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
  • Anonymous

    This is irresponsible and unhelpful to say, if not true.

  • Judy Frankel

    Most police have anti bike bias I agree but, I also agree that here he might be demonstrating a good lesson. Cycle Savy and League bike courses teach that you should never enter an intersection from the right edge of the road. You should proceed from the travel lane that corresponds to your direction of travel. Bike lanes end at intersections and have dashed lines to indicate that cyclists should merge left into a travel lane to proceed straight and cars should merge right to the edge of the road to make a right. If a bus or truck were in front of me, I would never pass them on the right because I know they tend to swing wide to turn. I proceed through an intersection by merging into a travel lane. Cyclists are not jailed in a bike lane. We have full rights to the full road at all intersections, driveways and at any turns, where there are obstacles in the bike lane or when we are moving at the speed of traffic. If you see a car in the bike lane, you have plenty of time to merge safely into traffic. You don’t veer. You plan.. you signal and make a safe movement into the adjacent lane.

  • Anonymous

    enforcement of the minimum distance to signal before turning law would be appreciated – said as both a driver and cyclist.

  • Anonymous

    The rest of us on 2 wheels and 4 wheels do it – with the exception of Sergeant Ernst, of course.

  • Anonymous

    “I also agree that here he might be demonstrating a good lesson”

    There are times and places to teach good lessons. Parking your car in the bike lane at rush hour is neither timely nor a good place.

  • Judy Frankel

    No one should be in the bike lane at an intersection at rush hour unless they are turning right. You should have been out of the bike lane before the intersection in any case.

  • mikesonn

    Don’t ever say there aren’t female VC’s out there.

  • whtabbobs

    I agree with doug and Sanfordia. Cyclists were not “forced” and it need not have been “sudden.” Instead of a “dangerous veer” into traffic, riders had other options. They should be paying enough attention to see a parked car from at least a block away. Check over their shoulder and if it’s ok to merge, then merge. No “dangerous veer” necessary. If you’re really smart, you’ll use a hand signal to let cars and other riders know you’re merging. I do this all the time.

    If it was *not safe* to merge into the traffic lane (because of auto speeds, or a big truck or bus coming by) cyclists could come to a stop well before the parked car. You have brakes on your bike, use them. After that, either wait until it’s safe to merge into the traffic lane on the left, or get off the bike and walk around the car on the sidewalk to the right. Both safer options than “veering.”

    I’m not saying the officer is in the right, or that he isn’t an idiot. But saying cyclists only had one option is disingenuous.

  • sebra leaves

    Instead of jumping on the officer and assuming he is wrong, the Bike
    safety people should take the lead and educate folks on the proper way
    to share the road. As we have pointed out a number of times…

    Right hook accidents happen when right turning cars don’t merge into the far right lane before turning right. All right turning vehicles are supposed to merge to the far right, whether there is a bike lane of not.

  • NoeValleyJim

    You have never actually ridden a bike have you? Your statement makes no sense.

  • Judy Frankel

    I ride all the time.. and if you look at the photo above, you will see cyclists outside of the bike lane. The bike lane is dashed there at the corner.. where you merge out of it to go straight through. There are no bike lanes in intersections. If you are in the bike lane at an intersection, you are in the RIGHT turn lane.

  • 94103er

    You’ve got to be kidding me. This kind of attitude just says oh well, the cars have won. Let’s just forget about protected, safe areas for cycling. Never mind that they came up with sidewalks like 100 years ago–nothing else needs to be done, because no one but the fittest and most fearless should ever try cycling anyway.

    Yeah, uh, you’ll never see me taking the lane on Folsom. I don’t have a deathwish. In fact, I have kids. So anytime I need to get somewhere in SOMA I have to take a long detour. And you know what? That really blows.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Neil

  • Judy Frankel

    There is no way to make an intersection with cars protected unless you want to go over or under the road. You are riding in SF. You can be safe and ride on the road if you know how to ride predictably with traffic. If you ride to the right of a right turning vehicle you will be hit. Do you think you should turn right from the left lane? Do you think cars trucks and buses can see a bike in their blind spot?

  • Anonymous

    Oh shut up you waste of humanity. The officer, without any real directive, parked in the bike lane during rush hour and started harrassing people holding a memorial. He’s an asshole. Period.

  • Anonymous

    do not feed the troll

  • Anonymous

    Maybe the SFPD should start ticketing motorists who violate CA VC 22108:
    Duration of Signal

    22108. Any signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22108.htm

  • Don Marshall

    I don’t think it was wrong. You improvised like many cyclists because those traffic lights are designed for motorists. Why wait for the light to turn green and end up with a pile vehicles waiting also as you rush your way for safety? It is more safer to use common sense and go when everything seems quiet instead of waiting for vehicles to pile up. This is something only a cyclist would understand.

  • Anonymous

    Don fucking Marshall… put drivers in jail when they make the smallest mistake (which is OK, because he’s chatted a few up and knows them all – he’s an internet expert) but, when it comes to rules for Don… I’m way too smart to have to live by any rules… I’m a cyclist … and the worlds largest asshole. Don – you’re the reason half the planet wants to mow down cyclists … grow up.

  • mikesonn

    This isn’t SFGate, settle down.

  • Jamison Wieser

    I am not jumping on the officer,

    In fact. If we are all going to be law abiding citizens we should follow his instructions, do exactly what the SFPD want us to do and ride our bikes in the traffic lanes instead of using the bike lanes.

    Remember everyone: do as the SFPD asks and ride in traffic instead of the bike lanes.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Well forget the law or anything, Sgt. Ernst made it clear what the SFPD wants is for us to ride our bikes in traffic even when there is a bike lane.

    I think we should all do exactly as the SFPD asks and use traffic lanes even where there is a bike lane.

  • Pd

    I am a San Francisco police officer and I can honestly say the sgt’s actions are completely inappropriate. If he wants to help create a safe atmosphere for everyone using the road then teach a safety class with sfbc otherwise he had no business being there and acting the way he did. Plenty of cops are working hard to ensure fair and safe use of the road 4 everyone. Let’s work together not against each other. Terribly sorry for the unnecessary loss of life.

  • Anonymous

    There are no bike lanes in intersections. If you are in the bike lane at an intersection, you are in the RIGHT turn lane.

    There are roads in SF with one general purpose lane, one bike lane, and a 35 MPH speed limit. You are saying that at the intersection the bike lane becomes a right turn lane and you should merge into the general lane with 35 MPH traffic coming at you with a green light?

    You are wack.

  • Anonymous

    I’d be down with this Jamison except that there is a sufficiently large enough portion of the population that is unstable enough to just start running people over.

  • Anonymous

    “the Bike safety people should take the lead and educate folks on the proper way to share the road.”

    Right, because it’s the “bike safety people’s” job, not that the government or the cops, to educate motorists on how to use the roads and not kill and maim people. That’s what’s so messed up about this: the cops, the people you expect to set the example on how to use our roads safely, are exactly the ones violating what the “bike safety people” are trying to get across.

  • mikesonn

    What about roads without a bike lane, just a standard two lane in each direction road. By her logic, the right lane becomes the turn lane at every intersection. Or does it only apply to bike lanes? WTF? And when you have to start by saying “I ride all the time” then you clearly don’t because you know how whack your opinions are.

  • That would be 100ft before turning into the lane *and* 100ft before the turn at the intersection.

  • The words “cycle savvy” refer to a repackaging of failed vehicular cycling dogma that has held bicycling and livable city improvements back for decades. They also call it “bicycle driving.” Yes, it is predicated on ceding everything to car infrastructure.

  • The words “cycle savvy” refer to a repackaging of failed vehicular cycling dogma that has held bicycling and livable city improvements back for decades. They also call it “bicycle driving.” Yes, it is predicated on ceding everything to car infrastructure.

  • I propose that this movement should gather next week, August 30th, 5:30ish at Justin “Pee-Wee” Herman Plaza. With due care for pedestrians, of course.

  • Anonymous

    unless there is no right turn lane, in which case the driver should signal 100 feet before the intersection, yet only move over to the bike lane/bus lane/turn lane at the final 10-15 feet like always happens on Polk Street, or not 100 feet in advance of the turn by crossing into and blocking the green bike lane, like frequently happens at 8th & Brannon way before the dashed-line through the green bike lane that trasitions to the middle lane.

  • RinSF

    Unstable or oblivious.

  • m

    I’m generally nothing put pro-bike and police-skeptical, but it looks like the officer might just have been making an ill-timed, ill-placed effort to tell bikers how to protect themselves by moving leftward out of the vulnerable right-hook zone at intersections like this when cars are moving right, rather than lecturing and blaming. Maybe, anyway.

  • Don Marshall

    You need to to think before you write. First you say, “sad. hatred isn’t the answer.” on the other blog and then contradict yourself by stating “fuck humanity – you’re all a lost cause.” It’s no wonder why your first comment was offensive. It was a cold blooded description (too much information) and an exploitation of what happened. Looks like you’re the one that needs to grow up.

  • Anonymous

    When someone is blocking the bike lane we can use the FULL LANE next to it. Hmm. 4 foot wide door zone, debris and right hook trap OR 12 feet of swept pavement? Hmm.

  • Paging Casey Neistat. Dr. Neistat to the Folsom St. bike lane, STAT.

  • Judy Frankel

    Yes I am saying that you should merge into the traffic lane. A speed limit is a maximum speed. As a driver you may notice that motorists manage to not run into the back of slower moving vehicles all the time. They slow for turning vehicles, for buses. And, when they see you far enough ahead it gives them more planning time to decide whether it is safe for them to pass to the left. What motorists are not used to is having bikes pass them on the right when they are turning right. It might seem counterintuitive to you but, I was run over by being to the right of a semi truck and have had no problem riding through intersections in the through lane and moving back right into the bike lane after the intersection. Most motorists are happy to see that I am not blocking the right turn lane when the light is red and, when the light is green they understand that I will be moving back into the bike lane when it returns after the intersection. You maybe should open your mind. It might save your life. And whether you get it or not, I am trying to save other peoples lives. I didn’t use to get it but learned the hard way. Now I do get it.

  • Judy Frankel

    Roads without a bike lane, the same thing. Motorists are required by law to turn right from the far right edge of the road. You should not be at the far right edge of the road at an intersection, and, if the road is too narrow to share with motorist side by side, if you are on the edge, you are then encouraging unsafe passing by being on the edge as they will try to pass you without moving out of the lane. By law, you are not required to ride far to the right if the lane is too narrow to share side by side. CVC21202 (read the exceptions) It is not safe to do so. Most roads that are not wide enough to fit a bike lane are too narrow to share side by side.. the further right you ride, the more likely you’ll be sideswiped. Many motorists don’t understand how much space is required for safe passing. The edge of the road is often not in good enough shape to hold a straight line and avoid debris and pot holes.

  • Judy Frankel

    Cars and bikes are driven by people. They all need more education. It’s nice to have all kinds of facilities for all kinds of riders but if you are riding on streets with cars, it would be good to understand the rules of the road.

  • Ernst chose a bad time and place for his little sermon and he was a jerk for parking his car in the bike lane.

    However, I’ve been moving into the traffic lane at intersections and passing right turning cars on the left for years. It very effectively eliminates the right hook.

    That does not relieve motorists of the legal requirement to merge safely into the bike lane (CVC 21717) before making a right turn or move as far right as practicable (CVC 22100(a)) before a right turn on roads that don’t have a bike lane. I hate idiots who insist that only bicyclists must obey the rules of the road and act like motorists can do anything that they want, which is what it sounds like Ernst’s attitude is. Everyone should do their part. I have never heard of anyone being ticketed for violating 21717 or 22100(a). It’s almost always a factor in right hooks as is CVC 21750.

    Furthermore, while moving left to pass right turning motorists on the left is permitted by law (CVC 21202(a)(4) and 21208(a)(4)) and is the smart thing for a bicyclist to do, it’s not actually required by law. Motorists are required by law to move as far right as practicable or merge into the bike lane before a right turn. When assigning legal fault, the higher burden should be on the person who actually broke the law.

    I also sometimes get abuse from motorists who get angry because I am using the full lane to avoid right hooks. I even got harassed by CHP for it a few weeks ago. That officer did not appreciate me quoting the exact law and pointing out that the CHP policy manual omits CVC 21202(a)(4) from its bicycle section making all CHP officers who only learn bike law from that manual effectively incompetent. He didn’t give me a ticket, probably because I made it clear that I was prepared to show up in court with support from the safety experts from the local bike coalition and a lawyer who recently won against a CVC 22400 ticket of a bicyclist due to video showing that the bicyclist was not impeding traffic (which I also had).

    A “protected” bike lane would NOT eliminate the right hook. If anything, it would make it more likely. Legally, anything that is physically separated from the traffic lanes by anything more than a few inches of paint is not a bike lane (class II). It’s a bike path (class I) and so CVC 21208, 21209 and 21717 do not apply.

  • mikesonn

    A bike lane is a lane. You are nuts. QED.

  • Judy is not nuts. Unlike you, she actually understands the dynamics of traffic especially with respect to bicycle safety. Riding far right at intersections leads to right hooks. Controlling the lane very effectively discourages them.

    Many years ago, I had a bad experience that caused me to accept that I didn’t understand bicycle safety so I started studying it. There are classes and books available. After I studied and put the techniques into consistent practice my rate of close calls dropped to nearly zero. That includes close passes. I have never been right hooked while in the middle of the lane. I rode in the middle of the lane on a road with a 55mph speed limit every day for over 4 years. Being visible and predictable makes you safe. People won’t run into when they can easily see you and can easily see that they can’t pass in the same lane. It’s the same for garbage trucks, buses and loaded 18 wheelers going slow. Those things rarely get hit from behind.

    The fact that you think it’s safer to stay at the edge even though that leads to right hooks makes you nuts. Q.E.D.

  • No. It’s not.

  • mikesonn

    I was looking forward to a VC speech this morning, thank you.

    But calling the bike lane, which is a thru traffic lane, a right turn lane is false. If a car traveling on a street with two automotive lanes wants to go straight in the far right lane, they can – same works for a cyclist in the far right lane when that lane happens to be a bike lane.
    The vehicle that wants to turn must move as far to the right as possible, yes, but when the far right lane is clear and there is an opening for them to do so. Her original point was that a cyclist must leave the bike lane at every intersection because the bike lane (the far right lane), by default, becomes a right turn lane is flat out wrong.

  • She said should, not must. There’s a difference. It’s safer to move out into the lane (making sure it’s clear and signalling first, of course).

    You anti-VC types love to distort anything that a VC type says. Why is that?

  • mikesonn

    So a cyclist *should* move from their travel lane (bike lane) into the adjacent travel lane (30-40 mph car traffic) at every intersection for no reason then to “not be in the far right lane”? That’s absurb!

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. This upcoming Friday’s Critical Mass will absolutely be visiting 6th and Folsom Streets

  • Anonymous
  • gneiss

    A protected bike lane coupled with separate light phases for right turning cars and straight moving traffic can eliminate the right hook. This solution is in fact part of the proposal to add bike lanes to Folsom Street.

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