How government works

I grew up in San Francisco, and always found the intersection at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard frustrating and nerve wracking. Sloat runs east/west and 19th Avenue runs north/south. If you’re heading south on 19th Avenue, and want to make a left turn onto Sloat (heading east), there is a left turn signal. However, if you’re heading east on Sloat and would like to make a left turn onto 19th Avenue (north), there is no left turn signal. Instead the far left lane is a left turn only lane, with the second left lane being a lane that allows drivers to go straight ahead or turn left.

During peak traffic periods, when a green light hits, people in the far left lane creep out into the intersection and sit there waiting for an opportunity to make that left turn. Often, when the light changes, they find themselves trapped in the intersection, with traffic on 19th Avenue heading their way from both directions, always an unnerving experience.

If you’re in the second to left lane, the situation is even worse, because drivers who had no intention of turning left find themselves trapped in that lane behind the left turners. They get impatient, and start pushing in dangerous directions. They, too, find themselves trapped in the intersection when the light changes but, instead of turning into the north/south flow of 19th Avenue, they’re still trying to head east, against the flow.

Just to add to the chaos, students from several nearby high schools traverse the intersection (as I did in my day), and things get even worse on summer weekends because of the popular open air concerts held at Stern Grove, which fronts on the intersection. The statistics for the intersection are amazing:

With its 7.5-mile length, 85,000 daily vehicles, and 80,000 daily pedestrians, 19th Avenue is one of the busiest — and most dangerous — corridors in The City, connecting Interstate 280 and highway 1 to the Golden Gate Bridge. At least three deaths have occurred along the state highway, which is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans and not the city of San Francisco.

There were seven injury collisions in 2006 and six in 2005 at 19th and Sloat.  (Emphasis mine.)

Sadly, just last month, a 21 year old woman joined the list of fatalities at that intersection (and four other people were injured).   It therefore didn’t surprise me today to read that Caltrans is finally going to do something to make the intersection safer — it’s going to put a left turn signal on Sloat Boulevard for east bound traffic that wants to turn left (north) onto 19th Avenue:

A new traffic signal, to be installed today at the intersection, will allow drivers eastbound on Sloat to make a left onto 19th without the threat of a collision from incoming cars on westbound Sloat.

That’s the good news.  Here’s the shocking part of the story:

According to Municipal Transportation Agency spokeswoman Maggie Lynch, the agency’s engineers have been seeking approval for the installation for seven years.  (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, because of bureaucratic inertia, several people have been injured and one woman has died at a manifestly dangerous intersection — and one that routinely contributes to major traffic jams on that well-traveled 19th Avenue.  No matter how you slice it, bureaucracies are inherently inefficient institutions.  This type of story is one of the main reasons I’ve moved away from being a liberal.  Their faith in government means that every single policy they support requires creating ever more bureaucracies.  I recognize the necessity of these institutions when it comes to traditional government functions such as transportation or defense, but I shudder to think of expanding them into more and more corners of our daily life.  (Think:  managed care.)


One Response

  1. “Their faith in government means that every single policy they support requires creating ever more bureaucracies.”


    I’d like to add that I see the results of highway and road construction in my own Dallas area and the results of the “improvements” are often simply enraging to the intellect. I’ve got to believe they ran traffic model studies and simply came to the wrong conclusions. Key choke points – caused by their choices! – are so obvious that you cannot believe they made such a mistake.

    Traffic flow modeling is only mildly complex compared to climate modeling. Climate modeling is off the complexity scale! I see the atrocious results of government traffic modeling choices, and I can only shudder in horror at the thought of at any government action taken based on their interpretations of climate modeling.

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