up the enforcement component. "We found that there are many, many instances of people being unaware of the law," said Chignell. "We are letting people know now that my officers here out in the Taraval district will be citing drivers who violate that statute."

SFPD Deputy Chief and director of Security Enforcement for the MTA Tony Parra said that SFPD would start with education, warning drivers that they must obey the law, then move to full enforcement with $146 fines, and targeted stings to make sure the point gets across.

2528259786_4f8da07472.jpgThe N-Judah "station" at 7th and Irving Streets. Pedestrians must enter into the middle of the street to board. Flickr photo: chronos tachyon

While education and enforcement are both part of the initiative, costlier and perhaps more effective engineering improvements to the streetcar stops are not on the immediate horizon. Chu said she believes awareness is paramount, in the absence of design upgrades. Though she currently drives for most trips, before she was a supervisor, Chu rode the L-Taraval regularly and found that drivers and passengers were often not conscious of each other.

"I've actually myself witnessed coming off the light rail vehicles and seeing cars that just don't stop for you," said Chu. "So, I was always very conscientious and would just look outside before I would step off. But there are many people who are passengers who would be on their cell phones, who would just walk out without really taking a look."

In addition to this initiative, Chu has shown other signs of a nascent interest in pedestrian issues, including participating in an awareness campaign about the impact of illegal sidewalk parking on people with disabilities, and strong support for Sunday Streets along the Great Highway. A much more significant measure, of course, will be the outcome of this safety initiative, and whether Chu continues to pressure the Taraval police station to consistently enforce the law.