Mayor Vetoes Bike Yield But Advocates Must Never Yield to Regressive Politics

The veto of Bike Yield can't be permitted to discourage advocates for safe streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick
The veto of Bike Yield can’t be permitted to discourage advocates for safe streets. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Mayor Edwin Lee officially vetoed the “Bike Yield” ordinance yesterday. Without enough votes to override, supporting supervisors will have to figure out a compromise plan, such as a pilot project. The bill’s author, Supervisor John Avalos, already prepared for that contingency. Not surprisingly, Avalos was frustrated with the Mayor’s veto. “SFPD has focused traffic enforcement on places where bicycling is common instead of on high collision corridors. It is clear we have a ways to go with our Vision Zero efforts,” he said in an email to Streetsblog.

The veto is also an opportunity for safe-streets advocates to take stock and get clarity on what transpired.

First, the Mayor’s veto. He said he is “not willing to trade away safety for convenience.” In response, Avalos wrote that “it’s disappointing to hear the Mayor confuse smart, targeted traffic enforcement with ‘convenience.'” The Mayor has often referred to the ordinance as if it would have legalized the “Idaho Stop” in San Francisco; that means allowing cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield. Of course, that’s not the proposal, as this excellent editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out last September. Streetsblog has also attempted to clarify—multiple times.

Avalos and the other bill sponsors were responding to complaints from cyclists on the Wiggle and elsewhere because SFPD was cracking down on safety-minded cyclists for not coming to an absolute stop at stop signs. Cyclists might like an Idaho Stop law, but the proposed Bike Yield ordinance did not actually go there. It can’t go there; San Francisco can’t change state traffic laws.

All the ordinance would do is instruct the San Francisco Police to make citing cyclists who roll carefully through stop signs the lowest priority, so they can instead focus invaluable, finite law-enforcement resources on stopping dangerous traffic violations. In other words, the law was attempting to cajole the police into pursuing “Vision Zero” and the “Focus on the Five” most dangerous behaviors. Every minute a cop spends writing a ticket for a cyclist who went through a stop sign at less than six mph, is a minute he’s not out looking for a crazy cyclist who blew through a stop sign at 25 mph; or speeding cars that regularly kill people.

“We must focus our scarce traffic enforcement resources on behaviors that are creating dangers,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, a supporter of the Bike Yield ordinance. Police need to focus on cyclists who are “blowing through stop signs and red lights. Or doing things that actually put people in danger.”

Put simply, the Mayor vetoed a law that would have re-directed finite police resources from technical but benign offenses to things that hurt and kill.

Ironically, nobody illustrated the total disconnect better than Bike Yield opponent SFPD Captain John Sanford, whose crackdown helped start the whole thing. He was caught on video safely rolling through a stop sign on his bike; a practice he says creates “chaos on our streets.” On the same page of his newsletter where he explained his opposition to Bike Yield, he wrote that his law enforcement approach is “guided by my Christian faith.” Given the double standard, maybe he means in the spirit of the Spanish police of 1478?

Joking aside, deputies at city hall confirmed that the next step is likely a pilot Bike Yield on the Wiggle. Not great, but “it’s certainly better than the status quo,” said Wiener.

That may sound discouraging. But remember: San Francisco bike-share began as a 400 bike pilot. It’s now starting a ten-fold expansion. San Francisco now has miles of bike lanes. There are raised bike lanes on the way on Polk, Second and Masonic. This started with pilots on Market.

In other words, setbacks happen. Let’s hope Bike Yield will pass after it is reintroduced as a small pilot–and then grow into a larger change.

  • murphstahoe

    This whole thing just makes me feel that the world is doomed because people are either dumb or dishonest.

    Let’s look at the opening of the article in SFGate.

    “Mayor Ed Lee
    has followed through on his pledge to veto legislation that would allow
    bicyclists to roll through stop signs instead of coming to a full stop.”

    It does no such thing. That behavior would still be 100% illegal, it just would be a low priority enforcement just like many other laws. I’d say that I’m picking hairs except that the fact this was lost on many just leads up to the ignorance of the fact the law does not make failure to yield at a stop a low priority enforcement.

    The waters got so muddled here by people either unwilling to listen or who were intentionally trying to muddy the waters in order to beat this thing just because. Dumb or dishonest.

    I’d be more than happy for targeted enforcement where the cops happily waved by anyone safely rolling and dropped the hammer on anyone failing to yield. That was pretty much universal among the supporters but completely lost on the middle ground, because of the behavior of the opponents.

    This was not helped by many supporters who failed to focus on the narrow nature of this legislation.

  • Carl

    Isn’t creating policy geared around accommodating riders of a vehicle patented in 1819 the real regressive politics? Why are we not planning for flying cars?

  • Anandakos

    How does that guy get re-elected over and over in a transit-and-pedestrian valhalla like San Francisco. It’s gotta be “ethnic solidarity”, because he is one reactionary SOB.

  • Would the outcome have been different if it had been called something like the “Smart Enforcement Act” or “Data-Driven Safety Prioritization Ordinance”? Probably not, but maybe worth thinking about. The people opposed to this common-sense proposal were certainly good about using language and shorthand to characterize it negatively- one police commander called it the “‘stoptional’ ordinance”, e.g.

  • PaleoBruce

    I give credit to the reporting of Roger Rudick here for not using the words “bicyclist” or “motorist” because at the core of these politics is the social stigma of polarized out-group hate. We are people who use bicycles for transportation, and people who use cars for transportation, often both. If we can de-stigmatize then we can be more human and find sensible compromise.

  • Greg

    i.e., those damn Chinese in SF voting for one of their kind!

  • As I understand it, the ordnance would not have made it legal for cyclists to yield at stops, it would just de-prioritize ticketing cyclists for it.

    I support allowing cyclists to yield, the reasoning is sound because we know bikes and cars (and motorcycles, and scooters) are inherently different, but this ordinance seems to just be creating more animosity. This would mean the City saying it’s ok for cyclists to break the law, but not motorists. How is that going to make ticked off motorists anything but angrier and more aggressive towards cyclists?

    So a pilot though…

    Last year Paris started lettings cyclists run some red lights, but did so by making it legal under certain conditions at selected intersections where signs were placed on the signal lights so motorists were aware of what was going on as well.

    Could SF perhaps run a pilot where cyclists would be allowed to yield at selected intersections along The Wiggle (Pierce and Waller seems a good spot with low car traffic volumes from what I’ve seen) where the stop/yield would be clearly marked with signs?

  • farazs

    I guess that if those supporters actually understood the nature of the legislation, they would not bother supporting it – at least not as vociferously. Most cyclists want a guarantee that they would not get a ticket for rolling stop signs.

    Ironically, if it did not get too much attention from the cycling community, it might just find wide acceptance. That cyclists as a group are overly interested makes everyone else more suspicious.

    FTR, the world *IS* doomed. People are either dumb or dishonest.

  • murphstahoe

    I disagree.

    Look at this video. Cyclists go through these conditions – with buses and cars parked in the bike lane on Townsend every day.

    Just prior to this stretch, there is a 3 way intersection of 5th/Townsend. The cops have done numerous enforcement of cyclists rolling that stop sign. Every cyclist who gets stopped points at the double parked buses and says “Can you do something about that” and the cop says “We are doing targeted enforcement based on complaints”. The cyclist then says “Then I would like to complain about that bus parked in the bike lane.”. The cop then says “You need to file that with SFPD”. Hundreds of hours of videos have been sent to SFPD, and about the only thing we’ve never captured on video was police doing any enforcement.

    Note that at the end of the video, just past a line of buses parked in the bike lane – there is a DPT officer playing Candy Crush on his phone.

    What I want is for the cops to focus on dangerous behaviors, not ridiculous targeted enforcement of things they have a bias against for no good reason. If I get a ticket, whatever, but it really rubs me wrong that the behavior on townsend has “a guarantee that they would not get a ticket” in practice.

    Apparently the people complaining about cyclists at 5th and Townsend are the people walking to board their illegally parked buses.

    Maybe the proper framing shouldn’t be “rolling stop signs should be the lowest priority enforcement” but instead “double parking and parking in bike lanes should be a specifically targeted enforcement area”

  • p_chazz

    That’s racist!

  • murphstahoe

    The simpler solution would perhaps be to just change the stop signs to yield for everyone…


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