Mayor Newsom Condemns Driver Who Assaulted Cyclists, SFPD Seeks Help

Mayor Gavin Newsom has released a statement in coordination with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the San Francisco Police Department condemning the vehicular assault on four cyclists in San Francisco by a driver who went on a rampage last night, injuring four and sending three to the hospital in the span of a few minutes.

"I’m proud that San Francisco is one of the bike-friendliest cities in the nation and we work hard to keep our City safe for cyclists and pedestrians every day," said Mayor Newsom in his statement. "Cars and bikes share the road and must coexist. We will not tolerate violence or rage against cyclists or pedestrians. I urge anyone with information that will help identify and capture the suspect to come forward and notify the Police department immediately."

The SFPD continues to investigate the incidents, which SFPD spokesperson Lt. Lyn Tomioka called "tragic and unprovoked."

"We strongly urge anyone with information to come forward by calling the anonymous tipline at 415-575-4444 or by texting a tip to TIP-411," said Tomioka in the statement.

Despite the violence perpetrated by a motorist that appeared to be targeting only cyclists, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition argued the city is only getting safer for riding bicycles.

"We are terribly saddened by this tragedy, but we must remember that San Francisco streets are safe and getting safer every day,” said Renée Rivera, Acting Executive Director of the SFBC, in the statement. "Thanks to the City’s leadership, we’re seeing street improvements that continue to make streets even safer for everyone and are attracting record numbers of people riding bicycles, including older people, families and young children."

  • Sam berdoux

    My understanding is that the State maintains a king of “vehicle registration system” that might make it easier to find this steaming heap of motorist. I also recall that a morning news report said that a wallet had been left in the vehicle. These might allow the authorities to make an educated guess as to the identity of the driver, and using that info give the public something to work with in helping to find him. The fact that there is not an APB out for the owner of the car makes me suspect that he is being protected.

  • “The fact that there is not an APB out for the owner of the car makes me suspect that he is being protected.”

    Yet they published the photo of a man doing pullups in a kid’s park in the Presidio and put it out on TV news, on the suspicion he was a predator. Seems to me if they want this guy, his picture goes on the tele…

  • I’d love to see the person who committed these crimes caught and punished. Then again, I’d like to see the crimes committed by violent criminals everywhere in SF (muni, pedestrians, etc). However, as always, SF’s aversion to catching criminals and actually prosecuting them gets in the way. It was nice of the Mayor to do a press conference and make us all feel good – but wouldn’t it be better if they really went after this, and all crimes?

    The previous two commenters nailed it. Apparently such advanced concepts have yet to make their way to the hallowed Hall of Justice. Criminals, however, know what they can get away with. You don’t see this kind of hands off approach to crime in other places, even “liberal” cities.

  • Erik

    And here I was, wondering whether the mayor was for or against this guy.

  • Ryan

    It wasn’t a year ago on this site I was reading a story about a woman who was harassed and threatened while riding a bicycle near the Embarcadero, and the cops apparently wouldn’t do a thing about it.

    And then there was woman who was riding with her family in the Mission and was harassed by plainclothes officers.

    This particular incident doesn’t preclude SF from being a good place to ride your bike. The response to this incident reflects the need for SF to step up its game and start taking all cases of bicycle harassment seriously. I hope the four injured people recover completely, I hope the person who did this is caught and tried successfully, and I hope cyclist safety is taken seriously by the city government and the SFPD.

  • Again I rather they don’t cast this in the framework of regular bike v.s. vehicle conflict. It should be just a case of a lunatic attempting murder by vehicle. It is OK for people to be have conflict and criticize each other. But they are different from the extremist who go out on targeted violence.

  • Rachel

    To add to Ryan’s comment, I agree that the SFPD merely gives lip service to promoting bike rights and road sharing.

    Streetsblog covered Chief Gascon’s bike ride with a SF Bike Coalition representative last March, complete with his flowery promotion that motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists need to “coexist.” Unfortunately, in my experience, the officers under his command are apathetic about bicyclists’ rights, or intentionally misinform the public.

    Days after his PR ride, I was rear-ended by a motorist while legally riding my bicycle in a lane marked for bike-sharing. The officers that arrived on scene refused to take a report or document the accident at my request (which they are required to do, CVC Order 9.02 and SFPD bulletin B 09-110). The police (who did not witness the incident) then “educated” myself and the motorist that bicycles should not ride “slowly”. They were openly dismissive when I countered that the law states that motorists are entitled to use of the full lane.

    This was after the motorist’s admission that he was entering the intersection in a hurry on a yellow light and did not see me until just before he hit me. He was apologetic until the police got involved. He later denied hitting me to his insurance carrier and I won my claim only because I had a witness. The police were unaware of their duty or unwilling to fulfill their responsibility to take the report and document the motorist’s statements. In attitude and speech, the police were also teaching the public that bicycles do not have a place on the road.

  • Nick

    I love the SFBC, but I wish they’d stop towing the company line by saying the streets are getting safer. The fact is more people are getting hurt out there than they were last year.

    -Data from MTA:
    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rtraffic/documents/Collision_report_2008.pdf

    Bicycle Collision Totals

    There were 468 injury collisions in 2008 involving bicyclists as a party, up slightly from the 451 total recorded in 2007. The 2008 injury collision total is the highest in the past ten years. Bicycle-involved collisions have not declined recently like other collision types, instead going up every year since 2002 (Figure 16). SFMTA Bicycle Program staff has looked at these collision trends in more detail but no immediate cause or factor has been identified. This increase in collisions has coincided with a statistically significant increase in the number of bicyclists riding on various city streets as measured by annual counts taken by the SFMTA (Table 8).
    Until 2009 the City was under an injunction preventing any bicycle-related infrastructure changes from taking place prior to the completion of extensive environmental analysis. The SFMTA will make safety upgrades along many important bicycle routes as the injunction is lifted for specific projects.

  • @Nick The number of bike injury collisions has increased steadily, but the number of people biking has increased at an even faster rate, meaning the incidence of injury collisions per cyclist has actually gone down slightly.

    The number is certainly still too high and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing more for bike safety, but the SFBC is being factual.

  • Nick

    Sorry Steve, I don’t buy into the “per capita” nonsense. There’s more blood on the ground this year than last. Don’t lie to me with statistics.

    To bring this back on topic: Has the SFPD received any tips at all? Are they close to making an arrest? Do they have any clue as to motive or what the suspect was doing in the city? Is the DA willing to throw the book at them?

  • Nick, how can you just pass off the numbers? “Don’t lie to me with statistics”? Wow.

    If many more people are biking and the number of collisions is only slightly higher, then I can’t see how you can think things are getting worse. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we’ll have a long way to go for some time to come.

    And the SFPD really needs to take a step and start arresting and prosecuting these drivers. Hopefully some changes at the state level with a vulnerable street user law will help show that this being taken more seriously. And Gav can’t just come out with a nicely worded statement, he needs to direct the SFPD to start to take this stuff seriously and then follow up. But we all know that isn’t going to happen because Newsom only works in press conference sound bites.

  • Nick

    Mike, there’s a difference between hard facts and the interpretation of statistics. I’m sure you (and me as well) would be all over AAA for passing off 40,000 auto deaths a year because more people overall are actually driving.

    Those 468 “injury-collisons” in 2008 are all of our friends, family, and neighbors. It looks to me like the SFBC has compromsied their integrity by dismissing an increasing rate of injured cyclists. Maybe they are getting too comfortable working from the inside. Back in the day, they would break out the ‘Murder is No Accident” signs.

  • @Nick I think it’s playing with the numbers to say there is an “increasing rate” of injured cyclists. A rate is a ratio where one side is a common denominator used for comparison, not just a gross number.

    If you take the SFMTA injury data and create a ratio against the SFMTA bicycle count data to produce a “rate of injury collision per active cyclist”, you see that it spikes in 2007, but 2008 is lower than 2006. This statistic is meaningful, because it tells you that the chance of any given cyclist being injured during the course of the year was lower in 2008 than it was in 2006, and the only reason the total number of injuries has gone up is because more people are cycling!

    A gross number statistic is not meaningful without context; for example, looking at the gross number of murders, you would conclude that Richmond is a safer place to live than NYC.

    Now again, I completely agree that the current rate is unacceptable, and we should be trying to get the number to zero. But the SFBC is telling the truth by saying that you as a SF cyclist are less likely to get injured now than you were a few years ago, and that is an important thing to remind everyone of in the wake of this tragedy. The worst thing that could come of this would be to allow this monster to scare people off of their bikes.

  • Nick

    I guess I see your guys point in hindsight.

    To focus back on the pressing concern of cathcing the driver: the 10 o’clock news on KTVU says SFPD is circulating a flyer among officers with a description and picture of the registered car owner.

    Can’t they release this information as a “person of interest” so no one unwittingly harbors an attempted murderer?

    And what’s with the police treating it as aggravated assault (ABC 7 news)?

  • maaaty

    If they don’t go for attempted murder on this, I’m going ballistic.

    What would be the knuckling-under, compromise charge? Assault with a deadly weapon, simple assault, failure to signal lane change?

    Where do you thinks this will go (after he’s apprehended)?

  • Moley

    Maaaty,

    The charges initially brought by the police are usually changed later by the DA once they have all the facts, and once they have actually caught the guy, of course.

    The problem with prosecutions for murder and attempted murder is that they require a strict burden of proof to show motive and criminal intent. It’s not just about proving the facts of the case but also showing why and for what reason.

    And the risk is that if the case fails on that, then the perp walks. So often it is better to go for a lessor charge with a greater chance of success. Or plea the thing down of course.

    Same issue, by the way, with the upcoming Mehersle trial AKA the BART cop accused of “murdering” Oscar Grant. Mehersle could walk because motive is going to be hard to prove. They are gambling on murder versus a walk, rather than the “sure thing” of a manslaughter rap.

    That’s the danger with these “emotional” or “political” crimes. The DA is told to be over-ambitious for politicaol reasons, and ends up losing the case, where a lessor charge would have prevailed.

  • maaaty

    Moley,

    Great points. If it would go to trial and any of the reproachable SF Gate comment-leavers would make it on to a jury — ewwwh. I can’t even consider that.

    With lots of witnesses to some of the carnage, any plea deal would have to be very strong. 20, 30 years? I think by statute life is mandatory for attempted murder. I am curious about what the next step down from attempted murder is, because you can’t commit attempted vehicular manslaughter, right?

  • marcos

    I think that the four incidents could be strung together to establish the subjective elements for attempted murder. People have gone down for more when they’ve thrown less at cops.

    -marc

  • tea

    I would agree with the commenter critical of the SFBC’s statement (I am a member, btw), and note that in my view that the streets (as in facilities) are not getting safer, except in a few places that are then heavily celebrated while the rest of the city has the same shitty things to deal with as before. Ever took a ride to the Excelsior on the so-called “bike lane” of San Jose Ave? To me the lower injury rate seems to be mostly due to “safety in numbers” dynamics. I also agree with the criticism of the SFPD’s lip service to bike safety. One evening I counted 10 cars parked on Valencia in the bike lane in a three block radius around the SFPD Mission station. If they refuse to move a finger about the most basic issues on the same block, what can we expect from them realistically?

  • @Tea: agreed. SFPD is disinterested in keeping critical bike lanes open to bikes, even on our “model” bike corridor along car-choked Valencia.

    As is true on Fell and on Market, at any given time the Valencia bike lanes are closed to bikes, with the tacit approval of SFPD, creating dangerous choke points that negate all intended safety benefits for cyclists.

    We need physically separated facilities if we are serious about offering safe and open bike lanes for bicyclists to use reliably.

  • BC

    I was doored in 2003 in Oakland. The driver got out of his car to see if I was alive and then drove away. I got his license plate as did another witness who in the rush to get me to emergency left no contacts. The OPD never followed up. The guy never even had to pay for all my injuries time loss from work and the pain that follows chronically. We are not represented well by the law and as second class citizens this latest assault by deadly auto is just SNAFU for the police. No one will be caught and people like me will have to pay for this injustice. It is a class issue as much as an unwillingness to sloww down and share the road with those who do not espouse the waste and destruction of the automobile.

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