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Posts from the John Avalos Category


SFPD Chief Suhr Misses the Point of the “Bike Yield Law”

SF Police Department Chief Greg Suhr doesn’t seem to grasp the point of the “Bike Yield Law” proposed by Supervisor John Avalos.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr. Screenshot from SF Bay Guardian/Youtube

“Stop signs are pretty simple. They say ‘stop,'” Suhr told KQED today. “They don’t say ‘yield,’ they don’t say ‘slow down.'” Suhr added that anyone who violates the letter of the stop sign law “will be cited.”

If only it were so simple. Here’s the problem: California’s stop sign law is based on the unrealistic expectation that people ride 30-pound bikes exactly like they pilot 3,000-pound cars. Just about everybody who gets on a bike, including SFPD officers (see the video below), treats stop signs by slowing down and yielding to others with the right-of-way.

There is an ethic to biking safely at stop signs, and it’s more like the “golden rule,” as Avalos put it, than the letter of the current law. Idaho updated its stop sign law in 1982 to reflect that, and bicycle-related injuries there have dropped since. As bike commuters demonstrated on the Wiggle recently, strict compliance with the stop sign law by people on bikes would result in absurd traffic queues — and no one would be safer for it.

“Our traffic laws have not changed since the mid-20th century, but the way people move around our cities has,” SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick said at a press conference introducing the Avalos ordinance today. “What the Bike Yield Law does is move our city into a leadership position in the 21st century.”

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Majority of Supes Back the “Bike Yield Law” to Be Introduced Tomorrow

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The “Bike Yield Law” proposed by Supervisor John Avalos is poised to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Avalos, Breed, Wiener, Kim, Mar, and Campos have all signed on as sponsors of the "Bike Yield Law." Photos: SF Board of Supervisors

Supervisors Avalos, Breed, Wiener, Kim, Mar, and Campos have all signed on as sponsors of the “Bike Yield Law.” Photos: SF Board of Supervisors

The ordinance urges the SFPD to let bicycle riders safely treat stop signs as yield signs. Avalos plans to introduce the ordinance tomorrow, and it has support from six supervisors — the majority needed to vote it into law. It’s unclear if it has support from SFPD officials.

The latest endorsements come from Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar, joining early sponsors London Breed and Scott WienerThe six co-sponsors plan to hold a press conference at City Hall before tomorrow’s board meeting.

At the event, SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick will speak about “the need to provide SFPD the direction and clarity that they deserve in order to achieve Vision Zero and safer streets overall,” according to an SFBC press release.

While local legislation cannot supersede the state’s stop sign law, Avalos’s ordinance would set a “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority.” In essence, it would legitimize the safe, practical way that people on bikes normally treat stop signs, which has been legal in Idaho for 32 years.

Avalos announced his plans to introduce the legislation last month after SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford called off his letter-of-the-law crackdown on bike commuters rolling stop signs. In an interview with Streetsblog, Sanford seemed hesitant to support the bill, saying that police already use discretion in prioritizing limited enforcement resources.

Support from the SFPD will be crucial for the non-binding ordinance to hold sway over police traffic enforcement priorities. The SFPD’s lagging compliance with its own “Focus on the Five” campaign against the most dangerous driving violations is evidence of how difficult it is to change police practices, even when it’s official department policy. Most SFPD stations have only begun to move toward the enforcement target set in January 2014.

The press conference announcing the “Bike Yield Law” ordinance will be held tomorrow on the steps of City Hall at 12:30 p.m.


Avalos Proposes Ordinance Urging SFPD to Let Cyclists Yield at Stop Signs

Supervisor John Avalos plans to introduce a policy urging the SFPD to let people on bikes treat stop signs as yield signs. It could legitimize the safe, practical maneuver already practiced by the vast majority of people on bikes, which is legal in Idaho.

John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.

John Avalos in a screenshot from his 2011 mayoral campaign video.

While SF can’t supersede the state’s flawed stop sign law, Avalos’ ordinance would set a “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” that would “make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority,” said a press release from Avalos’ office:

The California Vehicle Code requires bikes to follow all the same rules as cars. But bikes are very different than cars. We’ve learned that traffic flows better when we give bikes certain considerations like bike lanes, sharrows, and bike boxes. Strict enforcement of stop sign laws for cyclists is counterproductive for several reasons:

  • It takes away scarce enforcement resources from more dangerous violations.
  • It is counterintuitive to the way most bicyclists and drivers currently navigate intersections.
  • It discourages people from bicycling.

“Nobody condones unsafe behavior by cyclists, but common sense enforcement of the law will make our streets safer and more predictable,” the release says, noting that a 2010 academic study found that injuries have decreased in Idaho in the 32 years since it changed its law. “The study also found that Boise, Idaho had much lower injury rates than comparable cities such as Sacramento and Bakersfield.”

“We can minimize these conflicts if we all take our turn at intersections and avoid being a ‘right-of-way thief,'” Avalos said in a statement. “Our streets work best when we all follow the ‘golden rule,’ and treat others like we want to be treated.”

With City Hall on legislative recess, Avalos can’t formally introduce his ordinance until September. If approved, SF would become the first known city in the state to recognize that the stop sign law isn’t realistic when applied to bicycles.

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SFPD Driver Strikes and Kills Cyclist “DJ” Pinkerton, 23, on Dangerous Road

Persia at Sunnydale Avenue in McLaren Park, where Pinkerton died, is set for a safety upgrade next year. Screenshot from ABC 7

Persia at Sunnydale Avenue in McLaren Park, where Pinkerton died, is set for a safety upgrade next year. Screenshot from ABC 7

Donald “D.J.” Pinkerton, 23, was killed on his bike in a crash with an SFPD driver on Friday night at a dangerous intersection at the edge of McLaren Park which is set to get traffic calming improvements.

The SFPD has told reporters that officers are still investigating the crash, which occurred at about 9 p.m. at Sunnydale and Persia avenues in the Excelsior District. Based on reports so far, Pinkerton was riding down a service road from the weekly bike polo event he organized when an SFPD officer driving a cruiser struck him.

DJ Pinkerton. Photo via ABC 7

DJ Pinkerton. Photo via ABC 7

SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told KPIX, “They were just driving regular, no lights or sirens, not going to a call, just regular, routine driving approaching this intersection.”

D11 Supervisor John Avalos said SFPD Ingleside Station Captain John McFadden already told him that the crash was Pinkerton’s fault, and that he “may have been intoxicated.”

“I feel like what I heard was, it wasn’t our fault, it was his fault that it happened,” Avalos told Streetsblog.

“This is a tragedy,” Esparza said in a statement soon after the crash. “Our thoughts go out to the bicyclist’s family, as well as our two officers involved as this is a tragic incident.”

Esparza added that SFPD is conducting “a thorough investigation” of the crash, and that “an administrative process will also be conducted for the member driver involved, which is standard procedure to include toxicology sample.”

SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Noah Budnick said the organization’s staff “were shocked when we learned of Donald ‘D.J.’ Pinkerton’s death.”

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Mayor, Eight Supervisors Promise to Ride Muni Every Day Until June 22

Supervisor Avalos speaks with Supervisor Wiener and SFTRU's Thea Selby in front of City Hall yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Supervisor Avalos with Supervisor Wiener and SFTRU’s Thea Selby in front of City Hall yesterday. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Transit Riders Union’s challenge to ride Muni for 22 days kicked off yesterday with late sign-ons from Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisors London Breed and Mark Farrell, who had initially declined to commit. Supervisors Katy Tang and Malia Cohen still declined, and Supervisor Norman Yee has not confirmed a pledge since he tweeted a selfie on Muni after the challenge was announced in April.

Supervisors David Campos, Scott Wiener, John Avalos, and Eric Mar came out for the press conference at City Hall yesterday. Supervisor Jane Kim was expected, but reportedly unable to make it. Mayor Lee was also absent, though he signed on to the challenge Friday, according to SFTRU.

In April, when SFTRU announced the challenge to ride Muni for 22 days straight, early commitments came from Supervisors Kim, Wiener, Avalos, Campos, Mar, and Julie Christensen. Tilly Chang, executive director of the SF County Transportation Authority, also tweeted a ride photo and attended the event.

“When city officials regularly ride public transportation, they prioritize funding for a more reliable, robust, and visionary transit system to support it,” said SFTRU organizer Thea Selby at the event. “A commitment to this challenge is a commitment to better serve the needs of the people of San Francisco.”

“There has been a real lack of commitment to making the investments that we really have needed to make at Muni for decades,” said Avalos. “We’re now seeing that they’re finally being made,” he added, pointing to the voter-approved $500 million general obligation bond for transportation and a $48 million increase in the SFMTA’s share of the general fund.

Avalos reminded the crowd that Willie Brown promised to fix Muni in 100 days when he ran for mayor in 1995. After he was elected, “He succeeded in doing just the opposite in taking care of Muni the way it needed to be done.”

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Avalos Ready to Champion Freeway Ramp Closures at Balboa Park Station

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The 280 freeway on-ramp at Geneva Avenue next to Balboa Park Station would be removed under the recommendations of an SFCTA study. Photo: SFCTA

Balboa Park Station could become a safer transit hub by 2020 if the city moves forward with proposals to close one freeway ramp and re-align another, as recommended in a study recently completed by the SF County Transportation Authority. Although the proposal hasn’t received much public attention, it’s sure to face a tough political fight when it’s eventually implemented, said D11 Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the SFCTA. Avalos said the project is worth implementing, and he’s eager to champion the plans as soon as they can move forward.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

“It’s a political problem how to implement these changes around the station. People want things to be different, but they don’t want any change,” said Avalos. “The trade-offs, they see as really harmful to the neighborhoods.”

The SFCTA study proposes altering freeway ramps, changing traffic signals, and a new frontage road for loading — changes that were vetted by the Balboa Park Community Advisory Committee. The study notes, “With strong support, consensus, and high priority from the community, agencies, and elected officials, the initial pilot projects could begin in 2016, with full implementation by 2020.”

Avalos’s term in office will end in late 2016, but he said he hopes to help move the freeway ramp changes forward before he leaves. “I have two-and-a-half years of office left, and I want to be part of actually getting some implementation on these changes,” he said.

The goal of the SFCTA study was to find ways to make the streets safer around Balboa Park Station, which is surrounded by car traffic moving to and from six nearby freeway ramps. Even though 24,000 people use the station daily to ride Muni and BART — it’s BART’s busiest station outside of downtown SF — it seems to be designed as an afterthought to the 280 freeway. Many commuters exiting the station walk or bike to City College’s main campus.

“The neighborhood has long suffered from its cluster of poorly-designed freeway on- and off-ramps,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, a member of the BART Board of Directors. “We finally have a definite and buildable proposal for the freeway ramps that will reduce the burden that they impose.”

Through the study, planners and CAC members explored several options for re-configuring the freeway ramps. The favored option would remove one of the two northbound on-ramps, at Geneva Avenue. A curved southbound off-ramp that slings cars onto westbound Ocean Avenue would also be removed and replaced by a new ramp that approaches the street at a head-on 90-degree angle. That new intersection would be signalized.

This proposal originally called for closing the second off-ramp that touches down at Geneva, but that idea was dropped.

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Avalos “Disgruntled” Over Paying for His City Hall Parking Perk [Updated]

Update: Avalos said on Twitter that his email was meant as a joke.

Supervisor John Avalos sent out an email today complaining about the $173 he pays monthly for a reserved parking spot in front of City Hall. That’s even though he pays less than half the $395 going price for a reserved parking spot at the Civic Center garage. The $173 fee is apparently set to offset the cost of lost revenue from the meter occupied by a reserved spot.

Supervisor John Avalos. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Responding to a notice sent by City Hall’s building services manager to the Board of Supervisors about the annual parking fee agreement, Avalos said the fee “is totally messed up and makes no sense policy-wise,” since parking used to be a free perk for supes. Avalos’ email was sent to all supervisors, their staff, and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

Dear Government Overlords:

The City Hall parking fee for elected officials is totally messed up and makes no sense policy-wise. For years the policy was a parking space for elected officials as part of holding office. What’s next? Will we be paying rent for our offices at City Hall?

I don’t drive every day, but often I don’t have much of a choice as I have to be in multiple places, often mixing work with driving my kids around, over the course of the day. When I go on errands with my car, I pay for parking meters and garages and even pay for tickets and towing when I mess up, so I am not getting special privileges beyond what comes with holding elective office and being very busy with my family and service to the city.

Disgruntled Supervisor

It would be disappointing to hear Avalos divulge such a retrograde stance about his personal parking spot, particularly since he’s one of the only elected officials in recent years to have supported Sunday parking meters. In 2009, he also supported installing parking meters in Golden Gate Park, and as he noted in his email, Avalos is known for sometimes walking, biking, and taking Muni to work. He even campaigned for mayor on a strongly pro-bike platform, has pushed for better Muni service for low-income riders, and wrote the ordinance requiring secure bike parking in downtown office buildings.

On the other hand, Avalos also introduced the SFMTA meter contract amendment that hamstrung the agency’s ability to install new meters over the next five years.


Bixi Bankruptcy Delays Bay Area Bike Share Expansion Until Fall at Best

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The expansion of Bay Area Bike Share into the Mission, the Castro, Hayes Valley, and Mission Bay planned for early this year won’t happen until fall at the soonest, due to the recent bankruptcy of Bixi, the company that supplies hardware and software for several American bike-share systems.

Heath Maddox, the SFMTA’s bike-share program manager, broke the news to an SF County Transportation Authority Board committee this week. He said the expansion would come in the fall “if everything went very well.”

“Our main technology and software provider is actually for sale,” said Maddox. “We should know what becomes of that sale later this month. Hopefully, it’ll be bought by our current operations and maintenance provider [Alta Bicycle Share], and they could just move, without a hitch, and once again fire up production.”

Maddox said after the sale and re-organization is completed, “it takes five to six months to produce the equipment once it’s ordered.”

In response, Supervisor John Avalos, the SFCTA Chair, said the expansion was supposed to have happened “yesterday,” and asked Maddox to “meet offline to talk more about it.”

The discussion took place after a presentation on the SFCTA’s “Strategic Analysis Report” on Bay Area Bike Share, which provided recommendations to guide the system’s expansion. One of those recommendations is to re-structure BABS’ administration to allow the SFMTA more independence to facilitate a swift expansion within San Francisco, which sees 90 percent of the system’s ridership.

The latest delay is one of too many to count for bike-share in SF. San Franciscans’ appetite for bike-share was first whetted in 2009, when even a tiny pilot of 50 bikes was dropped after Clear Channel backed out of a partnership with the city. Bay Area Bike Share was first promised in summer 2012 (though it didn’t have a name until May 2013), and was supposed to include 500 bikes and 50 stations in San Francisco, with the other half of the system in four cities along the Peninsula.

But only 35 of SF’s stations were put on the ground (and another 35 on the Peninsula), when the initial cost estimates proved to be too optimistic. The other 15 stations were promised within a few months. Now those stations (plus two more) will be coming in the fall, at the earliest.


Avalos’ Eyes on the Street: SFPD Blocks Crosswalk During Traffic Stop

Supervisor John Avalos posted the above photo on Facebook with the following explanation:

Ironic traffic stop on Mission and Ocean. Police vehicle stopped in the middle of the intersection blocking the cross walk and sending the 49 bus into the next lane. We have a ways to go to coordinate our pedestrian safety effort.

Indeed. Avalos, the chair of the SF County Transportation Authority Board, posted this on the same day he joined Mayor Ed Lee and other city leaders at a press conference announcing the five-year WalkFirst plan. The same day, a Board of Supervisors committee held a hearing on Vision Zero, the city’s goal of ending traffic deaths within ten years. It’s worth noting Avalos launched the Vision Zero campaign at City Hall along with Supervisors Jane Kim and Norman Yee.

If SFPD is going to lead in those efforts, as Chief Greg Suhr has pledged to do, the department’s officers are going to need to start with some basic awareness of how they can stop contributing to the problem.


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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