I Put My Foot Down at a Stop Sign and Nearly Got Run Over
I was extra law-abiding yesterday as I biked down Page Street: I put my foot down at every stop sign. As a result, an Uber driver nearly ran me over, specifically because I had come to a complete stop.
I was trying to avoid getting snared by SFPD’s new bike ticket blitz, which is based on the ludicrous notion that holding everyone on a bike to the letter of the stop sign law will make streets safer. I was riding home in the evening and playing it safe after hearing Laura Kiniry’s story about being ticketed by an officer who claimed (wrongfully) that bicycle riders are required to put their foot down at every stop sign. (On Twitter, Park Station disputed that officers made that claim.)
As I approached the stop sign on eastbound Page at Broderick Street, the driver of a seafoam-colored Prius traveling in the same direction arrived at the sign at the same time on my left. The driver squeezed me close to the parked cars to position himself to jump ahead of me.
I could clearly see there was no cross-traffic at the intersection, but I made a complete stop and put my foot down in case any officers were lurking nearby. As the driver and I both proceeded, he suddenly made a right turn in front of me, missing my bike by inches after I stopped in time.
“Seriously?” I yelled, and watched him drive down the block, only to slow down and activate his hazard signals. I wasn’t sure if he was stopping so we could talk, or picking up a passenger who hailed from an app.
I rode up next to the stopped driver, who had his window open but was looking down at his phone, seemingly unaware of what had happened. I noticed an Uber sticker on the windshield.
Still a bit shaken, I asked, “What were you doing? Did you think that was safe?”
The man, who looked to be about 30, said that because I’d made a full stop, instead of the normal slow-and-yield, he assumed I would yield as he turned in front of my path. “I thought, this guy knows what he’s doing,” he said. But there was no way for me to know, as he came up behind me, that he planned to make a turn.
I explained to him that cutting off someone on a bike like that is never safe. “I’m really worried that if you keep doing that, you’re going to hurt someone.”
“It’s possible,” he said, and apologized.
If I hadn’t been ready to stop as soon as he cut me off, I might be writing a very different post.
After biking around the city and writing about street safety for years, I think it’s fair to say I have a good understanding of how to avoid collisions. I give extra room to pedestrians and cars, just in case a driver decides to suddenly turn, or a door swings open.
That’s how it is when you’re biking on San Francisco’s car-dominated streets. You have to be constantly on the lookout, ready to anticipate unpredictable driver behavior, calculating how to minimize danger and stress. All cars, parked and moving, are a potential threat, and you always have to keep the worst-case scenario in the back of your mind, so you can avoid it.
Fortunately, a driver has never hit me, and near-misses have been rare. Yesterday, if I had just done the usual slow-and-yield, I wouldn’t have confused this driver. Instead, I followed SFPD’s orders to a T and almost got smacked by a two-ton machine.
The SFPD will never get everybody on a bike to stop at every stop sign, but maybe its latest crackdown will bring to light the absurdity of a law that people so often complain is “flouted” by people on bikes.
SFPD, as it turns out, may be unwittingly heeding wisdom from Ulysses S. Grant: “The best possible way to secure the repeal of a bad law is to enforce it rigidly.”