Eyes on the Street: Action at Baker and Fell

Dangerous Crosswalk that Connects Panhandle with Senior Housing Gets Improvements

An SFMTA worker installing safe-hit posts at Baker and Fell late this morning. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise noted.
An SFMTA worker installing safe-hit posts at Baker and Fell late this morning. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise noted.

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

An SFMTA crew installed official safe hit posts today to make the intersection at Baker and Fell safer. The posts compliment painted bulbouts that went in over the weekend. This is the location where 90-year-old David Grinberg was killed last month while crossing the street.

“Following this incident, SFMTA staff reviewed the intersection. This review included an analysis of what we knew about the circumstances surrounding the fatal collision, the history of traffic collisions at this location, and the existing conditions of the intersection,” said Ben Jose, a spokesman for the agency. “As a result, we recently installed painted safety zones on the northwest and southwest corners to improve pedestrian safety, especially for the senior residents at Mercy Terrace who deserve to be able to safely cross the street.”

Safe hit posts and paint help force cars to make slower, more cautious turns from Baker onto Fell.
Safe hit posts and paint help force cars to make slower, more cautious turns from Baker onto Fell.

“Additionally, we installed an advance stop bar on Fell Street for drivers approaching the intersection and the crosswalk. This will help prevent drivers from encroaching into the crosswalk at a red light,” added Jose. “We have found that painted safety zones create more distance between turning vehicles and pedestrians waiting on the sidewalk, encourage vehicles to turn more slowly, and maintain good visibility between drivers and people stepping into the crosswalk.”

It’s still unclear why the agency found it necessary to remove the safe hit posts put in a few weeks ago by the vigilante safety group, SFMTrA until they were ready to put in this treatment–especially considering that they’ve now installed essentially a neater version of the same thing they tore out.

And Matt Brezina, who helped organize the people-protected bike lane protests on Valencia, in the Tenderloin, and most recently on the Embarcadero, said he was concerned that the safe hit posts and bulbout were not extended far enough. The left most lane on that section of Fell is reserved for bikes on the eastern side of the intersection, so the posts and bulbout could be extended one additional lane. He stood in the street to demonstrate how far out the bulbout and additional post could actually go to shorten the crossing distance for seniors, with no effect on traffic.

Matt Brezina made the point that the crossing distance could have been reduced even further, since the lane where he is standing, to maximize safety for seniors
Matt Brezina made the point that the crossing distance could have been reduced even further, since the lane where he is standing is not a through lane, to maximize safety for seniors.

That said, Brezina, who owns a radar gun and was checking traffic speeds, said the new bulbouts seem to do a better job getting cars to drive at the limit. “The 30 mph limit is too fast, but cars are much more likely to drive the current speed limit with these bulbouts in place.”

Streetsblog has to wonder why we can’t get more robust treatments that could be installed quickly as well, such as planters and concrete blocks that, yes, could damage a car if a motorist is drunk or texting, but would give physical protection for crossing pedestrians. Safe hit posts, while better than nothing, are, after all, really just visual markers.

There’s also the question of the crossing countdown timers that still only start at 12 seconds–hardly enough time for a senior citizen, especially one with a walker, to get across.

That said, it’s great to see the city responding to this dangerous situation; we hope in the future to see a pro-active and immediate response any time a dangerous condition is identified.

  • bike_engineer

    “It’s still unclear why the agency found it necessary to remove the safe hit posts put in a few weeks ago by the vigilante safety group, SFMTrA until they were ready to put in this treatment–especially considering that they’ve now installed essentially a neater version of the same thing they tore out.”

    – I explained it in your previous post how the City is bound by the MUTCD to remove Traffic Control Devices installed by the general public. They have to design a proper replacement and install them per federal, state and local standards.

  • City Resident

    It’s great to see the SFMTA move forward with safety improvements, even though they are no stronger than paint and plastic. It’s too bad that it took a tragedy, a preventable death, for this to occur. Meanwhile, Fell Street is a speedway just west of this location. Fell Street along the Panhandle, and Oak Street on the other side, are sorely in need of traffic calming and are the perfect pair of streets for parking protected bike lanes. May this happen before more pedestrians or cyclists perish.

  • jonobate

    In 2004 city officials were legally obliged not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. They ignored state law and did so anyway, because it was the right thing to do, and because the mayor at the time was willing to provide the support necessary to deal with the legal and political fallout.

    All this requires is some leadership from the mayor. He could send an instruction to SFMTA to leave unofficial installations in the ground until such time as they can be replaced with official ones, and deal with any political and legal fallout that occurs. The chances of anyone suing the city for not removing SFMTrA installations are minimal, providing those installations continue to be sensibly designed.

  • bike_engineer

    I’m sure you can understand that Traffic Engineering principals and shall statements are more important to adhere to than marriage law in terms of public safety. The mayor nor does any elected official have the power to prevent MUTCD compliance. That responsibility lies with the City Traffic Engineer Ricardo Olea and he is bound to the NSPE code of ethics which truly forces his hand to have these guerrilla TCD’s removed until they can be installed per the correct standards. this ensures the greatest amount of traffic safety. A poorly installed safe hit post can actually make an intersection more dangerous.

  • jonobate

    You’re arguing two things here – one is that the city is legally obliged to remove these installations, and the other is that these installations are contrary to the goal of traffic safety.

    On the first point, I believe doing what’s legal should come second to doing what’s safe, and that there is precedent for the city to defy the law in order to do what’s morally right.

    On the second point, I believe the city traffic engineer should be allowed to make a decision on whether an installation makes the street more dangerous or more safe, and have it removed or left in place accordingly, regardless of what the MUTCD says.

  • bike_engineer

    “On the first point, I believe doing what’s legal should come second to doing what’s safe, and that there is precedent for the city to defy the law in order to do what’s morally right.”

    Safety is actually the main concern here. The sfmtra posts were not installed/placed properly and needed to be removed to allow for proper traffic operations. They were in travel areas and did not adequately protect pedestrians which provides a false sense of security for the peds. I know it seems counter intuitive but these are core principals of risk management within traffic engineering.

    On your second point, the city traffic engineer can disobey shall statements in the MUTCD, but chooses not to for the reasons I just discussed.

  • Does the MUTCD define the order of operations as well?

  • Eric Johnson

    paint and plastic straws are SFMTA’s version of “thoughts and prayers”

  • So that’s a city traffic engineer that’s going out, observing traffic control measures, determining the providence (city or guerrilla) of the measures, whether those traffic control measures meet all MUTCD guidelines, and then decides to remove something that isn’t up to specification for whatever reason and ordering someone to remove it?

  • bike_engineer

    Pretty much. It’s usually an assistant engineer within the Traffic Operations Division that goes out and inspects the TCD’s, then goes back to the office and works with the section and city engineer to determine if they should stay in or be removed by maintainence and then replaced. It’s not just MUTCD guidelines, AASHTO and internal standards are used as well.

  • Well, then, I guess it ought to be as easy to get something non-standard reported and removed whether it was guerrilla or city installed…just have to report it the same way. Maybe get some SFMTrA stickers to slap on things that aren’t up to snuff. Dangerously placed bollards, poorly designed intersections, etc. etc.

  • bike_engineer

    Yes you can request anything to be inspected to make sure it’s up to code/ improve safety by contacting 311. Requests go directly to the Traffic Ops Division

  • gneiss

    Yes, let’s all look at the fabulous MUTCD compliant symbols that SF public works painted on the road after grinding down the pavement on the Embarcadero! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5f6c5b5e794b0a191f91bd5976c75028ee54d146bb91c278da0305cc63c6d326.png

  • bike_engineer

    lol that’s actually hilarious

  • gneiss

    Actually it’s dangerous and non-compliant. Required a call to get it fixed. And the debris they left on the road actually hit one of the cyclists who rode here. Yet somehow, the work crew who did this thought it was adequate. And yet you tell us that everything done by SFMTA and public works is “by the book” and “complies with MUTCD”. Please.

  • bike_engineer

    Don’t hurt yourself on that high horse of yours. All I try and do is explain certain SFMTA operation procedures to people who don’t seem to understand. I’m not advocating for them or speaking on their behalf, just explaining how the Sustainable streets Division functions.

  • jonobate

    We do understand the procedures; we just don’t agree with them.

    You seem to be hung up on the need to follow the letter of the law regarding unofficial SFMTrA installations. I’ve pointed out that the city could chose not to follow the letter of the if they believe it’s the right thing to do, and others have pointed out that the SFMTA doesn’t always follow the letter of the law in work they themselves carry out.

  • Bernard Finucane

    It’s perfectly safe to hit a steel post with a concrete core if you are driving at a reasonable speed and have your seat belt fastened. But unbent fenders are more important than pedestrians.

  • jonobate

    Also, very relevant to this discussion: in the latest Talking Headways, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf talks about permitting art pieces painted on the roadway that are technically illegal, but which they decided to permit anyway. Starts 30 mins in.

  • Anyone can print up stickers that say #DemandMore and slap them on every useless MUTCD-approved drive-over plastic bollard in the city.

  • I can’t say I’m all that impressed with MUTCD. This is the standards group that did nothing of any value when the nation was covered with expensive, dumb, and worthless yellow diamond “Share the Road” signs. For years.

    But once San Francisco experimented and changed the text to “Bicycles Allowed Full Use of Lane,” they sprang into action. Oh noes, it’s a visible yellow diamond and that means caution when it should be an unobtrusive white rectangle indicating a regulation!!! Must oppose! Must demand changes! Must slow it all down!

    Give me NACTO any day.

  • Probably get a better response with a SFMTrA sticker attached to it.

  • Those should be put on real SFMTA bollards. 😉

  • Exactly. Or any place some half-assed solution is applied. Blame it on the guerrillas for extra attention. (Though they’ll pull something fast due to the order of operations, that doesn’t necessarily mean an additive improvement won’t take decades.)

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