Pedestrians and cyclists crossing Masonic with green light; the motorist....
SFPD Park Station officers cited 13 motorists and one bicyclist for running red lights at the Fell and Masonic intersection over last weekend. Captain Teresa Barrett told BIKE NOPA this morning that eight of the thirteen motorists were ticketed for running the red left turn signal from Fell onto Masonic.
"These were regular officers," Barrett explained, "I decided to do this now even before a Task Force starts regular monitoring of dangerous intersections in the district." Barrett had earlier described the Task Force as a joint effort with Northern Station to cite drivers for running red lights. The officers will also set up pedestrian stings to ticket drivers who fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. Although several intersections in Park District will be watched, Fell and Masonic will remain a priority location. Barrett said up to seven motorcycle officers will be part of the Task Force, and that it will begin this week.
Captain Barrett agreed with the idea that Fell and Masonic should get "a bad rep" among drivers as a location where red light runners are frequently ticketed. Extra enforcement can help accomplish that, she said, but installing a red light camera there might do even more. "The camera is a pretty powerful tool to make people aware of the surveillance," Barrett said. Jack Fleck, Transportation Engineer for the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), told NOPA residents last September that a red light camera would be installed at the intersection.
Captain Barrett said she also agreed with a reader's suggestion, posted on BIKE NOPA, that the traffic signals for westbound Fell Street traffic should be adjusted to remain red throughout the period that pedestrians and bicyclists are using the east-west crosswalks on Masonic. The current signal operation gives westbound motorists a green light while drivers wanting to turn left onto Masonic receive a red light. Several motorists have stated that the combination of a red and a green light is confusing and may lead to the illegal left turns.
One week earlier, as reported here, a taxi driver hit and injured a bicyclist after allegedly running this same red turn signal. Although the injured bicyclist and the taxi driver disagreed over who had the right-of-way, two independent witnesses (a driver and a passenger) told an SFPD officer on the site that they were certain the cyclist had a solid green light at the time of the collision. Nevertheless, the SFPD officer at the scene did not recommend a citation for the taxi driver. The officer told BIKE NOPA the day following the collision that there were conflicting reports and it was unclear that the cyclist had the right-of-way. Without a request noted on the incident report that a citation is merited, the SFPD Traffic Investigation unit seldom does more than file the report for insurance purposes -- especially in non-fatality cases -- according to officers who I spoke with after the collision occurred.
The increased SFPD enforcement comes at a time of heightened concern about making Masonic Avenue a safer corridor for all users. This Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 pm the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will conduct "streetside outreach" at Fell and Masonic to inform bicyclists of efforts to increase safety at the crosswalk that links the Panhandle Path. Last week SFBC posted on its website an announcement that it was "ramping up a campaign to push the San Francisco Police Department to step up their officer education over cyclist rights and increase enforcement city-wide to make sure cyclists and pedestrians are safe."
In addition to the hazards at Fell and Masonic, bicycle advocates are concerned that some SFPD officers are uninformed or are misinterpreting laws that permit bicyclists to use city streets. Last week a NOPA bicyclist and resident informed several organizations and individuals that she had been harassed by an SFPD motorcycle officer while biking on Golden Gate Avenue near Van Ness Avenue. The officer reportedly told her via loudspeaker that she did not belong in the traffic lane. The California Vehicle Code permits bicyclists "full use of the lane" when a bicycle lane is not available.
Update, 2:30 p.m. A comment from Marc Caswell, Project Manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition: "Captain Barrett's quick response is a great sign, and we are very happy the Park Station is taking the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists so seriously. Hopefully, we can find a way to institutionalize these behaviors throughout the entire SFPD in every neighborhood and district."