Full Bike Compliance With the Stop Sign Law: An Effective Spectacle

At yesterday's "stop-in" on the Wiggle, bike commuters queued up for over a block to make a full stop at Steiner and Waller Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick
At yesterday’s “stop-in” on the Wiggle, bike commuters queued up for over a block to make a full stop at Steiner and Waller Streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Countless bike commuters queued up for over a block yesterday to make a completely legal left turn on the Wiggle. As predicted, the demonstration showed the absurdity of how full compliance with the impractical stop sign law — which makes no distinction between bikes and cars — would actually play out.

The Wiggle “stop-in” was a response to calls for a crackdown on bike violations at stop signs from the new captain at SFPD’s Park Station, John Sanford. Sanford insists that the vast majority of bicycle riders who safely slow down and yield to others’ right-of-way should be ticketed, even as the most dangerous behaviors go under-enforced.

Cheryl Brinkman, a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors, was among the roster of city officials, bike advocates, and everyday people who turned out to take part in the exceptionally legal event.

“This is fun. This is civil obedience. This is street theater,” said Brinkman. “And it’s what San Francisco’s good at.”

“There’s a big question of, ‘does [the law] make sense?'” she said. “I firmly believe we should enforce dangerous behaviors. But I don’t think enforcing behaviors that aren’t hurting anybody is a good use of resources.”

The message seemed to come across clearly to the news crews and bystanders. While the demonstration angered a few motorists, few people could be found voicing strong criticisms of the message of the protest.

John Schambre was out on the corner, holding up two signs that espoused contradictory messages. One supported adoption of the stop sign law used in Idaho, and the other supported Sanford’s crackdown.

John Shambre. Image: ABC 7
John Shambre. Image: ABC 7

Schambre told Streetsblog that his vision is not the scene of civil obedience in front of him — with cyclists lined up to make full stops and take turns proceeding, as the current law dictates. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “This is a demonstration of unreality.”

But when pressed to explain the difference between the demonstration, and how he thinks people on bikes should behave, he simply insisted that the volume of bike traffic is simply unrealistic.

People on bikes “should each take responsibility on a daily basis to stop at these stop signs, make sure there aren’t any pedestrians, make sure there aren’t any 2,000-pound vehicles ready to run them over,” said Schambre. “The way I look at it, this problem wasn’t created by pedestrians, it wasn’t created by cars. It was created by bicyclists who refuse to obey the law and put all their energy into thwarting the law and protesting the law instead of getting the law changed.”

That’s just what the demonstrators were trying to achieve — or, at least, getting police to follow their “Focus on the Five” campaign, which uses data to effectively guide traffic enforcement.

Morgan Fitzgibbons, one of the Wigg Party organizers, said the reaction to the event seemed overwhelmingly positive, save for a few drivers who became frustrated who honked and “peeled out” to drive away from the scene. Two car occupants got out of their car and “almost assaulted bicyclists” — again, for obeying the law to a T.

Yesterday, Mayor Ed Lee said that he’s “not going to be bending to interests that simply want to disregard public safety,” referring to the demonstrators.

“He simply doesn’t understand what we’re asking for,” Fitzgibbons said, praising Supervisor London Breed for supporting the Idaho stop law.

While changing the law may be a daunting political challenge, Brinkman said, “Encouraging San Francisco to set enforcement priorities that reflect the reality of how people are moving around the city totally makes sense.”

One middle-aged man was spotted walking his dog in a crosswalk at Waller and Pierce Streets, a block from the bike backup. As he entered the crosswalk, he entered the path of three people on bikes making a slow left turn after making a full stop. All parties paused, and the riders let the man walk by first.

That’s the typical, uneventful example of how people on foot and bike negotiate their right-of-way. Whether the bicyclists made a full stop beforehand seems to be irrelevant.

I caught up with the man in the crosswalk, who declined to be named. When asked for his take on the demonstration, he said Sanford’s crackdown was “ridiculous” when “there’s so much more that the police could be concentrating on.” SFPD should focus on driver violations like running red lights, he said, and noted the prevalence of pedestrians injured by drivers.

“As long as bikers are yielding the right of way, that’s the important thing,” he added. “No one is being hurt or imposed upon by a biker rolling through a stop sign.”

Photo: Aaron Bialick
Photo: Aaron Bialick

“The transportation system is much more complicated than simply rules,” said Joel Pomerantz, a local historian who hosts “Thinkwalks” tours on the Wiggle, and was one of the founders of Critical Mass.

In 1997, after Mayor Willie Brown and the SFPD attempted to end Critical Mass with a crackdown, Pomerantz said there was a “civil obedience” demonstration similar to yesterday’s.

After taking his turn making a fully legal left at the stop sign at Steiner and Waller, Pomerantz said, “If the new police captain really wants us to follow the rules, well, that’s what it looks like.”

“We’re trying so hard in the city to normalize bicycling,” said Brinkman, “to bring people into the fold of calm cyclists who just ride for transportation because it’s a great way to get around the city.”

Sanford’s focus on punishing normal, innocuous behaviors, she noted, doesn’t just detract from the police’s ability to stop behaviors that hurt people. The citations can also pose a serious financial burden.

“I know when I was young and uneremployed in the city, I couldn’t afford a Muni Fast Pass,” said Brinkman. “So for those cyclists who get ticketed for doing anything that was not necessarily unsafe… I imagine for a lot of those cyclists, those tickets really hurt. Those tickets can make the difference between a good month and a month when they were broke. That’s not right.”

Even Schambre, holding up his two perplexingly self-defeating signs, acknowledged that most people who bike through the Wiggle don’t “sail through” and violate others’ right-of-way.

“You know how that is,” he said. “There can be 100 that obey the law, and if two don’t, that’s the headline.”

See more coverage of the Wiggle “stop-in” from SF Weekly, ABC 7, the SF Chronicle, and NBC.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    Here’s the video of the near assault. Apparently this is the kind of safety Capt. Sanford and Mayor Lee have in mind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9jYxKqUJTk

  • BBnet3000

    Most people simply do not understand how law enforcement works in the real world. Discretion is a huge part of it, and opportunity costs have to be considered. The idea that everybody who ever breaks any law gets stopped by the police (or even ought to) is just nonsense.

    Thus the idea for Focus on the Five, an approach to using scarce police resources where they can have the most impact to prevent injuries and save lives.

  • p_chazz

    All I see is a bunch of asshole bicyclists provoking a motorist.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    That’s because your perspective on reality is warped by your bigotry.

  • p_chazz

    Likewise, I’m sure.

  • p_chazz

    I’m sure that it was a feelgood event for the bicyclists who participated, but it only cemented in the minds of everyone else that bicyclists are a bunch of rude, self-entitled boors.

  • I became aware of that incident just before the guy got out of the car, behind them a bit. The whole protest was “provocative” but from a slightly earlier starting point this didn’t seem to be provoked. Certainly the cyclist didn’t scurry away afterward, though.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Your bigotry is also warped by your perspective?

  • Alex

    The only reason why there are a lot of bikers was because this was a planned event. There are not as many bikers using the wiggle on a daily basis. Also, the bikers are in the middle of the lane purposefully blocking the cars causing more traffic. Bikers usually pull up next to a stopped car at a stop sign, not in front

  • 94110

    Being rude, self-entitled boors has been a huge success for drivers. Seems logical for bike riders to embrace the pattern.

  • Jamie_H.

    So true! No one over the age of 5 bikes anymore!

  • Jamie_H.

    It’s got nothing on sitting at a computer feeling all self-entitled….no sirrreeee!

  • murphstahoe

    Mayor Lee won’t bend to interests that simply want to disregard public safety.

    There is precedent here. San Francisco is already not complying with the letter of the law with respect to illegal immigrants. There are plenty of people (I am ont one of them) that think that the fact that the city he captains does not comply with what the Feds insist upon is disregarding public safety.

  • murphstahoe

    ignore this fool

  • boter op mijn hoofd

    Wow, the cyclist blocking the car really showed that driver!

  • boter op mijn hoofd

    To use the cyclists’ own metaphor du jour, was the near assault followed by a near admission to an emergency room? Sounds like another near miss to me!

  • boter op mijn hoofd

    Oh my. Yes, if you ask a load of cyclists to descend on one block at the very same time, it will slow things down. Pedestrians, or cars, could have done the same thing. I would love to see a pedestrian “crosswalk-in” to protest vehicles, including cyclists, who don’t yield right of way.
    Ironically, the cyclists carefully metering themselves at Waller and Steiner will have made the Wiggle downstream that much less congested. Not representative of anything, but good street theater. Good, except that SF’s cyclists seem to find ways to alienate people who would otherwise support their cause. Cyclists should try doing a “stop-in” citywide for a whole day sometime. But I bet they are afraid that everyone else would really enjoy that and find it preferable to the current situation or the proposed Idaho stop.
    Of course, It was back to normal on the Wiggle this morning, with the usual lack of any stopping, and an old lady calling out to cyclists to look both ways for pedestrians. “They never look to the right,” she exclaimed about cyclists blowing the stop at the right turn from Waller onto Steiner.
    7 Edit View in discussion

  • Is there anywhere to buy ‘I support Idaho stop’ t-shirts yet?

  • jd_x

    Wait, that driver crossed the double yellow line right before the intersection, and that’s illegal! (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2015/07/16/new-sfpd-park-station-captains-bike-crackdown-wont-make-streets-safer/) Where’s Captain “Letter of the Law” Sanford when you need him?!

  • StrixNoctis .

    When there’s the all-too-common congestion on freeways & city streets backed up with motor vehicles everyday, drivers are frustrated, annoyed, sometimes there are road rage incidents. A few blocks of bicycle traffic during the less-common bicycling events, and drivers get furious at the sight alone!

  • StrixNoctis .

    Drivers actually already congest the streets (and bike lanes) every rush hour and more, but it’s “okay” for drivers to do because they’re special and own the streets.

  • StrixNoctis .

    A lot of cyclists do use The Wiggle daily, it’s just that cyclists are more distant from each other when they do the rolling stops and lane split, but lane splitting at intersections really isn’t safe because of those right-hooking drivers. Cyclists are allowed by law to take the full lane, and cyclists should at stop signs for safety.

  • sworddance

    Based on the comments just on this blog, it sounds like a repeat event is needed to make the point more clearly understood.

  • p_chazz

    Based on the number of up-votes for anti-cyclist comments regarding this action, it sounds like cyclists are clueless as to how despised they are.

  • p_chazz

    No, silly. Let me spell it out for you: Morgan Fitzgibbons’ perspective on reality is warped by his pro-bicycle bigotry.

  • p_chazz

    Thanks. It’s difficult to know what really happened from a video. It seems that seeing is believing, but looks can be deceiving if you don’t see what happened leading up to the incident on the video.

  • p_chazz

    There you go again. Always telling people what to do.

  • the_greasybear

    You know damned well that enforcement is for harmless bicyclists, not for road-ragers who choose to illegally and dangerously operate their 3-ton death monsters. SFPD for the lose!

  • murphstahoe

    “except that SF’s cyclists seem to find ways to alienate people who would otherwise support their cause.”

    This is never true. I always here the haters claim “if the cyclists just did blah then I would support them” but in practice if that happens they just move the goal posts again. Meanwhile there are plenty of people who are not cyclists, see an event like this as completely ridiculous, but then still support cycling and bike lanes.

  • the_greasybear

    Oh, look–the delusional anti-bike extremist thinks he is speaking for “everyone else” again, and you’ll just *never* guess what “everyone else” happens to think about law-abiding San Franciscans on bicycles!

  • p_chazz

    Judging from the number of up-votes anti-bicyclist comments have received, I’d say I’m right on the money.

  • kevin

    Based on the number of trolls on the internet, humanity is doomed.

  • the_greasybear

    The relevant SFPD captain is threatening a harassment campaign against what hundreds of daily bike commuters “usually” do on the Wiggle, so how things “usually” work and how things would work specifically under an anti-bike crackdown are quite different. This civil obedience action successfully highlighted the difference.

  • p_chazz

    Troll = person who disagrees with me.

  • the_greasybear

    The polls show tremendous support for bicycling in the city–but ignore all that! p_chazz has four sock puppets in the Streetsblog comment section–so he speaks for “everyone”!

  • jd_x

    Once again, p_chazz believes that Streetsblog comments are actually scientific evidence for his theories. You should run this one by policy-makers, scientists, or any rationally-thinking person and see what kind of support you get.

    Oh, but you want to play this (nonsensical) game? Go look at which comments on pretty much any article on this website have the most up-votes. Are they pro-cyclists or anti-cyclist? Let’s start with this article. As of the time I wrote this: the most up-voted are 9 for BBnet300’s, 6 for one of yours. Whoops: looks like, by your p_chazz statistical method, you lose. And since this is apparently how you think we should decide policy, I think that means we need to start removing car lanes for bicycle lanes, right?

  • jd_x
  • Nicasio Nakamine

    Based on my experience both on the internet and out on the road, I’m pretty dang aware that pretty much everyone hates me when I’m on two wheels.

  • the_greasybear

    Anybody who refers to law-abiding San Franciscans on bicycles as ‘assholes’ is a troll. Period.

  • murphstahoe

    What part of “ignore this fool” didn’t you understand

  • sworddance

    If being despised keeps me alive, I rather be despised and alive rather than loved and dead

  • sworddance

    don’t feed the troll, just engage in civil obedience!

    I am starting to bike more and more in the center of the lane.

    If I am “just” a vehicle, then damn it I want the whole lane.

  • Justin

    Got to say this is one of the BEST civil obedience protest here in San Francisco I’ve seen. The people on their bikes complied with the laws, so motorists shouldn’t be complaining at all about it but they do regardless, and they have some great reasonable rational points to make. The turnout sure looks fabulous.

  • MarkinArl

    Thank you for this demonstration of why cyclists should stay to the right and not be allowed to block motor vehicle traffic. Please repeat this often until lawmakers change the laws and reduce the excess greenhouse gas emissions caused by bicyclists delaying motor vehicles!

  • People get angry at cyclists who break the law, same people get angry at cyclists who follow the law, can’t explain that!

  • Troll? Or just stupid?

  • Paul Green

    Reasonable folks would agree with your assessment. Bike apologists would not.

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