San Francisco Police Plan Crackdown on Bicyclists on Popular Routes

A San Francisco police officer issues a ticket to a cyclist near The Wiggle during an enforcement crackdown in 2012.  (David Lytle/Flickr)

The captain of the San Francisco Police Department's Park Station is planning a crackdown on bike riders who roll through stop signs on some of the city's most popular bike routes, saying "protection of life" is his top priority. But bike advocates say police should focus traffic enforcement on the greatest threat to lives: dangerous behavior by drivers.

The comments by Capt. John Sanford were made at a community meeting Tuesday night, according to Hoodline:

Traffic enforcement teams will consist of bicycle officers and marked police vehicles, said Sanford, who reported that district officers have given 38 traffic citations to cyclists between January and May. "I am not too shy to say that it is a problem," said Sanford, who encouraged attendees to spread the word that a crackdown is in the works. "Tell your friends to slow, stop and obey," he said.

SFPD spokesman Albie Esparza confirms the department is planning targeted enforcement against people who bike in the Park police district, which includes The Wiggle, Panhandle and Golden Gate Park.

In addition to drivers, "we do see a large number of pedestrians and bicyclists who are also committing violations, and we cannot simply turn a blind eye and just ignore that," Esparza says.

But bike advocates say SFPD should focus on the top five traffic violations by drivers that cause the most deaths and injuries on the streets.  Police pledged to have those violations account for 50 percent of all citations, as part of the city's Vision Zero goal to end all traffic deaths by 2024. 

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Taking enforcement resources away from the most troublesome driving behaviors is dangerous in itself, says Chris Cassidy, communications director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

"Frankly, we're concerned about people living in, and going through The Wiggle, Golden Gate Park and Inner Sunset if there's any diversion of traffic resources away from Vision Zero," says Cassidy.

A study by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency found drivers at fault in two-thirds of severe and fatal traffic collisions.

Esparza says the department does plan to stay focused on the five most dangerous driving violations: speeding, running red lights, failing to yield to pedestrians, failing to yield while making turns and ignoring stop signs. But he says the department will continue to do targeted enforcement against bicyclists just like it does against people who drive and walk.

"This portion is going to be educating enforcement of bicycle laws to make sure we have people educated, and also enforce the laws to change behaviors, so we can see safer roadways," he says.

Cassidy says the crackdown would be a change in tactics by Park Station. After receiving complaints, the previous captain would alert the bike coalition so it could increase education efforts.

"SFPD has been fantastic citywide at increasing their focus on the five deadliest traffic behaviors," says Cassidy. "Recent comments from the Park Station are really an aberration from SFPD's work towards eliminating traffic deaths."

Cassidy says the SFBC encourages bicyclists to follow the rules of the road. But Streetsblog San Francisco points out:

The stop sign law in every state except Idaho assumes that bicycles are just like cars, creating the unrealistic expectation that someone on a bike should make a full stop at every stop sign, even when they are clearly not violating anybody else’s right-of-way.

The letter of the law leads to an unproductive fixation on the way that people naturally negotiate stop signs on a bike: by slowing, checking for traffic, and being prepared to yield to others.

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Esparza did not indicate when the crackdown would begin.

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