San Francisco Police Chief to Review Bicycle, Pedestrian Policies

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón vowed last week to implement significant crime reducing strategies through his Compstat system and restructured enforcement based on best practices from inside and outside of his department, including two measures that have pedestrian and bicycle advocates astir.

At a press conference with Mayor Gavin Newsom Friday, Gascón said he would reduce overall crime in San Francisco by 20 percent in one year, including a 10 percent reduction in Muni-related crime and a 10 percent reduction in collisions between cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.

When asked for more details about how the SFPD would reduce bicycle and pedestrian injury collisions, SFPD spokesperson Lt. Lynn Tomioka said Compstat would be a start, enabling the department to better analyze data collected about infractions so enforcement could be targeted to dangerous behavior. She also noted that Compstat alone would not be sufficient and that the department is in the process of restructuring its reporting and enforcement policies for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

"It’s an area that’s evolving," she said. "The whole report-managing system is being
very closely scrutinized, because we track everything by our reporting system. There are a lot of changes that [Chief Gascón] has implemented and a lot more systems that he will change."

Tomioka said the department will look to various station captains for best practices, such as the crosswalk stings conducted by Ingleside Station Captain David Lazar. "Chief Gascón wants to see more visibility for programs that Captain Lazar has found effective and worthwhile," she said, adding that crosswalk stings are good at educating drivers about danger to pedestrians. She said they wanted to see "all stations, not just the pilot station" being more active with innovative enforcement.

"I appreciate Chief Gascon’s initiative to reduce vehicle-pedestrian collisions," said Walk SF’s Manish Champsee, noting that crosswalk stings were very effective. "By far and away the most common reason for a pedestrian-auto crash is when the driver does not yield the way to the pedestrian."

Tomioka also said they would meld enforcement with education campaigns. "We want to get across that people need to be safe and practice safety," she said, referring to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike. Among the dangerous behavior they would target, Tomioka cited drivers running red lights and turning on red without stopping for pedestrians, cyclists running lights and stop signs, and pedestrians crossing on red signals and jaywalking in general.

Champsee was concerned with over-emphasis on jaywalking, which he said, "isn’t necessarily a
large contributor to pedestrian/auto crashes."

He also noted that "The Netherlands legalized jaywalking several years ago and didn’t find an increase in
pedestrian injuries and fatalities." 

Bicycle advocates were slow to praise the department’s moves, cautioning that enhanced enforcement without a reevaluation of stereotypes associated with cycling, driving, or pedestrian safety could prove ineffective at best.

"How will we bring a focus on the behavior that is most dangerous?" asked San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Program Director Andy Thornley. "It’s not just focusing on ticketing people rolling through stop signs but on those behaviors that are truly injurious." When pressed for clarification if that was code for enforcing dangerous driving, Thornley said yes.

"If you walk or bike or take a bus in this city and you
watch what happens, it seems pretty clear that most of the danger is
coming from the operators of motor vehicles. We are keen to see that
the efforts focus on the source of the menace."

Thornley also promoted the change in collision reporting and said that the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) often found cyclists equally at fault in collisions, despite recent studies from Toronto and London that found cyclists were at fault in the scantest of cases. Thornley also pointed to anecdotes of bias among officers against cyclists in reporting crashes, such as the incident Streetsblog reported last year with officer bias on clear display (Tomioka said there was fallout from that incident, but wouldn’t elaborate).

"That’s not to say that cyclists shouldn’t be exempt from enforcement
activity. I think we see, every day, cyclists behaving rudely and
selfishly," said Thornley. "We want to emphasize before we go very far, it would be good for all parties to evaluate what really is happening on the streets. If we just go off of our prejudice, we may not get the effective, meaningful enforcement that we really need."

In addition to comments about general enforcement last week, Gascón said he would revisit his department’s policy toward Critical
Mass bicycle rides and suggested that if a measure banning
Critical Mass
were put on the ballot, it would pass easily.

Never mind the question of how arguably ineffectual it would be to put bicycle riding on a ballot measure, the threat of clamping down on Critical Mass had regular cyclists fulminating on listservs, and brought up memories of former Mayor Willie Brown’s crackdown in 1997. With increased enforcement and hundreds of arrests, Brown only catalyzed cyclists around the resistance to heavy policing and made the rides much larger.

SFPD’s Tomioka was cognizant of the ride’s history and said her department didn’t want to alienate the many people who support Critical Mass. "On the other hand there are those who hate it," she said.

Chief Gascón has tasked Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman to look at their current enforcement policies, particularly in light of budget constraints. She said one solution in addition to possible enforcement changes was the creation of community forums, which she painted as unofficial community advisory councils, where "any member of bicycle groups can inform the community
relations unit and the Chief with ideas to make the city much more
efficient and safe."

"We’re not naïve to think that everyone will be happy, but something needs to improve with Critical Mass," added Tomioka. "We want to allow people to ride on the
streets but not have people stuck in their cars terrified by the riders
or unable to get where they need to go."

  • “Gascón … suggested that if a measure banning Critical Mass were put on the ballot, it would pass easily.”

    True, if the electorate consisted of the people who clog the bridge driving back to Walnut Creek and San Ramon.

    If, on the other hand, the vote was held in San Francisco I doubt it would pass.

  • How about we put on a ballot a proposition that would ban traffic congestion (caused by cars or whatever). I bet that would pass pretty easily!

    I certainly hope the police chief has at least a few plausible ideas instead of what he has been talking about so far.

  • I’d like to request crosswalk stings at Main and Harrison, Folsom and 1st, and 3rd and Mission during the evening commute out of the City …

  • patrick

    Folsom & 2nd too, those crosswalks are always blocked at rush hour.

    On a separate note, I guarantee if he tries to take on Critical Mass he will lose. I’ve never participated, but if he cracks down, I will definitely join CM.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Jamie during the good old dot-com heyday there was a DPT officer who stood in the middle of the intersection at 1st & Folsom handing out tickets continuously from 3:30 to 7pm non-stop for blocking the box. I always thought that must be an incredible revenue stream.

  • Jay

    Why don’t we have a throwdown? Chief Gascon puts the measure on the ballot.
    If it fails, 10% of his salary (and that of his direct reports) gets donated to the SFBC.

    How about it, Chief? Are you up for the challenge?

  • Or, Ms. Tomioka, you could consider the message that might be behind Critical Mass…

  • soylatte

    The most revealing statement is at the very end of the article:

    “something needs to improve with Critical Mass,” added Tomioka. “We want to allow people to ride on the streets but not have people stuck in their cars terrified by the riders or unable to get where they need to go.”

    There you have it. By the SFPD’s own admission, this is not about traffic safety and reducing accidents after all! The safety argument is just the pretense for what this really is about which, as always, is motorists’ convenience and their need to not feel threatened by the presence of 20 lbs bicycles…

    Gascon = everything old is new again.

  • @Soylant – Why is allowing motorists to get where they need to go such a bad thing? Although I’d be the first to argue that transit and human-powered transportation should be prioritized, there are valid reasons to drive places and folk who have those reasons shouldn’t be unnecessarily impeded.

    Although I’m a bit more sympathetic to bicyclists terrified of errant drivers during their daily commutes than I am of motorists “terrified” of critical mass for a couple of minutes once a month. What do they think CM is gong to do? Say mean things to them? Judge their lifestyle choices? Seems pretty pathetic compared to the real terror involved in getting run-over by a vehicle.

    Also, I think we should have a ballot measure to ban fog from moving East of the Sunset. It would be just as effective as “voting” to ban CM and would certainly get a LOT more votes.

  • Sorry Soylatte for screwin’ up your name. Need to type a bit more slowly.

  • mcas

    It is really unfortunate that in this whole press conference full of year-long, 24/7 enforcement policies, Tomioka & CBS 5 & even Streetsblog (and commenters) are choosing to focus on Critical Mass. Rather than the 10% reduction in collisions over 365 days a year, Critical Mass and the ‘terror’ it causes motorists collectively takes up less than 36 hours a year– less than 0.5% of the entire calendar year of people on foot, on bikes, and in cars on the streets of San Francisco. Why is this even an issue?

  • soylatte

    “Why is allowing motorists to get where they need to go such a bad thing?”

    I didn’t say that that’s a bad thing (though it is bad if it takes priority over everything else).

    My post was about the need to distinguish clearly between the SFPDs efforts to reduce accidents, and the revisiting of their CM policies. We shouldn’t allow the SFPD to blur these two things together.

  • Sorry if I misinterpreted your post soylatte. I totally agree with you about distinguishing between CM policy and general bicycle safety.

  • If people in cars and people in bikes would just obey the rules of the road a bit more and show more respect for each other, we’d avoid a lot more accidents. I know it’s not cool to say “obey the rules” but wouldn’t it be great if people in cars didn’t drive in a haze and watched out for people crossing the street or riding a bike? And wouldn’t it be great if cyclists stopped using crowded sidewalks as their personal playground?

    Let the flaming begin…a

  • Wait @Greg!!! _Don’t_ let the flaming begin!

    Just look at the civil exchange between @soylatte and @SFResident!

    Call the Chronicle! Get Channel 2 on the line! Civility has broken out right here on streetsblog!

    Civility! Let’s hope it’s contagious.

  • Nick

    Chief Gascon ride into town; tries to herd cats.

    Chief Gascon rides out of town. Mayor Brown writes a column.

  • Doug

    I beg to differ with you, Josh. I think that at least 51% of the San Francisco electorate is tired of a bunch of anarchists tying up traffic every last Friday of the month.

  • @Doug, I’m sure a higher percentage are tired of a bunch of cars tying up traffic EVERY day.

  • Joe

    Why not declare specific days to be offical telecommuting days?
    then all the techies, and other computer realted fields can work from home, and be off the road…
    that would be a great start…talk about low hanging free fruit that’s ripe and easy to pick with no cost to anyone.

  • Doug

    @mikesonn, well cyclists have been lobbying for better streets and roads since the League of American Wheelmen was formed in 1879. However, it took the advent of motor vehicles twenty years later and their ability to be taxed to see real improvement in the road networks. When I pay the annual registration fee on my subcompact clunker, I may actually be helping to supplement your daily bus/train commute.

  • When I pay into the general tax, I’m supplementing your need to drive a car around in a subcompact city. We are all paying, we are all stuck in traffic, and we all want to get from A to B.

    I also walk by garage door after garage door, and parked car after parked car; what about my pedestrian experience? Speaking of parking your subcompact, but what about my subsidizing/supplementing the storage of thousands of cars around the city? I’m paying for you and others to degrade the landscape, the roads, the air, and the vibrancy of the city.

    If you ask me, a couple hours once a month is a small price to pay. Plus, you know when it’ll be bad, just don’t drive during that time! Hit up a good happy hour or head home early. Plenty of life to live once you get out behind the windshield.

  • But then again, this conversation has been had a million times. You will say bikers don’t pay, I’ll say they do. Then you’ll get upset we slow you down, then I say cars always clog the roads. Then you’ll say we need to not run stop signs, and I’ll say cars need to follow the rules too. Then you’ll say bikes are Nazis, and I’ll say it was about time we got to Godwin’s law.

  • Mike Sonn and Doug,
    We’ve tried to expose the myth that drivers pay for roads through gas tax or vehicle registrations. As Mike notes, a huge portion of the funding of streets and highways comes from other taxes.

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/12/04/report-road-funding-from-non-road-users-doubled-in-25-years/

    I wonder if we can consider the gas tax and vehicle registration fees in the same way we consider farebox recovery? If vehicle drivers are only paying approximately 50 percent of the cost of the roads they use, can we call that 50 percent farebox recovery?

    If that’s the case, then drivers are doing better than Muni or AC Transit, which are about 25 percent, but worse than BART, which is around 60 percent.

    Of course, there are many other reasons to support transit, and not sure if this adds anything to the discussion, but wanted to hear more from y’all.

  • Matthew, I like that line of thinking. It levels the playing field of discussion when you can use the same terminology. Well put.

  • Doug

    Well, you know I’ve priced out the economics of maintaining a subcompact clunker vs. CityCarShare or Zip Car and for my need/want of using the car once or twice a week and for the occasional weekend voyage to the countryside, It’s cheaper to own. Not sure what it’s like in North Beach, mikesonn, but here in NOPA many of my neighbors do the exact same thing. Note that there is very little street sweeping on Telegraph and Russian Hills because back in the ’80s when the ticket was ten bucks, people just didn’t move their cars and it was rescinded.

    Thanks, Matthew for intervening as moderator, because when people dare to tell me how I think and what I will say, I tend to leave the discussion.

  • Doug

    btw, mikesonn, people tend to remember unfortunate incidents like this one:

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2007-04-04/bay-area/17239303_1_cherry-blossoms-bikers-cyclists

    so can you understand why they just might be terrified by being surrounded by cyclists?

  • Doug, I did push it a bit far, yes, but the discussion is always the same. Bikers don’t pay. Cars pay for buses and bikes. And it goes on and on.

    And Doug, do you really need me to remind of the nearly daily death of a bikers due to them being surrounded by cars? I mean really.

  • Doug

    Well, mikesonn, I rarely, but do admittedly see cars run through stop signs. When I’m riding my bicycle I always obey the Uniform Vehicle Code, just in case one of those motorists (or another cyclist) errs. I’m a defensive rider.

    You mean really………..WHAT? OK, I give in, I’m Hitler and you’re Mussolini.

  • Yeah, we both win!

  • peternatural

    The typical discussion also usually includes: “Bicyclists always run stop signs and red lights!”

    This is partly true, but still off-base. (1) Bicyclists rarely run red lights (it would be suicidal). (2) They very often roll through stop signs, but at the same time, they usually yield when they should and the rolling-through poses no danger or inconvenience to anyone (because they’ve timed it to roll through when no one else is there).

    I live on a bike route near the wiggle (Page St.) and for the past few months have been trying to spot ANY occasion when a bicyclist failed to yield when they should, and it hasn’t happened yet.

    That said, I’m sure a lot of bicyclists could do better!

  • @Doug – Your history of the Good Roads movement is inaccurate. The LAW got better paved roads long before cars came along. The cars have been damaging roads and otherwise running up a huge hidden deficit ever since.

    It’s sad that people “remember” falsified incidents so vividly. I’m referring, of course, to the SUV driver who hit a bicyclist in the evening after Critical Mass was over, then attempted to flee the scene at high speed until stopped by alert citizens. You provide a link to the Matier & Ross fictional version of events (soccer mom “inching” through traffic during Critical Mass until surrounded by evil bike hooligans), but somehow you forgot that the Chronicle spent the next few days prevailing upon their few remaining journalists to attempt to cover up their columnists’ many errors and prevarications.

  • @Matthew_Roth your farebox return analogy for cars is deficient. Without cars, there would for example be far less need for the CHP, DMV, parking lots, emergency response teams, etc…

  • @John Murphy, are you saying that cars put in even less then would assumed if using the farebox return analogy? So cars are kind of like the back door boarders?

  • Kevin

    You can’t blame cyclists for making up their own rules when they have no infrastructure to rely on. Cycling in the city makes anyone a rebel, because all too often cyclists are left to fend for themselves in dangerous situations.

    I believe many accidents can be avoided by changing cyclist behavior, but that will come from a cultural shift which will only happen when cyclists feel they are a legitimate part of the transportation system. Take cyclists’ needs seriously, and they will take traffic laws seriously.

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