Do Paint and Lights Really Make Folsom at Essex Intersection Safe?

A new phased signal makes Folsom and Essex a little less crazy to bike across. Source: SFMTA.
In theory, a phased signal makes Folsom at Essex a little less crazy to bike across. But maybe only in theory. Image: SFMTA.

SFMTA announced this weekend that it has finished installing a new phased signal and lane markings to make it easier for cyclists to cross the intersection at Folsom at Essex. From the SFMTA release:

Last week, we installed a curbside bike lane and bike signal on eastbound on Folsom, between 2nd and 1st streets. That eliminates the need for people on bikes to make a harrowing maneuver to merge across two lanes of heavy vehicle traffic turning right towards a freeway on-ramp. People walking also now have a dedicated signal phase to cross the intersection before right-turning vehicles get a green light.

Prior to the change cyclists who wanted to go straight had to marge across two turning pockets. Source : SFMTA
Prior to the change cyclists who wanted to go straight had to merge across two turning pockets. Image: SFMTA

Sound great, right? Except this:

The new arrangement depends on cars not turning right except when they’re supposed to. But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition says, as anyone can see in the above video tweet, the cars are blowing through the light. Here’s the way SFBC spokesman Chris Cassidy puts it:

This is a great example of how both design and traffic law enforcement are needed to make our streets safer. The turn restriction going unenforced at Folsom and Essex makes for a scary experience for people biking this reconfigured stretch. People biking shouldn’t have to trade one harrowing experience for another, but that’s what the City’s offering at this intersection, absent some dedication of enforcement resources.

Aside from policing, the intersection needs more bollards or something solid to stop cars from making a quick right turn and cutting off a cyclist. In other words, it needs Dutch-style infrastructure, not just paint. Hopefully, that will come to this intersection as SFMTA starts building protected bike lanes in the area this fall. In the meantime, some type of temporary barrier is in order. Because as the video shows, this recent improvement may really just be another collision waiting to happen.

  • Kyle

    A red light camera should have been installed along with the new bike signal.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    The SFMTA is our transit expert, unless the mayoral optometrist disagrees or unless it does something that contradicts my strongly-held beliefs.

    On the Taraval project, the SFMTA explained that paint has magical properties to protect pedestrians from cars zooming up to light rail stops.

    Painted bike lanes should therefore also magically protect bikes, and it has the extra advantage of increasing capacity for double parking!

    It’s a win-win-win.

  • Joel

    Some drivers get easily confused by bike signals – MTA should know this by now (Masonic…) Swap the the far arrow and bike signals, so the arrow is in the median: closer and more prominent. Set back the stop line a few meters – being that close to the intersection is just too tempting for some drivers.

  • Better yet, install the bike signals nearside and low so that they can’t be seen except by people in the bike lane.

  • alberto rossi

    I thought about making a pertinent comment here, but soon enough RichLL will show up, so what’s the point?

  • dat

    Don’t let the terrorists win!!

  • dat


  • Jeffrey Baker

    Indeed, the people who are turning right at the intersection in question are supercommuters headed for Turlock or some blasted place. They’ve never seen a bike signal since all the ones in this state are in San Francisco. It needs, at the very least, some explanatory signs.

  • Sean Rea

    This intersection is a joke and I’ve been harping about it ever since it went in. Glad you folks picked up on it.

  • HayBro

    I was curious about this change and went out there. What I saw were not only drivers ignoring the signals about half the time, but pedestrians regularly crossing when it wasn’t their turn and the occasional bike squirreling through when it wasn’t their turn. This is the reason why we can’t have nice things. There is this culture of me-first and almost total disregard for rules in this city. A culture of non-enforcement for traffic laws doesn’t help either. Some people are blaming the signals but it is pretty clear when drivers can’t turn…there are signals right in front of them, including a bright no right turn sign that comes on when they get the red. The pedestrian signals are pretty clear too. When we will stop blaming other people or the SFMTA for our issues and instead lookj in the mirror?

  • murphstahoe

    Today is the end of the Republic. The end of a regime that acquiesces to

  • Gene

    Meanwhile the SFPD is busy ticketing bicyclists for rolling through stop signs.

  • gneiss

    Another reason why we should not have just one single driver test in a lifetime. Laws change. Signs change. There are updates in street designs. Cars change. We should be testing drivers once every ten years – at least with a written examination – rather than once a lifetime.

  • Alicia

    Every five years, not ten. Written examination, road test, vision test, and doctor’s note testifying (under penalty of perjury for falsifying a statement) that the individual is fit to drive.

  • HayBro

    I thought the MTA wanted islands all along Taraval but got pushed back to not do them all.

  • RichLL

    There is a vision test every ten years. Licenses renew every five years but a vision test is only applied every other time unless there is a special circumstance.

  • 94110

    How about just make them white, like pedestrian signs, which are probably white so they don’t confuse drivers?

    … and a red light camera too.

  • RichLL

    I wasn’t going to comment because I agree broadly with Roger. While having the bike lane on the left may have been inconvenient for some, at least it was safe from the right turning traffic.

    If SFMTA want to move the bike lane into the kill zone, they need to do better than some paint and bike lights which are totally confusing for everyone.

    In fact, I was at an intersection near Fox Plaza yesterday and even the cyclists seemed confused by the flashing yellow bike light. While the drivers and pedestrians appeared not to know whether it was OK to proceed or not.

  • 94110

    SFMTA has had major PCO presence along Mission Street for a week to force compliance with mandatory right turns.

    Might help here.

  • RichLL

    I am not sure a red light camera would capture a driver who turns right on red after stopping, since that is generally allowed.

    I’ve never gotten a red-light ticket but my understanding is that it captures only vehicles that blow through the red and go straight on, and not traffic that stops and then turns right.

    There is also a question about how the license plate and driver’s face of a turning vehicle would be captured as, again, those cameras are usually designed and orientated to capture traffic going straight.

  • Jimbo

    as they should be

  • No, the signals need to be consistent in color with regular traffic signals. But yes on cameras.

  • Red light cameras do catch drivers turning and there’s actually legislation working its way through Sacramento right now to address that (and lower the fine). Also, it should have a red arrow and if that’s the case, it’s illegal to turn on it even after stopping. For added effect, they can also add one of those electronic no turn signs which again emphasize that turning is not allowed at that time. The camera should be able to work with all of those.

  • I don’t think that people are really confused when seeing a signal shaped like a bicycle. More than likely, bike signals are installed badly and end up looking like turn signals.

  • RichLL

    Yes, I realize that no right turn on red is probably the case there.

    My point was more that the standard camera is designed in a scenario where a “right on red after stopping” is allowed, so I wasn’t clear how easy it would be to re-program the cameras to capture that.

    Also the camera needs both a clear license plate shot and a clear face pic. The face pic is hard enough to get anyway, but with a turning vehicle and the likely reflections off the windshield and lateral shift, I suspect there will be a lot of misses.

    Re-orienting the cameras diagonally would help, but I still wonder how flexible and programmable these instruments are. Even on straight through shots I’ve been “flashed” a few times and yet never gotten a citation. My guess is that they got the license plate but not a good face pic, especially as I usually have sunglasses and a baseball cap, meaning plausible deniability.

  • Alicia

    There is a vision test every ten years

    That’s a perfect illustration of how unseriously we take driver’s licensing. In the real world, peoples’ vision can change much more frequently than that. People who use corrective lenses are often expected to take a new vision test every 1-2 years, to ensure that they still have the right lenses to ensure good vision. However, the government lets you go ten years without having a new eye exam, and they never re-test you on other aspects of driving.

  • RichLL

    Alicia, there is an obligation to notify DMV if your vision changes. And if you have regular exams with an eye doctor then he/she will notify you if you need to notify DMV – eye doctors have a special DMV form for that.

    There is also a provision to issue a license to drive during the day but not at night.

    In the UK they do a vision test when you first get your license and then they don’t do another one until you are 70. So we do a lot more than that.

    And of course DMV offices are always packed as it is, with lines out of the foor and around the building at times. Add more tests and hurdles and the congestion there would have to be addressed.

    A bigger problem is the way the vision standards varies by state. Florida, with a lot of elderly drivers, requires only 20/70 to have a license. California requires 20/40. A Florida driver can drive in any state.

  • murphstahoe

    A better solution is self driving cars

  • We have more power in our pockets now than in the entirety of the rockets that put men on the moon, so it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable issue to reprogram and reposition cameras to be able to do what is required in this case. Newer ones also use video, so it could be possible to have multiple angles from which to view the driver and license plate of the car.

  • RichLL

    Introducing driverless cars is the easy part. Making them mandatory is much tougher.

    An interesting debate for our grandchildren to have. Meanwhile . . .


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