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.