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Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Stopped Commuting on Sunset Boulevard - It's Too Dangerous

Sunset Boulevard has always been a problem for both drivers and pedestrians.  The death of a pedestrian who was flung into the windshield of a car at the notorious crosswalk on Yorba and Sunset is probably one of the worst intersections for pedestrians in the city.

I used to commute along Sunset Boulevard to/from the Outer Richmond district and SF State, and I never liked driving it because of the danger factor.  I decided to drive along the Upper Great Highway as an alternative because it was safer.

Here's a list of incidents I've encountered on Sunset Boulevard that made me switch to the Upper Great Highway:

1: On numerous occasions, I've stopped for pedestrians waiting to cross at non-signal controlled intersections.  Almost every time I've stopped, I've seen other drivers buzz by without even slowing down either on my right or left.  I've even stuck my arm out to warn drivers on my left to stop and let the pedestrian cross safely.  On a few other occasions, I've stopped for the pedestrian, only to be honked by the driver behind me and that driver merging into another lane just to pass me.  Lastly, I've had one incident where I stopped for a St. Ignatius student, only to have a driver cuss me out at the next red light signal.

2: Bad signal timing.  The 'green wave' signal pattern is great for drivers as long as you drive at or slightly below the speed limit to keep the cars moving; unfortunately for many years, the city's signal engineers badly timed a signal that encouraged speeding.  If you were the lead car waiting at Ocean Avenue (northbound), got the green light, and accelerated to the speed limit (35 MPH), you always got the red light at the Vicente intersection.  But for drivers who speed faster at about 40 or greater, by the time the vehicle reaches Vicente, they still have the green for a couple of seconds or blow through the yellow light because they know that going faster than the speed limit guarantees safe passage.

3: Speeding.  While the 'green wave' encourages drivers to drive the speed limit, I've seen many drivers speed between Vicente and Ocean because there's no traffic signals for an entire half a mile.

4: Lack of enforcement.  I've complained to SFPD's Taraval station to do something about the speeding problems and dangerous crosswalks only to get nothing in return.  I've only encountered one pedestrian sting at the Yorba and Sunset crosswalk, and it nabbed a ton of drivers who blew through.

5: Too many accidents.  I've seen too many on Sunset.  I've seen a car vs. pedestrian crash on Sunset and Noriega, a car going too fast that slammed on their brakes too late and smashed into a stalled car, and a few cars that have flipped over when they go too fast on the curvy road between Sunset & Ocean and Lake Merced & Winston.

This is why I took a different route instead of Sunset Boulevard.  The road rage alone really messed up my psyche, and at least the Great Highway was a more smoother commute and relaxing.

City Only Takes Action When Someone Dies
It's not a great thing for me to say this: When the city really wants to invest in intersection and road changes, they only take real action when someone dies.  Here's a great example of a major change:

At the intersection of 47th Avenue and Fulton, it was a two-way stop for north and south traffic.  Those going east and west along Fulton had no stop sign.  Residents in the neighborhood hated the intersection because it was too dangerous to cross and cars had to quickly get through the intersection with major blind spots giving limited view of incoming cars.

The neighbors complained to the city, asking for a 4-way stop.  I asked the city myself for the 4-way stop, only to get a written response later on stating they will not change to a 4-way stop because it would "delay Muni."  Instead, the city lengthened the red zone so the cars stopped northbound and southbound could see better for incoming traffic.

It wasn't until one day, a pedestrian crossing the street was hit and killed by a car on Fulton (remember, 47th Avenue and Fulton didn't have a stop sign for eastbound and westbound Fulton) that change was coming.  After that point, people started leafleting the neighborhood campaigning for a 4-way stop to be at the intersection.  In the end, we got our 4-way stop and now it's a lot safer.

Sadly, it took a pedestrian death to make a change.  Hearing from the city saying that a 4-way stop would "delay Muni" before the pedestrian death was a horrible mistake.

It makes me frustrated that a lot of these improvement projects comes at the cost of someone getting killed before action can take place.  Why did the city and state government (since it's also a state highway) install a brand new pedestrian warning signal along Sloat Boulevard?  That's because a Lowell High student was struck and killed by a driver.

However, I will applaud the city for making some improvements without hearing about someone getting killed, such as the traffic calming project along 25th Avenue in the Outer Richmond district.  Four lanes was too narrow and dangerous for drivers, but when it was reduced to two lanes (one each direction) and a middle turnout lane, things was a lot better and calmer.

How I Would Improve Sunset Boulevard
If I had all the money I wanted and can flex the laws, here's what I'd do:

1: Reduce the speed limit to 30.
2: Put those radar traffic signs that tells drivers how fast they are driving.
3: Install traffic signals along every intersection.
4: Cut lanes from 3 each way to two
5: Fix the 'green wave' signals to not reward drivers who speed.  I've heard of some signals intentionally give a red light when a driver goes too fast, a nice punishment.
6: Improved lighting at intersections.  For us drivers, it's our responsibility to identify pedestrians at every crosswalk and intersection we approach.  Having bright lights at the intersections during the night helps us see better, especially when a pedestrian is wearing all black or colors that blend into the background, such as wearing green or brown as Sunset Boulevard's sidewalks are full of trees and dirt.
7: Using the extra space from reducing from 3 to two lanes, I would make bigger pedestrian refuge zones with steel barricades at the medians and crosswalk bulb outs so pedestrians would cross less of the road.
8: I would eliminate the Muni stops at Yorba and remove the dangerous crosswalk.  Instead, I would move the stops closer to the Sloat overpass and build stairwells, and accessible ramps or elevators so people can use those to get from one side to the other without crossing six lanes of Sunset.


Eric Kauschen said...

I can't count the number of times I've almost hit a pedestrian at night who was wearing very dark or all black clothing and felt impervious to a car because they were told, "pedestrians always have the right of way." When a fight breaks out between a car and a human, the car will always win. Pedestrians need to realize that drivers can't always see them and I agree that far brighter lighting is needed all along Sunset to help at night and even more so during the rainy season. When it rains your side view is blocked by rain drops collected on your car windows that makes it nearly impossible to see people walking.

As for the Yorba & Sunset intersection about 10 years ago you actually couldn't cross there because it was known to be dangerous and had to walk down to the Sloat overpass to get across or walk up to Wawona.

Anonymous said...

what about 33 mph to hit all green lights? Or does that cause speeding?

Some areas you can maintain a slower than posted street limit and make all green lights