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Do Paint and Lights Really Make Folsom at Essex Intersection Safe?

8:48 AM PDT on April 12, 2016

A new phased signal makes Folsom and Essex a little less crazy to bike across. Source: SFMTA.
In theory, a phased signal makes Folsom at Essex a little less crazy to bike across. But maybe only in theory. Image: SFMTA.
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SFMTA announced this weekend that it has finished installing a new phased signal and lane markings to make it easier for cyclists to cross the intersection at Folsom at Essex. From the SFMTA release:

Last week, we installed a curbside bike lane and bike signal on eastbound on Folsom, between 2nd and 1st streets. That eliminates the need for people on bikes to make a harrowing maneuver to merge across two lanes of heavy vehicle traffic turning right towards a freeway on-ramp. People walking also now have a dedicated signal phase to cross the intersection before right-turning vehicles get a green light.

Prior to the change cyclists who wanted to go straight had to marge across two turning pockets. Source : SFMTA
Prior to the change cyclists who wanted to go straight had to merge across two turning pockets. Image: SFMTA
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Sound great, right? Except this:

Newest @sfmta_muni bike lane on Folsom. Looks great, but absolutely ZERO compliance from cars to no turn on red. pic.twitter.com/4xaVuZXO1R

— Chema Hernández Gil (@elsanfranciscan) March 29, 2016

The new arrangement depends on cars not turning right except when they're supposed to. But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition says, as anyone can see in the above video tweet, the cars are blowing through the light. Here's the way SFBC spokesman Chris Cassidy puts it:

This is a great example of how both design and traffic law enforcement are needed to make our streets safer. The turn restriction going unenforced at Folsom and Essex makes for a scary experience for people biking this reconfigured stretch. People biking shouldn't have to trade one harrowing experience for another, but that's what the City's offering at this intersection, absent some dedication of enforcement resources.

Aside from policing, the intersection needs more bollards or something solid to stop cars from making a quick right turn and cutting off a cyclist. In other words, it needs Dutch-style infrastructure, not just paint. Hopefully, that will come to this intersection as SFMTA starts building protected bike lanes in the area this fall. In the meantime, some type of temporary barrier is in order. Because as the video shows, this recent improvement may really just be another collision waiting to happen.

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