Mirkarimi Vows Fix to Fell Street Bike Lane, Protest Leads to 5 Arrests

Organizers at the Fix Fell coalition protested the dangerous conditions at the Fell Street Arco station for the eleventh week last Friday and now they have a video to document the festivities. This week was notable for several reasons. First, District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi showed up and vowed to fix the problem by putting representatives from the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the City Attorney, and the Department of Public Health in a room with him, at which point, he said, "I will lock the door and I will make sure they don’t leave until we have an answer."

The protesters drew special attention to the tragic death of Nils Yannick Linke, a German tourist who was mowed down by an alleged drunk driver the week before on Masonic Avenue, just a few blocks away. During the protest, five people also U-locked themselves to bicycles set across the entrance to the station, blocking it for three hours. The "Bike Spill" civil disobedience resulted in five arrests for minor charges. You can see it all in the video above, produced by Fix Fell.

  • Matt

    only 4 people u-locked themselves in a barricade, resulting in their arrests. a 5th person was arrested after failing to follow police direction.

  • Thanks for wasting my taxpayer money for firefighters cutting those cuffs and whatever you locked yourselves with. Could have made your point about the gas station and not waste city resources by giving the cops the key.

  • Not to mention if they got the bikes cut off quicker, they could go do some fare enforcement on MUNI!

  • Mirkarimi for Bike Coalition!

  • Charlie

    While I understand the problem and agree that something should be done, the protesters who blocked the entrance and refused to leave really put the police in an awkward situation. There are ways to get your point across without being arrested. And as much as you may hate having a gas station there, the business owner has done nothing wrong.

    I’ve never been a big fan of civil disobedience. I think it does more to hurt your cause and discredit your stance than it does to win people over to your point of view.

  • I’ve never been a big fan of civil disobedience. I think it does more to hurt your cause and discredit your stance than it does to win people over to your point of view.

    Yet somehow they have a Supervisor there saying that this is “awesome”. One Supervisor is worth a lot of Joe Blows. They aren’t completely off target…

    “the business owner has done nothing wrong”

    I think this is a little disingenuous. There is a hazard that only exists because of his business. He benefits from the hazard, and does not seem to feel that anything needs to be done about said hazard because it would hurt his bottom line.

    The Whole Foods in Noe Valley employs 2 people pretty much fulltime to shoo people away from backing up traffic on 24th Street if the parking lot is full. They don’t do a very good job of it – but at least Whole Foods is trying to be a good citizen there. The Gas Station owner doesn’t care if the traffic backs up for blocks.

  • Wai yip tung

    I find these sort of protest counterproductive. It reinforce the image of crazy cyclist against drivers. I actually think closing off the Fell st Entrance make sense. Fell st is a high traffic road. If a business is causing blockage on this road, keeping the entrance only on a secondary road make sense. Imagine if you park just one car in front of the gas station in the left turn lane. This will force the cars lining up to block the left most lane, probably causing traffic for many block on Fell. This will make it a irresponisble business against everyone issue rather than a crazy cyclists against drivers issue.

  • @Akit I didn’t ask the fire fighters to cut me out. So don’t blame me for wasting tax payer money. If I had my druthers, the cops and fire fighters would leave us alone, and let us do what is needed ourselves, which is to close down those curb cuts.

    @Charlie The business owner is knowingly endangering cyclists’ lives by creating a situation in which the bike lane is blocked and doing nothing to fix that situation. He is also selling BP gas, which I would put in the “doing something wrong” category.

    @Wai yip tung: You are against our tactics yet for what we are trying to accomplish. Guess what? Our tactics are making progress on the issue.


    Yep, the “crazy” cyclists are at again. Demanding ridiculous things like safe street conditions. And with such a marginalized message that the district’s city supervisor was there in support.

    For the SFBC’s sake, I hope they wake up and get on board in time to take full credit when the Fell entrance is closed.

  • These demonstrative acts are very powerful and necessary for progress. This is an immediate need which has not been served thus far by legal means. The arrests are very important in gaining attention for the issue and demonstrating how dedicated people are to this, and we should be very grateful for their sacrifices. And I guarantee you the eventual closing of these entrances and creation of a safe Fell St. as driven by efforts like these will pay off for taxpayers by far in the long run.

  • It’s surprising to me that the police went through with arresting people. Anyone really wanting to gas up could go around the block and enter from Divisadero. Also the police seem to ignore the common sidewalk blocking by cars here, so it seems like a discriminatory action to arrest people but take no action to others violating the same law. Treatment of the protestors, handcuffed for hours, held in jail overnight, etc, seems out of proportion to the “crime”. Pretty much groundless harassment. Be interesting to see if the DA proceeds with prosecutions here if the arrested don’t accept plea bargains or fines. Might be a good lawsuit against the City in this.

    FYI, I just learned that in 1977 the ADA (American Disabilities Act) was signed into law after a 29 day sit in by disabled advocates at the Federal HEW offices in SF. Hard to equate these two issues, but civil disobedience has had it’s successes.

  • @Stuart,

    Yes, I’m against the tactics. I value social cohesion. If there are any progress to be made, it makes a difference if this was made against most people’s will or if they are on your side. I rather not to win a battle and lose a war. The are many more progress to be make in the future. It doesn’t pay to alienate people and make them fight against you tooth and nail for everything little change in the future.

    In this case, I don’t think drivers and bicyclists’ interest are fundamentally different. They both want a free flowing road. That’s why I propose a small change to the protest tactic so that everyone will feel the pain. This also allow them to see more clearly that the gas station is the root cause of the problem and not the distracting crazy cyclists.

    I don’t think the disability protester are comparable here. My bet is very few people in the general public will see them as adversary. And this is not the case here.

  • ZA

    My $0.02:

    I agree with the broader objective of improving Fell for bicyclists and the environment.

    I agree with the narrow objective of eliminating the vehicular turn into that Arco from Fell. There’s still the Divisadero access, which preserves that business owner’s right to be in business.

    I agree with peaceful civil disobedience as a means of getting attention for this cause.

    I think the protestors should do a better job of NOT vilifying the drivers or their (unfortunate) consumer choice. The reality is that these are people behind the wheel, stressed out by the experience of driving and all the dependencies that entails.

    The protestors should also be a lot more careful with their message, because a traditional traffic engineer will hear their protests and see that as reason for why they should have been allowed to complete their neighborhood-destructive highways in the first place.

    As for SFPD and SFFD, I think they should be commended for their professionalism in dealing with the protest as they have so far.

  • Nick

    Looks like a high-stakes game of chicken. Bicylists are betting they’ll give in and install a cycletrack. A judge just might order the bike lane removed entirely (Market/Octavia anyone?).

    And good for them for the civil disobediance. No one pays attention when you ask politely. They just stall you for years and years JUST LIKE MASONIC with it’s tragic consequence.

    The ends justify the means. Keep it up.

  • @Wai Yip Tung

    We are very careful not to divide people into ‘drivers’ and ‘cyclists.’ I wish those words could be banished from our vocabulary in fact. In a lot of ways ascribing categories to people based on the transport device they use is an arbitrary framework and a useless, outdated distinction. Do we call people “whisk users” or “electric mixer users” according to what they use in the kitchen? Then why do we do that for transportation? Cars and bikes are tools- not avatars.

    Dividing us into categories is doing damage to the cause of safe streets that are in everyone’s interest. We are all pedestrians at some point during the day after all. Many of those people driving cars would probably love to be out there on their bikes- they’re just afraid- of cars. Somehow we need to break that cycle.

    What has been fascinating for me about these protests has been that most people driving on Fell St. seem to be in support of our actions. Many of them honk and give us the thumbs up as they pass. Confrontational, yet peaceful direct action isn’t actually as damaging as more mainstream groups would lead you to believe, it seems.

    In fact, we are closer to a safe Fell St. than we have ever been before.

  • It could be said that this was a very short and successful trial of Fell St. without an Arco entrance. Traffic flowed by smoother and more safely than ever before, there were no screeching tires, near misses, or blocked lanes. And the gas pumps? It’s no question they were still well-used (and the station would get more business once commuters figure out that the entrance is on Divisadero).

  • @Wai Yip Tung: You said “That’s why I propose a small change to the protest tactic.” You don’t have to just propose a small change. Please, do whatever you think will be most effective. In the mean time, we’re going to do what we feel will be most effective.

  • @ZA: Yes, the police were very professional when they held us in jail for 16 hours.

  • I appreciate Mirkarimi’s approval of the protesters and his vow to improve Fell St. Can you imagine Bevan Dufty doing the same?

    Let’s get Mirkarimi to run for mayor in the next election.

  • EL

    Why protest cars entering the station from Divisadero? Isn’t that the driveway that is out of a bike’s path on Fell?

  • JD

    ZA summarized my feelings pretty well: I agree with the cause and appreciate that these people are willing to risk arrest and citations in order to improve our cities for bicycles (and pedestrians). I’m not necessarily against civil disobedience, but I am against “off-topic” civil disobedience, like the guy walking into traffic to stop it. Actually, I totally empathize (and agree) with his frustration on how we worship at the alter of the automobile at the expense of our own health and that of the environment, but what he is doing is not an efficient way to create change since people don’t understand what he’s trying to protest. Those who locked themselves up to their bikes while blocking the driveway, however, are engaged in a protest which is efficient and has an obvious point.

    I understand those who think it’s the waste of the taxpayer’s money for the cops and firefighters to have to cut these protesters from their bikes, but how about all the money the cops, firefighters, paramedics, and DA have to waste having to clean up after the brutal car accidents that occur every day, many caused by drunks, unlicensed individuals, or just people who are shirking their responsibility of driving a 4000 lb machine and aren’t paying attention? If you look at how much money they spent on this incident, it’s pocket change compared to how much they spend on cleaning up and dealing with all the car accidents in this city. And this is totally ignoring the money we as as society waste on having to clean up after the pollution created by cars, by their contribution to the obesity epidemic, and the wars we fight to preserve the oil flow to power them.

    Further, it’s exactly because this sort of protest takes so much effort that it gets attention. Many of the rights we take for granted were earned in the same way, by people causing a “ruckus” and “wasting taxpayers’ money” just to make a point. And I think the cause they are fighting for — taking our cities back from cars and returning them to people, as they were for millennia until the early 20th century — is a worthy one whose importance will only grow as the condition of our environment and our health continues to deteriorate.

  • Hi Josh,

    I was in your talk in SFBC a few months ago. Sorry to hear about the incidence.

    I am glad to hear you see this as everyone’s issue and not just bicyclists’ issue. Good to hear some drivers honk in support. Just as I think many of them could be on your side.

    Most importantly, my concern is your message can go to the public without distortion. How would this story portrait in public? “Police arrest cyclist protesters chaining themselves to obstruct cars from entering gas station” or “Commuters suffer as gas station business profit on the busy Fell St”. I hope the headline will be the later.

  • ZA

    @ Stuart Chuang Matthews “Yes, the police were very professional when they held us in jail for 16 hours.”

    And thank you for spending that time in jail for a cause I fully support.

  • turtles

    @Stuart Chuang Matthews: “Guess what? Our tactics are making progress on the issue.”

    What progress have your tactics made?

    The green bike lane was proposed long before your first protest ( http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/03/19/san-francisco-may-get-its-first-green-bike-lane-on-fell-street/ ).

    And the city is no closer now to closing the curb than it was years ago, when gas first skyrocketed, and the SFBC asked them to close the curb.

  • @turtles When did the various changes to that stretch happen? Shortly after our protests started 11 weeks ago. Also, Streetsblog has reported that MTA has had informal discussions about closing the curb cuts. MTA has had interns out there doing studies. Ross Mirkarimi made some very strong statements which you can see in the video.

  • Chris

    Do cars lining up for the Arco station have any traffic calming effects? If they do, is there a way to possibly put that to good use?
    If the Fell St. entrance is closed:
    Will the 76 station across the street become the popular choice and result in the same problems?
    How would traffic on Divisadero, Oak, and Broderick be affected?

    Crazy idea 1: Build a bike bridge starting at Scott & Fell, that touches down in the Pan Handle.
    Crazy idea 2: Tunnel under Fell for through-traffic with a bike lane, keep 1 or 2 lanes above Fell for Local & Arco Access.

  • Mickey

    With a 2 year old daughter, I don’t have the luxury of being arrested; however, Sometimes outrageous protests are necessary to call attention to outrageous policies. (Remember ActUp anyone?) Civil Disobedience is as old as America herself. As a Veteran I hold Civil Disobedience in the highest patriotic esteem : an American Right for which I’m proud to have had some part in protecting. When the power interests refuse to listen, sometimes the only alternative is infact Civil Disobedience.

    I admire your dedication to the cause, and as a driver AND a cyclist both, I hope for a reasonable outcome.

  • NoeValleyJim

    I am a daily cyclist and SFBC member, but I really don’t think this is the way to drum up public support. Did you try contacting Mirkarimi before blocking the entrance?


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