Eyes on the Street: Hey Driver, Look, I Got the Light!

_1.jpgPhotos: Bryan Goebel

The one-way traffic sewers around my neighborhood on Sutter Street in the Tendernob (aka Lower Nob Hill) encourage speeding, so as you can imagine, there are constant near-misses by drivers intent on ignoring the pedestrian right-of-way. What you see in the photo above happened Monday evening on Sutter Street at Jones, as I was taking a leisurely stroll through one of the densest neighborhoods on the West Coast.  

An impatient young SUV driver trying to go left onto Jones boils over with anger, throwing his hands up behind the wheel, as a pedestrian, a man who looked like a senior from my vantage point, slowly crosses the street in the crosswalk and points to the green light to illustrate to the driver that he has the right-of-way. The driver, as cranky as he was, did eventually let the man cross before he screeched down Jones Street.

These photos make me angry and sad. I look forward to the day when our traffic engineers and political leaders can begin to seriously rethink one-way arterials. Let’s breath life back into our streets instead of noise, pollution and carnage.

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  • I have more then a couple intersections that I could post up at in North Beach. The amount of speed people get between those short blocks is amazing, but I guess it helps when you never fully stop or when you do it is half way into the intersection.

  • orson

    If this *doesn’t* happen to me crossing the street in San Francisco, I consider myself lucky. Drivers in this town consider pedestrians inconveniences at best, and the infrastructure does nothing to discourage them.

  • mcas

    While I generally believe we can build streets to induce comfort and sanity– this is really more of an ‘education/encouragement’ thing– we need to civilize our streets and make sure people on ALL modes recognize that the streets are public spaces, and just as you would never find it OK to yell at someone in a park for ‘getting in your way’ the same applies to streets and sidewalks.

    This is really about civility and respect for your neighbors– why does transportation seem to turn so many people into monsters so easily and allow us to feel justified in yelling at someone who would otherwise be our neighbor? (FWIW, I’m fully aware I fall in this category myself occasionally, but when I step back and think, it baffles me…)

  • As bad as it seems, when you step back and compare to the rest of California and the U.S., San Francisco is actually relatively one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities, with some of the most aware and respectful drivers regarding pedestrian and bicycle right-of-way. Isn’t this one of the reasons why people move here? In most other places, you’re more likely to just not be seen and get hit, or get brushed by aggressively. Yes, we should keep striving for progress, but also sometimes remember to appreciate it.

  • This is one driver not respecting the pedestrian and the law. Does it really worth a blog post? Does it reflect a general pattern or is it just one incident of conflict?

    And I continue to be baffled by the claim that one-way street is something bad. This post is not even relevant to one-way street. The guy is making a left turn here?!

  • Wai – he’s making a left off a one way onto a one way, which can be done on red as long as the crosswalk is clear. But the crosswalk isn’t clear.

  • Vincent

    One-way streets are a safe design for all road users. The issue here, as mcas and Wai point out, is the attitude of drivers. Many drivers just don’t respect other road users, particularly the more vulnerable ones such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

    I’ll back up my assertion that one-way streets are safe. As a pedestrian, you only need to worry about traffic in one direction. Also, on a two-way street when a driver is making a left, they are usually only looking at oncoming traffic for a gap. All too often, drivers will gun it and nearly hit a ped crossing in the crosswalk. One-way streets eliminate this. They also eliminate the potential for a vehicle-vehicle collision during a left turn.

    I think a lot of the hate one-way streets engender is because they have a high capacity. The capacity can be reduced without going to the extreme of converting them to two-way. There are just too many disadvantages of going to two-way.

  • Check out this video I shot just yesterday around 6pm at Main and Harrison streets … about 1 minute 08 seconds into it, the poor pedestrian is trying to fend off some over-eager driver wanting to get to the Bay Bridge entry off of Harrison (at 1st) and not paying attention to pedestrians – hard to see pedestrians when there is chaos and no sense of order at this intersection anyway. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1Y0KVgnkUI

    I’d like to start a campaign to kill the right turn onto Main Street from Folsom and onto Spear Street from Folsom on Monday through Friday, 3pm – 7pm to help the situation without involving DPT (as if we have money for that anyway, ha). I also want to stick four-way stops and a speed limit ratcheting down to about 25MPH throughout SoMa. You know where you can find me if you’d like to join in my effort … RinconHillSF.org

  • @John, actually both of them have green light. The car should yield to pedestrian for sure.

    A lot more relevant story is drivers trying to make a right turn in red light, looking intensely to the traffic coming from the left trying to find a 0.5s gap when he slam on the gas pedal to accelerate without paying attention to pedestrian on the right crossing the street. I have many experience like this. I have learned to be wary of the driver despite I have the green light. I think this would be a better story to write rather than a one off incident like this.

  • mushmouth

    I’m not sure what the issue is. If the guy turning has a red light, than the pedestrian is crossing against the red light (jaywalking) and the vehicle has right of way to make the legal left turn after stop (two one ways can make a legal left on a red light after a complete stop). If the SUV has a green light, than he waited for the pedestrian to complete slowly crossing before he went. Who cares if he “seemed impatient”, who knows maybe he had indigestion, or was reenacting a scene from “Star Wars Send in the Clones” with John Williams style conducting.

  • @Vincent, I haven’t read you comment when I responded. But it is interesting that comment #7, #8, #9 have described 3 different scenarios of hazard for pedestrian crossing the street. The common theme is danger due to chaos of traffic coming from multiple directions at the same time. On one-way streets the traffic pattern is actually a lot simpler.

  • ZA

    @Wai and John Murphy –

    I’ve seen this one way turn onto another one way problem over and over again. Pedestrians are the most common people at risk in these situations. In other locations, such as along Howard Street, in a series of lights, the first red is frequently missed…sometimes blocking the ‘keep clear’ area in front of the Fire Department.

    The start of a solution is relatively simple: “no left on red” signs. Other measures, as appropriate.

  • Wai, I don’t think this is a one off incident. Both have green lights, and both want the right away. Seems pretty common to me.

    Vincint, you forgot speed. One-way streets create an environment where drivers speed up. Usually they have wide lanes and with all traffic going the same direction, you get a sort of race effect. One ways are dangerous in many other ways too, but the most obvious is the one that killed a woman last year (?). The inside car stopped for her but a car coming up from behind slid over a lane and gunned it.

    I’m with Jamie on slowing SoMa down. No longer is SoMa just a fast, convenient way to get commuters out of the financial district. It is a vibrant neighborhood that is growing by the day. The one way sewers are choked at rush hours and are speed ways during off hours. Also, it is apparently the closest thing we can get to third world driving chaos.

  • Nick

    This happens to me all the time on 19th Avenue. I blame those evil demand-activated countdown signals.

    Imagine you reach the corner just as the light turns green. You walk into the crosswalk with the full green light. Then motorists start honking and swerving around you. They point at the red hand which indicates “Don’t Walk”.

    So all of a sudden the pedestrian is the bad guy. The scofflaw. The motorist is justified in treating them badly. Thank you City and County of San Francisco.

  • Sean H

    One place I found that one way streets work is the East Village in NYC. Most of the numbered EW ‘streets’ are one way, and jaywalking is ever present. But they are very narrow. I do agree that capacity is the major problem. A cheap way to increase capacity during peaks is the 3-7pm towaway, which probably makes money for the city. But I do advocate for larger sidewalks and only one side with parking, like Pacific Ave. Stockton St and Grant Ave’s sidewalks are laughably small so a handful of cars can park.

  • Many drivers in my neighborhood are constantly speeding up Sutter Street, and when it comes time for them to turn, they’re on a speed high, and get extremely impatient because they have to wait for a pedestrian to cross. I have had many a close call, and been flipped off, when I’ve had the right-of-way. Sutter is a one-way and so is Jones, like most of the streets in this area. I realize a lot of our readers have become used to full-length stories, but the point of short Eyes on the Street posts like this is to highlight what’s happening on the streets, and then let the dialogue ensue. My camera caught something that happens frequently everywhere. If we don’t talk about it, which media outlet will? I urge a rethink on one-ways with heavy and even medium capacity because there is an imbalance that favors automobiles over other users. They are dangerous for vulnerable users. I agree wholeheartedly with mcas about respect and attitude toward each other. But for many drivers, that’s not even a consideration when they’re darting up or down a street that by its mere design encourages speed.

  • I think this is a great feature and does shed light on things not touched by other outlets. Keep up the good work Bryan.

  • redcatbicycliste

    Major American cities, which have lots of folks getting about using their legs and feet, should not allow drivers to make rights on the red light. When you get a red light, you should stop; there should be no thought allowed to appear in your mind that you can continue to move your car when you have a red light. Because drivers are allowed to make rights on the red, I notice that too many make lefts on red, too. This behaviour is ridiculous. The planning of our streets should be prioritized for the slowest movers on them, which are pedestrians, then bicyclists, then buses, then all the damn bloody cars and trucks. Cars and trucks should be given the lowest priority.

    I think one-way streets are good. As someone said above, as a pedestrian you only have to “worry” about the vehicular traffic coming from one direction, which is much easier on one’s mind. However, the one-way streets in San Francisco are too, too, too wide for cars: They can accommodate two, three, four lanes of traffic, which look like, to the drivers, freeway lanes that they are “free” to speed along non-stop. The sidewalks need to be widened on all these wide-for-the-cars one-way streets. SF sidewalks should be boulevard width.

  • redcatbicycliste

    Oh, in regard to my previous comment (#18), I was aware, when I wrote the comment, that the driver and the pedestrian (in the photos above) both have the green light. Nonetheless, a right on a red light should be illegal in this city.

  • Nick

    I love the “Eyes on the Street” pieces. I’d almost say they aren’t frequent enough. Take a visit over to NY Streetsblog sometime. They have (or had) a feature called the “Weekly Carnage”. I’d say our feature is more thought provoking.

  • Sam berdoux

    The problem is that drivers view intersections as opportunities to save time, rather than places where others may want to cross the street. On seeing a person walking to a crossing, most drivers will race to the intersection, so that their presence makes it unsafe to cross and thus gives the vehicle the right of way. Nothing short of a massive crackdown on pedestrian violations by law enforcement will change this attitude, which I must admit is also prevalent among a significant number of my fellow cyclists.

  • Better Infrastructure

    In Montréal, right turns on red are forbidden. This actually makes things dramatically safer, as many of the large arterials have 2-way cycle tracks on the right side. If it weren’t for this prohibition, there would be very dangerous conditions indeed for cyclists stuck in the track with right turners crossing over their path.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    The correct response in these situations is depicted here:

  • FL

    Maybe I’ve been lucky or I’m walking in the wrong places, but I haven’t had that much of a problem with drivers flipping me off because I’m crossing the street with the green light. I will go out on a limb and even say SF has some of the more courteous drivers compared to other cities I’ve been to. I’m not discounting this as a problem, but I think this is an example of a driver that needs to be seriously re-educated or taken off the road if he can’t understand that turning drivers must yield to pedestrians if both have a green light.

    Vincent – I completely agree with your points about 1-way streets. I don’t buy the argument that 1-way streets are more dangerous. Mikesonn points to speed, but there is speeding on 2-way streets too. In fact, I bet there is just as much if not more speeding on 2-way streets. It depends on the amount of vehicles and the signal timing. Since signals are timed for 25MPH, I doubt drivers will gain much by speeding since they will arrive at each intersection at a red light.

    Jamie – The city does NOT need more 4-way stops, especially in the SoMA area. Stop signs don’t work at slowing people down. It only gives them another sign to ignore. That’s the reason why stop signs are so useless these days. Too many of them are placed at intersections that don’t need them.

  • Stop signs don’t slow vehicles down compared to traffic lights? Hmmm… I beg to disagree.

  • Speed humps work better than stop signs. You need a few speed humps in each block (two to four, depending on the length of the block) so drivers maintain a steady, moderate speed (rather than stopping at intersections and speeding up between intersections).

    Of course, it is also important to convert one-way streets to two-way.

  • Dave

    I urge a bit of caution before returning all streets to two-way. Think of the goal before jumping to that as the solution.

    Goals =
    1. safe, slow, car traffic (for pedestrian safety)
    2. safe, convenient bicycle travel
    3. reasonably fast routes for buses

    Given the need (dare I say) to preserve an amount of car capacity (substantially less than what is provided today, but still), I think we may be able to convert a great deal more space to wider sidewalks and bike lanes by maintaining their one-way aspect but slowing the speeds to 15-18 mph.

    Just sayin’.

  • There do exist one-way streets that are pleasant places for pedestrians and bicyclists alike, and I wouldn’t mind having more like them in San Francisco. But I am thinking of streets in Hyde Park in Chicago like Ellis, University, and Dorchester, with 28 to 32 feet between curbs, striped as two parking lanes and one travel lane. Are there one-way streets wider than that that work well?


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