How Many Deaths Will It Take to Fix Masonic Avenue?

Pedestrians remain vulnerable at the intersection of Masonic Avenue and Turk Street, where a 61-year-old man was killed by a drunk driver this morning. Photo: Aaron Bialick

An alleged drunk driver traveling more than double the speed limit on southbound Masonic Avenue at Turk Street struck and killed 61-year-old James Hudson of San Francisco in the crosswalk early this morning. The driver then continued his destructive path for another 13 blocks, according to police, damaging four parked cars along the way before crashing into a planter in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Medical Center on Shrader Street.

“There were no headlights and no front grill,” St. Mary’s nurse Jeamelia Thomas told KTVU. She had just arrived at the hospital in her car, and narrowly avoided getting hit.  “He was speeding. I tried to dodge him because he was coming head on (at me). He actually ran into the cement pots in front of the hospital.”

Thomas said the suspect, identified as 23-year-old Jose Jimenez of San Francisco, was “very drunk” and got out of the car after the crash, with his hands up, and was quickly arrested by officers who had been chasing him. Jimenez was treated for minor injuries and a police spokesperson said he was expected to be charged with vehicular manslaughter and DUI.

“As a result of him being involved in different accidents it is going to be a lengthy investigation,” said SFPD Lt. Troy Dangerfield of the public affairs division. He said depending on the results of the investigation, Jimenez could be facing more charges.

Police say Jimenez was arrested after crashing into a planter at St. Mary's Medical Center. Photo: ABC7

It was the second death of a vulnerable road user on this stretch of Masonic Avenue in less than one year, and comes one week before a crucial engineering hearing on a long-awaited plan to upgrade the notorious traffic sewer.

Last August, 22-year-old Nils Yannick Linke was riding his bicycle on Masonic Avenue near Turk when he was killed by 36-year-old Joshua Calder, who was driving a Mercedes-Benz after an evening a heavy drinking with his girlfriend. He’s pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter charges. Meantime, Linke’s family, who recently visited San Francisco, has filed a wrongful death suit against him.

Advocates and some elected officials said Hudson’s death this morning was another harsh reminder that traffic calming efforts on Masonic Avenue are moving too slow, and that enforcement efforts by SFPD have been insufficient to change the behavior of motorists on a street that was designed for speed despite the 25mph limit.

“I don’t know why it takes so long to fix streets that we know are dangerous,” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco. “There shouldn’t be multiple deaths that occur in the same way and in the same places.”

The SFMTA is moving on a Masonic Avenue redesign but it could take years before the improvements are seen. The $20 million “Boulevard” option, as it’s called, was developed after a long public process involving multiple city agencies and community groups. The ambitious design features a landscaped median, bus bulb-outs, separated bike lanes and a new pedestrian plaza near Geary Boulevard.

The plan goes before an SFMTA engineering panel next Friday, at 10 a.m., in Room 416 at City Hall. From there, it then goes to the SFMTA Board for approval.

  • Anonymous

    I’m very supportive of improving street safety. But an article titled “How Many Deaths Will It Take to Fix Masonic Avenue” just sounds very weird to me. You mean the fault of this accident is not because of a drunk driver who ran the car at dangerous speed, but rather it is the fault of some engineers who designed this street some years ago??

    A gruesome accident can catch publics attention. But I don’t believe this is an issue the Masonic Avenue redesign is trying or capable of solving. Whatever work they are going to do cannot eliminate the possibility that someone will get killed by a drunk driver in the future. I don’t find these fear based reporting helpful in public discourse.

  • Susan

    Any update on what is happening with the people who killed Nils Yannick. I read about this and noted that the judge who released the guy on bail allowed him to keep his license. The girlfriend in the car helped move the evidence off the roadway and took the wheel to drive away from the scene and had not been charged for anything, despite aiding and abetting a crime and tampering with the crime scene. Likely she was drunk too.

  • David

    They are both at fault. Irresponsible drunk driving and speeding are a symptom of these kinds of roads and the attitudes they engender.

  • Anonymous

    how is this not at least partially the fault of the police for chasing him at a super-high rate of speed through SF? don’t we have a policy in place for that kind of thing?

  • areader

    Thank you for saying what I couldn’t have put as eloquently. Ok, so Masonic needs a redesign for xyz reasons. Great. Guess what? Speeding drunk drivers that are this out of control will probably still speed through ‘traffic-calmed’ streets. I

  • Some streets invite speeding more than others. The very design of Masonic induces speeding, especially in the downhill, southbound direction. Heck, in the northbound direction the lights are still timed at about 30 mph, over the speed limit.

    It’s true that a street redesign won’t prevent a drunk person from getting behind the wheel of a car. (Maybe the threat of automatically losing one’s license for three years for a DUI might do that?) But of all the streets in the city where a drunk person might choose to drive, it’s not a coincidence that southbound Masonic at Turk (half-way down the hill) is where people tend to end up dead.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    This part of Masonic is particularly dangerous drunks or not. Living in the area I am very excited about the boulevard plan, but I have thought many times how many more will die or be injured on Masonic until then. Riding up and down Masonic the Turk intersection is the worst. The digital speed sign, and new 25 painted in the lanes has done nothing to slow drivers down. Masonic is only safe when it is completely log jammed and cars cannot move faster than 15 or 20.

    So what about the interim? Is it really that difficult to time the lights off of Oak and Fell at 20 mph? How many of these casual speeders going double the speed limit (which happens all the time) are actually willing to run a red? Whenever the SFPD are there they always have someone pulled over, why aren’t they there more often.

    For those trying to make this a Drunk driver issue, it is not. People every day fly south on Masonic across the blind intersection of Turk and hit or almost rear end other drivers. I myself have had more than my fair share of scares on this part of Masonic.

    The Boulevard is great, but how many more get maimed or killed in the interim on a street the city and county fully acknowledge is dangerous?

    Meanwhile Market that has a well observed speed limit, private vehicle ban, safe bike lanes and safe(er) crosswalks continues to get more paint and barriers while it awaits its own redesign.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    The driver only hit a biker while drunk with his car. The passenger, turned get away driver obviously was only trying to make sure they didn’t block the roadway. Where is the crime? It’s not like the driver actually punched the kid, that would be assault. Besides do you need to be reminded the kid killed was on a bike, on the road, and riding at night (with lights) so it really was his own fault, no?

    End sarcastic rant.

    I have been wondering the same thing myself. The parents of Nils do have a hefty wrongful death suit started. Hopefully they bankrupt Calder and his girlfriend for life.

  • Anonymous

    Karen,

    How about the certainty of losing one’s freedom for three years? That might be more of a deterrent than going licenseless.

    My lifelong best friends lost their son to a speeder who came roaring up a steep hill on a residential side street and blew through the stop sign for the arterial at the top of the hill. His bumper hit the son’s car ABOVE the right rear wheel well, so you can imagine how fast he was going to be airborne.

    That enormous hit spun the son’s car around and pushed it into the opposing lane directly in front of an approaching car which had no time even to put on the brakes. That car hit the son’s directly in the driver’s door. The doctors say he died immediately of a broken neck.

    The driver of the southbound car was also injured but not killed.

    The police did not even ticket the insane speeder.

    Grant, this was in Seattle, not San Francisco so different police. Still, how in the world could anyone doubt that 100.0% of the fault for this catastrophe lies in the speeder. He was going far faster than the 25 miles an hour mandated for non-arterial streets. He blew through a stop sign, apparently without even TRYING to stop. He claimed the sun blinded him.

    Well, dirtbag, don’t go screaming up hills westbound in the evening then!

  • rick jones

    “I don’t know why it takes so long to fix streets that we know are dangerous,” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco. “There shouldn’t be multiple deaths that occur in the same way and in the same places.”

    And if the last two deaths were straight-up speeding issues, she might have a point, but they weren’t and we see a symptom of the belief “We have to do something.” But root cause seems to have been people driving drunk and redesigning the street is treating a symptom.

  • If that’s the symptom, what’s the cause? That motorists are not responsible enough to stay out of cars while intoxicated? If they want nice fast roads, they need to follow the rules of the road. Since they have proven a proclivity for dangerous drunk driving, perhaps we should allocate the road space to more responsible users like pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Aboriginal

    Short of rumble-stripping the whole stretch a huge effort to “safe up” Masonic is a nice idea but will change little in the long run. The 19th Ave project was one of those and I’m passed up by speeders and light runners exceeding 40mph instead of the posted 30. Sunset’s the same, Golden Gate, Turk . . . Both drivers and peds as well as cyclists (especially the commuter newbies and the ones that think they’re entitled to a lane – do argue your riding point with a speeding vehicle) all need to be heads up and alert for the 30 seconds it takes to cross that intersection. You cannot avoid the horrible timing of a drunk speeder in that moment, and that is a sad event, but I was witness to the aftermath of two pissed off cabbies wrecking cars for more than 10 blocks along Fulton and I’d like to know what would’ve prevented that human outburst that luckily didn’t kill anyone.

  • FrankT

    @Susan, if the passenger was not provably drunk, then it’s not clear what crime you are alleging she committed here. In an accident, a driver will often be traumatized, and it’s not unreasonable for a passenger to take over driving in such a situation.

    There MAY have been a conspiracy to subvert justice here, but the police would need evidence for that, and the only presumed witness is the driver, who isn’t likely to incriminate the passenger, under the circumstances.

  • Frank – did you just say it’s not unreasonable for the passenger of a car to drive the car involved in a fatal accident away from the scene? You are not allowed to drive away from the scene of an accident. Period. They call that “Hit and Run”.

  • FrankT

    @twitter-14678929:disqus
    Technically the law says the driver should not drive away from the scene of an accident. But my point was that drivers are often traumatized by an accident and it’s not unreasonable for someone else to drive afterwards. I’m not familiar with exactly what happened in this case. But the police clearly felt they didn’t have probable cause to charge any passengers in the vehicle. To my knowledge, passengers are not presumed liable by association.

  • The street design is very important.

    Take the same drunk, and see what happens to them on the twisty section of Lombard. They sure as hell wont hit 50mph.

    You ever notice that sidewalks in the suburbs ALWAYS meander back and forth? Now imagine if we designed our streets like that. Slower speeds, even for drunks.

  • Bob Gunderson

    Once this plan goes through we’re all screwed.

    http://dearestdistrict5.blogspot.com/

  • peternatural

    LOL. (Who knew it was a straight path from bulb-outs to hell fire?)

  • peternatural

    LOL. (Who knew it was a straight path from bulb-outs to hell fire?)