The proudly pro-bike blog Uptown Almanac put up an interesting post about the San Francisco Police Department “running a sting” on Market and Turk in downtown San Francisco.
He observed the officers hanging out on the corner in plain clothes and on motorcycles, waiting for cyclists to roll right through the busy intersection’s stop light before issuing warnings.
The bent of the UA blog reflects what is often a confrontational relationship between drivers and cyclists in San Francisco. However, the posts author, Kevin Montgomery, is quick to point out that the cyclists he saw being pulled over earned the warnings they received.
I appreciated Mr. Montgomery’s perspective here: he’s clearly an advocate of cyclists, but recognizes that if cyclists wanted to be treated with the rights and respect that car drivers give each other, they must also be willing to obey the law. It’s a 450$ fine for drivers who run red lights, and half that for cyclists.
As someone who rides a bike for my morning commute and writes about street safety on this blog, I’m constantly conflicted about the right way to behave. I read and write about tragic stories of cyclists injured with their headphones in, running a stop sign or simply being whacked by a turning vehicle that fails to yield. Still, I find myself cruising through empty intersections when there are red lights and taking advantage of the “freedom” cycling imparts to switch lanes and generally behave very differently than I would if I was driving a car.
I think the majority of the reason why I ride how I ride, and I think it’s fair to extrapolate to a significant portion of the cycling community, is because I know I won’t be ticketed, and I know cars won’t treat me with the same caution and respect they would even a motorcycle, let alone another car.
But I wonder: if police held cyclists to the same standards as car drivers, would cyclists begin to more uniformly see themselves, and behave like, cars? That is– never going on the sidewalks, riding in the middle of lanes, honking be damned, and stopping/signaling when appropriate? And if that happened, would car drivers treat cyclists better?
It seems that one of the big issues in bike safety is that not everyone within the cycling community rides by the same rules, which is largely an understandable response to inconsistent conditions. But the result is that drivers, the people who pose the greatest danger to cyclists, aren’t sure exactly what to expect from those with whom they share the road. Ticketing, or at least warning cyclists that running red lights might be punished, could go a long way to encouraging uniform cyclist behavior.
Turk and Market is one of the deadliest intersections in San Francisco, with drivers rushing to make brief green lights and an abundance of pedestrians and cyclists. It’s in places like this that everyone needs to be on the same page, and following the same rules. As the officer told Mr. Montgomery “I’m just out here looking out for your safety.” In this circumstance, on this dangerous intersection, even skeptics understand that a few tickets and warnings now will keep commuting cyclists safer.
Photo Credit: Ell Brown