Leah Shahum

Justice for cyclists



It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.

Sarah was hit while riding her bike. Then she was wrongly faulted for the collision, despite multiple witnesses’ testimony and photo evidence to the contrary. A police officer verbally harassed her after the incident.

“The crash was awful,” she said. “But the way I was treated by the police … absolutely compounded the trauma. I was treated, at every turn, like a criminal.”

Dorie was hit from behind while biking in Golden Gate Park with her son in a rear child seat. Thankfully he was fine, but she was injured seriously enough to spend two weeks in the hospital. She was blamed for the incident, despite witnesses’ statements claiming otherwise.

And after Sandrine was hit while biking, she was treated with hostility by police officers while she lay in pain at the hospital. She was shocked to learn witness statements were not included in her incident report, which faulted her. Thousands of dollars in debt later, Sandrine says she is “disheartened and completely disgusted with the attitude and bias of the police” toward people on bikes.

Nearly 40 people spoke up last Thursday at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing into the SF Police Department’s response to traffic incidents involving people biking and walking.

The spotlight is on the SFPD after it botched an investigation last month of a 24-year-old woman who was hit and killed while biking to work on Folsom Street. Police failed to look for video footage in the area, and a police sergeant blocked the bike lane at the memorial to publicly blame the victim for her own death, while forcing bike riders into high speed traffic.

I’m sorry to say that I was not surprised by the sergeant’s “blame the victim” attitude in that recent tragedy. Nor in the dozens of cases people shared at last week’s hearing.

Sadly, we regularly hear about experiences like these: people refused incident reports, despite injuries. Reports being taken inaccurately or incompletely, time and time again blaming the person biking, despite witness statements to the contrary. And officers being ignorant of the law, such as not understanding that people can leave a bike lane to avoid an obstruction or to make a turn.

I believe our police chief when he insists that all road users should be treated fairly, but that message is not being heard by all in the force.

The chief needs to make certain that all collisions resulting in injuries are fully and fairly documented; that training is significantly stepped up to ensure officers’ understanding of bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities on the road; and, finally, that the SFPD uses a data-driven approach to focus limited traffic enforcement resources on the locations and behaviors that are most dangerous.

We are not asking for special treatment for the growing number of people on bikes, but rather fair and equal treatment for all road users.

Leah Shahum is executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Bikes and sailboats


OPINION I’m not much of a sailor. In fact, I’ve been known to turn more than a little green when venturing out on the bay under sail. So it may seem a little odd that I am excited about the America’s Cup regatta coming to San Francisco. This high-profile international yacht race has the potential to accomplish even more impressive feats on land than on water, ultimately leaving a legacy of safer streets and more accessible neighborhoods.

An anticipated five million spectators will put the city’s transportation infrastructure to the test. It starts this summer with the qualifying races, then ramps up in summer, 2013, when upward of a half million people are expected to travel to the waterfront on peak race days.

There’s no possible way to move all of these people around this tightly packed city in cars. For proof, talk to anyone who’s been near the waterfront during Fleet Week, a traffic nightmare at a fraction of the size of the America’s Cup.

The Mayor’s Office plan for the America’s Cup wisely puts bicycle transportation front and center. Event planners and politicians know that traffic and parking constraints will preclude many from driving, and transit capacity can be stretched only so far so fast.

Event organizers propose investing in a robust bike share program, park-and-ride lots where visitors can ditch their cars on the edge of the city and pedal the last few miles, and plenty of secure valet bike parking lots.

The most important component is ensuring that the city also invests in safe, comfortable routes welcoming the wide diversity of people who will be trying out two wheels — people who are likely to continue biking long after the events if they have a good experience.

A top priority must be the Embarcadero. Already an enormously popular — and overcrowded — bike route for locals and visitors, the Embarcadero should be made more welcoming to the huge numbers of people who will be drawn there on bikes and by foot.

On big event days, the plan calls for temporarily designating an existing travel lane as bicycle-only space and freeing up the pathway for walking — a more comfortable set-up for everyone.

I urge city leaders to take advantage of this opportunity to pilot a permanent, dedicated bikeway on the waterside of the roadway — the EmBIKEadero. It’s a low-cost, easy way to reconnect people with the waterfront and offer an unparalleled biking experience.

Imagine riding on a mini-version of Sunday Streets on the Embarcadero any day of the week. Imagine a New York City-style high line for S.F.’s waterfront, from Mission Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. Imagine a way to connect diverse neighborhoods and draw people to local businesses…long after the yachts have left the bay.

The city should also use the momentum behind the America’s Cup to test other opportunities for safe, more welcoming streets, including Polk Street, a major connector to the northern waterfront and already an important route for the growing number of people biking in San Francisco.

Market Street should continue to be a site for innovation. Recent pilot programs prioritizing biking, walking, and transit are already proving to save bus riders time and the Muni system big dollars.

The America’s Cup is our opportunity not only to stage a world-class event, but to build toward a world-class bicycling city.

Leah Shahum is executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. To learn more about the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s vision for the EmBIKEadero, see connectingthecity.org

What’s the matter with the De Young?


All around the world, popular museums are situated in public parks with wonderful results for both the museums and the parks.

But here in San Francisco, the venerable de Young Museum is waging an intense and irrational battle to prevent more San Francisco families and visitors from enjoying Golden Gate Park — even at the expense of its own reputation and financial well-being. Our organizations are baffled.

The museum’s leadership is doggedly fighting a community proposal called Healthy Saturdays, which would extend the popular Sunday recreational space in the park to Saturdays on a six-month trial basis.

Why would the de Young fight this when its own figures show that museum attendance increases on car-free Sundays in the park?

Why, when a recent city study (available at www.goldengatepark.org) shows that car-free space does not significantly affect parking availability or traffic in the neighborhoods and doubles park usage, boosts local business, and helps drive traffic to (and pay off the debt for) the de Young’s unfilled 800-car garage?

Why, last spring, did the de Young spend thousands to send misleading letters to its members, falsely claiming that Healthy Saturdays would "severely compromise" access to the museum? Dozens of disgruntled de Young members pointed out the letter did not mention that the garage is accessible from outside the park and that visitors have front-door, drop-off access every day.

All of the high jinks and mistruths are especially baffling given the de Young’s past endorsement of the concept. In 2000 the museum supported and funded Proposition G, which called for car-free Saturdays just after the garage was opened. According to their ballot argument, de Young leaders believed the Saturday proposal "ensures access to the de Young Museum for all San Franciscans including families with children, seniors and the disabled; [and] ensures the maximum enjoyment and minimum inconvenience to park users."

At times the de Young has claimed that it is fighting out of concern for disabled access, but the tactics of the museum folks suggest otherwise. Why did they not actively support Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s legislation, which passed unanimously last year, to add more accessible parking, drop-off zones, and a free accessible tram in the park on Sundays?

And why are museum leaders suggesting that the car-free space be moved out to the west end of the park, far from transit, the parking garage, and local businesses?

Finally, if the de Young were working in good faith to improve its own attendance and revenue (and we all want a successful de Young Museum), why would this partially public-funded museum deny city officials’ requests to make its attendance figures public, relenting only after a Guardian reporter filed a Sunshine Ordinance request? The figures, when they were begrudgingly shared last year, showed a boost in de Young attendance on car-free days — which of course brings us back to our original question:

Why is the de Young fighting so intensely against its own interests and those of Golden Gate Park visitors? *

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum represent, respectively, the League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the SF Bicycle Coalition.