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It’s the Little Things: A Notably Positive SFPD Encounter on My Bike

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Last night, I was biking home on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset when I encountered an all-too-familiar sight: A double-parked car. I signaled and moved to the left to pass the car, in view of an SFPD cruiser behind.

At Irving Street near 10th Avenue, where drivers routinely double park, I had a refreshing encounter with an SFPD officer. (This photo was taken at a separate time.) Photo: Aaron Bialick

Normally, I’d expect the police to move along, doing nothing about this kind of situation. Other bicycle riders have reported far worse encounters with the SFPD.

But to my surprise, the driver of the police cruiser stopped behind the double parker and used their horn to buzz at them until they moved.

This might seem like a mundane encounter, but it left an impression since it’s so rare. I’m just not used to police actually caring about drivers who pose hazards to people biking or walking, or delaying Muni, even when the behavior is clearly illegal. Usually they just move along. When you get around by bike in SF for a while, it’s something you sadly can come to expect.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but if SF is fortunate, this officer’s little deed is not just a sign of a good apple, but rather of a larger shift in priorities at SFPD. Maybe it’s related to recent pushes from the top to pursue Vision Zero, or to crack down on double parking. Of course, citations might be more effective, but whoever the officer was — presumably from Taraval Station — thank you. The little things can speak volumes about SFPD’s attitudes.

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SFPD Arrests Driver for Killing Pei Fong Yim, 78, at Stockton and Sacramento

Image: CBS 5

SFPD arrested an SUV driver, 40-year-old Calixto Dilinila, for killing 78-year-old Pei Fong Yim in a crosswalk Saturday at Stockton and Sacramento Streets, outside the Stockton tunnel.

Calixto Dilinila. Photo: SFPD

Witnesses told CBS 5 that Dilinila was making a left turn from Sacramento onto Stockton when he ran Yim over, as she made her way across Stockton during what family members described as her routine daily walk. Dilinila was arrested for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

In January, SFPD’s Traffic Company Commander said a policy change initiated in 2013 allows officers to arrest drivers in fatal crashes where there appears to be “probable cause.” This marked a departure from SFPD’s earlier failure to penalize reckless driving when drivers were neither intoxicated nor fled the scene.

Ever since that policy change, and beginning with two arrests in separate crashes on December 31, four drivers (including Dililina) have been arrested for killing a pedestrian while sober and while also staying on the scene. Out of the 13 pedestrian deaths this year, Dililina is the second such arrestee.

Police Captain David Lazar told reporters that officers are still investigating Saturday’s crash. “We’re going to make a determination as to what signal lights were green, and if there was a red hand up,” he told the SF Chronicle. “On some of the blocks on Stockton Street, the light may be green, but the hand is up.”

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Tow Truckers Pledge to Reduce Fell Bike Lane Parking, Thanks to Sup. Breed

“Three tow trucks blocking the bike lane on Fell now. Forcing people on bikes towards vehicle traffic,” writes Patrick Traughber on Twitter.

Updated 9/5 with comment from the SFPD captain below.

Ted & Al’s Towing company pledged to make a stronger effort to avoid parking its trucks in the Fell Street bike lane, an illegal practice that forces bike commuters to veer into heavy motor traffic.

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

D5 Supervisor London Breed said that her staff came to an agreement with Ted & Al’s owner Larry Nasey and Raj Vaswani, the new SFPD Park Station captain. “Both were very responsive and helpful, and we are optimistic that this dangerous, illegal parking will not continue,” she said.

“Public safety is my greatest concern,” said Breed, who pushed the SFMTA to accelerate the installation of the neighboring bike lane on Oak Street last year. “When these tow trucks park in the bike lane, they force bicyclists into an active lane of traffic and jeopardize everyone’s safety.”

Nasey said he couldn’t promise a complete end to tow trucks stopped in the bike lane, since the driveway there is the only entrance they have to the building, and truckers must often wait for others to make room first. But managers will encourage truck drivers to move out of the bike lane more quickly, and to stop in one of the three traffic lanes available to motor traffic instead when car traffic isn’t too heavy.

“Had the bike lane been there [first], I never would’ve put my business there knowing the disruption it would cause,” said Nasey. “But because we’re there, and now the bikes are there, we’re trying to work it out so we can co-exist.”

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Four CA Hit-and-Run Bills Await Governor Brown’s Signature

Hit-and-runs have been a problem in California for a long time. In this 1973 publicity still, Adam 12′s fictional television LAPD officers investigate a hit-and-run. Four bills to curb these crimes await Governor Brown’s approval. Photo: Wikipedia

Four bills targeting hit-and-run crimes in California await Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, including two from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has made hit-and-runs a focus this year. The bills have passed both houses of the California legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.

One, a late addition to the legislative calendar (A.B. 47), would allow law enforcement authorities to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision using the existing “Amber” alert system, which notifies the public about child abductions via changeable message signs on freeways across the state.

The system is strictly limited to avoid its overuse, and the Senate made amendments to the bill to further tightened restrictions. The new “Yellow” alerts would only be allowed when a hit-and-run has caused a serious injury or death. There has to be at least a partial description of the vehicle and its license plate available, and there must be a chance that making the information public will help catch the suspect and protect the public from further harm.

Another Gatto bill, A.B. 1532, would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit. Currently, consequences for leaving the scene of a crash are light if the victim has less than serious injuries, but someone who drives away can claim not to know how badly the victim was hurt. With this law, anyone who drives away and gets caught will face more serious consequences just for the act of leaving.

Meanwhile, the bill from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), A.B. 2673, which would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction, has also passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Current law allows someone convicted of a hit-and-run to avoid criminal prosecution if they come to an agreement with the victim of the collision, and this bill removes that possibility.

Yet another bill, A.B. 2337 from Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would extend the period of time that a driver’s license is suspended for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years. This would apply to anyone caught and convicted of a hit-and-run that caused the death or serious injury of another person.

If stiffer penalties can make people think twice about leaving the scene of a crash, then these bills may well help reduce the incidence of hit-and-runs. As long as people believe they can escape the consequences, however, the heavier penalties may not act as a deterrent. But combined with a new system that will broadcast a car’s description and license plate for all to see, it will be more difficult to escape.

As Assemblymember Gatto said, “Together, these bills will empower the public to help us catch hit-and-run drivers before they can cover up the evidence of their crimes and ensure the perpetrators of these cowardly acts think twice before leaving fellow citizens dying on the side of the road.”

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SFPD Arrests Aunt for Leaving Two-Year-Old Mi’yana Gregory in Crosswalk

SF police have arrested 25-year-old Lorysha Gage for leaving two-year-old Mi’yana Gregory in the downtown crosswalk where she was run over and killed last Friday night. Even as police seek the driver who struck Gregory and fled the scene, Gage is set to be arraigned tomorrow on charges of “felony child endangerment, with an enhancement allegation for causing death.”

Media reports initially quoted family members saying Gage had the walk signal when she crossed Mission in the crosswalk between Fourth and Fifth Streets, with Gregory and her twin brother in tow. The SFPD now says Gage was crossing against the signal, had left Gregory in the street unattended to retrieve her brother from the sidewalk, and that the driver had a green light.

“The investigation showed some evidence that there was some child neglect that resulted in the death of the two-year-old toddler,” SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told KTVU.

On the day of the arrest, SFPD Sergeant John Bragagnolo targeted citations towards “jaywalking” pedestrians at the crosswalk where Gregory died, telling KTVU he pointed to Gregory’s memorial when ticketing them.

“Pedestrians feel their speed and their hurry is more important than their safety,” Bragagnolo said.

Putting aside generalizations about the feelings of people who walk, this is an unusual case among pedestrian crashes: The SFPD’s data show that the top five causes are all driver violations, which the SFPD has pledged to focus enforcement on. In May, however, we reported that although SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” citations were reportedly increasing, its tickets issued to people walking and biking were increasing far faster. After a peak of 723 citations issued to pedestrians in March [PDF], the monthly number dropped at 444 in June [PDF], the latest month for which citation data has been reported.

Police say it’s unclear whether the driver who caused Gregory’s death was even aware he or she had run over an infant.

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Scheider said “it’s a really challenging case, in that the arrest is broader than just an issue of pedestrian safety at this point.”

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Court Applies Reckless Driving to Bikes. When Will Gascón Apply it to Cars?

A California state appeals court ruled last week that “reckless driving” can be applied to people on bicycles who kill or injure others, just as it’s applied to people driving, as the SF Chronicle reported. No one, including bicycle advocates, seems to dispute that full accountability should be brought to anyone who commit acts of traffic violence — but the reality is, drivers who maim and kill rarely ever face penalties.

DA George Gascón in a Streetfilm in 2010, when he went on a bike ride with advocates. He was the SFPD chief at the time.

There are countless such examples. One of the most egregious is the case of 29-year-old Kieran Brewer, who killed 17-year-old Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Slot Boulevard while he drove drunk, and was sentenced to just six months in prison. Or consider Gilberto Alcantar, who will face no charges for illegally turning his truck across a bike lane and killing 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac at Sixth and Folsom Streets. SF District Attorney George Gascón claims that despite video of the crash, prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.

“Prosecution of deadly traffic crashes needs to be investigated, and prosecuted, to the fullest extent in order to reflect the severity of traffic crimes,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We also need to ensure fair and equal enforcement across modes, which historically had not happened.”

As the Center for Investigative Reporting reported last year, 60 percent of the 238 motorists “found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges” between 2006 and 2011 in five Bay Area counties:

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CA Bills to Crack Down on Hit-and-Run Drivers Sail Through Committees

Two bills focused on addressing hit-and-run crashes, authored by CA Assemblymember Mike Gatto, appear quickly on their way to being passed. A.B. 47, which would create an alert system on California highways to help the public assist police in catching drivers involved in hit-and-run crashes, sailed through the Senate Public Safety Committee Tuesday with a 6-1 vote. A.B. 1532Gatto’s other bill which increases fines and penalties for hit-and-run drivers, passed a separate committee.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto looks on as Damian Kevitt testifies to the Senate Public Safety Committee. Image: CA Senate

The bill has seen a torrent of support from a broad range of constituents, including bicycle and pedestrian advocates and public safety workers. Its next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At the hearing, Gatto testified that the bill specifies certain criteria that would have to be met before authorities could use the system, to allay concerns that it would be overused. A hit-and-run crash would have to involve a fatality or serious bodily injury, and officials would need at least partial plate numbers and a description of the vehicle.

“We have an apprehension rate in this state of 20 percent,” said Gatto, “so 80 percent of hit-and-run perpetrators never get caught. The city of Denver created a similar system in 2012; at the time they also had a twenty percent apprehension rate, and now they have a 76 percent rate of apprehension.”

“This is a smart way to make sure we can catch the people who commit the most heinous and cowardly accidents on the road with a deadly weapon—because vehicles are deadly weapons,” he said.

Damian Kevitt, a hit-and-run victim who now leads the “Finish the Ride” movement in Southern California, urged Senators to vote for the bill. He described the gruesome crash that left him for dead on the freeway a year ago, and called his recovery a “testimony to modern medicine.”

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CA Assembly Bill Would Create Alert System For Hit-and-Run Crashes

Police in Orange in Southern California released this picture of a truck driven by a hit-and-run perpetrator two weeks ago. With AB 47, there would be a much higher chance drivers like this one are caught. Photo: NBC4

It is too common a story. A family is crossing the street or some friends are bicycling along when a negligent car driver changes their lives forever. While the victims lie wounded in the street, the driver flees and is never heard from again. Advocates for safe streets, victims of hit-and-run crashes, and their friends and family say that there are not enough resources or legal protections for victims.

Asm. Gatto

Assemblymember Mike Gatto

One California Assemblymember has vowed to change that.

Assembly Bill 47, a heavily amended version of legislation re-introduced this week by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-LA), would create a statewide “yellow alert system” modeled after the Medina Alert system, which was created in Denver but is now a statewide program in Colorado.

The system would require that Caltrans and other highway owners use electronic signage, radio, and other available media to broadcast information about vehicles suspected in hit-and-run crashes. Unlike alerts issued over TV news, the yellow alerts would enlist drivers and other road users to spot hit- and-run drivers right away.

Basically, the bill would create an “Amber Alert” system similar to what is used when a child is kidnapped to help catch hit-and-run drivers.

“These are crimes which, by their nature, occur at a high rate of speed and with clear means for fleeing the scene,” said Gatto.  “The public is almost always needed to catch those who leave fellow citizens dying on the side of the road, and AB 47 will allow us to do so promptly, before the perpetrator can get away and cover up the evidence.”

Last year, Gatto authored AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations on prosecuting hit-and-run drivers.  This year, he also introduced AB 1532, which would require mandatory license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving another person.

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ABC 7: Our Drivers Won’t Follow CA’s 3-Ft Bike Passing Law, So Why Bother?

ABC 7 is back with another blurry watercolor painting of street safety issues — this time, setting sights on California’s new 3-foot bicycle passing law. ABC reporter Dan Noyes went to great lengths to film real-world examples of the issue, setting up a camera to film passing bike commuters and drivers on Market Street, and drawing out chalk lines to measure how much room drivers are giving. Bizarrely, Noyes and crew even rigged a camera to their vehicle to film themselves violating the law.

The use of Market’s wide geometry to demonstrate the difficulty of passing is pretty perplexing in itself: the street has a second traffic lane on each side in which drivers can pass, so Market is irrelevant to Noyes’ illogical attempt to demonstrate the “difficulty” of enforcing of a three-foot passing law on narrow city streets.

The segment shows drivers, including ABC 7′s, unsafely passing bike commuters in a traffic lane that is too narrow to share, instead of passing safely in a left lane that offers ample room. If nothing else, it demonstrates Noyes’ fundamental misunderstanding of how to follow the law and drive safely. The crew seems to have no clue how not to endanger people on bikes, and uses their cluelessness to make their case.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a San Francisco broadcast reporter has filmed himself harassing people on bikes from behind the windshield.

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SFMTA to Change “Unclear” Sidewalk Parking Guidelines on Website

Image from the SFMTA website

The SFMTA web page that provides guidance on “how to park legally” currently tells drivers that “you may park in your own driveway as long as no portion of your vehicle extends over the sidewalk.” The text is accompanied by a photo of someone walking a bike past cars parked in “driveways,” but with their rear ends extending well into what appears to be the sidewalk.

After I inquired with SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose about the legality of those instructions, he said that the agency will change it. “The page is unclear and may lead one to think that it is OK to park anywhere as long as you are not blocking the sidewalk,” he said. “We are working on changing it now.” The SFMTA hasn’t provided the new language yet.

SF’s rampant sidewalk parking problem seems to stem partially from a widespread belief among drivers that they’re allowed to park in their “driveway.” There’s no telling whether drivers are genuinely confused about parking laws or by the definition of a sidewalk — or whether drivers blatantly disregard the law, and their neighbors’ need for safe and dignified passage by foot, stroller, and wheelchair. But either way, the SFMTA’s instructions on the matter need to be clear.

I pointed out to Rose that the SFMTA’s instructions appear to conflict with the SF Planning Code, which prohibits parking in setbacks, and the fact that all off-street parking spots must be permitted in zoning.

Livable City Director Tom Radulovich confirmed: “The Planning Code prohibits parking in front yards, side yards, or rear yards, so SFMTA is advising San Franciscans to break the law – and risk getting cited by the Planning Department,” he said.

It’s a little troubling that the SFMTA would have illegal and ambiguous instructions posted on its most easily-accessible resource for parking information. Of course, changing it just barely scratches the surface of what’s needed to clean up SF’s car-littered sidewalks. Ultimately, it would mean an upheaval in deep-seated misconceptions among drivers and parking control officers of what constitutes a legal parking spot, and a greater respect for the pedestrian realm. And given that many San Franciscans own cars solely because they can rely on free, illegal parking, bringing parking enforcement in line with actual laws would probably result in a lot of cars going up for sale.

We’ll post an update when the SFMTA website is changed.