By Thomas K. Pendergast
In March of 2019, 14-year-old Madlen Koteva was walking a dog around Lake Merced with her mother when a car driven by a 91-year-old woman struck them.
While her mother was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, Koteva clung to life in an intensive care unit. She eventually succumbed to her injuries, dying 10 days later.
Hoping to avoid more of these tragic accidents in the future, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is working on the Lake Merced Pedestrian Safety Project in the hope of making intersections along Lake Merced Boulevard safer.
A committee of 10 people was tasked with studying existing conditions along Lake Merced Boulevard, between Sunset Boulevard and John Muir Drive, to better understand current walking patterns, obstacles and opportunities to improve pedestrian connections to and from Lake Merced Park and nearby transit stops.
The committee has been working since January and is expected to produce a Community Based Transportation Plan (CBTP) that highlights recommendations for improvements, preliminary conceptual designs, and a feasible implementation plan. SFMTA officials say an online survey was also conducted and hard copies were mailed to residents and businesses within 900 feet of the project area.
Once the CBTP is finalized, the hope is to bring it before the SFMTA Board of Directors on Oct. 5.
Lake Merced Boulevard, between Font and Sunset boulevards, is part of San Francisco’s High Injury Network. The network consists of 13% of the city’s streets, but accounts for about 75% of traffic injuries and fatalities throughout the City.
A report documenting accidents along that stretch of road between March of 2015 and November of 2017 counted 106 collisions involving cars, with nine hitting bicyclists and four hitting pedestrians, including another pedestrian fatality in April of 2017 at Lake Merced and Font boulevards. This past February, there was yet another pedestrian fatality involving a motorist at the intersection with Higuera Drive and one pedestrian injury from a bicyclist at that same location, according to the SFMTA.
“We are coordinating our efforts with other city department projects as well as the Parkmerced development,” SFMTA Transportation Planner Adrienne Heim said. “The Parkmerced development will add traffic signals and pedestrian improvements, like pedestrian bulb-outs and automatic pedestrian signals, at Vidal Drive, Acevedo Avenue, Higuera Avenue and Gonzalez Drive in the next two to seven years.
“Based on 649 total survey responses, 50% ‘strongly agree’ and 21% ‘agree’ that safety improvements are needed for people walking on Lake Merced Boulevard, between Skyline Boulevard and John Muir Drive,” she said.
The key issue, according to SFMTA, is high vehicle speeds, with about 85% of observed vehicle speeds traveling under “free-flowing conditions” clocking in at between 41 to 45 m.p.h.
Other issues include long pedestrian crossings, long distances between pedestrian crossings, gaps in signage, a lack of pedestrian lighting, and narrow or missing sidewalks.
Several preliminary improvements along Lake Merced Boulevard have been identified, and recommendations such as widening sidewalks or closing a slip lane (defined as a road at a junction that allows people to change roads without actually entering an intersection) and will be based on traffic analysis and further study.
Potential improvements include: traffic calming and narrowing the travel lanes between Sunset and Skyline boulevards; adding crosswalks between Sunset Boulevard and Middlefield Drive; adding a curve warning side between Sunset Blvd and Winston Drive; addressing a gap in transit service between Font Boulevard and Brotherhood Way; adding a sidewalk on the east side of Lake Merced Boulevard next to the landscaping at Parkmerced; adding pedestrian crossings between Font Boulevard and Higuera Drive; narrowing the travel lanes south of Higuera Drive and widening the striped median wherever possible; adding a sidewalk on the east side of Lake Merced Boulevard between Lake Merced Hills and John Muir Drive; connecting bicycle routes between Lake Merced Boulevard and John Muir Drive and adding pedestrian-level lighting there; and adding “yield teeth” to a crosswalk at that intersection.
The SFMTA notes that these are all preliminary recommendations that will be further refined prior to publishing the CBTP and they plan on additional community outreach prior to any implementation phase.