As Long as Speed Is King, People Will Get Hurt at Oak, Fell, and Masonic

Photo: Andy Bosselman
Photo: Andy Bosselman

There’s no mystery to why drivers continue to run people over where Masonic Avenue crosses the Panhandle, at Oak and Fell Streets. The three streets are designed like residential freeways, yet the city has no plans to remove traffic lanes to slow speeds and reduce injuries.

On Wednesday, a driver hit two joggers at Oak and Masonic in the Panhandle crosswalk at about 7:15 p.m.

Hoodline reports:

According to the SFPD, the pedestrians were running across the street against a red light when they were struck by the vehicle, a silver Toyota Prius.

One victim, a 36-year-old man, was left in life-threatening condition with bleeding to the brain. The second victim, a 34-year-old man, suffered pain and abrasions, but was not critically injured.

It’s the second such incident in just three months. Back in April, a jogger was struck by a car while running against the light at that same intersection. When we posted that story, many commenters noted that the busy intersection is poorly designed, with one going so far as to call it a “death trap,” and another warning that you “avoid this intersection at all cost.”

In response to victim-blaming in Hoodline’s comment section, Michael Smith, a co-founder of Walk SF, pointed out that the intersections see so many injuries because Masonic, Oak, and Fell are designed as speedways. Oak and Fell each have four one-way traffic lanes, and additional turn lanes at Masonic, which has six lanes on the stretch that bisects the Panhandle.

Masonic at Oak, looking towards the Panhandle. Image: Google Maps
Masonic at Oak, looking towards the Panhandle. Image: Google Maps

Smith wrote in a comment (links added by us):

It is pretty clear what design change could be done to improve the safety of the notoriously unsafe intersection: reduce the number of lanes. It has worked well all over the world and even in other parts of San Francisco (Cesar Chavez, 6th St, 8th St, 7th Ave, Folsom, etc). And it is going to soon be done for a long stretch of Masonic that is north of the Panhandle. It is really disturbing that the Masonic redesign stops just before the Pandhandle. So, until that block is fixed, Masonic will just have 2 lanes each direction except for in Panhandle, where numerous people have been injured. That will continue to encourage cars to go fast in the outside lane to try to cut in front of the other cars. I just saw it happen again today.

Neighbors have fought for decades to calm traffic on Fell and Oak, which have four traffic lanes along the Panhandle. The excessively wide road mostly serves to encourage a freeway mentality for drivers as they cruise along a system of synchronized signals. Four lanes make even less sense given that the streets have fewer lanes outside of the Panhandle section.

Thus far, the SFMTA’s efforts to make the Fell/Oak and Masonic intersections safer have only involved making crosswalks more visible with striping and adding traffic signals to separate pedestrian and bike crossings from turning drivers.

In late 2008, the SFMTA installed that type of signal at the Panhandle’s northern bike and pedestrian crossing at Masonic and Fell, which used to see the second-highest number of bike injuries in the city. But the injuries continued as drivers ran the signal regularly — even after an enforcement camera was installed — and only dropped off after the agency installed an extra set of traffic signals because drivers complained they couldn’t see the original two red arrows.

While the coming Masonic redesign includes a one-lane reduction north of Fell, the SFMTA has indicated no plans to otherwise alter the street geometry at the Panhandle intersections to protect people. But the city’s most dangerous streets can’t go untouched if the city is serious about implementing Vision Zero, as explained in SF’s Vision Zero Two-Year Action Strategy:

Human error is inevitable and unpredictable; we should design the transportation system to anticipate error so the consequence is not severe injury or death.

The predominant element of danger at intersections like these is clear: They’re designed for fast driving, which reduces reaction time and increases the likelihood and severity of injuries.

Of Wednesday’s crash in which two joggers were hit, Smith wrote:

Runners cross 5 lanes of traffic and the driver didn’t see them and stop in time??? It is no wonder that 900 pedestrians are injured in SF every year. Our streets and laws were designed decades ago to speed up traffic to absurdly dangerous levels.

  • Nice socks!

  • Jimbo

    2 joggers ran through a red light, go hit, and we are somehow blaming the roads? no, these are darwin award types of accidents. we ahve red lights for a reason. fell and oak should continue to be fast moving arteries as its important to ahve thoroughfares to cut across the city. If SF wants to underground them, then that makes sense, but they shouldnt plan to protect idiots who jog across redlights

  • Jimbo

    good post. 30mph is actually really slow for these roads, and people need to take responsibility for their actions.

  • Jimbo

    those pedestrians would never be safe, because they didnt follow the red and green signs that tell them when its safe. we cant idiot-proof everything in the city

  • Jimbo

    ok, so the solution is to remove the park?

  • Jimbo

    people dont like to follow rules, so they want big govt to make it safe for them to not follow.

  • Jimbo

    seriously? running across a major road against a red light? im a serious runner and have NEVER done that. we cant idiot-proof the world

  • Jimbo

    if a runner ran off the cliff at land’s end, should we blame the park for not putting fences up around land’s end. what about if a runner accidentally ran into a building and broke his nose. should we blame the building owner? how about if a runner accidentaly ran off the side of GGB.? people need to be responsible for their own actions.

  • Jimbo

    no one got punished . it was an accident cause by stupid behavior. it happens all the time all over the world, on roads, in houses, in parks. people do stupid stuff, there are accidents

  • Jimbo

    totally disagree. we all ahve equal responsibility. an SMS’ing pedestrian may cause a car to hit him. a cyclist blowing through lights may cause a driver to hit him or hit someone else swerving. laws should be enforced equally, and the % of cyclists breaking traffic laws is 10x greatr than drivers. literally 95% of cyclists in SSF do not stop at stop signs, lights

  • jd_x

    Incorrect comparison with the cliff example. A runner doesn’t normally run off a cliff, i.e. it isn’t part of their route. However, a jogger going through the Panhandle *must* cross Masonic. This isn’t about keeping people from doing crazy things to themselves (as alas, there is little we can do about that even if we wanted to) but about protecting people who are doing exactly what they should be (though at a different time), i.e. crossing the road. Hell, even when they are doing exactly what they should be, e.g. crossing in the crosswalk with the light or just riding/walking in the designated but unprotected space, a car swerves into them. This happens again and again, like today in NYC:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/nyregion/cyclist-fatally-struck-near-barclays-center.html

    That is unacceptable that cars can just veer off course and kill pedestrians and cyclists. We can easily design to prevent this.

    And again, this isn’t about being responsible. The runners who crossed against the light on Masonic made a mistake and should take responsibility, but again: they shouldn’t have to pay with their lives or serious injury for just going for a jog and not paying attention for a moment. By the way, you’ll note that when people do fall off cliffs, almost always there is a reaction to do something about, hence the reason you see all sorts of signs warning people about dangerous cliffs and little wooden fences telling people to stay away. And in the case of joggers falling off cliffs, were not talking about *millions* of people like we are when we’re talking about those injured or killed by cars every year.

  • jd_x

    Read this blog. There are all kinds of ways of engineering the road so 1) cars go slow (“20 is plenty”), 2) pedestrians and cyclists are visible, and 3) pedestrians and bicyclists are protected (at least as much as they can be). Examples: narrowing traffic lanes, removal of parked cars, reduced speed limits with some damn enforcement from SFPD, daylighting intersections, protected bikeways, pedestrian scrambles, reducing the number of travel lanes, etc.

    And finally, almost as important: when the cops/legal system actually punish drivers severely for messing up and injuring vulnerable road users, it’s amazing how suddenly attentive and careful drivers will become.

  • jd_x

    “If SF wants to underground them, then that makes sense, but they shouldnt plan to protect idiots who jog across redlights”

    I agree. “Idiots who jog against redlights” deserve death or serious injury, just like those who commit murder and receive capital punishment. Yep: both deserve the same punishment. Makes total sense to me. This is exactly the kind of attitude we need to make our city a safer, more livable place.

  • [^citation needed]

  • Jimbo

    30 is already very very slow for this cross-town thoroughfare

  • Dave Moore

    Is there data to support the idea that increasing punishment for collisions (not speeding / red light running) causes increased attentiveness? Where has this been done successfully in the US?

  • Dark Soul

    That what Zero Vision attempt to do (Blame the Drivers) for that accident caused by the people that running against the red light.

  • jd_x

    That’s the premise of our criminal justice sytem. But if that’s not good enough, try this:

    “Overall, the findings of this paper suggest that as unpopular as traffic tickets are among drivers, motorist behavior does respond to tickets,” the researcher concludes. She indicates that possible approaches to reducing fatalities include “allocating more resources toward municipalities with higher population densities and increase traffic enforcement at night since tickets have a larger impact during nighttime.” – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/motor-vehicle-crashes-click-it-or-ticket-laws#sthash.uFoCeA35.dpuf

    You can Google for many more examples.

  • SFnative74

    I agree with the need to reduce speeding so mistakes do not lead to serious injuries or death. To suggest that running into the middle of a busy arterial against a red light is to be expected seems to be condoning unacceptable behavior though. For a transportation system to work well, we all need to follow some basic rules – like this one: Do not take someone else’s right-of-way. There’s so much antagonism on the streets and I think it is due to that rule being regularly ignored – by driver, by walkers, by riders, by too many people.

  • Dave Moore

    I was asking specifically about punishment for collisions, not for infractions. I believe that punishing infractions works; if people think they are likely to get a ticket for running a red light or speeding they probably adjust. I have doubts that punitive punishment of collisions has much impact. I could be convinced of course.

  • jd_x

    No, it makes no sense to be continually exposing pedestrians and bicyclists to 2-ton vehicles with way too much power literally at the tips of the hands and feet of drivers whose senses are dulled at best and who are outright distracted at worst. We can’t have 6 lanes of speeding traffic and distracted drivers operating their vehicles near pedestrians. There is absolutely no reason living in the city must mean that pedestrians and bicyclists risk death or severe injury on almost every single thoroughfare. Sure, when you talk about controlled access roads like freeways, it is reasonable to put the onus on pedestrians not to be in the way of traffic, but for anything else, it’s unacceptable that we think it’s normal that our roads should be gauntlets pedestrians must run, and if they screw up, well, they must die, worst punishment than we give to nearly all crimes.

  • SFnative74

    It seems like people were going for a run and ran into the intersection on a red. I’m just saying that’s not something we should condone. Go to Copenhagen – the land of bliss for so many of us – and try breaking a traffic rule while walking or biking. You WILL get chided and admonished by other walkers or bike riders. Maybe we do need to self-police more here.

  • murphstahoe

    Collision implies you are not a good driver. Taking away the license of someone who has been proven to not be a good driver, will reduce collisions by removing them from behind the wheel.

    No different than a sports team cutting bad players and playing good players improves their overall results.

  • murphstahoe

    30mph is actually really slow for these roads

    Well that’s just like, your opinion, man.

  • Frobish

    No, a collision where the driver is at fault indicates that they are not a good driver.

    A collision by itself not does indicate that.

  • Frobish

    It depends on the conditions. Light, weather and the amount of traffic all determine a safe speed. 30 mph may be too slow some of the time, while 15mph may be too fast at other times.

    I take Masonic a lot and 25-30 is reasonable for much of its stretch. And the light timing implies that as well. I usually do less than that around the Panhandle, however, because of all the chaos there. Which includes over-eager runners and cyclists, as well as frustrated drivers taking risks.

  • Frobish

    You cannot ban turns there – it’s a major intersection.Lights exist to control such flows and turns. But if people disobey them, then that’s an enforcement issue.

  • Dave Moore

    So you’re saying that any collision results in the driver losing his license? Assigning fault is rarely so cut and dry. While there is a mechanism with the insurance companies I’m sure if licenses were at stake for a first infraction this would lead to far more trials, costing more money and time.

    Also, this question was specifically about deterrence. Does extreme punishment of people who hurt someone deter others from doing the same thing? I think being more aggressive about infractions probably would, but I have doubts about making the punishment harder on those who have a collision. I wonder if any drunk driving campaigns did one but not the other. My memory is that most of the effort was on enforcement and raising the penalty for being caught driving drunk.

  • murphstahoe

    OK fine, pick nits. “at fault collision”.

    “My memory is that most of the effort was on enforcement and raising the penalty for being caught driving drunk.”

    I’ve proposed that we take away licenses for (at fault) collisions. That is something that most would call “raising the penalty for being caught” causing an accident.

    Licenses are at stake for the first infraction of DUI. That costs a lot of money and time. You seem to imply that this isn’t such a good thing.

  • Dave Moore

    Determining fault of a is difficult after the fact. It’s rarely cut and dried, so when you create rigid rule like “lose your license for the first offence” I doubt it’ll be used fairly (in both directions). I also doubt that it will have much impact on deterrence.

    I do think that raising the cost of infractions is a deterrent. So focusing on cost and enforcement of things like speeding and red light running makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Frobish

    Dave, did you notice how hard it was for murphstahoe to concede that punishment should only apply to at-fault collisions?

    First he said you were nit-picking. Then he put “at fault” in parentheses. I sense he doesn’t really believe that but understands how bad it looks to deny it.

    To your other point, I do not know many drivers who think to themselves “Oh, I would like to hit that pedestrian except that I might be punished, so I won’t”. It’s not like the reasoning process that someone might apply when deciding to rob a bank, for instance.

    I agree that punitive over-reactions won’t make the roads safer. They will just placate those bent on retributive justice.

  • murphstahoe

    If Dave noticed how hard it was for me to concede this – he noticed it was “not hard at all”. You are reading between the lines and finding what is basically a typo.

  • Your statement would seem to apply equally to:

    “red-light running pedestrians want to be physically safe when they don’t follow the lights”

    “drivers want to be safe from punishment/responsibility no matter what they do or do not follow (as long as they aren’t drunk and remain on the scene)”

  • Jesse

    Does anyone know why this intersection was changed this year? I don’t get why they made it more difficult for people to cross Masonic on the panhandle.

  • Jimbo

    you may have heard of these things called walk lights. many of us follow them. cyclists, pedestrians and cars must all follow the rules to avoid accidents. equal responsibility. if the driver in the car were injured in this case (which he wasn’t ), i would say that the pedestrians should be charged with a criminal activity and be subject to a lawsuit. it cuts both ways. we are responsible for our own actions

  • StrixNoctis .

    Masonic crosses into Fell & Oak Streets…

    Regardless of what the speed limit is supposed to be, the motor vehicles often move faster than 30 along Fell & Oak streets, and drivers make turns at unsafe speeds because the traffic moves fast there.

    I recently had a BMW driver come close to hitting me on Fell. He was attempting to cut me off to make a left turn, without slowing down to a safe speed, and without yielding to me as I was riding straight up Fell. Btw, he yelled out at me, “GET OUT OF MY WAY, RETARD!”

    I don’t even ride slowly on those streets that are heavily trafficked, but the drivers on Fell & Oak streets tend to drive impatiently fast like they’re on a highway or on crack.

    The crack drivers need a highway to get across town, not residential streets near a park!

  • StrixNoctis .

    I have a similar experience on Valencia. Some drivers speed up even faster after they see me catch up to them on my bike when they’re at the red lights.

    At times I don’t like to pull up all the way to the crosswalk line next to sports cars because the drivers of those cars are usually the ones who act like they’re humiliated to see a bicyclist keeping up. I’d rather not provoke them into speeding because they’re likely to hit someone as a lot of people jaywalk on Valencia (including drivers who stupidly walk out, without looking first, from between parked cars to get to their driver-side door and some extremely stupid ones who open their doors into traffic without looking to make sure it’s safe to).

  • Frobish

    Fair enough. And I might agree with you about speeding. But accidents that happen when a vehicle is making a turn are usually not high speed. By the very nature of a turn you have to slow down considerably.

    Moreover that speed vectors during a turn, reducing the velocity in both of the two directions.

    Now of course even a low-speed turn can cause death or serious injury. But wasn’t the problem here not being observant rather than excess speed? And that goes for all parties concerned here, BTW.

    As far as pulling the driver’s DL is concerned, then the blame as attributed by an insurance company doesn’t meet the standard. Pulling a DL is essentially a criminal sanction, so the notion of blame has to be “beyond a reasonable doubt” rather than “more than 50% at fault”.

    Given the joggers ignored a stop light, I’d imagine that burden would be impossible to meet even if the insurance company meets the joggers’ claims

  • Dave Moore

    “I believe we should consider taking more action in such cases”

    That’s a long way from “I’ve proposed that we take away licenses for (at fault) collisions”

    I agree with the former but not the later. Ratcheting up the use of license suspension to remove bad drivers from the road is fine, as long as it’s not draconian so that people who did nothing wrong don’t get swept up by it.

    But it’s not going to be a deterrent. As Frobish says, people aren’t weighing the possibility of killing someone and thinking “well, if that’s all that’s going to happen I might as well run this red light, but if I would lose my license, I won’t do it”. Deterrence will come from thinking “Crap, that might be a cop” or “my friend lost his license for speeding on this very street”.

  • murphstahoe

    That’s fine. But let’s look at cases like the Le Moullac case. That driver wasn’t even cited but video evidence has him at fault.

    That could have been a watershed case – basically the guy should lose his license and therefore his job (find a new one you are qualified for, sir). That would be the sort of PR that finally teaches large swaths of drivers how to make a right turn.

  • Oh no, there’s no difference, by dint of using the word “equally” to conjure up the fallacy of the middle ground.

  • In fact Vision Zero as implemented in its country of origin is about infrastructure being built to accommodate human error. It is not about “behavior” and never has been.

  • Lowering speeds shouldn’t change throughput very much, since the distance between cars should be lowered accordingly. The safety makes it worthwhile. All in all, a good argument for changing Fell & Oak back to two-way streets, as befits the residential and park environs.

  • keenplanner

    We’ve been fighting to get the speed limits on O and F lowered to 25 for years. These are residential streets. And, for most drivers, 25 is a joke anyway. The only effective solution would be to return them to bi-directional streets, and restore the original sidewalk widths, and un-time the signals.
    Masonic through the panhandle could be narrowed to 4 lanes for obvious safety reasons, but wait…that could inconvenience drivers…nevermind.

  • keenplanner

    They’re residential streets and traffic sewers. Neighborhoods don’t deserve Oak and Fell

  • keenplanner

    People turn on to Oak and Fell and accelerate to 40-50 mph to catch the pack that’s going 30. Go watch sometime.

  • keenplanner

    Valencia is fantastic on a bike! When you get all the lights, you realize how much time you save by not having to stop all the time. We should time all the signals for 13mph.

  • keenplanner

    come again?

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