N-Judah Incident Highlights Need to Examine Muni Bike Ban

Katherine Roberts at last night's Bike Coalition meeting. Photo: Streetsblog
Katherine Roberts at last night's Bike Coalition meeting. Photo: Streetsblog

Katherine Roberts was biking home to the Haight from a Passover Seder in the Dogpatch at 11:30 on April 11. It was raining heavily. She got to Church and Duboce and slowed to let an outbound N-Judah pass. When she started to pedal again, the wheel of her folding bike slipped and got caught by a steel plate that wasn’t flush with the pavement. She crashed and smashed her head.

Her partner, Jym Dyer, was with her. Another outbound N-Judah train approached. They realized the fastest way to get medical attention was to take the N-Judah to UCSF Medical Center, a ten minute ride. “It can go through the tunnel,” said Roberts. “I didn’t want to wait for an ambulance–that takes four times as long.”

But the train driver wouldn’t let them board with their bicycles.

They both had folding bikes, which are permitted on Muni as long as they are folded. But the train was empty, and given her injuries and the crack on the head, it didn’t occur to her to fold her bike. “As soon as I showed the driver my injuries, I thought he would just say ‘okay’ and drive the train,” said Roberts. “I was disoriented and weak and I wasn’t really thinking ‘oh, it’s really important for me to fold the bike right now!'”

The driver told them to get off the train and refused to move. He called over a fare inspector. The inspector forced them off the train and told them to call an ambulance if they needed help. But for some reason he also told them they could take the next train, which was right behind them (that’s three N-Judah’s bunched in a row, in case anyone’s counting). However, he still wouldn’t let Dyer on with his bike, folded or not, because it is a larger, folding cargo bike model. Dyer had to ride his bike behind the train while Roberts–with cuts and a large bump growing on her head–was left alone with her now-folded bike.

The train driver, meanwhile, stopped at the next stop, at Duboce Park, and came out of the cab to yell at Roberts to “secure her bike” which had flopped over on the floor. “I was weak. I had a concussion,” she said. “The car was almost empty. I wasn’t blocking anybody.”

Roberts finally got to the hospital, where she was treated. She is slowly recovering, but she hasn’t been back on her bike yet. “I’m woozy and I’m tiring very easily. I’m not ready to bike at all.”

From Streetsblog’s perspective, the incident highlights two issues. Firstly, if there’s any truth to what happened that night, it speaks to real problems with Muni’s employee culture. Two drivers and an inspector can’t show a little compassion in such a situation? As it turns out Roberts injuries were not life threatening, but she could have died as a result of their time-wasting shenanigans.

And secondly, why are we banning bikes on late-night trains in the first place!

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition fought hard, and finally succeeded, in opening up BART to bikes at all times. Obviously, Muni trains are much smaller. Nobody’s arguing that full-sized bikes should be allowed during peak periods. But what would be the big deal if bikes were allowed, space permitting, during off hours?

As this old edition of the SFBC’s newsletter talks about, if New York can handle bikes on its subway, and Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and many other cities can handle bikes on their Light Rail Vehicles, what makes Muni so special?

Either way, “the incident with Katherine is disheartening, both in terms of how she was treated and in light of the strict enforcement of an antiquated policy, especially in an emergency situation,” said Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders. “San Francisco Transit Riders is supportive of a policy amendment that would allow bikes on LRVs, especially during off-peak hours.”

Erica Kato, an SFMTA spokesperson, told the San Francisco Examiner that the drivers and inspector were just following policy and that “protocol when it comes to medical emergencies is to call Central Control, which will then dispatch emergency services.” She also used the “liability” excuse. Streetsblog has asked for clarification from SFMTA and will update this post.

But if we’re going to talk liability, Roberts crashed because of a steel plate that the city failed to properly maintain (it’s still sticking out, by the way). If the city can’t maintain the streets, the least they could do is take us to the hospital when we crash as a result.

The plate that caused Roberts to crash--still sticking up, waiting to trip another cyclists or pedestrian. Photo: Jym Dyer
The plate that caused Roberts to crash–still sticking up, waiting to trip another cyclists or pedestrian. Photo: Jym Dyer
  • curiousKulak

    Actually, banning all cars and banning all alcohol might have a curative effect. And banning bikes would keep things from getting worse.

    I’m of mixed opinion on whereto to allow bikes ‘off peak’. However, as the article sez, MUNI policy already is to allow folded folding bikes on board. I don’t see a change in policy here; I only see an awareness, recognition, and compliance with current policy.

  • curiousKulak

    But seriously, how much time was spent on argument at the time?

    Seems to me the wisest course is getting to the ER ASAP. Get on MUNI. Call a cab. Lock up the bike(s) and ride. Call 911. I understand the reluctance, but … .

    And as a corollary. sue MUNI for the dangerous cover plate!!!

  • curiousKulak

    And yet, she had a folding bike – which is perfectly legal. She should have been allowed (not sure about Jim). Seems like this is the case of a law suit payout – not a change in policy.

  • Taurussf

    Pay attention to the headline
    “N-Judah Incident Highlights Need to Examine Muni Bike Ban”
    and a quote from the article
    “why are we banning bikes on late-night trains in the first place!…
    … But what would be the big deal if bikes were allowed, space permitting, during off
    hours?”
    That’s what I’m responding to.

  • Gary Sebben

    What class is going to teach me confidence on slippery roads, low visibility, and rain and wind in your eyes. There are some situation that are not worth risking your life in when $2.50 will get you home safe and mostly dry. If you don’t see that then you’re a cycling zealot and you shouldn’t be directing the conversation.

  • citrate reiterator

    The cost of an ambulance in the USA is a giant problem. An (involuntary!) ambulance ride cost me nearly a grand several years ago, and I had pretty okay health insurance through my employer. I can totally understand why people would do almost anything to try to avoid that, particularly if they were broke enough that affording insurance was difficult.

  • curiousKulak

    The incident is being used to broach a subject that is only tangentially related to the event in question.

    And you don’t want to replicate the BART broken system or blank-out periods. So you either open it up entirely or keep the ban.

    The question shouldn’t be ‘why don’t we permit all bikes?’ – it should be ‘why doesn’t MUNI acknowledge its own rules and maintain its own property?’ Now that’s a headline I’d like to see,

  • CrankyOldGuy

    I’m amazed at the number of patronizing comments that sniff that Ms. Roberts should have used emergency services. As if it was that simple. The reality, not one well-off Americans want to acknowledge, is that a growing number of working Americans can’t afford the sort of health insurance that pays for luxuries such as $3K+ ambulance rides. And certainly can’t afford to pay the cost of ambulance transport out of their own pocket.

    I once suffered a cut to the head when I was knocked to the sidewalk by an assailant. The police called for an ambulance despite me telling them I didn’t want one. When the EMTs arrived I adamantly refused transport. The EMTs said fine, just let us bandage your wound. A couple of weeks later I received a bill for $2,300! That’s quite a profit on a 30-cents length of gauze and a couple of cotton pads.

    The insanely high costs of health care in the U.S. mean that a growing number of ordinary working Americans, as in the large majority of Americans who aren’t wealthy, have NO choice but to forego medical services. At the same time, health care’s insanely high costs are reflected in health insurance premiums that can be as much as 30%, or more, of an ordinary working person’s yearly income. Ms. Roberts made the sort of decision that more Americans will be making; especially after the Republicans get done “fixing” health care for us.

    I’ve been riding Muni since 1976. I’ve encountered very few “bad” Muni drivers. And quite a few extraordinarily helpful ones. It seems that the driver mentioned in the article mis-handled the situation. The solution to that problem is not to suppose that everyone can afford to call emergency services. Many of us can’t. And it looks like even more of us will be unable to afford those sorts of luxuries going forward…

  • Vehicular Cycling (and the Effective Cycling classes) solves all issues from a lack of self-confidence while driving one’s bicycle to allow even you to handle all hypothetical situations.

  • grrlfriday

    It started raining after we left. Next question?

  • grrlfriday

    Wasn’t really able to walk 4 blocks at that time. Next question?

  • grrlfriday

    Any problem with all the unfolded strollers everyone blocks the aisles and exits with, even at rush hour? I’m just curious.

  • grrlfriday

    Ban bikes, strollers, of anything anywhere that would interfere with ADA compliance. That’s not just common sense, it’s the law. But how many times do you see it being violated on Muni? I don’t know why bikes are singled out when there are obviously so many other people behaving problematically. I’m in favor of 100% compliance with all ADA concerns and regulations, which means that anyone who needs to get off the train under any circumstances should be able to do so without impediment. IMO, if ADA laws are being complied with, you don’t need any further specific bans such as a ban on bikes. But the enforcement has to be strict and across-the-board, instead of being selective like it is now. I honestly think this is the best way to work it out.

  • grrlfriday

    Saimin — I have reported it multiple times to the city. So far nothing has been done to get it fixed. It’s not because they don’t know about it. It’s just because…well, you can draw your own conclusions about this.

  • grrlfriday

    I really resent your assumptions about my medical state. I’m glad you think that walking 4 blocks uphill in the pouring rain in the state I was in was my best option right then, instead of staying on the train I was already on and being at the hospital in a few more minutes. I’ll try and remember that the next time I have a concussion, but please forgive me if I don’t.

  • grrlfriday

    I’d rather be an activist than that other word that starts with an “a” but has fewer letters. I’m just sayin’.

  • Gary Sebben

    There were plenty of questions in there already. It rained after you left. Great. Why didn’t you get on a bus once it started raining? Why didn’t you lock your bikes up before attempting to get on the train? Why didn’t your partner at least do that so he could take you into the hospital instead of leaving you to get off the train yourself while lugging a folding bike in your condition? I’m sure I have more questions, but answer those first.

  • p_chazz

    So call a Lyft then.

  • p_chazz

    So call a Lyft or Uber.

  • grrlfriday

    No, YOU call a Lyft or Uber. I’m not telling you how to live your life; why are you so obsessed with telling me how to live mine? A) I don’t have a “smart” phone, and have never called Lyft or Uber in my life, so I wouldn’t know how to start. Are you saying I should have found a store that sells smart phones at 11:30 at night, sat down and figured out how to install the app, etc., all the while I had a concussion and needed to see a doctor? That’s just completely idiotic, never mind mean. B) The train was already there, and my bike and I were both allowed on the train. So why would I get off and call a car when I didn’t have to? C) Any alternative besides the train would have taken much, much longer. And D) This all happened over 3 weeks ago. So are you suggesting I get into the Wayback machine & do things differently? I got to the hospital, I was treated, I was discharged, and I’m slowly recovering. Thank you for all your compassion and concern you have shown towards my injury. I’m sure that lhelps you sleep at night.

  • grrlfriday

    Didn’t have a lock with me. And I wasn’t especially mobile with that huge knot on my head. Why is this so difficult for you to understand? I think you’re just pretending to be stupid, just to see if it upsets us.

  • grrlfriday

    What bus was there coming back from the Dogpatch that late at night? I don’t see one on the Muni map.

  • It is charitable of you to suggest that he’s pretending.

  • p_chazz

    If you don’t want people offering up their opinions, perhaps you shouldn’t publish details of your life online in an article that features a comment section. By reporting this in Streetsblog, it seem like you are using your accident to influence public policy. I get that you don’t have a smartphone on which to summon a Lyft or Uber; after this, perhaps you should consider getting one. In any event, there are still taxis. I wonder how many of them passed by when you and Jym were arguing with the car operator.

    I am not the only person who found it odd that you chose to pass by a nearby emergency room to get to another one miles away. But then, as you pointed out, you weren’t thinking clearly.

    I am glad that you are recovering from your injury. For your sake, I hope you choose a form of transportation that doesn’t land you in the gutter next time you venture out on a rainy, windy night.

  • Gary Sebben

    So, it was so late at night that there were no buses from the Dogpatch, but the muni trains were running? Fascinating. And, as an experienced cyclist, you were riding in the city at night, in the rain, with no lock, and, apparently, no helmet. Was your partner also riding with no lock? Did you even have lights? Were you running stops, too? What this all comes down to is that you’re a reckless cyclist who should hardly be the type used as an example to dictate policy. Especially since you’re rationalizing everything you did as your best decision. I’d encourage you to sue the city to get that plate in the road fixed, but other than that it seems like you’re the cause of your own misery. Even your injury would have been lessened if you’d had a helmet on, but your type doesn’t believe in that. If this proves anything it’s that we should be legally mandating helmets the way we do seatbelts.

  • I explained this 12 days ago, a little ways upthread, to someone with manners.

  • John SFO

    Firstly, I would’ve recognised the exigent circumstances and allowed the injured cyclist–folding bike or not–aboard the trolley because UC hospital is indeed a short ride away via the Sunset tunnel. However, Muni trolleys are not wide, they haven’t any bike bays, their aisles are narrow, and they are frequently packed, so it’s understandable that Muni policy doesn’t allow them. Muni’s trolleys are midway in width between NYC’s narrow-bodied IRT subway cars and the wide-bodied BMT/IND subway cars, and the IRT cars–unlike Muni’s trolley cars–have longitudinal seating, which can accommodate bicycles in all but the most crowded conditions. Lastly, based on my observations of bicyclists’ behaviour & road manners, I haven’t had a lot of sympathy for their desire to take their bikes onto the trolleys.

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