How to Fix a Dangerous Intersection So Cyclists Don't Get Killed
Good news for all cyclists who would really like to not get hit by a car this year. The notoriously menacing intersection at Octavia Boulevard and Market Street will finally get an automated traffic camera to catch those speeding drivers.
After years of lobbying, legislative wrangling, and legal deliberation, transportation leaders announced last week that any driver ballsy enough to make the illegal right-turn from Market onto the freeway should soon expect swift, robotic justice. It will look something like this: a cornea-searing flash in their rearview mirror, followed by a hefty fine in their mailbox.
For those unfamiliar with just how uniquely unsafe the Octavia and Market intersection is for downtown-bound cyclists, consider the following scenario: A driver heading west on Market either doesn't realize, or doesn't care that freeway-bound traffic is only supposed to approach the onramp straight on from Octavia Boulevard. Ignoring three or four unambiguous signs and stencils at the corner, the driver hangs a right on a green light onto Highway 101 -- and barrels right through our separated bike lane.
Whatever moral you take from the story above -- perhaps it's "San Francisco should have engineered the onramp differently" or "we should move the bike lane to the left" or "we should replace all the cars of all known offenders with Tonka Trucks because at least you can drive those like a self-entitled sociopath without actually murdering someone" -- the scenario is a real one.
In the SFMTA's latest collision report, Octavia and Market was the site of 30 reported injury accidents between 2009 and 2011. Of those 30 injuries, 21 were cyclists.
"We have known for far too long that that is the most dangerous intersection for walking and biking," Leah Shahum of the Bicycle Coalition told me this week. "It may sound like a really basic idea, but we're really encouraging the Police Department and the Municipal Transport Agency to take a data driven approach -- to focus their limited resources on the known problem areas."
And although the presence of a computerized traffic cop is indeed a big win for cyclists (and pedestrians and drivers), this city has no shortage of other "problem areas."
Take those intersections highlighted in the 2011 SFMTA report: Market and Valencia, Dubose and Valencia, Fell and Masonic, and Polk and Ellis. These are the intersections where more than six car-involved bicycle injuries were reported between 2009 and 2011. In other words, these are the areas where different riders were being hit at different times by different drivers. This doesn't suggest a coincidence -- that these just happen to be the corners where idiots on bikes go to get hit by cars. It suggests that the infrastructure coupled with the level of typical congestion along those streets either isn't allowing or is actually preventing drivers and riders from safely sharing the road.
Shahum points to virtually all of mid-Market as a good example of this."We do have so many problematic areas and conflict zones," she says, pointing to 4th,
5th, and 8th streets, as she named a few.
Likewise, Polk Street is rife with hairy intersections, namely at Broadway and at Turk. It's a street, by and large, she says, that could "definitely could use more love."
In this case, "more love" translates to fully dedicated bike lanes and more green space -- a complete transformation of the street and something the Bicycle Coalition is pushing for on both Polk and Market streets. "To put the street back together again, but better," she says.
If and until those long-term projects are realized, in the meantime, there are smaller, ad hoc fixes to make individual intersections more bike-friendly. Take the required right turns off Market at 6th and 10th, which began as low cost pilot projects. Or look at Market and Valencia, which the SFMTA called the second-most dangerous intersection for biking. Just a few months ago, Mission-bound cyclists had to jut across two lanes of traffic and a set of Muni tracks to get to the other side of Market.
Now the city's first bike bay allows riders to post at the bike line while they wait for their own green light.
"Every intersection is different, so there's no blanket solution obviously," says Shahum. "But if the city is really prioritizing safety for all road users as the first priority, then the positive changes will follow."