Rideshare Responsibility

Recent reports fault Uber and Lyft for disrupting traffic flow, but riders can be part of the solution.

(Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

There’s much valid, needed talk over the impact ever-growing tech companies have on the Bay Area, from reshaping its culture to inflaming the housing crisis. But these companies wouldn’t have much power to do so if people didn’t use their services.

San Francisco residents, too, have Airbnb accounts, use Google to search for things, or scroll Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook while on Muni. In the case of Uber and Lyft, its riders may be able to work toward a peaceful coexistence among various transportation methods. Institutionally, that peaceful coexistence needs ongoing attention.

In September, the Police Department reported that Uber and Lyft accounted for 1,723 of 2,656 downtown traffic violations related to congestion — almost two-thirds.

SFPD data compiled between April 1 and June 30 identified 1,144 of 1,715 drivers illegally driving in transit-only lanes as transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. TNC drivers also accounted for 183 out of 239 tickets issued for obstructing a bike lane or lane of traffic, and for 42 of 57 cited illegal U-turns in a business district.

In June, City Attorney Dennis Herrera cracked down on Uber and Lyft, ordering them to submit records on driving practices and disability access while filing a public records request for the information. The next month, he sought a court order to make the companies comply.

A statement parroted by Lyft in September in response to questions by SF Weekly read: “We are supportive of holistic efforts to address congestion and have been in conversations with city officials for months to work collaboratively to do just that.”

To its credit, Lyft has provided its drivers with a bike and pedestrian safety video when onboarding, and has been identifying strategic pickup locations. Riders have been redirected off Van Ness Avenue and off Market Street between Third and Eighth streets, to work with transportation projects.

Chris Cassidy, spokesperson for San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, says a lot of major corridors have cars parked in bike lanes that make it unsafe for those on a bike, and it’s “troubling” to him that such a situation exists merely for riders’ convenience.

“It’s not only illegal, it’s dangerous,” Cassidy says. “The infrastructure just hasn’t kept up.”

The coalition is pushing to redesign San Francisco streets with parallel parking between bike lanes, barriers, or physically protected bike lanes — which Cassidy says is “way past due” on Valencia Street — that would reduce congestion and not allow cars to encroach on that space.

As SF Weekly reported, Valencia Street was once one of the best roads for bikers, but rideshare companies have turned it into a challenge of dodging pickups and dropoffs in the middle of the block. A recent SFMTA study reports that just one of its blocks near 16th Street had 2,190 daily pickups and dropoffs by rideshare vehicles alone.

So what’s one to do if the clock is ticking but Muni is drastically late, a BART station is too far, or laziness sets in? How can we as S.F. residents be better about how we use TNCs?

“The first thing you can do is vote with your dollars,” Cassidy says of taking public transit, walking, or biking. “If you have to call a car for whatever reason, it’s worth letting your driver know you prefer not to be dropped off on a bike lane.”

He also recommends passengers practice what’s called a Dutch Reach, when passengers reach across their bodies for the door handle in a little twist of the torso that forces them to look behind them before opening the door and potentially hitting someone nearby. For cyclists, the coalition offers free education classes for bikers to learn the rules of the road without shame.

Mayor Ed Lee proposed painted curbs for ridesharing cars, though that would mean sacrificing an unknown number of parking spaces. Until then, commuters using varying modes of transportation could consider how to limit disrupting traffic — once drivers, passengers, bikers, and pedestrians alike begin practicing Traffic 101.

“No matter how you’re getting around, we always encourage people to follow the rules of the road,” Cassidy says.

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