EDITORIAL The streets of San Francisco can be dangerous enough for their most vulnerable users — pedestrians and bicyclists — without the aggressive, insensitive, and judgmental attitudes that have recently been expressed toward those who choose to get around this city by bike.
The Guardian’s Politics blog exploded with caustic comments last week after a pair of reports related to the death of bicyclist Amelie Le Moullac. Among the worst of these blame-the-victim attitudes was expressed by SFPD Sgt. Richard Ernst, who showed up Aug. 21 at an event at the site where Le Moullac died to lecture those mourning her death and make a series of unfounded, irrelevant, and thoughtless accusations (for details, see “Shit Happened”).
These attitudes have no place in a civilized debate over how we share the roadways of this city, and they are particularly reprehensible coming from someone in a position of public trust and authority, validating the dangerous view that violence is an acceptable response to bicyclists who don’t obey traffic laws to the letter.
Compounding the anti-cyclist bias of the SFPD and other police agencies — which routinely fail to cite motorists even when their inattention or negligence results in the loss of life — is the revelation that SFPD misrepresented its efforts to seek video surveillance of the collision, which activists easily found from a neighboring business.
We call on the SFPD to fully investigate Le Moullac’s death, two similar cyclist fatalities earlier this year, and the actions of Ernst, who clearly abused his authority and misrepresented the results of an open investigation in order to make political points against a class of road users that he doesn’t like or understand, needlessly creating a safety hazard in the process. Perhaps temporary reassignment to bike patrol would give Ernst a clearer perspective on the entire community that he’s supposed to be protecting and serving.
The city should also do a public outreach campaign to improve the awareness and safety of all road users, particularly targeting commercial truck drivers, who have now fatally run over three bicyclists this year. The weight and poor driver visibility of these vehicles make them particularly dangerous, and they must drive them in a cautious and predictable manner. The city should also have clearer road markings to encourage safe merging at problematic intersections like Folsom and Sixth streets.
We all need to learn to safely share this city’s roadways, which starts with simply slowing down and paying attention. To focus exclusively on the behavior of cyclists is like blaming a rape victim for wearing a short skirt. Those with the most power to kill or maim need to be held accountable when they blow through red lights or drive unpredictably, and that should be a higher priority for the SFPD than to piously lecture those mourning a tragic death.