An Open Letter to Chief Suhr from Streetsblog

Is this Chief Suhr's car parked in the red zone in front of City Hall? Image: A tipster.
Is this Chief Suhr’s car parked in the red zone in front of City Hall? Image: A tipster.

Dear Chief Suhr,

We hope you are okay.

This afternoon, at roughly 1:10, a tipster took some photographs of this silver car parked in the red zone in front of City Hall and sent them to us. Your business card was displayed in the wind screen.

We at Streetsblog just want to make sure you and everyone at City Hall are okay.

Obviously, if it’s your car, you must have been responding to an emergency. Why else would you park in the red zone? As you know, these red zones are there for a reason: to maintain visibility and safety. This is especially pertinent at this cross walk, which was given safety upgrades after the death of 68-year-old Priscila Moreto, who was struck and killed some two years ago, a few feet from where the car was parked today.

Now, we know safety is your number one priority. You say as much regularly, when referring to your concerns about the bike yield proposal, for example. And as you’ve pointed out, it’s also important that pedestrians are attentive, lest they get run over, maimed, or killed because of law-abiding people, such as yourself, operating two-to-20-ton motorized machines.

Of course, there’s another, more insidious possibility–but we don’t think this is really possible for a police chief in a major, progressive city such as San Francisco. It could be that someone took your card and is using it to break the law. And we know you don’t tolerate anyone besmirching the good name of the department, by breaking the law under its banner. If that’s the case, we trust you’ll get to the bottom of this and punish the miscreant.

Regardless, we thank you for participating in yesterday’s Walk to Work event and for keeping us safe.


Streetsblog San Francisco.

Maybe somebody used his card without permission? Image: a tipster.
Maybe somebody used his card without permission? Image: a tipster.
  • RichLL

    If I had to guess, I’d say that stretch of street was designated red to facilitate easy stopping for VIP cars, and perhaps also for limo’s for couples getting married at City Hall.

    And perhaps to prevent a car bomb?

  • david vartanoff

    good candidate for a Denver boot

  • david vartanoff

    the only successful terrorist action at City Hall was committed by an ex cop who used a door he still had a key for so he could enter surreptitiously (killed a Supe and the Mayor)

  • Gills

    That explains the four cars I saw parked in the bike lane during rush hour on Oak at Broderick yesterday. Clearly enforcement of laws to protect pedestrians and bikers aren’t a priority for the Chief.

  • The Weeping Cheeto

    Cops believe laws don’t apply to them.

  • RinSF

    SF needs a ‘drive to work’ day.

    Everyone who typically bikes, walks, or rides a motorcycle needs to go borrow, rent, or pull their own underutilized car from the garage and drive to work, then to lunch and back, then home.

    I wonder if a week of that total gridlock and parking nightmare would be enough to persuade people fewer cars on the road is better for everyone.

  • Bill Harkins

    I saw David Campos walk out of city hall to an large SUV parked in exact same spot just the other day so maybe this is allowable.

  • Serpentino Oratorio

    Proof? Photo?
    You look like a nice guy, but frankly
    you have not Jack, Bill.

  • vaxination

    they demonstrate constantly, that in fact, they dont.

  • City Resident

    I thought he climbed through a window?

  • Serpentino Oratorio

    This how a “moderate” journalist asks tough questions of the Mayor’s friends in positions of high power. Not really snarky. Certainly not clever.
    My grandmother asked harder news questions in her 1960’s mimeo gardening newsletter.
    No, really.

  • Bill Harkins

    Just saying a variety of people may be able to park in this space. Red zones all over the city typically allow the building owner or tenant to park in them, nothing more or nothing less.

  • RichLL

    Yes, good point, the purpose of a red zone (or for that matter any colored zone) is not that nobody can park there ever.

    But rather that this zone is reserved for some other category of road user such as the disabled, buses or cabs, deliveries and loading, the adjacent property owner, emergency vehicles, parents dropping off schoolkids and so on.

    Colored zones do not exist to effectively render the space permanently vacant and useless but rather to prioritize who can use it and help make that space available when they want it.

  • Prinzrob

    No, red curbs mean “no parking” for everybody, just like green curbs mean short term parking and yellow curbs mean loading zones. Police are excepted when on an active call, and no one else.

    The red curbs are established in order to improve sight lines between drivers in a street and pedestrians entering a crosswalk. The occupation of the driver does not change geometry.

  • RichLL

    Improving a sight line might be one reason for a red zone but there are several others. For instance I have short sections of red curb out front of my house and that is to discourage other cars from parking too close to my driveway and garage entrance/exit.

    It’s not about a sight line at all but rather to ensure that I can use that section of curb whenever I need to, even if that is only once a day or once a week. A red zone can connote a priority of use and not no use at all. For instance I can park there myself with impunity.

    And taking the section of street outside of City Hall, I do not see how sight lines are affected. If I am driving along Polk, then a parked car there might prevent me from seeing people on the side-walk, but if there are people already on the cross-walk then I can see them regardless.

    As I noted before I suspect the real reason for a red zone there is for the dropping off and picking up of VIP’s, dignitaries etc. for their convenience and safety. I doubt that you can park right outside the White House or Congress either although I am sure that the FBI chief can if on official business.

  • Prinzrob

    I thought red curbs were there to daylight the crosswalk. If parking is desparately needed then a reserved curbside spot should be created elsewhere, where it does not create a danger to public safety.

  • Prinzrob

    “A red zone can connote a priority of use and not no use at all.”

    Please cite this section of the vehicle code. I am not familiar with it.

  • Jimbo

    who cares?

  • RichLL

    You may be right but there can be more than one reason for a red zone. I suppose it depends if there are others routes into City Hall. Is the Mayor dropped off there every day? Is there a passageway from the under-ground car park immediately to the East?

    I also see the sheriff vehicles to the south so presumably that might be an alternative/

  • RichLL

    I have no idea what the vehicle code says, but that would be more to do with the specific rules and would not necessarily explain the motivation for any given instance of a red zone.

    As I said, the red zone right by my garage access is not for any kind of sight line. It’s to keep other vehicles out of my damn way because I have priority.

  • Jimbo

    the additional 3.5% of people who bike would hardly make a difference

  • Prinzrob

    Well, here’s how the vehicle code is written. If you know of any other ordinance which says otherwise I’d love to hear about it.

    21458. (a) Whenever local authorities enact local parking
    regulations and indicate them by the use of paint upon curbs, the
    following colors only shall be used, and the colors indicate as
    (1) Red indicates no stopping, standing, or parking, whether the
    vehicle is attended or unattended, except that a bus may stop in a
    red zone marked or signposted as a bus loading zone.

  • the_greasybear

    I worked at City Hall. The mayor, sheriff, higher-ups and ordinary rank and file workers enter and exit City Hall via Grove Street. There is no reason why the Police Chief cannot enter from Grove like all other municipal employees with official business at City Hall.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    You might be surprised there. Traffic problems are caused on the margins. If the roads are currently at 100% capacity and you have a day where they go to 104% capacity, Hell will break loose.

  • RichLL

    OK, so like I said, the code does not describe the specific motivations for installing every colored zone. Rather it provides a broad catch-all to facilitate the ticketing of vehicles that do park there at the discretion of the cops.

    So again, how do you explain the red zone either side of my garage entrance? It’s not about a sight-line as you originally said. But nor is it true that nobody can park there, because I can and do park there at times and the traffic cops sail by.

    When the traffic cops will ticket a car there is if someone else parks there and I call it in. And that reflects my claim that the real purpose of the red zone is to give me a priority on that space, just like green and yellow zones allow parking for some vehicles but not others.

    And if that’s true there then why not in other cases? Even the cited code gives an example of another priority – for buses.

    Either way I suspect the reality is that official city vehicles, cop cars and other public safety vehicles do not get tickets in red zones for reasons to do with public policy and interest. After all wasn’t the recent attempt at allowing bikes to run stop signs an example of achieving exactly the same kind of thing – allowing technical violations of law by turning a blind eye?

  • Prinzrob

    1) This conversation is about a red curb painted ahead of a crosswalk for sight line reasons, which appears to be violated by public officials and police, putting public safety at risk.

    2) The parking you are describing doing in front of the red curbs alongside your driveway is illegal under the law as written. Just because you and other people park at these types of locations frequently and there is no enforcement does not mean it is legal.

    Surely you can understand that it wouldn’t make any sense for red curbs to mean different things in different situations, and leave it up to each individual driver to decide what that meaning is for a given location. The law says simply “red curb = no stopping/parking”. It is very simple.

  • RichLL

    You stated that “red curbs are established in order to improve sight lines” and that may be true in some cases. But it’s not true in all cases – there are other reasons for red zones that have nothing to do with sight lines.

    I don’t know why the red zone by city hall exists. Maybe it is for sight lines as you claim, or maybe for other reasons such as the examples I gave.

    The thing with the red zone outside my house is that it is related to my driveway. Anyone with a driveway or garage will tell you that they can block it with their own car or a friend or family member’s car and it’s immune. The reason being that even if someone else called it in, the cops demand proof that it is the caller’s garage – by opening it. I can get you a ticket if you park there but you can’t get me a ticket if I park there – a key distinction.

    So there is a de facto immunity from the red zone for the occupant of that property.

    The red zone has the same meaning for everyone, I’d agree. However, depending on where it is and why it is there, some road users may be given a pass to park there due to enforcement priorities that are not necessarily codified anywhere but are real nonetheless.

  • Prinzrob

    So what you’re saying is that you understand that red curb = no parking, but yet you still insist that the red curb painted alongside your driveway is legal to park at, just because you’ve never been ticketed for it? I don’t follow the logic.

    Yes, I know that parking in front of one’s own driveway is legal in SF, but only in locations where no red curb is painted. My guess is that most red curbs next to driveways were painted by the homeowner unofficially and not the city, but if the curb is painted red that always means no parking, no exceptions. If you can’t point to a code section that allows the use you are describing, then it is simply not legal, no matter how much you and your neighbors do it.

    Again, if reserved parking is needed at city hall then there are options for the city to create this legally. However, these options do not include parking alongside a red curb, which has a very specific and legal meaning of “no parking”.

  • RichLL

    Ha, I did catch one guy painting his own curb red. He didn’t even use the right color. But official red curbs have the MTA stencil on them, and mine does. And it’s there to protect my sole right to access my garage.

    I understand what you’re saying but I think it’s largely technical. It’s enforcement that matters and it’s rather like the churchgoers who double park on Sundays and never get a ticket.

    In practice a law that isn’t enforced for local reasons is no different from there not being a law at all.

  • Prinzrob

    Or small scale indicators of a police force that is either unable or unwilling to enforce the law consistently and protect public safety, as evidenced by their ongoing failure to meet the city’s “focus on the five” mandate, or their willingness to take convenient but illegal parking spots themselves even when doing so degrades public safety.

  • Prinzrob

    Every red curb in the city should just be made into a bulb-out, either via a curb or paint and bollards. Since there is little to no enforcement and we can’t trust SFPD enforce these laws consistently, the red curbs just become “honor system” no parking zones, and there are far too many people willing to take advantage of this.

  • RichLL

    But again that ignores the fact that, in some instances, the purpose of the red zone is not to render the space permanently vacated but rather to reserve the space for special usage.

    For instance, there are red zones outside of hospital areas. This is to ensure that ambulances and other vital medical vehicles have proper access to the hospital.

    Park there and you will rightly get a ticket and be towed. But ticketing an ambulance delivering a sick patient would be a travesty.

    You can make the same case for many other red zones that protect access for police, fire, the disabled, seniors, kids and so on. Effectively making the side-walk wider by implementing neutral no-go areas is totally missing the point of why we often have these zones in the first place. And would merely encourage double-parking.

    It’s OK to reserve space for special needs and users. It’s not OK to create large areas of space that cannot be used at all, especially in a city where space is at such a premium.

  • Prinzrob

    “…the purpose of the red zone is not to render the space permanently vacated but rather to reserve the space for special usage.”

    This is why the red curb law has exemptions for transit vehicles, and for emergency vehicle operators when on an active call. Private vehicle operators like you and me get no such exemption for any reason, unless under orders from a police officer, as defined by law.

    The point of why we have red curbs is to prevent things like cars blocking access to fire hydrants, blocking bus stops, or creating a danger by inhibiting sight lines between road users and pedestrians entering crosswalks. These reasons are more important than conveniently “reserved” parking spots for special folks who feel they deserve them.

    Creating sidewalk bulb outs using curb extensions or paint and bollards (as SF and many other cities are already doing on a regular basis citing safety considerations) does not “create large areas of space that cannot be used at all”. In fact, it creates more space that anyone can use on foot, as opposed to existing red curbs which can’t officially be used by anyone, and are only unofficially and illegally used by those who own cars.

  • murphstahoe

    Most red zones are for fire hydrants. But hey, whats a burning building when you have an adjacent property owner?

  • murphstahoe

    “I have no idea what the vehicle code says”

    Quoted for truth

  • jd_x

    Another 10% walk to work.

  • rfkolbe

    I see patrol cars all the time in red zones. The police should set a good example at all times. If there is an emergency, flip on your flashers and let us all know. Otherwise, obey the law like we do.

  • seriously

    Most every SFPD, SFFD SFDS. and others feel their “calling?” card is one of the benefits that comes with the “job”. If you are their “friend” by~golly get 3, 4 or 5, wife, kids and some for your friends! I’ve seen hand scribbled notes reading; I”M a SFFD, fireman here on official duty. Do not ticket or tow my 2016 Dodge HP~707, thanks.smokey the Beer… What official business ya got late night in SOMA, close to the “HOT” clubs. parking in SF, $25 day, no wonder everything is broken.. shur, throw me a card.

  • RichLL

    Correct, because it was immaterial to the point being made, which was about context, purpose and enforcement, and not a rigid and overly literal interpretation of text.

  • RichLL

    Most? How many hydrants are there in SF with red zones, as a percentage of the total number of red zones?

    Data please.

  • RichLL

    I am glad you accept that there are a variety of different reasons for a red curb. As you note, some exist for reasons of safety, e.g. allowing access by emergency vehicles. While others serve to reserve access and usage, such as the red zone that extends either side of the curb cut for my garage.

    That is why cops will consider the purpose of a given red zone before deciding whether to ticket someone parked there. To use my earlier example, if the red zone exists to protect access for an ambulance, the cop will not ticket an ambulance there but will ticket others.

    In other words, context is everything. So, would a cop ticket another cop in a red zone? Probably not, and especially if the parked car belongs to his boss.

    If I have a spare hour this week I’ll watch what kind of vehicles pull over into the red zone outside of city hall. I suspect I will see a variety of police and sheriff cars, plus official city cars, cabs, wedding cars and private vehicles dropping off staff and visitors.

    Which of those should be ticketed is something that reasonable people might disagree about, but I suspect it will be neither all of them nor none of them.

    If the crosswalk is really the issue here, then it is far simpler to install a stop sign or light. Crosswalks that are mid-block are often problematic.

  • Prinzrob

    The only context that matters with red curbs is the type of useR, not the type of useAGE. I posted the code section below in my earlier response, so you can read it yourself to understand that none of what you’re tracking about is in there.

    As I mentioned, buses at bus stops and emergency vehicle drivers on active calls have exemptions written into the law. Nobody else gets an exemption, regardless of why a curb is red. Any other useR parked there is doing so illegally, and could be ticketed under the law.

    I don’t think you understand what you’re asking for when you say it would be easier to install a stop sign or signal at every single crosswalk, marked or unmarked, around the city. That would be both politically infeasible and a financial impossibility.

    While you are scoping out the crosswalk red zone this week I encourage you to aslo count the number of drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians there, also as required by law and which also constitutes a significant danger to public safety. Since SFPD is incapable of issuing tickets to those drivers, does that also mean they should be let off the hook?

  • seriously

    Right out the mouth of a City organization,.Giggling,, exact words from SFMTA Color Curb Brochure, good gosh, how much did that brochure$$$$$$ us?


    Red zones are “No Parking” zones. Do not park in a red zone at any time, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES

    Watch for red zones at:

    Edges of driveways INTERSECTIONS DUH,, moving car passes around.. oops~o~no mama, mama you okay?

    Bus stops Fire hydrants Curb ramps: . ,

  • murphstahoe

    100% of streetside hydrants in SF are in red zones

  • RichLL

    Which of course does not answer my question.

    Driving around for a couple of hours this morning I paid attention to red zones. It was instructive because based on my travels today the most red zones are not for hydrants but for the curbed corners of intersections.

    (Hydrants are often on corners which confuses the issue slightly).

    So that takes me back to an earlier comment by Prinzrob who said that red zones exist to improve sight lines. I dismissed that at the time but now realize that is the reason for corners being red-zoned. So, an apology to him.

    After corners there are red curbs at hydrants, bus stops, at private driveways and outside important public buildings like hospitals and fire houses.

    So a mix of purposes which indicate that too many simplistic generalizations about red zones can be misleading.

  • RichLL

    Actually I have come around to your view on red zones being used to establish sight lines. That is because driving around this morning I noticed the most red zones at the curbed corners of intersections, and that is clearly to improve lateral visibility. So I’ll concede that one.

    That said, there are red zones for other purposes as well, as previously noted.

    I don’t really see how Suhr’s car prevented a driver from seeing someone already on the crosswalk but I suppose at the margin it’s possible.

    I don’t see why a stop sign or light at that crosswalk would be “financially impossible”. It seems to me it would be quite cheap. If you think that crosswalk is hazardous you should take a look at some of them on Geary out in the Avenues.

    As to who and what can stop in a red zone, I was never unclear on the concept. But I am much more interested in the specific circumstances that will lead cops to ticket one user but not another. And that does depend on the purpose of that specific red zone.

    Finally it would be pointless anyway to issue tickets to cop cars and official city cars, as it would simply be the city paying fines to itself. Such behaviors are best addressed via the city’s internal guidelines.

  • RichLL

    If it were merely “no parking” then that would allow a driver to stop there, say, to set down or pick up a passenger.

    Whereas if Prinzrob’s citation is correct and taken literally then “Red indicates no stopping, standing, or parking” ever.

    I see drivers dropping off passengers at bus stops all the time, taking just a moment. I’d be surprised if many got tickets just for that, even though technically it seems that they could. In practice I suspect the act would have to block or delay a bus to warrant a citation.

  • seriously

    you can stop there, let the Fire Chief’s buggy speed by code 3 to rescue her station 1 rescue team.from the rogue wave that suck up on the 4 man craft, with 7? If that was average yo ho ho Captain, he’d get a big ticket and fine from the Coast Guard that did the rescue. .Shur should have sfmta remove the red, paint it gun metal gold!

  • Wasn’t that in a recent PBB for Outside Lands? Pretty sure some (car share?) drivers were getting tickets for dwelling in bus stops.

    And anyone caught by the cameras on the front of a bus and ticketed after the fact by the officer reviewing the tapes.

  • The same type of people that chafe at seeing a cyclist ride through a red light.


Police Chief Resigns: What Does it Mean for Livable Streets?

As Streetsblog readers have surely heard, police Chief Greg Suhr was forced to resign Thursday after the shooting of an apparently unarmed woman by SFPD. The police shootings of Mario Woods in December and Luis Gongora in April both seemed to show a department where officers are failing to deescalate situations and are too quick […]

Fire Chief’s Pedestrian Victim-Blaming: Wrong and Dangerous

There’s no telling where San Francisco Fire Chief Johanne Hayes-White got the patently false stats on pedestrian safety she cited to the SF Examiner yesterday. Hayes-White argued that the city shouldn’t build proven pedestrian safety upgrades because most people hit by drivers while walking are to blame for their own injuries. The Fire Department hasn’t […]

Crash on Valencia Displays Failings of Safety Compromises and Half Measures

Yesterday, Streetsblog reader Adam Long was riding along Valencia when he heard screeching brakes and commotion behind him. He had his camera on his helmet and, although he didn’t catch the actual collision, it’s pretty easy to see what happened from the video he put together and submitted to Streetsblog’s tips line: Once again, the […]