SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin speaking at a press conference on taking further action for cable car operator and passenger safety. California and Drumm Streets, Tuesday Aug. 11 2015. (Natasha DangondSpecial to S.F. Examiner)

New safety measures to protect cable car operators on the way, pledge SFPD and SFMTA

San Francisco’s famous moving landmarks have long climbed “halfway to the stars,” but now they’ll be a whole lot safer too.

In an announcement Tuesday, the San Francisco Police Department pledged to step up safety enforcement around cable cars, which will also get new safety signage.

Ed Reiskin, head of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said the new safety measures all stem from a California vehicle code 21756, which directs autos to stop behind a stopped streetcar (including cable cars).

Violation of that code allegedly led to two cable car operators to sustain major injuries after they were struck by vehicles — incidents brought to light in a special report by the San Francisco Examiner.

Now the SFMTA and SFPD have pledged to increase awareness of the vehicle code.

“It’s not legal to pass a stopped streetcar,” Reiskin said. But, “for those not familiar with California vehicle code, this will be a reminder.”
The reminder comes in the form of a brand new sign which will be affixed to cable cars which reads “Do Not Pass Cable Car.” SFMTA officials said they are still determining where the sign will be placed on the cable car. Officials said it may be placed on the back.

The SFMTA is also launching a public awareness campaign, and will develop what they call a “cable car collision reduction program” to identify new safety measures.

The SFPD will also boost ticketing of vehicle code violators, which is a fine of $238.

“No one would think of passing a school bus,” for fear of hitting children, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr said. “This is no different.”

The SFPD already issued 15 tickets in the last week for illegally passing cable cars, Suhr said. The SFPD will also lend motorcycle officers from Central Station to its traffic company, to aid in enforcement efforts.

On April 6 Santiago Montoya was helping passengers disembark his cable car, and was struck by a car and dragged more than 30 feet. The collision broke 20 of his bones and he spent a month in intensive care, said his wife Zonia Montoya.

“It was horrifying,” she said. He is now undergoing physical therapy to help him walk again.

Two months later, another cable car operator, Reynaldo Morante, was struck by an alleged drunken motorcyclist. Morante’s injuries were severe and he slipped into a coma. Sources close to his family say he is still breathing, though he has not been conscious since the collision.

At the press conference Tuesday, Eric D. Williams, president of the SFMTA’s Transit Workers Union Local 250-A, lamented the operators’ injuries.
“Unfortunately, change only comes from human sacrifice,” Williams said. Some cable car operators asked the SFPD and SFMTA for these safety measures for months, according to public records obtained by the Examiner.

Only after the injuries did the agencies announce new enforcement measures.

“Let’s be proactive,” Williams said, “not reactive.”
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