SFMTA “Daylights” Crosswalks to Improve Pedestrian Visibility

A man tries his best not to surprise drivers today while crossing Lincoln Way. The SFMTA has removed car parking at other crossings on Lincoln to improve visibility. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Making eye contact with a driver while walking across an intersection is important, but what if a driver’s line of vision is obscured by cars parked within a few feet of a crosswalk?

“There have been times when people make the turn really quickly and they don’t see you and don’t have enough time to stop,” said Ryan, an Upper Haight resident, as he walked home along Lincoln Way from his job in the Inner Sunset.

“I see street corners all the time that are blocked by cars that make it really hard for folks to know if they can cross safely,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe. “It also makes it hard for drivers to know if there are pedestrians waiting to cross.”

The conditions are common at many San Francisco intersections but the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is trying to change that with a relatively simple solution known in the transportation world as “daylighting”. The pedestrian safety measure involves removing the most hazardous car parking spaces closest to crosswalks.

“Daylighting is an excellent low-cost strategy to help drivers and pedestrians see each other and make our intersections safer,” said Stampe. As one of the lowest-hanging fruits in the toolkit for safer streets, it requires only the funds and local outreach needed to paint parking-prohibited red curbs.

The city’s Better Streets Plan (BSP), adopted last year, states that parking should be prohibited at a minimum of 10 feet from crosswalks, and the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices includes similar recommendations. However, outdated and short-sighted practices have left street users exposed to the dangers of allowing stored private automobiles to block visibility at intersections.

“In San Francisco, due to limited on-street parking supply and high demand, the practice has been to allow parking up to intersections unless there are location-specific grounds for parking removal,” says the BSP.

“The new 10-foot minimum guideline will be implemented on a case-by-case basis as resources allow. Priority should be given to intersections with safety issues, existing project locations, and locations where staff is conducting safety reviews,” it says.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose provided a list showing 61 intersections where the SFMTA’s Livable Streets Divison has made improvements “in addition to the red zones and crosswalk enhancements that SFMTA’s Traffic Operations group routinely installs in response to public requests and engineering surveys.”

The list primarily includes dangerous expressways like Lincoln Way and Fulton Street bordering Golden Gate Park, Geary Boulevard, Alemany Boulevard, as well as Taraval and Noriega Streets in the Sunset and Mission Street.

“These locations were prioritized because they are on multi-lane or arterial streets, and may have speed limits of 30 mph or more,” said Rose.

“For most locations, we have also converted the existing marked crosswalks to continental or ‘ladder style’ and added yield markings and signage to further enhance pedestrian visibility and motorist yielding,” he added.

The projects could remove the dangerous element of surprise that’s so often present crossing the streets by any mode of transport.

“Let’s get them out there, and let’s get them out there quickly,” said Stampe, highlighting the possibility for the valuable space at street corners to be used for other amenities. “Could we see planters, bike corrals and other traffic calming measures on these corners in a way that doesn’t clutter the sidewalk further?”

Without such additions, daylighting can actually backfire if not planned carefully.

“The whole idea of effective traffic calming means narrowing a street,” said Stampe. “I want to make sure that we make it safer and not more dangerous in some ways. Sometimes after clearing away these obstacles, people think they can drive faster, and that would be counterproductive.”

  • jd

    Great news. Each little step that slowly reclaims our cities for people (instead of cars) is a great thing. However, is 10 ft really enough? Seems like you would need more than that …. And wouldn’t bulb-outs be preferable?

  • mikesonn

    Slowly we’ll get there. I think the area (that should be a bulb out) should be painted like the cross walk to signify that it is to be kept clear, red curb paint isn’t enough.

    Bulb outs are expensive are it looks like those curbs are fairly new. But this sort of treatment needs to be included when the city makes intersections ADA compliant.   

  • Anonymous

    10 foot no parking zones are a great idea, especially since SUVs and minivans have gotten so popular. Those block visibility much more than passengar cars parked near intersections.

  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile, 33% of all pedestrian injuries occurred in South of Market/District 6 and I’m not reading anything about improvements where the most people get hurt and die each year … but whatever…. let’s build some more towers in SoMa so that we can get that up to 40% of all pedestrian injuries and deaths in San Francisco happening in District 6. Yeah, I’m disturbed by the lack of urgency to improve pedestrian safety in District 6.

  • Of course the real problem is 30mph city streets (which means cars can easily do 40mph). Given the number of pedestrians killed and maimed in SF every year having 30mph speed limits is unconscionable. And of course SOMA has the biggest concentration of fast streets. No coincidence that so many pedestrians are seriously hurt in that neighborhood.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    It seems as though the days of streets as free public storage in San Francisco may have reached their high water mark. Is it just me or does it really finally feel like meaningful ped./bike safety oriented change is not only here, but moving faster and with greater impact almost daily? While it is about time, each new safer intersection change, added bike lane, and street redesign are very much appreciated.

  • jd

    Agreed that this is a big problem that is mostly ignored. I don’t spend too much time down there, but when I do, I’m always blown away at how much every damn street is like a freeway. Walking around in that area, for the most part, just sucks. And not just because the absolute priority given to cars over all else, but for the utter lack of greenery. What a disaster in urban planning (thanks post-WWII urban planners with your unsustainable obsession with cars!). The problems are truly great and will require our leaders getting serious about not worshiping at the altar of the car and the idea of keeping traffic flowing at the expense of all else. But the problem is, since commericial interests are much greater in this neighborhood than other more residential neighborhoods (and we know how much power business has over our government), and since 101/80 & 280 feed into this area in many different spots, there are significant powers that want to keep the status quo.

  • Nick

     Some of us have been doing this with cans of red spray paint for years.
     
    I noticed they put one of these in at 20th and Taraval. It’s right in front of an ATM. The red zone is occupied a good deal of the time with cars that leave their engines running. SFPD, a few blocks away, neglects enforcement.

  • mikesonn

     “SFPD, a few blocks away, neglects enforcement.”

    Sums up SFPD pretty well.

  • Rick Risemberg

     Now, how about putting a bike corral, or even a half-length bike corral (with a protective bollard or two), in those “daylighted” spots? Bikes won’t block the view, and you would actually be increasing the parking capacity of the street this way!

  • guest

    I nominate 18th/Guerrero for a pioneering daylighted crosswalk/bike-corral area. Man does the Gourmet Ghetto need more bike parking, pronto. 

  • Sprague

    This is another great step forward that is sorely needed citywide (and beyond).  Daylighting intersections benefits all pedestrians but it most especially benefits kids and wheelchair users who are often more difficult for drivers to spot. Intersections that have high numbers of (vulnerable) pedestrians, like those near schools and parks, should be prioritzed for daylighting measures.

  • Anonymous

    A great opportunity to put in some high-visibility bike corrals.

  • Sprague

    Jamie,
    I am impressed by your stong advocacy of improvements for those moving about SOMA who aren’t in cars.  From my experience, that section of the city is the most unpleasant and freeway-like for a cyclist to pedal in.  Great changes are needed there.

  • Anonymous

     I think progress will be slow and contentious until the city adopts some sort of market-based-pricing mechanism for all areas, including residential parking zones (permit auctions?). Maybe if SFPark proves successful.

  • EL

    Was there a legitimate red zone that has faded and needs to be repainted?  If yes, you should just call DPT.

    If you re-spray it red, you make the red zone look illegal, and hence unenforceable.

  • mikesonn

    So if a Red Zone is faded, DPT won’t paint it, and you paint it, it negates the red zone? I doubt that.

  • atom

    Glad to see this article.  ‘Daylighting’ is one of the more productive things we can do quickly to make our streets safer.
    However, I do want to address one little, itty-bitty bit of counter-intuitive wisdom that Tom Vanderbilt discusses in his wonderful book TRAFFIC full of counter-intuitive bits of wisdom.  This article begins by saying “Making eye contact with a driver while walking across an intersection is important . . .”, when, actually, making eye contact is not as clear-cut as we think.  In TRAFFIC, he talks of how studies show that when cyclists look in the eye of drivers, drivers falsely assume this gives the driver the right of way when they don’t actually have the right of way.  As a pedestrian, I’ve found this same false assumption made by drivers towards pedestrians.
    As a result, as a pedestrian, I took a lesson from my football days.  Whenever you want to see where a runner is going, you never look at their eyes, but their hips.  So I don’t look drivers in the eyes.  I look at their grill.  It’s their grill that will tell me what they really plan to do and keeps them from falsely assuming they have the right of way when they don’t.  It also gives me time to get out of the way if they violate city ordinances and don’t give me the right of way and almost injuring me as a result of their false assumptions.
    I understand this tactic might be more ‘aggressive’ than some folks might like.  I’m not saying you have to do this too.  I’m just saying it’s the tactic I’ve taken since reading Vanderbilt’s book and I’ve stopped many a car from making an illegal rolling stop through an intersection this way.  The drivers that get pissed get pissed because I’ve just reminded them they can’t roll through a stop or they can’t turn right without pausing to see if someone is in the crosswalk. 

  • Hi atom, while I understand why you take this approach, it seems unfriendly and as alienating to human interaction as driving a car. When walking, I generally make eye contact and then hold up a hand in a slight wave/acknowledgment indicating that I exist, have the right of way, am going to cross now, also recognizing and thanking them for waiting. If the driver got to the intersection first, I generally wave them through. This has worked really well for me and at least acknowledges that we are two human beings sharing a common space and capable of interacting courteously. I do try never to put my body in front of a moving vehicle I’m not sure about.  Some drivers just don’t look at all, even if one is in the middle of the crosswalk. I have no qualms yelling, waving, or trying to shame them in that case, but some are so oblivious (or self-centered) that nothing works.

  • Walker

    Wow the City is FINALLY and BARELY daylighting intersections…by 10 feet??  LAME What does the CA MUTCD say about daylighting intersections? “At all intersections, one stall length (20 feet) on each side measured from the crosswalk or end of curb return should have parking prohibited. At signalized intersections parking should be prohibited for a minimum of two stall lengths (40 feet) on the near side and one stall length on the far side.”  Section 3B.18 I wonder why SF has such a high rate of pedestrian crashes compared to other cities.  Perhaps it is because the City continues to prioritize parking over pedestrian safety?  I thought that SF cared about pedestrians but apparently not as much as the state.If you are walking in one of these crosswalks and get hit by a car, after you sue the driver, don’t forget to sue the City for unsafe design and failure to follow CA pedestrian safety guidelines. 

  • I am personally dubious that removing parking at corners will make intersections safer — I suspect that the increased visibility and the larger effective corner radius will make drivers turn corners faster and cancel out any benefits from the increased visibility.  Do you have a list of the intersections where this is being done, so that the safety before and after can be compared?

  • mikesonn

    The turning radius concern is a good one. I think daylighting should be combined with curb extensions. As for increased visibility, that could go either way. It’s good the pedestrians have it, but it allows the driver to feel more secure which often leads to increased speeds.

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