Nightmare on Oak Street: Couple Harassed While Biking, Blamed By SFPD

On their ride home from a Valentine’s Day dinner, Ian Long and Johanna Weaver were harassed by an angry driver and allegedly threatened by a police officer who didn’t want to hear their story.

Long and Weaver were riding in the right-hand lane of Oak Street along the popular Wiggle bike route around 8 p.m. on February 14, when they say a Toyota Prius driver approached from behind and began honking before swerving in front of Weaver first and then Long. After the driver and the couple all turned right onto Scott Street (following the topography of the Wiggle), the two say the driver slammed on his brakes and forced Long to crash into the back of the car, causing injuries to his hands. The driver stayed at the scene, though Long said he was initially unresponsive to his questions.

The two officers who responded weren’t much more helpful, according to Long, Weaver, and at least two other witnesses. According to a video interview with the couple and Long’s roommate, who drove to the scene, San Francisco Northern District Police Officers Joshua Olson and Melvin Maunu interviewed the driver, but seemed reluctant to take testimony from the victims and other witnesses.

Long said that as he attempted to explain his side of the story, Olson interrupted him and threatened to throw him in jail “for vandalizing the vehicle,” even as Long’s finger bled “quite profusely.”

In fact, Long said he feared the officer would have arrested him had he not accepted medical attention from paramedics.

SFPD Northern Station Captain Ann Mannix says that although she hasn’t spoken with the officers about the incident, the story in the police report is very different. “This is a case of one side having a completely different view from the other side,” she said.

Mannix doesn’t contest that the driver “behaved badly” on Oak Street, but she said the police report claims that Long appeared to follow the driver onto Scott and continue the confrontation. She said the driver claimed that Long “intentionally hit the car,” adding that “following too closely” is a traffic violation. Both the driver and Weaver, who said she saw the crash from behind, called the police.

But because the officers arrived late, Mannix said “tensions were pretty heated” when they got there. The crash happened in SFPD’s Park District, but officers from that station were tied up for unknown reasons, so Olson and Maunu were dispatched from the neighboring Northern District.

Alex Page was riding on Scott Street when he saw the crash, and he confirmed Long and Weaver’s description of events. “Investigation,” Page said, is “too generous a word” to describe Olson’s efforts to interview witnesses. Page said the officer told him, “‘I don’t care what you have to say.'”

“He came in with serious bias, and even commanded his partner to cease taking the statement of the victim (the bicyclist) and considered the driver the victim of vandalism after about 10 seconds on the scene and speaking to zero witnesses, only the driver,” Page told Streetsblog.

However, the report, which cites a witness identified as a bicyclist, says eight or nine bicyclists surrounding the car were “yelling and banging on” it. Long and Weaver said they were only there to prevent the driver from fleeing the scene.

Eastbound bicycle commuters are squeezed on Oak Street between the Panhandle and Scott Street along the Wiggle. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Weaver said Officer Maunu seemed more willing than Olson to listen to her statement. But in the middle of doing so, Maunu apparently told Weaver the officers needed to move their police cruiser out of the way of moving traffic before completing the statement and providing her a case identification number. The officers sat in the vehicle for about a minute before driving away.

“I was kind of in disbelief,” said Weaver.

Looking at the police reports, Mannix said the officers “felt they had enough information to complete a report, and that’s why they left, I would assume. I don’t know if they were called away to something else.”

Long said Olson “should have been impartial and tried to get the facts about the case and he definitely did not, and behaved in a manner not befitting a public servant at all.” A police lieutenant apparently told him there wouldn’t be an investigation because “there’s too much information on both sides for them to do anything,” and that it would be only be considered a “traffic incident.”

The reports of the officers’ behavior in the incident are in line with the general perception that bias against cyclists is entrenched among some SFPD officers. Reports of officers unfairly blaming, targeting, and even yelling at people on bikes aren’t uncommon.

“Too often we hear of incidents on the road in which people bicycling are harassed or even hit by motorists and then, making matters worse, the incidents are not treated seriously by the police,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We hope to have commitment from the SF Police Department that their officers will not discount incidents in which people bicycling are physically harassed by motorists, as this is a serious problem that should be enforced fully.”

“The police department that’s put in place to make sure that the law is served, and that justice is done — that is partially their responsibility — have basically failed in assessing the situation correctly in a way that would provide some sort of legal recourse,” said Long. He plans to file a complaint once he receives the police report.

Mannix said the reason the officers may have seemed reluctant to take witness statements was that “police don’t handle people very excitedly trying to tell them their stories very well.”

“When you get there, you try to determine what happened,” said Mannix. “It’s kind of difficult when people are yelling at you. Rightfully so, these people were mad — they’d been fighting with each other, the cops took a long time to get there, I don’t blame them for being mad.”

“So we go in and we try to find out what happened — is it a traffic accident? Is it a vandalism?” said Mannix. “Both sides said absolutely the opposite happened.”

Long and Weaver said they don’t know much about the driver, and that he didn’t provide his insurance information, though they do know his license plate number. Long’s roommate, Ryan Gantz, said he heard the driver mention that he would “drop any charges.”

Long said he won’t take legal action against the driver because he can’t afford to hire an attorney. But the incident reminded him of the Los Angeles driver who slammed on his brakes in front of two men on bicycles, seriously injuring both. That driver was sentenced to five years in jail for aggravated assault.

As indicated by many road signs posted in San Francisco, under California vehicle code 21202 bicycle riders are allowed the full use of any lane that can’t be safely shared side-by-side with another vehicle, especially to avoid hazards like opening car doors. Drivers are expected to pass in another lane as they would any other vehicle. But many SFPD officers share Mannix’s interpretation of the law, which says that bicyclists like Long and Weaver should ride “to the extreme right, or the extreme left.”

Los Angeles and Berkeley have adopted anti-harassment laws to allow bicyclists greater legal recourse against harassment and to promote awareness of bicyclists’ right to use the road. The SFBC is considering whether to push for a similar law in San Francisco.

The whole conflict on Oak could have been avoided, Long believes, if the street had a protected bike lane like the one planned for that section of Oak and its one-way counterpart, Fell. Come next winter, the project is expected to fill in a crucial three-block link on the Wiggle route, which is otherwise comparatively calm and serves as the flattest, most direct connection for bike commuters in the area between the city’s east and west neighborhoods.

“If you look at this from the motorist’s view, he was upset because we were taking up space that he thought was rightfully his,” said Long. “The fact that he had little regard for my life or Johanna’s life, and also for the law, would not actually have really mattered [with a protected bike lane] in this situation because we wouldn’t have been vying for the same space on the street.”

Still, he said “it’s frustrating to see that there is someone out there who has such disregard for other people who, definitely on a bike, [are] not nearly as protected as him in his car.”

Thanks to Janel Sterbentz, who is filming a documentary making the case for the Fell and Oak bikeways, for the video.

  • Joel

    I didn’t know Honda makes Priuses now…

  • Go Pro Helmet Cam going to be required equipment soon.

  • Caleb

    Motorist’s name should be published here if at all possible.  Aggressors shouldn’t be able to hide behind anonymity. 

  • Anonymous

    Ride on Page instead; it is one block over and has 100% fewer crazed/addled drivers.  Oak is terrible for biking.

  • Anonymous

    I was a pedestrian who was knocked to the ground in a hit-and-run accident in the intersection of 18th and Valencia.  I went to Mission Station the next day and they refused to take my statement because time had elapsed.  This didn’t seem right to me, so I went to the hit-and-run detail where they took the report.  Because the driver was elderly and had never had a moving violation they instructed the driver to report the incident to his insurance company and they would drop the case. He did, and I received a settlement. It sounds as if the police are just as blase about bicycles and pedestrians getting hit by cars as they were in 1982 when I was injured.

  • $5 per gallon…..couldn’t wait.

  • Anonymous

    However, the report, which cites a witness identified as a bicyclist,
    says eight or nine bicyclists surrounding the car were “yelling and
    banging on” it

    The angry mob behavior probably didn’t help.

  • 1dangerouself

    A growing trend across this country that makes me more and more ashamed to be a military veteran, one who TOED THE LINE in defense of this country, which now CONDONES this type of FECALITY.

  • mikesonn

    If true, those people weren’t involved with the original incident and shouldn’t have impacted the police report of said incident.

  • Anonymous

    would love to push for an anti-harassment law.

  • ubringliten

     I want the price to go up as high as in Europe and I do have a car but ride my bike far more.

  • Anonymous

    Page has stop signs on every block, and is much steeper.

  • Anonymous

    All the more reason Oak needs to be calmed, and allow for walk and bike traffic.

  • Anonymous

    @baklazhan:disqus Doesn’t Page slope downhill in that direction?  Even if it is slightly uphill for those few blocks and you are dumb enough to make a complete stop when no one is coming, it is far safer than Oak.

  • Anonymous

    @shmooth:disqus I agree!  However, in the interim 10 years we should opt to ride on Page and not die.

  • Justin Ryan

    Only the people there know what actually happened, but the fact that Fell and Oak look and feel like freeways is the root of so many problems — plus the very familiar idea that cars turn otherwise decent people into monsters. Given the recent bikeway project, SFMTA’s priorities for those streets seem to be 1. traffic flow, 2. parking, 3. everything else. 

    I bike down Oak all the time, starting at Stanyan since I think it’s unfair to pedestrians on the Panhandle path to have bikes racing by. I take up the entire right lane, riding left of center to make it clear that a driver will have to completely change lanes to pass. If you stay to the right of the lane, drivers do the familiar accelerate-and-swerve move to avoid the lane change. Amazingly, I have never been honked at or otherwise harassed. For some reason, drivers are ok with taking up the whole lane, but hugging the right side makes them feel that you are more in their way. I’m not blaming the victims in this story, but my feeling is that cyclists who ride to the far right up against parked cars reinforce drivers’ ideas that bikes don’t belong there.  

  • Motorist are becoming more and more brazen in their total disregard for the cycling public’s right to the road.  This is being promulgated by law enforcement’s poor record for protecting cyclists.  It is preposterous to assume anyone riding a bicycle would intentionally (or otherwise) levy an assault upon a motor vehicle.

    Motorists in our urban (and suburban) neighborhoods need to step back from their monstrous behavior, and come to grips with the fact that they have the responsibility to ensure safe passage when it comes to cyclists with whom they are sharing the roadway.  Understand that their actions can (and sometimes do) cause serious bodily injury, and even death, to the human being on the bicycle.

  • michael

    Page is downhill in the Eastbound direction in this particular segment, but you have to first climb a pretty steep hill first.

    Regardless, the answer isn’t to banish bikes to side streets, but to make the roads safer and more accomodating for all users. What might seems like a no-brainer to you — taking Page instead — doesn’t work for everyone.Just like car drivers, cyclists want to get from point A to B quickly and directly.

    As I am sure everyone is aware, this segment of Oak/Fell between Baker and Scott is *the* missing link of a continuous and very frequently used bike path, from Ocean Beach to Market St.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, I take up the whole right lane through that stretch as well and have rarely encountered problems. Through the downhill portion we all end up at the same red lights anyway, so I am not too concerned about holding anybody up. Even in San Francisco many drivers still can’t figure out how to pass a cyclist safely, so I think of it as helping them make a good decision by forcing them to change lanes.

    That being said, although I’m not the speediest cyclist I am not a turtle either, so to make a safe route for all riders I see a dedicated lane on Oak as the only viable solution.

  • jd_x

    SF will never get anywhere close to 20% of trips by bike in 2020 if SFPD doesn’t clean up its massive bias against cyclists. And as has been said before, the best way to do this is to get cops patrolling by foot or on bike for a good chunk of time each year. There is simply no better way for them to empathize with bicyclists until they’ve experienced it.

    In addition, SF definitely needs to pass an anti-harassment law like Berkeley.

    Good bicycle infrastructure without anti-harassment laws and unbiased cops won’t get us to 20%.

  • Kevin

     If I was knocked down vindictively by a driver on my bike, I would be thankful of the bikers around me that would put themselves in harm’s way just so I wouldn’t be another hit-and-run statistic and I might have a chance to obtain justice. The everyday commuters that blocked the car from moving are heroes and are truly brave.

  • Sprague

    It’s unfortunate that on-street bike facility design in SF often may inadvertently increase conflict between motorists and cyclists.  We are still patiently waiting for separated bikeways (JFK is a start and there are a few hundred yards of such lanes- on Market, Division…, but so many more streets have the appropriate width to allow for better protected bike lanes).  If cyclists had the option to peddle in protected bikeways with less threat of being hit by motorists passing too close, we would probably see less bike-car conflicts and also probably mellower cyclists.  On uphill and level stretches where road width is adequate, (parking-) protected bike lanes should replace the existing bike lanes.  All road users would stand to win.

  • Aureliadandrea

    I’m so glad I don’t have to live or cycle in San Francisco anymore. 

    My husband was cycling in a Mission District bike lane a couple of years ago when a giant pick-up truck made a right turn directly into him, breaking his collarbone, lacerating his face, and leaving a dramatic (and painful) bruised imprint of a side-view mirror on his bicep. 

    SFPD deemed the accident the cyclist’s fault, saying it was he who plowed into the defenseless 4 X 4, and therefore would be responsible for $10,000 worth of medical fees at General Hospital. This is just one of countless stories shared by other cyclists in the City.

    Sickening, unfair, and very sad.

  • Caleb

    In case you hadn’t noticed… The “angry mob” is just about all we have left in this country to stand up for justice.  It is a theme of recent events.

  • Anonymous

    It’s astounding to me when cyclists are described as entitled.

  • Officer J. Olson hates you

     As a witness to the incident and the appalling behavior of the Police Officer (J. Olson of the Northern District), I can tell you that the officer accused the cyclists of not following the vehicular code by riding as far to the right as possible.  He also claimed that a bicycle doesn’t have full use of the lane when there’s no bike lane.

    And something I find frustrating is the witness who claimed that 8-9 cyclists were banging on the car.  That was simply not true.  All of them tended to the victim who was bleeding profusely from the hand, while 2 of us stood in front of the vehicle since the driver did not exit.  I’ve seen too many hit n runs to know better than let a driver sit in the car with open road in front of him.

  • Bolwerk

    A lot of this happens because there is no repercussions for police who act like pigs. It’s unavoidable that some people who become cops are going to be stupid and reactionary – but stupid and reactionary people need to fear the consequences of their thuggish behavior because you can’t reason with them. Ultimately, they’re bullies, and bullies are cowards; just look what happens when people stand up to them. In the end, fewer people get hurt, and maybe down the road they’ll think twice.

  • Officer J. Olson hates you

     There was no angry mob.  I was there.  Not sure who said that since the Officer didn’t take any statement from anyone aside from the driver, the victim, and a resident who came out to defend the driver because he didn’t like cyclists.  The neighbor didn’t see anything except arguing between the victim and the driver.

  • Matt

    is it too late to raise money so this guy can sue?

  • Joe R.

    Something similar to this happened to me a long time ago (mid 1980s). I was riding in my neighborhood (Eastern Queens), and a car goes around me, gets in front, and starts driving very slowly. Every time I tried to go around, the car swerved to block me. Finally, the car stops, the driver gets out and starts yelling at me. To this day I have no idea why. I didn’t cut him off or otherwise do anything which could have provoked him. I was just riding as far right as possible on the street, minding my own business, not impeding traffic in the least. In fact, there wasn’t much traffic that day to impede. If I had to guess at his motivations, I’d say he was just a bitter person annoyed that something other than a car was on roads he was using. Or maybe suffering from some sort of dementia (the guy was pretty old, I’d say 70s at least).

  • Chris Chaney

    “police don’t handle people very excitedly trying to tell them their stories very well.”

    What?! I’ve never seen an episode of COPS that didn’t involve incoherent people yelling and screaming at the police. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the job description. I’m pretty sure if a police officer can’t assess a stressful situation then he or she has no business in law enforcement.

    I have the utmost respect for police officers, but blowing off such blatantly unprofessional behavior in such a blase manner belies an underlying culture of deception. 

  • Bolwerk

     He’s probably still driving, too.

    I find a lot of needless aggression from drivers.  The worst are the ones who pull up along side you and honk.  They should be stabbed.

  • Polkamaster

    He also has over $2000 in medical bills.

  • Bolwerk

     Somehow I think COPS is a rather selective sampling of what police deal with.

  • icarus12

    Seems to me the incident indicates why we need separate lanes/paths for bikes, peds, and cars/trucks.  Because some  people don’t want to share the road — and that goes for bikers and drivers.  Of course, a selfish driver can kill other users easily.  Very hard and unusual to kill anyone other than oneself while riding a bike, no matter how selfishly.

  • dj

    So many Prius drivers are buttholes. They’re right behind expensive German cars and customized SUVs in my personal watch-out-for-them-to-do-something-foolish list.

  • Kvn Lndrs

    i had a nearly identical experience with my wife last fall

  • KillMoto

    Attempted vehicular homicides like this make me continue to throw roofing nails off highway overpasses. 

  • Tom

     Prinzrob- ” I see a dedicated lane on Oak as the only viable solution.”

    um.. what’s wrong with Page Street?  It’s not only viable, it’s far better than riding on Oak with or without barriers.  At least from the perspective of someone who prefers the option of a less trafficked road.  Of course that will change when a lane is taken out on Oak and traffic dramatically increases on Page leaving no options for a calmer east-west bike thoroughfare.

  • Aaron Bialick

    @14c030157c8b475963c14f20eb7a556f:disqus A traffic lane won’t be taken out on Oak. The protected bike lane will replace a car parking lane. See here: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/01/18/sfmta-finalizes-fell-and-oak-bikeway-design-will-it-be-ready-by-summer/ 

  • Tom

    withak30 & shmooth I disagree!  This idea that ‘calming’ streets by adding stop signs to every block or taking lanes out of major thoroughfares will make a certain number of cars just disappear is a bit naive. 

    When central Oak is ‘calmed’ the exact opposite will happen to Page.  Those who remember what Page was like at Octavia before the freeway came down (to street level) and still ride it now, know it to be true.

  • mikesonn

    @14c030157c8b475963c14f20eb7a556f:disqus Even if Oak was losing a lane (which it isn’t), traffic won’t increase on Page. It has a stop sign on every block.

  • The Greasybear

    Evidence of SFPD’s harmful anti-bike bias just keeps piling up. As more San Franciscans take to bicycles and suddenly discover the front line of the criminal justice system is crooked–coddling the criminals in cars while denying justice to the victims on bikes–tensions on the street are only going to increase. The threat of vigilante justice in response to road-rage assaults grows more real every time SFPD protects the most harmful road users at the expense of the safety and health of the most vulnerable.
     
    A San Franciscan on a bike is a San Franciscan just like the rest, and like everyone else here we expect and demand fair treatment from our police officers. SFPD must be reformed, by whatever means necessary, to ensure justice is attainable for all San Franciscans, including those who ride bicycles.

  • Tom

    mikesonn – I see many drivers cut over and drive down many blocks of Page every morning to get onto the freeway.  Granted, many of them don’t seem to notice the stop signs at every block, and I personally see yield signs.

  • Dan Allison

    I hope that this incident is not used to support the idea that bicycling is not safe unless there are separated facilities, as some have suggested here. Separated facilities are valuable because the encourage people who are not comfortable with traffic to bicycle, but anyone and everyone should be able to bicycle safety on the roadway in compliance with the law. This is a problem of drivers and police, not a problem with facilities.

  • Anonymous

    @withak30:disqus :

    Yeah, Page is downhill eastbound if you use it all the way from GGP (if you’re coming from the Panhandle, it has that ridiculous uphill on Baker).

    However, I haven’t been using it for a couple of reasons:

    1. The stop signs. Even if you do rolling stops, it’s still more stressful.

    2. To get from JFK drive to the Stanyan exit isn’t great, either– you have to go from the street, to the footpath, and press a button for the crossing (not the easiest thing on a bike). There are a number of sharp turns. The path is narrow and shared with pedestrians. It’s just awkward all around. Then there’s this: http://g.co/maps/9q6kj

    3. 11 gently sloped downhill blocks are FAR preferable to 10 flat blocks and 1 steep downhill that runs right into a street with heavy cross-traffic (Divisadero). Even if I have the green light there, I don’t feel like coasting through, because you never know if someone is about to do something like a right-on-red. Oak actually feels safer in this regard, because no one’s going to suddenly roll out into that traffic.

    Anyway, that’s why I don’t take Page.I see no reason not to have a cycletrack along the Panhandle. There are four lanes there! They get squeezed down to three on both the east side and the west, so what’s the point of the extra auto lane for those few blocks?

  • peternatural

     baklazhan,

    Re: point 2: they did recently fix up the entrance to the park at Page & Stanyan. It’s more bike-friendly now. So there’s that!

  • Anonymous

    @14c030157c8b475963c14f20eb7a556f:disqus There’s nothing wrong with Page St, I ride it all the time as well. However, the reality is that many cyclists are always going to take the fastest and most efficient route for lots of different reasons, regardless of the traffic volume. Oak was designed as a thoroughfare with less elevation and fewer stops, so why shouldn’t cyclists be provided with better access here instead of getting shunted off onto side streets which weren’t designed primarily for through traffic?
    The concept of parallel bike routes, one with higher traffic but more efficiency and the other typically residential but slower, is one that serves a larger cycling demographic by allowing people to choose the route they are most comfortable with individually, and which serves their destination the best.

  • KillMoto

    Demand lower police force budgets!  A police bicycle costs to buy and operate for a YEAR than a police car costs to just operate for a DAY.

  • KillMoto

    How about a 21st century spin on Critical Mass.  If every cyclist were to drive on the last Friday of the month – borrow, rent or steal a a car if necessary – then drive around the city from 5pm to 6pm that night, we can create change.  Here’s what I mean by “drive”:
    * Drive the speed limit or slower.  
    * Stop for every yellow light, sometimes green… Stop for every yield sign… Stop blocking the right turn lane and as much of the next land to the left as possible
    * Travel in packs of 2 or 3 if possible… Next to easy other, to fully block lanes

    If we could do so, it will be DRIVERS angering drivers, not cyclists angering drivers.  

    Who’s with me?!?!???

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