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SFBC, 3 Supervisors Say Law Should Let Cyclists Treat Stops as “Yield” Signs

The SF Bicycle Coalition announced its “unfettered support” today for a “Bike Yield Law” that would enable cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and cautiously roll through when there is no cross-traffic.

Until now, the SFBC has had no official position on the stop sign law, focusing instead on the message that police enforcement of bicycle riders who harmlessly roll through stop signs distracts from efforts to enforce violations that actually hurt people.

But when SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford attempted to crack down on bike commuters at stop signs earlier this month, the idea of changing the current law gained steam. After his first bike ride in many years, Sanford told Streetsblog that he can see how the “bike yield” practice can make sense, and that police already use “subjective” discretion in their enforcement. Last Thursday, he took a ride with a group of bike advocates to make amends.

Letting bicyclists treat stops as yields would entail changes to city ordinances and state law, which the SFBC refers to under the umbrella of the “Bike Yield Law.” The organization wrote in a statement:

The Bike Yield Law clarifies that people biking absolutely have to yield to people walking, but no one should waste time cracking down on people biking safely. The SFPD deserves this clear direction on how best to keep our streets safe, and that is the goal of the Bike Yield Law, which we support.

The SFBC plans to throw its support behind an ordinance proposed by Supervisor John Avalos, which Supervisors London Breed and Scott Wiener plan to co-sponsor, that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority.”

But for now, there’s no broader campaign to change the state stop sign law, which is more challenging. California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder told SF Weekly last week that while the current law is “inappropriate,” the organization’s energy is focused on creating safer streets.

A similar law has been in effect since 1982 in Idaho, where it’s been credited with reducing injuries and clarifying expectations between drivers and bicyclists. Idaho’s law also allows bicycle riders to proceed through red lights when safe, and Paris adopted a similar law last month.

In the Bay Area, there was an effort in 2008 at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to endorse a “bike yield” law, on the tails of an (unsuccessful) effort in Oregon to change its law. But the MTC legislation stalled and was never approved. MTC staff wrote in a 2007 memo [PDF], “Allowing cyclists to roll through takes the ambiguity of the law away and allows law enforcement to focus on more serious violations.”

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SFPD’s Sanford Explains His Evolving Views on Bicycling and Traffic Priorities

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John Sanford rode a bicycle yesterday for the first time in an untold number of years. Then, he sat down for nearly two hours to have an insightful discussion with a couple of his staunchest critics. Streetsblog’s recorded interview with Sanford is posted at the bottom of this article.

SFPD Captain John Sanford sat down for two hours yesterday with Streetsblog and a neighborhood advocate to talk about safer streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

SFPD Captain John Sanford sat down for two hours yesterday with Streetsblog and a neighborhood advocate to talk about safer streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The new-ish captain of SFPD’s Park Station is taking strides to build relationships and learn from safe streets advocates after his short-lived crackdown on innocuous bike violations at stop signs last week, which led to dozens of protesters packing a community meeting Tuesday.

By the end of the hours-long meeting, Sanford announced an end to the bike crackdown (at least for now). After listening to compelling explanations as to why people on bikes treat stop signs as yield signs, he also promised to refine his enforcement efforts to account for differences between bikes and cars. (Supervisor John Avalos has since proposed it as a policy.)

Sanford paused the bike crackdown after two days, and then reached out to me and the SF Bicycle Coalition for one-on-one meetings. At Tuesday’s meeting, he told the crowd that his intention was to “get the attention of the cyclists. I think we got the attention of the cyclists.”

I caught up with the captain yesterday after Katherine Roberts, a longtime advocate for safer streets in Cole Valley, invited me to tag along on a neighborhood walk that Sanford had arranged with her. Roberts planned to point out the daily dangers of using crosswalks on streets like Stanyan, where drivers routinely fail to yield to pedestrians.

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Avalos Proposes Ordinance Urging SFPD to Let Cyclists Yield at Stop Signs

Supervisor John Avalos plans to introduce a policy urging the SFPD to let people on bikes treat stop signs as yield signs. It could legitimize the safe, practical maneuver already practiced by the vast majority of people on bikes, which is legal in Idaho.

John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.

John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.

While SF can’t supersede the state’s flawed stop sign law, Avalos’ ordinance would set a “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority,” said a press release from Avalos’ office:

The California Vehicle Code requires bikes to follow all the same rules as cars. But bikes are very different than cars. We’ve learned that traffic flows better when we give bikes certain considerations like bike lanes, sharrows, and bike boxes. Strict enforcement of stop sign laws for cyclists is counterproductive for several reasons:

  • It takes away scarce enforcement resources from more dangerous violations.
  • It is counterintuitive to the way most bicyclists and drivers currently navigate intersections.
  • It discourages people from bicycling.

“Nobody condones unsafe behavior by cyclists, but common sense enforcement of the law will make our streets safer and more predictable,” the release says, noting that a 2010 academic study found that injuries have decreased in Idaho in the 32 years since it changed its law. “The study also found that Boise, Idaho had much lower injury rates than comparable cities such as Sacramento and Bakersfield.”

“We can minimize these conflicts if we all take our turn at intersections and avoid being a ‘right-of-way thief,'” Avalos said in a statement. “Our streets work best when we all follow the ‘golden rule,’ and treat others like we want to be treated.”

With City Hall on legislative recess, Avalos can’t formally introduce his ordinance until September. If approved, SF would become the first known city in the state to recognize that the stop sign law isn’t realistic when applied to bicycles.

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Tomorrow: Weigh in on SFPD’s Bike Crackdown With Captain Sanford

As a new video illustrates, SFPD seems to hold drivers to a different standard when they roll stop signs at Page and Scott Streets. Image: Kristin Tieche/Vimeo

A new video illustrates how SFPD holds drivers who roll through stop signs to a different standard than cyclists. Image: Kristin Tieche/Vimeo

SFPD Park Station’s monthly community meeting tomorrow evening is your chance to weigh in on the ongoing harassment of bike commuters led by new captain John Sanford.

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford. Photo: SFPD

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford. Photo: SFPD

On the ride there, you can join a second Wiggle “stop-in” to demonstrate the folly of holding bicycle riders to the letter of the stop sign law.

Sanford’s decision to devote police resources to these tickets is now opposed by at least three supervisors: London BreedJohn Avalos, and Scott Wiener.

“Enforcement against minor bike violations won’t make our streets safer but will make it a heck of a lot harder for people to bike,” Wiener wrote in a post on Medium today:

In my view, traffic enforcement should focus on dangerous traffic behaviors — which are largely by motorists – that lead to deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Regarding bikes, police absolutely should enforce against cyclists engaging in dangerous and reckless behavior , for example, blowing through stop signs without slowing down, violating the rights-of-way of other road users, biking on sidewalks, and speeding . However, enforcing against cyclists for minor violations  —  such as slowing down at a stop sign, cautiously and safely entering the intersection, and not violating anyone’s right-of-way  —  is not a productive use of scarce traffic enforcement resources.

While Sanford fixates on holding cyclists to a strict interpretation of the stop sign law, SFPD still seems to ignore “rolling stops” committed by car drivers at the same locations.

A new video produced by Volker Neumann and Kristin Tieche (below) shows traffic on a normal night at the intersection of Page and Scott Streets on the Wiggle, where most bicyclists and drivers don’t come to a complete stop when there’s no cross traffic.

Read more…

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Help Streetsblog Shine a Light on SFPD’s Bike Crackdown — Submit Your Video

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SFPD was spotted ticketing bike commuters on the Wiggle as late as 11:30 p.m. last night. Help by filming the crackdown on your commute. Photo: Kristin Tieche

SFPD was ticketing bike commuters on the Wiggle as late as 11:30 p.m. last night. Help by filming the crackdown on your commute. Photo: Kristin Tieche

Streetsblog needs you and your devices to provide eyes and ears on the Wiggle, Page Street, and wherever the SFPD is lurking to ticket bicycle riders who harmlessly roll stop signs.

It’s been clear from the start that Park Station’s bike crackdown is a huge waste of resources. But there are things that video can help us understand better. What are bike riders doing that triggers a ticket? Are tickets going to people who actually violate others’ right-of-way? Are police accurately enforcing laws?

So, the next time you head out in the Park Station district, if you’ve got a few minutes and you come across officers staked out at an intersection, get some video footage. Let’s see if we can get a look at this bike enforcement in action.

Although no SFPD bike stings were reported this morning on social media, it’s a good bet they’ll be back soon — and not just during rush hour. Police were issuing citations to people on bikes between 10 p.m. and midnight last night, according to posts on Twitter and Facebook.

If you get something on video, send your file or link to abialick@streetsblog.org.

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I Put My Foot Down at a Stop Sign and Nearly Got Run Over

While bicycling on eastbound Page at Broderick Street (the far side in this photo), a driver cut me off because I put my foot down at a stop sign.

I was extra law-abiding yesterday as I biked down Page Street: I put my foot down at every stop sign. As a result, an Uber driver nearly ran me over, specifically because I had come to a complete stop.

I was trying to avoid getting snared by SFPD’s new bike ticket blitz, which is based on the ludicrous notion that holding everyone on a bike to the letter of the stop sign law will make streets safer. I was riding home in the evening and playing it safe after hearing Laura Kiniry’s story about being ticketed by an officer who claimed (wrongfully) that bicycle riders are required to put their foot down at every stop sign. (On Twitter, Park Station disputed that officers made that claim.)

As I approached the stop sign on eastbound Page at Broderick Street, the driver of a seafoam-colored Prius traveling in the same direction arrived at the sign at the same time on my left. The driver squeezed me close to the parked cars to position himself to jump ahead of me.

I could clearly see there was no cross-traffic at the intersection, but I made a complete stop and put my foot down in case any officers were lurking nearby. As the driver and I both proceeded, he suddenly made a right turn in front of me, missing my bike by inches after I stopped in time.

“Seriously?” I yelled, and watched him drive down the block, only to slow down and activate his hazard signals. I wasn’t sure if he was stopping so we could talk, or picking up a passenger who hailed from an app.

I rode up next to the stopped driver, who had his window open but was looking down at his phone, seemingly unaware of what had happened. I noticed an Uber sticker on the windshield.

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SFPD Park Station Begins Pointless Harassment of Bike Commuters

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford has made good on his promise: Officers were out this morning ticketing bike commuters who failed to comply with a strict application of the stop sign law on Page Street and the Wiggle. One bike rider said police justified her ticket by adding their own fictional flourish to the law.

Laura Kiniry, 41, said she canceled a doctor appointment she was biking to after receiving a $234 ticket (plus court fees) because she didn’t put her foot down after climbing uphill on Central Street to make a left onto Page.

Kiniry, who has biked in the city for 18 years, said she saw two people on bikes already pulled over by police at Page and Baker. She assumed she wouldn’t receive a traffic citation for making a safe, practical near-stop after pedaling uphill at single-digit speeds.

“Maybe I didn’t come to a complete stop. I looked both ways,” said Kiniry. She said the officer told her, “‘You have to have at least one of your feet down.'” That supposed requirement appears nowhere in the California Vehicle Code.

Kiniry says she told the officer, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to bike. I’m not going downtown anymore. I’m terrified, I don’t know if I’m allowed to pull up next to a car, I don’t know what I’m allowed to do anymore. I can’t afford this.”

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SFPD Revises Deadly Driving Campaign to Target People Walking and Biking

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An SFPD Park Station officer hands a warning flyer to a man who rolled through a stop sign while bicycling on Haight Street, where officers themselves have been spotted doing the same. “I looked,” the man said. Image: KRON 4/Youtube

Updated on 8/3 at 5:35 p.m. with more comment from Walk SF.

According to the San Francisco Police Department, bikes and people are now cars, and everyone is responsible for committing the five violations that kill and maim San Franciscans the most often.

The SFPD has proclaimed that its data-driven “Focus on the Five” enforcement campaign against deadly driving now also targets bicycle and pedestrian violations.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the department espoused the misconstrued application of crash statistics used by Park Station Captain John Sanford to justify a crackdown on bicycle violations.

The original statement only repeated Sanford’s assertion that bicycle violations are part of “the five,” but an email response from SFPD spokesperson Grace Gatpandan said the campaign also applies to pedestrians — and that it always has: “These violations have always been part of the Focus on The Five, whether issued to ped/cyclist/vehicle.”

Yes, in the SFPD’s re-definition of the most dangerous behaviors on the streets, even people on foot can commit the top five violations that, according to police data, most frequently cause traffic violence: Running red lights, violating the pedestrian right-of-way, speeding, running stop signs, running red lights, and making illegal turns.

“The Vision Zero data shows that drivers were responsible for a larger majority of the violations,” Gatpandan wrote in email response to an inquiry, in which we cited statistics from city documents behind Focus on the Five. “But that does not mean the other 2 parties weren’t violating the law. Furthermore, cyclists only received 1 percent of all citations issued in San Francisco.”

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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

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Mayor Lee on Bike Demo: “I Won’t Bend to Interests Who Disregard Safety”

Contrasting with Supervisor London Breed’s sensible position on the demonstration planned in response to the SFPD’s impending bike crackdown, we bring you a dispatch from the hidebound side of City Hall — Room 200.

Mayor Ed Lee weighed in today on the plan from bike commuters on the Wiggle to fully comply with the stop sign law en masse this evening, to highlight its absurdity.

Mayor Lee on Bike to Work Day. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Lee told reporters that he’s “not going to be bending to interests that simply want to disregard public safety”:

We’re a great city for first amendment voices. I’m willing to listen to them. But I’m going to always say everybody’s safety has to be the number one priority. I’m not going to be bending to interests that simply want to disregard public safety. That’s not what our city should be doing.

We’re investing a lot of money in bike lanes. A lot of money in dedicated lanes. A lot of money in making sure that people can get to work without driving more cars. We have environmental goals for that to happen. But you’re talking to a mayor, and I think a very strong Board of Supervisors, who will not compromise safety for the sake of other interests.

Mayor Lee is, of course, missing the point of the demonstration entirely: SFPD’s Park Station captain is disregarding safety data and wasting precious enforcement resources on compliance with an impractical stop sign law, which won’t make anyone safer. Meanwhile, the driver violations that hurt the most people go under-enforced.

The “interests” Lee referred to — bike commuters rallied by the Wigg Party — say they “intend to show” that the unrealistic prospect of not practicing rolling stops on bikes (which Idaho legalized 32 years ago) would “have disastrous effects to traffic patterns” by disrupting the existing expectation of efficient turn-taking.

“That may be their point of view,” Lee said to a reporter. “Is it shared by everybody else?”

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