Residents near the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Florida streets are calling for additional safety measures after a dog was injured in a hit-and-run collision on Jan. 19, one of several incidents in recent years, residents said.
The hit-and-run occurred at around 5:15 p.m. on a Tuesday as Yulia Zimmermann, with her husky, Lila, on a leash, tried to cross Cesar Chavez toward Bernal Heights.
The intersection at Florida Street has crosswalk bars and five neon yellow pedestrian crossing signs — three facing east, and two facing west. Nevertheless, cars on Cesar Chavez Street often fail to yield when they’re heading to or from Highway 101, a few blocks away.
Generally, Zimmermann said, she waits for the street to be clear or for somebody to see her and stop. Last Tuesday, a car in the lane closest to her stopped.
“My default behavior is to always wait and see if there is a car coming in the second lane. To my vision, there was no car coming,” Zimmermann said. “As we were crossing, I was moving into the second lane and Lila was in the middle of the lane and this car just came on us and hit her.”
Zimmermann said the force threw Lila several feet until she reached the end of her leash and fell to the ground. The driver that hit Lila, and the driver that stopped to let Zimmermann pass, drove off, she said.
What followed was a chaotic rush by Zimmermann’s neighbors, who were alerted by Lila’s yelps of pain and wanted to help.
One neighbor and friend called Zimmermann’s husband, another brought a towel to wrap the husky in, a third redirected traffic and two others offered to drive them to the veterinarian.
“My neighbor, who ended up driving me to the hospital… she provided the camera footage,” Zimmermann said. “We weren’t able to get the license plate but you can hear us screaming… I’m just screaming out of my mind.”
Once Zimmermann learned that Lila would survive the collision, she wrote about the incident on NextDoor and received more than 130 comments in the first two days from residents sharing similar experiences, several of whom spoke about that particular stretch of road.
“My pup unfortunately did not make it after being hit on Cesar Chavez years ago, so this story hits close to home,” said one person named Victoria.
A resident named Laura Maguire said she requested a pedestrian crossing light for the intersection nearly a year ago, and received a response from the SFMTA last March saying they would install another pedestrian crossing sign instead, along with having the trees trimmed to make sure no signs are obstructed.
“At this time, this intersection is not on our signal candidate list,” engineer Bryan Woo wrote in the email. “As a result of the limited budget for the installation of traffic signals every fiscal year, locations with a greater need are prioritized.”
SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato confirmed the email Maguire posted, and said the agency had only received one other complaint regarding pedestrian safety at that intersection in the last 10 years.
At present, Cesar Chavez has eight stoplights between the freeway and Valencia Street: at Valencia Street, Mission Street, South Van Ness Avenue, Shotwell Street, Folsom Street, Harrison Street, Alabama Street and Bryant Street.
Florida Street is the only intersection on Cesar Chavez Street, between Guerrero Street and Potrero Avenue, with a crosswalk but no stoplight. Bryant and Alabama streets are a block away in either direction from Florida Street.
24th Street, a nearby heavily trafficked corridor, has a traffic light or stop sign at every intersection with a crosswalk in the Mission. The same is true for Guerrero Street.
Zimmermann’s husband, Joshua, said he, too, complained to the city two years ago, and received a similar response.
“They say it’s not a high priority intersection, ” Joshua said.
Suramma De Leon, who has lived at the same intersection for more than 15 years, said that on three separate occasions between 2006 and 2016, drivers going east on Cesar Chavez Street have hit her parked cars.
According to the city’s Transbase Dashboard, seven collisions have occurred within 150 feet of the intersection since August 2016. Three of the collisions list “unsafe speed in prevailing conditions,” as the driving violation, two others cite drivers under the influence. In all seven cases, the drivers at fault were traveling east, toward Highway 101.
“It’s really hard to cross, because it’s right off the freeway,” said Apoorva Arya, another resident who lives near the intersection. “I’ve almost been hit a couple times.”
Arya, along with several other residents, said that even when cars do stop for them, they only obstruct the view of cars in the middle lane, who often keep driving in situations similar to the one that landed Lila in the hospital.
Tara Robinson, one of Zimmermann’s neighbors who helped her after the collision, said she worries the same thing will happen to her children.
“I tell them never to cross here,” Robinson said, instead telling them to cross at the traffic lights on Bryant or Alabama streets. An elderly woman who declined to give her name said she also crosses at adjacent streets rather than risk the crosswalk at Florida.
“Ideally, there would be a traffic light there,” said Zimmermann, “or at least a pedestrian crossing button.”