SFPD’s Warped Street Safety Priorities at Work on Harrison and 15th

Should bicycle riders be expected to stop at this sign? Image: Google Maps

Officers with the SF Police Department have recently been spotted wagging their fingers at bicycle riders for neglecting to stop at a stop sign on northbound Harrison Street at 15th Street, where the “stop” line doesn’t run through the bike lane like they normally do at intersections.

Since Harrison and 15th is a three-way “T” intersection, the bike lane doesn’t intersect with any cross traffic, and the stop sign is poorly placed for bike riders whose chief concern should be yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk on the far end of the intersection. The intersection is not known to see many bicycle crashes.

Adrian Maestas, who bike commutes through the intersection, says he always stops at the sign anyway, but that on March 22, he witnessed police threatening to crack down on bike riders for rolling through. “Two cyclists whizzed by me, and were greeted by an officer who was parked on the side of the street. He told them to stop on the side, and gave them a warning, saying “today you get one chance, after this, 100 percent stop sign enforcement!” Maestas said he hasn’t seen such enforcement at the intersection since then.

Here’s what California Vehicle Code 22450 has to say about stop sign requirements:

The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line, if marked, otherwise before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.

If there is no limit line or crosswalk, the driver shall stop at the entrance to the intersecting roadway.

Jeff Wozniak, a San Francisco attorney who represents bicycle riders in crashes said he thinks “technically, they’re probably right” in that the bike lane is entering “an intersecting roadway.” However, “My opinion would be that it’s a very confusing intersection, the way that it’s painted, in that you’re not crossing a crosswalk, except when you get to the other side of the intersection.”

The only known recent bicycle crash at 15th and Harrison occurred on February 21, when a Muni bus driver turned right across the southbound bike lane at the southwest corner to head into a driveway into a Muni storage facility. The driver knocked a woman off of her bike, crushing it and causing minor injuries, according to SFGate’s Bay Bikers Blog. Police reportedly ticketed the woman for “unsafe speed,” but didn’t cite the Muni driver, who Wozniak said made the error of cutting her off.

But that crash occurred on the far side of the intersection and “had nothing to do” with bike traffic in the northbound bike lane, said Wozniak.

As we’ve written, California and other states would do well to copy Idaho, which adjusted its stop sign laws to decriminalize the natural way that people (police included) negotiate stop signs on a bike: by slowing, checking for traffic, and being prepared to yield to others.

Of course, people driving and riding bikes should never violate someone else’s right-of-way. But police enforcement should be focused on the most dangerous intersections and behaviors, driven by crash data. How does devoting limited enforcement resources to issue warnings for seemingly innocuous behavior help make streets safer?

“In terms of priorities for the police to encourage biking safely,” said Wozniak, “there’s very little point to ticketing people there, because it’s not a dangerous intersection.”

  • reality check

    Of course you are supposed to stop there as a cyclist. To use the lack of a line as justification when there is a clearly visible stop sign is pretty shaky. I don’t think the SFPD should focus their limited resources there, but it doesn’t sound like they’ve even given one ticket. Slow news day, streetsblog?

  • justin

    There IS a crosswalk on the near side of the intersection in the photo, it just isn’t painted:

    CVC 275(a): “Crosswalk” is … That portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersections where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles, except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street.
    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d01/vc275.htm

    It is San Francisco’s sadly warped street safety priorities that cause thousands of crosswalks in San Francisco to not be painted, meaning they are de facto not crosswalks at all. Try using them and you will be harassed by drivers (and probably bicyclists) and possibly hurt or killed. SFMTA does not respond to requests to paint these crosswalks. Bicyclists and drivers should always err on the side of pedestrian safety and comfort, and recognize and respect all crosswalks, regardless of whether they are painted.

  • Well, tickets or not, police resources are apparently being expended on telling people they’re committing traffic violations at a spot where the line appears deliberately painted in such way to tell riders that there’s no need for them to stop. I was hoping you might even be able to contribute to the conversation by shedding some light on why it might be painted that way.

  • The crosswalk situation is also ambiguous here. There’s no sign saying that the crosswalk is closed, but car parking is apparently allowed continuously through the eastern side where the crosswalk would be, effectively indicating that no one should cross there.

  • From what I understand, those three cars parked within the intersection are parked illegally. The closest one is blocking the unmarked crosswalk, the other two are parked within an intersection -illegal.

  • I believe under California law parking is banned within an intersection, so none of those cars can be there.

  • vcs

    Perhaps this is true in some places, but not San Francisco (except where signed).

  • The dumb thing is that the intersection one block north, at 14th and Harrison, actually is hazardous, but the cops set up shop here…

  • jimmy

    The better question is why doesn’t the SFMTA improve this intersection? (as well as the rest of Harrison)

    A short stretch of soft hit poles and green paint would do wonders. It would make it clear that the bike lane is not part of the intersection. By doing that it will calm everybody: the bikers no longer need to feel like scofflaws; the cops don’t need to feel like they are required to power-trip; and the drivers don’t need to worry about getting in car-bike RoW confrontations.

  • The SFMTA isn’t really doing anything to improve conditions for bicycling – they give us just enough to quell our complaints. Look at Oak St.

    As for green paint, they’re still experimenting. I don’t think they’re ready for common-sense improvements like what you propose.

  • Oh, and I’d add some yield “shark” teeth before the crosswalk.
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/images/bicyclists/ppw_crossing.jpg

  • gneiss

    If there’s anything we’ve learned about traffic enforcement in San Francisco, it’s driven by complaints. The more complaints, or the more politically savvy the complain generator is, the more likely they are to head out and hand out a few ticket until those traffic scofflaws ‘get the message’.

    However, the really problem at this intersection is that the east side sidewalk doesn’t have adequate daylighting where the crosswalk starts. It’s fine for cars to see pedestrians, because once they step out into the bike lane, they’ll see them and stop properly. But there’s the rub – there’s no way for a cyclists to see a pedestrian behind the car or as shown in this streetview – an SUV or truck until they step off the curb. By then, people on bikes are already committed riding past the stop line, and end up brushing back the pedestrian, which naturally triggers the complaint. Even if you come to a complete stop it’s sometimes hard to see a pedestrian stepping from that sidewalk out into the street because there’s no good view of it from that angle.

    As this is municipally owned property on the east side (SF Animal Control facility), it’s no surprise that someone there called their buddies in the police department to *do something* about those cyclists.

    What they should really do is have SFMTA paint some red around the crosswalk and (heaven forbid) take away a few parking spaces so cyclists have a clear view of the sidewalk curb there. Then they would be able to stop, or at least ride out into the middle to avoid someone rather than brushing them back.

  • SuperQ

    I so wish this was true. There are T intersections like this in SF that have parking meters in them.

  • SuperQ

    +1 to this. I ride on Harrison all the time. It’s not reasonable to have to stop at 15th in this direction, but at 14th where it intersects with Best Buy’s parking lot it’s a huge traffic mess.

  • Sprague

    As Aaron points out, this intersection (especially for northbound cyclists) is another example of the need for “Idaho stop” legislation. And, as gneiss points out, daylighting is needed to increase pedestrian safety here. The current design and function of the intersection seems to serve motorists best while imperiling and inconveniencing other modes of travel (pedestrians and cyclists). On a somewhat related note, minimal redesign with parking protected bike lanes and maybe a road diet may allow Harrison to better serve all modes of travel.

  • Because there is no conflict with cars at this T intersection, bicyclists are not endangering themselves by gliding through this stop sign. Nor are they inconveniencing motorists in any way. And because there are very, very few pedestrians crossing here, it really isn’t a hot spot for pedestrian/bicycle conflict.

    As far as I am aware, the SFPD does not have infinite staffing resources. So they should focus their enforcement efforts where it will actually make a difference to public safety. Which means they should focus on intersections where there actually is a high risk of bicycle-pedestrian-motorist collisions.

    I vote for the intersection of Haight and Scott. Though bicycling behavior has generally improved there the past few years, I do still see some bicyclists swooping through in disregard to other traffic and pedestrians. I am sure there are a number of other high congestion intersections that could use some enforcement help. (Anyone care to name their favorite?)

    Every single traffic law we have was written with cars in mind, not bicycles. As a result, many laws that make sense when you’re behind a windshield make no sense once you hop on a bike. (Evidence for this can be seen when police officers on bicycles routinely roll through stop signs. Hello, SFPD, there are reasons why your own officers do this other than they are evil, reckless scofflaws who must be restrained.) Almost every intersection in the city was designed entirely with cars in mind, not with bicycles. Designs that work reasonably well for motorists are often dangerous, difficult or just plain nonsensical for bikes.

    If we were to write traffic laws that made sense for bicyclists, we would have a totally different set of laws that would produce fewer collisions and higher pedestrian safety. If we designed intersections with bicycles in mind, there would not be a single stop sign but there would be fewer collisions and higher pedestrian safety. It is like we are asking fish to compete in a frog-jumping contest, and then the frogs get disgruntled and complain loudly when the fish don’t follow the rules.

  • Prinzrob

    Completely agreed, the fact that bike lanes are far to the right puts cyclists inherently more in conflict with traffic coming from the right. In a sane world bike infrastructure would always be in the center of the street.

    On top of that, many drivers and pedestrians consider the bike lane to be just a “buffer” of the parallel traffic lane. Remember when the JFK parking protected bike lane was installed and drivers complained that they were now in danger of opening their left side doors into traffic? No, you were already opening your doors into traffic (bikes), you just didn’t appreciate it. Same thing with people pulling out of driveways, waiting to cross a street, etc.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve biked through this intersection over a hundred times, and always assumed that the lack of a stop line in the bike lane was a common-sense indicator that there was no need for cyclists to stop here. Sorry it took policing to clarify bad street design.

  • Division in front of the Gym at 9th. This intersection gets a decent amount of pedestrian traffic crossing in the marked crosswalk (that has a midblock sign no less) and peds are always given the shaft by cars and cyclists here.

  • GuestCommenter

    Just remember to watch for pedestrians crossing on the near side, too.

  • Anonymous

    And how very, very rare police enforcement is when we’re talking about bad street design–we don’t see it when motorists block painted bike lanes or stenciled transit lanes or unmarked crosswalks. No, bad design plus enforcement is only for bicyclists, apparently.

  • Anonymous

    First, 100% agreed that we need an Idaho Stop law. I’m tired of everyone pretending like bicycles are cars or that any of our existing traffic codes and infrastructure was designed with bicycles in mind (well, until maybe the last 5 years where we are *finally* starting to add cycle tracks … though we still can’t seem to do this right in most cases).

    Second, this is terrible design, but it can be fixed. Remove one lane of traffic in the southbound direction and use the resulting increase in width to add protected bike lanes on the *other* sides of the cars. Of course, it would be really nice if these were elevated with a curb so they don’t collect all the car debris, are protected from cars intruding, and are clearly distinguishable by pedestrians as being bike space instead of places for them to stand when getting in and out of their car or otherwise. Now, the cyclists definitely do *not* need to stop at the intersection since they are no longer even going through the intersection. Also, as others have said, the intersection needs to be daylighted — that’s a no-brainer. Come on MTA: get ride of those 4 parking spots!

  • Harrison St. is a major north-south (downtown-uptown) route for cycling with low pedestrian traffic – eliminating four-way and other stops on it with a pref. for Harrison cycling throughput should be the goal. It is about speed but also about psychology: Every (new) priority intersection helps people who cycle feel that they are just a little bit more important.

  • SFMTA needs to get rid of those parked cars because you can’t see ped crossing until it’s too late. I saw a closed accident today on that same spot (shown in picture) while riding. The ped had to jumped out of the way to avoid the driver. That was scary!

  • Anonymous

    Harrison has been calmed already. How about some attention on the real safety issue…South Van Ness.