SFMTA Installs Left Turn Signal at Scott and Fell Streets

A woman turns left onto the Fell Street bike lane. The new signal can be seen on the left covered with white "X"s until they're turned on. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The commute on the busy Wiggle route will be made a little easier with the installation of a left turn signal at Scott and Fell streets today. The new system is expected to provide ample time for bicycle riders to make the left turn from the bike lane on Scott to Fell Street.

“We determined it has a great ‘bang for the buck’ value on improving safety and bicycle flow on a heavily used crosstown route,” said Mike Sallaberry of the SFMTA Sustainable Streets Division.

“We want to make that left turn easier for cyclists so that it’s a smoother, easier, and safer move, and to also encourage people on bikes to stay in the left turn bike lane on Scott rather than cut up the wrong side of Scott or onto the sidewalk there to make the turn illegally or dangerously,” he said.

The intersection’s traffic signals have long been unsuitable for the platoons of riders making the short-distance turn onto Fell Street, many of whom opt to avoid waiting for the small window of time left after yielding to oncoming cars. The issue has also posed a problem for pedestrians, whom many bike riders forget to watch for when making the harrowing turn at the high-motor traffic intersection.

“The goal is to time the left turn arrow to go on so that if you start riding up Scott at the beginning of the green there at Scott and Oak, and ride at a medium or easy pace, the arrow should go on right as you arrive there at Fell Street,” said Sallaberry.

“Some people are calling it a bicycle signal, but it’s designed to also let northbound cars go straight or make a left at the same time, which does not conflict with the left turn move cyclists are making,” he added.

The lights aren’t operational yet, but Sallaberry said they should be turned on before Bike to Work Day May 12.

Many riders find this to be the easiest way to make the turn. Photo: Aaron Bialick
  • This just made my day! I so miss the left turn lane there. But this will help.

  • Why are there two?

  • This will be great! So am I understanding right–the left hand bike turn will happen at the end of the green light cycle (and the southbound traffic on Scott will be stopped?)

  • Mark D.

    One will be a yellow left turn arrow.

  • Red and green, I believe.

  • Anonymous

    Now if MTA would install L turn signals on Divisadero @ Fell/Oak, drivers would stop using Scott for a traffic sewer.

  • Nick

    Is this going to be a bike signal or a regular arrow for motorists too?

  • It’s for motorists, too. I added a quote from Sallaberry near the end there to clarify.

  • Timing is Everything

    Sorry, but if the left turn arrow is after Scott has had its straight green light at the end of the Scott cycle, then I’m still going to cut the turn. There is no way in hell I’m going to stand it that narrow bike lane waiting as traffic flies by me on both sides in a rush to make the next set of lights. Scott traffic heading south is particularly dangerous for bikers as it is head on and drivers regularly veer around those making the rights onto Fell as they mash the gas full throttle. Since all three lanes of Fell are used for turns the high speed race to the light at Oak regularly creeps dangerously close to or into the bike lane. The timing should be after Fell goes red, then bike and left green onto Fell then the green for straight away traffic. No I am not a me bike, me first person. It is just traffic safety common sense.

  • EL

    I think the left-turn arrow turns on and finishes before southbound Scott gets a green light.

    That said, would you (or others) cut the turn if you didn’t make the green arrow in time? If yes, then this light will have little effectiveness if few are patient enough to wait for it.

  • Anonymous

    Great! This sounds like a wise investment.

    Still waiting to see some pedestrian safety improvements in South of Market where the population has increased from 11,000 in 1990 to over 40,000 in 2010 … and I’m quite certain the pedestrian injuries and deaths will go up if nothing is done and the Supervisors allow the Treasure Island redevelopment plan to pass with a 1 parking spot per 1 dwelling unit ratio (hearing at 1 p.m. on Monday at City Hall in Land Use Committee – join me to ask for a 1 parking spot per 2 dwelling unit limit, like RIncon Hill – the neighborhood that is supposedly a “Transit Oriented Development” but is choked by traffic issues and too scary for many a potential pedestrian.

  • mike

    Here’s what the phasing of the signal will be:
    1) Fell Street – green, then yellow/red
    2) Northbound (NB) Scott – green left turn arrow and green ball for through (SB Scott – still red)
    3) NB Scott – yellow then red LT arrow, green ball stays on (NB cyclists and drivers can still turn left but only after yielding to SB Scott
    4) NB and SB Scott – green ball goes yellow/red, then
    5) Fell Street – green

    Repeat and rinse…

  • Nick

    As a practical concern: cyclists waiting at the green bike box routinely jump the red light once oncoming traffic is gone (it’s very easy to see). This leaves them with a 10-15 second wait for that green arrow. Won’t they just continue making that illegal left hand turn? I like to wait and catch my breath, but I know others are in more of a rush to get home.

  • Mark

    @ Nick

    Can’t really design streets for people who are OK with ignoring the rules. If some people jump the light at Oak and then also at Fell – more power to them. These improvements, while not 8-to-80, make it safer for those looking for (albeit incomplete) safety while they ride.

    Not that I don’t like to run a good red light myself from time to time…

  • EL

    I think Nick’s point is valid. Since so many cut the turn rather than waiting for a green light, this arrow only helps those who already choose to wait. From what I’ve seen, those who wait are in the minority.

    I wonder if this arrow reduces the amount of time a pedestrian has to cross Fell Street. The time for the arrow has to come from somewhere.

  • basho

    We’ll have to see how this new green left arrow affects the timing, but as it is now, nearly everyone who cuts left on the red at Scott just ends up waiting at the red light at Divisidero, so it’s not saving them any time. But for all the attention cyclists pay to this intersection I have to say I can’t think of another intersection where cyclists seem less willing to cede the right of way to pedestrians. Maybe because it’s perceived as such a tricky turn, they’re just very anxious to get past it. Hoping this new light makes it less tense for all users.

  • Glad they are doing something here, but many people will probably still cut across on the red light anyway.

    It’s always funny when I wait at this light while people cut through, and then I meet them waiting at the red light at Divisadero!

  • Anonymous

    is a bike lane what it takes to get a left turn signal installed in this town? great. SF treats a left turn signal like it some new invention needing study before its deployed. Take a drive down Divisadero from Cal to Haight….you’ll be treated to danger, congestion, and frustration up and down the corridor….a huge step to relieve these issues would be introducing left turn signals starting with Geary/Divis.

  • Getting stuff done one snail’s pace at a time. Maybe in a decade we can have a bike lane on Oak from Baker to Scott.

  • Anonymous

    I think there is an advantage– if I know that the light is well-designed, I’m a lot more likely to wait than I am otherwise. Much of the red-light running that happens is a result of the lights being designed and timed for autos and autos only. Many lights on smaller streets exist because without them, idiots would feel free to drive through at high speed and cause accidents. There is not much in the way of safety to be gained from cracking down on people who stop, look both ways to see that the traffic is clear, and proceed. As a result, cyclists and pedestrians often feel that there’s no logic in waiting for auto-oriented stoplights when there’s no traffic.

    Case in point: the Masonic/Fell stoplight is, I think, a great success, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a cyclist disobey it. That’s because it’s clear that the designers took the cyclists’ needs into consideration, and tried to find the best solution for everybody.

    In the case of Fell/Scott, you have a traffic light configuration which predates a fairly major shift in traffic patterns, and does not account for cyclists at all. As a result, people skirt the rules. When you arrived at Fell/Scott and reached the intersection, you could wait for the light to change, then wait for the oncoming traffic to pass (at close range–fairly unpleasant) and only then make a left. The alternative of riding across ten feet in the crosswalk, where pedestrians have a green light anyway, is very tempting.

    It remains to be seen how well this change will work, but I think it’ll be positive. If I were king, I’d probably ban left turns off Fell and/or southbound traffic on this block of Scott, but I can see why that would draw more protest. (Actually I’d replace a parking lane on three blocks of Oak with a two-way separated bikeway, obviating the need for this intersection entirely.)

  • Anonymous

    If you don’t make the green arrow, you have to yield to oncoming SB Scott traffic, and then turn, right? I think everyone will obey that– making a left in front of moving, oncoming traffic is pretty dumb. The only question is whether the people who arrive when the light is red (and green for Fell) will wait. I think that knowing that a protected left turn is next will reduce the temptation significantly.

  • Jason94117

    When riding I can barely see over the median strip on Divisadero.  When installed it was so pretty, but now the weeds cover the oncoming traffic.