Growing Push to Redesign Masonic Ahead of SFMTA’s Proposed Timeline

Neighbors, advocates and elected officials walk across the intersection where 61-year-old James Hudson was killed last week, as part of a vigil to remember Hudson. Photo: Bryan Goebel

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee told Streetsblog today that he will look into having the SFMTA figure out a way to speed up the timeline for redesigning Masonic Avenue, a dangerous traffic sewer that has been the scene of two deaths in the last nine months, including a 61-year-old pedestrian who was killed one week ago by a drunk driver.

“It’s very deserving of attention, particularly when it comes to pedestrian safety. I know the MTA should be focusing on that, and I’ll be talking to both the commissioners and the director about that,” Lee said. “I think the neighbors are absolutely correct in bringing forth whatever they can to make that area safer and see what our best traffic engineering minds and our public safety officials can actually put together.”

A growing number of elected officials, neighbors and community groups plan to step up the pressure on Lee and the SFMTA to identify funding sooner rather than later to implement the widely supported Boulevard option, a $20 million plan that wouldn’t see construction for at least two years while funding is identified and a potential environmental review is conducted. It would add a landscaped median, bus bulbs, a 6-foot wide raised cycletrack and other amenities to benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders.

“It’s time we take back Masonic Boulevard,” District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told a cheering crowd at this morning’s Bike to Work Day rally at City Hall. “It’s time that we actually step up the city’s game in making sure that Masonic is safe for bicyclists and pedestrians and that we all descend on this cause right now before anyone else gets hurt again.”

The Boulevard plan will be considered at an SFMTA engineering tomorrow before going to the full board. It’s expected to be approved, but advocates are encouraging folks to show up and testify, or write the SFMTA expressing support.

"This one street stands for everything that is wrong with transportation in San Francisco," said Jarie Bolander of NOPNA (left). Pictured in full view to his right are Neal Patel with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, SFPD Captain Denis O'Leary and District Attorney candidate David Onek. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Vigil to Remember James Hudson

A group of neighbors, city officials and advocates held a vigil last night to remember James Hudson, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver in the crosswalk at Masonic and Turk last Friday morning. Not many public details have emerged about Hudson since his death. The 23-year-old driver, Jose Jimenez, a San Francisco sheriff’s cadet, is currently being held on $1 million bail and facing charges of vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run and DUI.

Some members of Jimenez’s family attended last night’s memorial, which began at the San Francisco Day School, and ended at the site of a previous vigil at Masonic and Turk for 22-year-old Nils Yannick Linke, who was killed by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle last August. A NOPA resident, Melissa Denison, was killed by a driver in September 2009 while walking across Fell Street, another dangerous arterial.

“James, Melissa and Yannick’s deaths were avoidable. They are victims of an autocentric mindset that plagues our culture and our city and that mindset does need to change. That change needs to start right here on Masonic,” said Jarie Bolander, the head of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. “This one street stands for everything that is wrong with transportation in San Francisco.”

Captain Denis O’Leary of the SFPD Park Station attended, and told Streetsblog that he hopes beefed up enforcement efforts will help change behavior. He pointed out that every intersection on Masonic Avenue has seen an injury collision. At least two have been reported since last Friday’s fatal crash, and neighbors report hearing crashes daily.

“What I’m trying to do is get the officers who are working at Park station who patrol this neighborhood to spend more time on traffic enforcement, and I’m also getting the officers from our traffic company to come out here and do the same,” O’Leary said.

Supervisor Eric Mar said he planned to talk to Mayor Lee next week about Masonic and is disappointed the city hasn’t acted sooner to fix it.

“I wish the MTA and other city departments had been listening to the neighborhood’s concerns, the Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF, that have for three years been meeting here at this school,” said Mar.

Bruno Peguese of nearby St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church on Turk Street attended UCSF in the 1960s and remembers it as a dangerous street even back then.

“I think if we take a real close look at the years and the years past at how many have died at these intersections we would just be shocked,” he said. “The death of James Hudson was senseless.”

  • I’m glad that there’s a push to move even more quickly on this. Between Nils Yannick Linke and James Hudson, it’s clear that the city has not done enough yet to improve pedestrian safety on busy streets like Masonic Avenue. And I read recently that there have been 2 (!) Masonic car accidents since Hudson’s death. I’m looking forward to hearing how tomorrow’s SFMTA meeting goes.

  • Guest

    While I agree that Masonic is a dangerous street, I think it’s wrong to attribute these last two fatalities to engineering/roadway design. These fatalities were caused by drunk drivers. When a driver is drunk and barreling down a city street at 50+ MPH, roadway design is not going to prevent someone from getting hurt. That’s an enforcement issue.

  • mikesonn

    A city street designed to easily allow 50 – 60 mph travel is a problem, drunk or not.

  • Anonymous

    Are you an “avid cyclist”

  • Anonymous

    Let’s not forget that 33% of all SF pedestrian injuries and most deaths in 2010 occurred in District 6.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    I look forward to tomorrow mornings meeting. Lets hope there is some time for a reasonable discussion on interim improvements to Masonic along with a positive step forward on the long term planned redesign.

    My first question, why are the lights timed to accommodate a speed of 35-40+ on a road with a speed limit of 25?

  • Abe

    Personally, I’m an avid human

  • spase

    I have lived on McAllister a half-block off of Masonic for the last 4 years, and I attended USF for a stint back in 2000.  I “have” to drive a car to work in the south and east bay, but while in the city, and especially the “neighborhood”, I always make a point of bicycling, skateboarding, walking, or busing. 

    I was the victim of a Hit and Run in January 2010 while biking on Market; got some titanium parts to help remind my subsequently injured brain not to bike Market…  I don’t care how many barricades and green lanes they install, because INTERSECTIONS are where motorists, and buses, make hasty aggro turns across the path of bikes, lane or no.

    Though worried about a marked increase in already silly parking spot scavengers in front of my apartment, my main concern is with this built in design flaw.  Coupled with the seemingly brilliant bus bulbs, and motorists twice as hasty and aggro because their only option for parking requires a right turn, a bike lane, no matter how elevated or extra-wide, dumping onto an intersection could mean disaster. 

    I digress here, but are there still no timed pedestrian signals at Turk and Masonic?  Every time I walk through this 4-lane quasi-highway intersection situated between an elementary school, a college, a high school, and a blood bank, I get super freaked out that there is no way pedestrians OR cars can tell that the light is about to turn yellow.  Drivers rely on and respond to that simple little flashing-hand countdown, and I have a feeling a fix as simple as this could have saved at least one life in this very intersection, drunk or sober.

    Sensible fixes are about as uncommon as common sense itself, but I think we can do better than stripes and trees.  And I think we can do it FASTER and CHEAPER.  If we’re going to spend $20 million why not just cut a tunnel like Broadway from Oak to Euclid, with buses and bikes and peds above and speeders with no lights and no limit below? 

    And while we dig ourselves in deeper, in the meantime, why not fix all the signals to have not only countdowns but also “no turn” time for safe crossing (like westbound Fell at Masonic turning left).  Why not time the lights on Masonic to 25, alright fine, 30 mph?  (have you ever seen someone driving 40-50 mph on The Great Highway?  It only works for one block…)  Why not temporarily close parking on one side of Masonic and replace it with a bike lane to see how many people actually use it?  (I will ride through the park to Ocean Beach if it means not having to go up a hill like Masonic between Fulton and Turk…) 

    Why not take a breath and take a seat and listen to, yes, everyone…  I live right here and the first time I heard about any of this was when I got the notice in the mail for tomorrow’s hearing a few days ago;  I must have my head up my ass… or have a life, of sorts.

    But I will be at the hearing tomorrow, ready to listen.

  • The lights at Turk really don’t seem to be timed to accommodate or enforce any particular speed currently.

    Anza/O’Farrell is on a 75-second cycle, and Turk appears to be on a 60-second cycle, so it is basically unpredictable (without consulting a schedule) whether any particular car coming from the north gets a red or a green light at Turk.  In the other direction, the lights at Turk seem to turn at the same time as the ones at Golden Gate, so only the very end of each platoon of cars through Golden Gate will get a red light at Turk; almost anyone else, at whatever speed, will get a green.

    If you don’t care whether the east-west traffic gets particularly useful timing, you could force 25MPH southbound by having the light at Turk turn green 25 seconds after the one at O’Farrell, and the one at Golden Gate another 10 seconds later.  But then northbound is messed up because people who get a green at Golden Gate will race north trying to catch the end of the green light at Turk, defeating the intent.  If you time it to give 25MPH northbound instead, you get southbound traffic defeating it the same way.

    For blocks of the length the ones south of Turk are, you can really only get a synchronized signal system for two-way traffic at very slow speeds (12 mph or less), and even at that you have very short signal phases (20 seconds) that do not give pedestrians much time to cross and that spend a lot of time on yellow lights.  Trying to make the math work out for this makes it easier to understand why traffic engineers like one-way streets and long blocks so much.

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