SFPD Park Station Begins Pointless Harassment of Bike Commuters

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford has made good on his promise: Officers were out this morning ticketing bike commuters who failed to comply with a strict application of the stop sign law on Page Street and the Wiggle. One bike rider said police justified her ticket by adding their own fictional flourish to the law.

Laura Kiniry, 41, said she canceled a doctor appointment she was biking to after receiving a $234 ticket (plus court fees) because she didn’t put her foot down after climbing uphill on Central Street to make a left onto Page.

Kiniry, who has biked in the city for 18 years, said she saw two people on bikes already pulled over by police at Page and Baker. She assumed she wouldn’t receive a traffic citation for making a safe, practical near-stop after pedaling uphill at single-digit speeds.

“Maybe I didn’t come to a complete stop. I looked both ways,” said Kiniry. She said the officer told her, “‘You have to have at least one of your feet down.'” That supposed requirement appears nowhere in the California Vehicle Code.

Kiniry says she told the officer, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to bike. I’m not going downtown anymore. I’m terrified, I don’t know if I’m allowed to pull up next to a car, I don’t know what I’m allowed to do anymore. I can’t afford this.”

Today’s ticket blitz came a week after the Wiggle “stop-in” demonstration highlighting the absurdity of strictly enforcing the stop sign law. The law makes no distinction between bikes and cars, and expects bicycle riders to make a full stop, rather than the normal practice of slowing and yielding to others.

Demonstrators on bikes lined up on Steiner Street before each, in turn, came to a full stop at Waller Street and turned left, moving the queue at a snail’s pace. While no uniformed SFPD officers stuck around at the demonstration, one officer drove past the queue and said on his loudspeaker, “Thank you for obeying the law.”

SFPD was right back at the same intersection this morning handing out tickets to bike commuters who didn’t come to a full stop.

An SFPD driver thanks bike commuters for obeying the letter of the stop sign law at last week's demonstration. Screenshot from The Wigg Party via Uptown Almanac
An SFPD driver thanks bike commuters for obeying the letter of the stop sign law at last week’s demonstration. Screenshot from The Wigg Party via Uptown Almanac

After receiving her ticket on Page, Kiniry said she walked her bike home, a few blocks away on Oak Street. But first, she stayed at the scene to warn approaching bike commuters that police would ticket them if they didn’t put a foot down, which doesn’t make anyone safer.

“At least six cops” were posted on Page, noted Kiniry. “Really? Shouldn’t you be doing something else?”

Last week, Supervisor London Breed came out in support of letting people on bikes yield at stop signs, which has been the legal standard in Idaho for 32 years. When reached for comment, staff from Breed’s office reiterated her stance and said she urges SFPD to comply with its data-driven “Focus on the Five” campaign.

In an email exchange shared with Streetsblog, Inner Sunset resident Sean Rea told Park Captain Sanford that he is “willfully disregarding statistical evidence that proves the majority of injury accidents are caused by motorists — not by pedestrians or cyclists.”

Sanford has said the bike crackdown is a response to complaints rather than data. So Rea wrote multiple emails to report run-ins he’d had with reckless drivers while bicycling. Here’s one example:

Twice this week I was cut off by drivers who failed to yield to me. In both cases, [an] SFPD patrol car was behind me and had complete visibility of the situation. I was able to talk to each patrol car at the next red light and when I asked why they didn’t cite the driver, both said something to the extent of “well, you’re OK, right?”.

This seems like a stark double standard to me. Drivers can put me at risk but as long as they don’t hurt me they won’t get cited. Yet when cyclists make small infractions that don’t result in injury the response from you is a crackdown.

Here’s Sanford’s response to Rea’s complaints:

It appears that you have already made your mind up and you clearly do not understand our obligation to address all issues within the district.  I respect your opinion, but we obviously disagree with each other.  Again, I have noted your concerns and admit we have many issues with motorist, but I have not heard you admit that some cyclist our violating the law. Despite them not being able to cause as much damage as vehicles, it is still the capability of someone getting seriously hurt.  Again, sorry we disagree.

While pedestrian injuries involving bicyclists do happen, rarely, SFPD’s literal application of the law is sweeping up safe cyclists instead of targeting the problematic locations or bicycling behaviors.

This morning on the Panhandle, a man riding a bike hit a woman on the narrow Panhandle path, which is often crowded with bike and foot traffic. The woman was sent to the hospital, according to a tweet from KRON 4’s Stanley Roberts, who is expected to run a “People Behaving Badly” segment on bike enforcement today.

Kiniry and Rea both said they see bike violations that range from annoying to dangerous, but that SFPD’s indiscriminate dragnet isn’t making streets safer.

“I always thought what I was doing was the law,” said Kiniry. “I get upset when I see cyclists blow through stop signs. I think that’s dangerous. I would never do that.”

“The people that put people in danger, that put pedestrians in danger — I’m not one of them. And they’re not giving them tickets. They’re giving someone like me a ticket.”

The next SFPD Park Station community meeting will be held next Tuesday at 6 p.m.

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