City Planner Hurt by Driver Making Illegal Right Turn at Market and Octavia

Eastbound Market Street at Octavia Boulevard. Photo: Bryan Goebel

John Billovits is all too familiar with the perils of one of the city’s most hazardous intersections for bicyclists. For the past decade, he has traveled through the Market and Octavia intersection on his daily bicycle commute. As a senior planner at the San Francisco Planning Department, Billovits was also the project manager for the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, and fought against building the Central Freeway touchdown on Market Street.

Right turns for eastbound drivers on Market Street are prohibited at Octavia because they present a danger to bicyclists and pedestrians. Allowing the right turn would also create a huge traffic queue on Market Street, causing congestion on the city’s most important transit and bicycle corridor. Billovits outlined the case for banning the right turn in this 2003 memo [pdf].

Drivers who have made the illegal sudden turn south onto the freeway, where there is a bike lane and pedestrian crossing, have caused numerous right-hook collisions over the years, leaving dozens of people hurt. Two people, a pedestrian and a bicyclist, have died from injuries suffered in collisions caused by drivers at the intersection.

Yesterday, Billovits became the latest victim. As he was pedaling his Bianchi Volpe through the intersection around 9:25 a.m., on his way to work at the Planning Department, a German tourist behind the wheel of a rental car made the dreaded right turn and sent the 49-year-old flying.

“I just kind of plowed right into it, and bounced off the car, flew over it, and landed on the concrete, kind of head first, on the other side,” a shaken Billovits told Streetsblog, just hours after being released from the hospital yesterday. “I had a helmet on, which is a sturdy helmet, and so it felt pretty good. I just kind of crumpled over to the side, and it happened really quick.”

“It doesn’t appear right now that I have any kind of broken bones, or broken back, or anything like that. I’m a little achy. I have to wait to see how my body reacts,” Billovits explained, adding that doctors are monitoring him for a concussion. “I wouldn’t say I’m seriously injured. I’m not broken down. I’m at home, you know. They brought me home this afternoon. I think I’ll be okay.”

Billovits wasn’t riding fast “because I’m not much of a speedster person,” and he always slows down because he gets off Market and takes the McCoppin Street cutoff for bicyclists. After the collision, he found himself conscious, but lying injured on the pavement, directly under the no right turn sign.

“I can’t imagine a situation where a citation would be more blatantly called for, you know what I mean? Somebody lying under the sign and a car there at an angle, obviously just made the turn, you know?”

But there was no citation issued. “Impairment is not suspected. No citation issued at this time,” a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, Sgt. Michael Andraychak, wrote in an email to Streetsblog. He described the collision itself in cop talk that seems forgiving of the driver, with no mention that the turn was prohibited.

A small white Chevy sedan driven by an adult female, resident of Germany, made a turn from eastbound Market to Octavia on ramp to US 101.

An adult male bicyclist traveling eastbound Market Street contacted the Chevy, ejecting the bicyclist.

The driver of the car remained on scene.  The bicyclist was transported by ambulance to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Impairment is not suspected.  No citation issued at this time.

Billovits described the driver as distraught and apologetic. Beyond that, Billovits, who was in shock, didn’t really understand what was happening around him as he was being treated and hauled away. He has no idea where his bicycle landed, but it was loaded in the ambulance.

“I really am not aware of what transpired there, besides me just getting carted away,” he said of the police investigation. “This hasn’t happened to me before like this, but it was a little confusing. I’m in an accident and they took a report with a piece of paper that says I can request a copy of the report in writing in 7 days.”

At one point, the SFMTA had proposed removing the bike lane, and merging auto and bike traffic. The ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/01/16/hundreds-rally-to-save-marketoctavia-bike-lane/##SFBC loudly protested, though,## and ultimately the plan was shot down. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/people/sfbike##sfbike##

Lax Enforcement

As this latest case illustrates, drivers routinely get away with causing collisions and injuring bicyclists and pedestrians at Market and Octavia without so much as a slap on the wrist.

On the engineering front, the SFMTA has tried a number of fixes, and the latest — a concrete median with signage and soft-hit posts — has certainly improved the situation, but not enough, said Leah Shahum, the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

“We call on the SF Police Department to step up enforcement at this known problem area, and we urge the city to add camera enforcement at Market-Octavia to better deter drivers from behaving illegally on San Francisco’s busiest bicycle and transit route,” she said.

Last September, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, AB 2729, that would have allowed the SFMTA to install an automated traffic enforcement system at Market and Octavia to photograph infractions and issue citations to drivers who make the illegal right turn. In his short veto message, Schwarzenegger said current law already allows the city do it.

Earlier this year, Ammiano sent a letter [pdf] to the state Attorney General’s Office requesting a legal opinion on the issue. Eight months later, Ammiano has still not gotten a response, said Quintin Mecke, the state legislator’s communications director. A phone call to the press office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the former San Francisco District Attorney, was not returned.

“It is frustrating that after many months, we are still waiting on an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office as to how best to do this,” said Shahum. “We hope this unfortunate incident will spur state and local leaders to act with more urgency to improve safety on San Francisco’s streets.”

From Billovits’ perspective, there shouldn’t be any turn movements at all at Market and Octavia because “there’s just too much going on.” It’s a case he made 11 years ago.

“I wanted to get rid of both the turning movements, the right hand off and the right hand on,” he said, before reflecting on yesterday’s collision that left him injured. “It’s just so ironic after all the stuff we’ve been through with that, to be lying there and lying under the (no right turn) sign, more or less.”

  • Anonymous

    Cops usually blame the bicyclists, even when the bicyclist is riding in a straight line and the car driver commits an obvious moving violation. Wouldn’t surprise me if the official police report blames the bicyclist for “unsafe speed”, which is the conclusion of most car vs. bicycle crash reports.

  • Anonymous

    Cops usually blame the bicyclists, even when the bicyclist is riding in a straight line and the car driver commits an obvious moving violation. Wouldn’t surprise me if the official police report blames the bicyclist for “unsafe speed”, which is the conclusion of most car vs. bicycle crash reports.

  • Yikes! What possible reason could there be for not issuing a citation? That’s baffling.

  • Yikes! What possible reason could there be for not issuing a citation? That’s baffling.

  • mikesonn

    I guess it is only fitting that the one who tried to prevent this sort of thing from occurring has it happen to him. I’m glad to hear he is OK.

    Unless the SFPD plans to have a cop on every corner, they need to start issuing citations for things they “don’t see”. How much more clear can it be that she turned right when she shouldn’t have. It’s not so much that she goes unpunished, but what is going to make the next driver think twice about making that turn? Nothing because they won’t even get a slap on the wrist.

  • Anonymous

    Expect a crackdown within the next few days against cyclists who don’t put a foot down at stop signs.

  • Pat E

    I’m sorry this guy was hit, but it’s an horribly designed intersection and it makes no sense not to allow right turns so, of course, unfamiliar drivers do it all the time. 

  • Billovits outlined the case for banning the right turn in this 2003 memo

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2011/08/Freeway_Right_Turn_Planning_letter.pdf

  • mikesonn

    Pat E’s next comment: TL;DR

  • EL

    I find it “odd” that there’s such clamor to issue a citation to the motorist in this incident, but no such clamor to issue a citation in this incident:

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/08/11/pedestrian-hit-by-bicyclist-last-month-on-the-embarcadero-dies/

    Yes, there was a clamor for charges, but not a citation.  And so far, there’s not even a slap on the wrist.  Hmmm….

    To clarify my position, clearly the motorist is at fault, and I think she and/or her insurance should compensate Mr. Billovits for his pain and suffering, bike damage, etc.  I also think that a traffic citation issued to a German tourist is small potatoes in comparison.  I just find the bias here a bit hypocritical.

  • The only missing treatment I can see is painting the green bike lane directly across the intersection.

    Also, perhaps a rumble strip as a continuation of the median would work? Cars going down market, trying to make the turn, would feel the rumble, but those driving straight across the strip wouldnt because the rumble lines would be going the same way as the vehicle.

    A third no right turn sign at the yellow warning post can also fit there

  • Absolutely ridiculous that no citation was issued. Actually, it should be vehicular assault, not just a citation.

  • mikesonn

    Splitting hairs with the best of them.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    Your point is all too true. The majority of incidences I have witnessed or been a part of are not just innocent drivers who “had no idea”. They are aggressive drivers who after taking stock of the surroundings opt to “do it anyways”.

    Every single other state I have lived in both local and state police have been willing to issue citations on “investigation” by simply looking at the aftermath and adding it all up. Get you car planted in a snow bank or ditch up in Tahoe and if a Placer County Sheriff shows up, s/he will issue an unsafe driving for the conditions citation 50% of the time, even if no one else was around.

    Give SFPD a call about these things and the answer is always the same “we just don’t have the resources”

  • ML

    I came within an inch of hitting a car in the same spot. That incident was the final straw for me – Market may have pretty green lanes but I feel safer on Folsom: one way traffic, simple intersections, no interweaving with buses, no streetcars, etc.

  • local

    SFPD is corrupt. Obviously. I live downtown, i’ve had creepy dudes trying to follow me into my building, threaten me for my life, i’ve had to run from people… I’ve flagged down police in my neighborhood and talked to them face to face and what happens? Nothing. They tell me they have better things to deal with. It always takes enormous effort on my part to get any attention that will actually lead to any action with these “protectors of the people”. 

  • peternatural

    The yellow sign in the picture has good advice: “Bicyclists watch for prohibited right turns.”

    If a driver has the motive and opportunity, expect them to turn (regardless of the legality). Lag behind slightly so you can stop in time if you see that right front wheel start to turn. But if you lag behind too far the next car behind might get you. It’s tricky staying alive on a bike!

  • bjp123

    Clearly this is a poorly designed, counter-intuitive intersection. How about separating cyclists completely from traffic, with bike-specific stoplights? No dooring, no double-parking in the bike lane, no illegal right turns. I was recently in Barcelona and that’s how they do it. I bike to work nearly every day on Market, and I was very envious of this Spanish design. For being such a progressive city, the biking infrastructure seems pretty underdeveloped to me. (Of course, people might treat cyclists more seriously if we’d all agree not to run red lights and stop signs.)

  • bjp123

    Clearly this is a poorly designed, counter-intuitive intersection. How about separating cyclists completely from traffic, with bike-specific stoplights? No dooring, no double-parking in the bike lane, no illegal right turns. I was recently in Barcelona and that’s how they do it. I bike to work nearly every day on Market, and I was very envious of this Spanish design. For being such a progressive city, the biking infrastructure seems pretty underdeveloped to me. (Of course, people might treat cyclists more seriously if we’d all agree not to run red lights and stop signs.)

  • Sprague

    The injured planner’s 2003 memo in defense of prohibiting right turns from Market is thorough and thoughtful.  I wish him a speedy recovery and I hope that the Planning Department and other agencies apply such thoroughness and thoughtfulness to the causes of livability and safety for non-motorised street users as they design/redesign other freeway-city street interfaces.

  • Guest

    I second the request for a third no right turn sign on the median.  Just from looking at the pictures, the first and second sign can be lost with everything else going on and in an unfamiliar city.  A third sign would make even apparent (besides the yellow warning sign wasn’t doing much anyway…)

    Additionally while I agree that any level of enforcement would help, there’s (almost) no sneaking by photo enforcement.  [tho personally camera enforcement should punish the registered owner of the car, regardless of who’s driving.. not requiring a positive ID of the driver…  The owner can distribute responsibility if necessary.]

  • EL

    You believe that comparing a moving violation that resulted in a FATALITY is splitting hairs to a moving violation that resulted in INJURY is splitting hairs?  In my book, it’s not even close.

    And you haven’t acknowleged my point that no charges filed + no citation = no slap on the wrist.

  • Soupdeldia

    Great…the tourist should have been ticketed then and there…geezus!  The cyclist landed right under the sign that prohibits the very turn! 
    So….we don’t issue tickets to tourists for fare evasion on MUNI, for making prohibited right turns…what else?  Tourists can come to San Francisco and just disregard all our rules and ordinances…. This is nuts!

  • KenonAlemany

    Cops write tickets to collect money.  The driver is going back to Germany & will have no motivation to pay up.  Why should the police bother to write the ticket?  The rental car insurance will pay the victim & life will go on.

  • mikesonn

    Splitting hairs: “Yes, there was a clamor for charges, but not a citation.” Followed by: ” I just find the bias here a bit hypocritical.”

    There is no hypocrisy when the majority here believe the cyclist in the EMB/Mission crash should be charged/cited/etc and the person here should be charged/cited/etc. You are looking for something where there is nothing, per usual.

  • I cycle past all the time by there. At first it was the occasional taxi doing the right turn but not anymore since they replaced the soft plastic markers with concrete separation. This area can be overwhelmingly complex for the newcomer driver. Same for cyclists. Bikes are zooming by at the speed of cars and trying to stay clear from the concrete shoulders. They have many things to worry about and few look over their shoulder for the 1 on a 1000 driver unknowingly doing a forbidden right turn. 2 blocks down, I even saw an elderly driver mistakenly taking the bike lane (his tiny car fit) at commute time. He took a lot of heat from us cyclists!

    That was a very very bad idea from day 1 and currently I do not see how they can improve the design with surface traffic. If cars coming from the freeway or Octavia cannot turn right or left, the freeway “ramp” could be buried under Market.

  • The lack of immediate ticket doesn’t indicate anything.  Officers cannot issue tickets for things they didn’t witness themselves.  That’s just how it works.  I’m sure the driver will be charged in a few days.  The cyclist will probably have to “swear out a complaint”.

  • Agreed. I refuse to ride on Market.

  • mikesonn

    Can’t bury it, Muni’s down there.

  • Chow

    The people on the planning commission never take responsibility for anything.  They created this dangerous intersection. He should have said “I wish I was better at my job.  Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten hit by a car. “

  • mikesonn

    It sounds like he tried pretty hard. Maybe “transit first” really isn’t transit first in this city when it comes down to it.

  • Anonymous

    Why not bury the bike path instead?  It could divert south onto McCoppin and Elgin Park pass under where the ramp touches down and come up on the other side.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The obvious and cheap solution is a stop sign for cars at that intersection.   The stop will give them time to look around and understand that no right turn is allowed; stop and no-right-turn signs could be on the same post.  The few who do make the right turn anyway will be going slower and so will do less damage. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    The obvious and cheap solution is a stop sign for cars at that intersection.   The stop will give them time to look around and understand that no right turn is allowed; stop and no-right-turn signs could be on the same post.  The few who do make the right turn anyway will be going slower and so will do less damage. 

  • NoeValleyJim

    I encourage everyone to write to the Police Chief and ask for more enforcement here.

    Here is my letter, feel free to crib from is as much as you like:

    Dear Chief Suhr,I am a long time San Francisco resident who routinely commutes with mychildren by bicycle, so I am concerned about traffic safety andenforcement, particularly around the need to ensure that our bicyclelanes are kept clear. Every day, I have to go around automobiledrivers who illegally park in the Valencia Street bicycle lane. Thisforces me into traffic, which is both unsafe and causes traffic toslow down and become more congested.So it was with alarm that I discovered that John Billovits, a SanFrancisco City employee and city planner, was struck and injured by amotorist while he was legally proceeding in a bicycle lane at thecorner of Market and Octavia. As I am sure you know, this intersectionin particular is hazardous to both cyclists and pedestrians, with twofatalities and numerous injuries since it was opened in September of2005. I was even more surprised to discover that the motorist whobroke that law and struck and injured someone was not even cited, muchless arrested. It is the duty of the San Francisco police to protectour citizens and enforce the law and it is clear in this case thatyour officers dropped the ball here. Please encourage your force tofairly and consistently enforce traffic laws, particularly where thereis an injury as in this case. This intersection in particular needsmore enforcement as does the entire Valencia corridor.My father is a retired Probation Officer to I am aware of thedifficult job you all have to do and I appreciate the hard work andprofessionalism of the SFPD. I know resources are always stretchedthin, particularly in these difficult budget times so it might seemlike traffic enforcement is not a priority, but people are actuallygetting hurt and killed here. We need your help. Thank your for yourtime to consider my concerns. The favor of a reply is requested.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I encourage everyone to write to the Police Chief and ask for more enforcement here.

    Here is my letter, feel free to crib from is as much as you like:

    Dear Chief Suhr,I am a long time San Francisco resident who routinely commutes with mychildren by bicycle, so I am concerned about traffic safety andenforcement, particularly around the need to ensure that our bicyclelanes are kept clear. Every day, I have to go around automobiledrivers who illegally park in the Valencia Street bicycle lane. Thisforces me into traffic, which is both unsafe and causes traffic toslow down and become more congested.So it was with alarm that I discovered that John Billovits, a SanFrancisco City employee and city planner, was struck and injured by amotorist while he was legally proceeding in a bicycle lane at thecorner of Market and Octavia. As I am sure you know, this intersectionin particular is hazardous to both cyclists and pedestrians, with twofatalities and numerous injuries since it was opened in September of2005. I was even more surprised to discover that the motorist whobroke that law and struck and injured someone was not even cited, muchless arrested. It is the duty of the San Francisco police to protectour citizens and enforce the law and it is clear in this case thatyour officers dropped the ball here. Please encourage your force tofairly and consistently enforce traffic laws, particularly where thereis an injury as in this case. This intersection in particular needsmore enforcement as does the entire Valencia corridor.My father is a retired Probation Officer to I am aware of thedifficult job you all have to do and I appreciate the hard work andprofessionalism of the SFPD. I know resources are always stretchedthin, particularly in these difficult budget times so it might seemlike traffic enforcement is not a priority, but people are actuallygetting hurt and killed here. We need your help. Thank your for yourtime to consider my concerns. The favor of a reply is requested.

  • EL

    Yes, the hypocrisy exists.  Do a text search on the EMB/Mission article and comments (an article written by the same author) for “citation”, “ticket”, and “cite”.  You won’t find any.

  • alex

    I have always wanted to see a mechanical rail crossing arm at this intersection to prevent the right handed turn. More BRIGHT signage would be better. Quadruple fine zone for any illegal vehicle or pedestrian infraction.

  • HuCkIeCA

    When a design doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to consider changing the design…

  • Are you saying that nobody here thinks the EMB cyclist should “be punished” (whatever that means, citation, charges/etc…) Ridiculous.

    The primary complaint was that that incident would result in SFPD going to Market Street and citing cyclists for all sorts of things that are far less likely to cause an accident than say… enforcing the no right turn at Market/Octavia. Which is exactly what happened, with predictable results.

  • Pamster_1100

    There already is a signal at that location, so a stop sign would be superfluous.

  • HuCkIeCA

    Not to mention, Google Maps and every Nav System on the planet routes drivers down market and instructs them to make a right turn on the freeway at Octavia.  Adding another sign to the intersection or stepping up enforcement is not going to help.  It’s badly designed and it needs to be radically redesigned.  It honestly would not take that much time to figure out exactly how many cars would be expected to enter the freeway using that right turn, and then redesign the intersection to accommodate both bicycles and cars.  At some point you have to trade off traffic flow for safety, and hopefully we will come to that conclusion before any more people get injured there.

  • EL

    I think a lot of people feel that the EMB cyclist should be punished, but no one was calling for a citation.  mikesonn calls this splitting hairs.  I call it hypocrisy.  As I mentioned in my original post, I consider the citation to be small potatoes – a monetary fee that’s tacked onto what the person at-fault is already going to be liable for.

    Regarding the cyclists cited on Market, according to the SB article 67 of 83 citations issued that day (81%) were for running red lights, riding on the sidewalk, and bikes with no brakes.  Obviously you feel that all of these infractions are unlikely to cause an bike accident right?

  • mikesonn

    @5a74a4f7ff8392618bee92b2106d1800:disqus Not true.

  • mikesonn

    I said you are splitting hairs because you said people were “clamor for charges, but not a citation”. Finding “hypocrisy” in that is a joke.

  • A citation is not small potatoes. Forget the monetary fee – that’s how we track someone’s proclivity to cause accidents and should lead to the revocation of their driver’s license. Fines are not a deterrent – losing your Driver’s license is.

    I wasn’t calling for a citation not because I am a hypocrite, but becase I know that the PD does not issue citations for incidents they don’t witness. Been there, done that. If you were calling for a citation you were spitting into the wind. If you want to open a discussion to address that policy, that would be great.

  • Obviously you feel that all of these infractions are unlikely to cause an bike accident right? 

    I didn’t say unlikely…

    Empirical evidence suggests that an illegal right turn onto 101 from Market at Octavia is MORE likely to cause an accident. Given a finite number of traffic control officers, the rational allocation of those officers is to patrol the most dangerous violations.

  • mikesonn

    @twitter-14678929:disqus I’ve been spitting in the wind. But I see that isn’t their policy so I should stop calling for citations on the spot. However, you are right, we should have a discussion about that – this incident, the EMB cyclist, and the Masonic red-light running should show there is a need for obvious infractions to be cited on the spot w/ the police report to back it up in court.

  • HuCkIeCA

    mikesonn:  Odd.  I actually checked Google Maps using my home to work destinations right before I made the post, and it still routed me on Market making a right turn onto Octavia.  However, you are right!  Now when I check the routing has changed, although it’s routing me up to Oak Street which is way out of my way.  I wonder if someone at Google saw this thread and fixed it.

  • mikesonn

    Yes and no, a stop sign would mean every car stops every time. A green light means the driver will just blow through and not check signs, upping the chance of just pulling the right when they shouldn’t.

    I don’t know if I’m for that, but it’s worth the mention.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Camera Enforcement for Illegal Turns at Market/Octavia Gets Green Light

|
Dangerous, illegal right turns from Market Street onto the freeway at the intersection with Octavia Boulevard — the location with the most pedestrian and bicycle crashes in the city — may become less frequent after a long-awaited state decision that allows the city to use camera enforcement. The decision was announced by California Attorney General Kamala Harris last […]

Police Ticket Cyclists Who Fail to Navigate Market and Octavia’s Bad Design

|
Police were seen ticketing people on bikes navigating a poorly-designed junction at the dangerous Market Street and Octavia Boulevard intersection yesterday in the latest “People Behaving Badly” segment from KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts. The bike lane’s design is so flawed, in fact, that the only bike commuter Roberts showed navigating it properly happened to be one of the […]

Another Bicyclist Injured at Market/Octavia; Driver Not Cited

|
Flickr photo: sfbike San Francisco’s most dangerous intersection for bicyclists was the scene of yet another crash this morning, caused by a driver making an illegal right turn onto the freeway on southbound Market Street at Octavia Boulevard.  San Francisco Police Sgt. Lyn Tomioka said it happened around 8:25 a.m. The driver called 911 to […]

Eyes on the Street: New Bike Markings and Crosswalks at Market/Octavia

|
The SFMTA installed some green-backed bike stencils and upgraded ladder-style crosswalks at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard, the intersection that sees the most pedestrian and bicycle injuries in San Francisco. Mark Dreger and I were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the improvements yesterday while riding home from an awesome Sunday Streets in the Mission. The […]