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.
  • mikesonn

    Aaron, do you think you could repeat the bottom picture with the current configuration? A nicely little before and after, if you will.

    I still don’t see how people could miss those two no left signals, pay attention when you drive!

  • I will take one on my way home.

  • mikesonn


  • I don’t understand how people missed that in the first place, but why didn’t they just put one of the standard filter lights above the intersection? Having two filter lights side by side seems a bit silly.

    The only problem I have with the enforcement camera fines is that $500 really is a LOT of money and it has such a highly regressive impact. A low income worker who drives because of irregular hours can have an entire paycheck wiped out with a mistake. Wouldn’t a $200 fine achieve the same effect? 

  • David D.

    I think the only way the signal could be any clearer is if it jumped up and down the hoods of passing cars. Let’s hope it works!

  • Getting run over by a car is worse than a $500 fine….

  • This low income worker who drives because of irregular hours could wipe out someone else’s life with a mistake. We need to stop looking at these things as “mistakes” and drivers need to realize that they are operating machines that could kill, and not take the act of driving so lightly. This is something where there isn’t room for “mistakes”… if we value lives, that is.

  • @twitter-14678929:disqus Well of course it is. So would a $10,000 fine. The question is, where do we draw the line and be reasonable? 

  • This is a huge improvement, although I would have liked to see one more red arrow beside where the “no turn on red arrow” sign is now, i.e. right up on the pole arm. There’s still quite a bit of distance between the green arrow and the red arrows and I’m afraid drivers won’t actually see the red arrows if they’re not looking for them.

  • Your wish has been granted!

  • Anonymous

    Seriously? If you can’t see 3 red arrows at different heights and locations, you are way too dangerous to others to be driving.

  • mikesonn

    I foresee many “it’s too far to the left” complaints. But that’s because people think driving should be mindless, and that’s why people die every day on our streets.

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-21896987:disqus I think you draw the line at what truly discourages people from making such a decision (or being more alert when they drive) and no more. $50 definitely doesn’t matter to most people (all income levels will blow that much on going to a sports game, for example) and I agree that $10,000 is too much. But I think it’s at least a couple hundred makes people really think twice. Sure, maybe you could argue that $300 or $400 is sufficient to get the message across instead of $500. But at the end of the day, especially given how problematic this intersection is and how all the complaints from drivers has clearly borne witness to the fact that drivers are used to not having to pay attention, I think erring on the side of over-charging people is appropriate. We have, for far too long, externalized the true cost of driving including the cost of people not paying attention.

  • Ted King

     The straight arrow signal serves two advisory purposes – [a] whether or not to drive straight and [b] that there is a restricted turn with its own signal at that intersection. If you don’t see the restricted turn’s signal then you should take another look around before turning. It’s better to be honked at for NOT turning then to possibly make an illegal turn.

    Also, there are two (2) NTORA’s in the picture. The old, near one (NTORA, turn signal, “MASONIC” [t2b]) and the new, far one (straight signal, NTORA, turn signal [r2l]).

    NTORA = “NO TURN …”; t2b = top-to-bottom; r2l = right-to-left;

  • Thanks @jd_x:disqus  for understanding my point and taking the time to give an intelligent reply.

  • Certainly clearer, and honestly should have been that way from the start.  I also agree with the other poster that $500 is very high.

    At minimum wage, thats over an entire week gone in one instant. That could be devastating.  I understand if you hit someone, but if it was done by mistake with not a soul in sight? Meanwhile, Johnny CEO makes 500 in an hour.

  • mikesonn

    If you can see no one is around, how can you not see 3 no turn signals???

  • Gneiss

    Jass, in San Francisco it is unlikely to say the least that someone making minimum wage is driving a car.  If you don’t like it, the solution is simple.  Ditch the car.

    But, be that as it may, if you own a car, you take responsibility for your actions, which means you obey the law or suffer the consequences.  If we make the consequences hurt, then it will be a clear deterrent to someone disobeying the law.

  •  @mikesonn:disqus  @002ec2dcc5273303fbfd34e45385ab64:disqus
    Lets say you live in the central valley, and make minimum wage, as many (MANY) people do. Your big vacation (woot, after 6 months youve finally got 8 hours of paid time off!) is a trip to SF. Naturally, you bring a car, because its 4 of you (so transit is not a money saver) and youre time limited (try and hit the embarcadero, the beach, the museum and golden gate bridge, muir woods and more in one day with transit)

    So youre driving in SF, and since youre not used to driving in a city, youre on full alert. Lots of cyclists and pedestrians about, so youre actually driving slower (and pissing off some aggressive drivers) because youre not fully sure on your way around and dont want to hit anyone. You hit a light, and naturally stop. You see the light turns green, and youre looking left and right to make sure theres no bike or ped in your way. People are in the crosswalk, so you wait, but naturally, you turn when theyve cleared the crosswalk.

    Youre so busy watching for peds youre not used to, you miss the sign that says ” no turn on left arrow” A sign that youd never see in the central valley, and honestly, doesnt even meet recent federal standards because of all the text (should be a left turn picture with a red cross through it with the subtitle “on red”) . Look how high up the sign is. Youre focused on the people in front of you, and the bikes. Yes, you see the red arrow, but without the sign, turning on a red arrow is actually legal. Previously, the green ball in front of you meddles the message further.

    $500 for being intently focused on bikes and peds? when the city was using a sign that doesnt meet current standards and a signal design that isn’t intuitive?

    An entire week of wages gone?

    That seems unjust.

  • Looks better to me. Probably helpful to the tourists mentioned below, but, SFMTA sure will miss those $500 fines.

  • @Jamesboat:disqus — I’m all for adjusting the ticket price so higher earners pay more, but I’d set the floor at $500 and charge them more, not charge others less.

    The fine is *supposed* to be expensive. If you plow through a cyclist or pedestrian $500 is a pittance compared to the probable medical costs. If it isn’t expensive then there isn’t enough of a disincentive.

  • Gneiss

    Why not just park the car and walk or bike around SF?  Why drive once they get here?  Then they don’t need to worry about getting a traffic ticket.  There’s no reason someone visiting from afar needs to drive in this city.  We have plenty of tourist families from all over that happily manage on BART, MUNI, and by bicycle – what’s so different about a family of 4 from the central valley?

    And as for people who live in SF making ends meet on low income, those who are mostly getting around by public transportation and walking, the high fines are helping them by making are streets safer.  What about helping them?

  •  @google-c1054b713ae4d63cc3ebaf620c20fb35:disqus
    Who said anything about the fine for hitting anyone? This fine is just for making a turn when a sign says it cant be done during a certain phase. The law is being broken, but no one is getting hurt.

    Now, if someone DOES get hit, thats a whole other issue, and the fine for making an illegal turn should be placed on top of failure to yield, unsafe driving, bodily harm etc etc

  • Boo! Street is more cluttered now! Dislike that so many signals are necessary and that one of them hangs over the street– I much prefer signals that don’t hang over the street. But I guess if all that’s needed in the name of bike/ped safety then it gets my backing. Just wish drivers were more attentive, but i guess that really has to do with street design that has taught motorists it’s okay to speed, make turns without looking, etc.

  • jass – traffic rules should not be results oriented. 

  • For example Jass, I read over and over and over about cyclists “Almost hitting someone” and that “Something must be done about it!”. Hey man, they didn’t *actually* hit someone. Put Bucchere and Ang in jail and get off the backs of all those cyclists running red lights as long as they don’t hit anyone!

  • mikesonn

    There are 3 lights, QED. If you can’t see those because you are new to the area and are nervous and distracted or whatever @Jamesboat:disqus ‘s excuse is, you shouldn’t be driving. Period.

  • @Jamesboat:disqus the point is to avoid having traffic victims. That’s why you make it expensive.

  • mikesonn

    Really? This is the straw that broke the camel’s back? A hanging stop light?

    Fell is a 6 lane (4 travel, 2 parking) [very-definition-of] traffic sewer NEXT to a park! The hanging light fixture is just a pimple on a pig.

  • @mikesonn:disqus  Thanks for helping to prove my point, by not reading everything. The three red stop lights? Dont actually mean turns are not allowed. Only the small, non-standard sign elevated well above the road indicated that you cant turn on the red arrow (without the sign, its like any turn on red from a one way to a one way)

    You can see the big picture, miss the small text (as you did), and get hit with a $500 fine.

  • mikesonn

    Is that in the CVC? I must of missed the link you didn’t provide.

  • @Jamesboat:disqus “The three red stop lights? Dont actually mean turns are not allowed.”
    That is a dangerous piece of false information to be spreading. Careful.

  • @azb324:disqus  @mikesonn:disqus  Looks like youre right, in California a red arrow does prohibit turning motions even when a sign is not present. I was confused with massachusetts law where a red arrow does NOT limit turns unless a sign saying ” no turn on red”  is posted.

    In Massachusetts, the law is
    ” Steady Red Arrow

    “A steady red arrow means the same as a steady red, circular signal (see
    the preceding Steady Red section), but a steady red arrow applies only
    to vehicles intending to proceed in the direction of the arrow. The same
    rules for “turning on red” apply.””

    Aka: Right turn on red (or left on a one way) is allowed unless posted otherwise.

    I was foolish enough to think something like the red arrow had been standardized across states.

    Confusing, no? I wonder why something that should be standardized varies by states. Another reason why $500 may be too high for tourists when they may be experts of the law where the license was issued and naturally assume something like a stop light is standardized.

    Clearly, someone in san francisco agrees that its confusing, hence the two signs clarifying what the local law is for those red arrows.

    Mind you, its a different subject, but I would be in favor of eliminating right turn on red nationwide.

  • In any case, Masonic isn’t a one-way street, so a “right on red” law could never apply here.

  • Jass – what is the point of a red arrow pointing right which still allows right turns?

  • Anonymous

    Wow @Jamesboat:disqus, you just very clearly demonstrated how slack drivers are on taking responsibility for their actions. It’s *your* responsibility as a motorist to know the laws of every state or municipality in which you drive. Too much to ask? Then don’t drive. It’s that simple. It’s not a right and in fact requires an incredible amount of effort, focus, and skill to do safely … and even then you are still polluting the air, contributing to the obesity epidemic and other complications from lack of exercise, and contributing to the noise and dehumanization of our cities.

    I’m quite tired of this society we have created where drivers take no responsibility and want everything handed to them on a platter, otherwise they are going to run wild over the streets, to hell with everyone else. You *cannot* be risking other people’s lives just because you “thought” the rules from one region applied to another. This sort of behavior (assuming they know the rules when they don’t, and then even trying to argue against them on a forum like this) is downright dangerous and exactly exemplifies the kind of person who *should* be getting (at least) a $500 ticket.

  • No need to be a “jackass–sonn”, I was expressing my opinion about signals that hang over the street and how I dislike that for whatever reason, engineers feel compelled that 2+ signals are ever required. Want me to share my opinion on the street itself? I’ll do that. However my comment pertained to the change that was made. I’d venture to say that the many signals and overhanging ones are justified as a result of the one-way configuration, I don’t like either.

  •  @twitter-14678929:disqus at least in MA, arrows have been used simply to indicate allowable direction of travel (ie, one way) instead of an exclusive turning phase.

    In this example, you can see cars have a right turn arrow….but the pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalk (no pedestrian signals, they must use the traffic light). So the arrow simply indicates one can turn right and not left.

    (the google van apparently hits every green, I check a bunch of intersections and never found one on red, always on green, so I cant demonstrate the red turn arrow, but its the same)

    Heres one I did find on red, but the image quality is terrible.

    See the sign under the red arrow? If you move forward (not zoom, but move the image forward) you can read it says ” left turn on red”. That is, the red arrow is not prohibiting the turn, just indicating traffic moves left.

  •  @jd_x:disqus  Great rant. Completely off base, but Im sure it was fun to type.

    “It’s *your* responsibility as a motorist to know the laws of every
    state or municipality in which you drive. Too much to ask? Then don’t
    drive. It’s that simple.”

    Actually, no. Thats why we have federal standards. Have you ever left your block? You might find yourself one day in a scary state like Oregon or Nevada and discover that the allowable distance to park from a fire hydrant varies from 5 feet to 15 feet….and I guarantee you, off the top of your head, wont know what it is, and you certainly wont have spent the night brushing up on those laws and regulations for your weekend trip. If you are given a 500 ticket for parking 12 feet away when the law is 15, I guarantee your tone will be different. Quick, whats the maximum allowable parking distance from the curb in this state? Can you park on the far side of a residential T intersection? Im sure you know every law of every state by heart.

    And I love all your assumptions. Im a big bad motorists? Might blow your mind to know Ive never owned a car, and havent driven in a month. Woops.

  • mikesonn

    There is a before and an after picture. I rest my case, son.

  • Ah… ha….

  • So then it is quite obvious of what the street conditions are, rendering your comment equally useless.

  • Anonymous

    @Jamesboat:disqus You can’t get a “federal” driver’s license but have to get one from a state. Therefore, it is clear that each state is going to have it’s own rules. Even parking rules (like how far you can park from a fire hydrant) are the responsibility of the driver to understand and nobody else’s. It may be a pain, but that’s how it is. Luckily, the vast majority of the rules, especially the ones that lead to the most conflict, are standardized (you can included on this *not* turning *left* when there is a red arrow in that direction). Parking is usually pretty straightforward and often signed well. But I remember when first moving to SF not understanding all the curb painting, and I had to look it up. Just figured it out; not a big deal, and so never got any tickets.

    I still don’t understand your argument for the issue at hand. You are talking about turning right on a red arrow, but this is a left turn. Even in Massachusetts, this left turn onto Masonic from Fell would be illegal. What standards are you referencing that are so confusing for the case at hand? Where is it legal to turn left on a red left arrow?

  • mikesonn

    Fell is a sewer. A hanging traffic light makes no difference to the lack of aesthetics. It was ugly before, it is a fraction worse now. If that light makes drivers obey a restricted left turn and makes an intersection more safe, I’m okay with it. Now if this was a beautiful intersection and this was the fix, I’d be upset, but it’s not so the complaint is pretty petty. Want a prettier street? Ask for a fully protected bike lane the entire length of Fell so the path can be returned to pedestrians.

  • Mikesonn, we’re in same boat, same school of thought– whatever you wanna call it, I’m sure we agree 100%. I just don’t see why ya got all snarky on this LA boy commenting on an SF.Streetsblog article

    I said in my initial comment: “But I guess if all that’s needed in the name of bike/ped safety then it gets my backing.” 

    I continued to say: “Just wish drivers were more attentive, but i guess that really has to do with street design that has taught motorists it’s okay to speed, make turns without looking, etc.” 

    So 1) I agree if safety improves– yay! and 2) I acknowledge that the major problem is “street design that has taught motorists it’s okay to speed, make turns without looking, etc”

    I have some thoughts on the hanging signals and how it reinforces the car-centric, anti-pedestrian, design and how I believe they influence the street scape but I’ll spare you that. 

  • Anonymous

    This is nice, but I sometimes people who drive in SF are so terminally clueless, you could put up a neon billboard telling them what to do and they’d still just drive like zombies.

  • @Jamesboat:disqus — yesterday I was cycling home through the panhandle and as I got to the intersection a woman was jamming her car into every free inch of space that opened up as cyclists and pedestrians tried to cross. 

    I caught up with her at the Masonic & Oak light and thanked her for the contribution to the city’s coffers when it became evident she’d been on her cell phone the entire time.

    I don’t care if she’s on minimum wage, she deserves to pay every cent of that fine and more.

  • Filamino

    Hanging signals over the street VASTLY improves compliance because drivers can actually see the signal. Numerous studies have supported this fact.

    In this case, the through signal was placed almost right in front of the left turn lane. That is confusing because the left turn signal is not in front of the left turn lane like it is suppose to be. It’s on the left instead. The overhanging through signal should have been installed when the bike signal went it. Why they didn’t do that is a mystery. (of course, I bet it’s politically motivated like everything here is) The bike signal should not have been installed in the first place without this overhanging signal.

    People here who say, “How can drivers miss it?” obviously do not drive or cannot put themselves in the drivers seat. Anyone (even cyclists) will tell you the overhead signal is the first signal they see as they approach the intersection. This gives them more time to decide and react. If they can’t see that the signal is turning red, they will assume it’s green. There is no evidence that overhead signals increase speed or make street dangerous or look like a freeway that so many here seem to believe.

  • Filamino

    Actually, they should remove that far left left turn signal that is on the same pole as the bike signal. Bicyclists can see that left turn signal and can confuse it with the bike signal.

  • Jesse

    Why does the sign say “no turn on red arrow”? You can turn right when drivers turning left have a red light as long as the traffic light for going straight and turning right is green.


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