SFMTA Pulls 180 on Costly McAllister Traffic Circle

Step aside, needles and poop! Traffic circles are here, and San Franciscans are not happy.

Officials from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are backpedaling on an ill-fated traffic circle installed in a residential neighborhood earlier year. The $80,000 circle was installed at McAllister and Steiner streets this spring and is already scheduled for removal — which is another $40,000.

The SFMTA has been brainstorming ways to speed up Muni buses along McAllister for years. The designs have changed time and time again; an early proposal to install five timed traffic lights on McAllister between Lyon and Fillmore streets was scrapped after neighbors launched a petition and organized against them. The SFMTA compromised, and when changes were eventually installed, McAllister ended up with one traffic light at Broderick Street, and the ever-controversial traffic circle at Steiner. 

For the past few months, the circle has caused immense confusion for drivers; it doesn’t operate like a normal roundabout, which runs on a first-come, first-serve basis. Instead, two stop signs on Steiner block traffic and give a bus flying down McAllister or a cyclist huffing and puffing up it the right of way through the intersection.

According to neighbors who live along the route, drivers of 5-Fulton buses have been preemptively leaning on their horns as they approach Steiner just in case a car misunderstands the circle and blindly cuts out in front of them. Emails between the SFMTA and the neighborhood association state the drivers were thusly told not to do this. To counteract people inching into the intersections, large highway-style signs were installed on Steiner warning drivers that McAllister traffic didn’t stop. But the topography of the hilly intersection also makes it tricky to spot vehicles, cyclists, or pedestrians coming from up or down the hill. 

“For the past six months I have heard an almost constant stream of profanity, near-crashes, people getting out of their cars to fight each other, etc.” wrote one neighbor on Next Door. “When walking, I’m never certain whether or not the cars will even stop, now. It feels markedly more dangerous and stress-inducing than it was before.”

After much back-and-forth between McAllister neighbors, the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, Supervisor Vallie Brown, the SFMTA — who reportedly evaluated the circle and deemed it functioning as intended — eventually gave in. The traffic circle will be replaced with four stop signs. In other words, it’ll go back to its former state.

“Neighborhood residents are open to finding a viable solution for this intersection, but the SFMTA has decided to remove the traffic circle for now due to existing safety concerns,” Gus Hernandez, president of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, tells SF Weekly. 

If this sounds like a one-off, well, it’s not. Neighbors in Laurel Heights were reportedly furious about two that popped up on Euclid Street earlier this year, and also requested that SFMTA perform a study of their effectiveness in calming traffic. The circles are still there, for now. 

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