Teen soccer players ask City Hall for safer Lake Merced street where teammate killed

A driver struck 14-year-old Madlen Koteva as she crossed John Muir Drive, by Lake Merced, on March 15.

A driver struck 14-year-old Madlen Koteva as she crossed John Muir Drive, by Lake Merced, on March 15.

By March 25, Koteva succumbed to her injuries and died.

Turning their loss into action this Wednesday, a dozen of Koteva’s teenage soccer teammates made their way to City Hall to demand safety changes to John Muir Drive.

The Westside Waves Soccer Team was resolute: What happened to their friend will never happen there to anyone ever again.

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee’s Office was their first stop.

At the same briefing room table where high-powered attorneys, professional advocates and fierce adversaries of all stripes have sat, the teenagers patienly sat in their blue soccer jerseys. Some of their parents sat nearby, but they allowed the teens — all girls from Presidio and A.P. Giannini Middle Schools — to lead.

The girls looked to Yee. Some folded their hands on the table. They were there for answers.

“I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and teammate,” Yee opened.

He paused. Having attended Koteva’s funeral, he has openly struggled to speak when thinking of her.

Yee thanked the girls for sending a letter to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Board of Supervisors outlining the changes they are seeking.

That letter made specific asks: The teenagers want parking removed and the curbs painted red near Lake Merced crosswalks so drivers can more easily see pedestrians. They want flashing pedestrian crossing signs, and radar speed signs to be installed, and they ask that speed limit be lowered from the variable 30-40 MPH to 25 MPH.

“We want to know why nothing has been completed already,” the teens wrote in their letter, and added many of the changes “could be done in a matter of hours and at little cost.”

Indeed, this is a concern held by many professional advocates, from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to Walk SF.

At the meeting, 14-year-old Maureen Loftus hammered that point home.

“What you’ve done so far is amazing but we have specific suggestions,” she told Yee, and opened the floor to her teammates to illuminate them.

Sydney Lopin, 14, reiterated the asks for red-painted curbs, and better pedestrian signage.

“A number of our suggestions are very simple,” but The City’s efforts “are moving slow,” Lopin later said.

Yee gave them the good news first — SFMTA has already committed to removing nine parking spaces around Lake Merced, three near each crosswalk, to improve pedestrian visiblity.

More safety changes may come in May when the street there is repaved, a change that was already underway, Yee added.

But some one of the teens’ asks would be “the most difficult,” he warned them.

Lowering the speed limit around portions of Lake Merced may be slow-going because they form a portion of State Route 1, a highway in the jurisdiction of Caltrans, a state entity. San Francisco can’t compel a state entity to do anything, Yee explained.

“They don’t really like to slow anything down,” Yee said.

Even removing the parking along John Muir Drive would require the teens to continue to advocate, he said.

On May 3, an SFMTA engineering hearing will allow members of the public to air concerns over removing the parking. Yee said that sometimes there are neighbors who “really don’t want” parking to be removed, because they don’t understand the life-saving effect it would have.

The teenagers did not ask too many questions, though Yee asked them to chime in.

However, near the end of their meeting, Loftus, a red-haired teen still sporting braces, firmly asked Yee “Is there anything we can do?”

“If you see other places where you live, where you go to school, that can be safer, write another letter,” he said.

“The things you’re asking for, I’m positive are going to save lives in the future,” he said.

Loftus is directing a Star Wars play at school, and said Koteva was playing the part of a green alien named Greedo, who infamously was shot ‘first’ by Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope. They had long conversations about the part — even going in depth about a cough.

“She was very into acting,” Loftus said of Koteva.

Though the death of her friend also gave Loftus reason to be angry, she appeared calm and collected at City Hall.

With the future in mind, Loftus and the other teens left the meeting room and proceeded to enter every office of every supervisor.

They sought safer streets one knock at a time.


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