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After deaths of 4 in West Portal, San Francisco plans major traffic changes

A man walks across a street with a tram station and overhead wires in the background.
The intersection of West Portal Avenue and Ulloa Street is slated for safety improvements. | Source: Jessica Christian/SF Chronicle/Getty Images

Significant safety changes may be coming to the West Portal intersection where a family of four was killed during a fatal car collision in March, according to a city official.

The city plans to announce a proposed safety improvement plan Thursday for the intersection at Ulloa Street and Lenox Way, where an SUV going the wrong way smashed into a bus stop where the family was sitting, said Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who represents the area where the collision happened. 

Melgar said the city intends to make several changes to the streets to reduce the number of cars traveling at the intersection of West Portal Avenue and Ulloa Street.

Melgar told The Standard the changes would mean: 

  • Eastbound traffic on Ulloa will be forced to turn right onto West Portal Avenue.
  • Northbound traffic on West Portal will be forced to turn right onto Ulloa.
  • Northbound traffic on Claremont will be forced to go past Ulloa to Taraval for vehicles wanting to turn left.
  • The westbound Ulloa Street lane at West Portal Avenue will become a transit-only lane.
A draft map shows road changes near West Portal Station, with areas for buses, pedestrians, and turn restrictions.
A map provided by Supervisor Myrna Melgar's office shows the proposed safety changes to West Portal. | Source: Courtesy Supervisor Myrna Melgar

A spokesperson for Melgar’s office said that after Thursday’s announcement, there will be a 10-day community outreach period that will take into account a survey conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. From there, the plans will then go to the SFMTA’s Citizen Advisory Committee before the SFMTA board gives final approval in June.

If approved, the changes would be enacted this summer.

“If it were up to me, it would take all of the cars off West Portal,” Melgar said. “I think that this plan takes most of the cars off the intersection, and that is my goal.”

Brazilian national Diego Cardoso de Oliveira, 40, and his son, 1-year-old Joaquin Ramos Pinto de Oliveira, died March 16 at the scene of the crash. The toddler’s mother, Matilde Moncada Ramos Pinto, 38, died later in the hospital, while the couple’s 2-month-old infant, Cauê Ramos Pinto de Oliveira, died on March 20.

A person crouches by a sidewalk memorial with flowers and stuffed animals, as another person walks by in the background.
Miguel Diaz, a longtime resident, kneels to say a prayer at the intersection of Ulloa Street and Lenox Way after a family was killed at a Muni bus stop in West Portal in March. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

In the aftermath, the driver of the SUV, Mary Fong Lau, 78, was booked into jail on three counts of vehicular manslaughter, two reckless driving offenses, driving on the wrong side of the road and driving at an unsafe speed, records show.

Transit advocate Luke Bornheimer said the plan would make the area safer for cyclists and pedestrians, which he said is especially important because West Portal Elementary is near that intersection.

"The benefits for public safety in the area are huge, especially when you consider the number of kids in the area," Bornheimer said.

However, Deidre Von Rock, president of the West Portal Merchants Association, said business owners were not notified about the plans and will vehemently oppose any reroutes in the area.

“This is the first time we are seeing this draft and the first time we have been alerted to the fact it’s being considered,” she said. “We have had no input.”

Von Rock said that although the West Portal fatal crash was a tragedy, police have not yet clarified what caused the crash, and any efforts to change or reroute traffic near the site of the incident is akin to using the tragedy to pander to constituents.

“We still don’t know what happened, and they are coming up with a solution for a problem that didn’t cause the accident,” she added. “In the merchant’s view, there are a lot of other things SFMTA should be doing to improve the corridor, but closing down a vital intersection that is critical for consumers to shop and support our small businesses is unacceptable.”

Gabe Greschler contributed reporting.
Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com