The SFPD may be working towards its “Focus on the Five” goals — focusing traffic enforcement on the five most dangerous violations, all by drivers — but meanwhile, it’s really ratcheting up its ticket enforcement against those walking and bicycling.
This counterproductive use of limited enforcement resources was highlighted at a Police Commission hearing this week. There, Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition praised SFPD’s stated commitment to pursue Vision Zero, including new quarterly reports on its increased traffic enforcement efforts. But the new data revealed that, between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, tickets for pedestrian and bicyclist violations saw “by far the greatest increase,” as SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed out, although they have nothing to do with “Focus on the Five.”
As if to highlight the mismatch between the SFPD’s enforcement priorities and the real dangers on the streets, officers conducted yet another sting on bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle yesterday, during Bike to Work Day — even though there has never been a known report of a collision caused by a bicyclist there. On the very same day, yet another pedestrian was struck by a driver within the crosswalk at Sunset Boulevard and Yorba Street. Three pedestrians have been struck there so far in 2014, including 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon, who was killed in February.
Granted, SFPD has targeted enforcement along dangerous streets like Sunset, charged the driver who killed Berenzon, and cited the driver in yesterday’s crash. And department officials report a substantial increase in traffic enforcement overall — 34,000 tickets were issued in the first quarter of this year, compared to 22,000 last year — and the efforts may already be bringing results.
Overall traffic collisions this quarter were down by 8 percent compared to last year, bicycle collisions down 16 percent, and pedestrian crashes down 3 to 4 percent, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr told Streetsblog yesterday. “We’re not going to achieve [Vision Zero] this year, but we are committed to achieving that,” he said.
Yet SFPD is still far from its goal of having at least 50 percent of all tickets being issued to for the “Five” dangerous driver violations — speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, and turning violations. In the first quarter of 2014, they comprised 19 percent of tickets, a rise of just 3 percent compared to the same quarter last year.
When looking at the proportion of tickets issued to people walking and biking, SFPD is actually moving backwards. Pedestrians and bicyclists have received 6 percent and 2 percent of all tickets this year, respectively. Put together, that 8 percent of tickets is quadruple last year’s proportion, jumping from 2 percent. The total number of citations to pedestrians increased 350 percent and bicyclists 191 percent, much faster than the 158 percent growth in the next-highest category, driver violations of pedestrian right-of-way.
Tickets in all categories increased 55 percent, but drivers are receiving a smaller share of those tickets, dropping from 98 percent to 92 percent. “Is that the best use of limited resources?” Shahum asked commissioners at the hearing Wednesday.
“Of course, we have to enforce all traffic behaviors,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. But, she added, “When we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, we take on a new level of responsibility. We are operating a vehicle that is two tons and has the ability to kill another human being, traveling at fast speeds.”
At the hearing, Chief Suhr defended the enforcement pattern, emphasizing that “in the aggregate,” people walking and biking still get a small share of tickets. He acknowledged that “vehicles are obviously the most dangerous,” but said, “I would suggest that people in San Francisco might expect bicyclists get more than 2 percent of the citations.”
No members of the Police Commission spoke up to support Shahum and Schneider’s concerns about the direction of SFPD’s enforcement efforts, even though they seemed to strongly endorse the data-driven “Focus on the Five” campaign at a hearing last July. In fact, Commissioner Joe Marshall challenged Shahum’s criticisms by insisting that “a violator is a violator.”
In response, Shahum pointed out that in the four cases where bicyclists were killed last year, none of the implicated drivers have been cited or charged. Particularly in cases where the victims aren’t alive to tell their side of the story, and with neither witnesses nor video, it’s often difficult to determine with certainty who was at fault, and the victim is blamed more often than not.
“There’s a losing end in a lot of these cases, and it’s often people who aren’t surrounded by a steel box,” said Shahum.