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SFMTA Shops Folsom Buffered Bike Lane at Crowded Community Meeting

The SFMTA’s proposal to widen the Folsom Street bike lane with a buffer zone and remove a general traffic lane drew significant turnout at a community meeting in SoMa yesterday evening. The project, set to be installed by the end of the year, seems to have strong support from residents and livable streets advocates as a short-term measure to make Folsom safer.

Supervisor Jane Kim speaks at yesterday's community meeting on the Folsom bike lane pilot. Photo: Patrick Valentino/Twitter

Angelica Cabande, executive director of the South of Market Community Action Network, helped bring its members out to the meeting. The organization hasn’t taken a stance on the project yet, but she said the neighborhood has a dire need to make streets safer for families and elderly residents to walk on.

“A lot of cars, after they exit the freeway, they’re flying through Seventh Street,” said Cabande, who noted the danger is especially apparent outside Bessie Carmichael Elementary, located at Seventh and Folsom. “The school had put a crossing guard there, but a lot of drivers are not adhering to them. If anything, they actually cuss at the crossing guard and yell at families and honk at them to hurry up so they can make that turn right away.”

The SFMTA announced the pilot project on October 1 as a way to expedite safety improvements after 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac was killed on her bike by a truck driver who police determined made an illegal right turn at Folsom and Sixth Streets. The city has also proposed redesigning the one-way SoMa stretch of Folsom for two-way traffic with a parking-protected, two-way bikeway, but that plan may not be built for several years.

“We’re really pleased to see that the city acted quickly, though unfortunately, ideas of reforming Folsom Street have been in the works for more than a decade,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Kristin Smith.

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BART Lifts Bike Bans Permanently

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BART has finally dropped its outdated policy of banning bicycles aboard trains during rush hours. After an uneventful four-month trial, the BART Board of Directors voted unanimously this morning to lift the bans permanently.

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition tweeted that Robert Raburn, its former executive director and a current BART board member, was “pinching himself of course.”

“By making full access for bikes on BART a permanent policy change, East Bay residents will have a new healthy and convenient commute option,” said EBBC Executive Director Renee Rivera in a statement. “This particularly benefits those who commute within the East Bay on BART lines where there is ample room for bikes, but who are restricted from bringing bikes on board by the current rules.”

The policy change was long overdue, but the BART Board was apparently convinced after three different trial periods spanning more than a year resulted in no noticeable problems, as bike-toting commuters avoided cramming on to crowded train cars. By now, 79 percent of commuters surveyed by BART approve of lifting bike blackouts, according to BART Bike Program Manager Steve Beroldo. ”With each bike pilot, the level of bike acceptance grew,” he said.

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum called the vote “a momentous occasion.”

“For years, people on both sides of the Bay have had to contort their lives simply because they needed to take a bike on BART but couldn’t during critical times,” she said.

Bike advocates from both sides of the Bay celebrate their victory. Photo: EBBC/Twitter

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Victims Share Tales of SFPD Anti-Bike Bias and Hostility at City Hall

At the scene of this 2009 crash where a driver made an illegal turn and hit a woman on a bicycle, an SFPD officer told Streetsblog’s Bryan Goebel that he thought all San Franciscans who ride bikes should be moved to Treasure Island. Photo: Bryan Goebel

When Sarah Harling was hospitalized by a minivan driver who made a left turn into her at a stop sign intersection, she says the SFPD officer who filed the police report included a fabricated statement from her claiming that she “approached the stop sign without stopping.”

Sarah Harling. Image: SFGovTV

Harling said she tried to submit a response to the numerous “factual errors” in the police report, but an officer at SFPD’s Richmond Station “raised his voice to lecture me about how traffic laws apply to cyclists too, how he’d never let his children ride bikes in the city, and then told me repeatedly, ‘I’m not telling you you can’t leave this here, but you just need to understand that sometimes things get lost.’”

“I left the station in tears,” she said.

Harling later hired an attorney, who collected witness statements and a photo, which showed the driver to be at fault and led the driver’s insurance company to settle for his or her maximum amount of coverage available.

“To say that the San Francisco Police Department failed to investigate my crash is not quite accurate. Rather, they refused to. Repeatedly,” said Harling. “I got the message, again and again, that because I had been riding my bicycle, it was my fault.”

Harling was one of dozens of bicycle riders who shared stories of hostile encounters with San Francisco police at a hearing held by a Board of Supervisors committee last week, testifying to what appears to be an anti-bike bias among many officers when it comes to investigating conflicts and crashes between people driving and biking.

“It’s not everyone in the force, but there is a systemic problem among police department officers when it comes to treating people fairly and equally who are biking and walking,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “We have regular accounts of people who are treated, at best, unprofessionally, and at worst, unjustly.”

The hearing comes after the fumbled investigation of the death of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, who was run over by a truck driver at Folsom and Sixth Streets in August. SFPD investigators apparently didn’t bother to ask nearby businesses if they had surveillance footage of the crash, though an SFBC staffer found it within 10 minutes. After seeing the  footage, SFPD found the truck driver at fault. Although the SFPD has said it submitted the case to the district attorney to examine for charges, the current status of the case is unclear.

At the memorial and rally held for Le Moullac, immediately after which the SFBC found the footage, SFPD Sergeant Richard Ernst parked his cruiser in the Folsom bike lane to make a point that the onus is on bicycle riders to pass to the left of right-turning cars. Ernst declared all three victims who have been killed this year to be at fault, including 48-year-old Diana Sullivan, who was sitting stopped at a red light at King and Third Streets in March when a trucker ran her over.

Such stories are reported regularly by victims who say officers have automatically assumed they were at fault in crashes, made false claims about bicycling and traffic laws, and even made threats. In one such story reported by Streetsblog in March 2012, a couple bicycling on Oak Street along the Wiggle (before the existing bike lane was installed) was harassed by a driver who injured one of the victims. The officer who responded at the scene threatened to throw the bleeding victim in jail for “vandalizing the vehicle.”

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Temporary Bikeway Provides Glimpse of Bike-Friendly Embarcadero

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KTVU: “So far, it seems to be working, and that has critics concerned.”

A temporary, two-way bikeway put in place on a short stretch of the Embarcadero last week provided a brief glimpse of what a permanent, safe bike route along the waterfront could look like.

Bicycle traffic signals were temporarily installed for the bikeway. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

The bikeway was a measure to encourage attendees of the America’s Cup races to bike to the event, repurposing a north-side traffic lane and car parking lane for bicycling space separated from motor traffic using metal barricades. SFMTA spokesperson Ben Jose said agency staff “will be evaluating how this temporary bikeway changed travel behavior along the Embarcadero and how it minimized conflict.”

The SFMTA also installed bicycle traffic signals “to ensure safety and to control traffic,” Jose said, though they will be removed. Traffic signals normally seem to require a significant amount of time, funding, and engineering to install, and it’s unclear why the SFMTA was apparently able to implement and remove these ones so swiftly.

While the protected two-way lane was in place, biking on the Embarcadero seemed to be more popular than ever. ”Last week’s pilot of the Embarcadero on-street bikeway showed how well-used this space would be by the growing number of people biking along our waterfront,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “This was a win-all-around, with more bike space, more dedicated space for people walking along the promenade, and more people visiting the businesses and attractions along the waterfront.”

Of course, the installation wasn’t a perfect, complete model for a protected bikeway along the length of the Embarcadero. It ran less than half a mile, from Washington to Green Streets, outside of which people on bikes were dumped back into the Embarcadero’s regular configuration with green-painted bike lanes on opposite sides of the street, which are frequently blocked by drivers. Most southbound bicycle riders continued to use the regular south-side bike lane, rather than the temporary bikeway, as crossing over to the opposite side of the street to use the temporary bikeway was, for many people, counterintuitive and inconvenient.

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SFMTA Still Fleshing Out Details of Pilot Bike Lane Upgrades on Folsom

Folsom near Sixth Street, where the SFBC rallied for a safer Folsom after the death of Amelie Le Moullac last month. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

The SFMTA isn’t quite ready to declare that it will expedite protected bike lanes on Folsom Street with a pilot project, but planners say they’re fleshing out the details of what near-term safety upgrades on the street could look like.

Although the SF Bicycle Coalition wrote in a blog post Friday that city officials promised them a “separated bikeway” pilot, SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose told us that the agency “has not yet committed to any specific measures at this point in time.”

“The SFMTA is exploring the technical feasibility of design options for a proposed Folsom Street pilot project,” he wrote in an email.

As we’ve reported, a conceptual plan for a two-way, parking protected bikeway on Folsom is included in the Eastern Neighborhoods Transportation Implementation Planning Study (EN TRIPS), but it’s undergoing environmental review, and construction is likely years off. Mayor Ed Lee said at the Bay Area Bike Share launch that he wanted to explore ways to expedite near-term safety improvements.

Jose said he’ll keep us posted on the details as they develop.

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SFBC: City Commits to Pilot Redesign of Folsom With Separated Bikeways

Hi everyone, greetings from New York. Aaron is currently away on a well-deserved break from running Streetsblog SF. He’ll be back next week delivering the livable streets news. In the meantime, consider this post an open thread about this development:

 

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SFPD Faults Trucker in Le Moullac’s Death, Apologizes for Ernst’s Behavior

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr gives a thumbs up at a stop light on Seventh Street on yesterday's bike-share celebration ride to City Hall. Photo: Aaron Bialick

San Francisco police have determined that the truck driver who killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike this month was at fault for the crash, after footage of the incident was found by the SF Bicycle Coalition. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr has also apologized in statements to the press for the behavior of Sergeant Richard Ernst, who stopped by at a rally and memorial held in Le Moullac’s honor to harass bicycle advocates and blame victims killed on bicycles this year for their own deaths.

The determination of fault in the crash at Folsom in Sixth Streets, first reported by the SF Chronicle’s Chuck Nevius, apparently confirms that the driver made an illegal right turn in front of Le Moullac, failing to yield and merge into the bike lane. The SFPD, which had initially indicated that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the driver, says that it will submit the case to District Attorney George Gascón’s office, who will decide whether or not to press criminal charges, according to the SF Examiner. The DA’s office has reportedly not received the case yet.

“We’re satisfied with the conclusion because we believe it comports with the evidence that Ms. Le Moullac did nothing to contribute to this collision,” said Micha Star Liberty, an attorney representing Le Moullac’s family. Liberty said that while the family “looks forward to a decision being made” by the DA, “it really doesn’t impact the civil rights of the family, which is geared towards ways to compensate victims.”

When I asked Chief Suhr why surveillance video footage of the crash wasn’t found by SFPD investigators — bicycle advocate Marc Caswell tracked it down instead — he said that “there’s often times when there’s an investigation and, very fortunately, citizens make us aware of things that we might not have found on our first pass. We make mistakes. Obviously, we’re super, super happy we have this video now. I’ve seen it myself, and I think it demonstrates clearly what happened with the accident.”

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Will “Tone-Deaf” SFPD Own Up to Its Botched Bike Crash Investigation?

SFPD investigators apparently never asked Golden Auto (seen here in the background) if it had surveillance footage of the crash that killed Amelie Le Moullac. It did. Photo: KTVU

The San Francisco Police Department has finally started to respond to the failure of its investigators to acquire camera footage of the truck crash that killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike, as well as accusations of stonewalling the attorney representing the victim’s family.

But the department still hasn’t publicly acknowledged fumbling the investigation, nor has it commented on the behavior of Sergeant Richard Ernst, who showed up at a safe streets rally to block a bike lane and declare that Le Moullac was at fault for her own death.

SF Chronicle columnist Chuck Nevius — these days, a hit-or-miss commentator on bicycling issues — has reported some of the first responses to come from the department, which he called “tone-deaf” in an article yesterday.

According to Nevius, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr “probably intervened” and caused department staff to “change its tune.” Officers have apparently taken the small step of actually cooperating with the attorney representing Le Moullac’s family, Micha Star Liberty. Nevius said Suhr “responded quickly” when questioned via text message about SFPD’s delayed delivery of the traffic collision report:

“Normally we do not release accident reports that result in death,” Suhr replied. “That said, we’re working on getting a copy of the report to the family.”

Liberty said she had been told to expect an e-mail copy of the report that afternoon.

Up until this week, Liberty had been “treated with real hostility, which was very confusing to me,” she told Nevius. “I was denied the report, even the face page.”

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SFBC Finds What SFPD Didn’t: Video of Crash That Killed Amelie Le Moullac

Soon after an SFPD sergeant harassed bicycle advocates at a rally for safer streets at the site where Amelie Le Moullac was killed, SF Bicycle Coalition Program Manager Marc Caswell found what SFPD investigators claimed they couldn’t: two surveillance cameras facing the street, one of which had footage showing the truck driver running over Le Moullac in the bike lane at Folsom and Sixth Streets on August 14.

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: Voce Communications

Worse yet, all five of the businesses Caswell surveyed said police had never contacted them looking for surveillance cameras or witnesses to the crash, according to the SFBC.

“Our own staff, who were obviously not trained in police enforcement, took 10 minutes walking around and found footage that may be used as evidence down the road,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. “We really wonder whether police are discounting cases in which people biking and walking are hit and killed based on some bias among officers.”

“When it comes to instances in which bicyclists are hit on our streets,” Shahum added, “there seems to be an alarming level of blame-the-victim attitude.”

In a blog post, the SFBC noted that had Caswell not discovered the footage on that day, it would have likely been deleted before the next morning, because the camera footage is only stored for a week.

Micha Star Liberty, an attorney representing Le Moullac and her parents, said that even though the investigating officer told her earlier this week that the initial traffic collision report had been completed, the SFPD has not released it to her. In her experience representing crash victims, she said, that’s unusual.

“I personally went to 850 Bryant [the Hall of Justice] today in an attempt to pick up the completed report, and was told the family could not obtain a copy,” said Liberty. “We eagerly await the release of this information by the SFPD, and welcome any additional information from the community about Amelie’s tragic death.”

The footage was captured by a camera on the property of Golden Auto, a shop located on the corner of Folsom and Sixth. SFPD has not returned an email requesting the department to confirm that it received the video from Golden Auto, and asking why it wasn’t found by SFPD during its investigation.

The spot where Le Moullac was killed, looking roughly from the location of Golden Auto. Photo: Google Street View

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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.”

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