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Posts from the "Bicycle Safety" Category

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The Chron Still a Podium for Willie Brown’s Anti-Bike, Pro-Freeway Garbage

Willie Brown’s successors don’t look so bad when reading the former mayor’s windshield perspective drivel in his latest Chronicle column.

Willie Brown. Image: ##http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?id=9242261##ABC 7##

Willie Brown. Image: ABC 7

It’s hard to imagine San Franciscans once again electing a mayor who responds to a spate of pedestrian injuries by lambasting everything but the primary cause: reckless driving. But according to yesterday’s column from the increasingly out-of-touch Brown, San Francisco wouldn’t be plagued by “increasingly unsafe streets” if only we had more freeways and fewer people walking and biking:

We have only ourselves to blame for San Francisco’s increasingly unsafe streets.

We tore down the Central and Embarcadero freeways and in the process dumped thousands of additional cars onto the already crowded streets, many driving at nearly the same speed they did on the freeways.

We encouraged more people to ride bicycles, then all but exempted them from following traffic rules.

We brought thousands of pedestrians into downtown, then allowed them to jaywalk at will, often with their heads buried in their latest mobile devices.

We tell the cops to write more tickets, then when they do, some supervisor accuses them of racial profiling or picking on the poor.

And now, in the name of tech, we’re allowing hundreds of ride-share gypsy cabs onto the streets without commercial driver’s licenses.

Ten years after Brown left office, even the SFPD is re-shaping its policies around what its data shows — that the vast majority of pedestrian injuries are caused by reckless driving. Not that we should expect data to be relevant to a man who seems to base his transportation and street safety views on no data or empirical evidence whatsoever.

Apparently, little has changed since September 1996, in Brown’s first year as mayor, when his limo driver hit Karen Alexander in a crosswalk. Hold on to your jaw as you read the Chronicle’s report of Brown’s casual dismissal of the incident:

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Imagine No Deaths: Supes, Safe Streets Advocates Call for “Vision Zero”

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Duboce Avenue at Noe Street. Photo: Aaron Biailck

A coalition of safe streets advocates, community organizations, and city supervisors have launched a campaign for San Francisco to join leading cities in adopting a “Vision Zero” goal — an end to traffic deaths on city streets within ten years.

“We need a culture shift in San Francisco, and it has to start from the top down,” said Supervisor John Avalos, also the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority, in a statement. “We’re calling for our mayor, our police chief and our SFMTA director to commit to allocating resources to the three areas that we know can save lives,” he said, referring to engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to reduce crashes.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee. Image: Board of Supervisors

Leaders in Chicago and New York City have adopted Vision Zero policies, following the lead of Sweden, which launched the official campaign in 1997, though the country’s traffic deaths have been declining since the 1970s despite increasing population.

In a press release, Supervisors Avalos, Jane Kim, and Norman Yee said they’ll introduce a resolution calling for a “Vision Zero Plan” based on three major components:

  • The establishment of a “crisis intervention” team by the SFMTA that would be tasked with getting at least two dozen pilot projects into the ground over the next two years, using “near-term, low-cost safety improvements in the areas with repeat traffic collisions.”
  • SFPD to direct its traffic enforcement resources to “cite the most problematic dangerous behaviors and locations.”
  • A “citywide safety awareness program for drivers.” Supervisors Yee and Avalos are “targeting state funding opportunities through the Transportation Authority” to fund it, and Supervisor Kim has called for the formation of “an interagency work group to develop a large vehicle and city fleet driver education program for all city employees or drivers who contract with the city.”

Last year, the number of people killed while walking and biking — 21 pedestrians and four bicyclists –- was the highest since 2007, noted a statement from Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition:

Despite calls for critical safety improvements to the streets and more data driven enforcement of traffic crime and widespread education, the Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney and SFMTA Director have made only small commitments to street safety and have not committed to any larger vision toward keeping our residents safe on increasingly chaotic streets.

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Biking in SF Nearly Doubled Since 2006; Funding Push Gains Traction

Commute traffic on the Wiggle at Steiner Street and Duboce Avenue. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Despite the slow roll-out of safer streets for bicycling compared to cities like New York and Chicago, San Franciscans are making nearly twice as many trips by bike today as they did in 2006, according to a new count released by the SFMTA. Still, city leaders must significantly increase the paltry amount of transportation funds devoted to bicycle infrastructure in order to reach the SFMTA Bicycle Strategy‘s goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020, according to the City Budget Analyst.

“We’ve been getting lucky for a long time,” said Amandeep Jawa, president of the League of Conservation Voters, at a Board of Supervisors hearing last week. “We’ve been spending less than 1 percent of our transportation budget on bicycling, but we’re already at 4 percent of trips. The opportunity before us is about funding the [bike] network… the more connected a network is, the better it does. If we really get serious about funding the full build-out, the improvements will be much more dramatic.”

As we’ve reported, bicycling has skyrocketed in the most bike-friendly neighborhoods like the Mission and Hayes Valley, where over 15 percent of commuters already get to work by bike, according to the 2010 census. As of 2012, bicycling comprised 3.8 percent of commute trips citywide, according to the SFMTA. Commute trips are only a fraction of overall trips and may not represent overall bike mode share.

Between 2011 and 2013, bicycling increased an average of 14 percent at 40 observed intersections, according to the SFMTA’s new report. At 21 intersections where the agency started counting bikes in 2006, the number has increased 96 percent within the full seven-year period.

Within the last two years, the corridors which saw the highest jumps in bike traffic, each around 35 percent, were Townsend, Second, and Polk Streets, according to the report. At specific points where recent bike improvements were made, the increases were even more dramatic:

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Eyes on the Street: Why Agencies Need to Warn Bike Riders of Construction

When street pavement gets torn up during construction, people on bicycles need fair warning, or else they’ll be in danger.

Daniel Erat sent in the above video he filmed on his bike commute on Golden Gate Avenue. At the Steiner Street intersection, he and another rider hit a patch of roadway where the asphalt had been removed for a construction project, busting his wheel and knocking the woman off her bike:

My front tube popped as soon as I hit the spot where the asphalt resumed, and while pulling over, I heard a noise behind me and saw that another cyclist had fallen in the road at the same spot (I think she was uninjured but pretty shaken up; she walked away)…

There’s a sudden 1″ lip where the asphalt begins at the east side of the intersection, and the spot is at the bottom of a hill where cyclists are likely to be moving quickly and to have most of their weight on their front wheels. I’m concerned that the spot has a high potential for damaging more bikes (my front hub is loose now and my handlebars got misaligned) and for injuring cyclists — it’s a popular commuting route to get downtown.

Had a driver been behind the woman when she fell, the situation could have led to serious injuries or worse.

It’s unclear who’s managing this construction — most commonly, it seems to be done by the Department of Public Works, the SF Public Utilities Commission, PG&E, or a contracting company. Erat said he phoned the problem in to 311, but the staff “apparently sees this as less urgent of an issue than I do.”

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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

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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.