At Safe Streets Rally, SFPD Blocks Bike Lane to Make Point of Victim-Blaming

Update: Shahum reported that SFBC staffer Marc Caswell found a surveillance camera at an auto body shop which has footage of Le Moullac’s crash, even though SFPD has said no such footage could be found. More on that story later as it develops.

San Francisco Police Sergeant Richard Ernst apparently decided that the best way to make Folsom Street safer was to purposefully park his car in the bike lane this morning and force bicycle commuters into motor traffic.

Staff from the SF Bicycle Coalition were out at Folsom and Sixth Streets, handing out flyers calling for safety improvements on SoMa’s freeway-like streets in the wake of the death of Amelie Le Moullac, who was run over at the intersection last week by a truck driver who appeared to have made an illegal right-turn across the bike lane on to Sixth.

When Ernst arrived on the scene, he didn’t express sympathy for Le Moullac and other victims, or show support for safety improvements. Instead, he illegally parked his cruiser in the bike lane next to an empty parking space for up to 10 minutes, stating that he wanted to send a message to people on bicycles that the onus was on them to pass to the left of right-turning cars. He reportedly made no mention of widespread violations by drivers who turn across bike lanes instead of merging fully into them.

He said it was his “right” to be there.

According to SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum, Ernst blamed all three victims who were killed by truck drivers in SoMa and the Mission this year, and refused to leave until she “understood that it was the bicyclist’s fault.”

“This was shocking to hear, as I was told just a day ago by [SFPD Traffic] Commander [Mikail] Ali that the case was still under investigation and no cause had yet been determined,” Shahum said in a written account of the incident. While Ernst’s car was in the bike lane, “a steady stream of people biking on Folsom St. were blocked and forced to make sudden and sometimes-dangerous veers into the travel lane, which was busy with fast-moving car traffic during the peak of morning rush hour.”

One observer, who declined to be named, called Ernst’s behavior “insane.”

Sgt. Ernst denied Shahum's pleas for him to move his vehicle. Photo: SFBC

Shahum said she introduced herself to the sergeant and asked him to move his vehicle. “I said we were concerned about the large number of people biking who were being blocked by his car and forced into the auto lane at an already intimidating location,” she said. “I said it looked like a dangerous situation at that moment. I said we’d be happy to talk with him and for him to interact with the event however he wished, but that we’d feel more comfortable about people’s safety if he would move the car out of the bike lane and into a more appropriate spot.”

“There was literally an open, available parking spot next to the bike lane, which he could have pulled into,” added Shahum. “Sgt. Ernst again said he did not need to move his car. He said it was his ‘right’ to be there.”

This is far from the first display of windshield-centric views and poor understanding of bicycle laws entrenched among some officers in the SFPD. Reports of officers unfairly blaming, targeting, and even yelling at people on bikes aren’t uncommon.

As KRON’s Stanley Roberts and Streetsblog explained yesterday, few drivers seem to understand how to properly make a right-turn in a bike lane — they’re required to merge fully into it, like any other traffic lane, while yielding to people on bikes. Instead, many drivers turn across the bike lane, setting up bicycle riders for a “right hook” crash.

Right hooks were the causes of death for Le Moullac and Dylan Mitchell while they were biking this year. The third victim, Diana Sullivan, was reportedly run over while stopped at a red light at Third and King Streets. None of the truck drivers involved have been cited or charged.

Le Moullac's memorial, the day after her crash. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFBC sent an open letter yesterday to Mayor Ed Lee, the Board of Supervisors and the SFMTA calling on them to move forward with safety redesigns on SoMa Streets, including the lingering plan for Folsom that would include parking-protected bike lanes and a calmer two-way traffic configuration. Shahum said the organization gathered about 200 signatures on Folsom in support of the letter this morning, and that more than 150 people have sent similar emails to city leaders.

Protected bike lanes like those planned for Second Street often have separate traffic signal phases for bicycles and turning vehicles, which would have likely saved Le Moullac’s life.

At Sixth and Folsom, a memorial for Le Moullac can still be seen, and several people who knew her were present at this morning’s incident. Shahum said Sergeant Ernst’s behavior “was deeply upsetting to see him unnecessarily disrupt and add tension to what was already an emotional and difficult time for many people who lamented this sad loss of life.”

Photo: SFBC
Photo: SFBC
  • Sean Rea

    Note that Ernst refers to the left lane as the “automotive lane” — further indication of the insane motorists-can’t-do-no-harm mentality that has infected most of the police force in San Francisco.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    I wonder why these drivers who ran over and killed the cyclists weren’t cited…

  • Unfortunately, SFPD officers acting like assholes and blaming the victim isn’t particularly newsworthy, it’s business as usual.

  • Volker Neumann

    Given that the cop car is blocking the bike lane then a car wanting to turn right would snug up next to the cop car. This means that bikes would need to move over 2 lanes to avoid a right-hook. Nice work, Richard Ernst.

  • Anonymous

    Does Sgt Ernst’s cute little demo reflect what happened when Amelie was killed? Was the truck in the bike lane like his squad car was and she squeezed between it and the curb? I highly doubt it. And we certainly haven’t gotten any facts about what happened from the SFPD.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    This guy really needs to be suspended. Particularly given the timing of all this, the SFPD could not appear more out of touch if they tried. Embarrassing and appalling.

  • Zack

    I love SF but I’m so glad I don’t have to ride there daily anymore. The attitude and ignorance exhibited by some members of the police force only serves to reflect and reinforce the same behavior in other motorists. I’ve seen SFPD flip illegal midblock U-turns without any signal to park illegally – all to go get some coffee. The police force needs to do some house cleaning or at least a major education campaign for their officers. Glad to see the SFBC finally getting active in this, they’ve been far too passive as other cyclists are slaughtered.

  • cwsf

    Ernst goes to my gym in SOMa – he’s always seemed a bit off — wearing overly tight wrestling singlets to work out.. This odd unnecessary bullying and aggressiveness seems to round-out the picture of a disturbed individual.

  • No point checking that camera. The police already determined that it was just an unfortunate accident and the driver did nothing wrong.

  • Guest

    It would be nice to find out if Ernst took it upon himself to do this or if his superiors sent him.

  • SoMa Rez

    I hope folks take this officer’s inappropriate behavior and lack of traffic enforcement in general in SoMa to the Southern Station’s Captain’s Community Meeting tonight at 6:30pm at Bayside Village, 160 Brannan Street, enter doors mid-block past the market.

  • Anonymous

    He’s a lot less clever than he thinks. it’s not like cyclists don’t know about double parked vehicles in the bike lane… one of those interviewed even mentions it!

    This reminds me, what’s the status of the firefighter who hit the motorcyclist while drunk on duty?

  • Anonymous

    I wrote the captain of SFPD Southern Station, Redmond, to complain about the station’s handling of the case and Sergeant Ernst’s dangerous behavior. You can find the email address online. Do it, please, readers, even if you can’t make tonight’s meeting on short notice.

  • Anonymous

    what suburb does he commute from? wonder how much big pay and big pension he gets?

  • Anonymous

    Classic psychopath behavior, it would seem.

  • Morgan Fitzgibbons

    I stand corrected. The revelation that SFPD didn’t even bother doing the most basic of police work, like checking nearby security cameras, in their “investigation” makes them appear even more out of touch. Even more suspensions are in order. A sad sad day for all.

  • Anonymous

    It will be even more interesting to observe how the SFPD handles this. I guess we’ll find out if Ernst really does have a “right” to intentionally and needlessly block a bike lane and endanger the lives of dozens of bicyclists in order to harass the SFBC with his blame-the-victim ideology.

    Will the department’s longstanding pro-motorist, anti-cyclist bias that works to shield killer motorists from the consequences of their deadly choices also shield Ernst from the consequences of abusing his power?

  • Mark Dreger

    Absolutely unreal.

    Looks like anyone who rides a bike in this city is completely on their own. No law or justice on their side. (Apparently in NYC too.)

    And for the record, the SFPD didn’t hesitate to pull video surveillance for the Castro incident. I guess there’s no message to send here, huh? And we pay their salary?! I’m livid.

  • Sean Rea

    According to http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area/2012 he makes a base of $135k a year.

  • bunuel

    I’ve just expressed my horror in writing to Captain Redmond, Ed Reiskin, Mayor Lee and Jane Kim. Thanks for exposing this stuff, Aaron. You’re doing a great job.

  • Sean Rea

    This does not surprise me at all. A car jumped into the bike lane in front of me without signaling right in front of a patrol car yesterday. I pointed and motioned at them and got nothing.

  • SoMa Rez

    The Bay Area Bike Share launches next week – with most stations in SoMa. This is the attitude of the police in SoMa?

  • Dan

    “When we make transit more efficient by getting rid of double-parked cars or whatever it might be, that translates to operations cost savings,” Ramos said at a board meeting in December. Double-parkers can also endanger people on bicycles, particularly if they are forced into lanes with moving vehicles or rail tracks.

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/02/22/sfmta-increases-fines-for-double-parking-and-sidewalk-riding/

  • binhqxd

    All the bike lanes in the world wont change the violent, impatient, and piggy behaviour that so many drivers of motorized vehicles express on an ongoing (and observable) basis.

  • Anonymous

    One observer, who declined to be named, called Ernst’s behavior “insane.”

    Chief of Police Greg Suhr, upon hearing the story – said “Give this man a raise!”

  • Anonymous

    I guess we’ll find out if Ernst really does have a “right” to
    intentionally and needlessly block a bike lane and endanger the lives of
    dozens of bicyclists in order to harass the SFBC with his
    blame-the-victim ideology.

    No we won’t. this is over. There will be ZERO response from the SFPD. None. Not even a denial. If cornered, we might get a “we’re looking into this” but that will be BS.

  • Oh yes, they will. Much or most of the “mistakes” by drivers are facilitated by bad infrastructure. A physically separated PATH (intersections and everything in between them, including separated signals) idiot-proofs bad or mistaken choices by drivers. Aggressive driving gets tamed, too, though of course never completely.

  • Anonymous

    Are you serious?

  • Anonymous

    Cops are assholes. There is no need to single out a particular one for being good or bad—the police culture is one of “I got your back, bro” pure and simple. Most cops aren’t faced with situations where their decisions could make them a bad cop. The culture is one where a good cop can remain a good cop by having the back of a bad one. Like prison, you don’t rat out your buddy. That’s why this jackass Ernst will be sternly reprimanded by his superior, then taken out for beers by same superior as soon as the civilian clothing is adorned.
    It’s not an individual cop you should commend/scorn. It’s the culture of sweeping issues under the rug that’s the issue.

  • Anonymous

    Which would be the answer to the question, in the affirmative.

    The SFBC has generally been disinterested in exposing and challenging the SFPD’s poisonous anti-bike bias. Perhaps being publicly shamed, co-opted and harassed at a memorial rally will light a fire under the coalition–when it comes to traveling by bicycle in this city, the SFPD does more harm than good.

  • Anonymous

    “While Ernst’s car was in the bike lane, “a steady stream of people biking on Folsom St. were blocked and forced to make sudden and sometimes-dangerous veers into the travel lane, which was busy with fast-moving car traffic during the peak of morning rush hour.””

    I have a problem with this wording. Nobody is “forced” to make a “sudden and sometimes-dangerous veer”. If they made a dangerous veer, then it’s because they made a poor decision, and the proper thing would be to slow down, stop if needed and then change lanes when it’s safe to do so and pass.

    This “forced to make a sudden veer” is exactly the same argument used by drivers why there shouldn’t be bicycles on the road in the first place, used to explain why they passed when it was unsafe rather than waiting until it was safe.

    Certainly, the car should not be there, but drivers and cyclists alike encounter slower moving or stopped vehicles/obstacles all the time (both in cases where they should be there and cases where they shouldn’t), and they aren’t *forced* to do something dangerous because of that — instead, they decide to do something dangerous — or they decide to handle it safely.

    And if you can encounter a dangerous situation so quickly that you don’t even have time to properly react to it — you’re going too fast for conditions.

    Just to be clear, my problem here is just with the wording — it’s too similar to the bogus reasoning used by drivers when they come up with hypothetical situations about why bicycles can’t be on the roads — the reasoning is bogus when they use it, so it has to be bogus when we use it as well.

  • GuestCommenter

    Yes, how can you enforce the laws if you don’t know them?

  • Mark Dreger

    Don’t count on anyone being reprimanded.

  • GuestCommenter

    Sorry buddy, but rights hooks aren’t always the bicyclist’s fault.

  • Upright Biker

    Wrote to my supe. Did you?

    If we don’t ride together, we ride apart.

  • Since you have photos and probably video… and the officer was NOT on a call, I’d check into issuing him citations for illegal parking, reckless endangerment and whatever else a cop would be issuing to a cyclist/driver in the same situation. Not a complaint… a TICKET.

  • Anonymous

    22500. No person shall stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle whether attended or unattended, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a peace officer or official traffic control device, in any of the following places:

    (a) Within an intersection, except adjacent to curbs as may be permitted by local ordinance….

    —-
    If the friendly officer is not cited it makes a mockery of the police force.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. What is the screening process for these fools?

  • Anonymous

    This video, meh, as it stands. This guy needs to be called out en masse at the Board of Supervisors.

  • Anonymous

    And the DA pressed on despite somewhat inconclusive video evidence if you look at the statements from the DA and defense regarding that video.

    Usually the DA cuts a deal to reduce the overhead in getting a sentence.

    If you look at it, even if Bucchere thought he had an ironclad defense. 1000 hours of community service is less painful than a trial would have been, substantially less expensive than a trial would have been, and adds something of value to society. Take the deal.

  • gneiss

    Once again, it looks like the police are taking the view that right hooks can only be cited if the car and bicycle have their front wheels in the same plane as they cross the intersection. Based on police comments, it sounds that if a cyclists end up slightly behind or behind a vehicle turning across a bike lane rather than merging into it then the cyclists is at fault in the collision. Otherwise, they are taking the view that it constitutes an “unsafe pass” by the cyclist

    It is as if CVC 21717 is trumped by “who arrives first” at the intersection in their collision investigation. And as we have seen from Stanley Robert’s Behaving Badly clip of motorists in SOMA, even multiple truck drivers employed by Caltrans are not obeying this law. What the police seem to fail to take into account, is that lane positioning of vehicles not merging into the bike lane makes it exceedingly difficult to pass on the left of vehicle, since they are taking up the entire travel lane next to the bicycle lane rather than moving into it.

    To make the law more clear, at the very least, SFMTA should start striping mixing zones which move cyclists left and motorists right as quickly as possible at each intersection along Folsom and other streets in SOMA to direct motorists and cyclists into their proper lane position to prevent more of these tragedies from happening.

  • Chava

    Hello. I wrote the following letter to Supervisor Kim, Chief Suhr and Captain Redmond: Supervisor Kim, Chief Suhr and Captain Redmond-
    I was distressed to read the following article on Streetsblog this afternoon: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/08/21/at-safe-streets-rally-sfpd-blocks-bike-lane-to-make-point-of-victim-blaming/.

    As a daily cyclist I was very upset by the recent death of the young woman on 6th and Folsom. I frequently ride on that bike lane and felt that this person might have been me. More upsetting and troubling was reading about the disregard for life and citizens shown by Sargent Ernst by his reported behavior and his interview in the news report. His callous actions flew in the face of the SFPD call to serve. Please look into this matter at once, and ensure that our police will protect the lives of all those who work and live in San Francisco, and not just those in cars. I hope to hear that this has been resolved.

    My phone number is in the byline of my email, and I received a phone call from Captain Redmond within an hour of my sending the email. While I do not know what will happen, I was grateful for his responsiveness and attention. I just wanted to share with the streetsblog community, fwiw.

  • nah fuck you

    Fuck police, I hope you read this too you internet comment reading fucks

  • nah fuck you

    Fuck police, I hope you read this too you internet comment reading fucks

  • Dontcoast

    I can’t tell you how many times an officer parked in a bike lane to give me a ticket for going early at a light, not having a reflector, or slo-rolling a stop sign on an empty street…”for my safety”

    Once it forced an older lady cyclist into traffic. Once in a ped crosswalk.

    Every time i courteously asked to move to adjacent street/parking to keep bike lane safe. They always ignore rational arguments in favor of safety. Way to serve and protect, huh?

  • Anonymous

    Even if a cyclist stops, they still have to get around the car at some point, don’t they? At some point, they have to merge into much faster, much heavier, and much more powerful auto traffic. And in fact, by stopping, they have now lost all their momentum and will be going even slower (as well as stuttering and hence less in control when starting) when they try to go around the car which puts them more at risk.

    Further, even if you neglect this safety issue, what kind of urban design do we have where motorists can just detract from what little sliver of the road cyclists even get whenever they feel like it (to get a latte, drop off their friend, etc), especially considering that it’s illegal (even if they cops don’t enforce it)? It is about as inconsiderate and selfish as one can be do vulnerable road users.

    And yes, motorists and cyclists all encounter obstacles in the road all the time that require them to stop or change direction, but why in the hell would you possible say that we want to give cyclists *more* such obstacles? And further, cars doing it to other cars is a whole different can of worms than cars doing it to cyclists because of the weight, power, and size differences.

  • NoeValleyJim

    What is contact info for Chief Suhr? I would like to contact him as well.

  • NoeValleyJim

    SFPD has an anti-bike bias and is in general too lazy to do their jobs.

  • Greg R

    What unbelievably callous, disrespectful and reckless behavior on the part of Sergeant Ernst. Is this acceptable behavior at SFPD?

  • Guest

    Nothing against SFPD, but some particular officers give you a bad name, and you need to do something about it! Officers cannot and shall not put their own personal beliefs before the law without consequence of the LAW.

    Meanwhile, while not breaking the law, they aren’t enforcing it either. I was passing by a concert at the America’s Cup Pavilion, Saturday, and sure there were plenty of officers, DPT, MUNI fare inspectors, but cars stopped, taxis unloaded, and bikes swerved out of the GREEN bike lane into bumper to bumper traffic. Meanwhile officers stood there, 5 ft, 10 ft away, watching them… No warning, not a movement or blink of an eye. And others, simply chatting away. At least wave these cars on, shoo them away. Others stop and stay a while, but not a ticket or scolding in sight. It’s just frustrating to see.

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