SFPD Cites Light-Running Driver in Crash at Speed-Plagued Oak and Octavia

Photos: A Kittiyachavalit/Twitter

The SFPD cited a driver for running a red light at Oak Street and Octavia Boulevard on Tuesday night, then crashing into a van and sending three vehicle occupants to the hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the blue Infiniti was traveling north on Octavia when he broadsided the van and sent it into a utility pole, which flipped the van over onto its side.

The intersection is known for high-speed vehicle crashes and light-running drivers, and neighbors have been asking the SFMTA for years to re-configure it and other Hayes Valley intersections to reduce the danger posed by high-volume, high-speed motor traffic. Just last month, a Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association meeting focused on street safety fixes, where D5 Supervisor London Breed told Hoodline that she “got an earful about some of the challenges around traffic in the area,” noting that “we’re hoping to implement some changes sooner rather than later.”

Much of the discussion at the meeting “centered around the contrast of drivers’ freeway on- and off-ramp mentality with the residential nature of the neighborhood,” Hoodline reported. “One concerned mother noted that children play at Patricia’s Green while drivers barrel north up Octavia.”

Oak and Octavia saw a particularly horrific crash in 2011, when a car-carrier truck hit a UCSF shuttle van — the driver of which reportedly ran a red light while traveling eastbound on Oak. Dr. Kevin Mack was ejected from the UCSF van and killed.

The SFMTA said at the time that it installed red-light enforcement cameras, but neighborhood street safety advocates say they haven’t helped much to stop dangerous driving.

“This is the way these crashes happen every time,” said Robin Levitt of HVNA, referring to fast-moving drivers running red lights. “It’s a nightmare for pedestrians. We’ve been bringing it up for years.”

Levitt said he believes that problems are created by the streets’ widths, particularly one-way Oak (which approaches Octavia on a downhill slope), which invites drivers to speed. He also said some drivers appear to be confused by the traffic signal phases. For example, drivers making a right turn from Oak to southbound Octavia get a protected turn signal, while through traffic has a red light. Drivers who had been used to cruising through Oak’s synchronized signals may see cars moving alongside them, and fail to notice that they’ve hit a red light.

Levitt said the SFMTA is considering design options to calm traffic through the intersection, including converting Oak east of Octavia to two-way traffic, removing one of the three left-turn lanes from northbound Octavia to Fell Street, and adding a median.

The fixes may be promising, but “we want to speed it up,” said Levitt.

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