City Removes Safety Measures where Senior Was Killed

A photo of the guerrilla safety improvements put in over the weekend by SFMTrA where a senior citizen was killed. The safety posts were promptly removed by the city. Photo: Matt Brezina
A photo of the guerrilla safety improvements put in over the weekend by SFMTrA where a senior citizen was killed. The safety posts were promptly removed by the city. Photo: Matt Brezina

Over the weekend, the guerrilla safety group, SFMTrA, installed safe-hit posts and painted bulb-outs at the intersection of Fell and Baker, on a crosswalk where David Grinberg, a 90-year-old man, was killed on Wednesday, Oct. 4. The city, which apparently has no immediate plans to improve the crosswalk that connects the Mercy Terrace senior-living apartments with the Panhandle Park, removed the unauthorized safe-hit posts earlier this week.

Matt Brezina, who helped organize the “people protected bike lane” protests on Valencia and elsewhere, tipped off Streetsblog that the improvements were gone. Here’s his tweet about it:

Streetsblog has written about this kind of thing before: SFMTA will fail to install safety upgrades at obvious danger spots, even after someone is killed, prompting citizen advocates/guerrilla traffic engineers to intervene. The safety guerrillas glue down plastic bollards. And then SFMTA promptly rips them out. A source at SFMTA repeated the agency’s usual excuse that it has to remove the posts for ‘liability’ reasons, because the unauthorized posts might cause hazards. The argument goes that SFMTrA is actually harming safety, because city crews are diverted from official projects.

However, SFMTA crews often drive right past authorized and official plastic safety posts that are damaged or destroyed and leave them in disrepair after they remove the unofficial posts. In reality, the only organization that is diverting SFMTA from real safety work is SFMTA itself. Furthermore, cities get sued for lots of things, every day–prioritizing ripping out unofficial posts makes no sense.

Or as a member of SFMTrA put it in an email exchange with Streetsblog, “Seems sad that the liability of a few posts is so much more of a priority than liability of hundreds of miles of dangerous streets.”

Another shot of the safety measures, installed by SFMTrA, before they were removed by the city. Photo: SFMTrA
Another shot of the safety measures at Baker and Fell, installed by SFMTrA, before they were removed by the city. Photo: SFMTrA

In the case of Baker and Fell, what if SFMTA towed away the illegally parked black pickup truck blocking the sight lines at the crosswalk (see above pics) and put some posts up to stop people from continually parking there? Wouldn’t that reduce the city’s liability more than tearing out the unofficial posts? More importantly, wouldn’t that be the ethical thing to do at a popular and dangerous crosswalk between a senior home and a park?

Furthermore, SFMTA needs to take a cue from the Dutch, and declare any spot where someone is killed or seriously injured a “black spot.” That means close the intersection, investigate it, and fix it as fast as possible with whatever materials are on hand, instead of doing nothing during a years-long planning process–Oakland, thankfully, seems to be heading in this direction. We shall see if that continues. In the end though, the ability of a city to make its streets safe comes down to leadership from the mayors and the management at DOTs.

Meanwhile, Hoodline is reporting that a cyclist was injured in a collision with a motorist this morning on the opposite side of the Panhandle, on Oak Street, where similarly dangerous conditions exist.

From the SFMTrA web page about the death of Grinberg at the intersection:

The response from city leaders is thoughts and prayers. We at SFMTrA were not satisfied with this response and the absence of any action to make this and other crosswalks safer immediately. We believe that urgent and pro-active action is necessary to protect vulnerable street users across San Francisco. So we got out our prototype materials and created a safety pilot. 10 posts and some spray paint = about $300. We dedicate this installation to the residents at Mercy Plaza at this intersection and we hope that it slows traffic on Fell street and makes pedestrians in the crosswalk feel safer. We urge you to speak out to SFPD, Parks and Rec, SFMTA, Supervisor London Breed, and Mayor Ed Lee until the city addresses the known dangers of Oak and Fell streets. 

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition tweeted this stark statement:

Safe streets advocates are organizing a protest at Baker and Fell–the plan is to help seniors cross the street there safely, since city officials deem this such a low priority. More on that in a future post.

  • bike_engineer

    No matter how you feel about the situation, the city HAS to remove these delineators because the placement and installation of them violates the MUTCD. While yes, the city needs to come up with better pedestrian safety solutions, they are legally required to remove these.

  • Wrong. MUTCD specifies placement of the posts; it says nothing about who installs them. If they are installed according to MUTCD, then they are fully legal, at least as far as MUTCD.

  • bike_engineer

    CA MUTCD

    Section 1A.08 Authority for Placement of Traffic Control Devices

    “Traffic control devices, advertisements, announcements, and other signs or messages within the highway right-of-way shall be placed only as authorized by a public authority or the official having jurisdiction, or, in the case of private roads open to public travel (see definition in Section 1A.13), by the private owner or private official having jurisdiction, for the purpose of regulating, warning, or guiding traffic.”

    Let it be noted that this is a standard and a “Shall” statement meaning compliance is mandatory.

  • brezina

    Is sfmta also required by mutcd to paint crosswalks at intersections? Because I can point to dozens of intersections in this city that are missing crosswalk striping, yet the sfmta prioritized removing the guerilla safety posts. If they can’t get to everything, shouldn’t they prioritize improving safety first?

  • bike_engineer

    No. Painted crosswalks are not mandatory at all intersections, per federal, state, and local guidelines. The City of SF has a series of warrants for painted crosswalks that include collisions rates, proximity to schools, pedestrian counts, traffic volumes and other qualifiers. You can request a crosswalk to be installed at an intersection by going to 311.

  • crazyvag

    Can we just define that ALL crosswalks need to be daylighted and the violation is not WHO installs the barriers, but LACK of them at any intersection.

  • brezina

    How about the egregiously violated 10mph speed limits on market st near transit boarding islands when a bus or f train is present – should the city prioritize engineering/enforcing safe car speeds in these areas or prioritize removing a guerilla sidewalk bulb out? I’m just thinking, if I’m in charge of the lives of people using SF’s streets, where would I prioritize my resources?

  • Roger R.

    Hi Bike Engineer. Perhaps you can help with this, because I’m confused. I’m not seeing what part of that requires SFMTA to rip them out and throw them away, as opposed to ripping them out and putting them right back down, under their authority? In fact, I’m not sure what stops SFMTA from just rolling in and putting their own “authority” stamp on the posts? What stops SFMTA from putting better ones down, which is what SFMTA occasionally does? And what part of MUTCD compels SFMTA to rip them out immediately, before they handle any other safety issues? We can play this MUTCD game forever, but the bottom line is people are dying, and city has the authority and the ability to stop it–they’re just not doing it.

  • Roger R.

    Also, you might want to read the accompanying article, “Transportation Engineers Are Ethically Bound to Protect Public Safety. Too Many Do Not.”

  • I stand corrected.

  • bike_engineer

    someone tagged my reply as spam, so Its hidden right now, but I hope you were able to read it.

  • Prinzrob

    Please cite one example of a lawsuit being brought and won against a US city for an installation outside of MUTCD standard, installed with the intention of improving street safety. Almost all the lawsuits I’ve seen are for maintenance issues, or for situations where a city failed to provide enough protection, but never for too much. Either way, promoting concerns about tax dollars over the lives of the taxpayers themselves is just gross.

    I’ve been hearing this same “liability” refrain from engineers forever, as an excuse for doing nothing at known hazard locations. It’s severely irritating, lazy, and counterproductive. The reality is that non-standard stuff gets implemented all the time already, either on purpose or due to mistakes, and people are constantly using our steets in ways outside of the design intention.

    What we must come to grips with is that the death toll for vulnerable road users is high and climbing, and our crap outdated standards are to blame. There’s no shortage of understanding of and evidence about what the solutions are, but not enough leadership from staff and electeds to overcome the tendency to drag feet and maintain the status quo.

    Residents are starting to take things into their own hands because the city isn’t doing enough to protect its people. If staff don’t like how these installations are going down then it’s on them to step up and do better and make groups like SFMTrA irrelevant. Otherwise, the blood is on their hands.

  • gneiss

    I think you’ll find that the bad actor in all of these debates is actually not SFMTA, but SFFD. They object to any changes that might require them to drive their massive trucks more slowly around the city. Until they stop objecting to safety improvements, SFMTA hands are tied. I direct you to a previous statement made a year ago by bike_engineer:

    “Most of the posts I have seen however are placed in such a way that they effect how fire engines/trucks can drive down the street.”

    Nothing more, nothing less.

  • bike_engineer

    Yes, this is true, SFFD are impeding certain safety improvements, but most of these sfmtra posts are removed due to there poor engineering placement in terms of travel areas for normal traffic.

  • bike_engineer

    I dont disagree that the situation is poor. I personally approve of the SFMTrA installing TCD’s for awareness, but know that they must be approved/installed by the city to be compliant. The city is working to upgrade as many intersections as possible for pedestrian safety, but the way it works due to these legal issues can be extremely frustrating for the public. The issue is not isolated to the SFMTA, it is an issue with most DOT’s in the United States.

  • gneiss

    It’s not just frustration for the public, but these currently dangerous, yet MUCTD compliant intersections and street designs are exposing the city to significant liability. I’ll direct your attention to several high profile cases in LA and San Diego where those compliant designs have been found deficient and those communities have paid out significant sums to litigants. The city engineers are not doing SF any favors by continuing to tolerate the current conditions on the street and not following through when citizens take these matters into their own hands.

  • dubocymous

    That is my personal pet-peeve, but the city cannot even be arsed to put up signs at transit islands, much less do any enforcement.

    I would take a big chunk of the Parking Officers who are out in the neighborhoods generating revenue during rush hours and bring them downtown to enforce Blocking the Box, Illegal Turns, Not Yielding for Pedestrians, and etc. Even if they can’t issue tickets, they can blow their whistle at scofflaws.

    But SFMTA needs the money, so they are out chalking tires at 5PM…

  • Rachel H

    In contrast with SFMTA, Oakland’s new DOT is being proactive about pedestrian safety

    Streetsblog quoted OakDOT’s Vision Zero Coordinator Nicole Ferrara about a quick installation of pant and posts at Harrison and 23rd:

    “This project uses paint and posts to transform the intersection of Harrison and 23rd in a matter of weeks versus years, which is what it takes to make significant concrete changes. But we’re not stopping there,”

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2017/09/05/eyes-on-the-street-purple-fix-is-in-on-harrison-and-23rd/

  • eugene

    Do you have a realistic suggestion for how SFMTA should prioritize its work or advocate for more resources? If not, stop arm-chair quarterbacking. The SFMTA’s capital planning already prioritizes the many of the most hazardous locations/corridors, accepting that is impossible for every problem to be addressed instantaneously. The bureaucracy (some of which is good, btw) involved in identifying, studying, and implementing work takes time and resources (both of which are finite). Your unsubstantiated comment that SFMTA isn’t investigating the cause and potential fixes to the intersection as part of their post-collision review sadly assigns blame to the one agency actually trying to address these issues across our [very large, complex] City. Also, it is not clear that the SFMTrA installations actually would have been effective in the case of this unfortunate collision.

  • In the case of Baker and Fell, what if SFMTA towed away the illegally parked black pickup truck blocking the sight lines at the crosswalk (see above pics) and put some posts up to stop people from continually parking there?

    That’s a one-way street, no sight lines are impacted. If anything, parking there improves safety by making the effective corner radius smaller.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks Marven. It’s two-way for cyclists on the adjacent path. I’m pretty sure sight lines are an issue, especially for cyclists heading east, but that path is something I use occasionally, not regularly.

  • chandru

    Yes, it’s absurd that DOT won’t just let the posts stay up until they do something better and more permanent. Anything that makes the turn sharper, thereby slowing cars, is good. All such intersections should have a large bulb-out to slow cars, and reduce the crossing time

    >towed away the illegally parked black pickup truck blocking the sight lines at the crosswalk (see above pics)
    Yes I did see, which is more than than the author did. It’s a one-way st to the left, the truck is parked on the left. How is blocking sight lines from the rght? Why does it need to be no-parking anyway? Jeez.

    Articles in Streetsblog are always good…until they get into some plain wrong/paranoic/absurd contention that turns me off. You guys would make a much stronger point if you stuck to the facts.

  • HayBro

    It’s not mentioned in this Streets blog posting but a year ago, SFMTA proactively put in pedestrian head starts crossing both streets. This effectively gives pedestrians 3-4 seconds of crossing time before cross traffic arrives. The SFMTA has also put in higher visibility crosswalks and advanced stop lines for drivers so that drivers atop further back from the crosswalk. The city is also proactively addressing High Injury Corridors all around the city and cannot possibly address every location at once with a snap of the fingers.

  • HayBro

    It’s not mentioned in this Streets blog posting but a year ago, SFMTA proactively put in pedestrian head starts crossing both streets. This effectively gives pedestrians 3-4 seconds of crossing time before cross traffic arrives. The SFMTA has also put in higher visibility crosswalks and advanced stop lines for drivers so that drivers atop further back from the crosswalk. The city is also proactively addressing High Injury Corridors all around the city and cannot possibly address every location at once with a snap of the fingers.

  • HayBro

    It’s not mentioned in this Streets blog posting but a year ago, SFMTA proactively put in pedestrian head starts crossing both streets. This effectively gives pedestrians 3-4 seconds of crossing time before cross traffic arrives. The SFMTA has also put in higher visibility crosswalks and advanced stop lines for drivers so that drivers atop further back from the crosswalk. The city is also proactively addressing High Injury Corridors all around the city and cannot possibly address every location at once with a snap of the fingers.

  • City Resident

    On a related note, the parking protected bike lanes on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park enjoyed a few days’ worth of improved protection a few weeks ago, with white plastic posts. These posts helped keep automobiles out of the bike lanes. This was a major safety boost, especially in areas where these posts had been placed close to intersections. But, no sooner had they been installed that they were removed. When it comes to cyclist safety, the SFMTA is barely doing anything on a city-wide level. The city administration seems terribly beholden to all things automobile.

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