What About Scofflaw? Perception, Reality and What We’re Doing About It

Source: SF Bicycle Coalition, July 9th, 2012

Tuber Times Cover

Scofflaw cyclists—the phrase is rolling off the pens of bloggers, journalists and commentators across the Bay Area. And while they’re focusing on this singular aspect, here at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we’re helping direct the conversation to a broader, more comprehensive view of San Francisco’s diverse bicycling community and the responsibilities that all of us have on the road – when biking or driving.

We are busy talking about the significant San Francisco victories toward better biking—such as the dramatic 71% increase in the number of people biking in our city in the last five years. Thanks to the support of our 12,000 members, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is helping to Connect the City with streets that are inviting for people ages 8-to-80. And thanks to the success of Sunday Streets, parklets and bike corrals — projects we’ve had a strong hand in launching—our streets are more people-friendly and welcoming than ever before.

These are big successes, and they should be bigger stories in the media and in conversations with City, community and business leaders. Yet, lately, much of our energy has gone to answer one persistent question: What are you doing about those scofflaw cyclists?

So, as your advocates for a safer, more accessible city, we want to speak directly and candidly to you about what we’re seeing, what we’re doing, and how you can help make sure the growing number of people bicycling in San Francisco is seen as the valuable community that we, and you, know it to be.

When City decision-makers, community leaders and the media see San Francisco bike riders as we really are—a diverse group of families, teachers, students, artists, business owners, etc. who make our city cleaner, healthier and better to live in— they’re more likely to support bike-friendly projects and policies that make our streets safer and more inviting for all of us.

ON SAFETY

Sharing Space

We bike every day in our city, and we’ve watched our streets become safer and more comfortable for biking over our four decades of advocacy. We’re delighted to see the green, protected bikeway on Market Street full of more people biking than ever before and the Wiggle route in the Lower Haight area used by more than half a million bike trips each year.

But lately, we’ve also noticed an increase in the amount of rude, and sometimes unsafe, behavior by some people on bikes, especially problematic along streets with lots of pedestrian use. Other people are noticing too. We’ve been hearing from an increasing number of our own members, as well as political and community leaders, about this issue.

We know that most people are riding safely and courteously, but those who are not are making it less safe for all of us. Following the rules of the road and yielding to pedestrians is paramount to keeping our streets safe and inviting places for everyone. There are a lot of ways to get around our great city, and we know that one day you may be biking, another walking or taking transit. Let’s make sure that no matter what type of transportation you are using, you—and everyone else—feel safe on the streets.

As advocates for safe streets, we’re working to create a culture of respect among all road users. The thoughtless actions of a few are not only causing real safety problems, but also creating a negative image of San Francisco bike riders overall. This is making it even more difficult for us to garner the support we need to get new, better bikeways on the ground. Winning these projects is not easy; we need all the support we can get, and there is a tough uphill battle ahead. When we ride a bike, we are ambassadors for biking. It can sometimes feel like we are held to a higher level of scrutiny than other road users. Whether that’s true or not, all eyes are on us when we ride—particularly when we ride recklessly or rudely.

What can you do? First, make sure you’re clear on the Rules of the Road. We know that sometimes people break the law because they don’t know what the law is. Let’s be clear: pedestrians always have the right of way on our roads. First and foremost, we remind all people biking to give people walking their space, not to infringe on busy crosswalks or zoom between people crossing.

You can also help by leading by example. We’ve noticed that when the first person at the light stops behind the crosswalk, giving pedestrians their space to cross, others are more likely to do the same. These are just small ways to help, but they make a huge difference.

ON EDUCATION

While you’re busy being a great bike ambassador, following the rules of the road and giving pedestrians the right of way, we’ll be working to educate all road users to safely share San Francisco streets together.

The SF Bicycle Coalition is educating tens of thousands of San Franciscans about how to share the streets safely. We teach free Urban Bicycle Education classes for adults, Safe Routes to School programs for children, and reach tens of thousands more people each year with our printed and online safety materials that are available in three languages.

We are also spearheading efforts to educate drivers about how to safely share the road with people on bikes. This year, we expanded our education programs to include a course for all new San Francisco taxi drivers. So far in 2012, the SF Bicycle Coalition has taught more than 2,000 people in our free adult and youth bicycle education classes, and reached more than 25,000 people with our Rules of the Road sheet. For a full list of our education and safety information, visit sfbike.org/safety.

ON ENFORCEMENT

Of course, it’s not just about education. Our City needs to prioritize safety through purposeful enforcement of all road users and this should be done with priority toward those causing the most harm. The SF Bicycle Coalition is urging the SF Police Department (SFPD) to focus their efforts on the most dangerous behavior by road users at the known, most dangerous intersections. We know that drivers are responsible for the huge majority of injuries and fatalities to pedestrians on our streets, so this problem should receive the huge majority of enforcement attention.

We’ve heard troubling accounts of the SFPD setting up stings to catch people on bicycles rolling through stop signs on quiet streets where no one else is around. This isn’t focusing on dangerous behaviors at dangerous intersections, and these tickets are not prioritizing the actual goal of making our streets safer for everyone. We agree with your phone calls, e-mails, tweets, Facebook posts, etc, complaining that these tickets should not be prioritized at a time that limited enforcement resources should be aimed at actual dangerous behavior.

We urge the SFPD and other City leadership to stop focusing on perceived problems as a reaction to media attention and, instead, to respond with appropriate enforcement where the real problems exist. For years, we have urged the Police and other City partners to regularly and systematically review their own data on street crashes to identify hot spots and test approaches to reducing crashes in these locations. But this has not happened — yet.

It’s true that this will require a shift of thinking and action by the SF Police Department. However, we feel encouraged that, thanks to enlightened leadership and new technology, the SFPD is ready to step up to this important opportunity.

AND WHAT ABOUT DRIVERS?

We all bear the responsibility of moving on our streets with courtesy and respect for others. Of course, this applies when driving, particularly given than the vast majority of people injured and killed on our streets because of dangerous or irresponsible behavior are people behind the wheel. In fact, between 10 and 20 pedestrians and between 1 and 2 bike riders are killed by people driving during an average year in San Francisco. That is unacceptable.

Also unacceptable is that none of these fatalities caused by people driving received even one-tenth of the attention that the high-profile Market/Castro incident involving a person biking fatally hitting a pedestrian last March drew. Why? Precisely because the latter is so rare. Equally tragic, absolutely heartbreaking, but undeniably rare.

Within just one week of that crash at Market and Castro Streets, there were two other pedestrian fatalities, both reportedly caused by people driving. Did you read anything about those?

And in May, a 23-year-old San Francisco State University student, Robert Yegge, was bicycling when he was hit and killed by someone driving a truck on Oak and Franklin Streets. As of writing this, with the exception of a single story in Streetsblog, no media outlets covered his tragic death.

In fact, pedestrian deaths caused by people driving are seen as so commonplace that they draw shockingly little attention public or media attention. And that, in itself, is a tragedy.

CHANGING OUR STREETS AND CONNECTING OUR CITY

Then, of course, there are the streets themselves. Many streets and traffic signals are not designed with people who bicycle in mind, and that clearly influences the way that some people approach bicycling on these streets. We’re working with the SF Municipal Transportation Agency and Dept. of Public Works to make much-needed improvements to the streets to make them safer and easier for people to travel by bike.

For instance, studies have shown that providing bike boxes at intersections cuts down on the number of people on bikes blocking the crosswalks. Green waves are also proving beneficial: when lights are timed at bicycle speed, people biking are induced to respect traffic lights. And green waves slow down car traffic as well, making it safer for people walking and biking.

But it’s not just about these simple street changes. We need larger changes to our streets that provide safe, separated space for the growing number of people bicycling and send an unmistakable message to people biking and driving that bicyclists should give and get respect, just like all other legitimate road users.

That’s where the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Connecting the City work comes in. Our vision is to transform our streets into safer, more inviting places for people to bike by making sure we have safe, inviting routes for people ages 8-to-80 to ride bicycles to school, to work, and to play.

THINKING BIG PICTURE ABOUT BIG CHANGE

The City of San Francisco can and should do more to make our streets safe for everyone. We urge the City to re-engineer its streets to be safe. Most of these incidents are not “accidents” at all; many of these tragedies could have been prevented by lower traffic speeds and/or intersections designed for slower, calmer traffic.

Other cities are making commitments to safer streets. Look at Chicago’s inspiring — and achievable — example, which we should adopt in San Francisco. Under new Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bold leadership, Chicago has set a target of zero traffic fatalities annually in 10 years. (The city, reportedly, has been averaging about 50 a year.) Plus, Mayor Emanuel has set a goal of adding 100 miles of new protected bikeways by 2015.

Some of Chicago’s major strategies include: Implementing 20 mph. zones in all the city’s residential areas, installing speed enforcement cameras, and a commitment to improve the city’s top 10 traffic collision locations annually by analyzing all fatal crashes involving people walking and biking. San Francisco can and should implement these changes as well.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Rules of the Road

Want to help us in making our streets safer for everyone? We have plenty of volunteer opportunities — from helping at our street-side safety outreach stations to getting trained to be a bicycle education teacher to working with us to collect and analyze data on how to make our streets safer.

On a daily basis, be a bicycle ambassador by being a great representative of San Francisco’s amazing, diverse and growing community of people who bicycle. Stop behind the crosswalk, give pedestrians the right-of-way and others will follow.

Finally, share your ideas with us. This is an evolving conversation and we would love to hear your ideas for making our streets safer and more comfortable for you and your loved ones. Go to sfbike.org/safety to add your voice to this important discussion.

On our end, we’ll keep working to Connect the City with safe bikeways and redesigning streets with people who walk and bike in mind. And we’ll continue to push the SFPD to prioritize the most dangerous behaviors at the most dangerous intersections, and pushing policymakers to make San Francisco streets safer and calmer for you and your loved ones.

Thank you for biking. And thank you for being an ambassador for the joys of bicycling in San Francisco!