When a freeway shares the surface streets of a residential neighborhood, expect problems. On 19th Avenue, those problems include five fatalities in 2007. Between 2000 and 2005, there were 1,205 injuries and 12 deaths — because 19th Avenue is also seven miles of state Highway 1 connecting San Mateo and Marin counties via western San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Most fatalities were pedestrians hit while crossing the wide and confusingly marked thoroughfare.
The Examiner has consistently argued that only an aggressive, multipronged approach could halt the carnage. But complicating any efforts to improve safety is the state Department of Transportation’s final authority over the route. However, we are now pleased that elements of exactly such a multiple strategy are moving forward and in various stages of completion.
An ambitious three-phase construction program costing at least $12 million will ultimately install new pedestrian countdown signals, advanced crosswalk visibility designs and remote-controlled traffic signal coordination at the 26 most dangerous intersections on 19th Avenue. Phase I is under way for the 10 worst crossings.
And at the end of March, Caltrans finally recommended lowering the 19th Avenue speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph for 2½ miles of the Sunset district between Lincoln Way and Eucalyptus Drive. Four of last year’s pedestrian deaths happened there and three victims were older than 65. The reduced speed limit is now winding its way through various agency approvals, and signs can hopefully be installed this month.
The latest news is that state Sen. Leland Yee’s fourth attempt to create a 19th Avenue double-fine zone passed the California Senate on May 1. Still ahead are the Assembly’s committee hearings and floor vote before the legislation goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing. The governor vetoed this once, and Caltrans resistance helped kill it twice in committee. But now both Schwarzenegger and Caltrans are on board and chances for passage seem bright.
The differences in Yee’s current bill are that it is a five-year test and also assigns double-fine zone status to the dangerous Van Ness Avenue-Lombard Street corridor to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is part of U.S. Route 101. Caltrain wanted this as a test of its official position that double fines are ineffectual without additional safety enhancements — such as the pedestrian countdown signals and highly visible crosswalks being installed on 19th Avenue.
So tickets in the new double-fine zones will soon range from $137.50 (15 mph above the speed limit) to $2,750 (reckless driving causing great bodily injury). Hopefully, this threat to the wallets of reckless speeders will prove helpful in making The City’s pedestrians safer.