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
  • Chris

    That sucks! Where do yo usually get tickets at?

  • Anonymous

    You misunderstood my comment completely.

    I didn’t say the cop was right to stop there, that it was smart or that it was a urban design issue (huh?), or that it wasn’t inconsiderate, or that I wanted to give cyclists *more* obstacles (what possibly made you think I thought that?)

    I objected to the “forced to veer” wording. I even said this several times to make it absolutely clear.

    Maybe giving some hypothetical situations would be better —

    — “I was driving along, coming around a corner and encountered a cyclist riding right in the middle of the lane, and was forced to veer into oncoming traffic …”

    — “I was riding my bike and there was a car parked in the bike lane and I was forced to veer into traffic …”

    Why would we consider one of these speakers to be a dangerous operator and the other an innocent victim? If we think that *why* the bike lane was blocked is an important distinction, let’s try a third situation —

    — “I was riding my bike and there was an ambulance parked in the bike lane and they were giving CPR to somebody right in front of it, and I was forced to veer into traffic …”

    My point is, nobody who is riding or driving safely is “forced” to do any “veering” by any immobile, parked car. And maybe a inexperienced cyclist thinks that’s what they are *forced* to, but that’s just as wrong as when an inexperienced driver thinks that they are *forced* to immediately pass a cyclist or other slow moving vehicle when they encounter them on a blind corner.

  • SF Resident

    I’ve never, ever seen traffic enforcement in SOMA and I could set up a video camera at any given intersection in order to find a violation every light cycle. Ludicrous.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll buy this. Certainly the whole 3 foot law veto was based on irrational statements about being “forced to cross a double yellow”

  • Anonymous

    It’s an urban design issue because we don’t have separated bicycle lanes – cycle tracks – to keep cars from using the bike lane for double-parking. If you have separate facilities, cyclists never have to worry about vehicles that weigh a 100 times more than then and with a 100 times more power blocking their lane, whether it’s an ambulance or a private car.
    Again, I’m saying that there are clearly times when a bicyclist has to move out of the lane, and there we agree. But what I’m trying to say is we need to minimize those occurrences much more for cyclists because they are much more vulnerable to cars than cars are to them (or cars are to other cars). So any urban design that allows cops, for example, to double-park in the bike lane, especially for non-emergencies as in this case, is primarily the fault of the urban design (if there was a separated cycle track he wouldn’t be parking on it). And this is exacerbated by the complete lack of enforcement of the laws that make it illegal even if it is possible to do (as it is in the case of a non-separated bike lane like that on Folsom).

    The reason you are seeing so much frustration isn’t because cyclists believe that they never should have to avoid obstacles, but that the urban design (and law enforcement) allows cyclists to be put at risks for unnecessary reasons, like somebody double-parking in the bike lane for a latte. If the only time cyclists had to leave the bike lane was because of ambulances or other emergency vehicles actually involved in an emergency, I guarantee you nobody would be complaining.

  • Anonymous

    I’m starting to feel like we need an uprising of cyclists and pedestrians in SF to take the streets and start protesting their complete neglect by the city, a la the Netherlands in the 1970s:
    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/10/how-dutch-got-their-cycling.html

    I mean, 100s of cyclists and pedestrians every year not only continue to be killed and maimed while SFPD and the DA refuse to take even punitive measures against motorists who are clearly at fault, but the cops, mayor, and most other officials absolutely refuse to do anything to address the design issues. This on top of the city supposedly being “transit first” and trying to get 20% of trips by bicycle by 2020. And though it’s ridiculous that people should have to take to the streets for something so basic, it seems like it’s the only thing that’s going to affect positive change. It’s one thing if the city was at least acknowledging there was a problem and working their best at solutions, but we can’t even get the law enforcement arm of the government, the SFPD, to even understand let alone enforce any laws that protect cyclists and pedestrians. And forgot about the city trying to actually design roads that prioritize pedestrian and cyclists safety (let alone convenience).

    The whole situation is so frustrating that I don’t even know what to do anymore …. My only glimmer of hope is this website putting these stories out there.

    And now I keep thinking about bike share and how insane it is that the city actually wants to subject inexperienced riders to the conditions of roads like just about all those in SOMA.

  • Anonymous

    The police, going above and beyond to serve and protect themselves… and making sure the rest of us know it.

  • Elizabeth

    Put the cops on Bicycles and have them ride around soma and other areas of sf. This approach has many advantages. It gives the police a much better perspective about what it is like to cycle in san francisco. They would avoid blocking the bike path and making it less safe. Policing bicycles or even pedestrians ina car makes little sense.

    It would be a good public relations move on the part of sfpd to have bicyle cops on bicycles. they can help or police pedestrians too. Growing up in venice beach, fred was my favorite cop and he knew my name too. Fred loved his bicycle. I am surprised that more police depts don’t do this. Sf has only two bicycle cops and they are in bridge duty.

  • Elizabeth

    Because pedestrians are the majority aligning with them makes sense. However, there are two problems. First, pedestrians need to be aware of how dangerous intersections can be. Many people probably do not know that cars hit 3 pedestrians in sf every day.

    Also, bicyclist need to be courteuous to people on foot. I stopped at a stop sign in the wiggle and the women waiting on the corner looked shocked. She was there first and had the right of way, so it should not have been a surprise. Pedestrians often tell me thank you. Most of us appreciate courtesy.

    Most bicyclist in sf that I have observed do stop at stop lights, but the minority that run the lights or dash across the n judah without slowing down at all give the rest of us a bad reputation and make an alliance with pedestrians more difficult. I observed three guys at a light a few weeks ago. One ran the light while the others yelled “Dude, it’s not our light.” “Who’s side are you on,” was the reply. But the next time I saw them, alll three waited at the red. On another ride down to sausalito, a friend’s coworker said, “Did he just pass the do not pass ?” We all had to wait about 15 minutes while he got a ticket at the bottom of the hill. Breaking the law should not be condoned or accepted.

  • mikesonn

    Police do ride bikes around Soma, they are on the sidewalk.

  • Anonymous

    Again, I wasn’t arguing that the cop should be there, and I wasn’t saying anything about design issues.

    My point was only that I disagree with the “forced to veer” phrasing.

  • mikesonn

    You’re on a bike going 13 mph. A car is double parked ahead of you and you have about a 1/2 block to decide what to do. You look over your shoulder and see the lane is somewhat clear – there is a car back there but far enough that you’ll have time to slide to the left.

    However, that car is traveling at 45 mph compared to your 13 mph. Now as you get closer to the double parked car in front of you, you check to your left again and HOLY SH*T that car is RIGHT THERE! Now you have to decide, do I continue moving into the lane I’ve been slowly going towards or do I slam into the double parked car?

    Now, if the car in the other lane would have been traveling at a reasonable speed, 20-25 mph, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but now we are talking about 30+ mph difference in speed and the driver asserting their “right” to intimidate you because they are in a huge vehicle and don’t want to slow down.

    So yeah, design issues have a lot to do with the discussion regardless if you think they do or not.

  • Anonymous

    I looked up the definition of veer for you. While you are implying that it means a sudden and dangerous move, it actually means to change direction or course, which is what everyone had to do, safely. If you’re going to be a stickler about wording, please have a real argument.

    1 : to change direction or course
    2 : of the wind : to shift in a clockwise direction — compare back
    3 : of a ship : to change course by turning the stern to the wind

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t say design issues don’t have anything to do with the discussion. I said I disagreed with the “forced to veer” statement.

    > Now you have to decide, do I continue moving into the lane I’ve been
    slowly going towards or do I slam into the double parked car?

    There is a third option — slow down and/or stop until you can safely change lanes. Nobody is *forcing* you to *veer* into the other lane. THAT IS MY POINT.

  • mikesonn

    See definition of “veer” above.

  • Anonymous

    do you stop and ask every double parked car to please leave the bike lane as you can’t be expected to veer?

  • Anonymous

    Bikes are not protected in the way that cars are, so simply slowing down and/or stopping can be just as dangerous an option as veering around an obstacle. Merging at unequal speeds is very dangerous, so bike riders are likely to try and maintain speed for the merge around the parked car and that’s again why this situation is made so dangerous.

    In addition, bikes are much more exposed and unable to accelerate quickly so they can’t make movements the way a car is capable. By stopping (though you’re right, it is an option), getting around the car can become more dangerous as are the increased chances of getting rear ended by a bike or another double parking car.

    So “the bike lane was blocked, creating a dangerous situation for cyclists to navigate” is a better way of writing the sentence that put the bee in your bonnet, but I still don’t think the original is false or a problem.

  • Anonymous

    No. I just don’t veer, as 1) I’m not forced to, and 2) veering into other lanes of traffic is dangerous and best saved for cases where you didn’t have thirty seconds to decide what to do.

  • Anonymous

    So you stop and wait? Have you ever been rear ended on a bike? The point is the veer is dangerous, and unless you just stop riding, you’ll have to veer into traffic sooner or later.

  • Anonymous

    The original wording is the exact same argument used by bad drivers to explain why bicycles should not be allowed to use the road.

    “I’m driving down this two lane road, come around a corner and there’s a bicycle in my way! Now I have to decide, do I veer into the oncoming lane or do I slam into the bicycle?”

    Slowing down isn’t given as an option, or if it is, it’s dismissed because they didn’t have enough space to do so. (When the reality is, if they were actually obeying the speed limit or hadn’t have been texting somebody on their phone, they’d have had enough space to do so.)

  • Anonymous

    But that’s a false equivalent. There’s a difference between slower moving traffic and an obstacle. This is why double parking is dangerous and illegal, it forces traffic to veer around it. Yes you can stop before you veer, but if you want to get around it you have to dangerously veer into another traffic lane, whether you choose to stop first or not.

    If the cop was parked in the left most lane, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say “the parked car forced a lane of traffic to dangerously veer around it.” I agree that it could be worded better, but it’s not incorrect or worth getting our panties in a twist.

  • Anonymous

    veer1
    verb
    1.
    change direction suddenly.

    … if you wait and do it when its safe, it’s not veering.

    As for being rear ended, it should be less likely in the bike lane. Especially with a cop car in front of you. But again, my point was that I object to the “forced to veer” statement, not that the cop should be there.

    If we were truly forced to veer into traffic every time we encountered an obstacle … we’d all be dead now.

  • Anonymous

    the suddenly isn’t part of every definition of veer, the key part is the change of direction. I agree, a better word could be used, like merge. But the point is that it’s dangerous and that it’s dangerous from a stop or while moving forward.

  • Anonymous

    The word veer certainly does imply a sudden move. You found one definition that didn’t have that word included — but many do. The word is rarely used to describe a gradual turn — instead, it describes a sudden turn, even if one dictionary didn’t include that word.

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/veer#Verb_2 is clearly the way they meant to use the word.

    And even if you’re stuck on the definition of the word that you found, the actual phrasing in the article (which I quoted) was —

    “forced to make sudden and sometimes-dangerous veers into the travel lane”

    … so they added the words sudden and dangerous just to make sure their point was completely clear.

  • Anonymous

    No I didn’t cherry pick, I looked at several definitions of the word including the etymology:

    “1580s, “to change direction” (originally with reference to the wind), from Middle French virer “to turn,” of uncertain origin, perhaps from the Latin stem vir-”

    But my problem is you’re putting all responsibility of the dangerous situation on the cyclist. And you’re right, the responsibility is on the cyclist to act as safely as possible, but in this case there is no safe option on Folsom at 6th street when a cop car is purposefully blocking the bike lane. Whether you slow down and stop before you change lanes, or you do it quickly, you’re still forced to make a sudden and dangerous lane change.

  • mikesonn

    You don’t have to worry about lane changes in spin class, amirite?!

  • Anonymous

    What kind of gradual turn is safe to make on a bike? When is a lane change not a sudden turn?

    No I didn’t cherry pick, I looked at several definitions of the word (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/veer) including the etymology:

    “1580s, “to change direction” (originally with reference to the wind), from Middle French virer “to turn,” of uncertain origin, perhaps from the Latin stem vir-” (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=veer)

    I agree it could have been worded better, but the point is that cyclists were forced to suddenly navigate a dangerous situation. Simply stopping when one is uncomfortable on a bike can be one the most dangerous options. There is no “safe” vs. “unsafe” option, people were forced to deal with a dangerous situation as safely as possible with little time to think or react.

  • Anonymous

    FYI, I’m not engaging in the ridiculous bicyclists-are-scofflaws-so-let’s-not-talk-about-improving-their-safety sidetrack. Your comments are irrelevant to the issues at hand just as would be saying we can’t improve conditions for cars because most motorists speed, roll through stop signs, and use their phone will driving.

  • Mike

    Unfortunately, his use of quotes next to someone’s name makes it sound like he is, but I doubt it.

  • Batuka

    As cyclists, I think it is on us to make sure we don’t get hit by cars. When I see a car in the right lane on any of these streets similar to Folsom, I slow down because I assume they are negligent, and at the same time, those hot-shot riders zoom right by and get pissy when the cars start to make a right turn. It’s my responsibility to protect myself by being careful & aware.

  • Anonymous

    Oh sheesh. It’s a Seinfeld quote…

    Edit: No it’s not!

  • Anonymous

    mikesonn is right, I live right by 6th and Folsom and I see cops on bikes all the time. They’re usually on the sidewalk or riding the wrong way down Folsom St. In addition they constantly blow thru stop signs and break the laws that they ticket civilian cyclists for.

    Also police cars are one of the biggest culprits of parking in the bike lane. They clearly have absolutely no interest in bike safety. Ive nearly been right hooked by cops on numerous occasions.

  • Anonymous

    Good luck keeping from being run over from behind, because if you do, it will be on you!

  • Anonymous

    Sr. Ernst has it out for bicyclists…he patrols the streets of the SOMA and looks for any reason whatsoever to pull over a cyclist. One day i was in the SOMA riding home from a haircut, and after stopping at a light that was RED, i saw that no traffic was coming for blocks, so i slowly rolled through the light as the other directions lights turned yellow (again no traffic coming) and before i knew it his siren was on and he pulled me over and wrote me a red light ticket. I know what i did was wrong, and i realize that cyclists often don’t abide to the laws that they are held to. However, within 200 feet of where he pulled me over, he saw a another cyclist turning at a light that was green, and he had the idea that the cyclist needed to stop before turning right on green. He pulled him over and gave him a ticket as well. This man is un-informed and has no idea what he is actually writing you a ticket for. When i asked him about the fine and how much it would be, he responded with “i don’t know i really have no idea”. Can you write a ticket if you are ignorant to the fine?

    Needless to say what he did by double parking is illegal and also a brash statement that SFPD should should no condone. I say we sign a petition to get Sr. Ernst’s fat ass to work as a bike cop. Maybe he could lose a few pounds, and reduce the pending chance heart attack from all those cheese steaks he is inhaling on a daily basis.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that cyclists can help themselves avoid getting hit by a car by remaining attentive and aware. I myself have biked every day over the past 10 years and have yet to be involved in a collision, although I have over that time avoided probably hundreds of crashes with inattentive, illegal, and/or hostile drivers. However, to say that this status quo is acceptable sounds like one hell of a case of Stockholm Syndrome to me.

  • Freddy

    My friend recently started this campaign on Causes calling for Sergeant Ernst to be reprimanded and suspended for his irresponsible behavior.

    http://www.causes.com/campaigns/1266-make-sf-streets-safer-for-bicycling

  • Anonymous

    That “bike coalition member angered by the SF police sergeant” is actually SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. I’d love to see her go jihad on his ass and call in some “all powerful bike lobby” favors to get a reprimand and some real action in this case.

  • Anonymous

    By reprimanded I meant sarcastically scolded, slapped in the ass by peers in the locker room, then having to buy the shift a round at Buena Vista.

  • Anonymous

    This will certainly be a test as to whether the claims of the bike lobby being all powerful is true or not….

  • Tony

    From back in the day, so much for collaboration…
    http://www.sfbike.org/?bikelaw_sfpd_video

  • Anonymous

    Rogue cop needs reprimand and time off without pay.

  • idiotmaximus

    tl;dr This police officer was doing his job ticketing people who broke the law, BUT STILL…

    Such privileged attitudes from 2 wheeled a-holes. FOLLOW THE LAW. The rest of us on 2 wheels and 4 wheels do it.

  • Anonymous

    if you did not notice…I am FULLY AWARE that what I did was wrong, I can not speak for other cyclists. Motorists break the law just as frequently, even if they don’t want to believe it.

  • Anonymous

    What did the captain say on the phone?

  • Anonymous

    And ticketing drivers who fail to illuminate their turn signal 100 meters in advance of the turn.

  • Anonymous

    It may have needed to be “sudden,” but by no means should it ever be “dangerous.” The alternative is to stop. With the exception of the few (if any) cyclists who were immediately behind Sgt. Ernst when he pulled over to park, the rest of the bicycle traffic could see his vehicle well in advance and had it as their responsibility to safely operate their vehicle – just as if a child had suddenly stepped into the bike lane, the bicyclist would need to safely exit the lane or stop.

  • Anonymous

    Because of these unexpected obstacles is precisely the reason why “protected” bike lanes that corral cyclists into a narrow trap are a dangerous idea.

  • Anonymous

    Thus is not a “forced to veer in an unsafe manner” issue. The bicyclist always has a responsibility to operate his/her vehicle safely, legally and responsibly. End of debate.

  • Anonymous

    But you should veer safely, not dangerously.

  • Anonymous

    “dangerously” is an adverb that describes the cyclists’ reckless behavior. The author should have used an adjective to describe the “dangerous” situation that Sgt. Ernst created when he illegally and irresponsibly parked in the bike lane.

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