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 week.

Photo: Bryan Goebel

The SF Bicycle Coalition has pushed for camera enforcement  to reduce injuries at this location since 2007. “We are excited about this long-awaited decision that will make San Francisco’s most dangerous intersection safer,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum in a statement. “Over the past ten years, more than 50 people walking and biking have been injured at Market and Octavia. We urge the city to install the crucial safety improvement quickly and help ensure the safety of people walking and biking through this intersection.”

Injuries at Market and Octavia have increased drastically since the Central Freeway opened in 2005. Drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway across a bike lane and crosswalk are the primary cause, according to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s 2009-2011 Collision Report [PDF]. Thirty people were injured from 2009 to 2011, the report says, and violations continued even after a concrete barrier and extra signage were installed to deter violators.

“There have been some physical improvements to Market and Octavia, but this enforcement mechanism will really make people think twice about making that illegal turn,” Shahum told the SF Examiner yesterday.

From the SFMTA's 2009-2011 Collision Report.

Until now, camera enforcement could only be used for red light violations — at least in the legal opinion of the City Attorney’s office. To explicitly allow photo enforcement against illegal right turns, there were two attempts to pass legislation in the State Assembly, but both failed. A 2007 bill proposed by Assemblymember Fiona Ma died in Assembly, and a 2010 bill from Assemblymember Tom Ammiano passed the legislature, but was vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the grounds that such use of photo enforcement was already legal under the law. Ammiano then passed the question on to Attorney General Harris, who finally confirmed that it is legal to use photo enforcement against prohibited turns like the one at Market and Octavia.

“This is great news for safer walking on Market Street,” said Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe on the SFBC’s website. “This sets a good precedent for smart, targeted enforcement of traffic laws in the city’s most dangerous locations, to prevent more people from getting hit by cars and seriously hurt or even killed.”

In August 2011, John Billovits, a senior planner at the Planning Department, was struck by a driver who illegally turned right at the Market/Octavia intersection while biking to work. Billovits was sent to the hospital with non-serious injuries, and although it was clear the driver made an illegal turn when he hit Billovits in the bike lane, he wasn’t cited by police.

Billovits, who worked on the Market-Octavia Plan, fought against a Market Street touchdown for the freeway, and against allowing drivers to turn to and from it. Following his crash, he told Streetsblog, “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.”

According to the Examiner, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency couldn’t pinpoint a timeline for installing the cameras, and that it must first find funding sources, determine the project’s scope, and put a contract out to bid.

  • It Me

    Here is simple start up to get the whole shebang going. Go to Amazone.com, buy one of the older Conture Rome cameras, mount it in a hidden spot, its good for about five hours of running time before recharging, and you will need to hook up a computer to do a downloard, for under 200.00 dollars its good start.

  • And $200 of worker’s time to get, download, recharge, and replace it every 5 hours.  And $200 to watch, record, write and send tickets, assuming you can even see the plates with this contraption.

  • Was there ever a proposal or study for separate signal cycles here for bikes/peds and motor vehicles that would allow the latter to turn right very safely? I realize it would change other aspects of the flow through this point.

    I can see that a big fine would prevent a lot of people from making the same mistake twice, but once is too much. Also what are the risks of sending these vehicles that want to get on the Central Fwy a few more blocks on Market and then into South of Market from the legal entrance to the freeway?

  • Motorists are having enough trouble with the left turn arrow at Fell/Masonic. Do you think a red right arrow is going to deter people who missed the no right turn sign? Probably not, but now you’d also have to cook up an effective green cycle for straight cyclist traffic – and remember that 100% of motor vehicle traffic there now goes straight.

    Vehicles on Market headed to US 101 SB are going through SoMa now, and went through SoMa for decades prior to the tearing down of the Central Freeway. If you are upstream from Octavia you really want to be headed down Duboce/13th/whatever to get to that exit anyway.

  • Anonymous

    The cameras will be ineffective against
    violations by visiting drivers (visitors won’t know the camera is there), so I must oppose this use of
    cameras until someone presents information that there’s a significant proportion of local drivers involved in the
    accidents.  Further, a memo by the city’s chief traffic engineer Jack Fleck (now retired),  indicates that while the City already has accomplished a 93% cut in the
    number of illegal right turns through the use of signage, that big drop
    in illegal turns didn’t reduce the accident rate at all.  He wrote: “Despite the decrease in the number of motorists illegally turning right onto the Central Freeway after the installation of the improvements, during the same time period the number of collisions between bicycles and illegally-turning vehicles has actually increased.”  Cameras
    cannot stop ALL of the remaining right turn violations (at least that
    never happens in other cities), so to stop the accidents, the City
    needs to try further engineering fixes.

  • Diego is right. Visiting drivers won’t know the camera exists. Of course, they also won’t know that an “onramp” to US-101 exists. GPS systems won’t direct them to that turn.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like the city can do better with this. How about painting a green dashed bike lane across the intersection? How about painting in huge words on the car lanes “no turns” and then adding huge arrows pointing straight ahead? How about adding a couple massive speed bumps on Market right before the intersection that requires cars to slow down to like 10 mph, and then add those big yellow diamonds signs well before the intersection with the flashing yellow lights that warns of the coming intersection and speed bump?

    And, not sure if this has ever been done before, but could you add a gate like at railroad crossings that goes down across Octavia when the light on Market is green?!

  • mikesonn

    I was just about to suggest a crossing gate as well.

    The real problem is that we NEED all those things because when people drive they think they can just turn their brains off.

  • mike

    Unlike a typical railroad crossing gate, this one would be continuously rising and lowering – 40 times an hour up, then 40 times down – or almost 2000 times a day. I wonder how long that would last between breakdowns?

  • Michael O’Rourke

    Business as usual in San Francisco: stupidity on parade. Instead of doing the smart thing, the logical thing, the most cost effective and efficient thing, SFMTA has chosen to do the stupid thing, of course. Instead of installing a RIGHT TURN pedestrian bicycle control light at the intersection, such as the LEFT TURN BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN CONTROL LIGHT at Masonic and Fell, SFMTA has chosen to increase traffic congestion, increase pollution, spend a lot of money unnecessarily on expensive cameras, and waste the time of countless motorist.

    Some wag in the last century (or maybe the previous/previous century) once called San Francisco “The City that knows how!. sorry.  It never did, it doesn’t, and it never will.

  • Gneiss

    That intersection also has a red light camera.  Let’s not forget that it took 3 traffic lights and multiple signs plus the camera before the rate of non-compliance by motorists finally started to go down.

  • They have done even better Michael – they put in a BIG FAT NO RIGHT TURN SIGN. How exactly is a RIGHT TURN pedestrian bicycle control light supposed to work if MULTIPLE NO RIGHT TURN signs don’t work?

  • I saw a van blow through the bike lane there this morning (thinking it was a right turn lane for the freeway). Not sure how a traffic camera will deter cars from turning onto the freeway, these people aren’t seeing the signage that’s there already, what would a camera do? How will it “help reduce fatalities and injuries”? 

  • Anonymous

    Why not build a bicycle bridge over the Central Freeway?  It would start at Market & McCoppin and end at Valencia & McCoppin. 

  • Good idea. I propose we start 24/7 parking meter enforcment to pay for it.

  • Anonymous

    My other idea for this intersection is spikes that come out of the pavement on Octavia when the light is green for Market, similar to the ones you find in parking garages.  There would also be an electric sign that would come on when the spikes come up that says “No Right Turn – Severe Time Damage Will Result”

  • basho

    How do you know that he was thinking it was a right turn lane? Probably the driver thought he’d cut around the cars ahead of him. A valid turn lane for a freeway on-ramp has certain familiar signage indicating what freeway you are getting on, not huge signs saying “no right turn.” Nor are freeway on-ramp turn lanes 7′ wide and painted green with bike lane logos, and separated by soft hit posts. Finally, a freeway on-ramp is not blocked as much as possible by a pedestrian island, forcing an awkward 90 degree turn.  

  • It was an old man driving. He had his right-turn signal on and got as far as the middle of the white cones you can see in the photo above before stopping and backing up when he probably saw the concrete island. I live a block away and ride my bike through the intersection twice a day, so I see some weird shit.

  • Gneiss

    Motorists who do it will get a big fat ticket in the mail.  They won’t try to make that turn again if they know the result will be an expenisve fine and maybe points and higher insurance rates if they keep doing it.  Fewer drivers making the illegal turn = lower fatality and injury rates.

  • Gneiss, I mean why don’t we try harder to prevent people from turning right rather than slapping them on the wrist with a fine after the fact? Prevention > Enforcement. I think any of jd_x’s suggestions below would be more effective in prevention. It only takes one turn to hit a pedestrian, will a ticket in the mail later prevent that?

  • Anonymous

    @df4b98aef659ee5ae18426484a7d261b:disqus Valid concern. In this documentation for a railroad gate motor
    http://www.invensysrail.com/downloads/1375GQ0XJWuvUoWO.pdf

    on page 15 (18 of the pdf), it states that the motor needs to be greased every 50,000 operations. Using your number of 2000 times per day, that’s about once a month. It also says that every 100,000 operations or annually, whichever comes first, it needs some more involved maintenance. That seems to indicate to me that it is designed for ~100,000 operations every year. Using your number of 2000 operations per day, that’s ~700,000 operations per year, or about 7 times more usage than it is designed for.  I can’t really find anything about how long these gates are expected to last, so I have no idea how much this shortens their life. But I would still think it’s feasible.

    Also, another idea would be to put a sensor upstream in the bike lane that automatically triggers the gate when it senses a bicyclist. A bit more expensive, but that would cut the number of cycles way down. Of course, this is all getting very high-tech and it might just be better to implement the other measures I mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    Enforcement, especially rigorous enforcement, makes for pretty effective prevention. Seems to me there are a lot fewer left-turn-on-red violators at Fell & Masonic since the camera went up.

  • brilliant

    We could then install tazers that hit the driver while he/she’s stuck with flat tires blocking the approach to the freeway, just to make sure they really get the message.

  • OK! I figured it out! Make it impossible for vehicles to steer to right beyond a few degrees or so when in or near this intersection. To clarify, the control is inside the vehicle. 

    There is probably no technical barrier to this. Of course it would be very expensive and could only be justified if used in multiple locations and mandated at a national level, but it uses the same logic as the systems that keep trains very safe. If people won’t change their selfish behavior, there does not seem to be another choice.

  • Ride It Like You Stole It

    Self-driving cars wouldn’t turn right. Google, save us! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car

  • Michael O’Rourke

    Y’all are missing the point.