On a bustling San Francisco intersection last Fourth of July, two cars collided and careened into a bus stop full of pedestrians. Bystanders celebrating the holiday at nearby pubs remember the harrowing scene: four people, including a 16-year-old boy, sustained life-threatening injuries.
“I saw another car collide with another car, and then it ran into the bus stop. It was kind of a shocker, but then I realized there were people in the bus stop,” said Nate Tyler, a 10-year resident of the Sunset District who rendered aid at the collision. “I ran over there and quickly saw someone pinned against the bus stop.
“Even still to this day, if I’m at a bus stop, I don’t stand in it anymore.”
For residents and storeowners living along Golden Gate Park’s southern edge, the crash was all too common for Lincoln Way—one of the busiest and most dangerous corridors in San Francisco. Lincoln Way is one of a small handful of city streets that account for over 68% of serious injuries and fatalities, referred to by city officials as the High Injury Network.
The city’s transit agency said the road saw roughly 24 pedestrian collisions and 148 more injury-inducing incidents between 2017 and 2021. Transit advocates estimate 262 people have been severely injured on Lincoln Way since 2014, including two deaths.
In response to growing concerns about pedestrian safety, Lincoln Way is getting a facelift. The project includes “quick-build” traffic upgrades to nearly every single block stretching from Second Avenue to Ocean Beach. Unlike major capital projects that can take years to complete, quick-build projects are usually finished within months.
Sunset residents and safe-street advocates will be closely monitoring whether the $575,000 project will actually transform one of San Francisco’s most dangerous roadways.
Unclogging a Vital Traffic Artery
Lincoln Way is a vital traffic artery that connects western San Francisco to the rest of the city. It may also be the city’s most headache-inducing roadway during rush hour or concert days, when thousands of San Franciscans flock to Golden Gate Park.
Residents say cars and buses zoom through Lincoln Way, often racing well above the road’s 30-mph speed limit. As a pedestrian, the corridor can be challenging and scary to navigate—so much so that long stretches of the road are included in the city’s High Injury Network.
“You have to cross Lincoln to get anywhere that you're going in Golden Gate Park, and I think we know that the speed limits in the area are too high to be safe,” said Robin Pam, an organizer at Kid Safe SF, a safe-streets advocacy group that fought to keep John F. Kennedy Drive car-free. “The signals are timed for cars that go pretty fast there, and there aren't a lot of crosswalks.”
Transit officials announced a quick-build plan for Lincoln Way last winter, with a goal of easing gridlock traffic and making it safer for pedestrians to walk along the busy road. Public meetings were held through the spring as design plans were finalized, and construction started this month.
The project is slated to complete nearly 70 planned roadside improvement tasks by fall, according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Stephen Chun. Changes include updated curb paint, new crosswalks, added signage and speed radars, and signal timing adjustments to slow drivers. Additional traffic signal upgrades and Muni bus route adjustments will coincide with the quick-build project.
Nearly Every Sunset Block Affected
Little news has circulated about the major changes coming to a core traffic artery in San Francisco, according to neighborhood residents. Inner Sunset property owners received paper notice from the transportation agency days before construction started, which included parking restrictions and street segment closures along Kezar Drive.
City transportation officials defended their outreach efforts, saying local organizations were contacted, a virtual open house was held and newsletters were sent. They said the quick-build improvements will help establish more community trust and connection by involving residents throughout the project’s design and implementation process.
Supervisor Joel Engardio, who represents the Outer Sunset area, told The Standard the transit agency has kept his office “apprised of its plans to address this high-injury corridor.”
“After the open-house comment period, the team added several additional crosswalks, mainly across the avenues west of 19th Avenue,” Chun said. “We are currently proposing a total of 20 new crosswalks along this 3-mile-long project area.” This also includes refreshing faded or damaged crosswalks.
Of the 42 intersections affected along Lincoln Way, eight could get brand new signals or traffic rules, such as designated right-turn-only lanes and speed-radar signs. The project may also make it easier for pedestrians to cross into Golden Gate Park, with numerous new crosswalks and upgraded signage planned.
Most of the construction will happen during the daytime and pause at night and over weekends. Public Works said the city restricted construction in the roadway during the heaviest commute hours to minimize traffic impacts. Though opponents of the project may argue that construction will impede drivers along Lincoln Way, transit advocates say it’s worth it.
“I think that [SFMTA] could benefit from a stronger mandate to prioritize safety over convenience,” said Lucas Lux, board president of the Friends of Great Highway Park group. “Principally, we all want to get around safer. If that means it takes a few seconds longer, we’re OK with that.”