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Reckless Motorists, Dangerous Streets: a Deadly Combination

3:07 PM PDT on May 27, 2022

Kevin Flaherty is a regular at the Mercury Cafe at the bottom of the hill where Page meets Octavia. As pretty much anyone familiar with the area knows, motorists will regularly go the wrong way down the one-way section between Octavia and Laguna.

"On average it's about three an hour," Flaherty told Streetsblog.

It must happen because the signs and rows of bollards are unclear, as seen below (yes, this is Streetsblog sarcasm):

The signs are really hard to read. Photo: Jeff Pozkanzer's Twitter
The signs are really hard to read. Image: Google maps via Jeff Poskanzer's Twitter

On Wednesday evening Flaherty finished his food and started up Page on his bike. He saw a motorist in a small gray Mazda driving the wrong way. "I'm climbing the hill, in the middle of the street, and someone's coming at me, and I'm like, no, you can't do this. You're not allowed to do this!"

Fortunately, the driver stopped before there was a head-on collision. But then “The woman in the passenger side rolled down the window and started yelling at me,” said Flaherty.

Shortly afterward, people-protected bike lane advocate Maureen Persico, on the way home from a "Solemn Walk" safety demonstration and memorial for an 82-year-old pedestrian killed by a motorist while crossing Fulton Street on Saturday, came across the scene. She started filming the confrontation and posted the video on Twitter (embedded above). "I know what that's like to have a driver be very aggressive, and feel alone," she told Streetsblog. "I pulled out my phone to get the interaction and especially to get the license plate in case things escalated."

The occupants of the car got out and the passenger screamed a barrage of ageist, obnoxious insults at the cyclists. Ultimately, they got back in and the driver turned around, went back up the hill, and left, but it's a testament to the kind of danger and abuse cyclists and pedestrians are subjected to daily by a reckless and horrible minority of drivers.

That wasn't even the only time that evening Persico saw such abject behavior.

"It was definitely the minority of drivers," said Dave Alexander with Richmond Family S.F. and one of the organizers of the event at Fulton and 37th from which Persico was coming. "But there were drivers who did not want to be delayed and I was shocked at how aggressive they were."

Alexander described how a couple of motorists edged into the crosswalks revving engines in a threatening manner because some of the seniors couldn't get across quickly enough to make the light during the vigil.

Still, Alexander said the demonstration was heartfelt and moving, and included the family of the victim (the victim's identity has not yet been released). They confirmed that the countdown timer doesn't leave nearly enough time for a senior citizen to get across, despite the fact that the Golden Gate Senior Center is right there.

The "Solemn Walks" demonstration/memorial in the Richmond District. Photo: David AlexanderThe "Solemn Walks" demonstration/memorial in the Richmond District. Photo: David Alexander

"One of our members, a senior who has a cane, could barely make it across." Alexander told Streetsblog the timer only allows 20 seconds.

What the demonstrators experienced on Fulton and what Persico documented on Page underscores the two major problems that are making Vision Zero impossible to achieve. First, streets are still designed with motorist speed and throughput prioritized over pedestrian safety--how could SFMTA allow such a short crossing time in front of a senior center of all places? And, secondly, dangerous motorist behaviors, such as speeding, crosswalk incursions, and going the wrong way on a one-way street, are tolerated by law enforcement and a judicial system that almost never suspends or revokes the licenses of even the most egregious offenders.

Both problems need solved or there will be many more "Solemn Walks."

There will be another vigil tonight for victims of traffic violence, Thursday, May 26th, 6-7 p.m. at the intersection of Mission St & 3rd Street.

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