Waste of Resources? SFPD Stinging Bicycle Riders at Octavia and Grove

Photo: Sean Rea

Police officers have been targeting bicycle riders in recent weeks at the intersection of Octavia and Grove Streets and issuing tickets for “running” the stop sign, according to two Streetsblog readers.

The quiet intersection isn’t known for being particularly dangerous, and there aren’t any known injuries there involving bicycles recently.

But Streetsblog reader Sean Rea said an officer told him they had been assigned to ticket bicyclists there in response to a neighbor complaint and because it’s a “blind corner,” though they seemed unhappy with the duty.

“They were very friendly, and seemed more interested in doing it where it might matter vs. being out there because someone called in the intersection,” Rea wrote in a comment. “I got a strong sense that this isn’t what they wanted to be doing.”

There are certainly more dangerous intersections where the enforcement might be more effective in reducing crashes. Just a few blocks away at Oak and Franklin Streets this week, a truck driver killed USF student Robert Yegge on his bicycle.

Despite the ongoing lack of noticeable enforcement at many of the city’s most dangerous spots, Rea said SFPD’s targeting of bicyclists at Octavia and Grove appears to have even stepped up since he first saw an officer perched there on Bike to Work Day. Today, he said he saw a second officer for the first time.

Grove at Octavia. Photo: Google Maps

SFPD Northern Station Captain Ann Mannix has not yet responded to requests for comment.

As Rea noted, personal complaints to the police seem to have as much bearing on the deployment of SFPD’s traffic enforcement resources as any data on crash-prone locations. So if you know some hotspots where traffic is especially dangerous on a daily basis, phoning in a complaint could get some results.

Police often cite bicyclists for violating the state law which requires them to come to a full stop at stop signs as they would in a car, even if it’s apparent they aren’t violating anyone’s right-of-way. Even San Francisco police offers don’t seem to find the law practical to follow, though they often use it to issue superfluous tickets to bicyclists while the most dangerous behaviors on the streets go unenforced. Idaho changed the ill-fitting law 30 years ago by allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

Watch SFPD officers safely roll through a stop sign themselves:

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to say something unpopular here:
    Bikes are vehicles and should obey traffic laws.  Yes, I know that losing your momentum on a bike is no fun and is a disincentive to riding.  But this is a reason to work to improve laws (say legalizing bikes treating stop signs as yield signs or eliminating unnecessary stop signs) not to complain when police enforce the laws.  To object to police not ticketing motorists for unsafe behavior and to also object when they do ticket unsafe cyclists is a bit hypocritical.  

  • Anonymous

    I generally don’t come to a complete stop at this intersection on my bike.  It easily has the least amount of traffic between my commute of Hayes Valley to SoMA.  There’s no real traffic there on Octavia and only occasionally on Grove. 

    The number of times I’ve had problems at Grove and Gough is another matter.  I’ve almost been creamed twice by drivers turning left onto Gough from Grove (civic center side) and I’ve only lived in the neighborhood since November.

  • mikesonn

    Apply those SFPD resource at actual problem intersections – for both cyclists and motorists. That is the complaint.

  • How is this a blind corner? It’s like every other four-way stop in the city.

    SFPD is wasting taxpayer money by using their limited resources to ticket bicyclists who don’t come to a complete stop at empty intersections. Coasting through an empty intersection at low speeds is in no way a safety issue, it just annoys those people who are annoyed that bicyclists exist in the first place. If SFPD wants to focus on true threats to public safety, they should focus on people who operate 3000 lb vehicles irresponsibly, especially motorists who run over pedestrians in crosswalks. If SFPD feels obliged to also target bicyclists, they should target something meaningful and actually dangerous– bicyclists who fail to yield right of way to pedestrians, especially at intersections with high numbers of pedestrians. This might actually make a difference to public safety and not be a complete misuse of their time.

  • Shmoozilla

     Maybe the person(s) who complained thinks this IS a problem intersection…maybe they observed cyclists not yielding to pedestrians. Cyclists coasting through intersections at low speed annoy motorists who wish all cyclists would behave in a predictable manner, pedestrians who have the right of way and prefer not to get hit, and people who are annoyed that bicyclists exist in the first place.

  • ubringliten

    Once again, the roads are not made for cyclists.  Until then, bicyclists should have some leeway.  Reduce speed limit at 10 mph, timed traffic lights at 13 mph like the Green Waves, and have bike lanes installed everywhere, then I will obey all traffic laws.

  • “Bikes are vehicles”
    Bikes weigh 30-some pounds, lack motors, don’t hinder a user’s vision or hearing, and stop on a dime compared to cars. It’s for these reasons that nobody – not you, your brother, nor your mother – will ride a bike like they drive a car and stop at every empty stop sign. Do you honestly claim to?

  • MikeB

    I got a ticket today for not stopping at the intersection in front of the Four Seasons on Market Street. It’s probably the least dangerous intersection in the city! There were no cars or pedestrians at the intersection, but there were definitely three officers stopping bicyclists in the passenger loading area of the hotel. Four people stopped in the 3-4 minutes I was there receiving my ticket.

  • @WinstonK:disqus as I told the two officers — I completely understand the sentiment and rationale for them being there. It’s just that choosing that intersection seems completely arbitrary and a waste of resources. If we can’t cite every broken law — which we can’t — then I think we can agree we should focus our resources to maximum benefit.

    While citizen input is important, one phone call shouldn’t mean bringing the hammer down.

  • Winston – as Mike said, the problem is we have only so many cops.
    Should the goal be to write as many tickets as possible, or to reduce collisions?

    If the goal is to reduce collisions, the cops should be at the most problematic intersections. If the goal is to write tickets, they should go back to people riding up onto the sidewalk at Caltrain, cyclists starting 1 second too early at the lights on Valencia because they can’t trackstand, and cyclists crossing with the Walk signal (but red light) on Division at Bryant.

    If not, there are plenty of useful places to go.

    This complaint is exactly a corrolary to motorists who complain about the DPT writing up a ton of tickets for people not curbing their wheels on 3% grades, while ignoring double parkers. The wheel curbing tickets are dumb. So are the Octavia/Grove tickets.

  • Guest

    So would you have stopped at a red light if there were peds crossing, or would you ride around them?  Since the intersections around the Four Seasons all have traffic signals, not even the Idaho stop law would have helped you here.  And I’m one of the few who actually stop at 12th/Market, and it’s about time more do the same.

  • Idaho stop says Red Light = Stop sign, not stop light…

  • Kevin

     I love riding my bike like a car and and making “vroom, vroom” noises. It makes me extra safe.

  • jjsmack

    At least on a bike if you get a ticket, the fine is lower than for cars, you don’t get a driving record hit, insurance doesn’t go up, and you can never lose your privilege to ride a bike.

  • Gneiss

    The tricky thing about the mid-block pedestrian signals on Market is how they break up timing for cyclists on the lights.  For an example – If I turn left onto Market from 7th on a green, the light will go red for the pedestrian walkway to Civic Center plaza.  Waiting at that light means I miss the green at 8th, and (as often as not) the green wave that carries me all the way to Octavia.  Then I need to stop at each and every light from there on out.

    I would be less inclined to run that pedestrian walkway red if I could still catch the green wave down Market.  Any way MTA could adjust the timing at 8th, and maybe the other intersections with mid-street walkways? Making the timing more in tune with cycling speeds would certainly go a long way toward encouraging compliance with red lights.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like police to ticket cyclists who fail to yield to pedestrians. But failing to come to a stop at an empty intersection? No.

  • cyclistnick

    um, you should stop at a stop sign or red light regardless of whether you’re a car or a cyclist or some idiot rollerskating, skateboarding, or running in the middle of the street. the signs and signals are there for a reason and if everyone obeys ALL the traffic laws, we’ll all be safer.

  • Anonymous

    The last one doesn’t apply to motorists either, though (well, unless you do it enough in a certain period of time).

  • Al

    If a phone call is enough to get SFPD to target a particular intersection then everyone who rides a bike and knows of a particular bad intersection / situation should call SFPD and ask that they do enforcement of the vechiles (I’m assuming cars and trucks) that create the problem.   We should quit being targets and start using the SFPD to solve our probelms.

  • Anonymous

     @azb324:disqus, Yes, I do stop at every stop sign.  I’d rather not, but I really believe that it’s important for bikes to behave in a predictable manner.  It’s the same reason I don’t bike on the sidewalk or ride the wrong way down one-way streets.  Also a bike traveling at 20 MPH doesn’t stop any quicker than a car traveling at that speed and when I lived in Davis I saw a handful of bloody accidents caused by bikes not being able to stop in time on roads where both parties thought there wasn’t enough traffic to bother obeying traffic laws.

  • cyclist-pedestrian

    As a cyclist it is very dangerous to cross streets when it’s your turn because of cyclists.  SFPD should also start monitoring Market Street because so many cyclists run red lights and issue tickets.  The law states that cyclists should come to a complete stop when the light is red or when they are at a stop sign. 

  • cyclist-pedestrian

    I meant to say as a cyclist who is crossing the street can be dangerous on Market Street because cyclists don’t obey the laws.

  • @WinstonK:disqus We’re not talking about riding through stop signs at 20 MPH (and yes, 30 pounds does stop more quickly than 3 tons), riding on sidewalks or the wrong way. We’re only talking about approaching and proceeding, when apparently clear, at a slow speed. And if you truly do fully stop even when no one’s around, then you’re an anomaly – not representative of the average person which policies and enforcement should be formed around.

  • Winston, no one should blow through a stop sign at 20 mph.  There’s no way at that speed to verify that there is no approaching traffic or pedestrians around.  Coasting through an empty intersection requires verifying with one’s eyeballs that the intersection is truly empty. It requires complete knowledge.  Unless an intersection is a particularly blind one you can get a pretty complete view of all approaching traffic as you approach at 7 or 8 mph.  Again, if other cars, bikes, and especially other pedestrians have arrived at the intersection first, you should cede the right of way.  But you can often do this by slowing down even further before you get to the intersection, let the other person turn/cross/whatever, and then be on your merry way with everyone safe and happy and not feeling dissed by the rude cyclist.

    Our laws are written for cars. People who drive cars decided bikes should also follow these same rules with no regard to the differences between bikes and cars. Bikes are not the same as cars. Cars have blind spots and are capable of extremely fast acceleration.  Plus their mass and width means they are extremely effective at mowing down more vulnerable road users. That is why it’s so important that they give themselves at least a moment to make sure they are not going to run over or hit anything.  But at empty intersections, cars also routinely fail to come to a complete stop.  At the four-way stop intersection near my house from time to time (while waiting for the bus) I note driver behavior.  When other cars are at the intersection 9 out of 10 cars will come to a complete stop.  The last will roll through as much as he/she can get away with.  But when there are no other cars at the intersection, only 1 in 10 will come to a complete stop. Another 6 in 10 slow down to 3 mph or so and roll through. 2 in 10 will blow through at 7 or 8 mph. And 1 in 10 will blow through at 10, 15, 20 mph.  Usually I don’t think the drivers who roll through at 3 mph are much of a public safety hazard but as I driver I do try to come to a complete stop myself because I know my car has blind spots and I see it as a moral imperative not to hit pedestrians.

    I agree that as a driver it would be nice if cyclists were more predictable.  I have been at four-way stop insections (while driving) where I am trying to turn left. Three cyclists approach as I come to a complete stop. My turn signal is on, blink, blink. The first cyclist shows every sign of not slowing down. I wait, unwilling to risk creaming the cyclist.  He indeed blows through the stop sign at about 12 mph.  I wait.  Second cyclist is a second behind him, also blows through stop sign.  I wait.  Third cyclist slows down.  What is he going to do? Stop, turn, or roll through slowly?  I can’t tell.  What do you know–he is actually going to stop and wait for me! But for me to figure this out and really believe it takes a couple of seconds. It would’ve taken less time for me if the third bicyclist blew through like the other two.  Ah well.  I appreciate the gesture to civility, because when I bicycle, I also stop for cars and no doubt confuse them and make their stops in the end longer. 

  • Urbanwalker

    Why is is a waste of resources?

  • We can’t post an officer at every intersection to cite every traffic law that’s violated. Our resources are simply too finite for that. I’m absolutely in favor of citing people who are genuinely risking the safety of others. But I travel through this intersection every day and I just don’t see it. 

    Now contrast that with 2nd & Folsom, or Howard & Hawthorne, where there are 4-way pedestrian crosswalks where cyclists routinely fail to yield, instead choosing to swerve in between pedestrians at high speeds. I would much rather the SFPD hit that intersection, where actual danger is being posed, than have them camp out at a location where cyclists are using good judgment before rolling a stop sign.

    And that’s why it is a waste of resources.

  • Potomac

    I drive a Prius.  I have great visibility and can clearly see if an intersection will require that I stop fully or slow down.  i do not think that I should have to stop.

    In addition, many times at night when the light is red, I’m the only car in sight.  I shouldn’t have to stop at the red light.

    I think it is time we stop making unilateral rules that apply to everyone and just assume that all folks will do what they should do.

  • Adrienne Johnson

    Can we give Citizen’s Tickets to all the bicycle cops who ride the wrong way in the bike lane, ride on the sidewalk, run stop signs, make left turns the wrong way into one-way streets, fail to yield to pedestrians…?  Ooooh, how about moving violations for all of the officers pulling out of Mission Station in their cruisers while talking on their cell phones (hands very un-free)?  We have all seen it happen, but I don’t see them getting popped for it.  Just sayin’.

  • I’ve been hit by a Prius. I’ve never hit a Prius.

  • No, you do not have great visibility.

  • I drive a Prius. It has blind spots. It weighs 3000 lbs and has rapid acceleration.  It is enormously different from a bicycle. When I drive it, I am very conscious I can kill someone easily with it. Though it’s not impossible, I would have a very tough time killing anyone with my bicycle because I don’t go that fast, have the mass, or the instant acceleration. It’s just basic physics. We do have different laws for different types of transport.  Motorcycles are allowed to split lanes, for example, whereas cars are not.

    For what it’s worth, I think all bicyclists should stop at stoplights because cars can come speeding out of nowhere and kill you way too easily.

  • Sprague

    Please check out Karen’s very thorough comment on this issue (in reply to WinstonK in this thread).  Particularly from the perspective of a cyclist, you may agree with its merits.

  • Kitkitdizze

    I’m adamantly  pro bicycle. More protected bike lanes! More bicycles! More bicyclists! I also favor higher gas prices, slower cars, and much more investment in public transportation. But why bicyclists should be exempted from the requirement to follow the rules and obey the law escapes me. Everybody: Follow the rules. Obey traffic laws. We are not enemies. Keep moving: Get along.

  • Anonymous

    Because many of the laws you speak of weren’t written for bicycles but instead for vehicles that weigh ~100 times more, have an incredible amount of horsepower allowing for much higher speeds and much quicker acceleration, and whose operators have their sense dulled and distracted. On the continuum between a pedestrian and a car, I don’t know how you can possibly argue that a bicycle is anything at all like a car. Telling bicyclists that they need to behave like a car is as almost as ridiculous as telling a pedestrian they must do so. This is exactly the reason that the vast majority of cyclists (including cops) feel it is okay to roll through a stop sign provided they have yielded as required.

    The laws desperately need to change. And in the meantime, it needs to be recognized by all, but especially our city officials and the police, that there is nothing gained by making ridiculous stings on bicycles for things like not stopping completely at a stop sign at an empty intersection.


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