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By Erin Sherbert
Cracker Morons Who Maim
It seems like at least once a month I'll find myself in a streetside shouting match with some cracker moron who's abuzz with road rage. I'll be rolling along in the vehicle lane three feet away from parked cars, when some jerk will begin feinting toward me, jamming on the gas, cutting me off, seemingly trying to teach me a lesson about bicycle subservience. At the next stoplight I'll tell him (it's always a him) that he's breaking the law, to which the cracker moron will respond, "Get the fuck out of the road."
As it happens, San Francisco's cracker-moron problem goes beyond my own irksome morning commute encounters. Every day, it seems, I hear of someone who's been either injured or terrified by a motorist who's become enraged by the sight of a cyclist riding in the vehicle lane. (The law allows cyclists to take the entire lane to avoid opening car doors and other obstacles.)
"I've had the situation where I felt in order to be safe I had to take the lane, and a driver comes over from the left lane, and without signaling or saying anything, just starts riding over into me to push me over," says Vince Vitale, 53, a San Francisco writer. "Unfortunately, that can cause my death."
Vince should know. He spent two hours unconscious last month after a motorist swerved into him, masking Vince's face with road rash, injuring his leg. Mike Smith, 38, who works for an S.F. technology company, knows about the problem, too. His wife was nailed last month by a right-turning motorist. Now, she's got 15 screws in her arm.
And there are the hundreds and hundreds of S.F. cyclists who've been "doored" -- concussed or otherwise injured when a parked motorist opens a car door in their path. It's a horrible experience. You'll be riding along and BAM!, a sharp piece of Chrysler unexpectedly lodges itself in your forehead. More than one-third of S.F. cyclists interviewed in a Health Department survey last year said they had been doored at least once.
The city of San Francisco recognizes this problem. In fact, on this issue, San Francisco's city government officials -- remiss in many of their duties, I'm sure -- have planted themselves firmly on the side of health, safety, and enjoyable urban life. Police Chief Fred Lau, for one, has issued a bulletin informing motorists and transit agencies that cyclists are allowed full use of the traffic lane when necessary, such as in cases when riders must stay three feet clear of parked cars.
And the Department of Parking and Traffic has sought to paint stencils in the middle of S.F. street lanes to remind motorists to watch for, and accommodate, bicyclists using the whole lane. This would be nothing fancy: an arrow running in the direction of traffic with the image of a bike rider inside. There are already several of these arrows, painted a sparkly green, on streets around the city. The DPT recently decided it wanted to paint more of them, and change the color to a brighter hue to improve visibility.
"The hope of the stencils was to provide some guidance where bicyclists can ride, and to alert motorists that bicyclists have a right to ride a safe distance from parked cars," says Peter Tannen, who runs the DPT's bicycle program.
This kind of measure is known in the politics business as "manna from heaven": It's cheap, quick, uncontroversial, enjoys the potential to improve quality of life, and may even save lives.
Unfortunately, it seems, the cracker morons who make my life miserable during the S.F. morning commute have inbred siblings in Sacramento. When Tanner and San Francisco traffic engineer Bond Yee last month sought California state permission to paint new, brighter bike-riding stencils on streets here, they were met with an ignorant, redneck stonewall. California state government bureaucrats, who often engineer policy in favor of automobiles against all other forms of transport, seem to have struck again.
Bike stencils could set a dangerous precedent, even provoke havoc, members of the state's California Traffic Control Devices Committee claimed. For one, bike stencils painted on a narrow road might lead people to mistake the whole road for a bike lane -- heaven forbid! The bike stencils might "force" cyclists to ride farther left than they really wanted to! Stencils could even create a whole new category of city bike lane. And if too many cities and counties jump on the bike stencil bandwagon, stencil maintenance expenses could become prohibitive, the committee said.
"If I sound frustrated, it's because I am, because it's been a very difficult process," says Tannen, who recently suffered an argument with the state Traffic Control Devices Committee's California Highway Patrol representative, who seemed to think that it's perfectly safe to ride within forehead's reach of parked-car doors. "The guy said the possibility that somebody might open their door is not justification for people to ride out of the way of car doors, and that a bicyclist should look into every car window to make sure nobody's about to open a door. This guy was really very adamant."