Madness at SoMa Crosswalk

Frustrated redditer posts time-lapse of the constant crosswalk violations at First and Howard

TJ's view of motorists continually blocking the crosswalks at 1st and Howard. Photo: TJ
TJ's view of motorists continually blocking the crosswalks at 1st and Howard. Photo: TJ

TJ works on the seventh floor of a building that overlooks the intersection of First and Howard.

The lead image and video below show what he sees from his office–a constant stream of crosswalk violations and near collisions. “That’s a crosswalk I use almost every day coming and going from lunch or wherever. And it’s a mess. It’s super frustrating to watch,” he told Streetsblog. “I hear the constant horns… a couple of months ago somebody got hit in that crosswalk.”

Word is the victim wasn’t hurt badly, but he knows it’s a matter of time before someone is maimed or killed trying to cross here. He’s also had verbal altercations with motorists who block the crosswalks with impunity.

Frustrated, TJ, who asked that we withhold his full name, set up a camera in his office window, let it run for 20 minutes, and produced this time-lapse video:

He then posted the video to reddit to try and get some attention–and maybe prevent a disaster.

“There’s just way too many close calls,” he said.

“Data shows that pedestrians are at serious risk when… drivers block crosswalks,” wrote Walk San Francisco’s Jodie Medeiros, in an email to Streetsblog about the video.

TJ also sent the video to Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the district. “Unfortunately this trend of vehicles ‘blocking the box’ and endangering pedestrians, cyclists and other cars is all too common, especially near the Bay Bridge,” wrote Courtney McDonald, a Haney staffer, in an email to TJ. She added that they have reached out to SFMTA to see about fixes.

“This corner should get quick build bulb-outs with paint and posts,” wrote people-protected bike lane organizer and safe-streets advocate Matt Brezina. “And I think the real key here will be to fill these quick-build bulb-outs with bike corrals (public corrals or bike-share corrals). They open up sightlines, reduce crossing distance, increase safety AND make bike/scooter share and bike/scooter parking more visible and accessible.”

Additionally, this may be more evidence that traffic signals should be placed on the near side of intersections, so motorists aren’t tempted to creep past the stop line when the isn’t space to clear the intersection.

At this year’s Bike to Work and Walk to Work Days, Mayor London Breed called for increased enforcement. Streetsblog has an email out to the police about this intersection and will update accordingly. “Not only does SFPD need to enforce known dangerous intersections where drivers notoriously block crosswalks, but using technology, like red-light cameras, would make a huge difference too. The numbers of vehicles on our streets in the downtown core is a bigger, critical issue to tackle through congestion pricing.” wrote Medeiros.

Of course, this isn’t a situation that’s unique to First and Howard. “This intersection-blocking sh*t is ridiculous; it’s every one leading up to the Bay Bridge,” said TJ. “You can see it happen at Harrison, Folsom, and Howard.”

Brezina writes that making videos and other kinds of spontaneous advocacy represent a path to real change on the street. “There is a growing army of citizens that want to see their streets change to de-prioritize cars and prioritize people,” he added. “Some people contribute by speaking at meetings. Some join @PeopleProtected actions. And some invent their own creative ways to contribute–like this well-executed video with a memorable ‘ding’ for each infraction (yes – there was an infraction at every light cycle!).”

TJ, meanwhile, said he doesn’t normally get worked up about traffic violations, but he was just fed up with all the conflicts and the knowledge that a serious collision–and probably a fatality–is inevitable. He’s especially fearful for the disabled, who can’t dash out of the way of an errant motorist. “Someone’s going to end up a pancake. I hope we can come up with a solution before it happens.”

  • Jeffrey Baker

    In 1998 I worked at 1st and Folsom. There was a full-time DPT enforcement agent at rush hour handing out $230 tickets for blocking the box. Fish in a barrel but we don’t have that level of enforcement today. Why not?

    The root cause of traffic on 1st is the Bay Bridge. Slap a toll on that crossing and watch traffic disappear.

  • heynow

    No more right on red in the City is the way to go.

  • crazyvag

    It’s just like a don’t block the box automated ticket writing app!

  • p_chazz

    More than once I have seen cars moving slowly but steadily through an intersection. Then, all of the sudden, traffic comes to a stop, the light changes and boom! The car in the middle of the intersection or crosswalk can’t move. It’s not like they intended to “block the box”. They weren’t creeping past the stop line when there wasn’t space to clear the intersection. The traffic was moving when they entered the intersection, it only stopped after they were already in it. It’s awkward for the motorist to be stuck in the middle, blocking pedestrians and cross traffic after the light changes, but it’s not really the their fault.

  • It’s absolutely avoidable but you have to be paying attention and looking ahead. If you’re on a dense, slow street you should wait for the intersection to clear BEFORE you enter it. Prohibiting right on red on some of these busy downtown streets would help with that.

  • runn3r85

    It’s also illegal to enter an intersection unless there is room for you on the other side. This is to keep intersections clear for emergency vehicles and also not block the box. You wait until there is room and then proceed if the light is still green. It’s pretty simple. By the way, here are my receipts (Disqus is messing up the link) https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&sectionNum=22526

    VEHICLE CODE – VEH
    DIVISION 11. RULES OF THE ROAD [21000 – 23336] ( Division 11 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )

    CHAPTER 9. Stopping, Standing, and Parking [22500 – 22526] ( Chapter 9 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )

    22526.
    (a) Notwithstanding any official traffic control signal indication to proceed, a driver of a vehicle shall not enter an intersection or marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or marked crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle driven without obstructing the through passage of vehicles from either side.

  • omfo

    The problem is that if you hold back unless your exit is clear, then someone else will move into that space. In other words a driver has to be aggressive else he will never make any progress, Same thing happens at Masonic and Oak/ Fell.

  • thielges

    If right turn on red were made illegal as dawdler suggests then that sort of green light poaching by the right turners would be greatly reduced. Cars going straight could wait for space to open on the other side of the intersection without the risk of a right turner filling the space.

  • SF Guest

    We don’t have that level of enforcement today ever since the DPT merged with the Muni to become SFMTA.

  • Right. Although if the traffic is bad enough if you’re going straight and you don’t get a spot before your signal turns red the right turning traffic can fill up all the spots and you’re stuck in a vicious cycle. In that case you may have to be aggressive and go take a spot in the box or you could be sitting there forever. Not sure what the solution for that is. More advanced signaling or an actual human in the intersection directing.

  • p_chazz

    So, you are telling me that the motorist supposed to stop on a green light to wait for a car length to open up on the other side of the intersection? Seems like a good way to have a rear-ender. As long as the light is green and traffic is moving, the presumption is that there will be room on the other side of the intersection.

  • SF Guest

    There are already several SOMA intersections with no right turn on red — the problem is enforcing it.

  • Michael Hultin

    S” you are telling me that the motorist supposed to stop on a green light to wait for a car length to open up on the other side of the intersection? Seems like a good way to have a rear-ender.”

    I’ve known since I was 16 years old that you don’t block intersections. It’s really not that hard to do. If somebody’s going to rear end you because you rolled up on a congested intersection, then you are operating in a physical realm that other people aren’t. I have a hard time believing that you’ve ever driven before.

  • Michael Hultin

    California drivers are absolute garbage. I’ve physically smacked cars, kicked one, punched one (palm out) with intent to dent, shouted down a great many slimeballs in my day. Not just California though but all over this country. Threaten my life, I will dent your car. Nevada is being flooded with the horrific drivers that come from California. Utterly incapable of using a turn signal, let alone obeying more advanced laws.

    Ohio and Connecticut are comparable from what I’ve experienced.

    As that dude said who called out the GA rep Erica Thomas, there are lots of rude people in this world and they need to be called out. Too bad threatening the life of someone with your vehicle is treated like a joke.

  • Michael Hultin

    How does someone turn left into your lane at a red light? That makes no sense.

    Right turner, the secret there is not being in the right lane. Otherwise, I’d be driving another direction. But what do you expect from the state begging to care about the environment but packing 4 cars in each McMansion.

  • Michael Hultin

    Right turn is already illegal in that scenario. See how that works?

    The problem is California drivers are not being ticketed. The laws are already not being enforced.

    The solution would be a beat cop or bike cop.

  • sf in sf

    Yes, that is the driver’s fault. If there isn’t room to exit the intersection, don’t enter it. Pretty simple and has always been the law.

  • omfo

    It can happen easily, especially if the cross street is one-way. Try going north-bound on Masonic. As you approach Oak, east-bound traffic on Oak will turn left onto Masonic if you hold back. If you don’t “take the crosswalk”, they will.

    The only way to prevent that is to pull forward yourself but then you risk being caught on the crosswalk when the lights change at Fell.

    And cars will turn into any lane they can, so which lane you are in may not matter.

    I see it all the time.

  • Michael Hultin

    It’s very easy to not do it. Don’t do it. there are a hundred other options including driving another route, not driving at all, petitioning for alternative lighting and traffic control.

  • Michael Hultin

    And left-turn traffic control.

  • p_chazz

    Actually I don’t drive. I’m observing from a pedestrian’s perspective.

  • p_chazz

    Hope you don’t encounter a driver with a gun and a short temper. You could end up dead the next time you vandalize a vehicle.

  • Michael Hultin

    Nice try there, sloppy. Seems a certain segment of the population that seems to be obsessed with death around every corner. Probably the same people that try to run people over and expect them to not do anything about it. Stick to your basement champ, the world is full of gun toting evil that will destroy you.

  • Michael Hultin

    You’re observing your navel. I don’t know how a rear-ender can be observed from a pedestrian perspective if you’re talking about a person in a car preventing a rear-ender that has nothing to do with the pedestrian. Christ.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Near side lights are a big help, but I don’t see how they would work here, because the problem is more like gridlock. Bulbouts and a pedestrian island would make more sense. It
    is notable that the far left lane in underused. So put an island in the middle and let the cars curve around it. That would channel traffic and reduce speed.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    No amount of enforcement can out a dent in this dumb highway approach design. The reason our streets get hopelessly gridlocked is because the intersections, by default, are used to merge bridge bound traffic from multiple lanes to get onto the highway. The lack of capacity of the bay bridge during rush hour pretty much guarantees that congestion is going to spill onto city streets. Writing tickets, even automated enforcement will not put a dent in this problem because there’s no driver solution that can magically make this congestion less inefficient.

    The solution is to design our streets so that intersections do not merge traffic from multiple lanes onto a congestive highway on ramp. Highway on-ramp merging should take place mid block and on long approaches designed to handle it. Intersections should be small, with no merging at all, no turns on red, and smarter signal phases to maximize the intersections use. Why are timers still used? Why can’t traffic signals detect and manage all traffic?

    Most of the intersections downtown are remarkably inefficient, making pedestrians and drivers wait for non-existing cross traffic only to conflict with each other once every 45 seconds for a 15 second green.

    Because bay bridge traffic is already beyond its capacity and it will keep getting worse every year until our economy collapses, this problem will keep getting worse affecting more and more intersections. This is a cueing problem; there just isn’t enough space on our local streets to handle vehicle backups from the limited capacity of the bay bridge. Enforcement won’t solve it.

  • It has almost nothing to do with the Bay Bridge (considering that we constantly encounter the same indignity in Philadelphia) and everything to do with our priorities as a society.

  • Dave

    I share your opinion of American drivers. The only thing that will fix the transportation culture of this dumbassed hick country of ours is a geopolitical convulsion in the Middle East that jacks our gas prices up to $10-$12 a gallon. It cannot happen too soon!

  • Michael Hultin

    The resulting socioeconomic chaos would be pretty nasty.

  • dfiler

    Yes, that is exactly what we’re telling you. It is the law. Don’t enter an intersection unless there is room on the other side.

  • Dave

    Damn the torpedoes, we still need it. I don’t want to walk like a refugee!

  • Michael Hultin

    Where will Americans go when we’re a third world country? Ha. Ha. Ha.

  • samhammer

    You should lobby for large carbon taxes.

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