Bike to Work Day marred by another Wiggle police sting UPDATED

Pub date May 9, 2014
SectionPolitics Blog

City officials and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition hailed yesterday’s Bike to Work Day as a success, with the official SFMTA count finding 76 percent of vehicles along Market Street during the morning commute were bikes. But a pair of motorcycle cops ticketing cyclists that afternoon on the Wiggle put a damper on the celebration.

As we reported in this week’s paper, cycling has come to enjoy almost universal support in City Hall, at least in terms of political rhetoric, although the Mayor’s Office and SFMTA have committed only a small fraction of the funding needed to meet official city goals for increasing ridership. And yesterday’s bike sting on the Wiggle, a key east-west bike corridor in Lower Haight, felt like a slap in the face to the SFBC.

Since another series of police stings targetting cyclists on the Wiggle last fall, SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum has been working closely with the San Francisco Police Department on its goal of focusing traffic enforcement resources on intersections with the most collisions, none of which include the Wiggle (the SFPD’s Focus on the Five initiative pledges traffic enforcement resources to the five most dangerous intersections in each police district and the five most dangerous traffic violations).

On Wednesday night, Shahum was even at the Police Commission hearing discussing the issue, and she says that Police Chief Greg Suhr and other top brass in the department have offered their assurances that such arbitrary stings on the Wiggle weren’t a good use of SFPD resources.

After recent hearings on how SFPD officers have refused to give citations to motorists who hit cyclists, Suhr and the department have also pledged to do so. But Shahum said she also heard from a cyclist on Bike to Work Day who was the victim of a hit-and-run by an impatient, road-raging motorist on 18th Street, and he told her that police refused to take a report even though he took down the license plate number.

Shahum said she’s disheartened by that story and those of the half-dozen cyclists she heard from who were ticketed on the Wiggle for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign on the Wiggle.    

“I’m not confident the commitments from the chief and the commission are making it down to the officers. They are still pursuing very outdated traffic enforcement policies,” Shahum told us.

Shahum said she spoke to Capt. Greg Corrales, whose Park Station precinct includes the Wiggle, and Cmndr. Mikail Ali, who heads traffic enforcement, and both said they had no knowledge of any enforcement stings on the Wiggle. We left a message for SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza, and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back. [UPDATE 5/12: Esparza just told us these citywide traffic enforcement officers were there based on citizen complaints about people running stop signs, but that the timing on BTWD wasn’t intentional: “It was a random thing they happened to be there that day.” He also noted that just 1 percent of traffic citations from April went to cyclists, and 93 percent to motorists, but he said officers can’t ignore traffic violations. “We cannot say as an agency do not cite pedestrians, do not cite bicyclists, that would be selective enforcement,” he said, while also agreeing that if officers that day on the Wiggle ignored motorist violations to focus on cyclists, that would also be selective enforcement.”] 

One of the cyclists ticketed on the Wiggle yesterday wrote this account to Shahum: “I suspect you will be hearing from a lot of cyclists in the next few days regarding the 2 cops who decided to hang out at Waller and Steiner Sts. yesterday to nail riders ‘running the stop sign.’ I was there at 4:51pm yesterday and I approached that intersection as I always do everyday braked with my right hand and signaled with my left arm to make that left turn onto Waller. I know for a fact I stopped as there was a car opposite me heading south on Steiner and I had to make sure which direction it might go. Once I made my left turn, there to greet me was a man in blue telling me to stop and present my driver’s license to him. He said that I failed to stop and I quote ‘your pedals were still moving at the stop sign.’… So,  a great 20th anniversary of bike to work day turned out to be a real downer for myself and I would guess for dozens more of riders. What a scheme to do this on a bike to work day with so many more riders out there.”

At the Bike to Work Day rally outside City Hall yesterday morning, where a broad cross-section of local political leaders and city officials spoke after riding their bikes to the event, Chief Suhr talked about the importance of making the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists: “We are all in this together. Under the leadership of the mayor and the supervisors, all the department heads, we are committed to Vision Zero that in 10 years there are no fatalities in San Francisco.” 

Mayor Lee, who also rode to work, said: “I was proud to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Bike to Work Day by riding this morning from my neighborhood, Glen Park, accompanied by a growing number of bike commuters, including families, who are taking advantage of the benefits of a fun, healthy, affordable way to move around our City. With innovative bikeways like the new contraflow bike lane on lower Polk Street that connects Market Street to the Tenderloin and City Hall, we continue to improve and enhance our City’s bike network to connect our residents, neighborhoods, and businesses. But in order to do even more to make our streets safe, we must invest in our aging transportation infrastructure.”