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

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.”

  • Gezellig

    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.”

    ^ Yes. Experiential empathy is huge.

    A 30-pound bicycle is not a 2-ton speeding metal box, yet this point may be lost if the last time someone biked was on the sidewalk as a kid. Windshield perspective is definitely a thing.

    Of course, one of the great things about improved infrastructure is it encourages more people to hop on a bike to get around, even if it’s been awhile.

    Btw, have any of the SF Police Districts ever stated why there aren’t more officers out on the walking/biking beat?

    Anyway, great reporting, Aaron. It’s stuff like this which will really make you missed at SF Streetsblog.

  • gb52

    I bike and drive, and i’m all for near stops. I dont need to put my foot down to actually stop. In fact I may actually be spending more time at a stop time than many cars because i’m slowing down and then accelerating much more slowly. I dont think a bike yield law should let bikes proceed at full speed through intersections. That’s impractical in a dense city environment and will likely cause anger and frustration for bikes failing to yield. So SLOW down, and yield. If there are no cars or PEDS, proceed at a reasonable speed.

    Regardless if you stop or yielded, a reckless or inattentive vehicle may enter the intersection and hit you. Same is true even when you’re walking on a sidewalk, or driving another car. We all just need to have a little common sense and consideration to make it all work.

  • Greg Costikyan

    All agreed, but I also think we need to educate cyclists about being careful (speaking as a bicycle commuter for 20 years, who now is one in McKinney freaking Texas). Particularly in areas, like mine, where drivers do not expect cyclists, you need to slow, you need to be prepared to stop, you need to check both ways (preferably twice), and you need to make no assumptions about motorist behavior. E.g., at a four way stop, I’ll stop even if I get there a moment before a driver, because who can predict how they’ll react, or even if they’ll see me. I don’t mind if they go first, and I won’t go unless I can see that they’ve seen me and are obviously waiting for me to proceed. It’s foolish to stop at every stop sign, but every intersection is a point of conflict, and you never want to play chicken with a 2-ton vehicle that can squash you like a bug.

  • murphstahoe

    “It appears he slowed down,” he said. “Nothing says you have to put your foot down” in the California vehicle code.

    Did he confer with his boss first?

    “Stop signs are pretty simple. They say ‘stop,’” Suhr told KQED today. “They don’t say ‘yield,’ they don’t say ‘slow down.’”

  • Patrick Devine

    The easiest way to show how ridiculous the law is, would be to put together a 30 second video showing how a cyclist doing an “Idaho” stop still (usually) makes it through an intersection in more time than a car which comes to a complete stop.

    I watched an unfortunate cyclist this morning in Palo Alto get ticketed on a bicycle boulevard after making a completely reasonable “Idaho” stop when there were no other cars around. Unfortunately I only have a rear facing camera on the bike, so only got footage of him cycling back to the cop to receive his ticket.

  • Justin

    Which person is the captain? Because I couldn’t see his face, if I were to take a guess it be the guy on the left??? Don’t know, anyways if it is him, all I can say that it was hypocritical. But he shouldn’t feel too bad like what the article states. This is routine for most bike riders. Seeing cops do it, would seem to further justify changing the law.

  • The laws should apply the same to ALL vehicles. It’s for ~safety~

  • David

    What street was this? .. just want to know where they are setting up stings. Thanks

  • Patrick Devine

    Park Ave. They usually either set up at Lambert or Ventura. Today was Ventura.

  • SFhillrunner

    So legally do you need to touch a foot to the ground or not? I also ride a 125cc scooter, and its center of gravity is so low that on some stops, especially when uphill, I can come to a full stop and balance without ever putting my feet in the ground. Is that legal on a bicycle or a motorcycle?

  • SFnative74

    A friend of mine drives almost everywhere in town and constantly complains about bikes – which I can understand given how many people ride as if they do not care about anyone else (just as many complain about drivers). One day we decide to ride bikes somewhere, and this same guy made the craziest, most absurdly bad and illegal moves – the exact things he complains about. It was an interesting little insight into human nature.

  • SF Guest

    I think everyone here is forgetting peace officers are allowed to ignore traffic laws while on duty including parking at red zones and double parking.

  • murphstahoe

    This is a well understood phenomena by anyone who has to ride anywhere near the Golden Gate Bridge, and witnesses the tourists on rental bikes. I routinely encounter then descending to Crissy Field which is one way uphill. I’m puffing up the hill in the bike lane and here come 8 tourists downhill in the bike lane. And don’t get me started on the selfie sticks

  • murphstahoe

    Interesting – acts that are nominally “unsafe” according to Sanford are magically rendered “safe” because the person doing the “unsafe” thing is an on duty officer.

  • Prinzrob

    Not really. Here’s the actual code:

    “21200. (a) A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division …yada yada… except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

    (b) (1) A peace officer …, operating a bicycle during the course of his or her duties is exempt from the requirements of subdivision (a) … if the bicycle is being operated under any of the following circumstances:

    (A) In response to an emergency call.
    (B) While engaged in rescue operations.
    (C) In the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law.

    (2) This subdivision does not relieve a peace officer from the duty to operate a bicycle with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.”

    So, if the officer is not on an active call they are still required to obey the law, and in fact should strive to set a good example for everyone else to follow.

    This same requirement also applies to officers in other situations, so red zone or double parking is also not allowed unless they are on an active call. And in fact these behaviors can actually decrease public safety, as red zones are often established in order to help daylight intersections, to allow drivers and bicyclists to better see and yield to pedestrians about to enter a crosswalk.

  • Flatlander

    It’s very frustrating to see cops flout the laws all the time. Parking in red zones and double-parking being the most common violations. It’s almost always while they’re going into some coffee shop or getting lunch.

    I suspect, though, that it’s part of their game. They know that the more they appear above the law to us civilians, the more we fear them.

  • SF Guest

    It’s good to know the terms and conditions when a peace officer is exempt to obeying traffic laws, but on the other hand there’s nothing a citizen can do if they abuse their power. No action will be taken if you report a peace officer violating a traffic law.

  • Prinzrob

    There’s so much cognitive dissonance in that Esparza statement, it’s kind of mind boggling. Basically, what he is saying is that slowly rolling a stop is okay, and yet that’s exactly the point the Wiggle protesters have also been arguing, as the police there were ticketing not just for dangerously blowing through stops but also for rolling through slowly, without applying any discretion.

    My belief is that if we have laws for bicyclists that make logical sense, then logical people will respect and obey them. Right now rolling a stop at a walking pace is illegal, but hopping off the bike and running it through the intersection without stopping is not. Right now we are expected to look for and yield to pedestrians at uncontrolled crossings without necessarily stopping, but this same behavior is considered somehow dangerous once a stop sign is installed.

    Another angle that people who don’t bike also don’t understand is that bicyclists are forced to encounter many more stops when compared to drivers, as most signals are timed for car speeds and many bikeways (like the wiggle) are routed through twisty neighborhood streets with many more stop signs than the parallel auto arterials. My position is that physical traffic calming should be installed along these routes with forced stops removed, but until that happens it is not realistic to expect bicyclists to obey each stop to the letter, when those stops were installed in the first place to discourage car cut-through traffic.

    Finally, another reason to allow stops as yields for bicyclists stems from the fact that most people are doing it already. A big part of bike safety is about predictability, but if you have different people obeying different sets of “rules” then it creates a more dangerous situation as one person doesn’t know exactly what to expect from another. If we level the playing field by allowing rolling stops and normalizing the existing behavior, conditions on the ground may very well become more civilized and safer.

  • Captain Sanford also rides on the sidewalk – just a few feet from an actual bike lane – as shown in a photo he posted to his own twitter account.

  • Dan

    Here’s Morgan’s petition on Neighborland –

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    You can stand on any sidewalk, not riding. No problem. Also, that path is designated as a multi-use path, available for bike use (though why would you?)

  • At the community meeting a month back, Captain Sanford announced that he had learned that foot-down is not a requirement. Then a Sergeant from the Traffic Division, arriving late, told the same audience that foot-down is a requirement. D’oh!

  • Gary Fisher

    Hi everyone! Yes thats me on the right side of Captain Stanford, we had a pleasant meeting in the Captain’s office that day for over an Hour. We are in process. I am in Madison Wi today. I will return tomorrow. I will have another meeting with the Captain. He likes bikes! Please, he is human and a good guy.
    My work is not done.

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    I really got the sense at the community meeting a few months back that Captain Sanford is a good person trying to do right.

    It’s frustrating to hear Chief Suhr’s recent statement regarding the proposed Bike Yield Law (“They don’t say ‘yield,’ they don’t say ‘slow down.’”) and then see the totally normal roll-through that is unremarkable in every way except that one is Captain Sanford.

  • SF_Abe

    “I dont think a bike yield law should let bikes proceed at full speed through intersections.”

    I don’t think a bike yield law should let bicyclists give strangers ‘wet willies’.
    I don’t think a bike yield law should let bicyclists break into people’s homes and move their furniture around.
    I don’t think a bike yield law should let bicyclists smoke cigars in movie theaters.
    I don’t think a bike yield law should let bicyclists leave the faucet running while they brush their teeth.
    I don’t think…

  • SFhillrunner

    That wasn’t my question. My question was about touching a foot to the ground.

  • good thing my post wasn’t an answer to your question.

  • Someone obviously needs to educate sergeant. I mean, do motorists have to put their cars in park too?

  • Gezellig

    Side note: the general lack of signage/paint/stencils for Class I multiuse paths (such as the one in front of the Conservatory of Flowers, which Sanford is on) is a broader problem in that what may look like a sidewalk to most observers is sometimes actually a multiuse path.

    Some Golden Gate Park-area Class I paths do have occasional small stencils/plaques that indicate they’re multiuse, but notice the problem here?

    They’re barely visible, and that’s even when you’re on the path. From the windshield perspective it’s just another sidewalk.

    …and many paths don’t even have that!

    It’s all certainly not as obvious as what could be:

    Why is this all of this a problem?

    –> many Interested but Concerned people who might otherwise bike–especially alongside a busy road–are unaware they can bike on a separated path adjacent to the road.

    –> people on foot are unaware they should be looking for people on bikes

    –> police officers sometimes erroneously believe someone’s biking illegally on the sidewalk when it’s really a multiuse path. Yes–it happens!

    Why else are signs/paint/stencils needed?

    –> Asphalt is often a clue that it’s not just for people on foot, but not always. Some multiuse paths are concrete, such as this stretch of the Bridgeway-adjacent Class I muliusepath in Sausalito:

    (multiuse path is one to left of sign. This parallels and is immediately adjacent to the Class II on-road bike lanes on Bridgeway, but there is no signage that suggests this is actually more than just a sidewalk)

    –> Google Maps often marks Class I paths as separated bikeways–but not always! Indeed, the one in front of Conservatory of Flowers which Sanford is on is not shown on G Maps.

    –> This can lead to misconceptions about crossings, too. Even though California law allows biking through a crossing that’s part of a bikeway (such as a Class I), the lack of signage to expect bikes can cause problems. “You can’t bike in the crosswalk!” is a common-enough retort even in these situations.

    This erroneous belief is unfortunately very widely held–even by police and other community stakeholders. I remember at one of the Berkeley Bike Plan meetings there were Post-Its where people could write comments about what they thought about images of different kinds of bike facilities. One image showed an intersection similar to the following (except with a person biking through the crossing):

    Several of the Post-Its said something to the effect of “cool path but people should know not to bike in the crosswalk.” One person wrote “why are people biking in the crosswalk? this is NOT OK” on it.

    Well, actually, it’s a crosswalk AND crossbike, but you’d never know due to the lack of paint/signage indicating this! Such a thing *is* possible:

    Prominent signage/paint/stencils go a long way towards legitimizing/mainstreaming an activity–not to mention the wayfinding benefits. Since signage is one of the cheapest aspects of infrastructure (compared to, say, laying asphalt) I think it’s extra bizarre how little public profile much of this infrastructure is given.

    I wonder how much biking we’re currently not experiencing simply due to the fact that lot of these types of setups are truly hiding in plain sight.

  • neroden

    It’s very important to develop a procedure for arresting and charging scofflaw cops. Scofflaw cops are one of our nation’s biggest problems.

    We need to work out a solid political system for this. Traditionally, grand juries did this — they’re still allowed to — they can prosecute any case they want and any incident which comes to their attention, including prosecuting the DA — but nobody tells the grand jurors that.

  • neroden

    Only in the UK.

  • DoseaReality

    Awesome! 🙂


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

@SFPDPark obviously no crackdown needed here! Looks perfectly safe, @Bob_Gunderson approved. — kevin (@ku1313) June 14, 2015 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 […]