SFPD Tickets to Peds, Cyclists, Grow 7X Faster Than “Focus on the Five”

On Bike to Work Day yesterday, SFPD conducted yet another sting on bike commuters on the Wiggle. Meanwhile, another pedestrian was hit by a driver at Sunset and Yorba. Photo: Matt Matteson/Twitter

The SFPD may be working towards its “Focus on the Five” goals — focusing traffic enforcement on the five most dangerous violations, all by drivers — but meanwhile, it’s really ratcheting up its ticket enforcement against those walking and bicycling.

This counterproductive use of limited enforcement resources was highlighted at a Police Commission hearing this week. There, Walk SF and the SF Bicycle Coalition praised SFPD’s stated commitment to pursue Vision Zero, including new quarterly reports on its increased traffic enforcement efforts. But the new data revealed that, between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, tickets for pedestrian and bicyclist violations saw “by far the greatest increase,” as SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum pointed out, although they have nothing to do with “Focus on the Five.”

As if to highlight the mismatch between the SFPD’s enforcement priorities and the real dangers on the streets, officers conducted yet another sting on bike commuters rolling stop signs on the Wiggle yesterday, during Bike to Work Day — even though there has never been a known report of a collision caused by a bicyclist there. On the very same day, yet another pedestrian was struck by a driver within the crosswalk at Sunset Boulevard and Yorba Street. Three pedestrians have been struck there so far in 2014, including 78-year-old Isaak Berenzon, who was killed in February.

Granted, SFPD has targeted enforcement along dangerous streets like Sunset, charged the driver who killed Berenzon, and cited the driver in yesterday’s crash. And department officials report a substantial increase in traffic enforcement overall — 34,000 tickets were issued in the first quarter of this year, compared to 22,000 last year — and the efforts may already be bringing results.

Overall traffic collisions this quarter were down by 8 percent compared to last year, bicycle collisions down 16 percent, and pedestrian crashes down 3 to 4 percent, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr told Streetsblog yesterday. “We’re not going to achieve [Vision Zero] this year, but we are committed to achieving that,” he said.

Yet SFPD is still far from its goal of having at least 50 percent of all tickets being issued to for the “Five” dangerous driver violations — speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, violating pedestrian right-of-way, and turning violations. In the first quarter of 2014, they comprised 19 percent of tickets, a rise of just 3 percent compared to the same quarter last year.

When looking at the proportion of tickets issued to people walking and biking, SFPD is actually moving backwards. Pedestrians and bicyclists have received 6 percent and 2 percent of all tickets this year, respectively. Put together, that 8 percent of tickets is quadruple last year’s proportion, jumping from 2 percent. The total number of citations to pedestrians increased 350 percent and bicyclists 191 percent, much faster than the 158 percent growth in the next-highest category, driver violations of pedestrian right-of-way.

Tickets in all categories increased 55 percent, but drivers are receiving a smaller share of those tickets, dropping from 98 percent to 92 percent. “Is that the best use of limited resources?” Shahum asked commissioners at the hearing Wednesday.

“Of course, we have to enforce all traffic behaviors,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. But, she added, “When we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, we take on a new level of responsibility. We are operating a vehicle that is two tons and has the ability to kill another human being, traveling at fast speeds.”

At the hearing, Chief Suhr defended the enforcement pattern, emphasizing that “in the aggregate,” people walking and biking still get a small share of tickets. He acknowledged that “vehicles are obviously the most dangerous,” but said, “I would suggest that people in San Francisco might expect bicyclists get more than 2 percent of the citations.”

No members of the Police Commission spoke up to support Shahum and Schneider’s concerns about the direction of SFPD’s enforcement efforts, even though they seemed to strongly endorse the data-driven “Focus on the Five” campaign at a hearing last July. In fact, Commissioner Joe Marshall challenged Shahum’s criticisms by insisting that “a violator is a violator.”

In response, Shahum pointed out that in the four cases where bicyclists were killed last year, none of the implicated drivers have been cited or charged. Particularly in cases where the victims aren’t alive to tell their side of the story, and with neither witnesses nor video, it’s often difficult to determine with certainty who was at fault, and the victim is blamed more often than not.

“There’s a losing end in a lot of these cases, and it’s often people who aren’t surrounded by a steel box,” said Shahum.

  • gneiss

    What Commissioner Joe Marshall is missing is that in some jurisdictions, a.k.a. Idaho, rolling through empty 4 way stop signs is legal. Saying ‘a violator is a violator’ is missing the point that some behaviors and streetscapes are significantly more dangerous than others. And there is absolutely no reason why a stop sign violation on a bicycle is as expensive as in a car (i.e. $450). When you enforce laws just to get compliance, all you do is generate contempt for the laws and the institutions enforcing them. They way they are doing their enforcement right now is pure and simple nothing more than a harassment technique.

    What they should do on Waller if they were serious about increasing safety is raise the crosswalks to sidewalk grade, daylight (not just the stupid 5 feet they’ve done right now) the intersections, and change the road pattern to block rat running on Steiner and Scott. But in this city, that takes 10 years to happen. Arrgh.

    As Aaron has indicated, there is no known fatality or serious injury in that area. But there have been at least two major collisions in the last year between cars, bicycles, and pedestrians at Fell and Oak near Steiner. It would be far more productive to move the enforcement focus to those streets rather than continue this wasteful and pointless harassment on Waller.

  • phoca2004

    To Protect and Serve the whiniest majority, regardless impacts. Way to go SFPD. Bravo. Stop wondering why segments of the population don’t support you when you engage in biased enforcement, instead of data driven practice.

  • JJ94117

    Park Station Community Meeting next Tuesdy at 6pm.

  • FixSF

    We have to all share the streets and the responsibility. In 2014 to date peds/bicyclists have been at fault in 50% of the fatalities, a 24% increase. Some would say that they should get 50% of the citations, not 7%.

    There would also be less need to enforce if the advocacy organizations would do some real education of their members, rather than teaching with a wink and a nod. Do they teach pedestrians to not step off the curb to cross during the countdown? No. Do they teach bicyclists to really stop at stop signs and red lights? No. And if they say they do – then they are pretty bad teachers. The pedestrians are just ignorant. The bicyclists are anarchists.

    Right now enforcement is the only good education we have. So lets support SFPD rather than beating them up because you thought you could protect your law breakers with “focus on five” for drivers only. Remember there is a ped or bike involved in every collision we all want to prevent.

  • wuputah

    Stop signs violations are $297 in a car, $197 on a bicycle. The original fine was $25 on a bike and $125 in a car, but over the years, $172 has been added to all violations for various programs and fees.

    When you target popular (and safe) routes, people change their behavior: they ride on less popular, less safe routes to avoid enforcement, or possibly stop riding their bike altogether.

  • jd_x

    This is maddeningly frustrating. I actually thought that, with the Focus on Five campaign, this utter waste of resources was being toned down. We need Supe Wiener to have a hearing on how SFPD justifies this. I would like the victims or families of pedestrians and cyclists who have been injured or killed by cars in the last couple years to come to this hearing, and then have the police department look them in the eye and tell them that SFPD was doing everything it could to prevent these senseless deaths and injuries. I want SFPD to justify to these people how stopping cyclists from rolling stop signs at empty intersections and which hasn’t hurt anybody is more important than protecting the lives those who have been killed or injured by motorists.

    SFPD, you make me sick. I expect you to be looking at for the best interest of your citizens, but instead you are engaged in a petty vendetta against cyclists because of an inherent bias you have against them, facts, statistics, and common sense be damned.

  • Chris

    What’s “rat running?”

  • The rules of the road are pretty simple. Look where you’re going, take your turn, and don’t run over the pedestrians. You can roll stops when it’s safe, unless police are present. Since that’s rare, it works out 😉

  • Chris J.


  • Dave Moore

    Aaron, could you provide a source for this data?

  • NoeValleyJim

    Hey at least if you kill someone with your car, you get a traffic ticket. This is actually an improvement over how SFPD dealt with this last year.

  • SFPD’s Q1 2014 report on traffic enforcement, as presented to the Police Commission Wednesday by Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali.

  • Dave Moore

    I mean the raw, uninterpreted numbers.

  • @FixSF it seems your concept of “sharing the streets” or what used to be called The Public Right-of-Way means that everyone watches out for cars because otherwise it will be their own damn fault (at least 50% of the time) if they get killed.

    Motorists have a far greater responsibility and enforcement should mirror that greater responsibility.

  • I don’t have a digital copy of the report, but you can view video of the presentation and discussion, including slides, on SFGovTV here, starting at 1:33:00: http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=21&clip_id=20034

  • Ticketing bicyclists on Bike to Work Day? That’s the kind of junk Texas did too the other day on Bike to School Day. Come on San Fransisco!

    Every single day is Drive to Work Day, where are the targeted tickets then?

  • Hmmm, so bicyclists are “anarchists” because they sometimes roll through deserted stop signs harmlessly. Drivers break multiple traffic laws on every single outing (running stops, rolling through right-on-reds, changing lanes without signaling, speeding, texting while driving, etc.) but they’re not anarchists. I get it it. Technical violations only count when bicyclists do it.

    Aren’t you embarrassed at how blatantly absurd you are?

  • At just this one intersection, hundreds of anarchists (AKA drivers) illegally block this box every single day.

  • Martin

    Admittedly I was only there for a very brief period, but that enforcement on the wiggle seemed more directed at right-of-way and crosswalk violations than rolling stops.

    A cop watched me and another cyclist roll through the stop but then I yielded to a pedestrian and the other guy didn’t. Cop pulled him over, yelling about the ped, but specifically told me I was fine and waved me on. Another guy there at the time was being cited for not yielding the right of way to an oncoming vehicle.

    Still not a great use of police time but a bit more classy than ticketing stop sign violations.

  • KL

    As drivers with education, drivers are suppose to prepare to stop and not cross the intersection at yellow, yet drivers still cross and the light turns red sometimes even before drivers cross. How is that any different from pedestrians crossing during the countdown? The countdown clock is really a pedestrian yellow. Does that make drivers ignorant too since they cross yellows too?

  • Prinzrob

    “peds/bicyclists have been at fault in 50% of the fatalities, a 24% increase. Some would say that they should get 50% of the citations, not 7%.”

    Your math is really faulty. Even if people on bikes and foot were at fault in 50% of all crashes (not just fatalities) with car drivers (actual % in SF is much lower) that doesn’t mean they should get half of all tickets, as these crashes are just a small percentage of the total traffic incidents. If the bike/ped mode share in SF was 20%, for instance, then a fair breakdown for tickets would be 10% towards those modes, not 50%.

    However even 10% is overkill, since driving a car is inherently more dangerous to others than biking or walking one would hope that we assign more resources and attention to that mode anyway. This is the same reason why semi trucks are more heavily regulated and monitored than privately owned cars.

    As for your remarks on the SFBC education programs, I recommend you try actually attending some of their free classes and looking at the materials on their website so you can have a real appreciation of the outreach they are trying to do as opposed to just making false assumptions about “a wink and a nod” that satisfy your preconceptions.

  • KillMoto

    Time for cyclists to film police misconduct, and bring it to court, the local TV station, and YouTube. Cops texting while driving, parking in bike lanes, etc.

  • Jeanine

    This happened to a 14 year old Redwood City girl too. They tried to blame it on bad weather (FOG). I was in that same intersection not 5 minutes before and there was no damn fog! The driver made a turn with the bicyclist and turned into her bike lane, scarring her, causing her to fall and ran her over. If you could see this intersection, you would be able to see that he HAD to be in the bike line to have run her over, yet the city, police and the friend following behind him says it was an accident. I think he got away with murder.

  • GetHubNub

    That will get you nowhere, nothing but trouble.

  • GetHubNub

    They don’t want to work so they set traps for people to catch them. They should assign more bike cops to man the streets but are just plain too lazy.

  • GetHubNub

    You are dealing with demonic spirits who love to torment who are incompetent and highly ineffective at earning their large salaries and pensions. They prefer to do their jobs tormenting through entrapment. They’re thugs in uniform generally who want an easy life at the SFPD with a nice pension who want to stay alive to enjoy it. What they are in general as a whole are a huge tick sucking the life blood out of the tax payer.