A few weeks ago, Katherine Roberts was controlling the lane up narrow Masonic Avenue in San Francisco when an irate man driving too fast brushed past as he yelled and made obscene gestures at her. Some words were exchanged at the next intersection.
After she turned onto Haight Street, somebody directly behind her started gunning his engine to intimidate her. Katherine was biking alone at night and didn’t want to risk a closer encounter with the mad motorist, so she ran a stop sign to get away from him. And that’s when she discovered the revving engine belonged to San Francisco’s finest: Officer Anderson and Officer Conway who patrol out of SFPD Park Station.
Anderson flipped on the flashing lights and pulled Katherine over.
The officers “both seemed spectacularly unconcerned that a motorist had just threatened my life,” writes Katherine, “but were very upset with me for taking the lane and for not wearing a helmet . So their idea of safety was riding in the door zone with a helmet on. I told them I refused to ride that way because it would put my life in danger.”
Officer Anderson replied, “If you’re so concerned about safety, you shouldn’t be riding a bike in San Francisco. I don’t ride a bike here, it’s too dangerous!!”
As Officer Conway wrote a ticket for running the stop sign, she lectured Katherine on “proper” lane positioning, telling her she was impeding traffic by riding down the middle of the lane.
Katherine continues: “The prejudice of those cops against bicyclists was just amazing. While the woman [Conway] was writing the ticket, I asked [Anderson] how many motorists he thought ran stop signs in the Haight, and he said, ‘Not as many as the bicyclists, that’s for sure. EVERY SINGLE BICYCLIST runs stop signs.'”
Complaint leads to action
This episode naturally made Katherine upset, so she did something about it. She called Park Station Captain Denis O’Leary and, after a couple of weeks of phone tag, had a good conversation with him and explained what happened, and why she rides like she does. And the police captain listened.
O’Leary told Anderson and Conway to “knock it off” and stop harassing cyclists without good reason. More importantly, O’Leary told Katherine that their conversation opened his eyes about why many cyclists take the lane. It turns out O’Leary is a gutter hugging bike commuter, and after his conversation with Katherine he now takes the lane to avoid the door zone.
Captain O’Leary also called a meeting with his lieutenants to explain the many exceptions of California’s Far-To-The-Right law (CVC 21202) and why bicyclists avoid the “door zone” on streets like Haight.
Big props to Katherine for fighting prejudice like this and showing us that action by a single individual can bring positive change. Story re-posted here from the SFBIKE discussion list with her permission.