Misguided Enforcement Precedes ThinkBike Improvements on the Wiggle

The Wiggle — the growingly popular, mostly-flat bicycling route connecting SF’s eastern and western neighborhoods — should become more bike-friendly in the next year. After consulting with Dutch bicycle planners, the SFMTA is planning new upgrades to increase the safety and comfort of people walking and biking on the route, including “green-backed” sharrows, zebra-striped crosswalks, and bikeways on Fell and Oak Streets, which planners now say are coming next winter.

San Francisco's first green bike box installed along with a left-turn bike lane on Scott Street two years ago. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/4248324915/sizes/z/in/photostream/##SFBC/Flickr##

As bicycle traffic increases along the Wiggle, improved crosswalks and other potential traffic-calming measures could help assuage complaints police say they’ve heard from some residents that stop sign violators are making it a less comfortable place to walk. Though no significant bike-pedestrian crashes are known to have been reported, police have begun stepping up enforcement in the area against people on bikes (and drivers, they say) who officers determine to be running stop signs and red lights.

“That’s not going to solve the problem,” says Morgan Fitzgibbons, co-founder of the Wigg Party, a group focused on promoting environmental sustainability in the neighborhoods around the Wiggle. He said rude or dangerous behavior is limited to a minority of bicycle riders, and while an education and outreach initiative on the streets would be a good idea, the root of the problem is that “these streets are simply designed for cars.”

Current stop sign laws, pointed out Fizgibbons, are tailored for car movement. While Idaho has allowed bicycle riders in that state to treat stop signs as yield signs with positive results for nearly 30 years, California requires both bicyclists and drivers to come to a full stop. Advocates say the Idaho approach — which still requires bicyclists to slow down and yield to others who have the right-of-way — simply legitimizes common practice, since people on bikes can safely negotiate smaller intersections like those on the Wiggle without the need for a full stop, while also clarifying expectations between different users.

“If you start designing the streets for the use that it actually receives, then you’re going to engender an attitude of respect from cyclists,” said Fitzgibbons. “I think when you start making the Wiggle a known place [for bicycles], and create that identity around the Wiggle, then you can start holding the cyclists who use it to a higher standard.”

Last September, SFMTA planners looking to transform the Wiggle into a more walkable, liveable, and bikeable place sought inspiration from Dutch planners, who in recent decades have pioneered and refined street designs to safely accommodate people on foot, on bikes, and in cars.

Waller Street at Steiner on the Wiggle, where a temporary bike corral was installed for display in late 2009. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/4157581892/sizes/z/in/photostream/##SFBC/Flickr##

During the two-day ThinkBike workshops, planners took a ride along three of the city’s main bike corridors: Market Street, Polk Street, and the Wiggle. Drawing on Dutch expertise, the groups sketched conceptual re-imaginings of the streets and listed recommendations for a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment. This year will see the first of those ideas [PDF] implemented on the Wiggle.

In the coming months, the SFMTA plans to install “green-backed” sharrows (seen already on Market Street at Van Ness) and continental crosswalks (a.k.a. “zebra-striped” — one was installed along Steiner last year) along the route from Steiner to Scott Streets, states an SFMTA report [PDF] submitted to the SF Bicycle Advisory Committee last week. The report also mentions that “wayfinding and traffic engineering improvements to the Market/Duboce/Buchanan intersection are under consideration.” The critical bikeway link on Fell and Oak Streets, connecting the Wiggle to the pathway on the Panhandle, will also come next winter — a few months sooner than recently reported — according to an SFMTA presentation.

"Green-backed" sharrows, also called "super sharrows", will be painted along the Wiggle in the coming months, the SFMTA says. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Come summer, the Church and Duboce Track Improvement project is expected to be completed with an exclusive green bike “channel” on Duboce near the Church intersection, connected by paint markings guiding bike riders across rail tracks in the intersection, said SFMTA planners. Green-backed sharrows will also be installed on Duboce to complement the others, and other improvements include new lighting, wider sidewalks and boarding islands, greening, new pavement treatments, sculptures, and more.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition “looks forward to immediate and longer-term improvements to the Wiggle, a critical biking pathway and a wonderfully vibrant residential and commercial area,” said deputy director Kit Hodge. “Communities in the Duboce Triangle, Lower Haight, Alamo Square Area have been making piece-meal improvements to the Wiggle area for years, which has improved local commercial corridors and enhanced the experience for those walking and biking.”

“The creative energy and desires for art and greening can be joined with long-supported traffic calming in the neighborhood to create an improved large-scale neighborhood — starting right now.”

Measures like raised and more-visible crosswalks, bulb-outs, reduced car traffic, and other traffic calming improvements could help make walking across streets on the Wiggle more comfortable. But until they come, police seem to be targeting behaviors that aren’t necessarily the most dangerous, particularly when compared to the danger from drivers. Bicycle commuter Stuart Krengel said he and a friend were ticketed by an officer last week for a stop sign violation while making a right turn onto Pierce Street from eastbound Page Street.

A rendering of Duboce at Church Street after the completion of the Track Improvement Project expected this summer. Image: RHAA via ##http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mproj/ChurchandDuboceTrackImprovementProject.htm##SFMTA##

The officer, according to Krengel, told the riders they were required to put their foot down at the stop sign. “We made a safe right turn, and got made an example of,” said Krengel, who claimed the officer dodged questions about the legitimacy of the citation and seemed unfamiliar with the Wiggle, but said police would be targeting stop sign violations there for six weeks. On Market Street, police were also spotted today “running a sting on cyclists running red lights,” according to a report from Uptown Almanac.

SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza denied that police were targeting bicyclists for any particular period of time. “There is enforcement because of complaints from the community that bicyclists are running red lights, not stopping at stop signs,” he said. “It’s a safety effort. We want to make sure that people are aware that they can get a citation for not obeying the rules of the road.”

The SF Bicycle Coalition, said Hodge, believes “there shouldn’t be any question: pedestrian safety always comes first.” At the same time, the organization continues “to work with the city to prioritize the enforcement of the most dangerous behavior from all road users, ensuring that our streets are safe for everyone,” she said. “We’re excited to see the city putting energy into this vibrant corridor, where a huge and growing number of people are biking and walking.”

The ThinkBike sketch of Scott Street between Page and Oak.

While Page and Pierce — the corner where Krengel was ticketed — isn’t technically on the Wiggle, Scott Street (one block over) could benefit from concepts sketched at ThinkBike. Many drivers and bicycle commuters move quickly through the somewhat wide intersection of Scott and Page, which lies next to a slope on Page — another popular bike route.

To calm Scott, ThinkBike planners recommended redesigning it as a “slow shared street” which doesn’t separate bikes and cars, but deters cut-through motor traffic and slows speeds using features like wider sidewalks with chicanes, more greening, and a planted traffic circle in the intersection (an idea that has been tried unsuccessfully on Page before).

Plans to implement the more substantial recommendations have yet to surface, but Fitzgibbons says the ThinkBike workshops and the initial projects coming out of it are encouraging. Still, he’ll wait until they’re on the ground before declaring progress.

“There’s often a gap between the good intentions of many people who work [at the SFMTA] and the implementation,” said Fitzgibbons. “What you end up having is a political leadership — namely the mayor, and on down from there — who instead of wanting to do the right thing and improving the city, they’re more concerned with taking everybody’s temperature.”

“When that’s your goal, you’re always going to run into people who aren’t on board. If that’s your tactic, you’re never going to get anything done.”

The SFMTA plans to implement guideway markings recommended at Duboce and Church Street.
A sketch of the intersection at Duboce, Steiner, and Sanchez Streets drawn by planners at ThinkBike.
An SFMTA report says staff is considering "wayfinding and traffic engineering improvements to the Market/Duboce/Buchanan intersection," where the gateway to the Wiggle lies.
  • Shmoozilla2000

    “What you end up having is a political leadership
    — namely the mayor, and on down from there — who instead of wanting to
    do the right thing and improving the city, they’re more concerned with taking everybody’s temperature.”

    God forbid there should be input from anyone not associated with the Bike Coalition.

  • I don’t see how any of these solutions (while many have their good points) get rid of bicyclists-running-stop-signs problem. 

    Why not turn four-way stops in the Wiggle into low speed roundabouts?  Try it out as a pilot. Once folks get the knack of it, then give tickets to bicyclists who do not cede the way to:  a) any and all pedestrians and b) traffic coming from the left. 

    Yes, it is absolutely important to take one’s turn at an intersection in a courteous and responsible manner, and this should be enforced if necessary with penalties. But if there is no other car or human being at a four-way stop intersection it does no good to anyone on the planet to make a bicyclist jump off her bike and put her foot down. It is simply ridiculous.

  • Mario Tanev

    Putting a foot down is a ridiculous requirement. I ride very cautiously and stop when there is a car stopped in front of me (rather than maneuvering around it), and put my foot down when I don’t have the right of way. However, in cases where it is safe, I simply slow down to an almost-halt and then continue. Putting a foot down at every block would be a huge impediment. I understand it’s the law, but the police should understand the actual risks and should prioritize infractions that actually put people at risk, such as those running stop signs or red lights, and most obviously driver violations. It’s why the SFPD don’t actively prosecute marijuana and prostitution cases.

    I do support ticketing of those riders who do not slow down at stop signs and just zoom through, and also those who don’t stop at stoplights. But it sounds like the SFPD is going all out in its hostility towards cyclists.

  • Anonymous

    Like @KarenLynnAllen:disqus said, all this stuff is a welcome improvement but will do little to stop bicyclists from running stop signs at which there is no need for them to come to a complete stop. I feel like the elephant in the room here is the whole idea that cyclists even need to come to a complete stop. I totally disagree that this is necessary.

    As an example, take a pedestrian. Do they have to stop at an intersection? Obviously not. And why not? Because they are going slow enough, are nimble enough, don’t have their senses dulled enough, and weigh so little that society has deemed it okay for them to figure out rights-of-way without all kinds of signs and silly laws.

    The other extreme is cars, where they are going fast, have hundreds of horsepower literally at the tips of the driver’s hands and feet, are not nimble, whose drivers have their senses completely dulled if not downright disabled, and weigh thousands of pounds. For these machines, we have deemed it appropriate that they need formal rules and laws in order to determine right-of-way so there aren’t mass casualties (although their still are, namely the millions maimed and killed by cars each year … but that’s another issue).

    Now, both of these groups and their specific properties (speed, weight, nimbleness, etc.) have been considered in urban design. Hence we have sidewalks (with no signs and no formal laws on how pedestrians need to interact) and roads (full of signs and laws).

    But then there are cyclists, the long-neglected form of transit in urban design. Of the two extremes — pedestrians and cars — bicyclists fall in between. In fact, by all properties (speed, weight, nimbleness, etc.) they are *much* closer to pedestrians and cars. Yet we have somehow decided that bicyclists in fact are exactly like cars and need to exactly behave all the same laws that apply to cars even though bicyclists are much more like pedestrians than cars. This, of course, was not down intentionally but rather as an after-thought put in to “placate” cyclists who realized they were neglected in urban design and couldn’t safely use the sidewalks or the roads.

    So it make no sense to me for cyclists to come to a complete stop at empty intersections. Nor does it make sense to the majority of cyclists who, after getting on a bike for the first time in an urban environment, quickly realize there is nothing gained by coming to a complete stop at an intersection.

    But yet on discussion of this issue, everybody pretends like it is biblical law that cyclists must stop at intersections. I think it’s time cyclists start challenging the root of the issue where SFPD starts ticketing cyclists for not coming to a completely useless stop at an empty intersection. In fact, all this does is make cycling so unbearable slow that we’ll never get large numbers of people to do it. And that is the real loss to our society.

    If we want to get people on bicycles, we need to make bicycling not only safe, but convenient. In our lazy society, it’s already inherently at a disadvantage on this latter issue since by definition cycling requires ones own power to move. The least we can do is provide cyclists with routes where their unique needs are acknowledged and incorporated into urban design. This means essentially moving to the Idaho Stop rules (or some California variation of them).

  • mikesonn

    We can’t get the state to pass a 3ft passing law, I doubt we’ll get an Idaho Stop rule.

  • mikesonn

    Has @b061ae0867336435bc888589c1dc4e26:disqus been eavesdropping at our secret meetings??

  • @mikesonn:disqus of course the BoS could direct the SFPD to make this a low-priority enforcement, as I think they did previously with marijuana possession.

    edit: yep, in 2006: http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2006/nov/24/marijuana_san_francisco_supervis

  • Shmoozilla2000

    Wow, you’re a conspiracy theorist too. Busy busy.

  • Bryan

    No, pedestrians don’t stop because they have the right of way. They don’t have to stop. It’s the responsibility of drivers and bicyclists to stop at all stop signs and red lights.

    As a pedestrian that was within inches of being hit by a bicyclist while crossing market street I know that it’s important that this regulation remains in place. And yes I was crossing the street while the crosswalk light was still flashing. I was not jay walking. However, I would have been far more likely to have received grater injuries than the bicyclist would have.

    Why do bicyclists believe that they are entitled to flaunt the law and then complain about the injustice of it all when they are caught in the act?

  • peternatural

    The law should be changed as jd_x suggested so that bicyclists have to yield at stop signs, but not necessarily stop (if there’s no one to yield to).

    The bicyclists who menaced you in the crosswalk would still have acted illegally under the improved law, and could still be cited.

  • Anonymous

    I’m all for the Idaho stop law when it comes to stop signs (but think the stop signal part of their law is just a way to get around having to ensure bike actuation) and have compiled documents and lobbied local governments to voice their support of it on a state level. However, I still try to come to a complete stop at every sign (foot down only when necessary, as it is not a requirement in the CVC) because I don’t believe in following just the laws I agree with. I think that if every cyclist who actively ignores stop laws instead worked to get them changed we would have some progress by now, but with the current climate of apathy or ignorance nothing is going to change and people are less likely to become educated on the issue.

    On a side note I also think bike routes should also be designed with more traffic calming and fewer stop signs at intersections, to increase their efficiency for cyclists without negatively impacting safety. Same as we do for auto thoroughfares.

  • Anonymous

    Brian: you missed what I was getting at. Imagine a pedestrain-only area — no bikes or cars. How do pedestrains figure out the right of way between *themselves* without running into and constantly stumbling all over each other? There are no signs, no rules, etc on these strees and certainly cops don’t give tickets to people for walking 4 abreast and blocking the sidewalk, for example. So why is that? I’m pretty sure we all know the answer.

    Again, as I pointed out, bicycles are much closer to being pedestrians than cars on all issues. Therefore, it makes no sense whatsoever to have them follow the same laws (or share the same road space) as cars. And remember, never did I say that bicyclists shouldn’t have laws, but just that they need to have their own unique laws which consider the features of bikes that make them different from cars, e.g., they don’t need to come to a complete stop at a stop sign if nobody is there. And never did I say that bicyclists shouldn’t yield to pedestrians. The order of priority in our cities must be pedestrians then bicyclists, then motor vehicles (with public transit taking priority over private autos).

    And once again, your position is simply: how dare you pretend that bicyclists don’t have to follow the laws! That is nothing but anarchy and how can we have a just and fair and safe society if people think they don’t have to follow the laws. But again, the point you seemed to have missed is that I’m questioning the laws *themselves*. We do this all the time: legislative branches of government create new laws, modify existing ones, and remove old ones constantly. It is how society works. Your argument is a non-starter if you just want to sit there and pretend that laws which have completed neglected cyclists are somehow written in stone like commandments from god. Again, by analogy with pedestrians, I’m showing how we already have different laws for two types of road users (pedestrians and motorists), so why can’t we have 3 by recognizing the uniqueness of bicycles?

  • Would an extra sign saying “Except cyclists” under the stop sign help? I’ve seen many photos from the NL, making eg. some “wrong way” street accessible to cyclists, allowing cyclists to turn but not cars etc. On the preferred cycle routes such signs make the route more attractive if cyclists don’t have to do a put a foot down stop.

    Would that be legal? What does the local laws say?

  • Bryan

    @jd_x- I agree completely that bicycles are more like pedestrians than cars. That doesn’t change the fact that they can and are capable of killing pedestrians. Often stop signs aye placed as a way to slow down traffic through quiet residential neighborhoods. Should there be more protected bike lanes and more clearly marked designated areas in this city? Absolutely. However, I really fail to see much of a comparison to how the law allowing bicyclists to not stop at stop signs in Idaho and it being applicable to the citizens of San Francisco.

  • Anonymous

    @Bryan: Bicyclists, since they are moving slower and do not have their senses inherently dulled compared to a motorist, can determine if an intersection is clear or who has the right of way without coming to a complete stop. There is absolutely nothing about coming to a complete stop that makes a cyclist better able to deal with an intersection (unless they will need to wait a significant amount of time, e.g., at a red light). In fact, you can argue it makes a bicyclist less safe since they are unstable when stopping and restarting and futzing around with toe clips, gear-shifting, etc. Again, all thse issues are what separates a bike from a car. You are assuming that stopping inherently has some advantage with bikes just because it does with cars. Again, this is the bias of a car-centric perspective. Their is a reason just about every cyclist (except those afraid of getting caught breaking the law) doesn’t find it necessary to come to a complete stop at an empty or nearly empty intersection. I challenge you to find any study that says cyclists coming to complete stops at stop signs improves safety.

  • Anonymous

    @2ee2545d4440edfa7e28ab21eada763e:disqus “I agree completely that bicycles are more like pedestrians than cars. That doesn’t change the fact that they can and are capable of killing pedestrians.”
    …There are indeed bicycle/pedestrian collisions resulting in injuries and very rarely deaths, but the number and severity of these collisions at intersections is not nearly significant enough to warrant applying the exact same stop law to cyclists as we do to motorists. The fault of bike/ped collisions is about 50/50 on the part of each mode, but we don’t suggest that all pedestrians start wearing protective gear or reflective safety vests to account for that half of the crashes. That would be silly, just as a mandated, foot-down stop is for cyclists.
    “Often stop signs aye placed as a way to slow down traffic through quiet residential neighborhoods.”…Yes, slowed to a speed usually at or above that of a cyclist. There are a lot of traffic calming devices that are just as or more effective than stop signs, and neighborhoods that have had stop signs removed and other traffic calming installed have not had widespread increases in collisions, even though traffic is not required to come to a full stop at intersections. Therefore, stop signs are more beneficial in regulating speed than they are in regulating right of way.”I really fail to see much of a comparison to how the law allowing bicyclists to not stop at stop signs in Idaho and it being applicable to the citizens of San Francisco.”

    The Idaho stop law is potentially applicable to the streets of any city, regardless of size. For an apt comparison, the city of Boise has a similar population to Fremont, CA, with just over 200,000 people. The bicycle mode share is significantly higher in Boise than in Fremont, but adjusting for that as well as for area and population density the number of collisions averages out just about the same. That means with their “stop as yield” law in place for over 25 years, the largest city in Idaho doesn’t have a statistically higher number of bicycle collisions than they probably would have without it. In fact, they are so convinced by this law in Idaho that in 2006 they made a revision which tied up some loose ends but kept it in place.

    Think about it this way: our current status quo is basically the same as the Idaho law, with most cyclists slowing at stop signs and stopping when necessary to yield to cross traffic with the right of way. A “stop as yield” law would make a distinction between this safe behavior and scofflaw cyclists who steal others’ right of way or blow past stop signs at high speed, and allow law enforcement to then deal only with those individuals having the most negative impact on safety.

  • I’m definitely for calming both auto and bike traffic on the Wiggle and also for improving way-funding of the route. Green-backed sharrows could help out a whole lot, especially with the second point. But I’m not so happy with the idea of adding continental crosswalks. The Wiggle (of all places) should be one where people feel comfortable crossing the street wherever they please. Such formally-marked crosswalks would constrain foot movement, reserving the street for fast travel except at intersections. As someone who both bikes and walks along the Wiggle, I like that the current design makes it pretty comfortable to cross mid-block.

    Taking a closer look at bicycle traffic – obviously 4-way stops aren’t working. And I question whether people would actually cycle around a small island to turn left. The best solution might just be no control (i.e., the right hand rule dictates right-of-way), but I doubt this would ever happen in the U.S. I think the best bet for the Wiggle is limited and calmer auto traffic. I would love to see a Wiggle that feels less like through streets and more woonerf-like.

  • If crosswalk visibility is the focus here, make them more unusual and interesting looking, like at 24th and Castro.

  • marcos

    Re: bicyclists not stopping at stop signs where there is no contention from autos or pedestrians, no harm = no foul.

    My favorite bike ride in the City is down Oak from the park to Steiner at speed with traffic past synchronized lights, center striping before Divis, keeping speed to head down into the Lower Haight and the Wiggle via Steiner which is very calm.  At times there is contention running the stop sign between cyclists on Page who both run stop signs, but rarely from motorists and peds.  The danger of running stop signs is more so heading inbound, downhill than it is for slower bikes which run stop signs heading outbound and uphill, but still totally manageable.

    That said, there are race and class issues with the focus on the wiggle when there are more cyclists facing greater dangers on Market and in some intersections in SOMA and into the Mission.  Removing politics from the situation (as some want to happen with removing parking as an issue) would mean that scarce public resources are allocated purely according to the observed public health threats of the built environment, not to the loudest, whitest and best off voices as appears to be the case in the wiggle.

  • marcos

    another issue is that the wider the street, the more latitude cyclists have to keep at speed and swerve in front of or behind crossing peds without incident.  narrowing the street might slow autos, but it offers less room for maneuver for cyclists.  again, more of an issue for faster inbound bicycle traffic.

  • marcos

    We’re at the point where perhaps half of motorists realize that cyclists need to conserve momentum and while stopped at a stop sign will wave cyclists through.

    You are not the elephant in the room @jd_x:disqus .  There are times when it is perfectly okay to bike wrong way on a one way street where that is very dangerous for a car, but a cyclist does that at their own risk.  Biking slowly and cautiously can be faster than going around 3-4 blocks.  There are times when it is safe to bike on the sidewalk as well where that is very dangerous for car to do, again cautiously when there is any chance of a ped popping out from inside or behind anything.

    No harm = no foul, bikes are not cars, the dangers to others and risks are mostly borne to cyclists and that threat of imminent execution or maiming does wonders to clear the mind.


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