Punishment Pass on Valencia Highlights Enforcement Chasm

Even When Caught on Video, Motorists Confidently Get Away With Reckless and Malevolent Driving

Motorists such as 'Bobby,' seen here, are exactly why we need ASE as soon as it can be installed. But we also need legal structures so we can put bike-cam and dash-cam video to use in the meantime. Screen capture from SF Bikealot's Youtube channel
Motorists such as 'Bobby,' seen here, are exactly why we need ASE as soon as it can be installed. But we also need legal structures so we can put bike-cam and dash-cam video to use in the meantime. Screen capture from SF Bikealot's Youtube channel

This video came to Streetsblog’s attention last week, shortly before the 4th of July holiday. It was posted on ‘SF Bikealot’s’ Youtube channel (Streetsblog has been poking around to try and find SF Bikealot’s identity, but so far without success. We hope he’ll reach out to us to discuss this video and some others on his channel.)

But the incident, in which a motorist in a Toyota Scion recklessly crossed the double yellow line on Valencia Street and sped around SF Bikealot, who had apparently left the bike lane to go around some trucks, is telling. For one, it speaks to the utter insanity we all encounter on the streets of San Francisco on a daily basis–exactly what was this motorist trying to accomplish?

All he did was endanger everyone on that stretch of Valencia, including himself, to be first at the next red light. Clearly, he didn’t get wherever he was going any faster–because SF Bikealot easily caught up to him. And, it should be noted, the motorist had time to get out of his car, comically puff his chest up, and confront SF Bikealot.

What’s even more maddening is the total impunity shown by ‘Bobby,’ the motorist. Surely, he can see he’s on camera–and in case he can’t, SF Bikealot tells him as much. (Bobby has dealer plates from Melody Toyota in San Bruno…maybe he thinks that makes him impossible to identify?)

Either way, he’s confident that nothing will happen to him, even though he’s on video, even though he blew right past the Mission police station!

And he’s almost certainly right.

Streetsblog has asked SFPD officers before about whether they would do anything if shown video of motorists endangering people’s lives. The answer is always the same: ‘No’–only if they see the incident themselves or if a crash resulted.

The only exceptions Streetsblog is aware of in California are truly extreme cases. In Glendale a driver was charged, based on video evidence, with intentionally driving at a cyclist.  And, closer to home, there’s the case of Anthony Ryan, who was also attacked by a motorist. One hopes that in such a case, where the motorist seems to be purposely aiming at the cyclist, as opposed to just driving like a dangerous maniac, that any law enforcement agency on earth would do something.

But that still leaves Bay Area cyclists and other vulnerable road users with basically no recourse when it comes to run-of-the-mill reckless drivers such as Bobby. “The only solution I know of in California is to make a citizen’s arrest,” explained Andy Gillin of GJEL Accident Attorneys. To state the obvious, that’s hardly a practical solution “… because it risks a physical confrontation.”

That said, the police, in an incident some two years ago, did cite a motorist ‘just’ for passing dangerously based on video evidence alone. The difference was it happened in Oregon, not California. Unfortunately, in California, some lawmakers are more interested in lowering fines for running red lights than keeping our roads safe.

Meanwhile, advocates for safe streets are continuing to pursue A.B.342, an Automatic Speed Enforcement (ASE) pilot in the Bay Area. The idea is that cameras will automatically snap a photo of a license plate of any motorists who is driving 10 mph above the speed limit. A ticket would be issued automatically. California State Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), the author of the bill, had to pull the legislation back, at least temporarily, last April.

It would be interesting to consider, as state officials and advocates pursue ASE, if we can figure out a way to use the video we already have for more than just outing reckless and malicious drivers or establishing who was at fault after a collision. There’s plenty of it: many Streetsblog readers are probably also following this story about a racist motorist, caught on video, harassing and honking at a cyclist in Sunnyvale last week. Every cyclist has been subject to punishment passes–more and more incidents are getting recorded on video.

Video has already played a pivotal role in establishing who was at fault after a crash–just ask Timothy Doyle, who was hit by an SFPD cruiser. But perhaps we need to work on state legislation to make it so this kind of video goes to good use even when a crash is narrowly avoided. If Oregon can figure out ways to do this, why can’t California? Streetsblog has asked that question of Chiu. His chief of staff said he’ll try and get back to Streetsblog later today–Streetsblog will update this post accordingly.

“There are probably a lot of right answers to the question of how to reduce conflicts on San Francisco streets,” opined Chris Cassidy, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in an email to Streetsblog. “To my knowledge, though, none is as cost-efficient and effective as design solutions. On Valencia, for instance, if there were physically protected bike lanes, we’d see obstructions avoided, reduced speeds, and improved safety for all road-users.”

No argument there. But in the meantime, maybe if Bobby and others like him knew there was a real chance he’d lose his license, or his insurance would go up, or he’d at least get a fine, he might learn to be less reckless and more patient. We’ve got the video technology to make that happen–in many cases, it’s already strapped to our handlebars and helmets. Our lawmakers and enforcement officers need to put it to use.

  • Im sure we all would really love the idea of motorists being cited for reckless driving based off of video evidence from helmet cameras from the victims and I witness testimony. Does anyone know how this can work legally? Would we file a police report and upload a video? Who would view the video to determine if there were any laws broken? How do we prevent people from filing false reports or tampering with the video?

    I always record every ride with a front contour roam3 and rear fly6 camera, but I consider those both black box recorders for the same reason we use them on airplanes. Fortunately I’ve never had to use them yet. In my 4 years biking in SF I’ve had a two near misses from Muni and a drunk old lady threatening to run me over with her BMW that I captured, but it’s not at all clear to me what i could do legally aside from public shaming.

    Im interested in discussing this from a legal perspective. How could our laws be changed to make bicycle camera footage usable in cases when no blood has been spilled?

    Our courts are having their budgets slashed and have backlogs so long it sometimes takes years to prosecute criminal cases. I doubt the SFPD has any interest in hiring a new department of officers to review, catalog and write citations on the thousands of hours of video footage that would undoubtably be submitted.

    Could people be sued in civil court for threatening to kill someone? Could a restraining order be filed to keep threatening drivers away from cyclists?
    I seriously don’t know the answers to this but I’m interested in people’s opinions on what can be done to improve the current situation.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks Ziggy. That’s exactly what I hope people will start discussing. In Oregon, apparently you can issue a citation and provide evidence (that’s one of the links in the story). Here’s a ‘how-to’ guide: http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2012/06/every_oregon_driver_is_a_traff.html

    Now that we have cameras, I think it would be great to have this option in California. Anyway, it’s an idea worth discussing.

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    For any cyclist who is a victim of such traffic violence, you need to report it both via an in-person report and to public sites such as CloseCallDatabase. Police sometimes push back when you try to file a report. Be nice but firm, don’t let them push back. They work for you, their job is to protect us.

    https://pvcycling.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/report-card/

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    See my post above. Please report them no matter what. These criminals are often repeat offenders. You can report them to the DMV too.

    Encourage politicians to back a statewide anti-harassment law where the victim of these crimes can sue the criminals in civil court.

    Violation of 3 foot passing in CA is an “infraction” That’s why police won’t cite on video only unless there’s a collision or injury. So forget about that law because it has no teeth.

  • Prinzrob

    A civil case could be brought, especially in cities like Berkeley or LA that have bicyclist anti-harassment ordinances. Berkeley’s has a minimum $1k award, I believe, though as far as I know no civil cases have yet been brought under this law.

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/02/21/berkeley-enacts-law-to-protect-bicyclists-from-driver-harassment/

  • Traveler2468

    Why did the cyclist continue to block the middle of the lane, when the bike lane was available for more than half a long block? This video shows that the bicyclist activist was seeking to aggravate cars behind him, fishing to capture confrontations on camera.
    That said, car drivers should always drive carefully around bicyclists.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I’ve used the Closecalldatabase, and quite frankly it’s a sad joke. As far as I can tell (am I wrong here?) there’s no way of looking at the data without registering an account on the system. There’s no mobile app, no way to embed video or photos, and it’s not linked or even searchable by any other database or search engine.

    A useful close call database would be one that shows up on a google search when you look for a license plate, one that’s mobile phone friendly, one that anyone including car insurance providers can view and link to. When a video is posted that shows a car driving recklessly, the car insurance companies would probably love to jack up the rates of that driver! So why isn’t that an option?

    I have submitted a report once to the database, but sadly it requires way more effort than most cyclists are willing to put into it.

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    The cyclist has every right to use the travel lane in almost every second of this video. Starting at the beginning. he’s at an intersection where a right hand turn is authorized. Furthermore he’s avoiding the upcoming construction sign placed in the bike lane. About 7 seconds in you’ll see a door zone bike lane (which is unsafe at his speed) followed by two maintenencd vehicles parked in the bike lane marked with cones. Once he passes the second blocking vehicle the door zone bike lane continues for a few feet then the striping of the bike lane breaks indicating another right hand turn at the next intersection. The cyclist properly maintains lane control through the next intersection as he should. The green SUV driver makes a right hand turn without right hooking, and oncoming left turning traffic can see the cyclist thus reducing risk of a left hook. After clearing the intersection, the cyclist does enter the bike lane. He maintains this position until before the next break in the striping where he moves left to contact the motorist. There is actually enough room to the cyclist’s right to allow right turning traffic to continue. The driver, who just a moment before used his motor vehicle in a weapon-like fashion and endangered the cyclist with reckless driving, is the one who chose to actually stop in the middle of the roadway, exit the vehicle and confront the cyclist.

    A cyclist properly using the lane and behaving as a driver is not “blocking” traffic. They are a part of traffic. He’s moving fairly fast, probably matching that of the surrounding traffic and close to the speed limit. While it’s safe to argue had the driver not passed and waited behind the cyclist his journey may have been briefly delayed it’s no more of a delay than say normal congested automobile traffic or a motorist not proceeding right away when a signal turns green.

    CVC 21208, the bike lane law, says the following:
    21208.
    (a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:
    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.
    (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    (3) When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.
    (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
    (b) No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 22100) in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    CCB does require a login and is not indexed by search engines which is unfortunate but account creation is free and email alerts are sent when there is an incident in your are. It is however run by one person who manages it on his free time with occasional donations from the community. The owner does what he can with the resources he has. It is possible to host images on the site and any videos can be linked to external sources such as a YouTube. CCB renders just fine on mobile browsers.

    Multiple instances of the same vehicle have been reported on that site and it’s been successfully used by cyclists to bring the issue forward to law enforcement. Whether law enforcement can or will do anything about it is another story but it’s better than nothing. When I see instances on the site with video and definite plate info I tweet the video and some basic information.

    The problem with informing insurance companies of plate info is that they do not know whether who is driving the vehicle. Is the owner who is insured under that company or did the owner loan the car to someone else? In a perfect world the vehicle owner would be held more accountable for loaning a vehicle out to a bad driver but that’s not the way it works now.

    A sad joke is not making any attempt to report these things. The person who buzzed you today could kill a person tomorrow. Your report of their previous behavior may make the difference in a successful case against them. Someone else might say “hey that same driver did that to me too.” Then law enforcement will have to listen. Politicians will have to listen too.

    Reporting on CCB is the easy part. Convincing a 911 operator or a cop that the driver is committing a felony assault with a motor vehicle as as a weapon, getting them to take or write a report or investigate and educate the public is another issue.

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    The cyclist has every right to use the travel lane in almost every second of this video. Starting at the beginning. he’s at an intersection where a right hand turn is authorized. Furthermore he’s avoiding the upcoming construction sign placed in the bike lane. About 7 seconds in you’ll see a door zone bike lane (which is unsafe at his speed) followed by two maintenencd vehicles parked in the bike lane marked with cones. Once he passes the second blocking vehicle the door zone bike lane continues for a few feet then the striping of the bike lane breaks indicating another right hand turn at the next intersection. The cyclist properly maintains lane control through the next intersection as he should. The green SUV driver makes a right hand turn without right hooking, and oncoming left turning traffic can see the cyclist thus reducing risk of a left hook. After clearing the intersection, the cyclist does enter the bike lane. He maintains this position until before the next break in the striping where he moves left to contact the motorist. There is actually enough room to the cyclist’s right to allow right turning traffic to continue. The driver, who just a moment before used his motor vehicle in a weapon-like fashion and endangered the cyclist with reckless driving, is the one who chose to actually stop in the middle of the roadway, exit the vehicle and confront the cyclist.
    A cyclist properly using the lane and behaving as a driver is not “blocking” traffic. They are a part of traffic. He’s moving fairly fast, probably matching that of the surrounding traffic and close to the speed limit. While it’s safe to argue had the driver not passed and waited behind the cyclist his journey may have been briefly delayed it’s no more of a delay than say normal congested automobile traffic or a motorist not proceeding right away when a signal turns green.

  • chetshome

    The construction sign actually looks like it’s not blocking the bike lane. I assumed it was and that’s why the cyclist was taking the lane, but now I don’t get it. (still doesn’t excuse the car’s illegal passing)

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    It’s very common for crews to place these signs directly in the bike lane. The legs of the sign often are a hazard as well when they stick out.
    The left edge of the sign does appear to be in the bike lane.

    The cyclist could probably see the actual lane closure way up ahead. There’s no reason to weave in and out of the bike lane for that short of a distance. The cyclist was going pretty fast, most likely at “the speed of normal traffic” given the area and situation which alone makes him exempt from using the bike lane never mind all the hazards it presented. Don’t let the criminal motorists speed fool you.

  • Mr Blinginton

    “The left edge of the sign does appear to be in the bike lane.”

    Ehhh.. maybe an inch or two. Doesn’t seem like a real issue. Then there’s 8x the length of the intersection without any obstruction. Not exactly weaving in and out.

    Everything the car did was wrong, and the bike followed traffic laws, but if I was the bike I would be in the bike lane for that part of road.

  • John Murphy

    “why is that cyclist doing that?”

    “oh screw it, I’ll buzz him and then get out and yell at him”

    “Man, that cyclist really brought it on himself!”

  • John Murphy

    the speed of normal traffic in this case, is 13 MPH, the speed of the green light wave

  • John Murphy

    The thing that’s missing from your analysis is that the green light wave on Valencia is set for 13 MPH. The cyclist caught up to the motorist who was stuck at the red light – meaning the cyclist was going *faster* than the fastest possible speed you can transit Valencia on. He wasn’t impeding the motorists progress in any manner because the lights were a more of an impediment than the cyclist.

  • curiousKulak

    And the driver pulled up to the Red light behind another car, while the bike would have held the Green if he didn’t confront the motorist. Motorist – by getting out and arguing – went thru an entire Red light cycle, making the reason for speeding moot.

  • thielges

    And this is why the technically unnecessary “Bikes Allowed Full Use of Lane” signs are a big help. They’re not a good match for Valencia but do help in situations where bikes need to take the lane to stay clear of danger. Some motorists see a bike in the center of the lane and think that they’re doing something wrong, leading them to punish the wrongdoer.

  • Christopher Childs

    Why did the cyclist continue to block the middle of the lane, when the bike lane was available for more than half a long block?

    Because people complain about bicyclists swerving into their lane when people attempt to zipper merge on a bike at a pinch point. They expect the blocked lane to just completely stop.

  • farazs

    ‘half a long block’ is basically less than 10 seconds. Merging in to 30mph traffic is difficult enough, when cars are actually going at the speed limit, which is basically never. If road-work uses the bike lane and necessitates a merge, then by all means designate that block as a work zone and drop the speed down to 15mph … except most motorists will still be doing 40.

    I got buzzed like ^that^ yesterday in the right-most lane of a 4-lane road, not 100 feet from a red light because the driver wanted to be first at the red-light and in that particular lane. Ofc, he was going straight and I was making a right at the light, so overtaking was completely pointless. IMO, any one who sees that as fishing for confrontations, is at least as big a jerk as the offending motorist.

  • Traveler2468

    I’m not excusing the driver, and it does appear he passed too close for comfort. I too would/get angry when a driver passes that close at such a high speed, or when drivers abruptly swerve into the right and stop for parking in front of me.

    However — the bike lane at the time was unobstructed for at least 100 feet. And the bicyclist initiated the confrontation at the red light, and started conversion with an insult “Are you clueless!” rather than “be careful when passing!”. Yes, I empathize. I’d be angry too because if I was bicycling, I’m more fragile on a bike than a (jerk) driver in a car. But this video and what happened is not a clear cut case of “it’s all his fault!”

    Vehicle Code – VEH
    DIVISION 11. RULES OF THE ROAD [21000 – 23336]

    VEH 21208.
    (a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:

    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.

    (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    (3) When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.

    (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

    (b) No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the
    movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 22100) in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement.

    btw, here is another law:
    VEH 21202.

    (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:


    those conditions did not apply.

  • John Murphy

    carsplaining

  • Most action cameras have wide angle lenses that don’t show clear detail of things far in front of you. It’s easy to view this video and come to the false impression that he could’ve safely ridden his bicycle in the bike lane.

    He reached the blocked section of the bike lane in just 10 seconds, 3 seconds after passing the construction warning sign, by which point anyone riding a bicycle should’ve merged. 10 seconds is a rational and safe time to change lanes when the lane ahead of you is blocked.

    Merging from a bicycle lane into a vehicle lane is one of the most dangerous maneuvers for any cyclist. When you’re riding in a bike lane and you see the lane obstructed ahead of you, it’s always safest to give a wide safety margin and merge carefully and predictably instead of aggressively jumping lanes in the last few seconds. This cyclist did exactly what he was supposed to do.

    What the driver did was reckless and dangerous not only to the cyclist, but to the construction workers who were working just a few feet away from his speeding car. And for what reason? You can see on the video that the driver reached the traffic light a mere 6 seconds before the cyclist behind him who’s life in endangered. What was the point?

    The construction zone should’ve been had better signage and lower speed limits. But more importantly, a protected bike lane would’ve prevented this conflict. Luckily no one was injured or killed.

  • Cyclist’s Rights

    At the cyclists speed that’s weaving in and out for sure and looking unpredictable to someone from behind. Any competent and experienced proper cyclist agrees with my analysis of this situation.

    These concepts are incredibly simple.

    And the car didn’t do anything wrong and the bike didn’t do anything wrong. The people operating them did the actions.

  • HappyHighwayman

    Clearly the SF police are not interested in enforcing the laws in regards to protecting cyclistz

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