At Safe Streets Rally, SFPD Blocks Bike Lane to Make Point of Victim-Blaming

Update: Shahum reported that SFBC staffer Marc Caswell found a surveillance camera at an auto body shop which has footage of Le Moullac’s crash, even though SFPD has said no such footage could be found. More on that story later as it develops.

San Francisco Police Sergeant Richard Ernst apparently decided that the best way to make Folsom Street safer was to purposefully park his car in the bike lane this morning and force bicycle commuters into motor traffic.

Staff from the SF Bicycle Coalition were out at Folsom and Sixth Streets, handing out flyers calling for safety improvements on SoMa’s freeway-like streets in the wake of the death of Amelie Le Moullac, who was run over at the intersection last week by a truck driver who appeared to have made an illegal right-turn across the bike lane on to Sixth.

When Ernst arrived on the scene, he didn’t express sympathy for Le Moullac and other victims, or show support for safety improvements. Instead, he illegally parked his cruiser in the bike lane next to an empty parking space for up to 10 minutes, stating that he wanted to send a message to people on bicycles that the onus was on them to pass to the left of right-turning cars. He reportedly made no mention of widespread violations by drivers who turn across bike lanes instead of merging fully into them.

He said it was his “right” to be there.

According to SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, Ernst blamed all three victims who were killed by truck drivers in SoMa and the Mission this year, and refused to leave until she “understood that it was the bicyclist’s fault.”

“This was shocking to hear, as I was told just a day ago by [SFPD Traffic] Commander [Mikail] Ali that the case was still under investigation and no cause had yet been determined,” Shahum said in a written account of the incident. While Ernst’s car was in the bike lane, “a steady stream of people biking on Folsom St. were blocked and forced to make sudden and sometimes-dangerous veers into the travel lane, which was busy with fast-moving car traffic during the peak of morning rush hour.”

One observer, who declined to be named, called Ernst’s behavior “insane.”

Sgt. Ernst denied Shahum's pleas for him to move his vehicle. Photo: SFBC

Shahum said she introduced herself to the sergeant and asked him to move his vehicle. “I said we were concerned about the large number of people biking who were being blocked by his car and forced into the auto lane at an already intimidating location,” she said. “I said it looked like a dangerous situation at that moment. I said we’d be happy to talk with him and for him to interact with the event however he wished, but that we’d feel more comfortable about people’s safety if he would move the car out of the bike lane and into a more appropriate spot.”

“There was literally an open, available parking spot next to the bike lane, which he could have pulled into,” added Shahum. “Sgt. Ernst again said he did not need to move his car. He said it was his ‘right’ to be there.”

This is far from the first display of windshield-centric views and poor understanding of bicycle laws entrenched among some officers in the SFPD. Reports of officers unfairly blaming, targeting, and even yelling at people on bikes aren’t uncommon.

As KRON’s Stanley Roberts and Streetsblog explained yesterday, few drivers seem to understand how to properly make a right-turn in a bike lane — they’re required to merge fully into it, like any other traffic lane, while yielding to people on bikes. Instead, many drivers turn across the bike lane, setting up bicycle riders for a “right hook” crash.

Right hooks were the causes of death for Le Moullac and Dylan Mitchell while they were biking this year. The third victim, Diana Sullivan, was reportedly run over while stopped at a red light at Third and King Streets. None of the truck drivers involved have been cited or charged.

Le Moullac's memorial, the day after her crash. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFBC sent an open letter yesterday to Mayor Ed Lee, the Board of Supervisors and the SFMTA calling on them to move forward with safety redesigns on SoMa Streets, including the lingering plan for Folsom that would include parking-protected bike lanes and a calmer two-way traffic configuration. Shahum said the organization gathered about 200 signatures on Folsom in support of the letter this morning, and that more than 150 people have sent similar emails to city leaders.

Protected bike lanes like those planned for Second Street often have separate traffic signal phases for bicycles and turning vehicles, which would have likely saved Le Moullac’s life.

At Sixth and Folsom, a memorial for Le Moullac can still be seen, and several people who knew her were present at this morning’s incident. Shahum said Sergeant Ernst’s behavior “was deeply upsetting to see him unnecessarily disrupt and add tension to what was already an emotional and difficult time for many people who lamented this sad loss of life.”

Photo: SFBC
Photo: SFBC
  • Anonymous

    I reckon the problem is that, in my experience, VERY few cars use their blinkers to indicate that they are turning right, and even fewer move into the bike lane first, as they are supposed to.

    A few months ago, I was in a bike lane and a car turned to the right in front of me quite suddenly, without using a blinker. Luckily I was able to maneuver my bike alongside the car so I just crashed into it the long way (so I could continue to roll with it, not into it or under it) and yelled loud enough for the driver to hear my through his windows so he stopped.

    What is one to do in this situation? There is absolutely no way I could have known that this driver was about to turn right. He didn’t slow down (traffic was already slow), he didn’t use his blinker, he didn’t move right. He just quickly veered. And I see this move often.

  • mikesonn

    FTFY: VERY few drivers use their blinkers

  • Often when drivers don’t signal, they still give clues that they’re about to turn (e.g., they slow down, creep to the right, etc.). It sounds like that didn’t happen in the case you’re describing. My advice would be to avoid passing any car on the right when it has an opportunity to turn right (e.g., at an intersection, or driveway, etc.). Just assume they might turn, and hang back. You shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out what their intentions are.

  • mikesonn

    Yeah, I find it best, when on a street w/ driveways and other cross streets, to just get off my bike and walk it down the sidewalk because a driver on my left may turn in front of me at any point.

  • “Don’t bike.” Seems like an overreaction.
    “Don’t pass.” Seems legit.

  • Ross P

    Yeah, not really.

  • And then everyone spends more time waiting at intersections. Wonderful.

    I’d rather just move out into the traffic lane. It works fine. I’ve been doing it for several years now.

  • Which is why I don’t trust them to use their blinkers. I do what I can to discourage the right hook (usually moving out into the traffic lane) and I make sure I don’t become a victim of one.

  • Yes. I’ve been doing it for years and it works. I check to make sure it’s clear first and I signal and I move out into the lane, usually a couple hundred feet or so before the intersection. CVC 21202(a)(4) explicitly permits it. It’s taught as safer by the League of American Bicyclists, Cycling Savvy, Effective Cycling, Cyclecraft and Bicycling Street Smarts and my decades and 6 figure mileage experience show me that it works.

  • Mom on a bike

    Bully for you. The rest of us (with kids on our bikes, for example) think this is just as nuts on a street like Folsom as walking into traffic to get around a sidewalk obstruction.

  • Nathanael

    Sgt. Ernst needs to be arrested and scheduled for his trial on criminal charges of reckless endangerment. Why hasn’t this happened yet?

  • Nathanael

    No, Ernst needs arrest and conviction on criminal charges. He’s a criminal and he needs a criminal record.

    We need to stop letting cops get away with “reprimands” for criminal behavior.

  • Malena

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  • Sick of entitled cops

    IT hasn’t happened because he’s a police officer. The only way for them to get in trouble is to rat out another police office.

  • Isalato2

    The officer is right cyclist should take the full lane when needed, not that it is always easy to do. In Floriduh the law states cyclist must use the cycle lanes and cannot use the travel lanes. Not good. I had a FLPD officer buzz me in the bike lane. When I pulled up next to him at the traffic light I said 3 feet please. He said the 3ft law does not apply to bike lanes. One of the obstacles to safe cycling is the police. How do you expect the average drivers to respect us if the police don’t. That officer should definitely be given a ticket for parking in the bike lane.

  • Bicyclists should take the full lane when needed.

    That doesn’t make the officer right. He’s wrong. He’s creating a hazardous situation and blaming the victim. Unacceptable.

  • Guest

    all law suits requires ACTUAL injury.

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  • bboyheat

    Take his life. ..an eye for an eye.