This Is What Happened When Bicyclists Obeyed Traffic Laws Along The Wiggle Yesterday

The protest hadn't even started before the first motorist laid on the horn.

Hundreds of cyclists rode through The Wiggle yesterday evening in protest of a San Francisco police captain's calls for a crackdown on bikers coasting through stop signs. But instead of breaking the law, protesters wanted to show the city just how bad traffic would be if every bicycle approached intersections just as a car does.

Riders arrived at every stop sign in a single file, coming to a complete stop and filing through the intersection only once they were given the right-of-way. The law-abiding act of civil disobedience snarled traffic almost immediately.

[jump] “The thing you say you want — every cyclist to stop at every stop sign — you really don't want that,” Morgan Fitzgibbons, one of the protest's organizers, told SF Weekly. “You're going to destroy traffic in every neighborhood that has a heavy dose of cyclists.”

The protest, flanked by an army of TV cameras and amused onlookers, was in response to a directive from SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford, who ordered his officers to punish cyclists for “zipping past” cars and supposedly endangering people. According to Hoodline, Sanford told a community meeting last month that increased enforcement was aimed at “the protection of life” in his district and that cyclists “present a hazard for many people.”

Media outlets such as Streetsblog, a sustainable transit publication, and organizations including the San Francisco Bike Coalition condemned the police mandate, arguing that police resources are better spent ticketing scofflaw motorists who cause a disproportionate amount of injuries.

“SFPD has a citywide goal of dedicating 50 percent of traffic citations to the five violations that have caused the most traffic deaths in San Francisco,” Chris Cassidy, an SF Bike Coalition spokesperson, wrote in a statement. “When Park Station is way behind on meeting its own safety goals, that's hardly the time to divert precious enforcement resources away from the deadliest traffic violations.”

By strictly obeying the law, bicyclists expected to demonstrate the downsides of current policies — and what drivers would have to contend with if Park Station clamps down.

Dozens of cyclists gathered ahead of the protest at Steiner and Waller in the Lower Haight, the heart of a popular bike route known as The Wiggle. Around 5:30 p.m, a few riders ventured out into the street, stopped at the intersection, and patiently waited for their individual turn to cross. A car stuck behind them began honking, seemingly confused as to why cyclists weren't riding through the intersection as the driver was accustomed to.

The unwelcome delay was already making its point.

Shortly after, a parade of cyclists rode up from Duboce Park. Within minutes, an entire city block was engulfed by the riders. But the protest wasn't meant only to discourage SFPD from enforcing a bad law. The riders also hoped to prove that a better way exists.

Cyclists, along with a growing number of organizations and local politicians, believe bike riders shouldn't be legally treated like cars, but rather treated as what they are — bikers. There's been a growing call for the city and California to adopt what is known as the “Idaho Stop” law. Since 1982, Idaho has permitted cyclists to treat stop signs as yields and red lights as stop signs, which allows bikers to conserve energy, clear intersections faster, and become more visible (and thus safer) by getting in front of traffic.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed endorsed the Idaho Stop yesterday, admitting to the Examiner that's how she already treats stop signs while biking.

Breed's colleague on the board, Supervisor John Avalos, similarly endorses the policy, telling SF Weekly, “The law makes absolute sense.”

“Stop signs are major hindrance to bike safety and have an impact on pedestrian safety,” Avalos added. And, as this video from yesterday's protest shows, cyclists obeying stop signs would make traversing The Wiggle a much slower affair.

Stop signs also proved to be a hindrance to traffic. Cyclists, joined by waves of commuters coming from downtown, quickly stacked up Steiner to Duboce Ave. Drivers caught in the traffic had to wait at least ten minutes to clear the city block. And in two instances, drivers frustrated by cyclists obeying the law broke the law themselves and weaved into a lane of oncoming traffic, gunning their motors straight through the intersection to skirt the gridlock.

The mood of the protest was largely jovial. The handful of counter-protesters seemed to respect the cyclists' protest. And at one point, an SFPD cruiser pulled up to the intersection of Steiner and Waller, only to say “thank you for obeying the law” over the loudspeaker, which drew cheers from the crowd.

But that one ice-breaking officer was the only cop at the protest. And that might have been the only downfall of the event. It wasn't the media, nor the motorists, who needed to see just how bad the current laws are. It was the people enforcing them.

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