Well, maybe that headline is a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit! I was visiting family in suburban Chicago a couple weeks ago and took the opportunity to rejoin the group, which showed me the ropes of riding years ago, for a ride.
As we gathered at Deerfield train station at 7 in the morning, a cop car pulled into the lot; a seemingly friendly officer approached the group and engaged in a few minutes of conversation. I must admit, I missed most of it as I was catching up with riders I haven’t seen in over a year. But as it was explained to me when we got rolling, there was a “multi-neighborhood police action” – yep, that’s how the cops there call it – too crack down on cyclists. “Seriously? Are they catching terrorists? It’s Chicago suburbia!” – All those thoughts went to my mind, and some others I’d rather not put down in writing. “Well, at least we don’t have to deal with that crap back in the Bay Area…” Or so I thought!
Imagine my dismay, when upon my return, social media was blowing up on police enforcement in the Wiggle stretch of San Francisco. With police giving tickets for even minor deviations from the strict letter of the law; and cyclists following the law to the point of halting traffic. And today, and article surfaced telling a story of a woman who was ticketed for “not putting her foot down.” What the hell is going on?
The struggle among cyclists, pedestrians and motorists is an old one and a contentious one. Just read any comment section on any story about a cyclist involved in any accident.
I hear motorists and pedestrians lash out at cyclists as outlaws and reckless riders, regardless if they blow a red light at 20mph, or slowly roll through a stop sign while turning right. For some reason, in the eyes of a motorist or a pedestrian, those are equal, meriting punishment. I’m often curious if those pedestrians have ever jaywalked, or if those motorist have ever driven 27 in a 25mph zone? As pedestrians and drivers, we jaywalk and speed all the time, yet fail to see ourselves as outlaws who deserve to be fined for it.
Perhaps it’s time for everyone, including law enforcement, to come together and have a long hard think about the purpose of our traffic laws, and the direction we want to see our cities go. The overarching purpose is safety. Safety from a pedestrian point of view is not the same as in the eyes of the motorist, and surely differs in the way it’s viewed by cyclists. Let’s do a little standing in each other’s shoes. Most cyclists are also motorists and pedestrians, but the reverse is far from true.
We shouldn’t be dismissed as reckless kids on bikes. We are students, professionals, parents, siblings, spouses and significant others – people with something and someone to live for. We all want to get safely from point A to point B. The laws as they are written now do not have our safety in mind as first priority, and they should. Over the last 10 years, there has been a massive push for cycling infrastructure all over the country. Maybe now is time to begin introducing legislation that helps us safely take advantage of that infrastructure.
I hope this string of incidents starts a conversation that will continue in city halls all over the Bay Area and beyond. I’m not sure what SFPD is trying to achieve with its draconian crackdown, but it won’t build rapport nor help it do its job going further. SFPD’s tactics and antics have painted it in less than favorable light. Perhaps it would behoove Chief Suhr to conduct a few seminars in cooperation and common sense.