Pedestrian Hit By Bicyclist Last Month on the Embarcadero Dies

Dionette Cherney. Photo: ## Bridge##

A 67-year-old Washington D.C. woman who was hit by a bicyclist on the Embarcadero at Mission Street last month has succumbed to her injuries. Dionette Cherney, a real estate expert who had been visiting San Francisco with her husband, was pronounced dead at 5:20 this morning, said SFPD Sgt. Mark Sullivan of the department’s hit-and-run detail.

Cherney had been a long-time volunteer for Score, a non-profit that counsels entrepreneurs and small businesses, said Arnie Westphal, a volunteer at the organization’s D.C. office.

“I really loved her,” he said. “We volunteered together for 10 years.”

Westphal said Cherney’s husband set up a page on Caring to keep her friends and colleagues updated on her condition. This morning, a woman named Melissa Cherney broke the news of her death online.

“We are so very sad to let you know that Didi passed away this morning,” she wrote, adding that family and close friends were by Cherney’s side at San Francisco General Hospital. “Your loving thoughts and prayers have helped so much over these terrible last four weeks. We still can’t believe that she is gone.”

Sgt. Sullivan told Streetsblog that the case is still being investigated and it will ultimately be up to the District Attorney’s office to decide what, if any, charges will be filed against the 25-year-old bicyclist who caused the July 15th collision.

Police said Cherney was walking in the crosswalk around 8:30 am that day when the bicyclist, identified only as a Bay Area man, ran a red light and struck her. He stayed at the scene and cooperated with investigators, according to reports.  Police have said that he could face the same charges that would be considered for a driver.

Pedestrian deaths caused by bicyclists are extremely rare. While drivers remain by far the greatest threat to pedestrians (811 people were injured by drivers last year, 18 people were injured by bicyclists, according to SFPD data), “the fact remains that a lot of seniors are scared by people on bikes. Ultimately, people on bikes should yield to people on foot,” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco.

The mainstream media, however, usually jumps on these types of cases in an attempt to color bicyclists as rule-breaking scofflaws. The number of bicyclists in San Francisco has soared in recent years, and Market Street looks a little like Copenhagen or Amsterdam during commute hours. It’s exciting that so many people are riding bikes in the city, say advocates, but Cherney’s death is a reminder that we need more respect on the streets, especially as the numbers continue to grow.

“In some ways it’s really great that so many people out there are riding bikes and that people complain about them all the time and people perceive them as a big, powerful thing,” said Stampe. “I feel like we’re at a tipping point and that we have reached Critical Mass with bikes, and with power comes responsibility.”

Leah Shahum, the executive director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said “this tragic incident is a stark reminder that everyone — whether you’re biking, driving, or walking — has an urgent responsibility to be safe and respectful on our shared streets. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will continue to remind the growing number of people biking of their responsibilities and rights through our popular Bike Education classes, as well as working with the police to educate all road users.”

SFMTA Board Director Cheryl Brinkman, who rides a bike and is a longtime advocate, felt compelled to write Streetsblog this morning, after hearing yesterday that Cherney was near death.

Cyclists violating the pedestrian right of way is what I hear about most often in response to any discussion about adding cycling infrastructure. It is such a tough issue; are cyclists being held to a higher standard then car drivers, or is it the nature of the violations that catch people’s attention? It’s not hard for a cyclist to stop at a crosswalk, and cyclists should treat pedestrians the way they wish car drivers would treat them, but the answer is not to wish for fewer cyclists, or to deny bike improvements. I think the answer is to add more cyclists, particularly females in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.  The more women of a certain age we have out there the more we take the macho out of cycling.  We change it from the few and the brave, to an everyday mainstream activity.  As Gil Penalosa said, some of the men out there on bikes ride as if they have no family that loves them and no one that they love.

If you’ve ever been in a country with a recent surge in automobile ownership you see similar behavior.  The first drivers and owners tend to be men and they tend to drive like aggressive idiots.   We have created a culture of road warriors on bikes due to our lack of infrastructure and I think they only way to tame it is to add more bikes and more infrastructure.  That ill-behaved cyclist will not be able to violate the pedestrian right of way when he is stuck behind 20 or 30 other cyclists at the light.  And he will learn that he is part of the mainstream and there is nothing macho about riding a bike in this city. It is simply one more transportation choice, and it’s as safe as you choose to make it.

My heart goes out the family of the poor pedestrian, and I hope that we all learn from this to just slow down, to watch for the pedestrians who really are our most vulnerable road users, and to be aware that we cyclists should not be one more thing for peds to worry about.  We should be the calming influence, we should help tame speed and aggressive behavior by our very presence on the roads.

  • SFMTA Board Director Cheryl Brinkman is blatantly sexist in her note here. 

  • Easy

    It’s true, but statistics seem to support her argument.

  • Mario Tanev

    Sad story. As a pedestrian and a cyclist I agree whoever afflicts harm with their vehicle of choice should be held responsible. I also hope that improving infrastructure and getting calmer bikers onto the road will be a good influence to stop cyclists from running red lights and disrespecting the pedestrian right of way. I also think the process of taming the cyclists has already started, with Sunday Streets, green waves on Valencia, and the proliferation of fashion/comfort bikes.

  • Odm2

    Why? You don’t think there’s any truth to women are more timid and prudent riders than men, considering the tendency is for few women to brave the toughest cycling conditions? Men tend to have a higher tolerance for risk, hence why people cycling in San Francisco are still predominately male. Seeing more women out on bikes is a sign that people feel safer cycling and that it isn’t just an activity for adrenaline junkies.

  • My condolences to the friends and family of Dionette Cherney. Bicycles should always give way to pedestrians, the more vulnerable street/road user. This is precisely the trouble with blasting through a red light even if you think it’s clear–you might fail to see the car/bike/person who has the legitimate right of way and is not expecting you.

    As a pedestrian, I’ve never been hit by a bicycle and feel far less threatened by them than I continually do by cars, but I do have to say I hate it when a bicycle whizzes by me with only inches to spare, mostly because it seems like an uncivil lack of acknowledgment of my very existence. As a culture we need to get out of the mindset that it’s fine to sacrifice safety and courtesy in order to save a few minutes.

  • When I see a driver doing something really stupid I’m often scared because I have personally seen the deaths and injuries that result. When I see a bicyclist do something really stupid my reaction has been different. I would cringe because I know that others will take a negative of me since I also ride a bicycle. But at least I’m glad that the bicyclist, almost always young & male (since when is using information clearly confirmed by statistics sexist???), isn’t driving a more dangerous motor vehicle. But now I’m just pissed off that anyone, no matter what they are doing, thinks they can risk the safety of others.

  • 94103er

    Either you ride while blindfolded or you don’t actually live here at all/observe strictly from your windshield, if you think it’s nothing but sexism behind those extremely astute remarks.

  • guesssssst

    I agree.  I am a woman, and perhaps am as risky a rider as the typical male she writes about.  It’s not just men out there who like to ride, but there are plenty of women, too.  And many of them are fearless riders. 

  • Let’s just do an exercise here: Just substitute a race or religion in your statements  and see where that gets you. See it? 

  • Odm2

    guesssssst -Okay, but how representative are you of women in general? There’s no denying it’s quite a sight to visit a city like Copenhagen where there are 55 percent women on bicycles. It’s a completely different environment, both reflected and reinforced by the presence of women.

  • I just can’t believe what I’m seeing here…are you serious? This whole line of “reasoning” is totally offensive to WOMEN and MEN. You should be ashamed.

  • mikesonn

    Jason, you need to expand on your comments more. One sentence just doesn’t cut it.

    And what Michael said has nothing to do with race or religion and substituting them into his statement makes no sense at all. The fact that a vehicle is several hundred times heavier and travels at higher speeds than a bicycle makes it inherently more dangerous. That’s physics, not a point of view.

  • The REPLY function leaves much to be desired. Read my comments below to see what I’m referring to.

  • mikesonn

    Um, I don’t see any explanation.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    “taming the cyclists”

    A big thank you for acting like an adult, and not using this sad incident to further your broad prejudiced stereotypes.

    Your desire to establish yourself as a cyclist, and pedestrian reeks of insincerity. Kind of like a racist or a homophobe citing their one black, asian, latino, gay, lesbian, trans friend as proof they aren’t really what their words, actions, and ideals make them out to be.

    Pedestrians J-walk. Fashion/comfort bike riders run red lights and stop signs,  along with auto drivers. This was a sad incident that involved one person doing harm to another intended, or not. Nothing more, nothing less. The victim had no more an agenda than the culprit. Your desire to infer one is disrespectful to both involved and to the tragedy.

  • Holiday

    First I would like to say how saddened I am by the death of Dionette Cherney any unnecessary death is a tragedy.  Now for my rant.  I cycle to work every day in Wisconsin, I cycle in Winter and Summer. I have been run off the road on many occasions by car drivers both intentionally and due to lack of attention.  I have called the police on one occasion and seen nothing done to punish a driver that ran me off the road.  None of this would excuse me running a red light and none of this would excuse me riding past pedestrians without exercising due care and attention.  All road and sidewalk users need to treat other users with respect.  Cyclist need to drive with care and consideration.  If we set a good example then we won’t be considered to be the problem.

  • EL

    “That ill-behaved cyclist will not be able to violate the pedestrian right of way when he is stuck behind 20 or 30 other cyclists at the light.”

    Unless of course, the majority of cyclists violate the pedestrian right of way to begin with.  For a perfect example, see how many and how often bicyclists stop in (and block) the crosswalks on Market at Van Ness, even though there are bike boxes.  They’re too busy jockeying for position amongst themselves to worry about the pedestrians that are crossing.  Before posting any negative replies, please take a look at this intersection for yourself first.

  • Anonymous

    The bicyclist should be arrested for vehicular homicide. How is running a red light and killing a pedestrian with a bicycle any different from a car? It is an act of gross negligence.

  • mikesonn

    I’ve been there and seen it. It is a sad commentary on PEOPLE, not cyclists.

    Counter-point: traffic speeding on King en route to 280 (or any onramp, or coming off any offramp). People are selfish, what a concept. This can go back and forth, time and again.

    Nice of you to crawl back out to enlighten everyone though. Always a pleasure.

  • EL

    And thank you mikesonn for enlightening me that cyclists are not people.  And since you’ve been at this intersection, is it also fair to say that the motorists (who are also selfish, but not people) do a pretty good job of stopping behind the bike boxes?

  • Jpschicago

    Cyclists always cry they don’t get equal treatment. (and they don’t deserve it btw)
    Well if this moron had run the light in a car this wouldn’t be news; it would just be another criminal case. So treat this ‘bay area man’ with the equal rights he and other cyclists desire so badly. Throw his stupid a$$ in prison.

  • mikesonn

    Considering I never said that, I’ll humor you. Motorists are just as likely to stop inside the bike box.

  • Bradforio

    I hope you feel the same way about Kaitlyn Dunaway, who ran over and killed a 2-year old in Santa Rosa while texting and speeding in her Honda.  The charges?   Misdemeanor vehicular homicide.  Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook, says the 18 year old faces a maximum sentence of 1-year in jail.  When someone kills another person with a car, the general reaction is that it’s an accident.  A lot of that is because people can’t imagine living without a car.  But in reality, cars are 2-3 ton weapons that are driven by mostly inept people not paying attention, and rushing to get to their destination.  You can hate on cyclists and their traffic violations all you want.  This case is clearly cyclist negligence.  But I’ll tell you one thing.  If you give me a choice of being a pedestrian getting run over by a speeding bike, or being a cyclist run over by a speeding car, I know which one gives me a better chance of survival.   

  • This single horrible event is different because of the rarity.  Bicyclists rarely kill pedestrians in SF.   Motorists frequently kill pedestrians in SF.  Indeed, you may have read the recent Rochelle Dicker research paper which found that at SF General 22 percent of all trauma cases seen in SF are from motorists hitting pedestrians.  This single sad death shouldn’t divert our attention from the bigger problem we face.

  • Anonymous

    Pedestrian deaths from bicycles may be much less frequent than from autos, but they are no different in kind.  A person in command of a vehicle ignored a signal and killed a pedestrian.  The bicyclist should face the same penalty as a motorist who ran a red light and killed a pedestrian.   

  • Odm2

    Ok Jpschicago, then when you or your loved ones get on a bicycle, we won’t treat you equally.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Evolutionary psychologists point out that there is a reason why men are more aggressive and take more risks.  Women can have only a limited number of children, about one per year at the most.  Men can have an essentially unlimited number of children. 

    Therefore, there is a much larger potential evolutionary payoff to men who behave in risky, aggressive ways than to women in the environment of evolutionary adaptation.  If a man repeatedly takes the risk of fighting other men and wins, he might have ten times as many children over the course of his life than a man who avoids aggression and risk.  If a woman behaves this way, she can have the same number of children as a woman who avoids risk.

    Needless to say, there is no parallel difference among different races and religions.  It is a good thing to be against discrimination, but we are carrying a good thing too far when it makes us deny reality.

  • postcar

    The out-of-control street user who killed this woman should have the book thrown at him, just as every other out-of-control street user who injures or kills someone, regardless of mode, should.  There’s a very subtle strand of ‘get the fuck out my way’ mentality that seems to be present in the defense of the cyclist going on here…that mentality that is a product of pedestrians somehow being on the low rung in American street life, so that those on wheels can whip around with relative impunity…its a mentality that we as cyclists share with motorists and I’m wary of it.  Well I’m more than wary of it, I think its deeply problematic.  From a pedestrian’s perspective, cars and bikes really are both major threats, and even though the death and injury tolls are different, the individual harassment a pedestrian receives, or near miss, or even death as in this case all still matter.  I’m wary of the statistical hand-waving here.

    – Justin

  • srsly

    Postcar, you are waving your hand and declaring this “very subtle strand” of “get the fuck out my way mentality” for dishonest rhetorical purposes only. I’ve been deeply involved with cycling culture for over 20 years and other than a universal disgust at the pedestrian who walks into one’s path without looking, peds are considered _the top rung_.  That’s a statistical fact.

  • postcar

    srsly, i’m glad to hear you feel this was (about the ped being top rung), so do i of course.  whose bike culture are you talking about here though?  from what i see on the streets and sometimes even hear from folks i really like and often agree with on this board, the aggression we receive as cyclists is / can / and often is paid forward to pedestrians.  cars and bikes both run into and plow over people.  yes cars do it much more often (there are also a hell of a lot more cars out there than bikes, so that amtters too with these numbers). 

    ‘get the f* out of my way’ where does this come from?  perhaps most from the inane and archaic, messenger-and-racing influence on bike culture in this country that conveys the need for speed.  Skinny tires inflated to 140 psi and the crash helmet such equipment requires, and of course the often nastiness fo being in traffic, all contribute to this.  but it doesn’t justify a fuck ’em all attitude just because some dude wants to burn red lights without due diligence.

  • Odm2

    Jason, gender equality is an admirable cause that certainly needs more attention. But recognizing legitimate physical and psychological sex differences is not the same as gender discrimination. In fact, imposing the same standards and ignoring sex differences is another kind of sexism.

  • Umm, just substitute race for gender in your statements and see how that works.

    I’m sorry, but dress it up how you like…it’s sexist.

  • Live in denial then. 

  • Odm2

    Are race, gender, and sex the same thing? Are you not dressing up your insensitivity to sex differences?

  • Odm2

    Jason, the same could be said to you. You seem to be ignoring obvious evidence.

  • Are you kidding me? Are you trolling? I’m sorry but my BS meter is going off hard here. You spout off offensive generalizations then you attack me? Wow.

  • Odm2

    Well, I’m not seeing you articulate any arguments against the ones posed to you. You’ve just been repeating that it’s sexism and that you’re shocked but not responding to the reasons as to why it’s not.

  • Odm2

    I’m guessing you would absolutely hate how sexist this is:

  • I’m trying to maintain my politeness…

    I shouldn’t have to educate you why the original idea postulated here is totally ignorant, but…

    1) As said earlier, do you really think that by putting more women on the road in bike will make these “aggressive”guys ride better? REALLY? That is ridiculous.

    2) This blaming males for any imagined problems in the world is a sweeping generalization that really could never be proven….this “theory” is utter preposterous and fosters an UNHEALTHY attitude towards gender in general.

    3) Here we go: I’m sorry about whatever some male did to you in your life, but please do not take it out on the rest of us. This manifestation of hatred in a male (I think you are and think Michael Smith is) is VERY disturbing and I suggest seeing some professional to talk it through.

    4) This “sugar and spice” theory is probably just as offensive to women as it is to me.

    So, dress up your gender generalization all you like, but they are just that…generalization that COULD NEVER be adequately proven. You can trot whatever silly little evidence you want, but this springs clearly from the thoughts of someone who is disturbed about their own relation with gender.

  • Odm2

    I’m not sure I agree with Brinkman’s argument that putting more older women out there is a cause for men to cycle more slowly either. Rather, older women seem to be an indicator of safer cycling conditions more than a driver of them. What I do think is there is some truth that there is a *tendency* (meaning not every woman) for women to be more risk averse, so if you’re seeing them out on bikes, then we must be doing something right. That’s as much as I think there’s truth to.

  • Mcolleenray

    Sexism aside, this woman’s rant was not even relevant. I live in a city that was just ranked 7th most dangerous in the country for drivers, and I am well aware that Chattanooga, TN’s issues would be best solved by providing better street options for bicyclists and stronger enforcement of laws pertaining to the road. It is ludicrous to believe, and decidedly more proposterous to take to a forum like this and verbalize, the thought that adding women bicyclists would solve this problem. The fact that there are people defending this moronic point of view astounds me.

    By the way, I’m a 39 year old female.

    – Colleen

  • That’s meaningless. I’m done, fella. You got nothing. Oh and by the way…I’m not the only one who noticed how BS Ms. Brinkman’s screed is.

    It’s this kind of political agenda masquerading as “science” (more like ridiculous anecdotal “evidence”) that proves that once you go past the far end of progressive you end up right back in Conservative land. You’d be surprised how much you have in common with the rednecks.

  • What EVIDENCE? You’re delusional.

  • Odm2

    Yes, congratulations on all the straw men you’ve knocked down today. SFCitizen for extra credibility – nice.

  • Anonymous

    pchazz – if you want to see this guy punished – best to ask he not be treated the same as a motorist.

    1 example of many…

    Deputy Council, Cupertino, falls asleep behind the wheel and kills two cyclists, 2 months house arrest, does not lose job.

  • Beedub

    Brinkman’s an idiot and should be removed from her post. Never witnessed road rage from women, whether by bike or car? What hole does she live in?

  • srsly

    Brinkman’s analysis is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis imho. I myself instinctively act as the model human when a gal is in the picture, as far as i am able of course, being a man as I am. Normally that does not involve taking out pedestrians and laughing all the way to the bar. So, all the better.

  • srsly

    the culture i refer to is not what i “sometimes hear”, i think you will find what i claim easily validated as you develop the population and communication.

    140# is practically non-existant as is a crash helmet for such an icon.

  • There is a significant body of research that shows that men do engage in riskier behavior than women.  For instance, US women report usually using seat belts substantially more often than men (Waldron, et al., 2005), and men have been shown to run yellow lights more often than women (Konecni, Ebbesen, & Konecni, 1976).  A metaanalysis by Byrnes, Miller, and Schafer (1999) reviewed over 150 papers on gender differences in risk perception. They concluded that the literature “clearly” indicated that “male participants are more likely to take risks than female participants.”

    In “Gender Differences in Risk Assessment:  Why Do Women Take Fewer Risks Than Men?” (Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 1, No. 1, July 2006, pp. 48–63) it is shown that women are less likely than men to take risks in gambling, recreation and health domains. In the area of social risk, women and men are equally likely to take risks. The research shows that women are less likely to take risks than men in these areas because they perceive a greater likelihood of negative outcome and lesser expectation of enjoyment from the risk-taking activity. In regards to the discussion here, they found that men are more likely than women to drive over the speed limit, bend or break traffic laws, and more frequently engage in risky recreational activities.

    Risk taking behavior also decreases with age. In “Age and gender differences in risk-taking behaviour as an explanation for incidence of motor vehicle crashes as a driver in young males” a random sample of 689 adults aged 17-88 were selected from motor vehicle license holders within randomly selected geographical areas across Queensland, Australia. Participants completed a questionnaire covering their attitudes towards driving behaviour and general risk-taking behaviour, selected demographic characteristics and self-reported history of road crashes as a driver. Univariate analysis showed that males scored higher than females in driver aggression and thrill seeking and in their general risk acceptance. Multivariate logistic regression analysis indicated that males were twice as likely to have reported at least one crash as a driver compared to females and nearly three times as likely to have reported two or more crashes. Drivers aged 17-29 were also twice as likely to have reported at least one crash when compared tothose aged over 50 years. The study’s conclusion: “An increased risk of a crash as a driver can, in part, be explained by the age and gender differential in risk-taking behaviour.The challenge for public health professionals is to determine suitable strategies to modify risk-taking behaviour in young or male drivers.” (  A study by Evans and Wasielewski in 1983 also shows clear evidence that younger drivers tend to take more risks in everyday driving.  Wasielewski published another study in 1984 that found a statistically significant decline in travel speeds with age and noted that women were less likely than men to drive at very high or very low speeds. Analysis of driving records of participants in the study showed that drivers with the fastest driving speeds were more likely than others to have crashes or violations on their driving records.

    Because of the plethora of data and research, it can safely be asserted (without histrionic charges of ageism or sexism) that men are more inclined towards risk-taking behaviors than women, and that inclination towards risk-taking behaviors decline with age. While the research literature tends to focus on risk-taking behavior in driving, it is not a huge leap to see the parallels to risk-taking behavior in bicycling.

    Now, if a population performing an activity consists of predominantly risk-takers, what outcome would you expect to see?  If a population consists of the predominantly risk-averse, what outcome would you expect to see? If the populations are mixed, but skewed towards the risk-averse, will the risk-averse mediate the risk-takers and create a new norm of behavior? That seems to be the question at hand,

    It is clear that countries with high levels of female participation and older adult participation in cycling have also created very low accident rates and bicyclists that generally follow the rules of the road. Perhaps this success is due to widespread bicycle infrastructure that structures the cyclist experience so there is less need as well as less opportunity for risk taking. Perhaps it is due to different normative behavior due to the cycling population not be skewed so heavily to the young male. More research is needed, but research by necessity lags reality so we must forge ahead as best we can with the examples of success that we see before us.

    What is safe to conclude is that if bicycling remains the domain of the predominantly young and the predominantly male, bicyclists as a whole will take more risks and follow the rules of the road far less than the average population. I heartily agree with Cheryl that we need to press ahead with infrastructure that will draw a wider segment of the population into bicycling, reduce the need and opportunity for risk-taking, and creative new standards for normative cycling behavior.

  • Busterfoot

    gosh,  am i ancient,  or did the rules change?  Didnt we grow up observing the same laws for bikes and drivers?  We all know this.  stop at the f  ing  light.   This guy should 
    be charged with manslaughter.  he ran a light and hit a pedestrain in the sidewalk. 
    I am outraged that he has not been charged.   Since when are the rules for bikes
    ‘stop if you feel like it’