More Carnage, More Data…and More Excuses from the City

Another crash on Market Street. Photo: John Rogers
Today’s crash on Market Street. Photo: John Rogers

Another cyclist was hit this morning on Market Street, between 7th and 8th, reported Streetsblog reader John Rogers. Details are still coming in. “Market is still a full-on traffic free-for-all, and the danger faced by the thousands of cyclists that ride the central street of our city everyday remains a travesty,” he wrote to Streetsblog in an email this afternoon.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Director Barbara Garcia of the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported on a recent analysis of trauma patients in the city.

From the Department Director’s statement:

People injured in traffic collisions comprise 50 percent of the patients seen at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Trauma Center–exceeding all other categories for cause of injury including falls, cuts/pierces, firearms, and assault

In other words, SF streets are literally a public health menace, like diabetes or guns. “This analysis puts into perspective the pervasiveness of traffic crashes in our society and the urgent need to invest in proven strategies to prevent crashes,” was the response of Nicole Ferrara, Executive Director of Walk San Francisco.

The report is part of the Vision Zero initiative to treat traffic injuries as a public health issue that can be solved by better speed enforcement, education and, perhaps most importantly, re-engineering San Francisco’s streets to prioritize safety, instead of automobile throughput and ample street parking.

Unfortunately, the past couple of weeks have confirmed the results of the study, through yet another spate of violence on our streets. On Monday, a cyclist was hit at Divisadero and Geary. A week ago it was Valencia.

Frankly, it’s getting hard to keep up with the grim news.

The badly damaged bike of another victim, at Diviis and Geary. Photo: Gabriel Gonzalez‎ via the San Francisco Bike Ride Crew
The damaged bike of Michael Vasquez, hit Monday at Divis and Geary. Photo: Gabriel Gonzalez‎ via the San Francisco Bike Ride Crew

Earlier this week, Streetsblog spoke with tipster Lauren Nazario, who saw the aftermath of the crash on Valencia, between 22nd and 23rd. Streetsblog is still trying to sort out the details of that crash, but allegedly an Uber driver illegally entered the bike lane and hit the cyclist (considering how commonplace that is, it’s strange to use the convention “allegedly”). It’s particularly troubling that this crash happened on the same street where the SFMTA pulled out unofficially installed safe-hit posts a day or two before.

Streetsblog reader Rich Behrens shared an email he wrote to SFMTA about the carnage. An excerpt from his email:

…our streets have become more dangerous than ever: with 20 traffic fatalities in the first eight months of 2016, and at least 5 people hit each day on our streets, we’re on track for the worst year in a long time. I was hit personally in a bike lane on Arguello at California on 6 October. This was in broad daylight and due to an inattentive motorist. This is unacceptable!

Behrens demanded to know when the safe hit posts, installed by the guerrilla group SFMTrA, and subsequently removed by SFMTA, will be replaced near Folsom and Division, which is part of his commute. “Why are you prioritizing removal of effective safety infrastructure and lagging on putting it in?” he wrote.

You can read SFMTA director Ed Reiskin’s full reply here. The letter is nearly identical to a piece from SFMTA’s blog.

“In 2010, San Francisco had zero miles of protected bike lanes and buffered bike lanes in San Francisco,” wrote Reiskin. “Since then, the SFMTA has installed 27 miles of bike lanes that are either protected from traffic by things like parked cars or curbs, or have a space buffer between them and vehicles so people on bikes are safer.”

This is a claim that Streetsblog has flagged before. SFMTA has installed 13 miles of protected bike lanes. Reiskin is lumping “protected” bike lanes (meaning lanes with some degree of actual safety) with lanes that are just painted stripes.

In a city with some 1,000 miles of streets, SFMTA has installed 13 miles of protected bike lanes in the past six years. That’s by an agency with 4,800 employees, an operating budget of $861 million, and a capital budget of $525 million. Keep in mind no-frills protected bike lanes can be set up with something as inexpensive as planters, or blocks, or, yes, safe-hit posts.

Why does SFMTA prioritize removing unofficial safe-hit posts over installing more bike lanes? According to the letter from the director, “The risk of installing non-approved street designs, whether or not they’re considered safe informally, is that the city may be opened up to lawsuits–the costs of which divert funds from the safety improvements we’re trying to make.”

Got that?

“I have never heard of a city that was sued over a cone or soft-hit post. There are a lot of injury lawsuits brought against cities, but they are almost all related to maintenance issues like uplifted sidewalks or potholes,” said Robert Prinz, Education Director for Bike East Bay. “People paint the curbs red by their driveways all the time to help prevent them from getting blocked and delivery drivers put cones in the street to protect their illegally parked vehicles from being rear ended. If the city is not taking similar swift action on things like this then their concern about cones and posts rings a bit hollow.”

Even if lawsuits were the concern, a Streetsblog contact with years of experience in the City Attorney’s office put it this way: sometimes you have to look at the probabilities and take a chance with a lawsuit. Because when people are getting hurt and killed, fear of lawsuits is no excuse for inaction.

“Threading my way between the sides of gridlocked Muni buses and the rail tracks, dodging Uber cars disgorging customers in the middle of the street, weaving in and out of cars, taxis, buses, and trucks, it’s an abomination,” wrote Rogers to Streetsblog. “No one should be forced to take such risks just to get to work…how long are we supposed to put up with this?”

  • mx

    I hope the cyclist is ok.

    One quick note on the DPH statistics. The City’s EMS policy is that any auto-pedestrian accident >5 mph or where the patient is “thrown or run over” (also many motorcycle crashes and passengers/drivers in cars where there’s significant intrusion into the passenger compartment) should be transported to SF General as a trauma patient. Since those stats only include patients at SF General, while many of the common falls/cuts/etc… are handled at other hospitals, they may be a bit misleading as to what’s happening in the city as a whole.

    None of that, of course, is meant to say that what is happening is at all ok, that there aren’t way too many such injuries, that Market St. isn’t an unmitigated disaster for everyone regardless of mode, and that SFMTA has seemingly no interest in doing anything to really address the problem ever since they showed off their red and green thermoplastic at a NACTO conference and everyone came away thinking we were so forward-thinking.

    It should be abundantly clear by now that sporadically enforced turn restrictions and painted white lines are not a substitute for safe street designs and real protected bike lanes.

  • Sean Hussey

    If the city is worried about getting sued for leaving in safety measures, then sue the city for taking them out.

  • RichLL

    The irony is that Market Street is the most calmed, policed and micro-managed road environment in the city. No road in SF has as many restrictions as Market Street. And there are physical barriers, paint indicators, soft posts, profuse signage, forced turns, banned turns and even special light sequences for bikes. All of which makes driving on Market Street a nightmare.

    And yet even with all of that, accidents still happen. The question therefore has to be raised. If all this road design does not prevent accidents, then what would?

  • Christopher Childs

    A lot of this micromanagement relies on driver cooperation… In other words, people could start with reading and obeying the signs. The person driving probably should not have been in that spot.

    http://hoodline.com/2016/07/final-turn-restrictions-coming-to-5th-market has a picture outlining legal movements on or across Market. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see how you get from 8th to 7th eastbound like the accident picture shown above on anything but a truck, bus, taxi, or bike.

  • mx

    I believe anybody can make a legal right turn onto EB Market from 9th but you can only go as far (legally) as the mandatory right turn off Market at 6th. Or you can, of course, ignore the signs like many drivers do.

    I do see a lot of confused drivers in this area. Some blow past the signs because they don’t care, but a decent number seem to be unfamiliar with the area, utterly confused, stressed out, and are way too busy trying to figure out where they are, where they’re going, and what all the signs say rather than watching the road around them.

    I’d like to see a design that’s more intuitive, with barriers that stop people from doing things they aren’t supposed to do rather than relying on yet more signs.

  • jd_x

    So sick of hearing this kind of news. Can’t this bicyclist sue the city for negligence? Is GJEL (https://www.gjel.com/tag/bike-accidents) out there in the ether and maybe could comment on this? i think it’s going to take lawsuits to get the SFMTA to get off their ass and start providing truly safe bicycle infrastructure now, not in 2 or 3 years.

    A few easy fixes for Market until we get protected bicycle lanes (which you’re going to give us next year or so, right SFMTA?!?!). This literally could be implemented in at most months if the City really wants to prioritize the safety of bicyclists over the convenience of motorists.

    1) Buses must be forced to stay in the center/left lane (unless turning, of course) and board/de-board at the platforms. Buses crossing over to the curbside lane to board/de-board is ridiculously dangerous for bicyclists, especially since many MUNI bus drivers will blast pass bicyclists and then cut right directly in front of them to get to the curbside bus stop or to make a right turn rather than incurring a delay of 5 extra seconds by waiting behind bicyclists.

    2) SFPD: enforce moving violations that particularly endanger bicyclists (and pedestrians). This includes motorists not following the turn restrictions, violating the 3-foot law, right-hooking, making illegal U-turns, driving in the green protected bike lanes … in addition to the Focus on Five violations. This also includes MUNI bus drivers. Oh, and stop parking your damn cruisers in the bike lane. At least *try* to act like you aren’t ridiculously biased against bicyclists.

    3) SFMTA: enforce double-parking, especially in the bike lanes. Zero warnings: you see somebody there, start writing the ticket but get their license number first thing in case they drive off. If you just warn drivers for double-parking, even if they’re only there for 10 seconds, it will never stop. Only when drivers know that a PCO just needs get *sight* of them stopped in the bike lane and they will get a parking ticket, only then we will truly see behavior change.

    And you know what is a disgrace to your credibility, especially in light of your Vision Zero talk that isn’t backed up by action, this data (see image). How can you possible justify enforcing violations that have almost no bearing on road safety like street cleaning, meter compliance, neighborhood permits, etc at rates many times over those violations that actually create unsafe conditions like double-parking and parking in the bike lane? You need a Focus on Five like the SFPD that re-prioritizes how you enforce parking violations such that they have the most public safety benefit (and yes, there is just as much money in these violations as the others, so don’t worry: you will still get the revenue you want). How have you not figured out that you need to prioritize enforcement towards safety? How can you be so tone deaf? It gives zero confidence you actually understand Vision Zero.

    Also, tell and train your employees not to park in bike lanes. And if they still do, punish them sufficiently so that it provides sufficient motivation to not do it again. No exceptions.

    4) Where the curbside lane narrows near the center boarding platforms and hence cars, buses, delivery vehicles, and bicyclists (hey, who is the vulnerable one here even if they make vroom vroom noises with their mouth?) are squeezed together, add speed bumps that will bottom out a car but that are gradual enough to allow easy bicycling over. And put up huge signs and paint on the ground that tell drivers that they need to *yield* to bicyclists. None of this “share the road” crap: there’s no sharing when you have nothing to share since cars clearly dominate the road space; what needs to happen is that the motorists need to give way. If you really need to drive on Market, then you really need to yield to all other modes of transit.

    5) Why can’t we get a green wave for the traffic lights on Market? I expect there is some timing for the lights on roads that cross Market, but you know what: if you’re really “transit first”, that takes a back seat to prioritizing transit and bicyclists down Market. Of course, there is no evidence that you actually want to prioritize transit, bicycling, and walking over the automobile, but it’s high-time to start trying a little better otherwise, once again, your “transit first” slogan just makes you lose credibility.

  • Christopher Childs

    Right, if you haven’t driven there before, and you’re used to roads that mostly just let you through, you’re in for a real treat. I didn’t show any sympathy in my original post for this fact, but the road is definitely hostile to anyone who doesn’t already know what they’re doing.

    Signs seem to be frequently placed in spots that will tell you only at the last minute that you’re going to screw up, and the way in which you’re going to do it is illegible.

  • jd_x
  • jd_x

    Agree, but that is never an excuse for not seeing bicyclists and pedestrians. If you’re going to drive 2 tons of machinery with a couple hundred horsepower available at the twitch of a foot and all your senses dulled by the metal cage which surrounds you, then the responsibility is on you to slow way the hell down, always signal your turns (and if you’re about to miss a turn, you don’t suddenly jerk a turn but just have to deal with missing it and going around the block), turn off the music, and check your blind spots religiously. But god forbid we ask those driving such dangerous machinery to actually act like they are driving dangerous machinery. In an urban space that has some of the densest concentrations of public transit in the country, no less, which they could be using instead of driving.

  • Gilla

    The timidity of the SFMTA is the problem. It’s time for them to develop a backbone.

  • RichLL

    Agreed, Christopher. Part of the paradox I referred to is that the most “calmed” road in SF actually increases stress in drivers, elevating the risk for everyone.

    I never use Market. If I drive downtown I either use Mission or Bush. People driving down Market may well be tourists or folks from the suburbs.

  • cj

    I am a muni bus driver as well as a commuter cyclists. I drive and ride on Market st. When I drive, I let the cyclists stay ahead but I also get ahead when it is safe to do so. Often times I would see cyclists leave the dedicated bike lanes to pass up the traffic or they are riding on the center lanes even center division of South and North of Market. Lots of car drivers are on their phones and they do whatever they want on Market, illegal left turns, U-turn, blowing past red lights, stopping wherever they feel like. I also skateboarders who think they are just like the cyclist. The numerous jaywalkers who run or unsure when to run or walk. My bike commute segment of Market is between page and 11th and I get terrified.

  • gneiss

    It took the SFMTA four years to plan and build 0.5 blocks of raised bike lanes on Valencia Street. It too them 17 years to plan and build the 3 blocks of semi-protected bike lanes on Oak and Fell Streets. The Masonic project was fully funded in 2013 and we just this summer are breaking ground there. Is it any wonder why safety advocates are taking matters into their own hands?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fef0a9e4441033d5fce2b9605911c73d1e12df8ae07426d059ec41545fdfc1ec.png

  • TransBayTube

    I think the statistics are actually under reported. I’ve been in two crashes as a cyclist. The first involved a motorcycle doing an illegal turn in front of me and I flipped over the back of his bike. No damage to me, but it was greater than 5 mph. In the second, I stopped at a 3 way stop sign, proceeded to make my left turn, and the car on my left didn’t bother to look right. He gunned the intersection after the most brief of stops and I ended up sliding over the hood of his car. I’m guessing he was going over 5 mph, not sure if I was. I had a cut on my finger and a slightly bent rim. If EMS or SFPD had been called, I’m guessing I would have qualified under this criteria.

  • PaleoBruce

    So, one half of the new $1 Billion trauma center is devoted to taking care of the injuries caused by motorists. Isn’t this half a billion just another example of subsidizing automobile usage? Could that money have been better spent elsewhere?

  • RichLL

    The article did not say “caused by motorists”. It said “caused by traffic”. That would include injury accidents caused by buses, streetcars and bikes.

  • Rick

    Market Street is only one of the many unsafe streets for cyclists of course (Divisadero! Geary! Masonic! ). I don’t bike (physical/medical issues) so I drive. I am so stressed by the roadways, people’s behaviors and general amount of traffic of all kinds on the streets. I pay close attention ,defer to bikes, pedestrians and skateboards, I’ve slowed it down and try very hard to be as safe as possible. I still worry. I applaud any effort to make things safer and every urgent, immediate steps the City can and should take!

  • Jimbo

    how are you subsidizing them? are you paying for their hospital stays?

  • RichLL

    Market, Divis, Geary and Masonic are obviously vehicle-friendly arterial routes, and of course the city has to have some of those. The better question is why there are cyclists on any of them (Market aside, where they have massive infrastructural support, but still never enough, evidently)?

    In a city that truly was 100% safe and accident free, would any business get done? Put another way, what is an acceptable casualty rate for an economically successful city that can afford that billion?

  • Corvus Corax

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e427d1d4f4b68ebeb75c8c3364508dd268bf39d2c3e00b370c1130465bcad6e0.jpg

    VisionZero has a webpage comparing the citations of the first quarters of 2015 and 2016 by Supervisorial District. It is a sad irony that in almost all districts the number of citations actually decreased. So much for VisionZero.

  • Rick

    Driving those “vehicle friendly arteries” I often wonder to myself: why is there a bicyclist on here? It’s so dangerous! But, who knows.

  • RichLL

    Yeah, I saw a guy today riding a bike on Divis with “no hands”. In fact he was waving them in the air.

    I held back behind him just to keep him protected and, fortunately he turned right. But I’m guessing his life expectancy isn’t high.

  • Rick

    waving his arms, talking on his phone and no helmet? I may have seen him. LOL

  • PaleoBruce

    San Francisco residents paid for the construction of the new trauma center, Prop A in 2008, $900 million. And half of its use is to serve people injured by traffic accidents. Wow.

    http://www.smartvoter.org/2008/11/04/ca/sf/prop/A/

  • PaleoBruce

    Fair enough, different types of vehicles including buses, streetcars and bikes. Though data says that 96% of the accidents are caused by drivers of cars and trucks.

    https://www.chp.ca.gov/InformationManagementDivisionSite/Documents/2013-sec3.pdf

  • RichLL

    OK, so your big idea is to remove 96% of traffic so that you don’t have to worry about a 1/100,000 chance of being involved in an accident?

    Do you believe that you have the votes for that? If not, what is your back-up plan for convincing the silent majority of non-cyclists to be massively inconvenienced?

  • Corvus Corax

    Why is it so dangerous? Does it run alongside a cliff? Are there bears waiting to pounce on some hapless cyclist? Or could it possibly be because so many drivers think they own it, that cyclists should think themselves lucky that they are allowed on any street?

  • RichLL

    Rick wasn’t commenting on the right of a cyclist to use a busy, fast 6-lane highway but rather the prudence of it.

  • City Resident

    Yes. We all are (in the form of Medicare, Medi-Cal, Healthy SF, Healthy Kids, state and federal subsidies to hospitals for providing emergency care to the indigent, etc.).

  • @RichLL – There is nothing particularly “micromanaged” about this stretch of Market, so no “irony” is involved. It’s a simple straight stretch with a wide field of vision, precisely the opposite of “calming.”

  • RichLL

    But the alleged “subsidy” isn’t going to drivers, so it’s misleading to phrase it that way. It goes to those who need treatment, which includes drivers of course, but also many non-drivers as well.

  • RichLL

    Nonsense. As stated Market Street has been massively re-engineered like no other street in the city. If you don’t believe me, try driving along it.

  • @RichLL – I am referring to this stretch of Market. rif.org

  • @PaleoBruce – One would think that a frequent drive-by commenter like @JImbo would have a working knowledge of the rudiments of motoring subsidy, it has been pointed out in drect replies to him often enough. Then again, one of the key works in the field had the title, Automobile Dependence and Denial, so it should be no surprise that we’re seeing the denial.

    A coauthor of that work, Stanley Hart, analyzed the costs inflicted by motorists on public services: 40% of the police budget, 14% of the fire budget, and 16% of EMS (these are the cost of collisions, not the additional impact of pollution). Since then, we have started sending fire engines out with ambulances, so costs are higher.

    Plus, of course, half of the 2008 Prop A costs, and of the decades of debt service, since that was a bond measure.

  • City Resident

    Prevention.

  • Chris J.

    I’m so happy to hear that there are bus drivers that are also cyclists. Thank you for doing both!

  • Chris J.

    Reiskin’s logic avoids the question:

    “The risk of installing non-approved street designs, whether or not they’re considered safe informally, is that the city may be opened up to lawsuits…”

    At issue is why they’re so promptly removing them over using resources to make streets safer.

  • Guy Ross

    Yes, absolutely. Because no one actually pays directly for the services rendered, society pays – all of us through insurance premiums and loss of productivity.

  • John R.

    Between the Embarcadero and 8th St., Market St. does not have anything like “Massive infrastructural support.” In fact, aside from a few turn restrictions for private autos, and useless “sharrows” stenciled on the street, it barely has any cycling infrastructure at all. Between 8th and Dolores, it is adequate, with green bike lanes, painted buffers, some soft-hit posts, bike boxes, vehicle traffic restrictions, turning procedures at Valencia, etc. Between Dolores and Castro it is still just a matter of white stripes forming narrow bike lanes. What one might call “Massive infrastructural support” would be fully protected bike lanes, bike traffic signals, infrastructure at intersections to protect cyclists from turning vehicle traffic, management of transit traffic, etc.

  • PaleoBruce

    > 1/100,000 chance of being involved in an accident?

    I would like to know what that ‘chance’ number really might be. Googling it for very round numbers I see 4K annual traffic accident injuries and a population of 800K. That ratio is 1/200 which is not even close to your 1/100,000 number.

    I personally have been hit by unlawful motorists twice in the last decade, thankfully never being hospitalized, but both time being knocked down to the pavement. So, your 1/100,000 number seems wildly wrong.

    > the silent majority of non-cyclists to be massively inconvenienced?

    Why frame this as a bicycle war? The majority of traffic injuries are motorists injuring other motorists anyway. And asking a motorist cohort to take responsibility for their own actions is hardly an inconvenience.

    We all should be thankful for that Billion dollar trauma center I suppose, even if non-motorists pay for more than their share of the damage caused.

  • farazs

    As a cyclist/driver I try to stay out of the way of buses as much as possible, including where necessary slowing down to let them get ahead or allowing them to merge after a stop. I think we all benefit from yielding priority to mass transit, in a way that few people, whether cycling or driving, fully appreciate.

    It is unfortunate that we don’t have conversations about various unsafe practices you mentioned – without being dragged in to ‘war-on-cars’ rhetoric or victim-blaming deflections. Safety should be the shared responsibility of everyone – not necessarily in equal parts, but to each their fair share.

  • dat

    Cool story bro.

  • Mike

    To be more accurate, Mission/Valencia is not an SFMTA project. The 0.5 block of raised bike lane was added as part of a coordination opportunity to a larger, more complex PUC project which is driving the schedule. http://sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=657 And regarding Masonic, that is the nature of larger scale streetscape projects, especially when they also include work on underground infrastructure like water and sewer lines. It simply takes time to fully design everything, package it in a contract, advertise, award, then build.

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