S.F. Tries to Make a Gnarly South of Market Intersection Safer

A bicyclist crosses the intersection of Ninth and Division streets in San Francisco on Aug. 25, 2016.  (Bryan Goebel/KQED)

San Francisco has broken ground on what will become the city's first protected intersection, a street safety design that aims to reduce conflicts between people driving, walking and biking.

Pedestrians and bicyclists face some of the greatest dangers from drivers at intersections, and it's hard to argue that the free-for-all corner of Ninth and Division streets, adjacent to soaring freeway overpasses on the edge of the city's design district, isn't ripe for improvements.

Currently, both motorists and cyclists traveling Division Street are required to negotiate a long, poorly paved curve. Eastbound traffic on Division is hurrying toward the traffic circle at Eighth and Townsend streets. Some westbound motor traffic makes its way across a bike lane to turn north onto Ninth Street toward the Civic Center. Pedestrians, meanwhile, are forced to cross an unusually wide, uncontrolled intersection that features limited sight lines.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials say the intersection is a hot spot for collisions between turning drivers and bicyclists.

In a blog post, the SFMTA's Ben Jose explained the protected intersection:

Protected intersections use a simple design concept to make everyone safer. Under this configuration, features like concrete islands placed at the corners slow turning cars and physically separate people biking and driving. They also position turning drivers at an angle that makes it easier for them to see and yield to people walking and biking crossing their path.

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City crews began work last week on installing corner concrete islands to help slow turning drivers, as well as a safer design for bicyclists to cross the intersection, along with raised crosswalks. The city expects to complete the project by the end of the year.

"This is the cutting edge of design for protected intersections, bringing a new level of innovation to how San Francisco navigates our streets," said Chris Cassidy of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "This design provides an unprecedented level of physical protection for people walking and biking through an intersection in our city."

Cassidy said advocates will be watching closely to see how people interact with the new design. What they see will inform future protected intersection designs in SoMa and other neighborhoods, especially on streets identified by the SFMTA as high-injury corridors.

SFMTA officials say the project is part of Mayor Ed Lee's safe streets directive, which he issued earlier this month following the deaths of two bicyclists killed by hit-and-run motorists.

Davis was the first U.S. city to install a protected intersection. In May, Berkeley inaugurated a protected lane along a dangerous stretch of Fulton Street west of the Cal campus.