Eyes on the Street: Hit-and-Run Intersection Hazardous to Pedestrians

3816698732_dc7b4b8a26.jpgA pedestrian crosses Van Ness Avenue, wary of a driver who seemingly intends to switch into the left lane. Photos: Bryan Goebel

Details are still trickling in about last Tuesday’s hit-and-run crash near the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and California Street that left a 31-year-old San Francisco woman in the hospital with life-threatening injuries, but a visit to the intersection revealed plenty of hazards to pedestrians that could easily result in future injuries.

Crossing Van Ness was made especially harrowing by cars blocking the crosswalk, with some drivers seeming intent on changing lanes to move forward, as pedestrians weaved between bumpers to reach the opposite sidewalk. The crosswalk paint was worn to the point of appearing striped instead of solid, which might contribute to motorists’ disregard for the crosswalk space.

MTA spokesperson Judson True said pedestrian countdown signals have
been installed recently at many intersections on Van Ness, but they’ve
yet to be added at Van Ness and California. "We’re also going to take a look at the crossing time for pedestrians," said True, who added the MTA is looking into the possibility of "an all-red pedestrian head-start at the intersection."

As Manish Champsee of Walk San Francisco points out, the intersection is very wide, with rounded corners, creating a dangerous situation for pedestrians.

Pi Ra of the Senior Action Network agrees. "It’s a very wide street, one of your traffic sewage lines," said Ra. "It’s designed for cars. That’s a design flaw." Ultimately, he said, "It’s just not pedestrian friendly."

It’s not that the MTA has simply overlooked pedestrian needs on Van Ness, said Champsee. The problem may be that Van Ness is scheduled for major pedestrian improvements with Bus Rapid Transit hopefully on the way, which might discourage major changes from being made in the meantime. That’s not likely to begin happening until 2012 or 2013, so Van Ness could have to wait several years to see changes.

See more pictures of the intersection’s hazards and read about what’s being done after the jump.

3815887015_dab01cb22a.jpgIt’s a wide street, and pedestrians often find themselves out of time when they cross.

One significant change already has happened: as of January 1st of this year, Van Ness Avenue from Golden Gate Street to Lombard Street is a double-fine zone. Along with 19th Avenue in the Sunset, all traffic fines are doubled in the area, as a result of legislation introduced by State Senator Leland Yee. Current statistics for Van Ness weren’t available, but 19th Avenue has already seen a major drop in collisions.

The catch, said Champsee, is that Van Ness is the baseline for the double-fine zone experiment, while 19th Avenue is receiving many additional safety enhancements. On 19th Avenue, said Champsee, "there’s going to be more police presence. There’s going to be some streetscape improvements, and stuff like that. Then what they want to do is kind of compare what happened along 19th Avenue with what happened along Van Ness. The hope is, between the two, they will figure out what the effect of the double-fine zone was relative to other factors."

Some pedestrian-friendly features do exist at Van Ness and California: two corners have small bulbouts, and the medians on Van Ness have pedestrian refuges, a necessity given the width of the intersection. Without knowing the full details of Tuesday’s hit-and-run crash, it’s impossible to attribute it to the engineering of the intersection. As Ra points out, even if the motorist wasn’t at fault, "some people just panic and take off" anyway. But the question remains open as to what can be done right away to prevent further injuries.

3815885843_1004e6c94b.jpgA pedestrian takes refuge on the median.

  • jwb

    It used to be SFMTA’s position that pedestrian safety improvements were impossible on Van Ness without the cooperation of Caltrans. They said they could not install pedestrian countdown signals anywhere on Van Ness, that they would have to wait for Caltrans to do it. Subsequently, pedestrian countdown signals appeared here and there, mostly in the vicinity of City Hall. Were these installed by Caltrans? Who is going to install them at California? Is it now possible for SFMTA to take unilateral action to improve safety on Van Ness?

  • Karen

    I’ve had many near misses at that intersection, and they often involve cars speeding down Van Ness and running red lights. (Folks going east on California also seem to run that light a lot.)

    I realize an officer can’t park there all day and night (to either discourage light-runners or ticket them), but it seems like a good place for some additional enforcement. I hope that doesn’t have to wait for a study comparing Van Ness and 19th Ave. to be completed.

  • brooke

    A few more seconds of all-red time would help clear the intersection before pedestrians start to cross. In general, I think most of SF’s intersections should have a longer all-red phase for bicycle and pedestrian safety.

  • Crossed California at Van Ness on my bike yesterday, and felt pretty uncomfortable doing so. The two lanes of cars merging eastbound on the east side of Van Ness made me feel pretty worried on my bike.

  • Nick

    I did a fact-finding mission on this and here are my results:

    There were 11 Hit-and-Run incidents this year within a one block radius of this intersection:

    Jan 20, 2009 (with injuries)
    Jan 31
    Feb 22 (with injuries)
    Feb 28
    March 7
    April 19
    May 20
    June 26
    June 27
    July 24
    April 11 (with injuries)

    And there were over 90 vehcile accidents withinin the same parameters. Do the math and you will find that 12% of accidents result in the suspect vechile fleeing the scene.

    If the MTA is listening, we don’t like those odds.



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