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

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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.