On Thursday, Attorney General Kamala Harris approved a welcome addition to the intersection of Octavia and Market Streets; a traffic camera. The camera installation, which Assemblyman Tom Ammiano proposed over three years ago, has been repeatedly delayed as it made its way through the state government approval process. This delay can partly be attributed to the unique nature of the camera. Unlike most traffic cameras, the Octavia and Market Street camera is not designed to catch vehicles that run red lights. Instead, it will be positioned to catch vehicles that make illegal right turns and endanger pedestrians.
The camera has had a long and incredibly frustrating bureaucratic journey. The traffic light’s problems first began in 2010 when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it because it was ‘unnecessary’. Assemblyman Ammiano then went through the arduous process of trying to prove that the camera was indeed necessary. First, he went to the City Attorney’s Office for a legal opinion. However, the office concluded that they could not rule on it since the camera was being used for a ‘new’ purpose (catching right-turn violators, not red-light runners). Therefore, they passed the proposal on to State Attorney General Kamala Harris. Finally, on January 3, 2013, Harris approved the camera.
Unfortunately, there is more bureaucratic red tape to cut through before the camera can be installed. The SFMTA must find funding, define the project’s goals/scope, and then bid out the contract. The agency will not have an accurate timeline for installation until these steps have been completed.
For the SF Bike Coalition and WalkSF, the camera cannot come soon enough. Last year, the Octavia and Market Street intersection was given the infamous honor of being the most dangerous intersection in the city. In 2011 alone, there were an astounding 10 injury collisions involving bicyclists and pedestrians at the intersection. Both WalkSF and the SF Bike Coalition have previously noted their frustration with the SFMTA over their seeming lack of focus on problem areas like Market and Octavia. However, SFMTA has responded that the intersection has undergone signal-timing changes and improvements to crosswalk markings in a concerted effort to make the notorious intersection more safe. “There have been some physical improvements to Market and Octavia” admitted Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, “but this enforcement mechanism will really make people think twice about making that illegal turn.”
The proposed camera will not be a magical solution to the problems plaguing the intersection. A comprehensive effort including “engineering changes, increased enforcement and technology upgrades”, like the traffic camera will be needed to tackle the intersection. However, the camera is a good place to start.