Ped Signal at Sunset and Yorba, Where Man Was Killed, Sped Up by a Year

Sunset at Yorba, where 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon was killed earlier this month. Image: Google Maps

On deadly Sunset Boulevard, the SFMTA’s plans for a new pedestrian-activated stop light at Yorba Street have been advanced by a year. The signal, originally scheduled to go in by the end of 2016, is now set to be activated by the end of 2015, according to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

Currently, the Sunset and Yorba crosswalk has a push-activated beacon that flashes a yellow signal to warn drivers when someone is crossing. That wasn’t enough to save 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon, who was killed by driver Jenny Ching, 71, on February 4. Ching was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Plans were already underway for a traffic signal at Yorba, but Rose said the project would have taken two years to design and construct, due to a lengthy procurement process and coordination with the Department of Public Works to improve curb ramps and street pole “relocation and consolidation.” Rose said the SFMTA was able to streamline its latest round of signal installations by adding engineering staff.

Last week, “we just started two new junior engineers,” he said. “And we are working more closely with DPW in coordinating our projects, especially with paving.  That said, we are now looking to improve on our project schedule to complete design by December 2014.”

“I’m glad to hear they’re coordinating more, but the fact that they were able to advance the signal by one year overnight raises questions,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We’re speeding projects up after someone has died on streets that we know see the most pedestrian injuries.”

A similar traffic signal project was sped up last year after 17-year-old Hanren Chang was killed on Sloat Boulevard at Forest View Drive, not far from Sunset and Yorba. DPW advanced the project by nearly a year, installing bulb-outs, more visible crosswalks, street lights, an extended pedestrian refuge median, and a button-activated pedestrian signal, like the one planned for Yorba.

The Yorba signal will be the only stop light on six-lane Sunset between Vicente Street and Ocean Avenue. But as Schneider told the SF Chronicle last week, the SFMTA should also remove the third lane on Sunset in each direction “to discourage a freeway mentality.” Rose said the agency has not seriously considered it, and that the SFMTA would “have to explore [it] in conjunction with the Board of Supervisors and residents.” It “would require extensive engineering analysis,” including the impacts to Muni’s 29-Sunset, he said.

“It’s just not compatible with an urban environment,” Schneider told the Chronicle. “Freeways in most places have three lanes, and then to not have any stop signs and have such a long road and no means of stopping – that just encourages people to speed.”

“Safety comes first, above everything else,” she added.

Between 2005 and 2011, 44 pedestrians were hit on Sunset, with a quarter taking place on the stretch between Vicente and Sloat, according to the Chronicle. The SFMTA has been adding stop lights and pedestrian countdown signals at intersections over the past decade.

Residents have long been waiting for safety improvements on Sunset. Kathleen Gaines, whose son was seriously injured while crossing Sunset at Yorba on his bike, told the Chronicle that “every time I hear about something like [Berenzon’s death], I just think, ‘When is something going to change?'”

Schneider also noted that the safety projects needed to target such high-injury spots in the city, as called for in the SFMTA’s Pedestrian Strategy, still won’t be substantially funded in the SFMTA’s budget for the next two years.

  • Upright Biker

    As previously noted by anyone with a brain and a heart: We’ve got to stop trading dead loved ones for what should be simple infra upgrades to protect the most vulnerable street users.

  • SFnative74

    “I’m glad to hear they’re coordinating more, but the fact that they were
    able to advance the signal by one year overnight raises questions,”
    said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We’re speeding
    projects up after someone has died on streets that we know see the most
    pedestrian injuries.”

    Unfortunately, what often happens when some projects are accelerated is that other projects are delayed. As anyone who has remodeled a room in their home or has worked on a large project knows, it takes time and money to get projects done. It’s impossible for everything to happen instantaneously, as much as we’d all like that.

  • It’s good the city is fast tracking getting signal improvements, but it’s not fast enough.

    For now, I would suggest shutting down that crosswalk and asking people to use the Sloat Boulevard overpass as a safer alternate route. It’s too risky to continue crossing that street until a better pedestrian signal system and serious improvements are made. It’s backwards thinking because by law, drivers should always stop, but I see it too many times where one car stops, and another zips by, or the car behind the stopped one rapidly switches lanes and buzzes by.

  • 94103er

    Not fast enough, indeed. Another person hit here last night. This time, a kid.

    http://blog.sfgate.com/stew/2014/02/20/another-pedestrian-hit-at-perilous-s-f-crossing/

  • gary

    That Sunset ped crossing is a invitation to get killed. So you trigger the light and think it’s safe to cross but most drivers pay no mind to it as they whiz by at 50 mph.

  • jd_x

    Or instead, how about timing the traffic signals to 25 mph accompanied by huge signs saying this and a little SFPD enforcement?

  • jonobate

    Seems like there is a specific issue with arterials in San Francisco that do not have stop signs or traffic lights at certain intersections where pedestrians are allowed to cross. A zebra crossing and yield sign is clearly not enough to get drivers to stop at these crossings when there is a pedestrian present.

    How about giving pedestrians a push button to that changes the traffic lights to red at such a crossing?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puffin_crossing

  • djconnel

    This is another example where the only solution is reduced vehicle speed. 50 mph vehicle traffic is fundamentally incompatible with pedestrian right-of-way.

  • mikesonn

    “Sorry, drivers suck. You need to walk way over there now instead because car uber alles.”

    Screw that.

  • p_chazz

    South of Yorba, Sunset becomes more freeway-like where it passes under Sloat Blvd. I think southbound drivers tend to accelerate as they approach this area and northbound traffic fails to decellerate, making this a dangerous intersection for pedestrians. There needs to be traffic calming measures put in place here, (pedestrian operated signal, Prepare to Stop signs, flashing amber warning lights) or the grade separation of Sunset should be extended so pedestrians don’t come into contact with cars.

  • Alex

    This street has timed lights. If you travel at 30mph with light traffic, a motorist will not have to stop for several blocks. The idea that a stoplight may slow down the bus is ridiculous. Another lame excuse at the cost of human lives. Put in the light at the end of this year.
    The next bastion of assaults on pedestrians will be while walking on the sidewalk or perhaps slipping on an oil slick.
    It is time to tax households that have more than 2 cars. Use that tax to improve public transportation. Politicians are afraid to take this stand.

  • Joseph Schmoseph

    Actually the lights aren’t timed anymore. They were for years, but no longer.

  • omaryak

    I like the idea of removing a lane in each direction … why not make it a curb-separated bus lane?

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