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.