Clear Enough? SFMTA Installs New Traffic Signals at Fell and Masonic

A new arm hangs a “straight” traffic signal over Fell, and an additional left-turn arrow (the right-most one) replaced a former “straight” signal. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Last December, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency installed a camera to enforce the left turn signal at Fell Street and Masonic Avenue, which prohibits drivers from turning during a bicycle and pedestrian crossing phase. But drivers upset about receiving a ticket and fine of roughly $500 for violating the light have continued to complain that the red left-turn signal isn’t visible enough. Whether or not that’s the case has been an ongoing debate that has drawn 139 comments on our story over the year.

To help make the red left-turn signal more apparent, the SFMTA installed two new traffic signals at the spot last week. A new signal showing a “straight” green arrow now hangs over the middle of Fell, attached to a new pole and signal arm. A new left-turn arrow was also installed on the left corner of the intersection, replacing a former “straight” traffic signal.

While violations of the left-turn signal are still regular, they seem to have dropped this year. In 2011, six people were reported hit by drivers while walking and biking at the intersection. The last known crash occurred on December 20, and it’s unknown if anyone has been hit since then.

The SFMTA installed the left-turn signal along with a bicycle traffic signal in late 2008 to protect pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Masonic along the Panhandle’s heavily-used path. Previously, left-turning drivers were expected to yield to people crossing the street, but it has remained one of the city’s hot spots for injuries to vulnerable street users. Drivers violated the signal routinely, and crashes remained high, even after the SFMTA installed a shield on the bicycle signal to block it from the view of drivers who might mistake it for a turn signal.

Bicycle and pedestrian advocates have for years pushed for improvements to Fell and Masonic — both dangerous, high-speed thoroughfares for cars. Coincidentally, the redesign plan for Masonic is up for approval at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting tomorrow. However, the plan stops short of improving the Panhandle crossing, and construction is years off (funding hasn’t been secured yet).

Do you think the new signal configuration will finally put the issue to rest? For comparison, see a photo of the old one after the break.

Here’s what the traffic signals looked like up until last week.