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Posts from the "Traffic Enforcement" Category

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SFFD Not Sure What Delays Responses: “There Might Just Be More Cars”

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SFFD doesn't have any data on what delays its vehicles, but as Stanley Roberts' latest "People Behaving Badly" segment shows, drivers routinely fail to make way for ambulances. Image: ##http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1hPs8i5V84##KRON 4##

SFFD doesn’t have any data on what delays its vehicles, but as Stanley Roberts’ latest “People Behaving Badly” segment shows, drivers routinely fail to make way for ambulances. Photo: KRON 4

An official from the SF Fire Department explained SFFD’s position on bulb-outs and road diets last week to the SF Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee. According to Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi, the department’s main concern isn’t about curb extensions, but raised “hardscape” structures like planters or railings that can prevent a fire truck from mounting them.

Although SFFD hasn’t publicly called for increased police enforcement against drivers who double park — a major impediment to fire trucks and ambulances — Lombardi said he agrees that enforcement should be stricter, but that double parking is “a reality.”

“We’re dealing with it every day, where if there’s a delivery truck, there’s a construction job going on, there’s a double-parked car,” Lombardi said. “If it’s a 20-foot street, we can easily go around that, but if all of the sudden it’s a 14- or 16-foot wide street, that becomes an issue.”

Lombardi stressed that SFFD is “not dead-set against bulb-outs,” and that the department approves them on a routine basis. “But when it creates a situation where we can’t legally make a turn, it’s hard for us to just say okay,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’ll make it safer for pedestrians, I’m just saying for our fire operations, it makes it tougher.” Lombardi also denied a recent report from SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin that SFFD officials said they were worried about getting tickets from police when entering an oncoming lane to make a wide turn.

According to data presented by Lombardi, response times for stations in the Mission and the Castro have increased an average of 19 seconds in the past four years, compared to 10 seconds citywide. While Lombardi noted that “a lot of traffic calming measures have been put in place in the past two years” in those neighborhoods, SFFD says it doesn’t have a way to determine what’s causing response delays.

“We have other things to think about” when responding to an emergency, said Fire Marshall Michie Wong.

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SFPD Commits to “Vision Zero” With Policy Reforms to Back Up the Rhetoric

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[Editor's note: Streetsblog will not be publishing Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]

The conversation is changing when it comes to the SFPD’s approach to traffic violence. That much was clear at a four-hour hearing at City Hall last night, where SFPD Chief Suhr and Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali pledged to pursue Vision Zero, the call to end traffic fatalities within ten years.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: ##http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/01/17/san-francisco-pledges-to-boost-traffic-safety-after-deadly-crashes/##CBS 5##

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: CBS 5

Suhr told city supervisors and the Police Commission, in a room packed with citizens, the SFPD’s command staff, and every police captain, that “we are committed to a new normal in San Francisco.” And the SFPD backed up the rhetoric by announcing real performance metrics and procedural changes.

The raft of SFPD changes to investigations, citation issuance, and arrests marks a “seismic shift in policy,” Suhr told the Bay Guardian in a video interview after the hearing. It’s too early to say how deep and lasting these reforms will be, but there is real substance to them.

For the first time, SFPD presented a goal to measure the performance of its “Focus on the Five” program: At least 50 percent of tickets issued should be for the five most common violations in crashes in pedestrian crashes — drivers’ violation of pedestrian right-of-way, speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, and turning violations. In 2013, during which the program was in effect, the number was 22 percent, according to Ali.

A policy change initiated in 2013 also allows officers to arrest drivers in fatal crashes where there appears to be “probable cause,” Ali said. That appears to explain the unusual instance of two drivers being arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve.

In a new policy change for 2014, Ali said SFPD can now also issue citations to a party found to be at fault. Previously, police policy was not to issue a citation in a crash unless the officer witnessed the violation him or herself. One major reason SFPD said they often refrained from issuing tickets was to avoid double jeopardy — charging someone for the same crime twice — the theory being if the SFPD issued a citation, the district attorney may not be able to legally file charges as well.

Police will also issue citations or make arrests off-scene, when an investigation later determines fault in a case, said Ali. In fact, Suhr said that SFPD would review collision cases throughout the past year for such opportunities, including that of Jikaiah Stevens, who was hit by a driver who admitted to running a red light, yet faced no penalties. Stevens spoke at the hearing after a short documentary telling her story was shown.

“That driver will be issued a citation,” Suhr said. “Going forward, we’re committed to making a decision at the scene and/or doing a mailer if it requires follow-up investigation.”

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Supes Call for Aggressive Enforcement Against Dangerous Driving

In an emotionally-charged discussion, the dangers of walking on San Francisco’s streets took center stage at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the first since an alarming number of San Franciscans were injured and killed by drivers over the holiday season.

Giampaolo Boschetti’s pickup truck at the scene where he ran over and killed Zhen Guang Ng in Crocker-Amazon on New Year’s Eve. Photo: ABC 7

Every supervisor except Katy Tang, Mark Farrell, and Malia Cohen spoke to express condolences to the families of the victims and call for an aggressive increase in police enforcement and physical improvements to make city streets safer.

Mayor Ed Lee also said that he’ll be making an announcement “regarding pedestrian safety” soon, according to Bay City News. ”We can’t just sit back and let this happen,” Lee told BCN.

“Vehicles are weapons. Vehicles do kill people, intentional or not,” said Supervisor London Breed. “It is important that we make sure that the enforcement to obey the law, which is to protect us all, is out there.”

After 2013 ended with 20 pedestrians having lost their lives — a six year high — the violence has continued this week, most recently with the year’s first pedestrian fatality yesterday evening on Van Ness and Grove Streets. Police say the 38-year-old man was killed when running across Van Ness, outside of a crosswalk, chasing after a man whom he was apparently involved in an altercation with, according to media reports. An SFPD spokesperson said that “there was apparently no negligence on the part of the driver.”

But in many of the other recent pedestrian crashes, the fault appeared to lie with the driver. Of the six pedestrians killed in December, some were elderly, and one was a six-year-old girl, Sophia Liu. Supervisors drew particular attention to her death, as well as that of 84-year-old Isabel Huie, a well-known Chinatown community activist who was killed by an elderly driver who apparently lost control of her car.

“The past couple weeks have been an enormous wake up call for our city. We can do better,” said Supervisor David Chiu.

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SFPD Arrests Two Drivers After Holiday Spate of Pedestrian Deaths

Uber driver Syed Muzzafar’s SUV at Polk and Ellis Streets, where he ran over a family of three, killing Sophia Liu, 6. Muzzafar was later arrested. Photo: KTVU

In what could be a departure from the SF Police Department’s usual failure to penalize reckless driving, officers have arrested two of the five motorists who have killed people on San Francisco streets since December 20.

In the last hours of 2013, the year’s pedestrian death toll increased to 20. Both of the crashes in which the drivers were arrested took place on New Year’s Eve, and appear to be the fault of motorists who failed to yield to people in a crosswalk. Last year, none of the other sober drivers who killed pedestrians without fleeing the scene are known to have been charged.

Syed Muzzafar (left) and Giampaolo Boschetti (right) were both arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve. Photos: SFPD

In one incident, at about 3:30 p.m., 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng was run down in a crosswalk at Naples and Rolph Streets in Crocker-Amazon by 69-year-old Giampaolo Boschetti, who was booked on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to stop at a stop sign, according to police.

In a later crash at 8 p.m. in the Tenderloin, an Uber ride-share driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, ran over a mother and her two children in a crosswalk as he turned right at Polk and Ellis Streets, according to reports. All three were hospitalized, and six-year-old Sophia Liu died from her injuries. The SFPD said Muzzafar was arrested on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Before the arrests were announced, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali told the SF Examiner that he mainly attributed the recent rise in pedestrian deaths — a six-year high — to the increased walking and driving that comes with job growth. He also appeared, however, to take a more serious tone towards “grossly negligent” drivers than the department has conveyed in the past.

“We’re bringing more and more people into our city and with that is a challenge of managing and getting better behavior on the part of our drivers and in some cases on the part of pedestrians,” Ali told the Examiner. “When you behave in such a grossly negligent way, you’re going to find yourself unfortunately going to jail when you take someone’s life on the roadway.”

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Man in Wheelchair Killed by Freeway-Bound Driver at Market and Octavia

Image: NBC

A man in a wheelchair, reportedly in his 20s, was killed by a driver at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard around midnight last night. SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza said the crash is still under investigation, but that driver appears to have been heading south on Octavia at the entrance of the Central Freeway, where witnesses said the victim was crossing against the light. The man is the 13th known pedestrian to be killed by a driver in SF this year.

In shots from NBC’s television broadcast, the victim’s motorized wheelchair can be seen sitting several dozen feet south of the intersection on the freeway ramp. SFPD investigators have not determined how fast the driver was going.

As media reports have noted, a new enforcement camera was activated Friday to cite drivers making illegal right turns from eastbound Market on to the freeway ramp, but it doesn’t appear the driver was making such a turn in this case.

“News of another pedestrian death on Market and Octavia is truly devastating, and reminds us of the dangers pedestrian face when freeways intermix with city streets,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that another pedestrian suffered “major injuries” after being hit by a driver last Thursday at a freeway onramp near Seventh and Harrison Streets in SoMa. “Not only are these intersections dangerous because of the high speeds of cars and trucks entering and exiting, they’re often dark, loud, uninviting, and segment our communities.”

Since the Central Freeway ramp opened at Market and Octavia in 2005, the intersection has seen a higher rate of traffic injuries than any other in SF, with 13 in 2011, according to the SFMTA’s 2009-2011 Traffic Collisions Report [PDF]. Although livable streets advocates and city agencies pushed for a tear-down of the Central Freeway back to Bryan Street after it was damaged in an earthquake, it was rebuilt to touch down at Market and Octavia at the behest of Caltrans and car commuters living in the western neighborhoods.

Schneider pointed to recent calls from John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, for a “freeway-free San Francisco.” At a forum in September, Norquist asked why SF, which protested its planned freeways and prevented most them from being built – and is considering removing another section – doesn’t just go all the way and take down the few that were raised.

“Freeways merging with city streets create a terrifyingly dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and truly all roadway users,” said Schneider. “Perhaps it’s time for San Francisco to seriously consider what ‘freeway-free’ could mean for public health, safety, and livability in our wonderful city.”

[Update] SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the new enforcement camera cannot capture video footage of crashes to be used as evidence in crash investigations, as it only takes still photos of drivers who make an illegal right turn.

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Double-Parked Driver Chokes Wiggle Intersection; SFPD Nowhere to Be Found

Yesterday evening I returned to the Wiggle, where reports continue of SFPD officers targeting bicycle commuters rolling stop signs. To my surprise, there were no police to be found during their typical shift at about 6:45 p.m., but I did find a driver double-parked right behind the crosswalk on Waller and Steiner Streets. In the exact same spot where officers can usually be spotted admonishing bike commuters for doing an “Idaho stop,” the driver of this car pretty much put every passerby in danger for at least the ten minutes I was there, and faced no consequences.

There’s hardly a more hazardous place for someone to park: He was forcing all the drivers and bicycle riders behind him to pass in the oncoming lane, right at a crosswalk, blocking the visibility of people crossing the street. (Perhaps he could have done more damage by parking in the crosswalk itself, but another motorist I spotted beat him to that at the corner of Haight and Pierce Streets. When I pointed out to that driver that he was blocking a crosswalk, he simply told me, “I’m waiting for someone,” and didn’t move.)

In the last few minutes of the scene above, you can watch the driver refuse to move from this dangerous spot even as other drivers honk and argue with him. Three other drivers can be seen waiting behind for a chance to pass safely — and with the frequency of motor vehicle and bike traffic turning into their path, it’s a wonder no one crashed.

“Enforcing double parking should be high on SFPD’s list for a way to make our streets safer and more convenient for all,” said Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk SF, who said the organization has gotten behind Supervisor Scott Wiener’s recent efforts to bring more attention to the abysmal state of enforcement. ”Double parking is not only an inconvenience, it’s a safety hazard. Pedestrians’ visibility is threatened, bikes have to swerve into oncoming traffic, and it aggravates drivers, creating an unsafe condition for all.”

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SFPD Still Targeting Bike Commuters Rolling Stop Signs on the Wiggle

Bicycle commuters on the Wiggle continue to be confronted by SFPD officers posted at intersections issuing warnings and tickets for what police deem to be dangerous violations of stop sign laws. Police claim they’re obligated to respond to complaints from neighbors who apparently see the behavior as a threat to public safety.

But there have been no known crashes on the Wiggle recently. Posting officers there to ticket and chastise bike commuters who slow down and yield to others while not coming to a complete stop is a waste of precious enforcement resources and doesn’t make streets any safer.

“Everybody wants to eliminate the about five percent of cyclists who violate other people’s right-of-way,” said Morgan Fitzgibbons of the Wigg Party, which advocates for environmentally sustainable practices in the neighborhoods around the Wiggle. “Nobody wants to defend those people, but trying to put a constant police presence on the Wiggle to make people follow a law that really doesn’t make any sense is not the right way to go about it.”

“It will never solve the problem — it’s patently absurd.”

As in every state except Idaho, in California, the letter of the law calls for people on bicycles to come to a complete stop at stop signs, just like people operating multi-ton motor vehicles. The application of that law to bikes is so impractical, however, that most people who bike — including police officers — treat stop signs by slowing, checking for traffic, and proceeding. Idaho changed its stop sign law 30 years ago to legitimize normal bicycling behavior, and it’s not hurting anyone.

To address the issue of bicycle riders who actually violate others’ right-of-way, the SF Bicycle Coalition has recently posted up at spots along the Wiggle holding signs encouraging commuters to “bike politely.”

“We urge the police to prioritize their limited enforcement resources on the known, dangerous problem areas and behaviors, which means the high-injury collision areas and actions,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. “The Wiggle is not one of those areas.”

Last Wednesday evening, I was bicycling home on the Wiggle when I spotted two officers standing next to their motorcycles on Waller at Steiner Streets, an intersection busy with drivers, pedestrians, and westbound bicycle riders who mostly make a left turn to follow the flattest route. I parked my bicycle and stood between two parked cars to record the scene on video, when officer L. Henderson (who declined to give his first name) told me to get on the sidewalk.

I complied, and then introduced myself and asked the officer for an interview, which he granted. The entire audio recording of the interview is below.

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Contrary to SFPD Policy, Police Still Refer to “Collisions” as “Accidents”

Anyone who keeps track of the daily reports that come out of the SFPD’s press office might be surprised to learn that the department has a policy of using the term “collision” — not “accident” — when referring to traffic crashes. That’s because, in practice, the SFPD’s top brass and press officers use “accident” as their term of choice, while “collision” is used only occasionally.

SFPD's Major Accident Investigation Team inspects the scene of a fatal crash between a bicycle rider and a Muni driver Friday. Image: KTVU

“It has always been ‘collision.’ ‘Accident’ is a term that is misused. There is always someone at fault, therefore, not an accident but a collision,” said SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza when asked about the discrepancy.

But SFPD regresses into “accident” mode very often. The department’s most recent press release on a traffic collision was yesterday, sent out with the subject line, “Traffic Accident at Third and Gilman Streets”:

The San Francisco Police Department responded to a traffic accident at approximately 12:59 pm.  A 12 year old child was transported to SFGH for medical treatment. An accident investigation is taking place, and anyone who may have witnessed the accident is encouraged to call the police.

“We all grew up with the term ‘car accident,’ but in truth, they are traffic collisions,” said SFPD Deputy Chief Mike Biel after a City Hall hearing on an apparent pattern of hostility and bias against bicycle riders in crash investigations. “Nobody goes out in the morning trying to crash their car into somebody or into something, so it’s not done on purpose obviously — unless they were driving recklessly and we can show that there was negligence — but they are traffic collisions.”

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Eyes on the Street: Trucker Blocks Crosswalk at New “CityTarget”

As if Geary and Masonic wasn’t already hostile enough to pedestrians, here’s an example of street dysfunction exacerbated by freight traffic at the newly-opened CityTarget. Winston Parsons happened upon a delivery truck driver setting up shop in a crosswalk and, he said, impeding buses on the 43-Masonic.

In the video he submitted, Parsons confronts the driver, who says he just didn’t know where to park and load. Blocking the crosswalk is “illegal, and it’s unsafe for everybody else that has to walk out here, like these people, who are going to have to walk into traffic to get around your parked truck,” says Parsons, who told us he phoned the violation in to SFPD. The store has loading docks that can be accessed via the shopping center’s 650-space parking lot.

This sort of blatant disregard for pedestrians and bus riders is certainly nothing new or exceptional on San Francisco streets, but it’s troubling to see that the management at Target, which wooed customers with free parking in its marketing mailers, has failed to communicate how to park and load safely to drivers making deliveries.

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Mayor Lee: I Will Have Tickets Issued to Double Parkers Who Block My Car

With the spotlight turned on the dangers and dysfunction that result from the sorry state of double-parking enforcement in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has staked out a position on the matter that seems to show a tone-deaf windshield perspective on city streets more than an actual commitment to making them safer.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who grilled parking enforcement officials at a hearing on double parking last week, asked the mayor at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting what he will “do to ensure that double parking enforcement is a priority where it impacts transit riders, pedestrians, and cyclists.”

“What specific goals and metrics do you propose we establish to ensure that the most impactful double parking behavior becomes an enforcement priority for the MTA and the police department?” Wiener asked Lee. “Will your office agree to report back in a year on the city’s stepped up enforcement efforts against double parking?”

The mayor’s prepared response started off with an anecdote about a recent encounter with double parkers who blocked his car while he was apparently being chauffeured around the Mission. The strongest commitment made by the mayor was that “next time, instead of rushing off to my appointment, I will ask my officers in my car to get out and issue those citations, if not strong warnings.”

“You couldn’t even turn the corner,” he said of the inconvenience he experienced when trying to turn off of Valencia on to 16th Street last week. “All three double-parkers were looking at each other as if nothing was wrong.”

Lee went on to mention that double parking creates hazards for people walking, biking, and driving, and that it “literally stops Muni,” and listed the measures the SFMTA has already taken to address it, such as increased enforcement and new loading zones. But while he said it’s “it’s clear we need to do more,” his commitments were limited to “meeting with both the MTA and police department to understand how we can better deal with double parking.”

“Specifically, I will task both of these departments to identify how we can change the culture to make our streets safer for all modes of transportation, while fostering a more transit-friendly San Francisco,” Lee told Wiener. “If it’s a part of a resource issue, I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to address the issue through the budgetary process.”

In the meantime, keep an eye out for the mayor out on the streets, “Carrying forth my personal commitment to you that everywhere I see it, I will stop it myself.”