SFPD’s Selective Enforcement of Bike Commuters at Caltrain Station

A number of Streetsblog readers are reporting that officers from the San Francisco Police Department were ticketing bicyclists riding on the sidewalk near the Caltrain station at 4th and King this morning. But they were not ticketing any of the drivers blocking the bike lane, which forces many bicyclists onto the sidewalk.

Bike commuter Jean Fraser, who happens to be the director of the San Mateo County Public Health Department, sent us this word about the sting:

This morning at the Caltrain station I discovered two officers ticketing bicyclists for riding on the sidewalk as they approached the Caltrain station. When I asked if the officers were also enforcing the traffic laws against the taxis and private cars that double park and block the bike lanes leading to the station, forcing people who ride bikes to have to move into the traffic lanes, the officers stated they had been given instructions only to focus on bicyclists.

Given the limited resources of the SFPD, the small risk that bicyclists pose compared to the risks of vehicles, as well as the fact that virtually every person who rides a bike to Caltrain represents one less car on our streets, this choice to enforce only one law against only one group seems to be a very poor one. Not only does it not promote public safety much, but it diminishes the credibility of the police department as a neutral enforcer of our laws. People who ride bikes and people who drive cars should all be required to obey the laws, with enforcement actions focused on the areas that pose the greatest risk to the public’s safety.

A spokesperson for the SFPD, Sgt. Michael Andraychak, claims the enforcement was based on “some complaints” from pedestrians about people on bikes and scooters riding on the sidewalk. The enforcement started yesterday morning with education and warnings “that it’s against the law and unsafe to ride bicycles on the sidewalk.”

“They returned out there today and I’m told that at least one repeat offender was issued a citation. I don’t have any specific citation numbers,” he said.

When I pointed out to Andraychak that his comments contradict the standard SFPD line that the agency is not conducting targeted enforcement against bicyclists, maintaining that it’s enforcement for all road users, he gave this response:

“We received complaints from citizens about bicyclists and motor scooters on the sidewalk that were compromising pedestrian safety. Now, if someone had raised concerns about motor vehicles double parking or blocking the bike lane, if the officers weren’t aware of it, then that’s something that they can, in turn, address. I don’t appreciate your characterization there that we’re targeting, and only going after bicyclists. That’s not the case.”

Next time, SFPD might want to consider encouraging cyclists to ride in the street by keeping the bike lane clear of obstructions.

  • Anonymous

    @twitter-14678929:disqus I disagree. The cab situation is worse than you say because the cabs are pulling in and out in all different directions and making U-turns without signaling (as cab drivers always do) and there are often buses and private autos double-parked there as well. It all makes it really difficult for a cyclists to get from the bike lane over to the entrance to the Caltrain station. I’ve almost been nailed there many times, usually by a cab.

    Cyclists go up on the sidewalk to skirt that whole damn mess, and I think that is a totally legit thing to do. That whole area needs to be completely redesigned. The bike lane needs to go on the other side of the cabs with a buffer space/median in between for pedestrians to line up to wait for cabs. The current situation was not designed for the kind of traffic (of all sorts) it sees now, and it’s BS that the cops just pick on one user of that area.

  • Anonymous

    I agree: I think it’s Caltrain employees who are complaining, not pedestrians.

  • Anonymous

     @howardtaft:disqus I agree that the area is a mess and all users (cabs, pedestrians, buses, privates autos, and cyclists) are guilty of poor judgment. But the real solution, rather than having the cops go out and selectively target one group (cyclists) while ignoring all the others is total BS, is to redesign that area. It was designed with so much traffic expected, especially from cyclists. It’s time the city and Caltrain start taking the number of cyclists seriously and start designing roads to accommodate them, not giving cyclists a sliver of space between parked cars with opening doors and fast-moving cars as an after-thought.

    By the way, cops can multi-task; it’s not that hard to, after writing a cyclists a ticket, walking over to the cab blocking the bike lane and giving him one, then going back to the cyclists, etc. You make it sound like they are automatons who are completely unable to do anything but follow some orders. Cops by definition have to be able to execute judgment, and their biases always come out when they do so. This incident just shows their bias.

  • Anonymous

    @ad39616ecbefdd476990fcfc37b0bd09:disqus I don’t think the article is excusing cyclists, just exposing the bias in the police who can sit there and ticket one type of road user (cyclists) while completely ignoring another type of road user (cars), the latter with *proven* much worse ramifications (see the number of injuries and deaths caused by car accidents and air pollution from cars).

    I agree with you about red lights though. I think, when you stop (or nearly stop) and there’s obviously no cars around, most cops don’t car if you run through a red light. Why? The same reason many cyclists feel it’s okay to do: our judgment says it’s no big deal. Bicyclists are not cars, and they shouldn’t be expected to follow the same rules (which weren’t even designed for bicyclists), and I think most people (except when being asses about the letter of the law), including cops, understand this. This is, in fact, why Idaho implemented it’s “Idaho stop” law and why other states are trying to do the same.

    But I disagree that “in the absence of unlimited resources, cops should heavily target bikes everywhere until bikes get the message”. What message is that? That if you cycle and, *even* if you occasionally run red lights that you are still a huge net benefit to our society, that you will be punished? I think we need to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves why we’re so fixated on having bicyclists follow laws that weren’t written with them in mind while completely ignoring the huge benefits that cycling brings to *everyone* (not just cyclists).

  • Adrian

    For me, the message is that we are road users who are subject to the current vehicle code. If the laws are wrong, we should work to change them. Until they are changed, we should follow them. By ignoring the law, we perpetuate the image that cyclists are above the law.

    As cyclists we accept that we run lights, stop signs, ride on the sidewalk, etc. Why? Because everyone does it. If law enforcement targeting changes that, I think that’s a positive change for urban cycling.

    Cycling is becoming more popular and more mainstream. Following the law will take us to the next level of mainstream acceptance. Enough us vs them.

  • @ad39616ecbefdd476990fcfc37b0bd09:disqus Are you saying that the officers were justified in allowing the taxis to continue to block the bike lane? As much as I agree with you that cyclists should be following the laws until the laws are equally enforced it is “us vs. them” by default. 

  • Anonymous

    @Adrain:disqus wrote: “If the laws are wrong, we should work to change them.”

    And isn’t one of the ways of doing that by protesting the laws, which I would argue is what most cyclists do when they realize it’s pointless for them to come to a complete stop at a stop sign with no one else around? Much good change has come not from people trying to go through the bureaucracy, but just protesting.

    But I do agree with the intent of your statement, which is that the real work to change the laws should be done formally through bureaucratic channels. And I think most people posting here are involved in that as well. It’s all important.

    I also am a firm believer that, as cycling grows, it will no longer be possible for cyclists to behave as they now do. One of the only benefits of being a cyclist in what I think we’ll look back upon as the “early days of urban cycling” (“Grandpa, tell us again about how you used to have to ride down the street squished between fast cars with drivers on cell phones and parked cars with oblivious drivers throwing the doors open!!”) is that there are so few other cyclists that they don’t have to worry about rolling through a stop sign because they know the cars will stop. But when there are lots of cyclists, it just won’t work so easily and cyclists will have to start obeying the laws in order to avoid constant collisions; if 10 cyclists all try to fly through a stop sign in different directions, that’s a problem (Note: I still don’t think it means cyclists have to come to a complete stop: that is designed for cars with their dulled senses, over-powered engines, and overly-heavy design, but a cyclist can slow without stopping and still have the same “dwell time” in and visibility of the intersection to see that it’s clear.) And that is a good thing. But right now I think we are in this transition time, we’re cyclists are growing and earning respect, but still not enough that roads are designed for them. So it’s just going to be tricky while we’re all going through growing pains.

    But just as it’s important for cyclists to start taking responsibility now that their numbers are growing, it’s important for the cops and the city to start taking their responsibility serious and provide safe roads for cyclists and make sure motorists respect cyclists. While this is happening, it does zero good to have cops out there hammering on cyclists about the *letter* of the law (don’t ride on sidewalks) rather than the *intent* of the law (don’t collide with people), especially when these laws were not designed at all for cyclists and especially while other road users (cars) are causing orders of magnitude more damage. When the day comes where we have bicycle infrastructure like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, then we can talk about the cops giving bicyclists who, for example, have a great option to ride on the sidewalk but still do anyway. Until then, this is all a PR move by an anti-bike police force and by a city that, though further along than the police, still hasn’t given bicyclists the support and encouragement they deserve.

    Further, if you’re going to ticket cyclists, the fine should be much smaller than for a car. The punishment fits the crime, and the consequences of a cyclist disobeying the law are much smaller than a car. Again: our laws, and the consequences for breaking them, we’re not designed with cyclists in mind, and that needs to change.

  • Anonymous

    @ad39616ecbefdd476990fcfc37b0bd09:disqus One more thing: I do actually think it is sort-of an us-vs-them issue. Actually, that’s not entirely true because many people are both cyclists and drivers. So it should be rephrased: it’s not a motorist-vs-cyclist thing, but it is a car-vs-bike thing. In other words, we have finite resources, and therefore it’s a zero-sum game. To get money to improve bicycle infrastructure, it has to come from somewhere, and it makes sense that it comes from other road users (cars) that are creating much more damage to our environment, our health, and the livability of our cities.

    The good news: it’s not 1-to-1. In other words, $1000 does a *lot* more for bicycle infrastructure than it does for car infrastructure. So that means that only taking a way slightly from cars can create massive improvements for cyclists.

    But regardless, I think it makes no sense to try to pretend like car drivers don’t have to start ponying up for the problems they have created and continue to create (and even though it is irrelevant to this discussion, it seems to hold importance to many people when discussing these issues, so here it is: I may cycle for most things, but I do drive too, so when I talk about making drivers pay more, that includes myself when I drive). Similarly, it makes sense to be lenient towards cyclists who, though they make break some minor laws, eg, riding on the sidewalk, they are still such a huge net benefit to society that the punishment should reflect this.

  • Hey everyone, this story has gotten a lot of attention and I just posted an update here: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/09/30/advocates-caltrain-needs-to-address-challenges-for-cyclists-at-sf-station/.

  •  OK, so you are going to pick someone up there. You have to cross the bike lane to get to the curb – ergo you are headed NORTHEAST on Townsend. Then somehow you end up going SOUTHWEST on Townsend. Please elucidate to us how it is you were going NORTHEAST and ended up going SOUTHWEST. Did you go to 3rd, make a left, then a left on Brannan, a right on 4th, and a right on Townsend? Or did you make an illegal U-Turn in the middle of Townsend?

  • howardtaft

    jd_x.   I didn’t mean to apologize for the cops.  I definitely think they should be more balanced about who they give tickets to.  I’ve almost never seen a cop at this area.  This brings me to:
    Murphstahoe. BUSTED!  If there were cops I would definitely not be making an illegal U-turn.  I super-promise that unlike the cabs, I am extremely careful about who is coming and going when I do this stupid move.  I make sure no bikes at all are coming (luckily the person i pick up is slow so all the bikes have usually finished by the time i leave).    I’ve never had the remotest of close calls doing this, unlike at the traffic circle or 9th fork.    I know that doesn’t excuse my actions though. 
    I think i was too sleepy to be posting shit last night.

  • I am sure the cyclists at 8th are as confident in their abilities as you are, and as doubtful as to your abilities as you are doubtful of theirs. It is always thus!

    Keep the rubber side down.

  • howardtaft

    murphstahoe:  Most likely very true.
    But I am not the one riding a fragile bicycle directly across traffic.  I think I am just bitter (though in this case I’m not mad, I’m just worried for others safety) because as a child I was given a ticket for not walking my bike across the street.  Times sure have changed.  

  •  Civilization calls for the person with the big stick to take care of the person without.

  • Nick

    They say no-one has complained about people parking in the bike lane… because the problem is EVERYWHERE.  I guess it’s time to report every single vehicle parked in a bike lane, if that’s what they’re asking for!

  • mikesonn

    Some of us are working on setting up a twitter/email tree to report bike lane violations. We’ll get the word out when we get it finished. For now, use this if you have a picture phone:

    http://sf.mybikelane.com/

  • Saw

    This is an old post, but I’ll chime in anyway. Riding on sidewalks and parking in bike lanes piss me off. I always call sfmta when I see a vehicle in the bike lane. However. People here seem confused. The Sfpd do not write parking tickets. So if you see this happening don’t waste your time on the Sfpd, call 311 and ask for parking enforcement. And always call, enough complaints and those go carts will be out in force.K