Go Rogue to Stop the Carnage?

With 11 deaths this year already, maybe it's time again to work around a city government that is failing to save lives

These safe-hit posts in Golden Gate Park were installed by the guerrilla safety group, SFMTrA , back in 2016. Is it time to try again with unsanctioned installations? Photo: SFMTrA.
These safe-hit posts in Golden Gate Park were installed by the guerrilla safety group, SFMTrA , back in 2016. Is it time to try again with unsanctioned installations? Photo: SFMTrA.

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

With only five years left to reach San Francisco’s Vision Zero goals, it’s painfully obvious that the 2024 deadline will not be met without a radical change of course.

But what’s the best strategy for making that happen? And is it even possible using the city’s official political channels–forever fighting against the back-pressure (and money) that parking, car, and petroleum interests can bring to counter and overwhelm it?

In the Netherlands, advocates didn’t achieve their enviable safety record solely through official channels. There was also a fair amount of skirting the law during the “stop the child murder” campaigns of the 1970s.

Maybe it’s time for more guerrilla actions in San Francisco, such as pressing down safe-hit posts in the middle of the night?

Streetsblog decided to ask some of the part-time underground safety advocates, as well as a few professional advocates, for their views on what the right balance between guerrilla actions, open protests, and pushing through conventional channels might be.

Here are a few of their responses (some of the respondents were kept anonymous for obvious reasons).

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From an activist with the guerrilla safety group, SFMTrA, which does illegal safety installations using safe-hit posts:

The mayor’s promise of 20 more miles of protected bike lanes is really still just a drop in the bucket of what actually needs to happen to make streets truly safe for all.

It’s hard to judge the effectiveness of “rogue” actions, but the combined effort of SFMTrA and People Protected activists and other activists/advocates seems to have made a real impact. It has kept this on people’s minds and has made it unacceptable for the city to not act. Whether or not the city is doing all that they can, I don’t know. They are definitely not doing all that they should, but those are two different issues, unfortunately. I think there is always a place for a variety of tactics, and if it’s clear that the city can do more and won’t, citizens may once again take matters into their own hands.

Maureen Persico, long-time bike-safety advocate and co-organizer of the People Protected Bike Lane demonstrations, thinks guerrilla action is warranted, especially in the Tenderloin:

I love the SFMTrA’s model of guerrilla infrastructure. It is out of posts & bases but does have paint, stencils, and the machine that draws the straight line. I don’t know who has the [money] for the needed supplies. Hint, hint.

What made the crosswalk action so successful was its connection to other organizations. The Tenderloin is chock full of nonprofits… All of these nonprofits have a stake in making the Tenderloin safer. I wonder if Glide congregants [Glide Memorial United Methodist Church] would be up for creating a People Protected Bike Lane after Sunday service? The Glide choir in their robes along with everyone! Now that would be a sight worthy of many eyes & cameras. The Tenderloin Museum is very active. How to make street safety worth their time and efforts too?

How do we make the people of the Tenderloin “worthy” of being cared for just the same as wealthy people from other parts of the City? There are a lot of children in the Tenderloin. Perhaps an action that includes dolls placed in the street? There’s always the tried and true “Die In” method, but after we are removed, cars continue and know nothing. Back to dolls or something like it, we could have a letter writing campaign to SFMTA & supervisors responsible for the Tenderloin. Mailing dolls to SFMTA officials?

In closing, I’m (almost) always up for a SFMTrA action. Stay dry and safe!

A professional advocate, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this about rogue installations:

Most people don’t know what to picture when they hear that there are quick and easy ways to make an intersection safer. The idea of showing up at one of the known dangerous intersections and adding a bunch of temporary safety features could be powerful, especially if it was collaborative like the recent Market Street action.

But Kyle Grochmal, a San Francisco street and bicycle safety advocate who is active with People Protected Bike Lanes (and a Streetsblog contributor) has a different view:

The guerrilla actions have less impact. To have real change we need the city and the government to actually change. My focus has been much more on pressuring the politicians to bring about the actual change. Being involved in guerrilla actions and People Protected, I’ve never seen a guerrilla action that is actually a long-term solution. My focus has always been on putting pressure on SFMTA, the board and the mayor. SFMTrA can be a distraction–it gets lots of attention but it’s polarizing, I think People Protected works better because it’s about reaching out to politicians and showing them 100 to 200 people are willing to come out and stand on the street.

Another advocate who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was furious because of the lack of action. He said he doesn’t want to get openly involved with SFMTrA because he fears that politicians won’t take his calls if he’s seen as overly rogue. That said, he intends to throw some cash to SFMTrA. “I want to order more posts… I want to enable other people to do this work.”

But, he added, he is hopeful the city–through legislation that could be heard by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as early as next week–will soon begin doing pilot safety projects more quickly. He said the legislation would enable the city to slam down safe-hit posts without any pubic outreach on some of the city’s most dangerous streets. In other words, the hope is the city itself can co-opt the guerrillas’ style.

Where do you stand? What’s the right mix of rogue/guerrilla action, versus open political advocacy? And do you have any ideas for more effective demonstrations? Post your comments below.

Note: Wednesday/tonight! is the annual ‘Ride of Silence’ to commemorate cyclists killed in San Francisco, 5:30-8:30 p.m., starting at the Sports Basement, 1590 Bryant Street

  • I am all for dedicated/protected bike lanes…as long as cyclists use them. As a pedestrian it’s annoying to see someone riding a bike on a sidewalk while there is a perfectly good bike lane empty…and not bike lane shared with traffic. A dedicated bike lane.

  • crazyvag

    In software, we list all our projects into a long list called a backlog. How fast we go through the backlog is a decision on how many teams to staff.

    I’m disappointed that there isn’t a backlog for things like:
    * bulbouts at all crossings in tenderloin given the carnage there.
    * Bike lanes + bulbouts on all crossings in SOMA

    Instead, our progress is more like playing battleship. Every few years we hear about upgrading a new street which kicks off a multi year process.

    For example, if you’re heading west on SOMA, you can choose either Howard or Townsend. What about Folsom, Harrison, Bryant and Brannan? There are more Muni lines than protected bike lanes in SOMA. However, we do have 5-lane Bryant and 5-lane Harrison that merely serves as a “buffer” for I-80. Bay Bridge will NEVER get wider, so if the buffer was mere 4-lanes, 10 cars would need to find another place to idle, but remaining 3 lanes would subsequently merge faster.

  • What other things do you support but only with the compliance caveat?

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As cyclists who use Cargo Way in the Hunters Point/Bayview neighborhood know all too well, the bike lane, once celebrated as San Francisco's first on-street protected bike lane, is in a state of disrepair, with broken pavement, a dangerous, tire-grabbing groove, and a busted fence. And in a stark display of how some city officials regard bicycle safety, the city repaved the adjacent car/truck lanes in August, but skipped the bike lane.
An SFMTA worker installing safe-hit posts at Baker and Fell late this morning. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick unless otherwise noted.

Eyes on the Street: Action at Baker and Fell

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Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content. An SFMTA crew installed official safe hit posts today to make the intersection at Baker and Fell safer. The posts compliment painted bulbouts that […]