SFPD Still Targeting Bike Commuters Rolling Stop Signs on the Wiggle

Bicycle commuters on the Wiggle continue to be confronted by SFPD officers posted at intersections issuing warnings and tickets for what police deem to be dangerous violations of stop sign laws. Police claim they’re obligated to respond to complaints from neighbors who apparently see the behavior as a threat to public safety.

But there have been no known crashes on the Wiggle recently. Posting officers there to ticket and chastise bike commuters who slow down and yield to others while not coming to a complete stop is a waste of precious enforcement resources and doesn’t make streets any safer.

“Everybody wants to eliminate the about five percent of cyclists who violate other people’s right-of-way,” said Morgan Fitzgibbons of the Wigg Party, which advocates for environmentally sustainable practices in the neighborhoods around the Wiggle. “Nobody wants to defend those people, but trying to put a constant police presence on the Wiggle to make people follow a law that really doesn’t make any sense is not the right way to go about it.”

“It will never solve the problem — it’s patently absurd.”

As in every state except Idaho, in California, the letter of the law calls for people on bicycles to come to a complete stop at stop signs, just like people operating multi-ton motor vehicles. The application of that law to bikes is so impractical, however, that most people who bike — including police officers — treat stop signs by slowing, checking for traffic, and proceeding. Idaho changed its stop sign law 30 years ago to legitimize normal bicycling behavior, and it’s not hurting anyone.

Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfbike/9920229256/in/set-72157635851093455/##SFBC/Flickr##

To address the issue of bicycle riders who actually violate others’ right-of-way, the SF Bicycle Coalition has recently posted up at spots along the Wiggle holding signs encouraging commuters to “bike politely.”

“We urge the police to prioritize their limited enforcement resources on the known, dangerous problem areas and behaviors, which means the high-injury collision areas and actions,” said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. “The Wiggle is not one of those areas.”

Last Wednesday evening, I was bicycling home on the Wiggle when I spotted two officers standing next to their motorcycles on Waller at Steiner Streets, an intersection busy with drivers, pedestrians, and westbound bicycle riders who mostly make a left turn to follow the flattest route. I parked my bicycle and stood between two parked cars to record the scene on video, when officer L. Henderson (who declined to give his first name) told me to get on the sidewalk.

I complied, and then introduced myself and asked the officer for an interview, which he granted. The entire audio recording of the interview is below.

Henderson said he was ordered to target bikes on the Wiggle by Park Station Captain Greg Corrales, who was previously captain of the SFPD Traffic Company for five years.

“I’ve got an entire community pleading with me to make their communities safer by enforcing existing laws,” said Corrales. I asked how targeted bike enforcement on the Wiggle is consistent with the SFPD’s “Focus on the Five” program, which focuses traffic enforcement on the top five behaviors that cause traffic crashes and the intersections that have the most crashes — none of which include bicycle violations on the Wiggle. Corrales said, “We can’t ignore other violations.”

“It is absolutely the case that traffic enforcement focuses on the primary collision factors,” said Corrales, “but the important thing is the word ‘focus.’ I don’t think we have to wait till we have another tragedy like the one we had on Castro.”

The case of Castro and Market Streets, in which competitive cyclist Chris Bucchere sped through the intersection last March and killed Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk, was cited by both Henderson and Corrales to justify the targeted enforcement of stop signs on the Wiggle. But these citations are going to bike commuters rolling through stop signs at single-digit speeds. Bucchere flew down a hill while trying to beat a traffic signal and is the second known bicycle rider to have ever killed a pedestrian in SF. Meanwhile, drivers hit 964 pedestrians in SF last year alone, 20 of whom were killed, according to the SFPD.

It’s unclear how many Wiggle riders are receiving tickets compared to warnings. In the half hour or so I watched the scene at Waller and Steiner, I didn’t see any tickets written — only scoldings and even some thanks to people who made a full stop. But I receive regular reports from bicycle riders who say they were ticketed for behaviors they felt were safe and courteous.

One man named Tim, who declined to provide his last name on record out of fear for retaliation from police, said he received “a $200 ticket for rolling a stop sign in an empty Wiggle intersection on Labor Day.” He explained in an email:

The officer pulled me over at Duboce and Sanchez, but insisted that he had been following me since he saw me roll the stop sign at Page and Pierce. He said he followed me as I ran all subsequent stop signs “without even looking.” I challenged him on that statement — of course I looked — but he repeated himself even more loudly. He said he was giving me a ticket for the infraction at Page and Pierce, but was “advising” me on all the others, as well as advising me not to wear earbuds. He then insinuated that I “wasn’t even wearing a helmet,” which I told him was not the law. He wrote every infraction I wasn’t being cited for committing on the side margin of the ticket. I presume that was intended to make me look as bad as possible to any judge whom I might come before in any effort to fight the ticket. I have a new job, and can’t be taking time off to go to court, so I paid the ticket but I wish I’d been able to fight it.

Needless to say, I don’t believe bicycles rolling stop signs in empty intersections deserves such a high fine, nor do I believe these recent harassment campaigns serve any legitimate interest. I see this as part of the pattern of bias the SFPD clearly holds against bicyclists.

“It’s hard to see this when just a few days ago, we were having a meeting about the occasional lack of responsiveness to pedestrian and bicycle collisions,” said Peter Lauterborn, an aide for Supervisor Eric Mar, who stopped to talk while riding on the Wiggle as I interviewed Officer Henderson. Lauterborn was referring to a recent Board of Supervisors hearing on an apparent pattern of bias against bicycle riders in crash investigations. “There are concerns as to how balanced the enforcement is,” he said.

When I pointed out to Henderson that even SFPD bike patrol officers can be seen routinely performing “Idaho stops,” as shown in the video below of two cops rolling down Haight Street at a leisurely pace, he said those bike cops could be rushing to save someone’s life, and that questioning their behavior was like criticizing a cafe worker for eating a pastry on the job. “You don’t know where that cop is going… would you want him to stop at every stop sign if your loved one is in desperate need of help?”

Over the course of our interview, Henderson seemed to relax his stance toward cyclists who slowly roll through stops. In fact, in a video I took after the audio interview (seen at the top of this article), he told me that if riders appear to make an effort to slow down and yield, he’ll “give it to them.”

After talking with Henderson, I spoke with the other officer who had been posted on the opposite side of the street. Officer Scott agreed that operating a bicycle carries different risks than driving a car “to some extent.” SFPD officers may have different views on the issue — they’re just following orders either way.

“If they are going to blindly let citizen complaints dictate their policies,” said Fitzgibbons, “we should just complain about the actual dangerous driving behavior of the California stop, speeding, striking and injuring 1,000 people a year.”

  • Anonymous

    A good chunk of the people I see riding casually are barely riding as fast as I move while running, so I’d have to agree with that.

  • Anonymous

    Or better, roundabouts (true roundabouts: not “traffic circles” with stop signs). At least for residential streets with low levels of traffic.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great point. I’ve used the ‘bicycle boulevards’ in Portland and they’re very cool.

  • Anonymous

    Few things demonstrate more clearly how the SFPD, from the top down, just does not get it. Given this year’s fatalities, I no longer expect police here to protect me as a pedestrian, much less as a bicyclist. I know I am at nearly every driver’s mercy — that they will probably get away with harming me, because of societal and police bias. To add to that insult and fear, I now have to put up with meaningless, ignorant police enforcement of stop signs for cyclists when no other road users are present or have the right of way. Further, I watch police officers in patrol cars routinely violate all traffic and parking laws and common driver courtesy. One can witness the SFPD’s sense of entitlement every day — they don’t think laws don’t apply to them. Nothing breeds contempt for authority more than the witless abuse of power. Thanks, SFPD.

  • bourbon

    Yes, but in a more immediate manner, it is also to harass bicyclists as a form of retaliation.

  • @coolbabybookworm:disqus – Last night at Waller & Steiner the SFPD told me that I should go to the station with a license plate number and file a report. (Past experience has taught me that nothing ever comes of this.) Not exactly as proactive as their actions against bicyclists.

  • • Tonight the SFPD pulled an even worse stunt. They double-parked a police car with no lights on Waller, about two car lengths west of Steiner. Nighttime bike commuters heading north on Steiner can’t see what’s behind the stopped car. Not sure what the point of it is, except maybe to lure us further into the intersection just to figure out what’s going on, at which point they have a pretext to write a ticket.

    I stood and watched for a while, and it’s hard to see cars going east on Waller, even with their lights on, because the view is blocked by the police car! Even worse, I’ve seen some motorists zip around the police car directly into oncoming bike traffic. None of these motorists were ticketed.

    THE SFPD IS ACTIVELY CREATING A HAZARDOUS SITUATION here, even worse than the one Sgt. Ernst created. It’s a disgrace.

  • Anonymous

    Tell that to the ~1000 pedestrians and cyclists getting hit by cars in this city every year *not* in your neighborhood. You may be worried about the level of respect you *perceive* you get form cyclists, but meanwhile people are dying and being maimed left and right by motorists while cops are wasting their time harassing people using the safest form of transit there is (besides walking). It’s a complete misallocation of resources and therefore a net detriment to the city’s safety.

  • Ryan Brady

    The only tool is a hammer.

  • Ryan Brady

    Let’s be real. The safe clearance for a bike to pass a pedestrian is a lot smaller than that for a car. It’s not actually the law that you have to wait for the pedestrians to be completely out of the roadway to proceed, so I think “maneuvering around them” is EXACTLY what cyclists should be doing. Courteously, of course.

  • 94103er

    I really have to wonder about this very thing. I guess most of the shootings happen in the Northern station territory, but there are regular burglaries and robberies in the Park station section of the Lower Haight. So what the hell are they thinking, devoting so many resources to policing cyclists on the Wiggle? If I walked into the Mission station trying to plead for more resources for Dolores Street–where there was a high-speed crash at 16th the other day and regular stop-sign running–I’d be laughed right back onto the street.

  • Jeremy

    You’re saying this like every single officer has been targeting the bike community. I’m a cyclist too, but I always stop for pedestrians. I’ve been hit by cars walking and biking, and the cops have not been any help. My point is that everyone should maybe slow it down a bit and watch out for others in their daily lives. Meanwhile the other 99% of officers will keep a lookout on other things.

  • 94103er

    Yes, poor you. At least you have actual stop signs at the intersections you have to cross, unlike pretty much all of the NE Mission where motorists have apparently never learned to look for pedestrians and yield at uncontrolled crosswalks, even when there are plainly visible white stripes in the street. I don’t care if visibility is difficult and if the city doesn’t bother to daylight any of these crosswalks–if a driver doesn’t see you and slow down in time, that means he’s going too fast.

    It’s like that mid-block crossing of Steiner at Duboce Park–imagine if your entire neighborhood had those and the streets were twice as wide. You wouldn’t even notice the odd cyclist not yielding because you’d be fuming that NO drivers yield to you, EVER.

  • vcs

    No, the goal is to improve the pedestrian environment in the Wiggle. Something which one would think Streetsblog would support versus promoting a persecution complex.

    Nobody really believes that police spot enforcement will bring about total compliance. However it might encourage cyclists to stop being so utterly clueless that they violate the rules-of-the-road right in front of a cop car. If they can’t get that right, one can easily assume they’re doing a lot of other things wrong. (By your own figures, 5% “assholes” is still way too many.)

    If our goal is a safer streets, and not just maximizing bike speeds, any right-of-way conflict (ped, car, or other) means the cyclist should nearly always stop. Arguing that we should loosen the rules in this situation is IMHO inappropriate, and counter-productive to your cause.

  • Greg

    Streetsblog and the SFBC/bikers don’t care for peds as well as cars.

  • Greg

    If the stop sign is a yield sign for bikes and a stop sign for cars what does that mean if they arrive at the same intersection?

  • Anonymous

    The Idaho law is the cyclist shall yield “if required”. So the yield applies only if the cyclist would have been required to yield under the stop sign law. In other words, if a cyclist arrives at an intersection before a car then stops, under the stop sign law the cyclist could then proceed, so yielding would not be required. However, if the car arrived and stopped first, the cyclist would be required to yield, so could proceed as soon as the car had cleared the intersection, even if the cyclist did not need to fully stop to do so.

  • Greg

    Thanks. This would be OK if followed. But it’s not being followed. Bikes not waiting for cars that got there first to go. This is causing danger for everyone and confusion at already very busy intersections.

  • Anonymous

    With that law, however, the police can meaningfully enforce the law, rather than the present law which has no grounding in reality. Violations of that law are far more closely correlated to violations of courtesy and predictability.

  • Greg

    We should strive to be like Idaho. Idaho and SF are very similar.

  • Seriously, if they patrol 6th street as regularly, I’d be more than happy, but a bunch of cops on the wiggle thanking cyclists is like throwing my tax money into the 6th street toilet I live on.

  • @murphstahoe:disqus – The NYPD is a huge police force in proportion to NYC’s population, but their priorities don’t follow this opportunity. Motorists kill left and right, but it’s “no criminality suspected.” Officers are busy ticketing bicyclists for not being in the bike lane, which isn’t actually illegal in NYC.

  • Anonymous

    If we are trying to improve pedestrian environments, the wiggle is one of the last places in SF I would be focused on. I’d like to see the pansies in the Wiggle take on 24th/Noe and 24th/Church and see what a war on pedestrians really looks like.

  • @JJ94117 – The Park Station community meeting is at 6pm on the 2nd Tuesday of each month.

  • @Greg – According to some people, bicyclists never stop for STOP signs anyhow, and the collision rate is extremely low, so by that argument we already know it would work in San Francisco. Oddly enough, it’s usually the same people who say it won’t work here. Can’t have it both ways, sorry.

  • Confused guy on a bike

    I was one of the bikers who was given a ticket by the officer in the first video. I love to hear him say that if they happen to slow down we will let them go. Funny because I somehow managed to signal my left hand turn, came to a rolling stop and then was presented with a $200 ticket for my efforts by that very officer. This all was after a car nearly pinned me because it did not think I would have stopped. Hence, my rolling. I had pedestrians fighting with the officer who witnessed this all take place, begging that I should have never been given a ticket. Then, as he was getting my information about 6 fixed gear riders blew past the stop sign as he watched only to do nothing. Ticketing them would figure to be about a grand worth of tickets, but no lets get the one who signaled, slowed down and turned.

    Today, the same officer was at that very corner once again.. I decided to even get my feet off the bike and yell over to ask if he could verify the stop. I know smartass etc.. but as I was doing so about 3 girl cyclists around me blew the stop sign and didn’t receive any ticket while there were 3 cars not halting in the intersection. Officer did nothing but found the time to respond calling me “smarty.” I’m just a bit confused here people. What really is the point of all this if two officers are sitting on the corner now but letting bikers roll? So within two weeks the points of view have changed? Now we can roll?

    I completely understand that cops are tired of seeing cyclists remains at the scene, as well as those who are living in the area who are tired of not being able to cross the street without bikers knocking them cold, but there needs to be some type of progression within this ticket method.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, these things need to be put
    in proportion. But, SF bicyclists are much worse than SF drivers
    with respect to pedestrians. I’ve been grazed and almost hit many
    times by cyclists sometimes when crossing the intersection and
    occasionally when simply walking down the sidewalk. The level of
    rudeness and flagrant tragic violation is truly outrageous.

    That said, cars a still the number one
    threat to any pedestrian. It’s extremely unlikely (though not
    impossible) that an otherwise healthy pedestrian would be kill or
    badly injured in a biking accident, while it’s likely in the case of
    an automobile accident.

  • Anonymous

    But, SF bicyclists are much worse than SF drivers with respect to pedestrians.

    Please go to North Beach around closing time and watch the drunks pile into their cars, and get back to us.

  • Anonymous

    Getting back to you. There’s more or less no place in San Francisco that I haven’t walked extensively at all hours of the day and night, including going out to plays or concerts, heading the bar, going to work or grocery shopping, and have for many years. So, yes, I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to walking the city and I unreservedly say that San Francisco bicyclists are far ruder and reckless than those drivers behind the wheel of a car. That there could be some section of the city at some specific time where that’s not the case, I’ll admit, but they would be the exception, not the rule.

    Reiterating my point above, however, even with their level of rudeness, they still pose much less of a threat to pedestrians than even comparatively better behaved drivers.

  • Loinology

    Shoulda said “If my loved one is in danger and all you send is a guy on a bicycle, they’re already dead. Make a real argument next time for your poor behavior as policemen”

  • vcs

    More dismissiveness and outright hostility against Pedestrian concerns from the bike crowd. If that’s the enemy you want to fight, go for it with gusto.

    It will be interested how this plays out — you guys with a big online presence are certainly living up to the reputation.

  • 94103er

    Well, you’re right. Time to scrap all traffic laws because a large number of drivers fail to adhere to them, every single day.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t see a drunk driver, and generally don’t see a texting driver, but both behaviors are a lot more rude and dangerous than anything the most cretinous cyclist is doing in SF – modulo any cyclist who is drunk or texting themselves. You just don’t notice it.

    You also don’t notice things like the cars coming off San Jose onto Guerrero at well over the speed limit. Just like those cyclists, it almost always works out, but the building at that corner was hit by several cars before the plaza went in.

    The most egregious behavior I saw was in Noe Valley on a daily basis. People walk toddlers and dogs around that neighborhood in great numbers. Motorists on 24th would get very frustrated trying to get through intersections like 24th and Noe, and as soon as pedestrians would clear their half of the intersection, they would gun it across the street. Toddlers and dogs aren’t exactly very predictable – I would hold onto my son with an iron grip in the presence of any car.

    Perhaps the most dangerous thing in Noe would be the drivers who would double park in front of Starbucks or Philz, right at the intersection, completely obstructing any view of pedestrians approaching the crosswalk from the viewpoint of oncoming traffic. It is not an “active” behavior and while many might grumble at it (because it’s blocking traffic) most don’t see the pedestrian hazard being caused.

    That the rude behaviors of cyclists are more noticeable does not make them “more rude”.

  • open your eyes

    Please try walking across 22nd at Noe and tell me who’s being reckless in the road.

  • Archie Leach

    It’s not just the wiggle where the cops are running full-stop enforcements. They showing up on those streets where there are bike lanes with heavy use (Market, Folsom, Harrison, Valencia, IN Golden Gate Park, etc). To be safe, I’ve simply stop using those routes and just use adjacent streets where the cops never bother with. I’ve noticed that other bicyclists have kinda did the same too.

  • Greg

    I totally agree. You also have to keep in mind that, while the reckless bikers are more likely to hit you but less likely to seriously hurt you than a car (as a walker), their crazy ways are making it more likely a car will hit you since cars are having to drive abnormally to react to the lawless bikers. The situation caused by the lawless bikers is, overall, having a negative impact on walkers and public transit users in The City (slowing down transit on Market, etc.). The SFBG likes to pitch the bikers’ agenda as in-line with walkers/peds/transit riders but that simply isn’t true in SF.

  • Greg

    What did SF bikers expect? Did they expect the cops to do nothing after seeing them flaunt the law time and time again right in front of their faces? Bikers don’t even pretend to follow the law right in front of the cops. Cops are wired a certain way, at some point if you give them the finger every day, they will react. I was biking in GGP yesterday and a biker nearly t-boned a cop car as the biker raced through a stop sign and the cop was turning left. This happens every second of every day in SF. A tiny bit of effort and less rudeness by the bikers in SF would have prevented this.

  • mikesonn

    “while the reckless bikers are more likely to hit you”

    False. But maybe if you keep repeating it?

    “The SFBG likes to pitch the bikers’ agenda as in-line with walkers/peds/transit riders”

    I assume you meant SFBC, but whatever your perceived distance between cycling’s agenda (omg Agenda 21, commies, socialists, anti-freedom) and walking/transit is it is still WAY smaller of a gap than the distance between AAA’s agenda and safe streets for all.

  • Greg

    Of course but what does AAA’s agenda have to do with this? AAA’s agenda is to pave the earth and issue everyone a Corvette. Yes, I meant SFBC, thanks for correcting me. As primarily a walker and public transit user in SF, I feel like SFBC is hostile to my interests. As is AAA’s agenda. I also feel like actions taken to the detriment of walkers and public transit in favor of bikers are not a long term solution in SF. While biking can and has increased in SF there’s a limit to who can do that.

  • gneiss

    Please – give me the citation that “this is happening ever second of every day” outside of your own personal perception. What you are engaging in is called observational bias. You see what you want to see, which confirms your bias against people who ride bicycles. I see motorists engaging in illegal acts every second of every day too. And often the police are just as careless as other motorists.

    Also, I really dislike bigots who lump people into the category ‘bikers’ and ignore:

    1. Mothers who ride with their children to school
    2. Children who ride
    3. Middle aged men who ride on in street clothes to work

    I bet you also say, “Some of my best friends are bikers, but they don’t act like that” too.

  • Greg

    I disagree with sexists who say mothers are riding with their kids to school and men are riding to work. My wife has never ridden with our kids – yet I do all the time.

  • gneiss

    Since both my wife and I ride with our daughter to/from school (and then to our jobs) I hardly think that qualifies as “sexist” to point out that people other than ‘bikers’ are on city streets. Again, your observational bias based on your own personal perception rules supreme.

  • mikesonn

    Wait, now you ride your kid to school all the time? *smh* You just don’t stop, do you?

  • Pablo Ramirez

    In the Mission Narcotic and gang units use petty bicycle infractions to search suspected dealers. 80% of cases I know of, were not dealers….. not right

  • Sabby Rose

    How do I make a safe and complete stop while on my whizzer bike?

  • Rob Whitey

    It’s the law. Autos, pedestrians, they all do it. That’s what a red light means. That’s what the big red octagon means. We learn this in preschool. Let’s all just select what laws we want to enforce. After giving up a full auto lane + bike lane so you idiots can “commute” with the motor vehicles, the least you can do is obey the laws.
    But that’s asking too much. God forbid you have to unclip from your peddles.


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