Last night's Park Station community meeting covered district crime stats and a debrief on recent SFPD operations, but for most attendees, the recent traffic enforcement initiative targeting bicycles topped off the agenda. Nearly three hours after the meeting began, District Capt. John Sanford, Jr. announced that he was ending the crackdown. "The enforcement is over for now, but we can revisit it at any time, if we need to," said Sanford.
The district's monthly community meeting usually runs 90 minutes, but more than 75 cyclists attended—some after participating in a second "Stop-In" protest—creating an overflow crowd that spilled out into the station's parking lot. (The first "Stop-In" protest, which saw bicyclists ride single-file and come to a full and complete stop at every stop sign, took place two weeks ago on the Wiggle and elicited plenty of reader commentary.) At times, tension between bicycle advocates and those who favored tougher enforcement boiled over, but the discussion was largely civil.
"I'm willing to stay here until 11pm, until the last person leaves," said Sanford, who announced plans two months ago to start enforcing the letter of the law against cyclists in Park District. "There's a thing called a stop sign that bicycles are supposed to stop at," said Sanford at the June meeting, citing his own anecdotal experiences and complaints from residents.
Enforcement began last month and continued into August, culminating in a two-day operation that generated 204 citations for bicyclists on August 5th and 6th. According to Sanford, most citations were issued for failing to heed stop signs, failures to yield at crosswalks and red-light violations.
At last night's meeting, Sanford acknowledged that cyclists have the same rights as pedestrians and automobiles, but added that promoting safety is his primary goal. Several in the audience suggested that cracking down on bicycles made little sense considering a car's potential to cause injuries, but Sanford related the bicycle enforcement to Vision Zero, a citywide initiative to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2024. "Our commitment here at Park Station with regard to Vision Zero is as strong as ever," said Sanford, noting that the percentage of initiative-related citations has increased since he was assigned to Park District.
"We continue our efforts to enforce violations throughout the Park District based on the 'Focus on the Five,'" said Sanford, referring to speeding, running red lights and stop signs, illegal turns, and failure to yield, five violations that account for 25 percent of all citations issued in the district, he said. "The goal by the end of 2015 is 37 percent."
"The majority of fatalities and serious injury are caused by motorists," said Sanford. "What I'm sure many of you are concerned about is why enforce violations against bicyclists, pedestrians and others ... if the cars are the ones that are constantly killing people." Sanford went on to say that prevention is just as important as enforcement when it comes to promoting public safety.
According to Sanford, the crackdown was launched in response to widespread complaints from district residents about cyclists who run red lights and stop signs or encroach on pedestrians who have the right of way. "It is our job, our responsibility to respond to the concern of the community as far as incidents ... that can injure or have the potential of injuring individuals," he said.
Because the number of bicycles on San Francisco streets is growing, Sanford said SFPD is working to educate automobile drivers, cyclists and public safety officials about the rules of the road. As part of this push, efforts to create a new Community Advisory Bike Board that includes stakeholders from multiple communities are currently underway, he said.
Sanford said CABB's mission will be "to look at issues that impact cyclists, whether pro or con, in the Park District." CABB will be staffed by volunteers who'll act as advisors to help SFPD find "effective and viable ways but more importantly, sustainable ways to address many of the issue see are facing," said Sanford.
"We have no other choice but to embrace the fact that cyclists are here, are here to stay and have the right to share the roadway," said Sanford. He said the enforcement initiative was a success, since it's "clearly" opened up a dialogue between SFPD and the biking community.
"We were heartened to see so many people turn out to support smart enforcement," said Chris Cassidy, Communications Director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition. "We support everyone following the rules of the road," he added, noting that SFBC has "trained over 5,000 people how to bike and drive safely last year, and are pushing to train even more in 2015."
Many attendees pressed Sanford to join them on a group ride so he could get a new perspective on the issues facing bicyclists. Sanford noted that his new bike helmet and shoes recently arrived and that he is planning to join SFPD bike officers on patrol soon. "I'll be out there starting this week," he said. "If any of you want to ride with me, I'm willing to do that," said Sanford, who said he'll start off wheeling around Duboce Triangle and on Haight Street.
Despite the extended conversation, one attendee said he was still confused about Park District's attitude towards cyclists. "If I do stop, I feel like these guys are going to run me over. If I don't stop, you're going to give me a ticket. What am I supposed to do, right now?" he asked.
"By law, you are required to stop," said Sanford.
"Are you going to enforce that?" asked the cyclist.
"If we are out and about, and if a patrol car sees a cyclist or anyone else running a stop sign, they're required to enforce," said Sanford, which could mean a warning or a ticket. "It's not up to me, it's up to the officer's discretion," said Sanford.
Park Station's monthly community meeting is held at 6pm on the second Tuesday of each month at Park Police Station (1899 Waller St.).