Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The right-turn ban: An ongoing annoyance

I first wrote about the ban on motorists making the easy right turn onto the freeway at Market and Octavia almost five years ago. That ban is the sort of gratuitous stupidity on behalf of the city's bike people that will continue to annoy people as long as it is maintained. Why not allow traffic that wants to get on the freeway and off Market Street to use that on-ramp? This is a question that's never been answered to my satisfaction.

Instead, motorists are forced to travel on surface streets six blocks away to the nearest freeway entrance at South Van Ness and 13th Street. Yes, there have been some accidents when motorists making that right turn have hit cyclists. But why not try a different light system like the city did at Masonic and Fell? There the city put in a special traffic light in the shape of a bicycle for cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians that is not shared with motorists making the left turn onto Masonic from Fell Street.

Even at the Bay Guardian's blog, people are still bitching about the right-turn ban.

Instead of making my comments to the Guardian, I'll make them here as I share some of the comments that are critical of the right-turn ban:

I work two blocks from this intersection. The problem is not cameras; the problem is the stupidity of trying to block a simple right turn from Market St onto the freeway. Blocking this turn forces cars to go through FIVE red lights to get on the freeway instead of a simple turn. Sorry, but bikes are not driven by blind people and they fucking LOOK for cars turning right as they do in many other intersections in the city. The city has spent a fortune, and installed what are now laughable barriers to a common-sense right turn from SF's biggest street onto its biggest freeway. This stupid attempt to force everyone else to be inconvenienced for a few bikes a day is fucked. And yes, it is a few bikes a day compared to the scores of cars that would make this turn. No, I don't support your bike agenda and I will ignore and confound it everywhere I can.

Sounds like the bike people have made an enemy of this commenter, and one wonders how many just like her there are out there. But I disagree that the barriers that the city has erected to prevent people from making the right turn are "laughable." They are now quite formidable and effective, which probably annoys motorists even more:

I think it's lunacy not to allow right turns onto the freeway. This is nothing less than political correctness run amuck, with the message being that cars are bad and must be punished. The fact is that intersections where right hand turns are legal are safer than Octavia, so isn't the solution obvious? Furthermore, how many extra tons of green house gasses are generated by making cars drive an extra six blocks?

Yes, and during commute hours traffic is seriously jammed at 13th and South Van Ness with people trying to get on the freeway. That traffic jam could be alleviated by allowing the right turn onto the freeway at Market and Octavia.

Of course if this was China or even Las Vegas there would be a pedestrian/bike bridge or tunnel over Octavia freeway entrance. In that case a traffic reducing right turn could be allowed. Note that there will be some bike/car accidents as cars are forced to go thru the 5 red lights on their way to the freeway. A light sequence that includes an all-ways ped/bike crossing would be great! One could also trivially put a "railroad crossing" style gate up to make sure cars don't enter the freeway when its Ped/Bike's turn for the light. Unfortunately civil engineers and SF political hacks lack basic problem solving skills.

Yes, it's puzzling that the city has never tried to do something with the traffic lights at that intersection. The city proposed doing away with the bike lane on that part of Market Street, but the Bicycle Coalition hated that idea, and Judge Busch also rejected it, even though he allowed the new light at Fell and Masonic. 

One problem with simply doing away with the bike lane there---forcing cyclists and motorists to share a lane---is that passive-aggressive cyclists would love to back up motorists on Market Street. One good thing about the proposal: forcing cyclists and motorists to share a lane would have made the ban on the right-turn unnecessary.

At that intersection? As someone else pointed out it is a right turn from the city's busiest street onto its busiest freeway. What genius made the decision to disallow these turns and instead force drivers to go through 5 additional red lights before they could get on the freeway? Shouldn't we consider building a pedestrian bridge or tunnel and accept that people are going to want to make a right onto the freeway at this spot?

The right-turn ban was quietly done with an ordinance carried by Supervisor Gonzalez back in 2004 at the behest of the Bicycle Coalition. Matier and Ross wrote about it and so did I back in 2005. The thread on the Guardian's blog was originally about Leland Yee's refusal to vote for traffic cameras at the intersection, but it devolved into some bitter reflections on the right-turn ban:

I hope Leland[Yee] is taking note, that even here in Bay Guardian land, there is a lot of disagreement. I imagine that in the city at large, there's a pretty wide consensus against more strict enforcement of this intersection, either because of opposition to traffic cameras, or because the right turn shouldn't be illegal in the first place, or both. I myself both ride a bike and drive, and I'm generally friendly to bike issues (unlike some of the haters out there), but this is really excessive (and stupid). Trashing civil liberties and making cars run an obstacle course of traffic, pedestrians, and bicyclists on other streets just so some other bicyclists don't have to look for cars at one intersection---it's not justifiable from any angle.

Several years ago, the Bicycle Coalition's Andy Thornley tried with some success to muddy the waters on the right-turn issue.

To read earlier posts on the right-turn ban, click on "Right-Turn Ban at Market/Octavia" below.

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At 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cry me a river, cry me a river...

At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Daviator said...

It is completely ridiculous that San Francisco would build a freeway entrance accessible from Market St., and then make it illegal to actually USE the entrance from Market St. Those of us who live or work in the upper Market area are forced to navigate several blocks of traffic and signals (and/or drive completely out of the way) as a result of the city's implementation of this entrance. (A left turn onto Market from the exit could have been easily implemented with signals too, another flaw.)

As a cyclist, I routinely deal with cars making right turns. There are ways to engineer the intersection to minimize conflicts and make the road work for EVERYONE, and not just penalize drivers so that cyclists don't have to be troubled by having to PAY ATTENTION.

The ban on right turns was proposed as a 6 month trial (by Chris Daly, as I recall), but that was a farce, of course. Despite loads of problems and complaints that should have rendered the "trial" a failure, they just spent more money to make the interchange worse, since there was never any possibility that the "trial" could fail.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Good points. I agree.
the right turn from Market onto the freeway can be very simple and safe indeed; the proper signals..and both cars and cyclists being very careful and slow at this intersection.

Trouble is the cyclists feel entitled to keep going thru the light, not looking, and refusing to allow cars to turn right.

Also the left turn onto Market, as you said, can be easily and safely solved with signals.

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Trouble is the cyclists feel entitled to keep going thru the light, not looking, and refusing to allow cars to turn right."

Because that is the LAW. You know, the LAW. Like not turning left on red is the LAW. To make a right turn with a bike lane to your right, you must safely merge - meaning waiting for the lane to clear - into said bike lane, THEN turn right. That's how it works. This is very clearly stated in the CVC.

Apparently you don't think cars should have to follow the LAW

At 5:58 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

It's not the LAW to run red lights. And your comment doesn't address the more substantive comments in the post about trying a different traffic light system, where cyclists and cars don't share the green light. If the city is really trying to balance the interests of all transportation "modes"---and not simply pushing the Bicycle Coalition's agenda---it needs to work harder to help freeway-bound drivers at this intersection, the closest freeway on-ramp being at 13th and South Van Ness.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Exactly. My comment was directed toward the issue of cyclists going thru a red light..flying thru it..I see that a lot at that intersection.

This problem could be corrected by cyclists and cars NOT sharing the same light..and allowing for cars to turn right, safely, with an appropriate traffic light signal.

It is possible.

At 2:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Separated traffic signals (with right turn on red being illegal) is an interesting idea, but I fear car after car will make the illegal right turn anyway (unless a something like a crossing gate actually came down and blocked the way, which I can't picture ever actually happening).

The problem with right turns onto the freeway has nothing to do with cyclists needing to run the red (that's their problem for running the red), it's the endless drivers who on a green fail to merge into the bike lane before making their right turn, cutting off and/or side-swiping people in the bike lane trying to continue straight (on green).

It's bad enough on regular intersections where cars are more likely to see the bike they may cut off as they pass them, but if the drivers are all stopped at a car-only red, they're very likely to not notice the bikes coming down the bike lane (through the green bike signal).

I'm supportive of finding a way for cars to enter the freeway directly from Market, it just needs to be realistic in that drivers routinely don't pay attention to traffic in the bike lane on their right.

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We should actually tear out about 6 more blocks of that overpass.

It would facilitate sunshine, but interfere with homeless encampments.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger rocky's dad said...

Yes, this particular location may be a very difficult problem to solve. Admittedly, traffic light solutions ALONE may not be the answer.

This is perhaps a good example of how difficult it can be for cyclists and cars to mix on a very busy street/intersection. Cars and bikes will be in conflict here, and at other locations.

How it is completely solved to make it safe and legal for both sides, I'm not really sure.

But it does seem to point out that bikes and cars have to be especially vigilant in watching for each other.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My bad on navigating the CAPTCHA system. I was too much of a techno-moron to use it properly at the time.


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