SoMa to Get SF’s First Protected Intersection…in One Direction at Least

Existing Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure on Division Street | February 4, 2015
Existing Bike and Pedestrian Infrastructure on Division Street. Photo: SFMTA.

SFMTA announced late last week that San Francisco will soon break ground on the first protected intersection in San Francisco. From the agency’s web article:

A new type of safer intersection design for San Francisco breaks ground this week: The city’s first “protected intersection” treatment is coming to 9th and Division streets.

Protected intersections use a simple design concept to make everyone safer. Under this configuration, features like concrete islands placed at the corners slow turning cars and physically separate people biking and driving. They also position turning drivers at an angle that makes it easier for them to see and yield to people walking and biking crossing their path.

Anyone who knows the large urban bike capitols of the world knows that even wide and busy motorways can incorporate safe bike infrastructure. Protected bike lanes are key. But really making bicycling safe for all ages requires their counterpart: the protected intersection.

If you’re not familiar with how protected intersections work, this video from the Bicycle Dutch blog explains it well with animation:

And this explains it with graphics and live action of the junctions in operation:

As the videos show–and any San Francisco cyclists can attest to–intersections are where Bay Area traffic planners seem to fall down on the job. One of the videos even uses Market Street to illustrate bad design. Even where there are protected bike lanes, as soon as there’s a junction, the bike lane ends, and cyclists are thrown right into traffic. That means right hook collisions, left hooks, and cyclists getting side swiped. And, sadly, intersections are where most serious injuries and fatalities occur.

There are only a handful of protected intersections in North America. The nearest one is in Davis. Anybody who gets an opportunity should try it out and report back; even the best videos and diagrams still might leave cyclists scratching their heads about what it’s like to navigate one. Streetsblog has ridden protected intersections in the Netherlands and Vancouver; they are intuitive and relaxing. The engineering makes it so that an inattentive driver making a turn is more likely to hit a curb before they get the opportunity to hit a cyclist or pedestrian.

A schematic of SFMTA's design for 9th and Division. Note the lack of protected intersections going north-south. Image: SFMTA.
A schematic of SFMTA’s design for 9th and Division. Note the lack of protected bicycle intersections going north-south. Image: SFMTA.

The designs, as the videos point out, are also great for pedestrians, because the crosswalks are set back from the intersection. SFMTA added raised crosswalks (also sometimes called combination crosswalk-speed bumps) to the concept. These force drivers to slow down and are a welcome addition to San Francisco’s streets.

It’s kind of odd, however, that SFMTA’s design doesn’t protect cyclists going north-south. “The primary vehicle-bike crashes we saw at this intersection were right-hooks, which our design is solving for,” explained Ben Jose, a spokesman for SFMTA. “The intersection is protected in the east-west direction. To make a left turn, a person biking can either make a two-stage turn and stay in the shadow of the islands, or take the vehicle lane before they enter the block.” This seems to follow the Vision Zero philosophy of using data to address the most frequent and harmful crashes. Still, as long as they are building a protected intersection for one direction, why not do both?

That said, Streetsblog hopes–in the future–protection will be required for any intersection with the traffic volume to warrant it.

  • Alicia

    I’ve just replied to you in the comment sections to two different posts. In this thread, you’ve replied to me twice. In the other thread, where I left a content-based response to your argument (which you suggest I never do, for some reason), I’ve heard not a peep. Now why would that be?

  • RichLL

    Well gee, if I failed to notice one of your comments in another thread then I deeply regret that. Clearly I must spend more time here if I am missing the odd comment of yours that isn’t about me.

    But as noted, just because I don’t respond does not entail that I agree with you. That would be a flawed assumption on your part.

  • murphstahoe

    Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown. Block this guy and save your sanity.

  • citrate reiterator

    Roger was complaining that they didn’t also add similar features to the north-south direction, not that protected intersections don’t offer any help to cyclists going straight. As I’ve said more than once, they do, because they change the angle at which car and bike traffic intersect so that they are easily mutually visible. Again, that’s from the video linked in this article that the reply directed you to.

    (I wasn’t the one who suggested signalizing the intersection for bikes so I’ll let someone else field that one. Clearly busy intersections that have been signalized for bikes do exist, though.)

  • RichLL

    A “north-south direction” sounded to me like a bike going straight rather than making a turn.

    And yes, visibility could be improved of course. I wasn’t saying that nothing can ever be done to improve safety. Only that this particular piece of infrastructure appears to only address the safety of cyclists turning right, and that is all it is designed to do, so complaining that it doesn’t do other things is missing the point somewhat.

  • MVCherie

    Anybody know when this intersection is slated for completion? Can’t wait to go check it out!

  • Alicia

    Flawed? That’s an odd way to spell “logical.”

  • RichLL

    The point stands, You cannot reasonably assume that silence is consent or concession.

  • citrate reiterator

    What you’re missing is that the design *also* protects bikes going straight, and that is actually one of its intended functions. This design allows you to position the bike lane on the far right-hand side, without needing cars to merge into that lane in order to turn. Take a look at the diagram of the redesigned intersection above, imagining you’re biking from the west and continuing towards the east. Instead of having to merge with cars turning right, straight-ahead bike traffic and turning car traffic now meet at close to right angles, as the bike path comes out of the safety island. This is good if you’re a bike crossing the intersection, because now cars turning right are more likely to see you for two reasons: one, because you’re directly in front of them, and two, you’re traveling parallel right next to the pedestrian crosswalk, where cars should be looking to begin with).

    (As another side benefit, the design, if continued all the way around an intersection, also makes safe left-turns possible from the right hand lane: you just continue straight across, get in the turning lane on the other side, and continue straight across again when the light changes. It’s similar to a “pedestrian left”, but safe and fast.)

  • citrate reiterator

    Bollards, at least, would be nice. The problem isn’t necessarily cars that are out of control, but people just getting lazy or not understanding the paint and cutting the corner, which a physical barrier makes much less likely. (I noticed there are some new temporary bollards on Noriega at 19th Ave — seemed like a reasonable way to achieve a curb bulb-out without a lot of expense.)

    My guess is that the city figured that since bikes need to take the whole lane going north-south, there’s at least going to be less danger of a right-hook in that direction. Still would have liked a full protected intersection but this is definitely better than nothing.

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