How Long Did This Driver Park in a Bike Lane? A Case Study

Photos: Aaron Bialick

Contrary to what the name implies, bike lanes in San Francisco have cars in them all the time. Presumably, a car left with blinking hazard lights on means the driver is just “running in for a minute,” as if to minimize the impact of endangering people on bicycles.

Maybe, after biking into traffic around one of these blinking cars, you’ve wondered how long the scofflaw driver actually leaves the vehicle there, but you never have time to actually wait and see. Personally, being a (perhaps naïve) optimist when it comes to human decency, I’d expect the car to be gone within a few minutes.

Well, recently I found some free time to do an unplanned, unscientific experiment to see how long a driver would leave his car blocking the bike lane on Folsom at 17th Street.

Of course, no generalizations can be drawn from a single random bike lane blocker. But in this one case, here’s the short answer: The driver left 20 minutes after I arrived, and only when a parking control officer arrived to issue a ticket.

Allow me to start from the beginning. At first, I’d only stopped in front of the car to take some stock photos of people on bikes being forced into motor traffic — always useful to have on hand for a potential Streetsblog story highlighting such issues. However, after about 10 minutes it struck me that the driver had been gone for quite a while (who knows how long he’d been there before I arrived?), so I decided to call the violation in to the SFMTA’s parking and traffic hotline.

Another person forced into motor traffic.

To give the driver a chance to leave, I first peered into the adjacent cafe to check for anyone who looked concerned about the stranger taking pictures of his or her car.

Seeing no such body language, I called the car in and, out of persistent curiosity, waited some more. In about 10 minutes, a PCO pulled up behind the car. Like magic, someone came out of the cafe to pull his car away before the officer could hand him a ticket.

The officer, however, had already input the man’s license plate number, printed out the ticket, and told me it would be mailed to his address (the fine is $113, if you’re wondering). Something else she noted: Her database categorized the driver under “scofflaw” status (yes, that was the actual term), meaning he’d already committed five or more parking violations.

Again, there’s no telling how many drivers stay parked in bike lanes that long, at least not without a lot more observation. But I think it’s worth sharing this random example. It certainly changed my assumptions about how long someone might blatantly block the tiny strip of “dedicated” street space for bicycle traffic.

The driver scrambles to drive off as the PCO approaches.
  • Nice writeup. As much as it is an inconvenience to me, I have started to stop and call these violations in when I see them. My success rate is probably low given that it takes DPT a relatively long time to get to the car but it is the only way to deal with these “scofflaws”. I did wait one time and to my surprise the PCO showed up within 10 minutes. She took a photo from both the front and back before slapping the ticket on the windshield.

    What these drivers don’t realize or don’t care to acknowledge is that it it doesn’t matter if you’re there for 10 seconds or 10 hours — if you’re blocking the bike lane you’re making your parking problem my safety problem.

  • Guest

    The best place to spot this is by the main library; grove street that hooks up to market.
    I don’t call that a bike lane, it’s the double park lane.

  • Anonymous

    What did the pink piece of paper on his Lordship’s dashboard say?  Also, driving without front plates in California is a no-no: 

  • I’d rather not give undue bad publicity to a business, but it was parking permit for a commercial building.

  • howardtaft

    As someone who once in a while does something he’s not supposed to in terms of parking his car (I don’t block bike lanes) I have to say that all this public shaming really does have an effect, as I now think about if it’s worth having my picture on the internets.  So yeah, it’s working… on me at least.

  • Guest

    This guy has more things to worry about than missing plates. Since he’s officially a scofflaw, the next time DPT runs into his car means he’ll get a boot and/or towed.

    That is why he was in such a hurry to GTFO.

  • What does the actual law have to say about this? It’s a big problem for us in West Hollywood, where there’s a bike lane but cars & trucks park in it ALL THE TIME. ( ) The Sheriff’s dept tells us that it’s OK for drivers to do that for brief errands and deliveries, and that they don’t intend to ticket those drivers. In fact, we’ve caught police using the bike lane to pull drivers over for other offenses. Ack.

  • Anonymous

    Good to know that the parking cops will show up if you rat on someone.

  • jjsmack

    This is amazing reporting. I admire the brazenness that you had to pull this off. I think it’s good to know that we can call DPT and expect a response. Thanks for doing this. One reason I remain a loyal Streetsblog reader and donor.

  • Jamie

    Similar behavior happens in far left lane of Golden Gate Avenue somewhat regularly. Moving truck or some kinda big commercial truck driver double parks in front of a restaurant, puts on the blinkers, and the crew goes into a restaurant, sits down and eats for 20-30 minutes, sorta watching for legally parked folks wanting to get out of their metered space, and then they leave. Guess more folks need to phone this stuff in, but why not make the penalties a lot sharper if the current ones don’t deter folks? How about towing that double parked commercial truck – maybe the driver cares about their job.

  • Jamie

    Near Larkin, for cross street.

  • I’d also like to point out that the car does not have a front plate, a blatant California driving code violation.

  • Guest

    One always has the option of calling parking enforcement.
    You just probably needed the number. I call them all the time. Maybe 3 or 4 times a week to report parking violations.

  • Adrienne Johnson

    I wish we didn’t have to call to complain about these double parkers to get them ticketed. I watch patrol cars drive by them all the time, which I don’t get because those tickets could generate some real income until drivers realize that bike lanes are not in fact what I have named the “Extended SFO Cell Phone Parking Lot”.

  • Davistrain

    At first I thought that the license plate was blanked out after the photo was taken (so as not to spread it all over the internet), then closer inspection showed nothing but the mounting spot.  My second thought was a question: What percentage of automobile drivers really give a hoot about bicyclists?  The second photo, which presumably shows the driver of the offending car, shows a young man who appears to be healthy and quite capable of walking a block or two. 

  • Fran Taylor

    I typically stop behind such cars and pull out pen and paper and start writing down their license, look at my watch for the time, scan the street for the address. It works every time if someone is actually in the car, and I’ve been amazed at how many people materialize from wherever they were being so important they couldn’t find real parking and scuttle into the car to move it. Do they really think a PCO wears Hawaiian shirts and pants tucked into orange striped Giants socks?

  • hikusar

    This is why the buses with cameras is an awesome program. If all the buses had cameras, this person would have gotten a ticket.

  • Bradforio

    Red Sox fan, so behavior is no surprise.  

  • Anonymous

    @4df4d39b4606d7bce7cca84209e9e1f0:disqus  I don’t think the problem is that the punishment is not steep enough, but just that drivers know they can usually get away with it (since everybody else is doing it). No need (at least yet) to complicate the process with trying to change fees …. let’s just start with first enforcing the existing laws with their accompanying fines and see if that makes a difference (and I’m pretty sure it will).

  • Andy Wernette

    That scofflaw closely resembles David Cross, also a notorious Red Sox fan.

  • RIP 26-Valencia

  • dan

    not that this is an excuse for his inconsiderate and dangerous behavior but some of this can be chalked up to poor street design. it should be sidewalk-curb-bicycle-curb-parking-traffic. not sidewalk-curb-parking-bicycle-traffic. 

    in the meantime, it’s pretty quick to call in illegal parking. just dial 553-1200 then press 1 for english and then 6 for most all issues. they’ll ask for the block and street. for example the 500 block of Haight (the 0-99 block number is referred to as the unit block of [street name]). for fire hydrant, double-parking, and crosswalk parking they’ll often ask for a basic description of the car. for example white sedan or black BMW. program it into your phone and call frequently. the whole process usually takes less than 1 minute. there really is no excuse for bad parking behavior.

  • Anonymous

     I believe the technical term for that is corruption.

  • maaaty

     I second that — great reporting.  Turning one of those common annoyances into something that we can do something about.  Thanks.  And, dammit, I’m a fellow Red Sox fan.  This hurts.

  • Spenbald

    As a Masshole myself (though not a Sox fan), that was the first thought that came to mind. 

  • Anonymous

    As a transplant from Seattle, I thought we had it bad there. Sometimes cabs pull into bike lanes and sometimes cars pull over in bike lanes in Seattle, but holy cow do drivers love to drive in and park in bike lanes in SF. Mid day is the worst too, because you not only have normal drivers and cab drivers, but you also have delivery vehicles. Bike lanes in SF become defacto second parking lanes. It’s incredible and it’s really annoying how it’s just not enforced. I have to go through the Mission multiple times a day, every day. I usually avoid Folsom, unless I am going to SoMa or Rainbow Grocery, and Valencia is just a cluster. Scofflaw parkers and delivery trucks (and unfortunately just as many unaware cyclists) galore. We need to step up our game, San Francisco.

  • I hate when drivers do that!

  • please stay out of crosswalks

    The missing images from this blog post: All of these bicyclists blocking the crosswalk at the next light. It cuts both ways. And perhaps when bicyclists keep clear of crosswalks while at a red light, motorists will do the same for them. I’m not holding my breath, i.e., both motorists and bicyclists are scofflaws (and I think bicyclists are worse than motorists).

  • This is not a valid rationalization for parking in the bike lane. If you think cyclists are worse, you should start paying more attention to cars. I’m not justifying anyone’s actions, but society is tone-deaf to the litany of violations that motorists commit. Cyclists just get more notice because they’re a rarer form of transportation.

  • I do 1, then 5, but either way it seems to work.

  • Why not, @azb324:disqus ? Businesses are responsible for their employees’ driving on some level. I think it says “2012 Chef Parking Permit” then something I can’t read and “plate”.

  • @4df4d39b4606d7bce7cca84209e9e1f0:disqus I think $113 is steep enough — enforcement is the problem. Violations like sidewalk parking and blocking the bike lane need to be actively enforced. Instead, you watch SFPD and PCO’s drive by without writing a citation. That needs to change.

  • jwb

    When I get photos like these, I amuse myself by tagging them on Flickr with the license plate number.  You’d be surprised how many people Google for their own license plate.  I guess they have guilty consciences.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe not.  See VC 5200:
    5200 (a) When two license plates are issued by the department foruse upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear.  

    (b) When only one license plate is issued for use upon a vehicle,it shall be attached to the rear thereof, unless the license plate isissued for use upon a truck tractor, in which case the license plateshall be displayed in accordance with Section 4850.5.

  • Guest

     You say it like CARS don’t block crosswalks too on stops/red lights.

    It’s ok, you can park in the bike lane. It just means I will merge into the traffic lane extra early to stay safe of course. No reason to weave into the traffic lane at the last second to be unsafe.

  • mikesonn

    Make sure to take the whole lane as well, that is what I do in front of the Ferry Building where the bike lane is the 2nd parking lane.

  • Guest

    I would be afraid of retaliation. People can get aggressive when they know perfectly well that they are doing something that they are not supposed to do.

  • Ted King

    Some more points :
    1) DMV usually sends two plates for automobiles. I believe it’s motorcycles that get only one.
    2) If you can’t mount the second plate on the front (broken mount, no screws, etc.) then you must display the plate by putting it on top of your dashboard. This is only a TEMPORARY measure. DMV and the courts expect you to have readily visible plates fore AND aft at all times. Plus, being visible includes washing them from time to time. A dirty car is okay, but an obscured plate is NOT okay and could get you a ticket.

    So that “scofflaw” proably got a double ticket – illegal parking and missing front plate. If the ticket count (5+) was accurate then the judge may not let him skate on the missing plate ticket. Justice of a sort.

  • “(B) The person understands that California law requires a license plate to be displayed from and securely fastened to the front of the motor vehicle and that the hardware necessary to securely fasten the front plate is available from the dealer.”

    @google-53ae50a2fd9d6f362f209c4fbe0c3659:disqus  I don’t think the PCO ever saw the front of his car. Also, in case it’s helpful to know, his rear plate was out-of-state.

  • It is actually legal here for cabs (and also delivery vehicles?) to do curbside pick-ups and drop-offs. But yes, if it’s extended parking, that’s probably a whole other matter. And yes, it gets really frustrating (and often unsafe) to be forced into a car lane to get around the car. Legal intrusions into the bike lane are bad enough without “scofflaws” trying to take advantage of the situation. 🙂

  • Programmed in phone! It will probably get used on my very next commute…

  • HoJo

    Kristine, there are a few valid and legal reasons for a vehicle to be in a bike lane e.g. when making a turn, entering or leaving a driveway, in an emergency, breakdown or when making an evasive manouever.

    So you’re right, it’s a matter of time and degree. 20 minutes while chugging beverages is not right.

  • Anonymous

    Cyclists tend to wait in crosswalks for reasons of safety, as that way they are more visible to motorists. If there was a bike box, cyclists would wait in that rather than the crosswalk. Blame the street design, not the cyclists.

    That said, let’s all remember that pedestrians are even more vulnerable than cyclists, and give them the space and respect they deserve.

  • Expect that few use the bike boxes on Market Street.

    I agree on the importance of design though. If we designed our bike boxes like this – – I think they would be much more useful.

  • Adding insult to injury: when I get honked at for taking the traffic lane. 

  •  “Cyclists tend to wait in crosswalks for reasons of safety, as that way
    they are more visible to motorists. If there was a bike box, cyclists
    would wait in that rather than the crosswalk. Blame the street design,
    not the cyclists.”

    This is bs. Waiting in the crosswalk is not safe at all. It’s not safe
    for the cyclist because of right turning cars and it’s dangerous to
    pedestrians trying to cross. Why not wait in the right lane like a car, this is about as
    safe as it gets. This is more about “I am entitled to get in front of all
    cars at an intersection” than anything. It would make a lot more sense to wait in the right lane as if you were a car rather than squeezing up and blocking the crosswalk.

  • @twitter-197546159:disqus I was pretty sure when they just rolled out the “it’s OK for taxis to stop in the bike lane for pickup and dropoff” the rest of that sentence was “for the mobility impaired” not simply “every taxi will always use the bike lane”.  Though it looks like it’s more complicated than that:
    The city did send a memo and that’s the reason the taxi bumper sticker has a DISABLED person on it.  But the city also quietly pulled their clarification, but bike lanes should generally be covered still by CVC 22500.

  • RGP

     This is freaking awesome. Let’s do everything we can to publicize this number… like, seriously, I almost want to post it on fliers up and down Valencia. I’m pleasantly surprised (actually, pleasantly stunned) that they’ll get an enforcement officer to the scene so promptly…

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-6714804:disqus Waiting in the crosswalk is in fact usually much safer (if there is no bike lane) because usually the first car at the light is right up to the crosswalk meaning you have to get “in line” with the cars (i.e., pretend you are a car … which is utterly ridiculous, but that’s another story). This is very dangerous because 1) you are pressured to try to accelerate quick when the light turns green because all these cars are behind you and this leads to road rage where cars sometimes even honk or buzz you, 2) you have to suck exhaust fumes, and 3) you are sometimes hidden to all cars except the one directly in behind you. Honestly, if there is no bike box or bike lane, I think it’s unreasonable to expect bicyclists to have to mesh with moving cars (when the light goes green) rather than having pedestrians mesh with stationary bicycles. As has already been said, the real problem is urban design that completely neglects bicyclists. And of course, if there is a bike box or bike lane and a bicyclist is blocking the crosswalk, then I agree that is ridiculous and that person should be publicly shamed.

  • Ted King

    Aaron Bialick Thanks for the info. If I were operating an out-of-state vehicle (e.g. a Calif. car in Oregon) for more than a week or two I would stop by that state’s DMV and get their handbook. That way I could get myself in step with the local laws.
    Ignorance of the law is no defense.

    P.S. Per the “California Driver Handbook” (ENGLISH 2011), page 90 (ninety), that out-of-state vehicle has to be re-registered within 20 (twenty) days after establishing residency (see page 2 [two] ibid) or getting a job. There is an exception for military personnel and their spouses.