Man in Wheelchair Killed by Freeway-Bound Driver at Market and Octavia

Image: NBC

A man in a wheelchair, reportedly in his 20s, was killed by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard around midnight last night. SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said the crash is still under investigation, but that driver appears to have been heading south on Octavia at the entrance of the Central Freeway, where witnesses said the victim was crossing against the light. The man is the 13th known pedestrian to be killed by a driver in SF this year.

In shots from NBC’s television broadcast, the victim’s motorized wheelchair can be seen sitting several dozen feet south of the intersection on the freeway ramp. SFPD investigators have not determined how fast the driver was going.

As media reports have noted, a new enforcement camera was activated Friday to cite drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway ramp, but it doesn’t appear the driver was making such a turn in this case.

“News of another pedestrian death on Market and Octavia is truly devastating, and reminds us of the dangers pedestrian face when freeways intermix with city streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that another pedestrian suffered “major injuries” after being hit by a driver last Thursday at a freeway onramp near Seventh and Harrison Streets in SoMa. “Not only are these intersections dangerous because of the high speeds of cars and trucks entering and exiting, they’re often dark, loud, uninviting, and segment our communities.”

Since the Central Freeway ramp opened at Market and Octavia in 2005, the intersection has seen a higher rate of traffic injuries than any other in SF, with 13 in 2011, according to the SFMTA’s 2009-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF]. Although livable streets advocates and city agencies pushed for a tear-down of the Central Freeway back to Bryan Street after it was damaged in an earthquake, it was rebuilt to touch down at Market and Octavia at the behest of Caltrans and car commuters living in the western neighborhoods.

Schneider pointed to recent calls from John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, for a “freeway-free San Francisco.” At a forum in September, Norquist asked why SF, which protested its planned freeways and prevented most them from being built — and is considering removing another section — doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised.

“Freeways merging with city streets create a terrifyingly dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and truly all roadway users,” said Schneider. “Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco to seriously consider what ‘freeway-free’ could mean for public health, safety, and livability in our wonderful city.”

[Update] SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new enforcement camera cannot capture video footage of crashes to be used as evidence in crash investigations, as it only takes still photos of drivers who make an illegal right turn.

  • 94103er

    Aaron, your first link doesn’t point to the NBC segment but rather the short blurb in the Merc about this.

    Re the NBC segment, note how that moron reporter (who can’t figure out how to use the right tone and inflection when speaking of a death on the street) answers a query about it being somehow ‘controversial’ by pointing out pedestrians crossing against the light but doesn’t take 10 minutes to catch a driver running the red, which is pretty easy to do at all times of day.

  • Anonymous

    Wheelchair crossing against the light at Market and Octavia? Dude must have had a death wish

  • Zack

    Unless it was a self-driving google robot car, perhaps “Driver Hits Man” would be a better choice (to NBC, not SFSB).

  • Anonymous

    Or he could have been stuck in the intersection when the light changed.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like Mr… (deleted).

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t matter, the point is: you shouldn’t have to DIE for messing up (if that is what happened). This is why you can’t build city streets around cars: the consequences of mistakes are severe, often fatal. That is unacceptable. We can do way better.

    How, you might ask? First, get rid of the damn freeways dropping right into the middle of cities, especially highly residential areas like Hayes Valley. But barring that, you design the road — both coming off the freeway and getting on to it — so that motorists have to go really slow, I mean “20 is plenty” slow. That is the most important part. The kind of speeds where, if you see a wheelchair in the middle of the road, you can stop in time. This also means speed bumps, timed lights (for 20 mph, with obvious signs saying so), and — ready for it?? — massive traffic enforcement. Get the cops off the Wiggle or any other area where they are harassing cyclists and get them enforcing laws at one of the most dangerous intersections in the city. We also need bulb outs and highly visible (via paint) crosswalks and bike lanes.

  • Andy Chow

    By that standard (any opportunity that a pedestrian could collide a high speed vehicle due to his or her own negligence is bad), we should eliminate all rail systems in the Bay Area. 20 is plenty on BART, Muni, and Caltrain! May be 20 is not plenty enough due to braking distance so they are should be converted to BRT running at 20 mph.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I do believe that is an under-rated problem with buses and trains: too much mass going too fast. They will always conflict with pedestrians and cyclists. That’s why I’m a huge fan of subways. All great cities have them, and that’s because it puts what is dangerous (and loud) underground. This also keeps these trains out of traffic issues so they run much more reliably. I recognize this costs lots more money, but I do believe it is the ultimate solution and pays off in the long-term.

    In the meantime, however, if we are going to tolerate huge masses moving at high speeds, I *much* prefer that they be efficient vehicles running on designated routes, i.e. buses and rail, rather than crazed personal motorists. It’s orders of magnitude easier to control buses than literally millions of individual motorists.

  • Andy Chow

    The cities that have a lot of underground transit tend to have a lot of above ground transit too.

    I can say that even in some places where most people don’t drive, people don’t share the 20 is plenty idea. In those places, you got honked if you try to cross against the light and cars won’t slow down at all. There’s also railings between the sidewalk and the road in certain corridors.

  • ⦿ The design for Octavia Boulevard blocked the sightlines to and from the Central Freeway. The idea was Lombardy Pines down the median, a gateway where Octavia met Market, and foliage alongside. What we have instead are overpruned Lombardy Pines in the median, overpruned foliage alongside, and the whole intersection is wide open save for some Palm trees (with nice foliage, but way up in the air where it calms no traffic), and big wide open sightlines in every direction.

    The visual cues going south are, Hurry up, you’re headed for the Freeway, and going north, No need to slow down much, it’s still freeway-like.

    Reports are that the car was going at a low rate of speed, which is unusual for Boulevar/Freeway travel across this intersection. Even so, the visual cues are very much at a larger scale in which something pedestrian-sized isn’t much noticed.

  • Anonymous

    Good points. In addition, I’ve read that drivers tend to focus straight ahead and to not see objects entering their path from the side. Add to that fact the wheelchair is low to the ground and not easily seen and that it was dark., further obscuring visibility and these factors made this one accident that didn’t wait to happen.

  • At this week’s PSAC (Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee) meeting, Sgt. Eric Mahoney of the Traffic Collision Investigation Unit gave us an update on this very sad event. Sgt. Mahoney indicated that testimony from “several” witnesses has resulted in a preliminary conclusion that the man (revealed by a later SFGate article to be Kenneth “Bryan” Goodwin, a safe streets advocate) crossed against the red. In response to a public commenter who had heard that Bryan had entered on the green, but been unable to finish crossing in time, Sgt. Mahoney said firmly that he had not entered on a green signal.

    This all sounds preliminary, and I’m relying on my sketchy notes, but I just wanted to pass it along. Even if it’s true, it doesn’t make this event any less tragic.

    In addition, Sgt. Mahoney stated that (in addition to the right-turn camera, which only takes a picture when there are certain types of violations), there is another City camera in this location. However, while it broadcasts a live feed somewhere (I think to the SFMTA, for live traffic monitoring?), it doesn’t record. In the tech-oriented Bay Area, it seems like we could get some sort of buffered recording for this and any other camera without too much difficulty? Some of my fellow PSAC members were not happy to hear that we had a video resource, but it couldn’t be used in this case. I would be interested if Aaron or anyone else is able to follow up on that- there might be other live traffic monitoring cameras that should be put on some sort of recording.

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