The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Thursday announced new efforts to make sections of Geary Boulevard safer alongside ongoing work to increase transit speed and reliability throughout the three-mile corridor.
Pedestrians are eight times more likely to be killed or severely injured on Geary Boulevard than on an average San Francisco street, and cars regularly treat it more like a highway than a city road, putting the lives and wellbeing of all road users at risk.
In the area of Gough Street, for instance, 50-year-old father Mark Berman was struck and killed by a reckless driver who sped through a stoplight last August.
Community outcry and political pressure followed, and the SFMTA announced on Thursday additional safety measures to elevate pedestrian safety and slow down cars.
Already part of the plan, existing traffic signals at Geary Boulevard and Gough Street, the same intersection where Berman was killed, will receive mast arms to make them more visible to drivers; sidewalk bulbouts that jut into the street and shorten the crossing distance; additional streetlights; pedestrian signals that help individuals with visual impairments know when to cross; and an upgraded center median.
SFMTA also lowered the speed limits to 25 miles per hour on three city blocks near the deadly intersection, using a loophole in state law that allows local agencies to set speeds near senior centers.
Second, a traffic signal will be newly installed at Geary Boulevard and Commonwealth/Beaumont avenues, an intersection that currently doesn’t have a signal.
Though pedestrians have always technically had the right-of-way there, cars rarely stop to allow them to cross. The new signal will give a walk signal to pedestrians crossing north or south across Geary, stop vehicle traffic moving east or west, and prohibit left turns from Beaumont or Commonwealth avenues onto Geary Boulevard, making it a right-turn only onto the popular throughway.
“It makes a huge difference. I wasn’t worried about me crossing, personally, but for all the other people who have a hard time doing it,” said Tom Barton, a 40-year Richmond resident who petitioned the SFMTA to install the signal for over a year.
The 77-year-old attended Geary Community Advisory Committee meetings, despite not being a member, and regularly submitted photos and videos of the intersection that highlighted why it could be dangerous, especially for fellow seniors or individuals with limited mobility.
“Some people objected to the idea of putting in a traffic signal at that intersection, because intersections one block away on either side already have crossings. But what if I had a mobility problem? That was my whole pretext,” Barton said.
Ordinarily, installing a signal change can be a lengthy or costly affair, but the SFMTA was able to expedite it through a change order to an existing construction contract on Geary Boulevard.
“Other residents should take away that feedback on underway projects is valuable and can lead to changes,” SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato said.
Officials say these changes complement existing and ongoing plans for the Geary Rapid Project, a $35 million facelift to Geary and O’Farrell Street between Stanyan and Market streets.
Roughly half of the $35 million will go toward “planning, designing and implementing traffic safety improvements,” Kato said.
Before the pandemic, more than 56,000 passengers rode Muni buses along Geary Boulevard daily, but it was well-known citywide as a cumbersome and often unreliable transit route. Those who tried to travel by foot or on two wheels on the street, meanwhile, could be subjected to dangerous conditions, overcrowded roads and poor visibility.
The Geary Rapid Project is intended to create dedicated transit lanes and extended sidewalks to speed up Muni service, calm traffic by reducing the number of private vehicle travel lanes by half, and connect walkers, cyclists and other multi-modal travelers safely with key routes using classic safety measures such as new crosswalks, synchronized traffic signals and new pedestrian countdowns and protected left turns.
While the entire project is expected to be completed by this summer, the changes to these two intersectionswill debut sooner.