Bicycle Safety in the South of Market


The end of the road — at least for now

Photo0856As my journey in the South of Market neighborhood comes to an end, I feel I have come a few steps closer to understanding the problems, weaknesses and strengths of a neighborhood full of such a diverse community. Every neighborhood has its funny, interesting and talented individuals and this neighborhood never got old. I’ll be back, I’m just taking a small hiatus.

Bicycle accidents — A trend in the South of Market

A bicyclist rides on the bike path lane on Market Street and S. Van Ness Avenue, on Dec.6.

A bicyclist rides on the bike path lane on Market Street and S. Van Ness Avenue, on Dec.6.

It was lunch hour — Market and Third streets were packed — traffic was moving in all directions when a cyclist crashed with a moving vehicle, causing him to fly into the air hitting the pavement.

As if nothing happened the cyclist dusted himself off and hopped back on his bike, while the driver drove away.

This year four cyclist have died in bicycle accidents over the past few months in the South of Market neighborhood — the highest number of crashes resulting in death in over a decade, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Most of these accidents were a result of poor road design and not enough police enforcement.

“What the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is asking the police department to do is to really focus on the five, which is the five most dangerous intersections but also the five most dangerous behaviors,”said Communications Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Kristin Smith.

San Francisco Police officers are regularly assigned to some of the most dangerous and high traffic street intersections a campaign called “Focus on the Five.” They include: Market Street at Octavia Boulevard, 7th Street between Harrison Street and Folsom Street, Harrison Street at 4th Street, 10th Street between Mission Street and Brannan Street and Mission Street between 5th and 10th streets. All of which have the most frequently illegal driving records — and as a result cause a high level of injuries or accidents.

 “Its easy to give a ticket to a bike rider on a quiet street when there is nobody there, that’s not one of the five most dangerous behaviors … we are really asking the police to focus on the most dangerous behaviors, which are: speeding, running red lights and unsafe turning at intersections that injure and sometimes kill people biking or walking,” Smith said.

Photo Credit, Lulu Orozco.

According to a 2009-2010 San Francisco Bicycle Count from the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, the city had a total of 9,211 number of cyclist on the road that year — a 2 percent increase from 2009 with 9,035 cyclist.

In 2011 the Bicycle Coalition compiled a list of 21 intersections that had seen more than five bicycle collisions, some of these intersections are also part of the SFPD’s Focus on the Five campaign.

Big vehicles vs. small bicycles

In August of this year a bicyclist was killed in a collision with a big rig truck in the South of Market neighborhood. The bicyclist was riding east on Folsom Street, when the truck trying to make a right turn onto Sixth Street stuck her, a Focus on the Five hotspot intersection.

“The fatality at 6th and Folsom was in a Focus on the Five area. Sixth Street corridor has been noted as an area of focus on speeding violations and red light running,” said Southern Station Police Chief Michael Redmond.

 The most recent accident involved a Muni bus that struck and killed a 78-year-old man on 11th and Bryant streets.

“Bicycle safety is part of operator training and we work with the Bike Coalition to reach the bike riding community. In the last three years, this accident was the only fatal accident during that time,” said SFMTA spokesman and media relations, Paul Rose.

Folsom Street now has a buffered bike way, which means they have about 3 feet of paint buffer between drivers and people biking, which can be a lot safer for bicyclist, Smith said about the updated Folsom Street bike path.

 “SFPD doesn’t keep real throughout date, we believe the number of crashes involving people biking are really underreported, often times people might get hit and they think they are ok and they don’t even report it, then they realize they were injured and that kind of thing is really important for police to know about so they can have more data to say, ‘these are the dangerous intersections’,” Smith said.

“Officers are directed to area’s to conduct enforcement and education of drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists when they area not on a call for service or another assignment. We have a Traffic Company in the department where their primary duty is enforcement,” Captain Redmond said about what the station and other departments are doing to keep the streets safe.


A regular at Happy Donuts

Tommy Johnson at Happy Donuts on October 25. Photo by Lulu Orozco.

Tommy Johnson at Happy Donuts on October 25. Photo by Lulu Orozco.

Tommy Johnson likes donuts. He has been a regular customer at Happy Donuts in the South of Market since the 1960’s — but it’s not just the smell of homemade donuts that draws him to this place, it’s the neighborhood.

Happy Donuts, on the corner of 6th and Market Streets — it’s surrounded by other small restaurants like Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers and Tu Lan Vietnamese. But this particular street corner isn’t just known for its cheap eats, most of these restaurants have regular customers that not only return for the food, but for the friendships they’ve made.

If it wasn’t for his soft spoken voice and friendly smile, the retired 69-year-old heavy build man might not be as approachable, but through the shop’s window he smiles and waves at the daily passersby that know his familiar face.

The Rodeo county native who likes to describe himself as a country boy takes, a 10 minute drive from his neighborhood in the Western Addition — three to four times a week, to sit down at one of his favorite gathering place.

“He comes here to talk to me about the neighborhood and always has a coffee and a donut,” said Ella Vong, who has been running Happy Donuts for more than 10 years.

San Francisco was different in the 60’s, Johnson says. There was the Disco’s and the late night dinners where everyone would gather after they danced the night away. But racial stereotypes dominated the city and it made things a lot more challenging for Johnson to make a name for himself in a city full of elite businessmen.

“I became a radical because there was not enough being done,” Johnson said about the black man stereotype that segregated the South of Market neighborhood. He joined Glide Memorial Church and began to volunteer at community centers around the city. He felt he needed to help those that were like him — a middle class black man trying to make a living in a rich city.

 As he stares out the window and smiles at the passersby, Johnson describes a time when he couldn’t find an apartment. “I met a white man who said he was Tommy Johnson, and he gave me the keys to an apartment,” an apartment Johnson had been wanting but wasn’t allowed to live there, because the building was not suitable for people of color, the building was full of white residents only, he said.

The man became Johnson’s really good friend and gave him the keys to an apartment that would help him live an easier life, a stress off his shoulders and everything close at reach. Johnson stayed.

“I want to experience more things before I die,” Johnson said. “I want to run for something in the community, maybe a civic leader.”

An American Photographer

San Francisco native Dave Glass, aka Dizzy Atmosphere began taking photographs in late 1960’s. His love-behind-the-lens began as a photojournalism and photography student at City College of San Francisco.

Glass has beautifully captured the South of Market neighborhood — an area of the city that is full of so much personality and surprise — through his black and white images. He talks to the SoMa Press about his first camera, film vs. digital and time travel.

By: Lulu Orozco
Q: You began taking photographs in the late 1960’s, what inspired you?
A: In the 1950s, the low cost roll film cameras by makers like Kodak and Ansco were very popular,  seemed like everyone was taking photos with these little cameras back then.  I got my first camera, a Kodak Brownie Starflash at age 10.  At the same time, our family had a subscription to LIFE magazine, a news and picture magazine.  I imagined myself taking photographs like those in LIFE with my little Kodak.  I also got inspiration from my father who took some excellent photographs in post-war Germany.
Q: Where did you  find your pre-war Leica IIIc (first camera), and how much did you pay for it?
A: The Leica IIIc was given to me by my father when I was a student and a member of the Herbert Hoover Jr. High  photography club, around 1965.   He acquired it from a German civilian just after WWII in exchange for goods,  my father, Charles Glass, took photographs in post-war Bergen Belsen with this camera.  The Leica IIIc was not an easy camera to operate,  the 35mm film spool was difficult to load from the bottom,  the lens needed to be pulled out to shoot,  the shutter and aperture were tricky at best.  There was a unique feature,  on the back of the camera was mounted a brass plate with the name and address of the camera store in Berlin that originally sold the camera in the 1930s,  the address was on  “Adolf Hitler Strasse” (street).  Unfortunately the Leica was in poor condition and needed an overhaul, so eventually I traded it in for a newer Minolta SR2 single reflex camera at Brooks Camera on Kearny Street in San Francisco, a camera that I still own and use occasionally.
Q: What neighborhood (s) in San Francisco would you find yourself always going back to shoot?
A: Nob Hill and Tenderloin, definitely.  I see Nob Hill as the neighborhood that is the real San Francisco,  historic architecture,  a street grid that goes straight over hills, cable cars,  a special uniqueness that does not look like anywhere else.  I lived in the Marina district many years and was within walking distance of Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Tenderloin, North Beach, Russian Hill, always made sure to have my camera with me.
Q: What was the first thought that went through your mind when you made the switch from film to digital?
A: I was taking a photo workshop at UC Extension in early 1990s when I first heard about digital photography, it was discussed among the students and staff at the time, the general feeling was that digital photography was untrustworthy.  In other words,  film photograph was considered an unalterable document where a digital image can be altered.  None of us at the time could have ever imagined that digital would be replacing film almost entirely only a decade or so later.  I did not use a digital camera until 2005, now I shoot film occasionally but use digital almost exclusively. When I first made the switch,  I found that digital offered some great tools for photography but was not sold until the better cameras began appearing around 2008.
Q: Tell me about the last time you were completely captivated by a photograph?
A: Dorothea Lange’s photographs at the Oakland Museum recently.  Her famous photograph of the migrant woman, unforgettable image.
Q: How would you describe your photographic taste to someone who has never seen your work?
A: Documentary, historic, photojournalistic, portraits,  images that preserve a decisive moment, images that promote social change.  I try to document the environment we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear,  the cities and streets where we congregate.
Q: If you had the ability to time travel anywhere in the world past or present, where would you go and why?

A: Interesting question,  it would have to be New York City in the 1950s.  NYC was the capital of the world in those times,  jazz music, baseball, politics, art, a cultural renaissance like never before or since.  I have always fantasized being there to document that era with a camera and some film.

You can check out Dave Glass’s Flickr here.

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Java House Restaurant

Way at the end of the Embarcadero near Pier 40, lies a tiny restaurant known as the Java House. The little blue and white house overlooks the waterfront and on any particular ballgame – the house is full. With menu options such as fries, burgers and shakes it’s impossible not to fall in love with this place, including its friendly staff and crispy fries.

“This restaurant is for everyone, people come here because it’s a beautiful place right by the marina,” restaurant manager Tulio Silva said.

The restaurant has been in business since 1912. Philip Papadopoulos, a 70-year-old, smooth-talking man with an intimidating beard, took over the restaurant in 1983 and has now been running the restaurant along with his wife, Susie and daughter Gigi for more than 30 years.

Throughout the years, the beloved restaurant has served longshoremen, sailors, dock workers, military personnel, yachtsmen and women, to the legendary great New York Yankees center fielder, Joe DiMaggio and of course a few Giants players, according to there website.