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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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CBS 5 Exacerbates Deadly Confusion About Bike Lane Right-of-Way

Linda Yee's report didn't exactly help with confusion for people driving and biking. Image: CBS 5

A clear understanding of California’s right-of-way laws is crucial if drivers are to avoid colliding with people using San Francisco’s bike lanes. As we saw this week, a “right-hook,” in which a driver turns right into the path of a bike rider, can be fatal.

But when CBS 5 reporter Linda Yee sought to clarify those laws for the public, well, she failed. The news segment aimed at clarifying confusion erroneously stated that drivers can enter a bike lane, in front of bicycle traffic, as long as the driver is in front of the bike rider.

CBS showed a common scene on Howard at New Montgomery Street, in which a driver appears ready to turn into a bike rider's path in the bike lane.

Yee spent a good amount of time explaining the fact that there is much danger and confusion in SF’s bike lanes, but didn’t actually cite the California Vehicle Code (see that below), only sourcing an SFPD officer who explained that a bicycle rider can only pass a right-turning driver stopped in the bike lane when it’s safe to do so.

“I would say it is flat out wrong,” said Robert Prinz, education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

In their classes, the EBBC and the SF Bicycle Coalition teach bicycle riders and motorists that when it comes to right turns, “a bike lane is a travel lane, just like any other one on the roadway,” as Prinz put it. “So if a car driver is making a right turn without merging into it then they are always in the wrong by not turning right from the rightmost lane, even if they arrived at the intersection first.”

“Would a car driver be expected to yield to another driver turning right across their path from one of the middle lanes? The same situation applies for bikes.”

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Woman on Bike Killed by Truck Driver on Folsom: Charges Off the Table?

Photo: Will Tran via hhttp://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Bicyclist-killed-in-SoMa-crash-with-truck-4731657.phpSFGate

An unidentified 24-year-old woman was killed while bicycling on Folsom at Sixth Street this morning when she was hit by a big rig truck driver, according to SFPD and media reports.

The victim is the third bicycle rider killed in San Francisco this year, and each death has involved a truck driver. Although the driver seemed to be at fault in each case, none have faced charges.

Here are the details on this morning’s crash, via SFGate:

The crash happened as the truck tried to make a right turn at 7:07 a.m. at Sixth and Folsom streets, police said.

Both the bicyclist, a woman about 30 years old, and the truck driver were headed east on Folsom. When the trucker tried to turn south onto Sixth, he hit the bicyclist, said Officer Bryan Lujan.

The woman died at San Francisco General Hospital. Neither her name nor the name of the trucker has been released.

The truck driver stayed at the scene and was interviewed by police. He has not been cited. The truck was later towed away.

As police investigated the crash, the woman’s crumpled blue, road-riding bicycle lay at the southwest corner of the intersection. A bike helmet was nearby.

Police have already determined that the truck driver won’t face any charges, according to a tweet from KTVU reporter Brian Flores, who also specified the victim’s age at 24.

SFPD spokesperson Dennis Toomer said he couldn’t confirm those reports, however. “This is still an on-going investigation and I cannot confirm if charges are pending for a later date or not,” he said. Toomer said state law also prevents SFPD from releasing information about the victim or driver at this time.

Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition, called the crash “another tragic reminder of what can happen when bikes and large trucks mix on our city’s high-speed corridors.”

Folsom, a street designed as a one-way, high-speed motorway — common in SoMa — has a painted, unprotected bike lane at the site where the victim was killed. “Folsom Street is one of the city’s few designated bike routes to downtown,” said Shahum. “Still, this street feels intimidating. This core route sees thousands of bike riders every day, yet large trucks travel next to these bike riders — completely unprotected.”

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SFMTA, Chiu Stand By Unprotected Bike Lane Proposal for Polk Street

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Updated 5:16 p.m. with corrections on the number of blocks.

The SFMTA is moving forward with a plan for Polk Street with a protected bike lane only in one direction of an 11-block stretch. SFMTA planners and Supervisor David Chiu maintain that the plan is sufficient to make the street safe enough to invite a broad range of San Franciscans to bike, though the design has been guided less by safety considerations than the desire to appease merchants who oppose the removal of any car parking.

On nine blocks of middle Polk, between Union and California Streets, the SFMTA's plan includes a bike lane only southbound. On the nortbhound side, curbside parking will be prohibited to make more room for bikes during morning commute hours only. Image: SFMTA

Under the “preferred” plan presented [PDF] to media and stakeholders today, nine of the 20 blocks in the project (between Union and California Streets) will have a conventional, green-colored bike lane in the southbound direction only, placed between parked cars and moving cars. Northbound, curbside parking will be banned to make room for bikes during morning commute hours only. At other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

In the southbound direction from California to McAllister Street, Polk will have a raised, protected bike lane. The northbound direction will have a buffered, green bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

Altogether, the plan would remove an estimated 30 percent of parking on Polk, or 8 percent of parking within a block of the street. On the stretch of middle Polk between Union and California, where opposition to parking removal was strongest, those numbers are 10 percent and 5 percent. Many of the parking spaces would be removed for sidewalk bulb-outs and other non-bike lane improvements, planners said.

When Chiu was asked whether he thinks the plan would make Polk bike-friendly enough for a mother to feel safe riding with a child — a vision which he has promoted to pro-bike crowds, but hasn’t supported when it’s politically risky — he said yes.

“The solutions that the MTA is proposing really moves to the next level on both of these sections for the biking experience, whether it be for young people all the way to seniors,” Chiu said. “I do think that this moves forward the biking vision for the city.”

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Janette Sadik-Khan’s Profiles in Political Courage From the NYC Bike Boom

In case you haven’t seen it, don’t miss the keynote address from livable streets luminary and New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards last week.

Following an intro from Ed Reiskin full of high praise, Sadik-Khan quipped that her next act would be “turning water into wine.” Then she explained how Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration took “the raw material of a city and forged it into a truly world-class cycling city.” And that might actually be cooler.

Did you know, by the way, that she was born in San Francisco? You can trace that brilliance back to our city.

Also check out the write-up from the Bay Guardian.