Hayes Valley may be one of the country’s densest and most walkable urban neighborhoods, but believe it or not, it still has three closed crosswalks — vestiges of the mid-20th century’s cars-first planning.
“For many years, traffic engineers devised ways to pen people in, so that cars weren’t inconvenienced,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “Nowadays, the city realizes how foolish that thought was, especially in an urban environment which thrives on connecting people with people — not people with fast moving cars.”
Last week, a visiting transportation writer who was exploring many of SF’s otherwise-progressive recent livable streets efforts was surprised and ashamed to find pedestrians banned from crossing at one side of the intersection at Gough and Fell Streets. Instead, people walking there are forced to take a detour through three crosswalks instead of one, so that turning car traffic can whisk through unimpeded.
The SFMTA had previously approved re-opening that crosswalk, as well as another at Fell and Franklin Streets. That was over a year ago.
SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said the Fell and Franklin crosswalk is set to be re-opened next month, but that the Fell and Gough crosswalk is on hold and will be implemented late next year, in conjunction with “sewer, water, paving and signal enhancements” to “maximize efficiency.”
As for the closed crosswalk at Oak and Franklin Streets, which would cross three lanes of turning motor traffic, SFMTA planners looked at re-opening it but “decided to not move forward at this time,” said Jose. Opening the crosswalk, or removing a turn lane, would “result in traffic backing up into Market Street,” he said.
“Re-opening crosswalks is a basic walkers’ rights issue,” said Schneider, who pointed out that the Mayor’s Pedestrian Strategy has a goal of opening two crosswalks per year through 2021, and “notes that this is a quick, cost-effective way to enhance pedestrian safety and walkability.”
Robin Levitt of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, and a member of the Market-Octavia Community Advisory Committee, said he’s disappointed that the Oak and Franklin crosswalk won’t be opened any time soon, and that the Fell and Gough crosswalk won’t be opened for at least another year. Still, “It’s been that way forever,” he said, and another year isn’t a big setback.
Nonetheless, “If this was a bottleneck delaying cars, I think they’d probably get on it.”