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Posts from the "Bicycle Safety" Category

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For Cheng Jin Lai, Bicycling Was a Necessary Means to an Active Life

Safe streets advocates, family, and friends of Cheng Jin Lai gathered yesterday for a memorial service of the 78-year-old man who was killed by a Muni driver on October 18 while making a trip on his bicycle at the crash-prone intersection of Bryant, Division, and 11th Streets.

Cheng Jin Lai. Photo courtesy of the Lai family

The bicycle was Lai’s primary mode of transportation, “out of necessity and his passion,” said Mark Fong, an attorney for Lai’s family. Fong said Lai was making his regular trip from his home at a senior housing center in SoMa to deliver his and his family’s recyclables to a recycling center when he was hit by the Muni bus driver, who appeared to make a right turn into Lai’s path, though SFPD is still completing the crash investigation report.

“I guess you would call him an original, ahead-of-his-time kind of guy,” said Fong. “It’s part of Chinese culture to be very frugal and conservation-minded — to waste nothing. That was part of his thing.”

A retired Vietnam native who in 1996 moved to San Francisco from China with his wife of 60 years to live near his daughter, Lai became a U.S. citizen in 2003. Lai lived on a fixed income without a car, frequently traveling by bike to other neighborhoods like Chinatown and Fort Mason, where he loved to fish, said Fong and members of Lai’s family.

“It’s pretty amazing — I hope I’m that healthy and active when I’m 78,” said Fong.

Lai was the fourth bicycle rider to be killed on San Francisco streets this year — the third in SoMa (a fourth occurred in the Mission). All deaths appear to have been caused by drivers of trucks and buses who illegally made right turns into the victims, though none have been charged.

“These deadly and serious crashes on SoMa streets are not one off ‘accidents,’” says a website set up by the Lai family where the public can donate to a memorial fund. “These deaths are preventable and within the power of the city to change immediately.”

The couple dozen who attended Lai’s memorial service included reps from community organizations like the Chinatown Community Development Center and the SF Bicycle Coalition. Supervisors Jane Kim and David Campos were also there.

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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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Gov. Brown Finally Signs Bill Requiring Drivers to Give 3 Feet to Bike Riders

Looks like bicycle riders who get brushed by passing drivers can no longer call it getting “Jerry Browned.”

McAllister Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Yesterday, the governor at last signed AB 1371, which will require drivers to provide at least three feet of leeway when passing people on bikes in California. It was the third time the legislature sent the bill to his desk — he vetoed the other two — but this time around, the governor was apparently fine with the fine-tuned language. The bill goes into effect in September 2014.

The law, as passed, will allow drivers who can’t find an opportunity to provide a 3-foot gap to “slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.”

“Bicycling is safer than most people think, but obviously it’s not safe enough,” said California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder in a statement. “Governor Brown has taken a big step toward improving safety on our roadways by signing this bill.”

Even though 21 other states already have 3-foot passing laws, Brown vetoed the first two attempts, apparently convinced by the California Highway Patrol that the language of the bills would lead to congestion and mayhem. Brown joined Rick Perry of Texas in being the only governors to veto such a bill — twice. The previous two versions of the bill would have allowed drivers to cross double-yellow lines and require drivers who are forced to with less than three feet to do so at 15 mph or less.

According to a news release from CalBike, which rallied support for each iteration of the 3-foot law, more than 4,600 Californians sent messages to Brown asking him to sign AB 1373. “Collisions from behind are the cause of 40% of all fatal crashes between a bicyclist and a motorist and a terrifying deterrent to more bicycling, despite the joy, health and economy that people enjoy when they bike,” the organization said:

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Breed Defends Record on Safer Streets for Biking; Plus: Other Supes Respond

Supervisor London Breed has issued a statement explaining her Twitter comments yesterday on safer streets for bicycling which led her to delete her account. Breed had responded to an inquiry sent out by Twitter user Patrick Traughber to every city supervisor and a few other city officials, asking, “In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to creating safer streets for bicycling in San Francisco?”

Supervisor London Breed on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

In her initial answer, Breed cited “the bad behavior of some bicyclist,” which led several people to respond in protest. Breed tried to clarify that she’s “not blaming anyone,” and that she’s “been fighting to help make streets safer for all,” but then shut down her account minutes into the discussion. Breed has a record of making abrasive comments on Twitter, arguing with constituents and getting press attention for it.

In her written statement, Breed defended her record of standing up for street redesign projects like Masonic Avenue and Fell and Oak Streets in the face of anti-bike vitriol. Here’s what she had to say:

I suspended my account because I realized twitter can be extremely time consuming and it’s too hard to have nuanced policy discussions in 140 characters. I want to take some time to think about how I use this medium in the future.

With respect to the bike exchange, my record is clear! I have been a consistent and effective advocate for bike projects in our city. I got the Oak and Fell bike lanes implemented well ahead of schedule. I led the effort to fund the Masonic Blvd project which includes dedicated bike lanes, and I’ve voted for every bike project that’s come before the Transportation Authority, including the popular bike share program just implemented in our city.

My point was not that I think bicyclists’ behavior should be an impediment to new projects. My point was bicyclists’ behavior is the complaint I hear most often from those who oppose the projects. So as a practical matter, those behavioral concerns — whether you think they’re accurate or inaccurate, right or wrong — make it harder to get new projects moving, harder to win public and political support. But that absolutely has not, and will not, stop me from fighting to win that support.

I’ve faced a lot of fire, a LOT of fire, over the Masonic blvd project and I’ve stood strong in my support. That’s my record. So it does bother me to see Masonic supporters criticizing me over a twitter post. But it is my fault for being unclear about a complicated topic on an inappropriate medium. That is why I am taking a break from that medium.

Breed deserves a lot of credit for supporting those safety improvements. And judging by her statement, she doesn’t think that policymakers should decide whether San Franciscans get to have safer streets based on the perceived behavior of people who use a particular mode of transportation.

Traughber’s question on Twitter yielded responses from a few other supervisors and District Attorney George Gascón, offering a glimpse into those officials’ understanding of how to make streets safer (or just how willing they are to respond to tweets).

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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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Watch: “People Behaving Badly” Consults Streetsblog on Bike Lane Safety

This post supported by

Stanley Roberts asked me to come out yesterday for one of his “People Behaving Badly” segments and help explain how drivers should legally make a right-turn, since CBS 5 didn’t get it quite right. Roberts still didn’t touch on the point that CBS got wrong — drivers can’t just jump in front of people on bikes because they got to the intersection first — but it’s good to see him devote attention to the issue.

Hopefully, I’ll have fewer jitters the next time I’m in front of a camera.

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Streetsblog on the Air: KGO’s “Monty Show” Devolves Into Anti-Bike Rants

KGO 810′s “The Monty Show” was kind enough to invite me to speak this weekend as host Tim Montemayor took on the topic of bike/car relations in light of the recent truck crash that killed cyclist Amelie Le Moullac, the sentencing of Chris Bucchere, and confusion about right-of-way laws in bike lanes.

Radio show host Tim Montemayor. Photo: KGO

You can listen to the hour-long segment here — my interview goes from about 30:00 to 38:30. I touch on the lack of accountability for drivers who kill, the dangerous design of city streets, and the perception of people who bike as a monolithic group. Montemayor sets up the interview by quoting from my article covering Le Moullac’s crash.

The show got off to a decent enough start, as Montemayor seemed to be genuinely ready to probe matters of street safety as he discussed Le Moullac’s crash. “I’m not sure how you fix this problem,” he said. “I’m not sure how we, as a society, go about figuring out how to work together as motorists and cyclists, but it’s something we need to figure out because again, we had a horrific incident right in the city of San Francisco.”

But the tone of the show took a dark turn, especially after I got off the air, as Montemayor cheered on anti-bike rants from listeners who called in and let loose with misinformation about the Bucchere case and bicycling.

A couple of basic facts in need of checking: Montemayor spent a good amount of time repeating the claim that Bucchere rode a fixed-gear bike without brakes, which was false. He also egged on a ranting caller who claimed bicycle riders don’t pay for bike lanes. Not true — city streets are mostly paid for with general taxes, so drivers are subsidized by non-drivers.

There was also a stark difference between Montemayor’s assessment of the truck driver who killed Le Moullac — saying it doesn’t feel right to put him in jail, but doesn’t feel right to do nothing — and his judgment of Bucchere. “Cyclists have a massive sense of entitlement,” he said. “This guy Chris Bucchere is a perfect example… Nothing will change until you put a guy like Bucchere in prison — not in jail, in prison.” While Montemayor gave a knowing laugh later on when I pointed out that no one would judge everyone who drives based on the behavior of one motorist, he resumed the sneering about people who bike as the show reached its conclusion.

Take a listen through the call-in segment toward the end to hear Montemayor let the turn the show into, basically, a bike-hate fest bemoaning everything from the “capital offense” of removing car parking for safety improvements, to the lack of mandatory registration for bicycles (yes, this awful idea still comes up), to the baseless perception that police never ticket people on bikes.

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Folsom Truck Victim Identified as 24-Year-Old Amelie Le Moullac

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: Voce Communications

The woman killed on her bike by a truck driver at Sixth and Folsom Streets yesterday morning has been identified as 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, SF Weekly reported this morning. Le Moullac was run over by a truck driver making a right turn from Folsom on to Sixth at about 7:07 a.m., and although SFPD says it’s still investigating the crash, officers have already said they have no plans to submit case to the district attorney to investigate the case for potential charges, according to KTVU.

Photo: Voce

Le Moullac, a graduate of Menlo High School in Atherton and the University of Southern California, worked as a client executive at Voce Communications, a public relations firm located on Third Street near Brannan. She may have been riding to work when she was killed.

In a blog post, Voce called Le Moullac “one of our beloved family members.”

“We miss you dearly,” the company said. “We will miss your smile, your humor, your wit and your friendship. You are irreplaceable and unforgettable.”

Le Moullac is the third resident to be killed on a bike in San Francisco streets this year, and each victim was killed by a heavy truck driver, none of whom have been cited or charged. In February, 48-year-old Diana Sullivan was run over and killed while reportedly stopped at a red light at Third and King Streets.

“I’ve had a few close calls when it seemed like the driver didn’t notice me in broad daylight,” said Kristina Varshavskaya, 19, who bikes from her home in the Mission to her office on Townsend Street near Third. “I definitely worry about it in the back of my mind.”

Varshavskaya said she tends to commute on streets with safer bike lanes and calmer traffic, like Townsend and Division Street, which has curbside bike lanes separated by plastic posts.

“Almost all SoMa streets, specifically Folsom, Mission, and Third, from my experience, are always really busy and cars can be pretty aggressive and indifferent to bikers,” she said. The lingering plan for protected bike lanes on Folsom “seems like the safest possible solution.”

Varshavskaya said she was also hit by a driver while walking near Second and Market Streets about two years ago, suffering a broken leg in four places. “I’m pretty alert while biking and definitely more cautious than most people I know.”

Seen on Sixth at Folsom. Photo: ionfeldman/Instagram

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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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Tonight: Tell the SFMTA What You Think About Its Proposal for a Safer Polk

Thanks to Lisa Ratner for shooting this video on Polk last Friday.

This evening’s open house community meeting is your chance to tell the SFMTA what you think of its proposal for Polk Street, which, according to Supervisor David Chiu and SFMTA planners, will make the street safe enough for a broad range of San Franciscans to bike on.

The plan for Polk, between Union and California Streets.

As we’ve reported, the plan includes a partial protected bike lane in the southbound direction. For nine blocks, between California and Union Street, the SFMTA’s proposal includes only minimal improvements for bicycle safety – certainly not enough to invite mothers to ride with children — in an effort to preserve car parking for merchants, one of whom tried try to stop Streetsblog from filming the street after a bike crash.

Here’s a refresher on the full plan [PDF], which encompasses 20 blocks of Polk, between McAllister and Union Streets.

The 11-block southern segment between McAllister and California will include a raised, protected bike lane with bike traffic signals. The northbound side of that segment will include a green, buffered bike lane that, depending on the block, will run either curbside (without parking) or next to the parking lane.

On the nine-block segment between California and Union, only a southbound, green-painted bike lane will be added, placed between parked cars and moving cars. Most of the day, the northbound direction won’t include a bike lane at all — riders will still be forced to mix with motor vehicles, much like you see in the video above. Curbside parking will be banned on that side of the street to make room for bikes during morning commute hours, but at other times, the only provision for cycling will be green-backed sharrows in the traffic lane.

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