Saturday, May 22, 2010

San Francisco Grand Jury Everyone Hates Cyclists, Cyclists Hate Everyone

​On the eve of Bike to Work day, the city put out an analysis codifying what we already knew: Drivers hate cyclists; cyclists hate drivers; cops hate cyclists; and cyclists hate cops -- though they may be somewhat conflicted about how they feel regarding cops on bicycles.

Okay, not the last one. But the Civil Grand Jury's report on the city's implementation of its bicycle master plan reveals that the one thing motorists, authorities, and cyclists seem to be able to agree on is how much they detest each other. This, as you could imagine, is a hurdle toward implementing said plan.

From the report:

It appears from review of the literature and comments from interviews that the jury conducted, that motorists see cyclists as arrogant, dangerous, despised, erratic/unpredictable, inconvenient, irresponsible, and vulnerable. Cyclists are viewed by many non-cyclists as not paying their fair share. Cyclists see motorists as an impediment,selfish, materialistic, causing world havoc with financial systems and the environment.Cyclists embrace riding because it is good for the environment, the economy (including theirs) and the exercise. Cyclists love freedom and the lack of any fees or fines. Some police comment that the potential of complaints from cyclists makes them reluctant to cite cyclists for violations. Many bicycle community members view the police as biased against cyclists, and believe the police need to uphold the law fairly.

The methodology the civil grand jury used to come to those conclusions is both fascinating and -- in a first for any grand jury report we've seen -- laugh-out-loud funny.

In establishing a citywide tone of rancor and disrespect, the report cites a 2009 article by the New York Times' Scott James in which he documented cyclists self-righteously blowing stop signs and ignoring traffic laws -- and, in doing so, became Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of some bike-riders. "Just try to talk about obeying traffic laws, and suddenly the loveliest ecofriendly riders are instantly transformed into venom-spewing bike bullies. I was warned several times not to write about this or risk being publicly vilified as an enemy of the bike world," notes James' story.

The titles of anti-cyclist letters published in local papers grow hilarious when repeated one after the other (particularly in your best 1950s announcer voice). A few of our favorites: Don't Run Me Down; Out of Control; Bike Arrogance; I'm a Bike Victim; Bicycles are Dangerous; and Watch Out, Angry Cyclist.

Cyclists and cycling organizations, for their part, complain of apoplectic drivers and accuse the San Francisco Police Department of holding a "bias" against two-wheelers. The Grand Jury obtained all the complaints filed against cops with the Office of Citizens Complaints between 2008 and 2009 -- there were 42 of them. That's not an insignificant total.

Intriguingly, the cops were found to have acted improperly in only three of those cases -- only 7.1 percent. Cops interviewed for the report claimed that 1 percent of complaints made against them are from motorists; 20 to 30 percent emanate from cyclists. "Officers commented that the potential for complaints from cyclists makes them reluctant
to cite cyclists." Finally, for all the talk of bias, less than 1 percent of all moving violations recorded in San Francisco last year went to non-automobiles.

Your takeaway: Loathing- and complaint-based government is not the way to go.

In short, the city can never become a cycling utopia with this level of rancor and stereotyping out there. The grand jury follows with 30 pages worth of sober analysis and a bevy of recommendations that, if followed to the letter, would probably result in Mideast peace. Here are a few:

* Increased education outreach to cyclists; increased training for police;

* All users of the roadways must follow the law. Drivers and cyclists are encouraged to "self-enforce" (!);

* Since there is no "bicycle" box on the ticket form, many citations are dismissed due to technicalities -- a loophole the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is all to happy to inform its membership how to exploit. This loophole should be closed, and the SFBC should stop playing games;

* Traffic Court should establish a traffic school program specifically for bike-riders;

* The city should find a way to document and punish the transgressions of serial scofflaw cyclists

No comments: