SFPD Increases Enforcement on Wiggle as SFMTA Ponders Signal Priority

IMG_1370.jpgA bicyclist waits to turn left onto Fell from Scott, where SFPD officers have been ticketing cyclists for running the red light. Photos: Bryan Goebel.
It's no secret that many bicyclists pedaling through one of San Francisco's most popular bicycling corridors, The Wiggle, often run the red light turning onto Fell Street from Scott. Whether you agree it's a dangerous move to do so, considering the speeding traffic that thunders down Fell, the intersection has not been designed to give left-turn bicyclists signal priority, even though the SFMTA earlier this year installed a left-turn bike lane and green bike box on Scott. As it stands, bicyclists have 30 seconds to turn left on the green, but only if there's no southbound automobile traffic.

The fact that the intersection hasn't been updated to accommodate the dramatic rise in bicyclists, the most vulnerable users of the road along with pedestrians, apparently doesn't matter to the San Francisco Police Department. According to reports from Streetsblog readers, the SFPD has upped its enforcement along The Wiggle, where increasing numbers of bicyclists are getting ticketed not only for running the red light on Scott, but for rolling through stop signs.

"I've lived here my whole life and I never expected to get a ticket on my bike," said Nate Miller, who was slapped with a ticket one evening last month as he was commuting from his job in the Mission District to his home in the Inner Richmond. "He (the officer) was standing in the bike lane (on Fell) so as soon as you hit it he stopped you and you had to pull over."

Miller said he recognized the officer as being one of about a dozen cops who were on hand recently at an Arco station protest. "He could only ticket so many people at a time so he grabbed one and wrote us a ticket and then three minutes after he was done he'd get another person, and he was just doing this rapid fire."

At the same time, Miller witnessed drivers violating the bike lane, something the officer didn't seem to care about. After arguing with the cop and watching two other bicyclists get ticketed, Miller returned to Scott Street where he began warning other bicyclists. He later encountered a bicyclist with a sound system, and both of them began announcing that everyone pedaling up to the light should stop on the red because there was a cop around the corner. Only one bicyclist decided not to heed the warning, and that person was the only other bicyclist who received a ticket that evening, according to Miller.

"When I was stopping folks and warning them, a lot of people were like, hey, thanks, my friend got a ticket the other day or I got a ticket last week. The guy who had a sound system who was out with me said that in the past week had he had gotten a ticket for running a stop sign on a different part of The Wiggle."

IMG_1157.jpgA bicyclist receives a ticket near Steiner and Duboce on The Wiggle.

Targeted Enforcement

From a ticketing standpoint, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has encouraged the SFPD to follow the Bike Plan, and conduct targeted enforcement for both drivers and bicyclists at intersections that have the strongest history of injuries and crashes. The SFPD has not pointed to any such statistics at Fell/Scott, although it leads to a well-known conflict area for bicyclists alongside the troublesome Arco station, where the SFMTA has recently made changes in an effort to reduce conflicts with drivers.

"We're very interested to know whether there is a real injury history at that intersection. We don't want to see anybody turning against red lights, but we do want to make sure that the police are bringing their efforts to those locations that are known to be dangerous, and we haven't had the police really show us that that area actually has a real record of injuries and crashes," said SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley.

While denying that any kind of a sting focused on bicyclists is underway on The Wiggle, Sgt. Troy Dangerfield, a spokesperson for SFPD repeated what the department has often said: the vehicle code should be applied equally to both drivers and bicyclists, even though crashes involving drivers take a far greater toll.

"If you're asking whether the police department thinks that targeted enforcement should be done in areas where there are a lot of crashes, I think we can agree to that. There's no disagreement," said Dangerfield. "But it has to go across the board for everyone."

Dangerfield said the officers who've been out stopping bicyclists on The Wiggle could be responding to complaints from residents.

"It may be, and this is speculation, that people are calling and saying hey, all these bicyclists are running the stop sign here and bicyclists are saying there's no traffic so we can run it, and I know bicyclists feel that way on lights, or stop signs. There's no traffic in either direction so why should we wait, you know? I can't necessarily disagree with that if they make sure everything is clear and it's safe, but again, there are rules and laws and that's what those traffic enforcement signs are there for."

IMG_1379.jpgA bicyclist and good citizen warns other bicyclists that police have been ticketing for running the red light.

An Engineering Solution

The SFMTA has begun talking about an engineering solution at the intersection, according to Mike Sallabery, a transportation engineer at the agency.

"We're going to consider some possibilities for giving cyclists protected left turns from Scott onto Fell Street," said Sallabery. "When you’re riding along Scott Street I think the timing could be really optimized for cyclists. So when you get to Scott Street you could potentially have a left-turn arrow waiting for you so you don’t have to slow down."

To start, the SFMTA is going to begin collecting data as early as next week to count the current volume of cars and bicycles at Fell and Scott. 

"We at the MTA are looking at a variety of improvements along The Wiggle because we recognize that it's an important crosstown route," said Sallabery. "A lot of cyclists get funneled into that corridor because of the terrain."

There have also been rumors that the SFMTA is going to paint the left-turn bike lane green. A few weeks ago SFMTA interns were spotted by Streetsblog doing counts on how many drivers were crossing into the bike lane on Scott.

Now that the bike injunction is no longer a tired excuse, the SFMTA should be emboldened to make changes at Fell/Scott to give bicyclists the priority they deserve.