Speedier signal change could improve troubled San Francisco intersection

Cindy Chew/Special to the S.F. ExaminerA bicyclist rolls through a red light at Market and 12th streets

Like the ubiquitous streetlights and fire hydrants, bicyclists pensively waiting at the stoplight at 12th and Market streets have become part of the scenery along San Francisco’s central artery.

Although the intersection is at a confluence of two major bike corridors — Valencia Street and the Wiggle — the timing of the traffic signals on Market Street rarely play to the crowds of cyclists who gather there. Red lights can last for up to a minute, prompting impatient bikers to cross 12th Street early and illegally, said Bert Hill, chairman of The City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee citizen oversight group.

Cyclists who cross early can be hit with steep fines for traffic violations, while also running the risk of colliding with pedestrians, motorists and fellow bikers, Hill said.

To avoid these scenarios, Hill wants to add a button that cyclists could push to prompt the lights to change. The actuated signal would cue up a green light containing an image of a bicycle.

Hill said the actuated signal would be the first of its kind in San Francisco, and it could be used as a template for similar intersections. He said a committee — composed of pedestrians, bicyclists, disability advocates and city officials — is being created to explore the option.

While Hill said the goal of the signal would be to streamline travel for eastbound cyclists, he emphasized that the plan should be something that benefits not only cyclists but pedestrians and motorists as well.

But finding a common ground could be difficult. By speeding up the timing, actuated signals put vulnerable pedestrians at risk, said local disability advocate Bob Planthold. In addition to disabled pedestrians, pregnant women and senior citizens also could struggle to cross 12th Street. Planthold added that some disabled residents lack the hand-eye coordination and dexterity to push a signal button at an intersection.

Sensors that can differentiate between pedestrians and cyclists would be the best solution, Planthold said. He did concede that it  would be costly.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees bike policies in The City, is working with both cycling and pedestrian advisory committees to come up with a solution for the intersection, said spokesman Paul Rose.  

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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