On Tuesday, March 1, at noon, advocates for vulnerable road users will hold a memorial for Thu Phan, a woman who was killed by a city vehicle while she was crossing the street at 7th and Market in her motorized wheel chair. The memorial will be held at UN Plaza, adjacent to the crossing where she was hit. Afterwards, participants will walk to City Hall to testify at 1 pm at the SFMTA Board Meeting. 38-year-old Phan of Berkeley was fatally struck on the morning of Friday, Feb. 5, by a white Ford sedan making a restricted left turn across the crosswalk.
The turn was restricted to commercial and Muni vehicles. Although the car was owned by the city and was driven by an employee of a city clinic, it was not permitted to make that turn, despite conflicting reports at the time of the incident.
“It has been confirmed that city drivers are not exempt from traffic laws,” said Jessica Lehman, Executive Director of Senior and Disability Action, an advocacy group. However, trucks, taxis, and Muni vehicles are held to a different standard at that intersection.
It’s hard to imagine how a turn can be unsafe for private vehicles, but safe for everyone else. Is someone less dead if they’re hit by a taxi or a truck? Also, in defense of motorists, the intersection is confusing. Imagine being in the lane behind a bus, which makes the turn, and a cab, which makes the turn, and a truck, which makes the turn. How can a driver at the back of that queue, ideally watching out for pedestrians and other vulnerable users, also be expected to read a list of allowed and not-allowed vehicles and figure out what applies? The sign is a driver distraction. Safe street advocates intend to use the memorial to demand fewer exemptions from that turning restriction.
“It’s a ridiculous thing,” said Lehman, adding that she still does not think “confusion is an excuse for any driver making an illegal turn.” That said, both Lehman and Nicole Ferrara, her counterpart at Walk San Francisco, want the city to take a look at the engineering of that turn and how it can be made safer.