Thursday, January 31, 2008

The right-turn ban: Where's the evidence?

The hysteria over the Market/Octavia intersection began long before the new freeway ramp and the new, unimproved Octavia Blvd. were open in 2005. At the behest of the SF Bicycle Coalition, in 2004 then-Supervisor Matt Gonzalez carried a resolution to prohibit a sensible right-turn from Market Street onto the new freeway ramp.

Since then the city has spent thousands of dollars and newspapers have spilled gallons of ink on this bogus issue. I even saw an item about it on Channel 7 TV the other day. Though both the SF Bicycle Coalition and the article below refer to 13 "collisions" at that intersection since the revamped intersection was opened in September, 2005, there is a suspcious lack of analysis of that number. Did these accidents involve cyclists? How many of these accidents had anything to do with the allegedly dangerous right turn? How does that accident total compare with other busy intersections, like the one at nearby Market and Van Ness?

And the official Most Dangerous Intersection in the city is at Octavia and Oak, which had 14 injury collisions in 2006 alone, as opposed to the 13 total for the more than two years that the new Market/Octavia intersection has been open.

What this really demonstrates is the ability of the SF Bicycle Coalition to create a synthetic sense of emergency to continue to drive, so to speak, its anti-car agenda in San Francisco, enlisting our political leadership and a credulous media in its ongoing jihad against motor vehicles in the city.

Brent Begin
The SF Examiner

One of the most dangerous intersections in The City may become equipped with an automated camera that would catch motorists who make an illegal right turn, much like cameras throughout The City that nab red-light runners. A bill by Assemblymember Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, would allow The City to post an automated camera at the intersection of Octavia Boulevard and Market Street. Since the intersection opened in 2005 after the Central Freeway was torn down, 13 people have been hit, according to Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes the intersection. In 2007 alone, at least 30 pedestrians have died in one of the deadliest years for city strollers. Last year, a truck carrying cement made an illegal turn at the intersection and hit Margaret Timbrell. Timbrell survived the collision but sustained 24 broken bones throughout her body, a collapsed lung and fluid in her chest cavity. The intersection has undergone several safety improvements since. The city placed extra signage at the corner and installed plastic dividers to discourage people from making a right turn off Market Street onto the freeway. Leah Shahum, director of The City’s Bicycle Coalition, said officials have had to make many late improvements because planners didn’t realize how dangerous the intersection, which is the entrance and exit to U.S. Highway 101, would be. “We didn’t get it exactly right,” she said. Installing the camera requires approval from the state Senate and the governor. It might not actually start taking pictures until 2009, but Ma said the improvement is much needed. “We have done as much as we can here in The City to try and prevent people from taking the right turn, but it is still one of the most dangerous intersections in this city,” she said. San Francisco has become a camera-rich city in recent years. In addition to dozens of cameras installed in high-crime areas, The City currently uses 23 red-light cameras to bust drivers who blow through intersections. Muni is planning to put cameras in the front of buses to catch motorists who double park on The City’s thoroughfares in legislation also authored by Ma. State law is unclear about which specific violations can be enforced by an automated camera. The existing law implies that cameras are meant to catch motorists who run a red light, but the Octavia Boulevard camera would enforce an illegal right turn.

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At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this is such a "bogus" issue- why do I have a hospital bill for $200,000+? Count me as one of the actual numbers.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Is your name Margaret Trimble? If you were you hit by a driver making an illegal right turn at that intersection, do you think you are the only cyclist in San Francisco hit by a motorist making a right turn? Exactly why is that intersection different than, for example, the nearby intersection of Market and Van Ness where right-turns are legal?

At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Harry Hawk said...

Bob - I thought you didn't own a car?

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The name is Rob, Harry. And I still don't own a car and haven't for more than 20 years.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Exactly why is that intersection different than, for example, the nearby intersection of Market and Van Ness where right-turns are legal?"

Because it's a direct turn onto the freeway and the traffic volume making that turn would be extraordinarily high, resulting in many collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.

A seperate signal phase, it is argued, would back traffic up too much on Market St., although I think it would be worth trying, personally.

-a cyclist

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Traffic volume making that turn would be "extraordinarily high"? Care to provide any evidence for that? Your comment sounds like you haven't really looked at that intersection. The overwhelming majority of freeway-bound traffic that uses that on-ramp comes directly across Market Street on Octavia Blvd, which is now essentially a feeder-street for drivers coming on and off the freeway. It's only drivers coming down Market Street from the direction of the Castro that are denied easy access to the freeway via an easy right turn. Diverting those freeway-bound motorists to the Market and Van Ness intersection simply delays their right turn for five or six blocks. Why is that less dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians than the right-turn at Market and Octavia?

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why is that less dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians than the right-turn at Market and Octavia?"

As I said, I'm for trying a seperate signal phase (which is not going to happen).

The reason it's different(and less dangerous) is that the cars turning right onto S. Van Ness are not exclusively the freeway-bound traffic. A fundamental difference, or so the traffic engineers would have us believe.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Many drivers making that right turn are simply headed for Mission St. What difference does their ultimate destination make? Either right turns are a special threat to cyclists or they aren't. If they are, there are many intersections in the city that pose the same danger, which makes the Market/Octavia intersection no different than many others in the city.

At 1:40 PM, Anonymous DXW said...


Here are answers to some of your questions:

All 13 of the collisions cited in the article involved bicyclists being hit by illegally-turning motorists.

During the same time perioid, there have been 2 collisions involving right-turning motorists hitting bicyclists at nearby Market and Van Ness.

As I've commented here before, the design of the intersections are quite different. Where right turns are permitted (such as at Market and Van Ness), the CA Vehicle Code requires motorists to merge into the bike lane before making the turn, which helps minimize the chance of a "right-hook" type of collision, which is what has been occuring at Market and Octavia. This is why the bike lane markings are dashed approaching the Market and Van Ness intersection (and any other intersection where right-turns are permitted). At Market and Octavia, where right turns are not permitted, motorists have made the illegal movement from the travel lane to the left of the bike lane, thus catching bicyclists off-guard and resulting in collisions.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

DXW: Who are you, and why should we take your word that all the accidents involved cyclists and the banned right turn? Are you a city worker? If so why not release the specifics of the 13 accidents---and the accidents at Market and Van Ness---so that we can all have the same information you claim to have? Your anonymity doesn't help your credibility.

And why not "merge" the right-turning traffic at Market/Octavia to avoid danger to cyclists as the city does at Market and Van Ness?

Nice try, though, DXW.

At 9:03 PM, Anonymous DXW said...


Yes, I work for the MTA. What details are you looking for about the collisions - I'd be happy to provide them.

Thanks for maintaining such an entertaining blog.


At 9:22 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...


We need to know who was hurt, who was at fault, and how many of the 13 accidents had anything to do with the banned right turn. We also need to see data from other intersections in the city to make a valid comparison.

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous DXW said...

All 13 of the collisions referenced involved cyclists being injured by motorists making an illegal right turn. You asked for a comparison at Market and Van Ness and I provided it - 2 injury collisions involving motorists and cyclists during the same time period.

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What makes you think this kind of arrogance--anonymous arrogance, at that---is credible? Let's see some hard data---accident reports, for example. Thanks for condescending to give me some information, but, lacking any way to verify it, it just sounds like bullshit to me.

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Rob, exactly how many deaths/collisions at Market and Octavia do you need to believe it to be an overly dangerous intersection? Shouldn't 1 be enough? I applaud you for picking the convenience of a right hand turn over the life of a bicyclist.

p.s. Get a dictionary and learn how to spell.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There haven't been any deaths, but the city claims 13 injury collisions, presumably because of the right-turn hazard. But we haven't seen any real evidence even for this. Let's see some accident reports, telling us who was hurt and who was at fault, etc. We still don't know much about the alleged 13 accidents, not to mention the fact that we need some statistics on other intersections to make a valid comparison.

In short, for all I know it's all bullshit, which isn't inconceivable, given the city's history of aggressively implementing the SF Bicycle Coalition's agenda.

The notion that the safety of cyclists should be the number one priority of our traffic system is ridiculous. Riding a bike in the city is an inherently dangerous activity in a context of a city with a lot of traffic---hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, buses, taxis moving around on the streets of the city every day. The city already goes quite far at accommodating this small minority's rather dangerous hobby, and the burden of proof should be on the city and the bike people to demonstrate that further accommodation is justified.

At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Will said...

Such a nice article which one of the most dangerous intersections in The City may become equipped with an automated camera that would catch motorists who make an illegal right turn, much like cameras throughout The City that nab red-light runners. In order the traffic violators would be punish immediately.Thanks for sharing this article.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

But the question remains, Is this trip necessary? Not allowing motorists to get onto the freeway quickly there seems shortsighted and surely contributes to traffic congestion and air pollution in the area. And why hasn't the city tried changing the traffic light system so that cyclists and motorists don't share a green light at the intersection?


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