|San Francisco Examiner * December
15, 2000 * Page C10
City's Cyclists Are Treated Like Second Class
By Leah Shahum
Program Director, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 2,800-member nonprofit
advocacy group promoting bicycling for everyday transportation.
What's worse than being hit by a reckless or malicious driver while riding
a bike in San Francisco? Being told that it does not really matter by a
Despite the growing number of people choosing to get around by bicycles in
San Francisco - 25,000 a day - two-wheelers are treated like second-class
citizens by the SF Police Department (SFPD). The unspoken credo in handling
traffic collisions seems to be to assume the citizen with the bigger
vehicle is always right.
Well, those of us in the smaller vehicles are tired of it, especially after
a young man riding his bicycle was hit and killed last month by the driver
of a big rig truck. According to witnesses, the driver yelled and threw a
block of wood at the bicyclist before swerving into him. Might does not
The bicycling community is calling for justice in the case of 30-year-old
Chris Robertson's death. We fear the worse, given local law enforcement
agencies' dismal records of dealing with bike-related cases.
San Francisco police officers regularly deny people riding bikes even the
most basic legal right of filing an incident report after a collision. The
numbers speak for themselves. Based on a year's worth of calls placed to
the Cyclists' Hotline, set up by the SF Bicycle Coalition, police officers
did not take incident reports in more than half of the 21 cases reported to
the hotline involving injuries to cyclists. (Filing a police report is a
fundamental right in any case where someone is injured or property is
It is frustrating enough that many drivers are not aware of cyclists'
rights to the road (which are, for all intents and purposes, the same as
drivers'), but for trained police officers to be ignorant (at best) or
negligent (at worst) of the legal rights of people on bikes is unacceptable.
In case after case in which people were injured but, thank goodness, not
killed, police failed to give equal treatment under the law to citizens who
happen to be on bicycles:
A man was "doored" while bicycling downtown, or hit by a car door flung
open without the driver's first looking, suffering severe bruises and
requiring x-rays. When he requested a police report be taken, the officer
refused and told the victim "to go away."
When a semi-truck jumped a curb on Market Street while making a turn,
hitting a cyclist and dragging his bike under the truck, police insisted
that there was no need to file a report, claiming falsely that reports were
only filed in hit-and-run cases.
Another man hit by a car on Market Street was refused a report by police
officers three times. These cases - and many more like them - occurred
after Police Chief Fred Lau circulated a department bulletin reminding
officers to take bicycle .vs. motorist incidents seriously and to "prepare
incident reports in all such cases....and....not unduly dissuade bicycle
riders from making accident reports."
Strong words from the Chief? Not really, just the law.
Police brass quietly explain away the lack of reporting as efficient use of
their time since, according to them, the District Attorney's office would
ignore such lo-priority cases anyway. Judging from the DA's track record in
prosecuting cases involving bicyclists and pedestrians as victims, that may
be the unfortunate truth. The DA's Office, on the other hand, blames the
SFPD for not sending them more cases to prosecute. It is time for both
departments to stop pointing fingers and take responsibility for their
apparent prejudice against those choosing non-motorized transportation.
If the police and DA's offices would consistently uphold the law and
protect bicyclists' rights to the road, perhaps more drivers would respect
the law and give bicyclists their rightful space on the road.
Perhaps San Francisco would not have a reputation for habitually letting
the killers of bicyclists and pedestrians off scot-free.
Perhaps one man in a truck would have thought twice about the consequences
before he steered into another man on a bicycle.
Perhaps Chris Robertson would be alive today.
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