Eyes on the Street: A Traffic Circle Sprouts Up in the Richmond

Photos: Aaron Bialick

A new traffic circle has cropped up at 23rd and Anza Street in the Richmond District as part of traffic calming measures being implemented by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency.

As KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts showed in his “People Behaving Badly” segment yesterday, some drivers are still getting used to the circle, since the treatment is fairly new in the western neighborhoods. But by changing the way motorists navigate the formerly wide-open intersection, the circle discourages speeding, and it’s added some greenery to a very grey neighborhood. With 23rd being the flattest north-south bike route in the area, and the intersection being in a 15 MPH school zone, the location was ripe for traffic calming.

D1 Supervisor Eric Mar, who visited the circle on a bike ride with staff from the SFMTA and the SF Bicycle Coalition while it was under construction, said he “enthusiastically supports traffic circles and other traffic calming improvements in the Richmond District and citywide. As an advocate for stronger pedestrian safety measures, I am pleased to see the first traffic circle implemented in the Richmond.”

“Research shows that traffic circles like this actually move traffic more efficiently through intersections than stop signs, yet have less high-impact collisions,” he added. The intersection has stop signs for traffic traveling along 23rd, but not Anza. That’s one reason this is a “traffic circle” and not a “roundabout,” where all entering drivers would simply yield to cars in the intersection.

On the bike ride, Mar said the SFMTA “needs to create better signage and street striping that will help residents become more educated about traffic flow in the intersection,” and that neighbors could have been notified that the circle was coming. “But overall, this is a great design that will also create a new green space in an area that had been pavement and concrete,” he said.

The traffic circle is one piece of the Central Richmond Traffic Calming Project, which also installed planted islands at intersections along Funston Avenue (parallel to the Park Presidio motorway) over the past year. Along with the circle, “continental” crosswalk markings were also installed.

In the Outer Sunset, another traffic circle is “awaiting construction” at 28th Avenue and Rivera Street, said Ben Jose, communications officer for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets Subdivision.

The Richmond has a significant place in local traffic calming history — in 1971, San Francisco’s first bike lanes were installed on Lake Street after residents called for the measure to narrow traffic lanes and slow down drivers.

The 23rd and Anza traffic circle is notable because SF hasn’t built many of them since 2004, after an unsuccessful pilot project along Page Street. The traffic circles in that project, installed with only temporary measures like posts and paint, were criticized as being too small and confusing to drivers, and they were subsequently removed.

Still, Jose said the SFMTA has been “continuously implementing” them “at community request and in accordance to needs determined by engineering evaluation and guidelines. Examples include 10 traffic circles installed throughout the Bayview, Ingleside, Mission Terrace and Richmond Districts.”

Here’s the Roberts segment. Once more drivers get the message that they need to slow down, maybe the SFMTA can remove those stop signs and make this more of a roundabout.

  • mikesonn

    *face palm*

  • not sure why the Stop signs matter — nobody ever actually stops at stop signs. there are puritans out there who like to pretend otherwise, but who cares about them.

    seems obvious the roundabout there needs to be much bigger. maybe it needs to be oblong to accommodate the superior width of the main drag.

    outside of that, the traffic circle could use some diverters to slow down motor traffic while protecting cyclists. but maybe the intent of these circles is more to pacify the locals, rather than actually slow motor traffic.

  • Gneiss

    Raising the elevation of the sidewalks would also serve to delineate the entrance to the circle and define the need to slow down to yield for pedestrians.

  • Gneiss

    Sorry – should be “crosswalks”

  • Jim Frank

    How are these circles designed in any way different than the ones that failed on Page street years ago. The signage looks the same.

    I would be worried walking through the crosswalks at this intersection since you don’t know if the car will stop or not. And you can’t fault every driver for not knowing because its confusing. Who would know the difference between a “traffic circle” and a “roundabout”? I don’t think too many folks do.

    Make the crosswalk more visible, enforce the speed limits, put out bulb outs or chicanes to slow down traffic, narrow the street width. These are the things that will keep cars going slow before they enter the circle.

    The bike lane on 8th street has similar confusion problems. Drivers are confused and think the entire lane is a right turn lane. They drive from one end of the block to the other (Mission to Howard) in the bike lane. Bad signage! Paint it green, remove parking and put in a physical barrier, or improve signage.

    I understand that we want cars not to speed up so much mid-block and drive at a more consistent speed. I hope when the street markings or signage gets better, the traffic is calmed.

  • Motorists and cyclists stop at stop signs ALL THE TIME. Especially when there’s anyone to stop for 😉

    Without the stop signs here, I’d be concerned that pedestrians will face a greater risk of getting run over when crossing the street, from cars whipping through the roundabout and making a turn without any requirement to stop. Maybe the pedestrian avoids getting run over when they leap out of the way in time, but that still sucks. Like the experience on Page St. when they tried it there earlier.

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t we just do the roundabout right and get rid of the stop signs? Adding the stop sign defeats the purpose. But here is the key: you gotta make the circle in the middle (the non-road part with the vegetation) *bigger* so that people can’t just go flying through the intersection. When you make the center of the circle bigger, you have to make a wide turn to go through the intersection which slows you down. Why is it so *hard* for American traffic engieners to figure out how to do a roundabout properly? Just about every other country can do it right ….

  • There are many well-designed roundabouts in Seattle that work just fine. So it isn’t an American failure, but a peculiarly San Francisco failure, that leads us to design roundabouts so perversely. I agree, the point of a roundabout is to have no stop signs, but there should be yield signs in all four directions. As in, slow down, LOOK, yield to any pedestrians, yield to traffic coming from the left, and then you can go.

    Having a stop sign in two directions and unfettered traffic in the other two all meet in a roundabout is nonsensical. The unfettered traffic will whip around the median at speeds as close to 30mph as they can possibly manage. I agree, too, that the circle in the middle needs to be bigger or some type of speed hump needs to be added before the roundabout so as to reduce car speeds under 7 mph. I also like Gneiss’s idea below to raise crosswalks to increase visibility of pedestrians and slow drivers down.

    If the SFMTA wants roundabouts to fail, its street engineers will design them so that people can blast through without significant speed reduction, and they will install them with no reminders that yielding is obligatory. The point of a roundabout isn’t to marginally “calm” traffic. The point of a roundabout is to create *through effective design* a low speed intersection with appropriate yielding that is safe for all users.

  • 5th_Element

    Yield signs at roundabouts = yes
    Stop signs at roundabouts = god no

  • Anonymous

    Seattle has a lot of traffic circles, not roundabouts.

  • Anonymous

    The primary purpose of stop signs is to assign liability in the event of a crash.

  • Anonymous

    Bulb outs (aka, curb extensions) don’t slow motorists.  They’re to shorten crossing distance and increase visibility between motorists and pedestrians.  Speed humps (bumps) are the most effective speed reduction tool.

  • circle up

    There are differences between a roundabout (which this is not) and a traffic circle.
    Please get this straight before sharing your strongly held design
    opinions. Roundabouts operate with yield entries. Traffic circles do not
    necessarily. This is a practical design for
    this intersection which will increase the odds of success. If you wish
    to be puritanical about how you think a circle should be designed, be
    aware that an approach like that could lead to a failure like what
    happened on Page.

  • Joel

    @ScottRAB:disqus  – They actually do slow motorists if they are sufficiently wide enough, and are especially  effective at intersections (where most conflicts occur): http://www.streetfilms.org/snowy-neckdowns-redux-winter-traffic-calming/

    Speed humps are also effective, but only as a midblock treatment.

  • Anonymous

    @ScottRAB:disqus Yes, bulb-outs are primarily there to minimize pedestrian exposure to traffic, but by thinning the road, they also have the added benefit of calming (slowing) traffic:
    http://www.planetizen.com/node/44645

    The narrower you make a road, the slower people go.

  • Gneiss

    I don’t think people are being puritanical about the design.  I’m responding to the ‘behaving badly’ segment where you can clearly see that motorists are trying to speed through this intersection in the direction where there are no stop signs.  That kind of treatment makes it *more* dangerous for pedestrians, particularly ones who are waiting to cross on the opposite side of the road, which is the direction cars get deflected as they try to wipe around the curve.

    The skid marks that Mr. Roberts and the property owner are talking about are on the opposite side of the circle, which means that the driver who made them would have taken out a person waiting at the corner.

    As a result, they need to create a treatment at the entrance to the circle from all four directions that slows traffic to a maximum of 7 mph as Karen mentions.

  • sounds like the ‘unsuccessful’ traffic circle(s) along Page street were removed precisely because they were successful.

    the definition of ‘successful’, of course, is that it/they slowed down some drivers, which is why they couldn’t be tolerated.

    this ‘new and improved’ traffic circle is probably exactly the same as the old ‘failed’ ones, but now we spent a bit more money–to increase the difficulty of removing them, and now there’s a more-vocal constituency for traffic calming, so they may get to stay, as long as they don’t actually end up working too well.

    still not sure what the focus on the stop signs is all about. they’re just stop signs, everyone ignores them anyways — outlaw drivers still hit/injure/maim/kill. i understand drivers don’t want the mental stress of stop signs, but too bad and stuff. the only perfect solution is to ban cars outright — they shouldn’t be tolerated.

  • vcs

    What a load.

    As a bike rider, the Page/Waller circles were ‘unsuccessful’ because I was about twelve inches from being killed. 
    As a pedestrian, the Page/Waller circles were ‘unsuccessful’ because I defacto had to yield to cars.As a car driver, the things were frickin great because I didn’t have to stop and could blast through at 25MPH. /sAre you actually out-and-about in this city, or are you just reading about it in Dutch traffic manuals?

  • Anonymous

    Stop signs are, generally speaking, treated as yield signs by drivers in San Francisco.

  • Anonymous

    Someone told me that raised crosswalks are illegal because of the ADA– something about how blind people won’t know when they’re stepping into the street. Seems bizarre to me, but there you go…

  • the ADA requires those (usually yellow-colored) bump pads at each crossing, so as long as those are there…

  • Looks like a nominee for worlds worst designed traffic circle. Two way stop? I dont even…

  •  There are at least a half a dozen like this on Bryant in Palo Alto. They work fine – of course due to other treatments most of the traffic on Bryant is cyclists.

  • circle up

    This is not uncommon. Portland OR uses STOPs at circles as needed. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=85523

    When designing circles, one must think about the effect on pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles including trucks and emergency vehicles. If you make the circle too big in an attempt to slow traffic as much as possible, then drivers are forced into the crosswalk, raising the ire of pedestrians, and trucks/emergency vehicles have difficulty getting through. If you remove existing STOP signs, you risk a backlash from pedestrians, especially those with disabilities. If you make a circle too small, then they don’t slow traffic. This circle is different in design from the Page St circles in more than a few ways: it did not change the STOP signs, has higher visibility crosswalks, and has a mountable apron to make the circle as large as possible while still allowing emergency vehicles and trucks to maneuver through.

  • At least it’s not like New Jersey traffic circles where drivers stop while in the circle, not entering.

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