Three Recent Assaults By Drivers Show Traffic Sewers’ Danger to Bikes, Peds

A driver recently assaulted a man bicycling on car-dominated Geneva Avenue near London Street. Photo: Google Maps

There have been three disturbing cases in SF within the last month in which drivers assaulted people walking and biking. Such cases are usually rare, but all of the attacks occurred on streets designed for fast driving.

The most recent attack was in the Excelsior on November 11. According to the SFPD Ingleside Station newsletter, a driver was arrested after assaulting a man bicycling on Geneva Avenue. The driver apparently didn’t like the fact that victim was occupying a traffic lane, which the CA Vehicle Code allows in any lane that can’t be safely shared between a bike and a car. But instead of simply changing lanes, this driver took to violence:

The bicyclist told Ingleside officers Trail and Carrasco that he was riding eastbound on Geneva from Alemany, in the slow lane, when the driver of a car started honking at him to “get out of the way”. The bicyclist ignored him and kept riding. However, after he crossed Mission Street, near London, the motorist passed him on his left and then swerved right into the bicyclist’s front wheel. The bicyclist took out his cell phone and took a picture of the motorist’s license plate and then started to dial 911. But, before he could complete dialing, the motorist ran up to him and slammed his body, forcing the cell phone onto the street. The officers detained and questioned the motorist and, after interviewing witnesses, placed him under arrest for robbery and aggravated assault.

Of two recent attacks on pedestrians, the driver in one case ran the victim over and killed him on November 3. Joseph Jeffrey, 54, told a driver to slow down near Eddy and Larkin Streets in the Tenderloin. Police told the SF Chronicle that the driver intentionally ran over Jeffrey, who was homeless and had just left the hospital after recovering from a gunshot wound:

After Jeffrey and the driver exchanged words, the driver struck him with a white four-door Nissan sedan, police said. While witness accounts have varied, family members said they were told by police that the driver either backed up or made a U-turn in order to run Jeffrey down.

The driver fled the scene, and no arrest has been made.

In another case on October 30, a man used his fists to attack two pedestrians, after first nearly driving into them in a crosswalk at Third Street and Palou Avenue in Bayview. One of the victims “tapped the suspect’s hood with his hands and told him to calm down,” according to SF Weekly.

That enraged the driver, who then hopped out of his car and punched the guy who had touched his hood. The victim fell to the ground. The driver then turned his anger on the second pedestrian and started beating him. Then he went back to the first victim and continued to punch and kick him until the cops arrived and broke it up.

The driver was arrested and booked on battery charges.

There’s a clear pattern in the type of urban environment in which cases like these occur. When drivers become violently enraged at people outside of cars who impinge on their ability to drive as fast as they want, it tends to be on car-centric streets whose design invites aggressive driving. Streets like Geneva, Third, and Eddy have multiple, wide traffic lanes, and little space for people walking and biking. While other factors may be involved, we can’t ignore the fact that such conflicts often happen on the car-dominated traffic sewers that often tear through SF’s low-income communities, rather than on streets where sharing space is the norm.

  • Gezellig

    Yup! Or the antigay one. Lots of parallels in terms of the cluelessness of unintrospective majority privilege. Down to the letter of the “why can’t you be civil?” (read: “why make a fuss about the status quo?”) comment.

    “Aren’t civil unions enough? You get so much now! And it is definitely fully, justly and perfectly optimized for your needs so anything better is whining. Just smile and stay within that. Oh, and you and the rest of your kind will be judged as a group the first second a single one of you has a bad day or gets mad about the disparity. Thanks!”

    “Isn’t the 1.4% of SF roadspace already devoted to bikes enough? You get so much now! And that 1.4% is definitely fully, justly and perfectly optimized for your mode so anything better is whining. Just smile and stay within that. Oh, and you and the rest of your kind will be judged as a group the first second a single one of you has a bad day or gets mad about the disparity. Thanks!”

    Lol. Great way to do public policy–especially public roadways we all pay for and use!

  • Gezellig

    Thanks! The tired illusory-correlation-laden Respectability Politics were too hilariously clueless not to address.

  • Lego

    It only takes once

  • Gezellig


    There has never been a single time…ever…that I’ve biked down Valencia WITHOUT there being double-parking.

    Literally. Ever.

    And I bike it all the time.

    So much for “why don’t you just stay in the space allotted to you?” Bikes have to do that within the 1.4% of SF road space devoted to them (often at subpar standards) but apparently cars don’t have to stay in the 95%+ of road space devoted solely to them (almost without exception above all other modes). Ok!

    I know this because–approximately speaking–zero times that I’ve gone down Valencia have I ever seen a double parker ticketed.

  • Lego

    Yes, yes and yes. I’ve even pointed out offenders to officers in real time and they did not act

  • Gezellig

    Glad you liked! I’m a pretty visual person so illustrative images always really help at least me.

    You can write tomes about what it’s like to bike in SF but pictures of the good and bad often just say everything.

  • Gezellig

    You keep it classy, Burnaby.

  • That was my second ride through the tunnel. The first one was simply harrowing. It was the second, near-fatal experience that appealed so strongly to my sense of self-preservation and triggered my fears for the safety of others.

    Even when the sign is “blank” as you call it, you can still plainly see the bike symbol and “IN TUNNEL” lettering. I agree with @brucehalperin:disqus that the opportunity here was to make Broadway one lane with a buffered bike lane.

    Boy, would that make the Prop L crowd scream bloody murder. But at least it wouldn’t be over a bicyclist’s bloody murder.

  • Marvin Papas

    “While other factors may be involved” Oh you mean like Cyclists who blow through stop signs on a regular basis then have the audacity to get mad at me for yelling at them after I stomped on the brakes to avoid hitting them? Those kind of factors?

  • coolbabybookworm

    It’s not flipped because Folsom’s buffered bike lane is a pilot project. In order to put car parking on the left of the bike lane, they’d need to create transit boarding islands for the 12 bus/GGT buses and probably phased turn signaling at places like 5th and 6th street. Unfortunately that means lots more time and money, but I think it’s the eventual plan.

  • gneiss

    “While other factors may be involved” Oh, you mean like car drivers that pull u-turns right in the middle of the street that I have to slam my brakes on to avoid? Drivers who double park in the bike lane when there’s a perfectly good parking spot half a block down the street? Drivers who buzz me with 6 inches to spare because they can’t bear to slow down for the 10 seconds it would take to wait until there’s a safe time to pass? Car drivers that fail to signal a right turn and then jerk across the bike lane into a driveway? See – we can play this game all day long.

    The key here is that bad infrastructure breeds bad behavior. Improve the infrastructure and you’ll see much better behavior from both car drivers, and bike riders.

  • Marvin Papas

    ‘Improve the infrastructure…’

    Good fucking luck with that one, Chief.

  • Erica_JS

    And the resulting shattered glass will contribute to one BIG reason cyclists “weave in and out” of the bike lane.

    If you ever see me “weaving” it’s because the bike lanes are often littered with hazards, and broken glass is chief among them. Drivers aren’t at an angle/perspective where they can see these hazards, and too many leap to the conclusion that cyclists are just randomly being jerks for no reason.

  • SFnative74

    That’s all great, but you can’t use that CVC section to justify riding side by side if it results in one of the riders being outside the bike lane. I prefer to ride side by side with people I am with, but the point here is that you need to be in a bike lane and can exit for specific reasons, one of which is not so you can ride side by side to chat. As for 17th St itself, the car lanes are 9′ wide while the parking lanes are 8′. It’s a narrow road so there’s no room for a parking protected cycletrack unless you remove parking on one side of the street for the whole length of the bikeway, then you could have a parking protected bikeway on one side of the street. Sure, that’s possible, but is it a tradeoff worth making on the street? Or maybe there should be no bike lane on the street at all – maybe just a bike boulevard.

  • thielges

    Nihilism doesn’t sound like a winning strategy.

    In contrast changing infrastructure for the better actually produces positive results by reducing collisions:

  • SFnative74

    I time the signals, make sure my back light is on, take the lane, and pedal like hell. It’s definitely not something I expect everyone to do or be able to do, but it’s worked for me. I’ve also done this going west, which is a slight uphill and even more gnarly. No incidences there either but not fun. People on bikes need their own space in the tunnel, and a 3′ wide sidewalk shared with pedestrians is not that space.

  • Marvin Papas

    Nihlism……oooo what a word, did you learn that in college, Lebowski?

    Trust me creating net new infastructure in SF takes YEARS unless its to be developed private real-estate bought at a premium.

  • Gezellig

    Yes, infrastructure change can be a long game. But we’re already benefiting from some changes first dreamed up years ago. And I’m glad people didn’t just give up then saying “but this’ll take long to get built. So hard. I quit.”

    Just like that old saying “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best is now.”

    Btw, with the injunction on new bike infra long since lifted as well as the death of LOS, the average gestation->construction time of some of these projects will probably decrease. Though the frustration with the oft-glacial pace is understandable and is one I and many here share, no doubt. Yet defeatist fatalism is hardly the answer, either.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Plus on the state level changes to CEQA and other shifts away from previous auto-dominated engineering are already well under way which makes all kinds of future and current street improvements potentially cheaper, faster, and easier.

  • Gezellig

    Yup. “Bad” LOS is no longer a valid metric to kill a project under CEQA, Caltrans now accepts formerly “exotic” treatments (such as bike-specific traffic signals) which required costly “experimentation” phases, separated infra is now kosher, etc.

  • jd_x

    What is amazingly hypocritical yet somehow completely overlooked by motorists is the fact that ALL motorists by definition are riding side-by-side. The bias of motorists is so thorough that they don’t even realize this. Why is it okay for cars to be designed so passengers sit side-by-side yet if bicyclists do this, it is somehow some abhorrent, disrespectful behavior?

  • Gezellig

    “It’s a narrow road so there’s no room for a parking protected cycletrack unless you remove parking on one side of the street for the whole length of the bikeway, then you could have a parking protected bikeway on one side of the street. Sure, that’s possible, but is it a tradeoff worth making on the street?”

    I think many would think so! But, there are also many other pragmatically compromisey alternatives, such as this (you can click to embiggen the image for detail):

  • Gezellig

    You mentioned 17th has car lanes 9′ feet + parking lanes 8′ wide. Assuming 5′ bike lanes that’s:

    5b+8p+9c+9c+8p+5b = 44′

    In the above retrofit I turned 17th into a one-way street for cars, removed a car travel lane, kept both parking lanes (to avoid parking wars–NIMBYs often seem more concerned about losing a parking lane rather than a travel lane). So that’s

    6.25b+11p+9.5c+11p+6.25b = 44′

    This setup could work great on the entire 1.5 mile stretch of 17th in the Mission (between Church and Kansas) which has no transit running on it so no Muni considerations needed.

    “That’s all great, but you can’t use that CVC section to justify riding side by side if it results in one of the riders being outside the bike lane.”

    For passing you can! And as far as I know there is no defined max window of time for how long max you’re allowed to overtake someone.

    Clearly, the poor condition of much of these infrastructure treatments means leaving the bike lane is a frequent occurrence and even the police seem to recognize this. With the huge exceptions in CVC21208 it’s my understanding it’s really hard to enforce. In fact, it’d probably be easier to enforce the rules against blocking bike lanes but SFPD is rarely known to do that, either. So they seem to accept that leaving the bike lane early and often for whatever reason is a thing.

  • murphstahoe

    Cool story bro

  • Bruce

    Good idea in theory, but the travel lane isn’t wide enough for a car to parallel park in this scenario.

  • Lego

    Folsom Street bike lane took months. Please consider more carefully your strong ‘trust me’ assertions. Aggressive ignorance may be popular in this country*, but I gave it up a long time ago after conversing/sparring with people who wiped the floor with me. Please display some curiosity and discover why Folsom took such a short amount of time and what you can do to reduce the obstacles to versioning our infrastructure. For example there’s a community-engagement meeting tonight on Embarcadero plans. Nihilists welcome. Thanks

    *excepting that American who wisely advised “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”

  • Gezellig

    How so? This kind of setup is not unique or exotic in the world and it works elsewhere.

    Moving cars have to wait for the parallel parkers to finish (and parallel parkers should wait for traffic to be clear).

    But if you think about it this is already the case on 17th–since there is currently only one 9′ travel lane in each direction anyone parallel parking already blocks through traffic in that lane till they’re done. Through cars already can’t pass as it is (unless they go into the oncoming travel lane, which really shouldn’t be happening anyway).

    So, yes, it would continue to cause delays for through car traffic while people parked, but the question is are our neighborhood streets like 17th for throughput of cars or for living in?

    Btw, if the 9.5′ width I proposed is really not enough, make it 11.5′ (the max Streetmix will let you do without telling you it’s probably too wide):

    5.25b+11p+11.5c+11p+5.25b = 44

    There are lots of ways to rethink our streets 🙂

  • Bruce

    I like the idea. My concern (well, the concern of the parking-first crowd) would be that 9.5 feet with cars on both sides was not enough room to maneuver into a parallel parking space.

  • Cyclists like the ones you speak of are the vast minority. You just don’t notice the other 99% of us when we’re respecting laws, or safely rolling stop signs while not getting in anyone’s way at all.

  • Gezellig

    How about the redone 11.5′? City car lanes don’t get much wider than that. Plus, these setups aren’t unknown in SF. The streets around South Park and Precita Park have dual-side parking on their one-way streets, for example:

    I think there’s a lot more emotion-based outcry over loss of parking spaces than narrowing of travel lanes, which can even be seen as a benefit since a lot of the NIMBYs are fine with or even support traffic calming on their blocks–they just want to keep all the parking spaces.

  • I was thinking the same thing… I’ve only ridden through the tunnel a few times, but never had any problems with drivers (yet). Most cars happily pass in the left lane with plenty of room, as they should. It’s not hard to drive safely around cyclists, and won’t add more than a second or two of extra time onto your commute, if that. Just slow down and wait until it’s safe to go around, no big deal. I don’t get why so many drivers can’t do it properly without bitching and moaning.

  • SFnative74

    No way the Fire Dept would accept a 9’6″ wide space (for good reason). Trucks couldn’t make it down the street either if anyone parks less than perfectly. And buses do use 17th to get to other routes. Also, the buffer between parking and the bikeway must be 4 feet minimum. The answer isn’t always as simple as it may seem.

  • Lego

    Yes, and many are alone in their cars and taking up the amount of lane space of the true side-by-siders. Indeed, the bias of motorists is so thorough that it should come as no surprise. But it never hurts to revisit and re-express it since bias-blindness abounds

  • Gezellig

    Re: SFFD then do whatever width is acceptable with the same one-way + both-sides parking setup on Precita and South Park. It’s not an unprecedented setup in SF.

    As you can see on the second rendering with over 11 feet for the travel lane it’s doable.

    Re: buses, what buses use 17th (in between Church and Kansas–as I mentioned earlier this is the stretch I was talking about) as a pass-through and on which blocks? And even if they do, there aren’t any stops on 17th so they absolutely can’t be rerouted? These are not world-ending insurmountable problems.

  • Lego

    I’m not following every inch of this latest thread, but Grant Av. in North Beach is one-way with two lanes of parking. I don’t appreciate it, but until proven mistaken, I probably agree with your statement:

    “A lot of the NIMBYs are fine with or even support traffic calming on
    their blocks–they just want to keep all the parking spaces”

  • Lego

    Yes: in Soc Psych it’s called Fundamental Attribution Error (Ross, 1977)

  • Gezellig

    Yeah, I just wonder why the pilot couldn’t have been done on the non-Muni-boarding side of the street where the transit thing wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe also something to do with signaling?

  • Gezellig

    Yup! Looks like just another normal storm grate:

    Unless you’re on a bike. And that grate takes up half or more of the bike lane.

  • Marvin Papas

    Don’t Bro me, Dude.

  • Lego

    I haven’t thought of this before (well who am I anyway?) but maybe there is not much reason for the Broadway tunnel to be 4 lanes to motor vehicles. They just scream through it and stop/bunch-up at the ends (mentioned before and I always see it, fwiw) going either way which equals no net increase in travel speed. True throughput data might indicate otherwise. Maybe there’s some lane width to spare? Just thinking out loud.

  • Lego

    one thousand words

  • What?! Passing a cyclist to closely is a moving violation. Not riding in a bike lane is not. Illegal acts are against the law, something that some driver somewhere feels correctly or incorrectly is inconsiderate is not. Do you understand the difference between a dangerous illegal act, and a legal perfectly safe and acceptable and possibly justifiable act?

  • SF4SF

    Let’s add “traffic sewer” to the list of overused phrases in San Francisco (vibrant is another of the worst). Use of these hate and advocacy terms polarize any discussion from the start and inhibit real discussion that could lead to understanding and compromise.


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