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Bicycle Safety

Is the Signal Timing Dangerous at the New Market/Church/14th Crosswalk?

Looking west at the new crosswalk on the north side of Market Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA opened a new crosswalk this week along Market Street across the three-way intersection with 14th and Church Streets, eliminating the need for people to cross in a longer two-step phase. The crosswalk, which comes as part of the ongoing Church and Duboce Track Improvement Project, was installed along with a new right-turn vehicle signal to create a safe window in the traffic sequence for pedestrians to cross.

But Streetsblog reader Joel Franquist says he witnessed the aftermath of a car crash which he believes was caused by a flaw in the new traffic signal sequence, and he's concerned that it will continue to create a risky situation for people walking, biking, and driving through the intersection:

The new right turn arrow is for drivers turning off Market to go west on 14th St. (or north on Church). These drivers used to go with the with the rest of the traffic on Market, which meant there was a 10-second gap before Church got the green (during which drivers going east on 14th got the green light). Now these cars proceed immediately before the cars on Church do. There are actually a lot of these cars because 14th leads directly to Roosevelt and destinations such as Ashbury Heights.

I started observing the intersection [Thursday] around 4:30 pm, and noticed that just about EVERY time the light turns green for Church, there are still cars crossing Church headed for 14th on the new arrow light. Often these cars are still on the other side of Church when the light changes. Everyone on Church -- drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists -- doesn't have a good view of these cars coming off Market, especially if they are behind a J that's boarding passengers.

The new crosswalk (not shown) connects corners along Market Street, completing the triangle across both 14th and Church. The new right-turn signal controls westbound vehicle traffic along Market turning right onto Church or 14th. Image: Google Maps

It was easy to predict that there would be an accident if someone going southbound on Church simply went without looking when the light changed green. And sure enough, when I went out again around 6, there had been exactly this type of accident. A car coming south on Church had broadsided a car headed toward 14th. The car that was hit happened to be a UCSF Police car. The accident caused closure of 14th Westbound and one land of Church southbound, backups on all three streets, and a re-route of the 37 bus.

The problem is a dangerous one and will result in more accidents if not fixed. The new timing is especially dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians coming south on Church and crossing 14th St., or for bicyclists headed for 14th with the right turn arrow. If the UCSF Police car had been a bicyclist, the rider would probably be dead, and it would not be his or her fault.

It's true that drivers who end up blocking Church mostly enter the intersection on the yellow or red arrow. But they are encouraged to chance it because the light only lasts ten seconds. And when the problem happens nearly EVERY time the light cycles, then the timing needs to be changed. Also, it can happen to a driver who goes on the green, if the car in front of them is turning into Church and is delayed by pedestrians legally crossing Church.

You might be wondering what the change was supposed to accomplish. Well, the change means that pedestrians crossing 14th can now proceed most of the time, instead only when Church has the light. And the city opened a new crosswalk that allows pedestrians to cross both 14th an Church on one light, instead of having to wait for two lights. (The new crosswalk couldn't previously exist because it would not have been safe at any time.) So the new setup is more pedestrian-friendly (at least if cars obey the lights).

There were also numerous cases this evening of drivers simply running the right turn arrow while red, and pedestrians crossing Market stepping in front of the cars turning off Market onto 14th. However, much of that will presumably lessen as regular users of the intersection become used to the changes. And some of that confusion also predates the changes. It's a complicated intersection, and will always confuse some people.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency "will continue to monitor the situation and make any necessary adjustments."

Have you visited the intersection since the change? Share your observations in the comments.

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