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The “Bike Yield Law”: It’s How Captain Sanford Rolls, Too

Even John Sanford is not immune to practicing the safe, common-sense ethic that most people on bikes use to negotiate stop signs. SFPD's Park Station captain is the latest officer to be filmed within the Park District executing the completely normal practice of slowing and yielding, and not necessarily coming to a full stop, during a ride with bike advocates last month.

As SF Weekly reported, Morgan Fitzgibbons of the Wigg Party posted video today of Sanford's rolling stop at a stop sign on John F. Kennedy Drive's parking-protected bike lanes in Golden Gate Park. It's exactly the sort of safe behavior that John Avalos and five other supervisors want to legitimize with a "Bike Yield Law" ordinance, after bike commuters reportedly received tickets for similar behavior during a crackdown instituted by Sanford.

"I just wanted to show this was normal behavior, that even the poster child for the bike crackdown shows on a bicycle," Fitzgibbons told SF Weekly. The assertions from Sanford and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr that it's dangerous to allow people on bikes to safely roll through stop signs "are just so silly," he said.

Chief Suhr told KQED this week, "Stop signs are pretty simple. They say ‘stop.' They don’t say ‘yield,’ they don’t say ‘slow down.'”

Fitzgibbons had refrained from posting the video until today because he worried it would seem like an act of undue shaming toward Sanford. But in an email conversation I had with him yesterday, he changed his mind after I put it like this: If even Sanford does rolling stops, who doesn't?

"After thinking about it we realized he has nothing to be embarrassed about -- treating a stop sign as a yield sign is a perfectly normal, safe, reasonable thing to do," Fitzgibbons wrote in a post on Facebook that featured the video. "If he wants to be embarrassed by his own hypocrisy, that's his problem."

Sanford preparing for his initial ride down Haight Street. Photo: @SFPDPark/Twitter
Photo: @SFPDPark/Twitter

Sanford had taken his first bike ride in as long as he can remember just a week before the group ride, which he organized to extend an olive branch to bike advocates after heated protests against his bike crackdown. In an interview just hours after his initial ride, Streetsblog asked Sanford if it helped him see how rolling stops make sense.

Sanford basically said yes, but held firm on espousing the letter of the law. He said he worries about the "one-in-10" chance that a bicycle rider gets hit by a reckless driver:

It really depends on what I wanna do. If I wanted to get down to Buena Vista West on Haight Street, I could definitely get down there a lot faster just going through all -- as you know, there's quite a few stop signs on Haight Street... just going straight through many of those stop signs. And maybe if a person is going to work or something to that degree, there may be other motivating reasons why many people will say, hey, I don't want to stop, I've got to get to work. But it still goes back to the requirement is to stop...

Maybe [it's] because I grew up with the understanding that it's very, very important to follow the rules of the road. So my personal preference -- I have values and, you know what, let me just stop, and then proceed. Is that the fastest mode to get from A to B? Absolutely not... I can understand why people want to just roll through. Even though they say, 'Hey, this is pretty safe,' and they want to keep going, and nine times out of 10, that person is probably going to make it. I’m concerned about the time when they don't, and for cyclists, it can take only one time and be very fatal... that could be the time there's a pursuit, and a car comes right through, [or] there's a drunk driver.

Granted, the video shows Sanford and his fellow officers coming to the kind of near-stop that's especially impractical when there's clearly no cross-traffic. At this particular stop sign in Golden Gate Park, the bike lane only intersects with a crosswalk, and the view is completely unobstructed. Fitzgibbons told SF Weekly that "it wasn't even the worst example of this on the ride. It's just when I realized I should video tape them."

SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza weighed in on Sanford's stop with SF Weekly, and noted the large grey area in determining whether a cyclist made a complete stop. "It appears he slowed down," he said. "Nothing says you have to put your foot down" in the California vehicle code (though during Sanford's crackdown, other officers reportedly claimed it does). "In the video it’s kind of hard to see if he completely rolled through it or slowed down enough," said Esparza, "[but] it showed he slowed down enough to stop, almost."

Riding a bicycle could be the best way for Sanford, and other officers and policymakers, to truly grasp the point of the "Bike Yield Law." The current stop sign law is unrealistic, since it fails to account for fundamental differences between riding a 30-pound bike and driving a 3,000-pound car. A bicycle doesn’t encase the user in a bulky metal frame that hinders vision and hearing, and they can stop on a dime compared to cars. When driving a car, the care needed to avoid a crash is dramatically higher.

"Officers do have what’s considered discretion," Sanford said of stop sign enforcement during his Streetsblog interview. "That also can be very subjective."

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