New SFPD Park Station Captain’s Bike Crackdown Won’t Make Streets Safer

In the name of “protecting life,” SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford has promised a crackdown on people on bikes rolling through stop signs.

The SF Bicycle Coalition and some neighborhood leaders are calling on Sanford not to divert precious enforcement resources away from the most deadly traffic violations in the district, none of which are bicycle violations.

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford. Photo: SFPD
SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford. Photo: SFPD

The SFPD has committed to Vision Zero, an end to traffic deaths. Its ostensible strategy is called “Focus on the Five” — the idea being that most citations should be for the five top causes of traffic injuries in the city, which are all driver violations. All stations but one have failed to meet that goal. The share of tickets issued to people walking and biking is actually growing faster than “the five.”

“This crackdown is a significant departure from the SFPD’s Vision Zero Commitment and risks lives by diverting resources away from the deadliest traffic violations,” the SFBC wrote in a blog post today announcing a petition. “This program at Park Station ignores the SFPD’s Vision Zero goal and their own data… which show that the behaviors most likely to result in someone being hit or killed in the Park Station area are failing to yield to pedestrians, speeding, and sudden left or right turns.”

Park Station has a history of targeting people on bikes on the Wiggle and streets in the North of Panhandle and Upper Haight neighborhoods, often at intersections that are nowhere close to being the district’s most dangerous.

But Sanford, who became captain of the station in April, seems less convinced by data than by his personal perceptions. He explained his reasons for the crackdown at a community meeting in June, reports Hoodline:

Sanford said his decision to step up traffic enforcement where bicycles are concerned was fueled by the cyclist behavior he’s witnessed around Park District. “I’m in an unmarked black police car, and they’re just zipping past,” he said.

Before the crackdown begins, district officers will promote education and awareness, but “bicyclists are required to follow the rules of the road,” Sanford said. “There’s a thing called a stop sign that bicycles are supposed to stop at.” …

One or two attendees questioned whether increased traffic enforcement against cyclists was appropriate given the district’s limited resources, but Sanford said that scofflaws on two wheels “present a hazard for many people,” and noted that “the protection of life” is his highest priority.

Sanford wasn’t in attendance at a community meeting on Tuesday, and hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

At Tuesday’s meeting, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Ann Mannix said the department had increased its share of “Focus on the Five” tickets to 33 percent citywide, and explained the campaign’s impetus. “The injury that a car inflicts, of course, is far greater than what a pedestrian could do to a car, or what a bicyclist could do,” she said. “That said, we get the most complaints about bicyclists, so we will be doing a little more enforcement in that area.”

SFPD Lieutenant Christopher Creed said Park Station plans to ticket cyclists “because we already go after vehicles,” reports Hoodline.

In response to a letter [PDF] from the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association expressing concern about his crackdown, Sanford wrote in an email that it “does not take away any enforcement with the Focus on the Five”:

In fact, we have increase our enforcement efforts with the Focus on the Five and is committed as ever and have statistical data to support our efforts.

Our step up efforts simply mean first drawing the attention of cyclist violations to the attention of all officers in the Park district. In fact, right now we are still in warning mode in an effort to change behavior. I am hoping our efforts will be purely educational and we will not have to go into enforcement mode. However, I have received enough complaints and witnessed the problem with my own eyes and do believe it is a dangerous practice that can lead to serious injuries or even fatalities.

Sanford didn’t explain how it’s possible to “not take away any enforcement” when devoting officers to focus on bike commuters rolling stop signs.

The stop sign law in every state except Idaho assumes that bicycles are just like cars, creating the unrealistic expectation that someone on a bike should make a full stop at every stop sign, even when they are clearly not violating anybody else’s right-of-way.

The letter of the law leads to an unproductive fixation on the way that people naturally negotiate stop signs on a bike: by slowing, checking for traffic, and being prepared to yield to others. A video posted on YouTube shows two officers demonstrating the practice on Haight Street in the Park District.

Meg Rosenfeld must be one of the residents whose complaints steer the Park District’s enforcement. At Tuesday’s meeting, when the SFMTA’s John Knox White asked attendees to “think about one thing you can personally do that would be safer for everybody else on the street,” she muttered with a chuckle, “Shoot the bicyclists.” Rosenfeld also said that she sees officers roll stop signs near her home on Hugo Street, a popular bike route.

SFBC community organizer Janice Li, who was in the audience, invited Rosenfeld to suggest locations and neighborhood groups where SFBC should conduct outreach about safe bicycling. That seemed to disarm Rosenfeld, who simply replied, “Great, thank you.”

Park Station’s prior captain, Raj Vaswani, seemed to take a more reasoned approach to traffic enforcement priorities. For example, he got tow truck companies to avoid parking in the Fell Street bike lane.

“Rather than diverting resources away from enforcing the deadliest traffic behaviors,” the SFBC wrote in its blog post, “Captain Vaswani would respond to occasional neighbor complaints about traffic violations by people biking by reaching out to the SF Bicycle Coalition and requesting that we ramp up outreach and education efforts.”

  • ts2912

    This is what happened to me about 4 years ago (every word is the absolute truth BTW)…
    a) I was driving through an intersection, I was the first car after the light turned green
    b) A bicyclist blew through the intersection, across the red light, across my path
    c) I stood on my brakes, the car behind me smashed into me
    d) Damage to the rear of my car was $1,650 (minus $1,000 deductible)
    e) Damage to the car behind me, far more

    (That d*rtbag cyclist just WAVED and went on)

  • Jimbo

    exactly why bicycles in the city should be registered and have a license plate.

  • ts2912

    I agree!

  • @SuperQ – It’s hard to be a squeaky wheel. When I first moved to S.F., decades ago, I encountered shockingly dangerous motorist behavior. I got a license plate, called the SFPD (not 911), and they said they really couldn’t be bothered to take a report unless there was actual contact.

    Later, I was brushed by a car in an intersection. Aha! Contact! I called the SFPD with the license plate, and they moved the goalposts: Well, I wasn’t injured, was I? They refused to take info over the phone, but invited me to come down and fill out a report, with the caveat that they weren’t actually going to do anything.

    I’m left wondering where they’re getting these complaints. Perhaps it’s people yelling at community meetings, such as the one Capt. Sanford opted not to show up at?

  • @Bob – Sorry to disappoint you, man, but I think she’s married to Lawrence Rosenfeld, who is the lead/moderator of Nextdoor The Inner Sunset. You would love the uninformed discourse there, it’s about 99% pearl-clutching, garment-rendering anecdotes.

    (99% is, of course, the carefully-calculated anecdata figure.)

  • @Jimbo – Interesting question. Why do police have an elaborate system of policies to let the vast majority of motoring lawbreakers do so with impunity? Why is there an entire parallel justice system required to process the many motorists who break the law egregiously enough to run afoul of those lenient policies?

  • @jamiebronson – You support this crackdown, which by Captain Sanford’s own narrative is based on his own anecdotal observations.

  • @Jimbo – Ah yes, the ol’ “self-police” advice. How do you propose to make that work, exactly? It’s not as if motorists have provided any guidance at this, but the notion persists, so how, exactly, do you imagine this working?

  • @liljenstolpe – Fixies are a red herring here, but do you seriously honestly actually believe that people are on the streets with no ability to stop? Do you seriously honestly actually believe that thing that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever?

    A fixed-gear bike can be stopped by pedaling it backwards, exactly the same way one stops a bike equipped with coaster brakes (not “breaks”).

  • @NoeValleyJim – The voters haven’t actually been given this choice. The 1989 ballot initiative that imposed a sales tax and created the SFCTC was campaigned for with promises of extending the Muni Metro system to Geary and two other corridors, and voters were under the impression that it would be rail (like the rest of the Muni Metro system). The initiative’s actual wording did not commit to rail, but to a “fixed guideway,” and a combination of lowered expectations and merchant opposition turned that into BRT. We voted to renew this with the same noncommittal wording.

  • @Matty J. – Police don’t write up parking tickets, that’s left to the PCOs. As for “murder,” it kills far fewer people than routine motorist behavior, so that’s a very curious comparison indeed.

  • @murphstahoe – Which is why his arguments stink so badly.

  • @Christopher Childs – Pedestrians have far fewer laws to follow than cars (with good reason, they do far less damage), but one of those few laws is that they do not have the right of way to enter a crosswalk to prevent a vehicle or bicycle from clearing an intersection.

  • Matty J.

    Fair enough on the parking ticket issue, but my original opinion still remains. Bicyclists shouldn’t get away with running stop signs and whatnot just because cars are more dangerous.

  • @Jimbo – Shortly after the tragedy, the SFPD made public statements that Bucchere ran a yellow, not a red light, but then they clammed up. During the trial, one witness claimed that Bucchere ran a red light, and immediately afterwards, Bucchere’s lawyer played video showing a crowd of pedestrians including this very witness walking into the crosswalk while the light was still yellow. Material evidence puts the lie to that testimony.

    The “Strava videogame” angle in which Bucchere was trying to “beat his personal best” was groundless speculation by a blogger, which went viral because it sounded so terrible. Yet actual review of the Strava records indicated no such thing.

    IMHO Bucchere was going too fast for conditions and reckless. Commenters who for some reason need to exaggerate what actually happened to demonize him even further are not being rational at all.

  • @Abe Froman – Nobody said that. You, however, made a demand that bicyclists “[s]tart kicking into transportation infrastructure funding,” a demand with an inherent premise that bicyclists don’t already do so. The followup comments disprove that premise.

    Stop hoarking up this bogus premise it’s a complete waste of time and doesn’t support rational arguments.

  • @Prinzrob – The other angle on this is that the homeowner can deduct property tax from income tax, whereas the renter cannot deduct rent.

  • @runn3r85 – Gas taxes, tolls, and vehicle fees don’t add up to hardly 50% of the cost of highways (and, as you point out, contribute nothing to roads). The rest comes from general revenue

    In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned on not restoring vehicle fees, and instead pushed through Prop 1B, the largest public works bond in U.S. history, to fund the highways (and to nearly triple the costs with 30 years of bond debt service).

  • @p_chazz – That’s not thinking. That’s just making up nonsense.

  • @SF Guest – Yes, motorists speeding is “frivolous” and is routinely and pointedly ignored in these discussions about how terrible bicyclists are. Of course, this means routine and pointed failure to look at the #1 correlator with serious injury and death. Whoopsy doodle!

  • @DrG – It makes no sense to talk about one without the greater context that includes the other. Unless, of course one’s goal is misdirection and misemphasis.

  • @DrG – 2-3 people hospitalized by motorists every day in this city, 1 killed every 3 weeks. Apparently THAT ISN’T ENOUGH to justify your concern, or commentary.

  • @DrG – AAA and CSAA are the “car coalition” you seek. They are far more powerful than the SFBC.

  • @ts2912 – “A” cyclist means that your anecdotal statistic is 1. Not exactly a number to base policy on.

  • DrG

    Any hundreds of kids are sexually abused by family members, and countless numbers of people are being killed through genocide in Africa.

    We’re not talking about motorists. We’re talking about bicyclists. Keep on topic!

    But to go off topic, and respond with statistic, considering the ratio of cars to bicyclists on the roads, the number of accidents per motorist might actually be less than the number per bicyclist.

  • DrG

    They do. Lookout my yelp reviews.

  • DrG

    No it does. You are wrong. Keep on topic.

  • p_chazz

    No, what I am describing is a condition known in psychotherapy as transference, which is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another.

  • @DrG – Your first paragraph is off-topic. Your second paragraph is an attempt to frame the actual debate in such a way as to ignore relevant context. This isn’t fooling anyone.

    As for your third paragraph, that’s a valid concern, but the actual statistics don’t add up to your presumption.

  • @DrG – It makes sense to miss the forest for the trees if only the trees are what’s relevant. But we’re talking about public policy and law enforcement here, and that is in fact the forest.

  • @p_chazz – That would make some sense if you were in fact a psychotherapist with aggro cyclists under your care. I have seen no evidence of this. What I have seen is commentary that hinges on making up negative thoughts, beliefs, and motivations and asserting, on no substantive basis whatsoever, that these are inside the heads of others.

  • DrG

    Fine, then observe liberty with the blindfold. Enforce ALL the laws, not just the ones against motorists because you feel they are more dangerous.

  • Christopher Childs

    Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification!

  • p_chazz

    Please refer to the comment of boter op mijn hoofd to which I was replying:

    “When the average SF cyclist starts yielding to Peds in crosswalks, then I’ll have some sympathy. I have no idea why cyclists think they have priority over peds. They could slow down, go behind, anything except cutting-off people on foot in a crosswalk. Cyclists can rant all they want about the “Idaho Stop” and how stop signs were invented for cars, but as long as they ride just as bad as everyone other vehicle operator on the road, they should expect scorn to be heaped upon them. (And yes, I’ve been hit by a cyclist. It does happen. In my case, the cyclist crashed into me and broke my nose.)”

    There is your substantive basis for you.

  • SF Guest

    I wish you could have chased him down and sued him for reckless riding.

  • @p_chazz – Though of course @boter has similarly shown no indication of being a psychotherapist with any actual insight into the minds he presumes to have divined.

  • DrG

    I’m ending this with saying, I don’t agree with you and you don’t agree with me. I think, frankly, that bicyclists are the surge of this City. You can tar and feather me any way you want. I don’t know you, and have no interest in knowing you. I know what I know. That’s enough for me. I think what the Captain is doing is GREAT and my only wish is that EVERY Captain on the force does the same thing.

  • @DrG – “I don’t have any informed, substantive response, so I’m taking my keyboard and going home.”

  • Because once you have a license plate, you become a model citizen.

  • SF Guest

    No coalition including AAA is as powerful as SFBC. All the prospective BOS candidates know if they don’t answer your bike survey satisfactorily they have zero chance of being elected.

    On that basis alone I can’t agree with your comment that AAA is far more powerful than the SFBC. No coalition is going to submit a car survey to BOS candidates for their consideration.

  • murphstahoe

    So you’re saying that the SFBC is more powerful than Exxon Mobile. Great! Soon we will rule the world.

  • SF Guest

    Are there any Exxon Mobile stations in SF? Someone or something must have driven them out of SF.

  • Prinzrob

    “No coalition including AAA is as powerful as SFBC.”

    AYFKM?! AAA has 54 million members in North America. Fifty. Four. Million. You just don’t notice them as much as the local bike coalition because their influence is so ingrained into the system, and because they don’t have to do grassroots community organizing as their interests are the default position.

  • @SF Guest – Most people don’t even know about the AAA’s lobbying efforts, but they are substantial. As for the SFBC’s power, it was only 3 years ago that the SFMTA’s bike expenditures expanded to a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring %0.46 of its budget. This led to much pearl-clutching, garment-rendering, and endless shrieks about some sort of WAR ON CARS!!!!111

  • donsf2003

    b. riding on the sidewalk is never legal unless you are under 12

  • Hata H. Zappah

    Shouldn’t the cyclist have stopped period and waited for the police to come? Maybe if we require all bicycles to have license plates, this will take care of that?

  • c2check

    How do you know what she saw or knew?

  • Standing there on my bike in the bike lane, I had almost no view around the truck. Having just approached and stopped there, I saw the restricted sight-lines as I approached.
    But heck, you’re right, she might have been like Daredevil and just ‘aware’ beyond that of a normal human being. In which case, I wish she’d drive a car so at least there’s one person driving who won’t say “I didn’t see you”.

  • Rayn

    Man that whole Safeway corner is hell and needs to be shot. It’s probably the only time I feel sorry for cyclists except for that area around Masonic and Fell because of how much BS is going on there at any given time. I used to be much more pro-cyclist but the past 5 years my perceptions have soured because of their flippant attitude of “car laws don’t mean anything to me, fuck pedestrians, yolo, what, not like I’m going to kill you.”

    Being partially disabled, most of my complaints are about cyclists doing things like what you described, riding behind me on the sidewalk dinging their bell for me to move out of their way and yelling at me if I don’t, or coming up onto the sidewalks at traffic speed to avoid a light/traffic jam. I’m really happy police are finally making an effort on this finally

    Just because cars do more damage if they hit you even at low speed, it’s the cyclists who casually roll through or into crosswalks, sneak up behind me and bump me as they pass or up onto the sidewalks at speed making me move out of the way quickly that ruin me for days. Just because I don’t end up in an ER, doesn’t mean I haven’t had to take days off work because of an inconsiderate cyclist riding up onto a sidewalk at speed making me have to move out of their way quickly.

    Complaints against cyclists probably come from people like me (although I haven’t complained because how do you report a cyclist without an identification to point at them or Twitter shaming with video which I also refuse to do, for now), which don’t end up in accident reports or statistics because there was no accident to report. Then every time I dare yell at a cyclist riding against a red light, stop sign, through a busy crosswalk I get laughed at, spit at, swore at, a combination of the above or a snide “Yes Mr. Officer, I’ll do just that *the bird*” It doesn’t help that my disability doesn’t show. They probably see someone who looks semi-physically fit and think I’m just being a jerk.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Going 26 in a 25 MPH zone is not a very negligible difference, though I know almost all car drivers believe this. Because of the laws of physics (1/2 mv^2) going 1 MPH faster gives you 8% more kinetic energy. This leads to about a 10% less chance of survival for a pedestrian struck my a car. Given all the deaths to pedestrians by automobiles, this must cause dozens of extra pedestrian deaths per year.

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