Noe Valley Voice December-January 2000

Residents Speed up Drive for Stop Signs

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

After witnessing several auto accidents and lots of near misses involving cars and pedestrians, a group of Noe Valley merchants and neighbors have proclaimed, "Enough." They are trying to put a stop to the traffic mayhem, and believe the addition of four-way stop signs at particularly treacherous intersections will help.

"Traffic has really changed in Noe Valley and throughout the city over the last five years," says Alexander Gardener, owner of Video Wave since 1989. "It's much racier, people are less courteous, and because of that we need more controls. Nowadays, it seems that drivers won't stop out of caution, but only when they are forced to."

In early November, Gardener posted a sign on the front door of his Castro Street shop announcing the formation of the Noe Valley Stop Sign Committee. Gardener is organizing the group, which he hopes will "work to help get stop signs up, to make Noe Valley a safer neighborhood for all."

The committee's first targets are the intersections of Church and 25th, Castro and 26th, and Church and Jersey, but Gardener encourages people to stop by Video Wave to let him know of other hazardous intersections.

"The purpose of the committee is to avoid having each neighborhood block go through the process with city government to get a stop sign," he says. "We hope by working together as a group representing the entire community that we can get these signs up quickly and with minimal effort."

Gardener, along with Mitchell Schoenbrun, who lives a couple of doors down from Video Wave, were instrumental in getting the Department of Parking and Traffic (DPT) to install stop signs on Castro Street at Jersey in mid-October, making that corner a four-way stop.

Although neighbors had begged for a four-way stop at that intersection for close to a decade, until now no one had had much luck in persuading DPT of the severity of the problem.

In fact, as recently as July 20, Gardener received a letter from city traffic engineer Bond Yee, informing him that after conducting an investigation of the corner, including sight distances, car and pedestrian volume, and accident history, "we do not recommend installing additional signs to stop Castro Street."

Yee also cited the 24-Divisadero bus line as a factor. "An additional stop sign would impede Muni service," he wrote. "While the effect of one additional stop sign may have only a small impact, the cumulative effect of additional stop signs at other intersections can degrade Muni service. The city's Transit First policy requires that we pay particular attention to Muni's service requirements, especially when an intersection operates relatively safely."

Two days after Gardener received the letter, on July 22, a two-car collision occurred at the intersection. Both cars were totaled. A week later, on July 29, another accident occurred, and again the cars were totaled.

By then, Gardener had had it. "I witnessed two accidents in one week and the Department of Parking and Traffic was telling me that there was a good safety record for the intersection."

So in early August, he called Supervisor Mark Leno to see if he could assist in getting a stop sign at the intersection. (The Board of Supervisors makes the final decision on installing new stop signs, based upon the recommendations of DPT.)

"He was very receptive to the idea," says Gardener, "and told us to get together a petition to show that the community wanted the sign. So we put a petition in the store and some flyers up, explaining the effort, and we collected 400 signatures. We also encouraged people to call Mark's office to put a human voice to the issue and let him know how important it was to get the stop sign. A lot of people made phone calls and put energy into the effort, so everything moved very fast through the Board of Supervisors."

By Oct. 13, the corner of Castro and Jersey had a four-way stop.

"The intersection has changed dramatically since the four-way stop has been installed," says Mitchell Schoenbrun. "Drivers are more cautious coming down the hill on Jersey Street to Castro. They know there is a stop sign and they need to stop. A pedestrian can now cross that intersection without fearing for his life."

The new stop sign has also invigorated other activists in the neighborhood. Bill Slocum, a barber at J&S Barbering on Church Street, has launched a campaign for a four-way stop at the intersection of Church and 25th.

Ever since he witnessed a "grisly" accident at that intersection in early October, "I've been telling everyone who sits in my chair that we need a four-way intersection there," he says.

Around 9 a.m. on Oct. 7, Slocum was near the corner, walking to work with his girlfriend, when he saw a BMW run the stop sign at 25th Street and collide with a man on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle coming down Church, where there is no stop. The motorcyclist was severely injured, and lost his foot in the accident.

"If there had been a stop sign at Church, the motorcyclist would have had to stop, and the accident might have been prevented," says Slocum.

In late October, with advice from Gardener at Video Wave, Slocum began circulating a petition at the barbershop asking for support of a four-way stop. So far, he has collected more than 300 signatures.

In early November, an unknown person tacked a hand-drawn stop sign on 25th Street on a telephone pole near the building formerly occupied by Kennedy's Bar. "STOP" was printed in big white letters against an orange backdrop. Someone also trimmed a tree whose branches had been obstructing drivers' views of the official stop sign at 25th Street.

Stephanie Holstein, who owns J&S, a 23-year institution in the neighborhood, believes "traffic has gotten much, much worse in Noe Valley over the past three years. So many people park their large cars and trucks on the corners that it makes it difficult for drivers to see if traffic is coming into the intersection. Drivers have to inch way out into the intersection to check traffic," she says. "I've seen cars inch up into an intersection and be hit by oncoming traffic.

"Plus, there are many more cars around here than there used to be. It used to be just single families in homes in Noe Valley. Now it's four or five single people living in a home because you have to have that many people to pay the rent -- and they each have a car."

Adds Slocum, "I've only worked at this shop for three months, but already I've seen so much -- people honking, skidding, yelling at each other. One woman who has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years told me that there have been two deaths in the last 11 years because of accidents at the intersection of Church and 25th. It's really important we do something before someone gets killed or injured again."

If you are interested in joining the Noe Valley Stop Sign Committee, drop by Video Wave at 1431 Castro St., or call Alexander Gardener at 415-550-7577. To sign Slocum's petition, stop by the barbershop at 1298 Church St.

The Best Way to Get a Four-Way

Video Wave owner Alexander Gardener is part of a group of local residents who recently succeeded in getting a four-way stop at Castro and Jersey streets. Here's Gardener's advice to other merchants or residents who would like to see a stop sign installed at their corner.

f Document that there is a safety issue. Take photographs of the accidents, if possible. Make sure the police are called to the scene to take a report. When deciding whether to approve a stop sign for an intersection, the city's Department of Parking and Traffic checks the safety record of an intersection through Police Department collision reports. If a police report is not filed for a particular accident, then DPT will never know about it.

f Organize a petition to gather signatures from the neighborhood to show a stop sign is something the community desires.

f Lobby your district supervisor to request the stop sign. The Department of Parking and Traffic makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, which in turn makes the final decision.

f Be willing to work out a compromise with DPT regarding Muni so that the stop sign will not impede Muni service. "When crossing Jersey and Church, you take your life in your hands," says Gardener. "We need a four-way stop there, but we'd be open to making an exception for Muni -- so that Muni doesn't have to stop."

f Be persistent. Stay in touch with your supervisor and his or her aides. Check on their progress and provide them with any new information.

f Meanwhile, drive defensively, watch for pedestrians, and come to a complete stop at all existing stop signs. Better yet, consider taking the bus.