A San Francisco Bicyclist’s Terrifying Commute Home

3518154510_4542a0790a.jpgFlickr photo: Jaimie Ho

San Francisco bicyclists face daily hostility on the streets from motorists, but a Streetsblog reader’s account of her frightening commute home this week is one that especially stands out, and could potentially amount to hate crime and vehicular assault charges if the assailants are caught. It also serves as a stark reminder about what we should do when we’re on our bikes and confronted by hostile, threatening drivers:

I wanted to write you in hopes that you can help spread the word and warn bicyclists and decent people alike. I ask you to read what happened to me on Monday, September 14, 2009 and share this story and information as you and Streetsblog see fit.

On Monday, September 14, 2009 around 6pm I was on my way home from work on my bike as I am every work day. Except on this day, I not only got verbally harassed, but racially harassed by two men in a BMW. Seriously! As I was riding down Embarcadero, I heard a car honking and some guys yelling. I ignored it, not giving it much thought. A few seconds later the car pulled up next to me and the men in it started yelling at me (every other word was fucking or bitch or both) and telling me to stop at red lights. I crossed an intersection (Embarcadero and Battery) on a red light seconds before it turned green (I know but I made sure no cars and pedestrians were inconvenienced in any way and as soon as I started peddling the light turned green). The verbal assaults didn’t stop there. They continued to follow me down Embarcadero driving erratically and yelling at me calling me a "fucking Asian bitch" and that "behind a bad driver is an Asian driver" and that they "wished that I died" over and over again. They swerved into the bike lane from time to time trying to scare me or cause me to fall off my bike. I yelled back but at this point I was really upset and frightened. Eventually, fearing for my safety, I got off my bike and walked up to them in the middle of the street. I was very close to punching them but realized that if I did, nothing would happen to them and I would end up in court. At one point the car passed by me so I got the car’s license plate in case the car did hit me. Here’s what I’m asking of you, please note this car and warn as many bicyclists as possible. The car is a dark silver BMW m3, two doors, and looked very new. The CA license plate is: BYE GIRL (I’m serious that was their license plate).

I’ve been harassed many times as a bicyclist in San Francisco. Most of the times for no reason at all. However, this time they went way too far. Yelling at me once is fine. Following me in their car, driving into the bike lane, yelling racial epithets, and wishing death upon me is not fine.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department, Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, encouraged the victim to file a police report so investigators can follow-up.

"That was a direct threat. She felt that they swerved to hit her in the bike lane. The term used was in direct comparison to her gender and her race and could easily be considered a hate crime, coupled with that threat from the vehicle," she said. "That’s a situation where anyone should call for the police."

The woman told Streetsblog she was planning to meet with police today. Tomioka said it was also important she report the incident because it probably won’t be the last time it happens.

"They were comfortable yelling the things they yelled. If they get away with it once, they’re going to continue to do that. She had the sense, at some point, to stop and get the license plate, but there’s people out there that don’t think that quickly, that are intimidated by two people. My other advice would certainly be not to confront two men in a car.  I mean, she appeared to be a lone woman on a bicycle and she went to confront the two men. I think that’s very dangerous."

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also encourages bicyclists to report motorist harassment to SFPD, in some cases as vehicular assaults. Andy Thornley, the SFBC’s program director, said police often discourage bicyclists from filing reports but they have every right to do it.

"By itself a report of vehicular assault isn’t likely to launch a
criminal investigation, you’ll probably have to press charges, which
means getting involved in a pretty serious way, actually confronting
the person and seeing through a prosecution. I’ve never heard of anyone
going through with it here in San Francisco," he said.

The SFBC’s Marc Caswell said bicyclists could also attempt to get a license stripped by filing a complaint with the Department of Motor Vehicles, requesting the agency review the motorist’s driving qualifications. He said he hasn’t heard of anyone actually pursuing that route but that it would be worth experimenting with.

  • Sung H. Kim

    Even if the cyclist was as reckless and stupid as some claim, that doesn’t make it okay to use racial slurs, does it? Those jerks being racist, I understand, but the “regular people” in this and other forums condoning it is more troubling. Well, that’s the society we live in, so we’ll deal with it.

  • Meister

    It seems that a lack on info about:

    1. Right of way,
    2. Traffic rules, and obeying them(cars, bicycles, pedestrians)
    3. Many just aren’t smart enough to be courteous, to aid traffic flow(cars, bicycles, pedestrians) I see many aggressive yet slow drivers, cyclist…

    Those are causing tension between cyclist, motorist, and pedestrians.

    1. Right of way: however has a green/yellow light has priority, so getting out of their way is smart, otherwise usually illegal.

    2. Double parking, Muni taking up 2 lanes, pedestrians crossing outside of cross walks, crossing against red light and traffic flow, pedestrians standing in middle of the road when it’s not their turn to cross, same goes for bicyclist (why do they have to be 4 foot into the traffic?)

    3. Without breaking any of the rules above, you can still travel fast, and smoothly, if you learn to shift your gears, time the lights, analyze the traffic flow ahead and getting into the appropriate lane(the far right lane isn’t always the best, sometime the middle lane is what you need, or the far left) And lastly by NOT getting in anyone’s way unless it’s you turn to go everybody can travel smoothly.

    With all due respect…. I bicycle almost everyday, and I drive a large truck, so I’ve witnessed the tension from both sides.

    I don’t know if vandalizing that silver BMW will teach them anything… It may make them angry, maybe fearful. Unless they somehow learn by riding bicycle themselves through the city they may reside in their ignorance.

  • g

    i don’t think its ever a good idea to interact with people harassing a cyclist. the bike is far more manueverable and nimble in the city. you can dissapear before anyone in a car could ever catch you. this is coming from someone who has had his back wheel smashed from stopping dead in front of a honking car, was rammed by a police motorcylist, etc. it’s not worth it. use the power of the bike and evaporate.

  • I am appalled that there are people here who blame the victim. I wonder how many of you realize that that is how things like lynchings are justified (he knows better than to look at a white woman). This driver’s day was not in one iota affected by this rider and her jumping a light was just an excuse for he and his friend to unleash hatred and anger that they were looking to point at someone. Screaming abuse, deliberately running someone off the road, threatening harm…. these are unreasonable reactions coming from people with unreasonable and dangerous minds that have run amok and are looking to hurt someone.

    As to the SFPD- I was involved in a group ride, recently. A driver pushed her car into the middle of the ride (maybe 100 people) and started to yell at the riders. She then tried to force her way through the ride with her car. This happened in front of an SFPD officer on Valencia Street. He just watched. When I went to him and pointed out the situation he was standing in front of he refused to do anything and told me I had to “file a report inside at the window”. Even though this was happening in front of him, he was only amused at the situation and did nothing to change it.

    I hope this rider gets more from the SFPD but I do not hold out hope. I have not found them to be terribly interested in bicycle issues (the heads of the dep’t might talk a good game but the cops on the street, for the most part, do not want to be bothered).

  • Tomtakt

    How about we include bicycling education as a requirement for a driver’s license? Cyclists and drivers would simultaneously better understand the laws that affect them both. This is how it works in many European countries, from what I understand.

  • Pj

    I’ve read a lot of good remarks and a lot of sad ones from the commentators out there. I think I may be the only former Bike Messenger on here (Aero and Battery Point) and I must confess, I have too had my run-ins with verbal and physical abuse from “many” motorists, and also pedestrians. Cussing at a cyclist/motorist/pedestrian, well… shit happens (who can honestly say they haven’t). But once racial, sexual-oriented slurs come out… that’s a different story. What people shouldn’t lose site of is the fact that there was original blame, but it shouldn’t have been taken that far as to put someone’s life in danger… the driver, then becomes the blamed. But once you bloggers (those out for revenge) actually do physical harm to the BMW, I will happily be eating popcorn at your sentencing. Let the police or non-profit civil liberties organizations do their thing… if something comes of it and I hope something does, then consider it a victory.

    I’m all for sharing the road, I just know the realities of living as the minority for the past 15 years. Things will get better… shit, they already have… the fact that there are huge mass rides and street closure events says that we are making progress. But, please don’t lose sight of the fact that 9.99 out of every 10 drivers on our streets don’t know that we are equals… so we must obey and continue to practice safe riding. Who gives a shit if you get there faster, or the young hipsters darting in front of cars are trying to set the culture… be safe. And try to love one another.

    My condolences go out to the female rider. I hope this event does not detour you from riding anymore. Stay up.

  • jaded

    As a sometimes driver, sometimes public transit rider, one of my pet peeves is bicyclists breaking traffic laws and not sharing the road. Does this excuse the motorists behavior, no. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t use the entire lane, until the light is red, and then run the light. If bicycles are vehicles, then you have to follow the same traffic laws as the other vehicles. It is only fair. And car drivers should treat bikes as other vehicles.

  • Matt

    Can anybody identify the owner of the BMW? Perhaps post his name, address, phone number, e-mail, and any other identifier?

  • Agree with jaded. As a driver and cyclist I see lots of red light running. Every time a cyclist who thinks he’s cool blasts by me in Oakland thru a red when there are plenty of cars watching, that is breaking the law.

    Cars and bikes. Same roads, SAME RULES.

    And yes agree that CA DMV drivers test should include more BIKE questions. I believe there are currently none. I heard that Oregon DMV has some bike questions on their drivers license test but have not verified that.

    Sorry this shit happened to you, and that it happens to anyone at all.

    People are inherently violent animals at times. This will NOT improve until more of us are biking. But I think the US will become a bit more violent as our large institutions continue to fail, zombie-like, and “things fall apart.”

    Good luck.

  • Unbelivable

    I’ve been harassed many times as a bicyclist in San Francisco. Most of the times for no reason at all. However, this time they went way too far. Yelling at me once is fine. Following me in their car, driving into the bike lane, yelling racial epithets, and wishing death upon me is not fine.
    How funny is her story words from her mouth she doesn’t know how to ride a bike because many times she is yelled at.