Federal and state laws require proper signs alerting road users of Light Rail Vehicle crossings at intersections. The degree to which this is specified is amazing. The signs (more than one required!) must be of a certain size and material and the graphics are precisely laid out in the regulations. Where they are installed is detailed in terms of distance from the intersection and height off the ground and all kinds of stuff like that. There is no ambiguity in the rules.
But in San Francisco’s Castro District those rules are not followed at all. Our LRV tracks are running through many local intersections and executing all sorts twists and turns with no signage whatsoever to warn road users of the tracks ahead.
In one recent case The City responded to neighborhood complaints about the safety of the LRV tracks on 17th Street by installing a substandard “Skewed Railroad Crossing” sign. Traffic engineers call this a W10-12 sign and like all road signs it is legally defined in extreme detail. The sign was installed on Westbound 17th St. between Dolores and Church Street and while it is close, the differences between what is and what should be are significant.
The official manual for signing in the United States is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The graphic used to illustrate the sign details comes from a wonderful resource called The Manual of Traffic Signs.
Considering the fact that this is one of the only intersections in the entire Castro where San Francisco’s Most Troubled Agency has installed any LRV warning signs at all it is of note that they did not do the job correctly. Let’s look at this situation in detail comparing SFMTA’s signage with the legally required warnings.
The graphic is way too small and most people have no idea that is a reference to the skewed tracks dead ahead or the fact that the direction of the tracks is indicated by the sign. In our case the tracks skew in two directions. Apparently the sign was designed for another location where it would use the additional space for some purpose not applicable here. Lets look more closely at SFMTA’s sign.
Now let’s compare the SFMTA sign with the legal version of the same so we can observe the differences. For the record the one difference that is okay is the direction of the track because that is supposed to indicate the direction of skew. It is the dimensions of the graphic that we are concerned about.
These images are from the Manual of Traffic Signs, by Richard C. Moeur (http://www.trafficsign.us/)
The dimensions of the sign are part of the story. But it gets worse. This sign is not supposed to be used alone. It has a big sister that is legally required to precede it on the roadway so road users actually see two warning signs, not just one. Let’s go straight to the rule book for this one.
Section 8B.19 Skewed Crossing Sign (W10-12)
The Skewed Crossing (W10-12) sign (see Figure 8B-5) may be used at a skewed highway-rail grade crossing to warn drivers that the railroad tracks are not perpendicular to the highway.
If the Skewed Crossing sign is used, the symbol should show the direction of the crossing (near left to far right as shown in Figure 8B-5, or the mirror image if the track goes from far left to near right). If the Skewed Crossing sign is used where the angle of the crossing is significantly different than 45 degrees, the symbol should show the appropriate angle of the crossing.
The Skewed Crossing sign shall not be used as a replacement for the required Advance Warning (W10-1) sign. If used, the Skewed Crossing sign shall supplement the W10-1 sign and shall be mounted on a separate post. (Source: The Federal Highway Administration Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices.)
Section 10C.15 Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Advance Warning Signs (W10 Series)
A Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Advance Warning (W10-1) sign (see Figure 10C-3) shall be used on each highway in advance of every highway-light rail transit grade crossing in semiexclusive alignments except in the following circumstances:
- On an approach to a highway-light rail transit grade crossing from a T-intersection with a parallel highway, if the distance from the edge of the track to the edge of the parallel roadway is less than 30 m (100 ft), and W10-3 signs are used on both approaches of the parallel highway; or
- On low-volume, low-speed highways crossing minor spurs or other tracks that are infrequently used and are flagged by transit crews; or
- In business districts where active highway-light rail transit grade crossing traffic control devices are in use; or
- Where physical conditions do not permit even a partially effective display of the sign.
Figure 10C-3 Warning Signs and Light Rail Station Sign
On divided highways and one-way streets, an additional W10-1 sign may be installed on the left side of the roadway.
If the distance between the light rail transit tracks in a semiexclusive alignment and a parallel highway, from the edge of the tracks to the edge of the parallel roadway, is less than 30 m (100 ft), W10-2, W10-3, or W10-4 signs (see Figure 10C-3) shall be installed on each approach of the parallel highway to warn road users making a turn that they will encounter a highway-light rail transit grade crossing soon after making a turn, and a W10-1 sign for the approach to the tracks shall not be required to be between the tracks and the parallel highway.
If the W10-2, W10-3, or W10-4 signs are used, sign placement in accordance with the guidelines for Intersection Warning signs in Table 2C-4 using the speed of through traffic shall be measured from the highway intersection.
If the distance between the light rail transit tracks and the parallel highway, from the edge of the tracks to the edge of the parallel roadway, is 30 m (100 ft) or more, a W10-1 sign should be installed in advance of the highway-light rail transit grade crossing, and the W10-2, W10-3, or W10-4 signs should not be used on the parallel highway.
That sign the SFMTA folks installed last year was so screwy that I knew it had to be wrong somehow. But it wasn’t until this year when I finally discovered the rules and regulations governing such signs that I came to realize how far off the path we have gotten. These warnings are legally required at all intersections with light rail vehicle tracks.
Yet when I walk around the neighborhood I find that the vast majority of LRV track laden intersections have no such warning signs. And yet people are being hospitalized off this street like clockwork for years on end. Go figure. It looks a lot like The City is being reckless with public safety in the Castro right where all the public schools are.
One final link. The video of the LRV track caused bike wreck that caused me to get involved in this issue. And one more. The most recent article in Hoodline about our efforts to get The City to do the right thing. And one last link to a wonderful document explaining more about the use and context of these signs.
California Vehicle Code 21362: Requires warning signs on the right hand side of the road at a reasonable distance from a railroad crossing.
California Vehicle Code 22352: Sets the speed limit within 100 feet of approaching a railroad crossing at 15 miles per hour.
Section 835 of the California Government Code provides that:
Except as provided by statute, a public entity is liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition of its property if the plaintiff establishes that the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury, that the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition, that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred, and that either:
(a) A negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the public entity within the scope of his employment created the dangerous condition; or
(b) The public entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition under Section 835.2 a sufficient time prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.