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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