Skip to content
by Michael Rhodes
Scott James, aka Kemble Scott, the supposed San Franciscan who wrote the NYT hit piece is clearly a poseur–a would-be urbanite with a deeply suburban soul. The NYT’s bay area coverage must have realized what a hit Nevius is with the suburban readership of the Chron.
Indeed how shocked he must have been when he ventured outside the unmentioned but implicit cage we must assume he drives around in to talk to people in his city not in said cages, to find cyclists so venomous, to find that they actually think cars in the city are their enemies. The bike coalition might think it’s a good idea to tell people to hold onto their cars, to talk about their car ownership vociferously and use personal car ownership as a key ground from which to speak up for more bike lanes (see the bike plan hearing), but yes, Mr. James, many of us do consider personal car ownership and their use in the city a real problem, the enemy even.
I will not mind being ticketed for running a red light when motorists are at the very least ticketed and cited for running down cyclists and pedestrians, which most often they are not (unless drunk).
I can’t even analyze that video it runs so fast. I am trying to figure out if cyclists going from Duboce right onto Steiner were counted – since the stop sign/line is not in the frame. I find it very amusing that the blogger did no analysis of the automotive traffic, there are plenty of cars turning right from Steiner onto Duboce without slowing.
The perfect rebuttal video, which I will try to make, would be to go to some road with a bike lane, and count cars turning right, measuring how many safely merge properly to make their right turn, and how many even signal.
To be entirely fair, a large number of SF bicyclists don’t really slow down much at all at stop signs. Visit, say, Page and Scott during morning rush hour — a large number of bicyclists not only don’t stop (or slow down to roll through) but actually *take* the right of way from cars waiting to go through the intersection (I counted about ten one morning while myself waiting patiently — on a bike — to turn left “on my turn”).
So, yes, this NYT article is a bit of a hit piece, but the large number of cyclists in SF who don’t yield the right of way to cars or pedestrians (when they should — and I don’t consider a complete stop necessary in most cases) are a huge obstacle to general public acceptance of bicycling as a “normal” activity.
Things like not wearing lights, passing stupidly, riding the wrong way and such all contribute as well to a hostile environment. But of course car drivers are also incredibly rude and dangerous as well. Maybe the SFBC could do some educational stings in concert with the PD? Stop any cyclist *or* driver who violates the law in a dangerous or rude way and make them go to a special class on safe and fair road use.
a large number of bicyclists not only don’t stop (or slow down to roll through) but actually *take* the right of way from cars waiting to go through the intersection (I counted about ten one morning while myself waiting patiently — on a bike — to turn left “on my turn”).
This is the stuff I consider unacceptable – well, I consider it dangerous, and it’s analogous to cars running one of us over when we’re not doing anything wrong. It would get you rung up under even an Idaho stop law. But that’s not what’s happening in the majority of cases.
“Streets were already in crisis because of the closing of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for an emergency repair, but cyclists were undeterred from adding to the misery.”
This shows that the Times author knows nothing. City streets during the bridge closure were downright serene.
John– have you counted? I doubt that “right of way taking stop sign violation” occurs in the majority if you count all intersections, but I think if you counted at heavily used corridors during rush hour it would be. That is, if you counted intersections in the Wiggle, I think it would be a large proportion or even a majority of cyclists who “take” the right of way from others. This isn’t good for public relations and is dangerous. And that is also the time when the most drivers (or non-cyclists) are around to see “outlaw cyclists blowing through stop signs” (as is commonly the sentiment). I doubt most people care if a cyclist rolls through a deserted intersection; they *do* care when a cyclist blows right past, cutting them off on their way to work …
Look… everyone breaks the traffic laws. I don’t really understand why drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians sit around and point fingers at each other. We all do it. I really think that if you go to a four way stop sign, you will see just as many cars fail to come to a full stop (as in their wheels completely stop turning) as cyclists. If someone parks on the opposite side of the street from the store they are going to… they probably aren’t going to walk down to the intersection to cross the street, they likely are going to jaywalk. Just try driving under the speed limit on the freeway count how many cars pass you.
During a typical morning commute, I see cars gunning it and running red lights in attempt to make the yellow, cars making turns without signals, delivery trucks double parking, pedestrians crossing streets against the signal/mid-block, and bicyclist running red-lights/stop signs. I could spend my whole morning commute shaking my fist at people who break traffic laws… but for me its just all part of living and riding in the city.
I really don’t care if a pedestrian jaywalks at mid-block… just don’t step out in front of a car doing so. I don’t care if a car or cyclist comes to a four way stop slows, sees no one else coming and rolls through. Its kind of like drinking coffee on BART (which I see tons of people doing in the morning)… I don’t care if you drink it… just don’t spill it… and if you do spill it accept responsibility for your actions.
If you don’t want to deal with cars/cyclists/pedestrians… you probably shouldn’t be in the city.
Chris, well put.
Yes, sure “everybody breaks the traffic rules”. Sure, that’s very, very true. But not everyone breaks them in safe ways.
Taking the right of way (and not even slowing down) at a stop sign is a bad habit for a cyclist to have: one day they’ll do it and a driver approaching or already stopped won’t see them. Even when the cyclist does it safely, they are probably increasing the polarization between those who predominantly drive and cyclists.
Similarly, is it okay that drivers routinely go 40+ mph on my residential street (speed limit 30)? I don’t think so even though I haven’t seen anyone hit yet — one day someone will (or already has been) hit because that extra 10 mph removed a margin of time for the driver to stop.
The point is, cyclists (and cyclist advocacy groups) tend to take accusations of lawlessness and say “well, we do it in a safe way” or “that’s not the majority of cyclists!” when, in fact, a large number of cyclists in SF do very unsafe things very regularly. Anyone who has ridden through the Wiggle knows this.
We should be making a better effort to educate and change the dangerous behavior — yes, don’t worry about the cyclist who slows down, looks and goes at an empty intersection, but we *should* be doing something about cyclists who blow through unsafely. Similarly, we should probably cite drivers who roll through right turn on reds without looking at the crosswalk, rather than caring about a driver who doesn’t come an absolute stop at a deserted four-way.
The problem is that breaking of traffic laws should not be considered acceptable. I find it astounding that I appear to be the anomaly someone who: always drives under the speed limit (and slower in the rain), comes to a complete stop (driving, cycling, or walking) at intersections, never crosses against the light (and if the countdown says I only have a few seconds, I wait), doesn’t jaywalk… basically it’s the crazy idea that the rules are in place for a reason and I ought to follow them for my own safety as well as that of others.
The safe thing for yourself and everyone else is to acknowledge that these rules exist for all of us and simply follow them. Even when you “know” that you’ll be safe breaking the rules you’re building up bad habits that cause you to increasingly take risks and justify these actions at other times.
Admit it, all of these behaviors are the result of people being lazy and/or impatient and trading that in exchange for safety. None of them are realistically defensible for other reasons though people will certainly try.
re: the NYTimes hit piece –
What bugs me is the apparent inability of the journalist to follow the next logical step: what are the political and physical conditions for this ‘growing number’ of cyclists in their respective areas (neither Sausalito or San Mateo Co are the “Barbary Coast”)? Assuming the law and infrastructure is already equitable is soft thinking.
My own unscientific tally of my morning commute’s road violations:
Drivers: 3 without headlights on, 2 illegally parked in the bike lane (to drop their kids off at school), 1 turn without a signal, 4 cars snarled at an intersection from an inability to yield (I rolled last).
Pedestrian: 3 pedestrians crossed a street in SOMA before they were notified by the crossing light.
Cyclist (me): 3 stop signs ignored along the long axis of Harrison where there are perpendicular intersections only, including one pedestrian crossing witout any pedestrians. I rate my own violations as good judgment based on the risk I pose to myself and others.
It seems to me that all these violations reflect first on the poverty of appropriate infrastructure.
1. The snarled 4-way stop should have a light for all the traffic on it now;
2. the parents should have a viable alternative to driving their kids to school in the first place;
3. the pedestrians should have flow-responsive lighting; and
4. the cyclists should have yield signs near the relevant intersections.
Also, tip to Scott James: crankily raging against the CM, especially the Halloween CM is like Canute against the tide. Smile and wave next time, you’ll probably get a candy or a hug. You’re in California now.
I analyzed and posted my counts as a comment in the blog:
“The video only clearly displays 1 stop of the intersection, so I only used those cars. I 82 cars total through the intersection, of which only 30 came to a complete stop, and of those 30, 15 stopped in the crosswalk, which is also illegal.
Only 18% of the car drivers drove in a safe and legal manner, even though a car is about a thousand times more likely to kill somebody than a bicycle (There’s about 40,000 people killed by cars every year, the number of people killed by bicycle is so low they don’t even track it)
Everybody violates traffic laws, divers, cyclists, and pedestrians, but drivers are the only ones who are likely to kill while doing it.”
@Patrick – thanks for doing that!
That reminds me, there was at least 1 car that stopped in the marked crosswalk too, my morning commute. I’m guilty of ‘unseeing’ car crimes too!
This majority of the discontent on all sides is happening in the urban core. Is it any surprise that they filmed this along a downhill part of the Wiggle?
If you cycle or drive away from the urban core (the Sunset, Richmond, Ingleside, Excelsior, Bayview) you will find that there is more observance of the law from cyclists in particular.
Often I will be riding down a hill in the Sunset where few cyclists travel and a car driver will be nice enough to forgo their ROW and wave me through the intersection.
The problem is auto-centric traffic planning in extremely dense areas. One day the Wiggle might be a Class 1 bike path and we’ll all look back and realize that the current problems were simply growing pains.
“John– have you counted? I doubt that “right of way taking stop sign violation” occurs in the majority if you count all intersections, but I think if you counted at heavily used corridors during rush hour it would be.”
I guess we’re just downright civil in Noe Valley. Then you have Valencia which has lights timed for cyclists instead of stopsigns. The gnarliest place on my commute route is the rotary, it’s sort of hard to tell exactly who is breaking the law there – usually “everyone”
@ Nick – Yep, when I drive around that area, Market to 15th St to Noe St. is my preferred path north off of Market St.
There’s no point driving up to Duboce Park.
“Cyclist (me): 3 stop signs ignored along the long axis of Harrison where there are perpendicular intersections only, including one pedestrian crossing witout any pedestrians. I rate my own violations as good judgment based on the risk I pose to myself and others.”
Please tell me this does not include 14th/Harrison
I only stop at stop signs when my own or another person’s safety is at stake. I generally do not “take” right of way, but drivers often give it up by not proceeding in a timely manner. I stop at most reds, but may start before the light changes, if it is safe. I do these things because in my judgment they are perfectly safe.
I do not believe the laws are equitable, nor designed to promote safety. I feel they are designed to move the most number of cars as quickly as possible, with a tiny bit of safety thrown in. I also feel that if the beneficiaries of these rules (drivers) cannot follow them, then I am under no obligation to do so.
I understand the “ambassador” argument, but I feel let those who are responsible for the deaths be the ambassadors. Do you really think drivers will think any more kindly of us if we follow all the rules? I’ve been in plenty of cars where the driver swears about about the “damn bikers” under their breath just because the cyclist has slowed them by 10 seconds on their journey to the red light, while the biker was doing nothing illegal, or even inconsiderate.
History shows the only way to get rights is to assert them. Women’s suffrage was not just granted, Civil rights were not just granted. Gay marriage will not just be granted, they all did, or will, required struggle and breaking the rules.
Without the rule breakers, the ambassadors get completely ignored. The ambassadors are certainly necessary, but without the rule breakers no change will happen. I like (and am a member of) the SFBC, but I think Critical Mass did more for cyclists than the SFBC ever will (and I’ve never ridden in CM).
@John Murphy – Usually not, either there’s a lot of traffic there already, or I have to be careful there isn’t a cyclist (or runner) cutting through the Best Buy parking lot from the right.
Please, RachaelL. Let’s not mix up opinion and fact. The number of accidents caused by a biker “taking the right of way” or running a stop sign is low. On the other hand, cars or trucks turning right into a biker is one of the leading causes of cyclist fatalities and injuries.
I don’t buy the “public relations” thing… Do you think that, if we all started to be exemplary followers of the traffic law, motorists attributes towards bikers would change fundamentally? Personally, I don’t think so. Simply put — and this is merely my opinion –, being a motorist is miserable and also puts a lot of pressure on the person though he or she may not realize it. Thus, most motorists are angry assholes. How do I know? Observing myself, whenever I have to drive.
zsolt — It’s not just a matter of “accidents caused”. And I don’t think I suggested that cyclists blowing through stop signs causes a lot of accidents — I don’t think it does. I just think it’s really rude and unhelpful (though at night it surely causes a lot of close calls). I don’t think drivers will all magically start behaving a lot better because we are all perfect angels. I *do* think it’s a lot easier to argue, in political forums, for changes to laws (like Idaho stop) to make natural cycling legal if public opinion isn’t so massively hostile.
The video is classic example of Shared Street.
Whether or not cyclist puts their foot down at Stop sign is really not the issue, but rather does the intersection function safely? When I look at the video, I see highly coordinated, free-flowing intersection with no anti-social behavior. Just like Shared Street is supposed to work.
Except for the driver who did the dangerous U-turn.
Chris and ZA:
i know i’m a little late to contribute here, but walking across a street mid-block is NOT jaywalking in California unless both intersections to either side of you have a traffic light, or unless the municipality has adopted some anti-pedestrian ordinance further limiting your mobility. San Francisco does have such a rule for “commercial districts”, but I was not able to quickly find online just what blocks these would be (i guess the greater downtown area and other neighborhood commercial strips).
And even alley crossings are considered intersections, so even in Soma, if an alley were to your left and a traffic light over to your right, you could legally cross. that’s not to say you mightn’t get mowed down by some maniac racing to the bay bridge.
Sadly, intersections of streets by alleys are not legally crosswalks in California unless marked by lines on the pavement.
California Vehicle Code Division 1, Section 275: “… except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street.”
ok, but you’re talking about crosswalks. i’m saying that alleys are legally considered roadways, and a roadway intersecting another roadway results in an intersection. has there been a ruling saying otherwise?
Oh, I see your point now. I thought you were saying that it was always OK to cross a street at that street’s intersection with an alley.
Now I see you are referring to “Between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control signal devices or by police officers, pedestrians shall not cross the roadway at any place except in a crosswalk.” And I agree, it does sound like the intersection of an alley and a street counts as an intersection as long as an alley counts as a “highway”.
“Thank you Mayor Lee for realizing that rescinding Sunday meters was wrongheaded. It was not responsible fiscally. Sunday meters were introduced collaboratively and rescinded unilaterally. We are very happy you recognize the error.”
– Mario Tanev
In response to "Mayor Vows to Punish Supes Who Backed Wiener's Transit Funding Measure"