Open Thread: How Would You Do Intersection Markings?

SFMTA official wants your feedback on road signage; we want to know how you would fix things at intersections

Mike Sallaberry of SFMTA's livable streets division‎ posted this pic on social media to solicit comments on intersection treatments
Mike Sallaberry of SFMTA's livable streets division‎ posted this pic on social media to solicit comments on intersection treatments

What markings and street constructions cause you the most consternation?

That’s what SFMTA is trying to find out. Michael Sallaberry, from the agency’s Livable Streets division, posted the question on Facebook’s San Francisco Bike Ride Crew page. The example he gave in the post, as seen in the lead image, was a photo of “shark teeth” yield markers at an intersection in SoMa.

From his post:

SFMTA is working on some videos explaining new roadway markings, signs, and signals. Is there anything in particular that you see on the street that is confusing? We’re doing a video on “yield triangles,” for instance, like those in the picture. Anything else you think could use explaining, especially to drivers? We’ll be doing videos for bicyclists and pedestrians later too.

Streetsblog’s initial thought was that Sallaberry definitely picked the right treatment–the infamous mixing zone and its yield triangles–as an example of a marking that confuses people. Our second thought was: if you have to make videos explaining how to read a sign or use an intersection, you’re doing it wrong. Streetsblog tipster Ziggy Tomcich wrote more or less the same thing, a bit less diplomatically, in a comment on the Facebook thread:

Streets should be designed so that it’s instinctively obvious what drivers should do. Making ambiguous intersection markings without any signage, and making a video that nobody will watch, is a dumb f*ck approach to street safety.

At intersections, what to do must be clear to motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists; intersections are where, more often than anywhere else, people die.

That’s the idea behind Dutch-style protected intersections: even if a motorist doesn’t understand the shark teeth or any of the other signs, the concrete on the ground forces them to slow down and make wide turns, maximizing opportunities to spot a cyclist or pedestrian and hit the brakes before a disaster. And if a motorist still doesn’t get it, they bump a protective concrete traffic island instead of hitting a person.

Those concrete islands also keep people from parking in ways that obstruct sightlines and render any signage almost irrelevant. Streetsblog New York’s David Meyer wrote this great piece about those issues–it includes a video of a cyclist going down in a poorly designed mixing zone that will seem familiar to San Franciscans.

Mike Sallaberry. Project Manager at SFMTA's Livable Streets, riding SF's only protected intersection in 2016 when it opened. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Mike Sallaberry, Project Manager at SFMTA’s Livable Streets, riding SF’s only protected intersection in 2016 when it opened. Notice the two pedestrians standing together on the protective island that forces cars to make wider, slower turns. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

This much is clear–cyclists are generally not happy with intersection treatments in SoMa or on the new section of protected bike lane on Valencia. Fully protected intersections are the gold standard, but seem to be off in the future for some reason.

So what can we do in the meantime? Can we improve signs and emulate some of the features of a protected intersection in the short term, such as Portland did in the intersection pictured below, where a planter substitutes for the protective island?

A heavy concrete planter is one way to make a crossing safer without waiting for new pavement. Seen here in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A heavy concrete planter can emulate some aspects of a protected intersection by forcing motorists to slow and make more careful turns–or bash up their car. Seen here in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

What do you think? Post your thoughts below.

  • Cole the Happy

    One reason protected intersections are only barely on the horizon in SF is that they’re installed by a different department. SFMTA can do paint work like these yield triangles or thermoplastic bike lanes, but if a plan calls for new hardware on the street (such as concrete islands or speed bumps) then it’s a job for Public Works. Add to that that our sewer system often has drains at the curb corner that need special consideration.
    I support the planters and other fast-and-flexible near-term improvements, and big bold projects to make streets safer permanently. Videos will do even less than the paint does.

  • robert

    raised crosswalks @ every intersection for pedestrians. It force cars to slow.
    Currently cars (regardless of signs) continue to speed through our cites being a hazard to everyone.

  • mx

    Wait. Those are “yield markers?” Ah, they’re triangles, like yield signs. I ride through there all the time and honestly didn’t know what the heck those are supposed to mean. I’m fairly dense, but if I don’t know what it means, it’s not remotely clear. Ziggy is right: the universe of people who will watch videos explaining pavement markings is near-zero, and anybody who does watch those videos is already going to be in the top tier of safe drivers anyway.

    There are a lot of inscrutable signs and markings in this city, and they’re frequently ignored, often due to our profound lack of traffic enforcement, but also just out of ignorance and confusion. A dozen signs and signals are hitting drivers at once, and they’re supposed to figure them all out while they’re crossing a bike lane, watching for pedestrians (it’s 8th st; I expect unexpected pedestrians there), watching for traffic, checking their GPS, trying not to miss their turn (it’s not particularly obvious at 8th that drivers need to get in that turn pocket all the way back there to turn right on Mission), etc… This all makes us less safer. Every intersection seems to get its own bespoke design—unlike, say, universal concepts like a four way stop or raised intersections, nobody can discover how these markings work in one place and apply that lesson in many locations, and I don’t want to get hit by someone who’s trying to interpret, say, 5+ signs at once (,-122.4176438,3a,15y,87.76h,95.12t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sVyYbde5z61f65eLVa0usYw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192) instead of looking where they’re going.

    SFMTA should recruit a clueless driver panel. Pay a group of befuddled and distracted drivers to test any new infrastructure. If they can’t navigate it without posing a hazard to everyone around them, redesign the project until it’s that blindingly obvious.

  • LazyReader

    Simple, CROSSWALK in big white letters.

  • Roger R.

    “SFMTA should recruit a clueless driver panel. Pay a group of befuddled and distracted drivers to test any new infrastructure. If they can’t navigate it without posing a hazard to everyone around them, redesign the project until it’s that blindingly obvious.” … PERFECT!

  • City Resident

    I agree that planter boxes and other large, solid objects are clearly needed, as are many more protected intersections. But what’s also sorely needed is basic maintenance, specifically the upkeep and repainting of existing lane and crosswalk markings and of the word STOP at intersections with stop signs. Routine wear and tear and road repatching and utility work wipes out markings and too often no effort is made to repaint for years. More advanced stop lines to keep cars out of crosswalks are also needed.

  • crazyvag

    We need a simple agreed upon “cookbook” on how to convert a regular bike lane to a parking protected bike lane. And a team that systematically goes around upgrading safety of each existing bike lane with a meeting or a study for every block.

  • p_chazz

    In San Francisco, the word would need to be in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Russian.

  • keenplanner

    SFMTA really needs to revive the “don’t block the box” traffic campaign, and start aggressively ticketing cars who block the bike lanes and crosswalks because they enter the intersection with nowhere to go. Often they jockey around to try to get out of the cross street and completely block the crosswalks and bike lanes in the process.
    This traffic also blocks MUNI vehicles and is particularly bad on Market Street during the PM peak hours.
    These cars “stuck” in the intersection create a very dangerous environment for bikes and peds.
    Back in the ’90s some intersections were striped with a basket-weave pattern that represented the “box” where drivers would get ticketed if they stopped there. I’d rather see some other treatment than more paint, but, clearly, something must be done.

  • crazyvag

    Rather than use traffic cameras, let pedestrians take photo via an app and submit it to a police officer for review. It must be much cheaper to deploy.

  • David

    Less is more. The best traffic control devices are ones that are clear both in the sense that they can be seen (well painted, reflective, etc.) and in the sense that somebody doesn’t have to login to YouTube to figure them out. For example, this is why HAWK signals are a bad idea; they do the same thing as regular signals but not as well since drivers don’t know when to stop, yield, or go.

  • City Resident

    I don’t think every intersection needs them but I do agree that many more raised crosswalks are needed, and they would provide a big improvement for pedestrian safety.


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