Operation of bicycle and pedestrian signals at Fell & Masonic, site of a collision on Feb. 13
Video: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition YouTube .
An observation by the SFPD officer who interviewed witnesses at the scene of a bicyclist/motorist collision at Fell and Masonic February 13th suggests a review is needed of how the California Vehicle Code (CVC) relates to the crosswalk signal operations at this site.
According to witnesses interviewed by BIKE NOPA the day following the incident, the cyclist was clearly in the crosswalk with a green light and had the right-of-way. One noted that the pedestrian countdown signal was at "6" (it runs from 15 to 1).
The SFPD officer also obtained this information from the witnesses. However, he suggested to BIKE NOPA that the cyclist might share some responsibility or fault if she had entered the crosswalk during the countdown. He explained that the countdown is meant as a guide and warning to those already in the crosswalk. This interpretation of the CVC is accurate for pedestrians but apparently not for bicyclists who have their own crosswalk signal.
Pedestrians receive a walk signal for crossing that holds for about three seconds before it begins the countdown from 15 to 1. Then the signal displays an orange hand. The bike light, however, has a different sequence. It turns green at the same time as the pedestrian signal, and remains green through the pedestrian's warning countdown. The bike light turns yellow for three seconds before turning red at the same time as the pedestrian light.
Why does this different sequence for bicyclists and pedestrians matter? The California Vehicle Code (CVC) states that pedestrians should not enter the crosswalk after the warning flash and/or the countdown has begun. However, for bicyclists the CVC states: "an operator of a bicycle facing a steady yellow bicycle signal is, by that signal, warned that the related green movement is ending or that a red indication will be shown immediately thereafter." (CVC, 21456.3 (b). The code does not prohibit the cyclist from being in the crosswalk during the warning phase.
In the case of the injury collision the night of February 13th, if the bicyclist was in the crosswalk during the pedestrian countdown, as witnesses stated, she had a full green bike light and, thus, legal right-0f-way when she collided with the taxi van and sustained injuries to her shoulder.
The crosswalk linking the Panhandle Path is unique in the city. Bicyclists have the legal right to ride, not walk, through the crosswalk according to a new state law reported previously here. The crosswalk is also unusual since it has the two different signals, one for pedestrians and one for bicyclists.
Bicyclists should take caution at this intersection where illegal left-hand turns by motorists occur frequently. Cyclists only get approximately three seconds of a yellow warning bike light before the red appears. At the same time, SFPD should be clear that cyclists retain the right-of-way throughout the green bike light sequence even while the pedestrian light shifts into a warning countdown.