| May 2011
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By Tim Innes
Look Out on 24th. Noe Valley, the neighborhood of parklets and double-wide strollers, does have its hazard zones. Twenty-fourth Street resident Kevin Daniels thinks one of the most dangerous is the intersection of Church and 24th streets. Photo by Najib Joe Hakim
Kevin Daniels was about to head out the door on his way to work March 11 when he heard screeching brakes, a loud thump, and a scream.
Racing to a window overlooking 24th and Church streets, Daniels looked out and saw a woman lying in the crosswalk between Sterling Bank and Happy Donuts. A Honda Civic was stopped nearby. It was a scene he had long dreaded.
“I decided work could wait and ran downstairs to see if I could help,” recalled Daniels, a facilities planner for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. “Two women got there ahead of me; one was on the phone calling 911 and the other was bent over the victim, who was crying and moaning.’’
Daniels, 54, recalled that the victim said nothing other than a whispered “thank you” as he knelt beside her in the street.
Police officers and a Fire Department ambulance responded quickly. While police directed traffic and questioned the Honda driver, paramedics stabilized the victim, loaded her into the ambulance, and whisked her away.
The victim, a 38-year-old East Bay resident who had been walking across 24th Street with her two young children, was taken to San Francisco General Hospital with injuries to her left leg, according to police sources. Neither child was hurt. The 24-year-old driver, who lives on Jersey Street, was not cited. Police declined to disclose the name of either party, citing privacy concerns.
Daniels, who has owned a condo near 24th and Church for eight years, said he has long been concerned about the busy intersection, with its streetcar platforms and heavy traffic.
“Because I have such a good view, I have seen so many near misses,” he said. “People running to catch the J or the 48 dart across the street without looking. Drivers get impatient waiting for pedestrians to cross or for the streetcars to pull out. Left turns off of Church are another issue. It’s a dangerous mix.”
Daniels said the hazardous conditions are a “well-known issue, but people feel helpless. I decided I could no longer sit back and wait for someone else to do something about it. I had to act.”
He started by canvassing neighbors and merchants in the area. “Everyone I talked to had witnessed an accident or a near miss at the corner,” he said. “And everyone feared it was just a matter of time before it happened again.”
Daniels decided on a letter-writing campaign to call attention to the problem. He solicited testimonials from his neighbors, who told of their harrowing experiences crossing the intersection and suggested ways to make it safer. Ideas ranged from installing traffic signals to stepped-up law enforcement to a public information campaign reminding drivers and pedestrians alike to pay more attention to their surroundings.
In his letter, Daniels noted that 24th and Church, a four-way stop, is a crossroads for autos, delivery trucks, commuter coaches, streetcars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians—many of them school children who attend James Lick Middle School, Mission High School, and Immaculate Conception Academy.
“I have seen good drivers become confused at this intersection,” he went on. “Even cautious drivers are confused.… You can tell by their eyes as they glance back and forth between vehicles, signs, and pedestrians trying to figure their right of way.”
Daniels mailed the letter to Capt. Greg Corrales, commander of Mission Police Station, and sent copies to District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, and the Noe Valley Voice. He included other written appeals from nearby shopkeepers and residents.
Corrales quickly replied, pledging in an email to increase traffic enforcement at 24th and Church. He said he had forwarded the letter to the Department of Parking and Traffic, whose engineers can study the intersection and recommend ways to improve safety and traffic flow.
Gillian Gillett, a Wiener legislative aide specializing in transportation issues, cautioned that any action that would slow streetcars, such as a signal causing operators to wait for the light to change before proceeding, would encounter strong headwinds. (See “Muni Looks at Ways to Speed Up the J-Church,” April 2011 Voice.)
“In addition, traffic signals can take years to approve and install,” she continued. “They’re expensive, and the city is strapped for funds. I really don’t see it happening.”
Gillett said a traffic study could result in left-turn restrictions or improved signage at the intersection. But no significant changes are likely, she said, until a new generation of light-rail vehicles that are accessible without boarding ramps hits the streets. And that’s eight to 12 years down the road, say MTA planners.
Further, despite the confusing nature of the intersection, it is relatively safe. According to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records Systems (SWITRS), there were only two injury accidents between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2010—the most recent period for which figures are available. One involved a pedestrian, the other a bicyclist.
In fact, a traffic signal could make the intersection less safe, said Gillett. That’s because motorists tend to drive faster when they don’t have to stop every block or two for a stop sign. In addition, people often speed up to beat a light that’s about to change.
Still, Daniels is pushing ahead with his campaign. He is watching for signs of stepped-up enforcement, but said the only police presence he has seen are the cops stopping by the 24-hour Happy Donuts across the street. He intends to press Capt. Corrales and other department leaders for specifics on what they’re doing to address neighborhood concerns.
To Daniels, the accident statistics “say we have been very lucky so far and there have been a lot of agile pedestrians and drivers. Given the most recent accident, we have a chance to be proactive,” he said.
“I am not an activist and have not done anything like this before,’’ he said. But “when I looked at the woman who had been hit by the car, I knew…I had the accountability on my shoulders to make the intersection safer. So although I feel I am marching into the halls of dead ends and red tape…I can’t give up.”