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Posts from the "Traffic Enforcement" Category

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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.

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Legal System Fails Again: No Charges for Trucker Who Killed Amelie

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: amelielemoullac.com

Note: Amelie Le Moullac’s mother, Jessie Jewitt, and other Bay Area musicians will perform at a benefit concert on Friday in Palo Alto at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will go to Amélie’s Angels, “a fund dedicated to bringing the gifts of education, food, clothing, toys, and most importantly love and laughter, to the children of Haiti.”

The truck driver who hit and killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike at Folsom and Sixth Streets last August will face no charges from District Attorney George Gascón, despite surveillance video showing the driver at fault in the incident.

Gilberto Alcantar, the truck driver, is shown making an unsafe right turn in the bike lane in the video found by an SF Bicycle Coalition staffer. SFPD investigators initially claimed they could find no such video, and blamed Le Moullac for her own death. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr later apologized for the botched investigation, as well as the behavior of the sergeant who purposefully blocked a bike lane at a rally for safer streets in her honor. Suhr declared that the video evidence showed the fault was mainly with the driver, but DA Gascón says prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.

The news was broken yesterday by KQED’s Bryan Goebel, founding editor of Streetsblog SF:

After watching the video, investigators concluded Alcantar was to blame for making an unsafe turn into the bike lane, killing the young public relations professional. Despite that key piece of evidence, prosecutors ultimately felt it wasn’t enough to convince a jury.

“Unfortunately, with the evidence presented, we are unable to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

Micah Liberty, an attorney for the Le Moullac family, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alcantar and Milipitas-based distributor Daylight Foods. She said the family was disappointed and heartbroken that charges aren’t being filed, and that Alcantar wasn’t issued a ticket.

“After reviewing the evidence that we have, looking at the video of the incident, it’s really hard for this grieving family to understand how a driver can do what he did without receiving even a slap on the wrist for a minor violation of the vehicle code,” Liberty said.

“There is no issue about what happened. The video is clear, from what I understand — he made an unlawful turn across the bike lane,” said Shaana Rahman, an attorney who represents pedestrian and bicyclist victims in civil court. “It’s not all the time that you get such a clear piece of evidence in cases, either civil or criminal. There aren’t videos for every bike accident that happens — and here we have one.”

As frustrating as the lack of charges in this case may be, it’s par for the course when it comes to holding drivers accountable for killing people biking and walking. As the Center for Investigative Reporting found last year, 60 percent of the 238 drivers who killed pedestrians in the Bay Area between 2007 and 2011 were found to be at fault or suspected of a crime but faced no criminal charges, and those who did usually only faced a slap on the wrist. Drivers tend not to be charged unless they were drunk or fled the scene.

Even drunk drivers can get off easy. Kieran Brewer, who was intoxicated when he ran over 17-year-old Hanren Chan in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard, was sentenced to just six months in jail last month.

DA Gascón says he’s increasing efforts to prosecute traffic violence, and plans to hire a dedicated vehicular manslaughter unit of prosecutors to specialize in such cases, and it’s expected to be funded in the city budget this year. But his office claims that in Le Moullac’s case, there isn’t evidence to justify criminal negligence on the driver’s part — even with the video.

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SFPD Tickets to Peds, Cyclists, Grow 7X Faster Than “Focus on the Five”

On Bike to Work Day yesterday, SFPD conducted yet another sting on bike commuters on the Wiggle. Meanwhile, another pedestrian was hit by a driver at Sunset and Yorba. Photo: Matt Matteson/Twitter

The SFPD may be working towards its “Focus on the Five” goals — focusing traffic enforcement on the five most dangerous violations, all by drivers — but meanwhile, it’s really ratcheting up its ticket enforcement against those walking and bicycling.

This counterproductive use of limited enforcement resources was highlighted at a Police Commission hearing this week. There, Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition praised SFPD’s stated commitment to pursue Vision Zero, including new quarterly reports on its increased traffic enforcement efforts. But the new data revealed that, between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, tickets for pedestrian and bicyclist violations saw ”by far the greatest increase,” as SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed out, although they have nothing to do with “Focus on the Five.”

As if to highlight the mismatch between the SFPD’s enforcement priorities and the real dangers on the streets, officers conducted yet another sting on bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle yesterday, during Bike to Work Day – even though there has never been a known report of a collision caused by a bicyclist there. On the very same day, yet another pedestrian was struck by a driver within the crosswalk at Sunset Boulevard and Yorba Street. Three pedestrians have been struck there so far in 2014, including 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon, who was killed in February.

Granted, SFPD has targeted enforcement along dangerous streets like Sunset, charged the driver who killed Berenzon, and cited the driver in yesterday’s crash. And department officials report a substantial increase in traffic enforcement overall — 34,000 tickets were issued in the first quarter of this year, compared to 22,000 last year — and the efforts may already be bringing results.

Overall traffic collisions this quarter were down by 8 percent compared to last year, bicycle collisions down 16 percent, and pedestrian crashes down 3 to 4 percent, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr told Streetsblog yesterday. ”We’re not going to achieve [Vision Zero] this year, but we are committed to achieving that,” he said.

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Six Months for Killing Hanren Chang: Even Drunk Drivers Get Off Easy

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Lowell High School student Hanren Chang. Image: ABC 7

It’s hard to imagine a more egregiously clear-cut case where a driver deserves a harsh prison term than when drunk driver Kieran Brewer ran over and killed a minor inside a crosswalk. Surely, unlike other cases where sober drivers killed pedestrians and faced few consequences, these circumstances would spur the judicial system into action.

Yet Brewer was sentenced to just six months in jail for driving drunk and killing Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard last year, as she was returning home from celebrating her 17th birthday.

Kieran Brewer. Photo via CBS 5

Brewer’s total sentence includes six months in jail, six months in home detention, five years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a nine-month treatment program for people who have driven under the influence, according to the SF Chronicle. Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy also ordered Brewer to pay the family more than $4,700 in restitution.

In addition, Judge Conroy struck down a bid from the prosecuting attorneys to apply the state’s “three strikes” law in this case. Prosecutors argued that Brewer inflicted great bodily injury, a crime that counts as a strike under the law.

“I don’t think the interest of justice will be served if Mr. Brewer gets this strike,” Conroy said in court, according to the Chronicle. “He has been consistently remorseful and cooperative with law enforcement.”

Remorse and cooperation apparently go a long way in court. So, too, does committing manslaughter with a car rather than a gun. As pointed out in a blog post by GJEL Accident Attorneys, a Streetsblog SF sponsor, “Involuntary manslaughter shootings usually result in sentences of years, not months”:

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Mapping San Francisco’s Most Speeding-Plagued Streets

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Urban cartographer Stephanie May used engineering and traffic surveys collected by the SFMTA between 2004 and 2010 to piece together this map of speeding. The darker the segment, the higher the average speed. Fatter segments represent streets with a higher incidence of speeding.

A new online map begins to show which San Francisco streets have the worst speeding problems, according to data from SFMTA engineering and traffic surveys. The map was created by Stephanie May, who works for the SF-based organization Urban Mapping and teaches cartography at SF State University and history at Stanford, according to her Twitter page.

Ideally, a map like this could show people where they should advocate for safety improvements, and where city agencies ought to focus enforcement and traffic calming efforts. This map is a start, but the available data has a lot of gaps, since speed surveys are typically done only in response to complaints from residents, May said. The data is also a bit dated, collected between 2004 and 2010. It would be interesting to see how road diets and other traffic calming measures implemented since then have changed the picture.

On Twitter, May said she thinks “the real message of the map is that @sfgov needs to monitor traffic speeds more systematically (and report).”

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SFPD Traffic Citations Increasing Towards “Focus on the Five” Goals

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The SF Police Department is issuing more traffic tickets, and a greater share of them are going toward the five most dangerous violations, according to early SFPD data on traffic citations issued so far this year.

This week, a driver was cited for hitting a child and his babysitter in a crosswalk at Fulton Street and 37th Ave. SFPD is issuing more of its citations to the top five causes of traffic injuries. Image: CBS 5

With a new, more efficient database, the SFPD began posting monthly citation data on its website starting in January [PDF] (monthly data on crash reports still isn’t available). The citation reports provide an easy way to track the department’s progress toward meeting the goals set in the “Focus on the Five” campaign, which prioritizes limited traffic enforcement resources for the five violations most commonly cited as the cause of crashes on the streets, all of which are driver violations.

So far, progress on “Focus on the Five” appears promising.

In January, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali announced a goal of having at least 50 percent of traffic citations going toward the top five violations: running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, turning violations, and speeding. Last year, 22 percent of citations were issued for those infractions. In January, the share increased to 33 percent, according to the new data posted from that month.

As the SF Examiner reported today, the SFPD is also dramatically increasing the number of tickets issued overall:

From January 2013 to January 2014, the Police Department reported 43 percent more citations citywide, and from January 2013 to preliminary numbers for last month there was a 54 percent increase, Police Chief Greg Suhr said.

“All the stations are up. Across the board, they are writing more tickets,” Suhr said. “Whereas we might have been exercising more discretion and some sort of counseling, now there’s less counseling and more citation issuing.”

Catching traffic violators has become highly emphasized at all 10 police stations, regardless of what other individual issues they face, said Cmdr. Mikail Ali, who works with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“In every unit, every officer has been given the directive that transit safety is a priority,” he said.

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