On her blog, A Streetcar Called Taraval, Katie Haverkamp recounts stumbling upon the scene of a
grizzly grisly accident during her Wednesday evening commute. “Today at about 7, a Muni passenger was disembarking from the 2nd set of doors on the first train car when a driver failed to yield and struck her with her vehicle,” she writes.
“Within seconds, there was a swarm [of] police, two firetrucks and ambulances…I got the story from a couple of bystanders. ‘Lady got hit by that car. Woman in the glasses was driving.’ I heard snippets of police interviews as I made my way down Taraval to 19th.”
According to police, the 20-year old, female victim was taken to the hospital after sustaining non-life-threatening injuries when she was struck by a red Toyota immediately after stepping off the westbound Muni train.
The accident backed up Muni service along the L line and a Giants game happening on the other side of town soaked up much of the agency’s eternally-scarce supply of train operators, which exacerbated the slowdown.
While passengers being struck by automobiles after exiting Muni trains are a relatively rare occurrence, the agency counts a dozen over the past five years, anecdotal reports of near misses are a common refrain among regular riders.
After a woman was run over after leaving the N-Judah in 2009, Muni instituted a safety campaign, largely pushed by Supervisor Carmen Chu, that culminated in a large sticker being placed on the back of each train reminding drivers that “motorists must stop for pedestrians.”
According to California Vehicle Code Section 21756(A) “The driver of a vehicle overtaking any interurban electric or streetcar stopped or about to stop for the purpose of receiving or discharging any passenger shall stop the vehicle to the rear of the nearest running board or door of such car and thereupon remain standing until all passengers have boarded the car or upon alighting have reached a place of safety.” Violation of this code can result in an $146 fine.
At the time of this campaign, SFPD Captain Paul Chignell of Taraval Police Station said that the SFPD would increase enforcement for this violation to improve pedestrian safety. Officers the Appeal spoke with today did not know if this increased enforcement remains in effect in 2011.
In her post, Haverkamp suggested improving passenger safety by installing flip-out stop signs akin to the ones on sides of school buses. Much like for a school bus, passing a stopped Muni train that’s disembarking passengers is a ticketable offense.
Unfortunately, as SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose explains, Haverkamp’s common sense suggestion isn’t a viable option for the agency. “We’ve looked into the flip-out signs before,” says Rose, “[but] it’s very difficult to integrate this into a light rial without affecting the dynamic envelope of the train. Even a couple of inches on each side can make a big difference…[Also] on the right side of the train, the sign must be completely obscured when not in use.”
Since Muni runs on surface streets, and thus has to contend with street traffic, its passengers are inherently more vulnerable to being struck by cars than riders of other comparable transit systems around the county.
Houston’s METRO light system also has to share the road with the regular flow of cars. While passengers on Houston’s trains alight onto raised platforms at least four feet off the ground, only a small handful of stops on the L have islands where passengers can safely exit the trains without having to immediately deal with traffic–the majority of stops empty directly into an adjacent lane of traffic.
Even though there have been some recent attempts to calm traffic in the area where the accident occurred, “people treat Taraval more like a freeway, the further out in the Avenues you get,” writes Haverkamp. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a car speed past my open door as I’m getting off.”
At the end of the day, the real solution may simply be convincing drivers to slow down and exercise more caution around trains–just because a train isn’t moving doesn’t mean it not longer merits a driver’s attention.