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Seniors Plead with SFMTA for Safer Fell Street

Yu Lian Chen, a senior who lives at Mercy, speaking at yesterday SFMTA Board Meeting. Photo: Matt Brezina

A handful of determined seniors went to yesterday's SFMTA board meeting to plead with Director Ed Reiskin and members of the board to take immediate action to make the Fell Street and Baker intersection crossing, which connects the Mercy Terrace senior home with the Panhandle Park, safe.

"During these past ten years I always go to the park with my friends. But there is a very dangerous intersection in front of Baker Street and Fell Street," said Yu Lian Chen to the board, through a translator, during a period for public comment. "We recently had David Grinberg, who just got killed." Grinberg, a 90-year-old resident of Mercy Terrace, was killed two weeks ago after a motorist struck him while he was coming home from the park.

"I take walks across to the Panhandle a few times a day, but at the intersection, these cars go by and they look like they’re in a race. It’s like motorcross," said Donald Stock, another resident of Mercy Terrace. Kate Paningbatan, Activities Director at Mercy Terrace, was also there to speak. "We serve 180 seniors. Only three could come today," she said. "On behalf of all of them, I want to ask you to make rapid changes ... flashing lights on posts ... something to warn people about speed limits."

Director Reiskin brought up the bike lane on Fell, but that drops out on the opposite side of the unprotected intersection where David Grinberg was killed. Image: Google Maps Street View
Director Reiskin brought up the bike lane on Fell, but that drops out well before the unprotected intersection where David Grinberg was killed. Image: Google Maps Street View

Reiskin acknowledged that it has been a tragic month on San Francisco's streets. "We had three people killed in our streets over the past three weeks ... people are needlessly dying." The other two were Gus Vardakastanis and Winifred Leshane.

He said that SFMTA had previously extended the crossing time on the crosswalk where Grinberg was killed, adding that "this is adjacent to where we've recently put in protected bike lanes." Of course, being 'adjacent' to a block with bike lanes doesn't make the crosswalk in question safer. The intersection is wide and unprotected. And as to the extended crossing time, Streetsblog timed the signal--it stays in "walk" mode for a long time, but the countdown timer itself only appears for the last 12 seconds, which clearly isn't enough time for many seniors (Grinberg used a walker) to get across such a wide intersection.

Reiskin also showed the board samples from a new safety ad campaign done by SFMTA in conjunction with the organization, Families for Safe Streets.

A sample from an ad campaign.
A sample from the ad campaign presented by director Reiskin.

"It’s easy to put up an ad and say we’re doing something," said Matt Brezina, one of the safe-streets advocates who helped organize the 'people-protected bike lane' demonstrations on Valencia and elsewhere.

Brezina and others were planning a protest on Fell for safer streets last Sunday, but opted to postpone because of unhealthy air quality from the North Bay fires.

"I’m here to urge for rapid crossing improvements at Baker and Fell," he continued, adding that his group had collected over 40 signatures. "We demand action in the honor of David Grinberg ... our engineers know what to do." Brezina also said he was inviting Reiskin to join him and walk the intersection with seniors from Mercy.

Matt Brezina, speaking to the SFMTA board. Image: SFGovTV
Matt Brezina, speaking to the SFMTA board. Image: SFGovTV

From Streetsblog's view, the fastest and most effective thing SFMTA can do for the intersection at Fell and Baker is to immediately replace the safe-hit posts they just pulled out. Those posts were installed last week by the guerilla safety group, the SFMTrA, and promptly removed by the city. As previously reported, SFMTA's position is that, in most cases, they must remove unofficial posts because they open the city to lawsuits.

"I’ve been hearing this same 'liability' refrain from engineers forever, as an excuse for doing nothing at known hazard locations. It’s severely irritating, lazy, and counterproductive. The reality is that non-standard stuff gets implemented all the time already, either on purpose or due to mistakes, and people are constantly using our streets in ways outside of the design intention," wrote Rob Prinz, a long-time safe-streets advocate and current Education Director for Bike East Bay, in a recent blog comment on the issue.

A positive thing that came out of yesterday's board meeting, albeit not unexpectedly, was approval of a plan to add parking-protected bike lanes on Folsom by the end of the year.

"We are excited to see quick and effective near-term projects like this that prioritize pedestrians and include important features like parking-protected bike lanes," said Josie Ahrens, Senior Community Organizer for Walk San Francisco.

Charles Deffarges, a community organizer for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who heads up the campaign for safer streets in the South of Market neighborhood, wanted to see faster action on Howard as well. "There's actually been a fatality on one or the other every year for the past four years. These are clearly two streets in need of immediate safety improvements," he told the Board.

That said, it will remain until a future meeting to see if SFMTA will take concrete action across town at Baker and Fell.

"Please follow up with us and let us know what can be done at that particularly frightening intersection," said Chairman Cheryl Brinkman to SFMTA director Reiskin, adding that he should focus on what can be done quickly. "The people at Mercy Terrace deserve to be able to safely cross that street.”

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