Fourth Pedestrian Killed by Driver on Deadly Van Ness This Year

Van Ness and Golden Gate, where a driver reportedly killed a pedestrian while traveling northbound. Image: Google Maps

A car driver struck and killed a man who was crossing Van Ness at Golden Gate Avenue at about 11 p.m. last night. According to the SFPD, “Early reports indicate that the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk,” but the crash is still under investigation. Police didn’t say how fast the driver was going, or how close to the crosswalk the victim may have been.

As SFGate reported, the victim was the seventh pedestrian killed in San Francisco this year, the fourth just on Van Ness — and the third just on a two-block stretch of Van Ness behind City Hall:

In January, a 38-year-old man was hit and killed as he tried to run across Van Ness near Grove Street. In early February, a man was struck near Grove Street and later died from his injuries. About a week later  a pedestrian died in a hit-and-run crash near the corner of Van Ness and Pacific Avenue.

Van Ness, like other street-level highways slicing through San Francisco, has a design that facilitates dangerously fast driving, and the result is an unconscionable number of pedestrian injuries. Although cases where the victims weren’t using a crosswalk tend to be met with victim-blaming, the long distances between crosswalks (which hardly ensure safety) and long wait times to cross Van Ness invite pedestrians to “jaywalk” instead. And since Van Ness is designed to prioritize high-speed through traffic, pedestrian crashes are likely to result in injuries and deaths.

After the hit-and-run crash at Van Ness and Pacific that killed 35-year-old Paul Lambert, who also lost his cousin to a hit-and-run driver in New York City last June, KTVU noted that Van Ness isn’t slated to get any substantial pedestrian safety improvements until Van Ness BRT is built. That project, set to be complete in 2018, will reduce the street’s mixed traffic lanes from six to four, while also adding pedestrian bulb-outs and other safety upgrades.

  • p_chazz

    Of course, the reason Van Ness is a street level highway slicing through San Francisco is because the Central Freeway, which once carried traffic around and over the area has been demolished.

    Perhaps through traffic on Van Ness should go through a tunnel from Market to Turk, leaving the above ground street for transit, bicycles and pedestrians.

  • Kyle Gebhart

    That makes sense. Investing in infrastructure to get cars moving faster would be consistent with SF’s car-first policy.

  • KWillets

    Even granted that inebriates regularly wander onto Van Ness, how do you kill someone with a vehicle going 25 mph? Something is wrong here.

  • voltairesmistress

    A question for engineers: Is there any way major thoroughfares can be designed with timed lights and speed cameras such that there is no advantage to trying to speed inbetween lights? Not saying that happened here or commenting on this collision. But there will always be people who cross mid-block, no matter how risky. So how can we make high speeds and high speed collisions with pedestrians a thing of the past while still using a few avenues to move car traffic?

  • jonobate

    Van Ness BRT will likely discourage mid-block crossing, because there will be a wide median or boarding platform along the entire corridor, rather than the low narrow median currently on Van Ness near Golden Gate.

    More generally, the best way to slow arterials is to make them two-way with no median. People drive a lot more carefully when they know that reckless driving could result in a head-on collision.

  • KWillets

    The Oak/Fell Sewers have long had a 25 mph pattern. I don’t believe there is much advantage to speeding on VN, but periods of low traffic will encourage the speeders regardless.

    It would be worthwhile to look at traffic levels vs. pedestrian injuries on VN; I believe the worst injuries are during low traffic.

  • jd_x

    These are things you can do to minimize the mid-block pointless speeding:
    – As jonobate said, the real key is making the roads two-way and having no medians. I would also add making the lanes narrow and having large trees on the edges as it’s been proven that this also causes drivers to slow down.
    – Clear signage explaining that the lights are timed for xx speed. On Valencia, for example, there are like 2 signs and you can barely see them. I’ve never even seen ones on Fell/Oak or Gough/Franklin. The city should be making this *really* clear and hence most drivers will realize that speeding in between is completely pointless.
    – Finally, a little police enforcement will do wonders for slowing drivers down. When the cops pull motorists over, they should point out to the driver that their actions were not only is it illegal, but completely pointless as they won’t get down the road any quicker and all they did was waste gas by accelerating and decelerating so quickly as well as risking the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. We need the cops to stop with their ridiculous car-centric bias and start actually dealing with the major problem in our cities: careless motorists.

  • theqin

    Large and frequent speed bumps.

  • Michael Smith

    Actually, the Central Freeway on/off ramps were right at Golden Gate dumping high speed traffic there.

  • p_chazz

    The other deaths were in the stretch behind City Hall, which was bypassed by the Central Freeway.

  • Chris J.

    There was a story on Streetsblog a few months back that mentioned a traffic device (in Spain I think it was) that causes a traffic light to turn red earlier if a car approaching it is speeding. It’s a brilliant idea because, currently, drivers have an incentive to speed up when approaching lights they worry will be turning red.

  • Bruce Halperin

    Most drivers on the Great Highway seem to have it figured out, and consequently crossing the street or riding a bike on the shoulder feels relatively safe. Narrowing VN from 3 lanes down to 2 (and prohibiting left turns) when BRT is implemented should help tame speeds a bit.

    The left turn lanes at the one-way couplets (Pine/Bush, Geary/O’Farrell, Turk/Golden Gate, Hayes/Fell) result in narrower medians (so peds can’t easily cross halfway), poor sight lines, and reckless turns by motorists who scramble to beat oncoming traffic and ignore pedestrians in the crosswalk. Eliminating them will go a long way toward making the VN corridor more walkable.

  • Chris J.
  • p_chazz

    If a person loses balance and falls backward, the impact from the fall can snap the person’s neck. My brother died that way. You don’t need a lot of force.

  • p_chazz

    Must ped, bike and transit improvements come at the cost of slowing private vehicles? Why can’t infrastructure improvements move cars faster AND enhance the pedestrian, bicycle and transit experience? Seems like you are more interested in punishing motorists.

  • jonobate

    “Must ped, bike and transit improvements come at the cost of slowing private vehicles?”

    Yes. The two objectives are in direct conflict.

  • Kyle Gebhart

    I am interested in prioritizing infrastructure improvements based on what will best help achieve defined goals (i.e. cut GHG emissions, shift trips to transit/walk/bike) and is most cost effective. Massive infrastructure which primarily moves private vehicles (underground highway) is NOT a good use of funds. And why would you want to give cars the grade-separated expedited right-of-way and make transit operate on the surface? Transit and safety should be prioritized, but it rarely is. In San Francisco, private vehicles are almost always prioritized, which is why it’s so hard to put in a bike lane, bus lane, or any kind of infrastructure which saves lives but slows down vehicles.

  • Dexter Wong

    I grew up near Van Ness Ave. and I always knew that you should only cross Van Ness at the traffic light. There is way too much traffic to jay walk and anyone who does so takes his/her own life into their hands.

  • p_chazz

    You overlook the ped, bike and transit friendly grand boulevard that would result from taking cars off the street and moving them underground. And transit could use the tunnels as well-I envision express buses in the tunnels and local buses up top.

    Without the network of freeways envisioned by the 1940 Trafficways Plan it was inevitable that some streets would become “traffic sewers” but they don’t have to be open sewers.

  • Dexter Wong

    Van Ness Ave. was always the widest street in San Francisco and Highway 101 since the days of the Golden Gate Ferry. The Central Freeway only ran from the San Francisco Skyway – James Lick Freeway interchange first to South Van Ness Ave., then to Franklin and Golden Gate (northbound) (Gough and Turk southbound) before the 1989 earthquake closed that section. The freeway still exists up to Market and Octavia.

  • Kyle Gebhart

    hmm…well, now that there’s this great new fast way to get across town in a car, maybe I’ll buy a car. Now that I own a car, I suddenly find it more convenient for all of my trips–me and everyone else.

    You can make your city convenient for transit or convenient for driving. You can’t do both.

  • EastBayer

    It’s not a “nice” thing to say, but the truth is that we can make ped, bike and transit improvements for years on end and never realize mode shift of any significance simply because it is so cheap and convenient to drive everywhere. And it’s artificially cheap and convenient because so many of the costs are externalized.

  • Matt B

    For corridors with coordinated traffic signals (such as Van Ness) signal progression can be timed for a certain speed – e.g. so you hit all of the green lights only if you are going at 25 mph or slower. Of course, if the block lengths are too long, cars can still end up getting to high speed by midblock even if they will have to slow down and stop at the next light (this is a major problem in SoMa and one of many reasons why smaller blocks make for a more liveable city). Adding more midblock crossings would help ped safety on Van Ness by breaking up longer blocks and reducing the speeds that cars can get up to (in addition to reducing incentives to jaywalk).

  • M.

    a great device among many – and installed in a country that apparently values life, despite being economically on the ropes right now.

  • M.

    Franklin and Gough, just west of VN, are one-way thoroughfares with timed lights that make traffic marginally slower than VN but still have plenty of jackasses that race yellows. Other than emergency vehicles, no one really needs to go faster. Sanely slower traffic delays arrival by very, very little. The issue is our cultural worship of speed for its own sake.
    Polk’s lights will be slowed and timed, though they haven’t said to what. We asked about permanent speed cameras. A disadvantage is that if they’re fixed in place, drivers will behave for a short stretch, then proceed as usual. Also enforcement from their footage has been problematic for whatever reason – even when they actually keep them running. We’re asking for mobile ones and at least the speed reminder signals (forgot the tech term).

  • M.

    So sorry.

  • M.

    What’s the rush? Ever?

  • M.

    Building long car tunnel$? A$k Boston…

  • M.

    Inebriates, aged, not able-bodied, confused, weighed down w/ stuff, transporting children… Having gone from regularly sprinting across streets to recently having to use a walker, I can attest to how many are impossible to cross at a slow walking speed before the countdown times out. And even one normal-sized person has little room to perch without getting clipped on most of the medians now on VN. 2018 can’t come soon enough.

  • voltairesmistress

    Yes. That traffic light was in northern Spain, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, I think, in a town with one Main Street and no other traffic signals. It was perfect for low traffic, high speed areas in which only the speeder was forced to stop, not other drivers. So maybe not a fix for multi-lane avenues like Van Ness.

  • voltairesmistress

    Actually, yesterday’s Chronicle article shows congestion and travel times slightly down for car drivers, while there have been increases in transit use and active transportation, including more transit only lanes, more bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and fewer car travel lanes. So while the presence of cyclists and pedestrians and decreased car travel lanes have concerned drivers, the opposite — decreased travel time — has occurred.

  • p_chazz

    4 blocks is not long.

  • p_chazz

    It’s not speed, but volume.

  • Jay Heaton

    Major two-way streets account for 47% of pedestrian fatalities but only 12% of the road network in Manhattan. NYC is actively pursuing converting two-way streets to one-ways to improve pedestrian safety.
    See: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/nyc_ped_safety_study_action_plan.pdf

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