- This Week
The Bike Plan is finally free. Can it help soothe tensions between cyclists and motorists?
08.10.10 - 3:20 pm | Rebecca Bowe |
But when that ill will builds up in someone operating a potentially deadly weapon, and it's directed at someone who is essentially defenseless against an attack, the results can be serious — and unnerving to many would-be cyclists.
"Drivers can begin to misattribute traits to cyclists, and vice-versa. Of course, the difference here is that the balance of power is not as conscious to the drivers," Gard said. "They obviously are driving a huge steel machine, and cyclists are not."
State law is clear: bicyclists have a right to the use of a lane just like any other vehicle, although they must stay as far to the right as is safe and practical. The standard is conveyed to motorists throughout San Francisco on signs that read, "Bicyclists Allowed Use of Full Lane." In practice, however, it's all too common for motorists to behave as scofflaws, violating cyclists' legitimate rights of way because they feel that bikes are obstructing them.
"It's this attitude toward cyclists, like they're not really vehicles," Wyle says. "It's a form of bullying. 'They're in my way, and I'll do what I want.' That kind of behavior would never work out if you were trying to cross in front of an 18-wheeler."
The Civil Grand Jury report recommends emphasizing bike safety and adherence to traffic laws as measures to bridge the chasm. The San Francisco Bicycle Plan should include a strategy for distributing bike-safety information, and the need for everyone to follow the current traffic laws ought to be emphasized and more strongly enforced, according to the report. It also recommends that the Traffic Court establish a "Bicycle Court Traffic School option" by 2011 for when bicyclists — as well as motorists with bicycle-related infractions — are cited.
The report cites the growing political influence of cyclists in San Francisco, which it claims extends so far as to discourage police officers from citing cyclists. According to the report, 20 to 30 complaints are lodged against police for every 100 citations involving bicyclists, compared with one complaint per 100 motorist citations.
While it's common to hear cyclists gripe that police target them unfairly, the report offers the opposite analysis, based on confidential interviews with police officers. "Because of the high incidence of complaints from a certain segment of the population, the police are reluctant to cite bicyclists," the report found. "They understand the bicycle community and the political power it wields."
At the same time, the report notes that representatives of the SFBC support stepping up enforcement of both bicyclists and motorists, in order to limit dangerous activity.
Rivera said the organization is open to many of the recommendations of the grand jury report, noting that the SFBC leads urban biking workshops to encourage safer conduct. "We have a lot of people coming out to learn how to bike in SF safely and confidently," she said. The workshops focus on riding predictably, staying visible, and "just sharing the road respectfully," she said. "Treat others as you would want to be treated out there on the road."
But there are also those who say bikes and cars just don't mix well, and they're anxious to see San Francisco develop more separated bikeways. They say the surest path toward roadway harmony is improved bike infrastructure that clearly delineates which sections of the roads are for meant for bikes, and which are for cars. That's why the long-awaited green light for the Bike Plan is hailed as a saving grace by cycling advocacy groups.
"Why not design the roads so that we have fewer points of conflict?" Rivera questions.