Path to Civility

Cyclists jumping lights and drivers blocking bike lanes need to get cited.

The study, undertaken with the aim of seeking peace between motorists and bike commuters, suggests cyclists and bicycle activists need to grow up and end what has become a habit of precious doublespeak on the subject of traffic enforcement.

Everyone knows bike messengers ride like upstream-swimming salmon on one-way streets. But did you know the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — whose official position supports greater enforcement of traffic laws — actually published a primer teaching cyclists how to weasel out of moving violations? (It was apparently removed from the Bicycle Coalition's website after grand jury members outed it in their report.)

Everybody knows some Critical Mass participants run stop signs and otherwise flout traffic laws. But did you know employees of the Bicycle Coalition — whose official mantra is "We're not Critical Mass" — can be found participating in the ride almost every year?

We've all seen cyclists who are apparently indifferent to the rules of the road. But did you know that the very few who actually get cited complain so insistently that cops have all but given up on enforcing laws that govern — and protect — cyclists?

The report notes that S.F. police issue fewer total traffic citations than other cities, and that they all but ignore cyclists. Of 100 citations issued to cyclists, as many as one-third of the riders claimed they were unfairly targeted. Meanwhile, just 1 percent of S.F. motorists file complaints in response to a traffic ticket.

Rather than get an earful of biker beefing, cops mostly look the other way. According to the report, fewer than 1 percent of recent moving violations were issued to cyclists, even though the S.F. Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) estimates that in 2008, San Franciscans took 6 percent of all trips by bicycle.

In such an environment, it's hard to vigorously argue for increased enforcement of laws protecting cyclists from motorists. And, indeed, bike advocates have not made that a priority.

"At this point, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is working with the MTA to find the right solution long-term," says interim executive director Renee Rivera, when I asked whether her group had asked the SFPD to cite rush-hour gas customers blocking the bike lane at Fell Street. She said she was unaware that such drivers can be fined $100.

The real "right solutions" involve law-enforcement equity between bikes and cars. That means busting red-light-blowing cyclists and keeping bike lanes free of stopped cars.

"There's not one single sign anybody can show me in San Francisco saying it's illegal to park in a bike lane," Breward says. "But you throw a rock near a major automobile commuter lane and you hit a No Parking sign. And if you park there, they've got a tow-truck army to get your car out of the way."

Anything less for our city's impending 100 miles of new bike routes, and they'll become a multimillion-dollar feel-good gesture that fails to bring safety — and sociability — to our streets.

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