Traffic Camera finally gets the Green Light

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.

If you ever need a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco, Paso Robles, or the surrounding Central California Coast area, contact us for a free consultation.


Valencia Street Commute is Dangerous for Cyclists

In 1999 City Officials and the SFMTA transformed the restaraunt-lined Valencia street by trading in two traffic lanes for bike lanes. This transformation made the street a regular commute route for cyclists going to and from work. However, the increasing late-night popularity of the corridor among foodies and those looking for a meal in a chic part of town has led to more car traffic especially at night.

The street is notorious among cyclists for incidents of cars darting into the bike lane to nab a prime parking spot, and nearly hitting cyclists while they do it. In addition, cars often double park in the bike lane and taxis stop in the lane to drop off their passengers. All of these obstructions force cyclists to swerve into the busy car traffic and risk injury.

The problem is a combination of lackluster police presence and enforcement and inadequate bike lanes. For now, the solution, bike commuters say, is increased enforcement of traffic laws including wreckless driving (for the sudden swerving into the bike lanes) and parking violations for the double parking. For the future, however, the SF Bike Coalition is hoping that Valencia will join Golden Gate Park as well as Fell and Oak streets by instituting a protected/separated bike lane.

Until then, cyclists will have to continue to be vigilant and reactive and the community will have to continue to pressure the SFPD and the MTA for more enforcement on the corridor.


Canadian Study Provides Support for New Protected Bike Lane Bill

Last month Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 819, a bill intended to encourage more communities to implement modern protected bike facilities. The current system actively discourages cities from implementing protected bike lanes and other cycling innovations commonly used in Europe because they are not legally covered by Caltrans’s outdated bike lane standards. The new bill is a step forward since it streamlines a process by which cities and municipalities can apply to implement more innovative designs.

And now the bill is getting support from a Canadian study which compares the various different environments in which people ride their bikes. In many ways, their findings reflect common sense. For example, they found that streets with bike lanes are safer than streets without bike lanes. Not to sound rude but, duh. The suprising news is in the numbers. A bike lane (even the most basic and flawed as many in California are) will reduce the risk of injury to cyclists by 50% as compared to a similar street without a bike lane. And the same style street with a protected bike lane (meaning barriers between cars and cyclists) drop risk of injury 90%. Those statistics are astoudning. Numbers like these are hard to argue with.

Imagine, if cities invested in protected bike lanes, it is likely that injuries to cyclists would drop approximately 90%. That means more cyclists on the road and we have posted numerous articles about what more cyclists means for cities; safer streets, better public transportation, less traffic and congestion, more tourism, and the list goes on.

Basically, the Canadian study put numbers to something that San Francisco cyclists have known all along. You have to invest in safety. It may be a lot up front, but the returns are astronomical.

A Protected Bike Lane in San Francisco

If you ever need a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco, Paso Robles, or the surrounding Central California Coast area, contact us for a free consultation.


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SF Gets First Protected Bike Lane! Drivers Already Violating It

Rules of the Road, Again….

The tragic death of Hailey Ratliff, the 12 year old Novato girl struck and killed while riding her bicycle in October, has local police pleading Bay Area residents to educate themselves on the rules of the road. Here are some basic precautions that EVERY cyclist needs to take:

  1. All cyclists, minors included, must learn and follow the rules of the road. For those riders without a driver’s license (and subsequently without the mandatory training) this means familiarizing yourself with California and local laws.
  2. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is safer to bike on the street than on the sidewalk. Streets are generally flatter, the visibility is better and there is less risk of a collision with cars exiting their driveways.
  3. Stay at least 3 feet from parked cars. The distance will allow for more reaction time if a car begins to pull onto the street.
  4. Wear a helmet.
  5. Use bike lights and reflectors, especially at night and during the winter when cloud cover can lower visibility.
  6. Always signal your moves and make your intentions obvious. If you are going to turn, make sure all the cars around you know you are going to turn.
  7. Drunk cycling is drunk driving.

It’s not fair, but it is true that it lands on cyclists to take extra precautions when sharing the road with cars. Winter in San Francisco and the Bay Area means heavy fog and wet roads. Please be safe!

If you ever need a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco, Paso Robles, or the surrounding Central California Coast area, contact us for a free consultation.


Historical Potholes

Half-hidden tracks belonging to the historic San Francisco Belt Railroad create a dangerous obstacle for cyclists along the waterway near Ghiradelli Square . The line, built in 1889, was used to transport cargo from the piers to various locations along the waterfront. In addition, since the line ran from  a tunnel under Fort Mason to the Presidio it was perfect for transporting troops during World War II. Since the line was officially shut down in 1993 this rich history has been at odds with the safety and ease of the roadway. The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, which has jurisdiction over the tracks, says that the problem is that the tracks can’t merely be pulled up.

The Maritime National Park is looking for a compromise solution. Their original solution was to fill in the tracks in areas where people cycle most often and leave them alone in other places. However, the pavement cracks every time the sand under the tracks  shifts.

Park officials will hold an open house to gather public comment on possible solutions for the old tracks on Dec. 6, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Maritime Museum at 900 Beach St.

If you ever need a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco, Paso Robles, or the surrounding Central California Coast area, contact us for a free consultation.


Investment Woes…

San Francisco has some tough choices to make about its investment in transportation over the next 30 years. The numbers are clear. Between now and 2040, the region will receive $64 billion in transportation funds. According to the SF Examiner, “$9 billion has already been locked in to projects, including the Central Subway, the Transbay Transit Center and the Doyle Drive rebuild at the Golden Gate Bridge. Another $51 billion is socked away for routine maintenance and operation services.” That leaves a meager $3.2 billion over 30 years for new projects. To put this in perspective, it is estimated that the City has between $10 billion and $12 billion in needs over the next three decades, leaving the region with a shortfall of about $9 billion.

This shortfall means that the city faces some tough decisions. Does it completely revitalize Muni to bring the system up to the international level at a coat of $3 billion leaving nothing for other projects? Or does it focus on carpool lanes at the expense of separated bike lanes?

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is asking for input on which projects are most important to citizens. They have set up a website to streamline this input process.


Octavia’s Woes

Even the most well-intentioned acts can have negative consequences.  Case in point, Octavia Boulevard in Hayes Valley. Prior to 2005 Hayes Valley was, in the words of Bay Citizen reporter Zusha Elinson, “a hooker haven beneath the Central Freeway”.  This all changed when the city replaced the overpass with Octavia Boulevard. With trees and a park the area became positively residential. Except that its not. It is a busy on-ramp for the near by freeway.

This combination, a residential spin on a congested, fast-moving, freeway onramp, has turned out to be dangerous. The intersection has the (dis)honor of being San Francisco’s most dangerous with 30 injury collisions in the last three years. In the last year alone the intersection was the site of 13 collisions involving injuries.

The real kicker is that 9 of those 13 crashes involved cyclists. With approximately 63,000 vehicles using the intersection each day, the danger to pedestrians and cyclists can be very real. Cars idle in the cross-walks, make illegal turns, get frustrated with the congestion and drive recklessly or simply treat it like the freeway it used to be. Rahman Law PC has successfully handled cases in which bicyclists haven been injured by vehicles on Octavia Boulevard. The majority of such injuries occur when drivers make an illegal right turn onto Market from Octavia.

A study by the SF County Transportation Authority recommends “improving bikeways and crosswalks and reducing car traffic by updating public transit and using congestion pricing, a system of electronic tolls for crowded streets.” It has also been suggested that the city install a camera to catch those vehicles that make an illegal right turn on Market. Whatever the solutions turn out to be, most people would agree that Octavia boulevard is an improvement to the overpass. Few would argue that it has not improved and rejuvenated the area. However, the city now needs to protect its cyclists and pedestrians and take measures to make Octavia safer.

If you ever need a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco, Paso Robles, or the surrounding Central California Coast area, contact us for a free consultation.


Fell and Oak Streets Get a Much Needed Makeover

Three blocks of Fell and Oak streets between Scott and Baker streets are getting a much needed complete streets style makeover. SFMTA has approved a plan to implement separated bike lanes, to install bulb-outs to 12 corners, and to slow  traffic signal lights.

The renovations will mean that the streets will lose a total of 50 parking spaces, a negative consequence that had many local business owners up in arms. At the same time, however, cyclists and pedestrians praise the changes, saying that they are a long time coming. “[The changes] will help people of all ages walking to and from some of the most beloved parks in San Francisco,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy organization. “For too long, the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park have been like islands in the middle of these freewaylike streets.”



Is it Good Policy to Ditch Helmet Laws?

In the United States riding without a helmet is often viewed to be as dangerous and irresponsible as smoking. Needless to say, the stigma against it is significant. Helmets are seen as life-saving devices, the cycling version of seat belts. To ride without one is to take your life in to your own hands.

A Bike Garage in Amsterdam

In many Euroepan cities, including Amsterdam and Paris where cycling is extremely prevalent, however, the percentage of people who wear helmets is negligable (and mostly limited to tourists). Yet, these cities are some of the safest for cyclists in the world. From experience, I can say that a person feels safer cycling without helmet in Amsterdam than cycling with a helment anywhere in the United States. What could account for this disparity?

Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, argues that the deterrence factor associated with helmet-wearing is so significant that it outweighs the safety benefits. This may seem like a strange or outlandish claim, but in many respects it makes sense. Wearing a helmet is a significant social faux-paz. Any child who grew up in California (and has experiece in cycling) can attest to the many embarrasing occasions when mom or dad forced them to put on a helmet before a bike ride. As we grow older this stigma, and the one which makes a person irresponsible (and sometimes a law-breaker) when they do not wear a helmet, can become so strong that it prevents a person from riding bikes altogether.

Professor de Jong argues that the fewer cyclists on the road, the more dangerous cycling is for those who do it. More cyclists= safer cycling. Look at the Amsterdam and the Paris examples. Both cities have a large number of daily cyclists and both cities have an entrenced cycling cuclture. This culutre, de Jong argues, is essential to biking safety, and if helmet laws are preventing this culture from floiurishing, then hemlet laws are in fact making cycling more dangerous.

In big cities that are trying to appeal to the toursit crowd, helmet laws can be especially contentious. Tourists want to take the easiest, most convenient route. Having to worry about safety equipment, like a helmet, could be a practical deterrent. In addition, helmets make a fairly safe activity seem inherently dangerous. “Recent experience suggests that if a city wants bike-sharing to really take off, it may have to allow and accept helmet-free riding. A two-year-old bike-sharing program in Melbourne, Australia — where helmet use in mandatory — has only about 150 rides a day, despite the fact that Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate. On the other hand, helmet-lax Dublin — cold, cobbled and hilly — has more than 5,000 daily rides in its young bike-sharing scheme. Mexico City recently repealed a mandatory helmet law to get a bike-sharing scheme off the ground.”

Instead of worrying avout enforicing helemt laws, European ccycliung advocates recommend that U.S. cities focus on making safer lanes, safer intersecxtions and ultimately safer streets for cyclists.

This is obviously a contentious issue. Helmets have saved people’s lives. On that issue there is no dispute. But, is making helmets mandatory (and thereby deterring some riders) the best answer? Maybe. Maybe not.


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