Bicycle Grief

For years, San Francisco bicyclists have ignored stop signs and other traffic laws without repercussions. Not anymore

When a bicycle comes to a stop sign at a quiet San Francisco intersection and no one is there to see it, does it actually stop? Probably not.

But it's fascinating to note that even when there's a squadron of motorcycle cops stationed at an intersection in plain view, bicyclists still tend to roll right through the stop sign. That's been the case for the past two weeks on Lower Haight, Market, and several SOMA intersections, anyway, as city cops have ticketed dozens of bikers.

SFPD's traffic division has been conducting enforcement operations against cyclists almost daily in the latter half of May. The crackdown began on May 18 — the day after Bike to Work Day — after police spent several months of dispersing informational pamphlets to bicyclists on Market Street, describing the hazards created by lawless riders.

On one day alone, cyclist Greg Schuler received three citations. The first came at Haight and Pierce, where Schuler says one officer threatened to arrest him for failing to carry identification. At Market and 12th, Schuler crossed against a red traffic light but with a green pedestrian signal and was promptly nailed. And at Market and Seventh, Schuler, still trying to get to work, says he was cited for “jumping a green light.”

“He just kept on blowing past my police officers,” said Capt. Greg Corrales, head of the traffic division.

According to Schuler, in the course of the third citation the officer told him that Mayor Newsom had recently ordered a citywide effort to curb the doings of rogue cyclists. (The mayor's spokesman did not return phone calls.) However, Corrales denies that his crackdown has come at the direction of higher authorities.

Capt. John Ehrlich, who heads the Park station, adds that all police stations involved in bike-ticketing programs are working independently of one another. “This isn't bike-enforcement month or anything. There's no central order to do this.”

Ehrlich says he stationed six motorcycle cops at the intersection of Haight and Pierce in response to a May 8 incident in which a fast-moving cyclist damaged several cars at Haight and Scott before leaving the scene with minor injuries. “We cited 23 cyclists, and it was for blowing the stop sign entirely,” he said. “If they slowed down and looked both ways, they weren't ticketed.”

But bike commuter Andrew Nance, who received a citation that day, says he rolled nearly to a stop and signaled as he turned. “To be doing this the day after Bike to Work Day was just mean-spirited,” said Nance. “This is bad policy. It's dangerous. It's not fostering a relationship with citizens.”

The SF Bicycle Coalition is suspicious and Executive Director Leah Shahum cannot recall such a flurry of tickets being passed out to cyclists in her eight years on duty. “It's the most attention I've seen given to this issue,” she says. “You look at the statistics and it just doesn't make sense why the city is putting this attention on bicycles and not on dangerous drivers.”

According to SFPD sources, cars have struck and killed 134 pedestrians since 2000, while just four cyclists have died on the streets in the last two years. KGO's Dan Noyes, however, recently reported that cyclists have caused 60 percent of bicycle-automobile accidents in the past five years in the Bay Area. Noyes' news brief sparked a flaming rage of response from cyclists in the community who complain that police officers regularly ignore their complaints against drivers.

Still, Capt. Corrales said that city police have simply let cyclists get away with breaking the law for too long. “There's been almost no enforcement in the past, so bicyclists think that riding freely any way they want is legal, and now that we're suddenly giving tickets they think it's unfair. We're just trying to save lives.”

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