Punishment Pass on Valencia Highlights Enforcement Chasm

Even When Caught on Video, Motorists Confidently Get Away With Reckless and Malevolent Driving

Motorists such as 'Bobby,' seen here, are exactly why we need ASE as soon as it can be installed. But we also need legal structures so we can put bike-cam and dash-cam video to use in the meantime. Screen capture from SF Bikealot's Youtube channel
Motorists such as 'Bobby,' seen here, are exactly why we need ASE as soon as it can be installed. But we also need legal structures so we can put bike-cam and dash-cam video to use in the meantime. Screen capture from SF Bikealot's Youtube channel

This video came to Streetsblog’s attention last week, shortly before the 4th of July holiday. It was posted on ‘SF Bikealot’s’ Youtube channel (Streetsblog has been poking around to try and find SF Bikealot’s identity, but so far without success. We hope he’ll reach out to us to discuss this video and some others on his channel.)

But the incident, in which a motorist in a Toyota Scion recklessly crossed the double yellow line on Valencia Street and sped around SF Bikealot, who had apparently left the bike lane to go around some trucks, is telling. For one, it speaks to the utter insanity we all encounter on the streets of San Francisco on a daily basis–exactly what was this motorist trying to accomplish?

All he did was endanger everyone on that stretch of Valencia, including himself, to be first at the next red light. Clearly, he didn’t get wherever he was going any faster–because SF Bikealot easily caught up to him. And, it should be noted, the motorist had time to get out of his car, comically puff his chest up, and confront SF Bikealot.

What’s even more maddening is the total impunity shown by ‘Bobby,’ the motorist. Surely, he can see he’s on camera–and in case he can’t, SF Bikealot tells him as much. (Bobby has dealer plates from Melody Toyota in San Bruno…maybe he thinks that makes him impossible to identify?)

Either way, he’s confident that nothing will happen to him, even though he’s on video, even though he blew right past the Mission police station!

And he’s almost certainly right.

Streetsblog has asked SFPD officers before about whether they would do anything if shown video of motorists endangering people’s lives. The answer is always the same: ‘No’–only if they see the incident themselves or if a crash resulted.

The only exceptions Streetsblog is aware of in California are truly extreme cases. In Glendale a driver was charged, based on video evidence, with intentionally driving at a cyclist.  And, closer to home, there’s the case of Anthony Ryan, who was also attacked by a motorist. One hopes that in such a case, where the motorist seems to be purposely aiming at the cyclist, as opposed to just driving like a dangerous maniac, that any law enforcement agency on earth would do something.

But that still leaves Bay Area cyclists and other vulnerable road users with basically no recourse when it comes to run-of-the-mill reckless drivers such as Bobby. “The only solution I know of in California is to make a citizen’s arrest,” explained Andy Gillin of GJEL Accident Attorneys. To state the obvious, that’s hardly a practical solution “… because it risks a physical confrontation.”

That said, the police, in an incident some two years ago, did cite a motorist ‘just’ for passing dangerously based on video evidence alone. The difference was it happened in Oregon, not California. Unfortunately, in California, some lawmakers are more interested in lowering fines for running red lights than keeping our roads safe.

Meanwhile, advocates for safe streets are continuing to pursue A.B.342, an Automatic Speed Enforcement (ASE) pilot in the Bay Area. The idea is that cameras will automatically snap a photo of a license plate of any motorists who is driving 10 mph above the speed limit. A ticket would be issued automatically. California State Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), the author of the bill, had to pull the legislation back, at least temporarily, last April.

It would be interesting to consider, as state officials and advocates pursue ASE, if we can figure out a way to use the video we already have for more than just outing reckless and malicious drivers or establishing who was at fault after a collision. There’s plenty of it: many Streetsblog readers are probably also following this story about a racist motorist, caught on video, harassing and honking at a cyclist in Sunnyvale last week. Every cyclist has been subject to punishment passes–more and more incidents are getting recorded on video.

Video has already played a pivotal role in establishing who was at fault after a crash–just ask Timothy Doyle, who was hit by an SFPD cruiser. But perhaps we need to work on state legislation to make it so this kind of video goes to good use even when a crash is narrowly avoided. If Oregon can figure out ways to do this, why can’t California? Streetsblog has asked that question of Chiu. His chief of staff said he’ll try and get back to Streetsblog later today–Streetsblog will update this post accordingly.

“There are probably a lot of right answers to the question of how to reduce conflicts on San Francisco streets,” opined Chris Cassidy, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, in an email to Streetsblog. “To my knowledge, though, none is as cost-efficient and effective as design solutions. On Valencia, for instance, if there were physically protected bike lanes, we’d see obstructions avoided, reduced speeds, and improved safety for all road-users.”

No argument there. But in the meantime, maybe if Bobby and others like him knew there was a real chance he’d lose his license, or his insurance would go up, or he’d at least get a fine, he might learn to be less reckless and more patient. We’ve got the video technology to make that happen–in many cases, it’s already strapped to our handlebars and helmets. Our lawmakers and enforcement officers need to put it to use.

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