City Hall Crosswalk Signal Activated on Walk to Work Day

Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter
Photo: Folks for Polk/Twitter

As public officials and safe streets advocates marked Walk to Work Day, the city activated a pedestrian signal at the mid-block crosswalk in front of City Hall, where 68-year-old Priscila Moreto was killed last October. The wide, zebra-striped crosswalk, which previously had button-activated flashing lights, now has green and red phases, so drivers have a clearer signal to come to a full stop for people crossing on foot.

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Ferrara said the signal “is a first step, but more needs to be done along such a monumental street to demonstrate the Mayor is serious about creating a Vision Zero transportation system — a safe system that forgives.”

The new signal is not the type of change that creates a safer, more forgiving system by compelling drivers to slow down and pay attention. Instead, it creates stricter rules for everybody — including pedestrians, who can’t request a walk phase any more. It also introduces the risk that some drivers will accelerate during the yellow phase to “beat the light.”

“Walk SF really wanted to see the City’s front door transformed from a traffic sewer to a people-focused, civic space,” said Ferrara. “The road diet happening just north of City Hall offered an opportunity to reclaim excess roadway for those purposes.” She was referring to the redesign of Polk north of McAllister Street, approved by the SFMTA Board of Directors last month.

The signal was actually planned well before Moreto was killed. One change that her death did prompt is a ban on tour bus operators narrating while driving, approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Moreto was run over by a tour trolley operator who was telling his passengers about City Hall.

The ban, initiated by Supervisor Norman Yee, applies to tour buses that don’t operate outside the city. Yee told the SF Chronicle that it’s “just one more piece in the puzzle” needed to eliminate pedestrian deaths.

Photo: Paul Supawanich/Twitter
  • mx

    “The new signal is not the type of change that creates a safer, more forgiving system by compelling drivers to slow down and pay attention”

    I think this is an overly negative attitude to take about the new signal. Yes, we need drivers to slow down and pay attention everywhere in the city. But we also need people to stop dying in this crosswalk and a light is going to help with that. Putting up a traffic light isn’t some kind of horrible defeat here (a horrible defeat would be fencing off the sidewalk and banning pedestrians from crossing, obviously a non-starter).

  • Kyle

    The pedestrian signal at Yerba Buena Lane and Mission is also poorly designed. Cars receive the green light by default. Often during the day, there are dozens of people waiting for a walk symbol and very few vehicles on Mission. In the end, pedestrians end up walking against the walk symbol.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    It’s not a horrible defeat, but there was a solution that was both cheaper and better: a stop sign.

  • Well done! Pat yourselves on the back city officials for installing a pedestrian stopper 6 months after someone died.

  • chetshome

    Just my first impression from riding my bike through today… I immediately thought that some pedestrian (with a walk signal) is going to get hit by a car here. (which isn’t much different from before). A stop sign would actually be perfect since almost zero cars make both north/south stoplights on either end anyway.

  • Ugly and over-engineered solution with the only real result being that pedestrians are now impeded. A broad, raised crosswalk would have been a far better solution. But then again, you can’t throw a ceremonial switch to turn on a raised crosswalk on Walk to Work Day.

  • Due to the huge propensity for driver error when operating large, powerful machines under conditions of stress and distraction, I can’t say there is any solution that will allow pedestrians to cross San Francisco streets safely, except perhaps, in general slowing cars down, daylighting intersections and crosswalks, and creating greater driver accountability.

    Most drivers in San Francisco roll through stop signs if no other cars are present. Even when they stop (at stop signs or at lights), they are often so distracted or in a hurry that they don’t perceive pedestrians directly in front of them. However, just a plain crosswalk without a light or stop sign is also dangerous because most drivers won’t stop unless the pedestrian is actually in the process of crossing. Even then, if the street is more than one lane wide in each direction, drivers can’t always see the pedestrian in the act of crossing. Three recent anecdotes:

    1. A few weeks ago, my husband was walking down 24th Street (south side) across Noe, a four way stop where about a billion pedestrians, strollers, dogs cross every hour. A car is approaching from the south, but is slowing down for the stop. My husband enters the crosswalk. Car comes to a stop. My husband now is *directly in front of the car*. Car drives forward. My husband yells, and has to push off the hood of the car to keep from getting hit. Even though the driver had come to a complete stop, she’d been talking to her passenger and didn’t see my husband *who was directly in front of her.*

    2. Two days ago I was driving west on Fulton (around 5th or 6th?) where there is a large painted crosswalk but no light. In theory pedestrians can use this to cross back and forth to GG Park. I am in the right lane. I see a pedestrian waiting to cross. I slow down and stop. The pedestrian gingerly steps in front of me but then we both wait as we wonder whether the cars speeding towards us from behind me will stop as well or assume I am double parking for whatever bizarre reason and breeze past. The thing is, with the pedestrian in front of my car, it’s hard for cars behind me or on my left to see her. The car on my left, however, does see her at the last second, slams on its brakes and allows the pedestrian to cross. No one is killed, but I wonder if it would’ve been safer for all concerned not to stop at all.

    3) Returning on Fulton, I’m in in the right lane approaching Stanyan where there is a long protected right turn. The right turn green arrow goes red and the car ahead of me comes to a complete stop. There are pedestrians waiting to cross. The driver ahead of me wants to turn right as soon as the southbound traffic clears. He/she pulls forward so the car’s front is a foot in the crosswalk, but there is some huge bus/truck to the left also pulled into the crosswalk blocking the view. I see a woman pedestrian crossing. I see her *directly in front of the car ahead of me*. Exactly in front. The car starts forward to get a better view of southbound traffic. The woman shrieks. The car actually touches her, but at her shriek, the driver slams on his/her brakes. The pedestrian is unhurt but shaken. She gives the driver a mournful, terrified look. The driver now turns right.

    If drivers are unable (unwilling, too careless, too irresponsible, in too big of a hurry) to see pedestrians directly in front of them, I don’t know how effective any form of traffic control can be. All of our safety relies on drivers’ skill, sanity and judgement. Many people who drive cars are moral, sensible people who take the responsibility of operating their vehicle seriously. But many others believe talking on their cell phone, texting, chatting, drinking coffee, putting on make up, speeding, running red lights, stomping their accelerator, zipping around corners in congested areas are perfectly acceptable, in fact, normal behaviors while driving. And they’re not wrong. These behaviors are accepted. They are widespread. They are normal. This is the problem.

  • Sean Rea

    I wonder, could this have been activated sooner? City officials wouldn’t have delayed a much-needed safety measure for the free press, right?

  • …Or two well-placed speed bumps, one on either side of the previous crosswalk with flashing lights.

    Too simple. Too effective. Why do we bother when the traffic engineering cartel has an expensive solution for everything that is just too irresistible for politicians and bureaucrats?

  • mx

    I happened to see crews working on these lights around midnight before Thursday, so I’m somewhat inclined to believe they didn’t delay this one for publicity.

  • M.

    After the W2W Day morning ceremonial at City Hall ended, I climbed a wall at the top of the stairs to shoot some photos and I observed behaviour at the crossing. Aside from the usual, all road occupants impatient, yellow light racing, etc. one thing stood out: Most of the cars stopped for reds at the new, robust stop lines placed at least 30′ back from the crossing. My theory is that zebra crossings alone lead the eye in a forced perspective to the horizon and act as a pull towards it, whereas the stop line is a strong visual barrier breaking that forward pull. Any one want to research that, let us know. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to push for stop lines a min of 4′ back from signaled/signed intersections.

  • M.

    Stops signs are ignored by drivers more than traffic signals.

  • Jesse

    Has anyone watched this new signal shitshow in action? I was biking by and stopped for 3 rotations and each time a motorist blew through a red light, like they do at every red light in SF. All it does is stops pedestrians and puts the blame on them if they get hit by assuming a pedestrian signal means they can cross safely. Yet another city failure.

  • EastBayer

    I always wonder this too, whenever some big bike project is completed right before bike to work day or when a major walking project is completed right in time for walk to work day…could they have done it faster?

  • Filamino

    The flashing lights were already there before the signal. It didn’t work.

  • Filamino

    Working that late means lots of overtime.

  • Very observant, dude. That’s why I wrote “…previous crosswalk with flashing lights.”

    The point was that was a fine solution. All we needed to do was put in speed bumps. Now we have to beg and wait to cross the street, whether or not there are cars coming. Brilliant.

  • Filamino

    I highly doubt that would have worked since speeding wasn’t an issue there. It was yielding to pedestrians that was the problem.