Market Street Crash and the Sick Roulette that Comes With Bad Design

Robert Allevar, who works in the area, passed through this space shortly before a taxi crashed onto the sidewalk. Photo: Streetsblog.
Robert Allevar, who works in the area, passed through this space shortly before a taxi crashed onto the sidewalk. Photo: Streetsblog.

Motorists who drive through the intersections of Market, Sutter and Sansome Street don’t need to worry. Yesterday’s crash, involving a taxi cab that drove up onto the sidewalk and seriously injured two people, is already cleared up. Not much to see here, except for the remains of a street post and a kiosk that was too big to cart off yet. The SFPD is reporting, via an official statement, that the cab driver “…was having a medical issue when he hit the gas and drove up onto the sidewalk. The driver hit a public bathroom, a newsstand and then hit the [sidewalk] shoe shine stand where the two victims were working.”

The fear of safe streets advocates is that will be the end of it; there are three people in the hospital, but it will just be chalked up as another “accident” that couldn’t be prevented.

As the San Francisco Examiner reported it:

The crash occurred around 3:15 p.m. at Market and Sutter streets when the cab apparently drove up onto a crowded sidewalk, San Francisco police spokesperson Officer Grace Gatpandan said. The cab crashed into two people at the shoeshine stand. All three victims were taken to San Francisco General Hospital, according to hospital spokesman Brent Andrew. One of the patients, a 40-year-old man, is in critical condition, while the other two men, aged 59 and 66, are listed in fair condition, Andrew said.

CBS’s local affiliate covered the details as well.

Robert Avellar, who works in the area, had passed by the destroyed shoeshine stand and bathroom earlier that day. “I pass here every day. I was shocked when I saw it on the news.” Alexander Sullivan, who walks through the intersection frequently, was also working nearby. “This is a dangerous corner for pedestrians, but not cars–it’s clear for cars.”

And that’s the problem. It’s an oddly angled intersection, like so many on Market Street, with wide open boulevards that encourage speeding and give pedestrians little room for error–sometimes they don’t have to commit any errors at all to get hit, as in this case.

The speed limit on Market is 10 mph. Does this look like the car was going 10 mph? Photo: Streetsblog.
A look at the remains of the kiosk and steel posts on the sidewalk. Photo: Streetsblog.

“While our thoughts are with the people who were injured, this horrific crash is a stark reminder of why the City must make safety a top transportation priority. Yesterday’s destructive collision, involving two bystanders and the driver of the taxi who crashed his vehicle onto a busy sidewalk, took place at the intersection of two of the City’s high-injury corridors: Market and Sutter,” said Natalie Burdick, Outreach Director for Walk San Francisco. “This same intersection, which also includes Sansome, has been the site of at least 15 other severe crashes — and is part of the 12 percent of streets that account for over 70 percent of the city’s severe and fatal traffic collisions.”

Although a couple of years old, this graphic from SFMTA gives an idea of the toll of these dangerous intersections. Image: SFMTA "Safer Market Street" project.
This graphic from SFMTA gives an idea of the toll of these dangerous intersections. Image: SFMTA “Safer Market Street” project.

It’s difficult to imagine that, if these statistics were about a train line or an airport, either would be re-opened within a few hours. And it’s difficult to understand why, after such a horrible crash, the turn-off to Sutter Street from Market isn’t still closed, with investigators hurriedly working to figure out immediate safety enhancements.

The simplest thing to do–in Streetsblog’s view–would be to put in a heavy concrete planter/crash barrier on the point where the Sutter and Market sidewalk points towards Market Street (see photo below), to make sure any car that gets out of control has something solid to stop or at least divert it before it runs down pedestrians. There should also be raised crosswalks and other solid infrastructure to force cars to slow as they pass through.

And while SFMTA and Public Works have improvements coming for many of Market Street’s intersections, it’s not enough and it’s not fast enough. “As called for in the recent Mayor’s Executive Directive on Vision Zero, the City must redouble its efforts and fix at least 18 miles a year of its most dangerous streets in order to put an end to the traffic violence that continues to plague us,” said Burdick.

Lining the tip of the corner or Market and Sutter would help stop a car from intruding onto the sidewalk and serious injuring people. Photo: Streetsblog.
Pedestrians on the corner of this busy intersection are heavily exposed. Photo: Streetsblog.

As the SFMTA graphic shows, it’s hardly the first time someone’s been badly injured or killed on one of Market Street’s notorious intersections. “This is a crazy intersection,” said a city employee who was walking by it this afternoon. He asked Streetsblog to withhold his name so he could speak without getting permission. He described how the intersection was designed back when Market Street had horses and trolleys and pedestrians only. “It was meant for another time.”

A look at the crash site from the previous day. Nearly all of this is now removed and it's business as usual. Photo: Jesse Foley.
A look at the crash site from the previous day. Nearly all of this is now removed and it’s business as usual. Photo: Jesse Foley.


A County Transportation Authority rendering of what Market Street was supposed to look like before the program was scaled back.

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