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Car hopping

Mission locals to stage protest at intersection.

By Mary F. Albert | Staff Writer
Published on Monday, July 19, 2004

Frustrated Mission District residents will take to the streets this morning to protest the dangerous intersection at Cesar Chavez and Guerrero streets that regularly ensnares school children, parents with strollers, seniors and bikers.

"We've all been trying for years to slow down traffic," said Jerry Levine, a longtime resident of the Mission. "People's patience has boiled over."

At the heart of their frustration is the speed with which drivers exit U.S. Highway 101 via the Cesar Chavez exit, said Gillian Gillett of the San Jose/Guerrero Coalition to Save Our Streets, turning the boulevard into a virtual racetrack. Drivers regularly clock between 33 to 38 miles per hour in the 25 mph zone, she said.

"I've never seen anyone driving the speed limit," said Mary Brown of the SF Bicycle Coalition. "Everyone blows through that stretch."

The road divides six lanes of traffic with a 4-foot median barely wide enough for multiple people to wait safely, said Gillett. And because of the timing of the lights, the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Guerrero is particularly hazardous. St. Luke's Hospital patients or parents walking their children to one of six nearby schools usually cannot complete the crosswalk in time and wind up stranded on the tiny island as cars fly by.

According to the coalition, drivers' recklessness caused 105 police-verified collisions near the intersection between 1999 and 2003. Of those, 103 resulted in injury. Many more were not reported to the police.

San Francisco averaged about 30 pedestrian fatalities each year between 1998 and 2002, ranking it the fourth most dangerous among big U.S. cities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Citywide, pedestrians make up 41 percent of traffic fatalities, almost half of those seniors, according to the nonprofit group "Walk San Francisco."

Similar safety issues were raised about the busy crosswalk at Park Presidio Boulevard and California Street following the death of 84-year-old Isak Leitman in January. Leitman's family and pedestrian groups pointed to the short length of time allowed to cross the six-lane boulevard as a factor in the senior's death. He was hit by a car in the middle lane of the second half of the boulevard, and died at the scene.

In years past, Mission neighbors have appealed to the Department of Parking and Traffic to fund changes to unsafe roads. Gillett's safety coalition would like to see the median widened, the road reduced to four lanes, and bike lanes built. To this end, the group put together a renovation plan, but ran into problems securing DPT funding because of the category of roads in question.

For this reason, neighbors have pooled $5,000 of their own money to pay for the printing and mounting of banners that will urge drivers in English and Spanish to slow down, said Levine.

But their efforts have not succeeded in changing the intersection, and "most people are really, really angry," Gillett said.

So, to illustrate just how dangerous the intersection is, as well as their determination to get it fixed, a group of protesters -- including 130 to 150 parents and children, workers of St. Luke's Hospital and members of the SF Bicycle Coalition and Senior Action Network -- will cross the intersection en masse at 10 a.m. today.

Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Tom Ammiano, who are co-sponsoring legislation for safer streets, will also attend the protest.

"I think the future of the legislation is very bright," said Supervisor Ammiano. "It is right up there on my list of priorities."

One biker who rides the stretch every day, Jon Winston, said he has had several near-death experiences. He remembers one time when a pedestrian was killed on the corner of Randall Street and San Jose Avenue.

"There is one block between 25th and 26th streets where several homes have been hit," said Levine. "I don't know why that block is the worst. My only explanation is that people still think they are on the freeway."

Danger at the crosswalk

The City's most dangerous intersections for pedestrians:

19th Ave. and Holloway
19th Ave. and Taraval
24th St. and Potrero
3rd St. and Palou
4th St. and Folsom
Bayshore and Arleta
Diamond and Bosworth
Geary and 6th Ave.
Geary and Divisadero
Geary and Gough
Geary and Masonic
Geneva and San Jose
Market and 5th St.
Market and Castro
Market and Church
Market and Van Ness
Mission and 16th St.
Mission and 30th St.
Mission and Geneva
Mission and South Van Ness
Ocean and Junipero Serra
Silver and San Bruno
Turk and Hyde

Source: the Senior Action Network

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