SFPD Captain educated on cyclist behavior

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.

Police Encounter

20101107 kathy-tikit-no-autosKatherine and her Bike Friday. Photo by Jym Dyer.

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.


  • Chrystal
    December 28, 2010 - 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I am so glad she decided to pursue action with this situation.

  • Ron
    December 28, 2010 - 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Butter hugging? Eww.

    Happy Trails
    Ron G.

  • Jack
    December 28, 2010 - 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Good for her and great for the PD that they are led by someone who is open minded.

  • December 28, 2010 - 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I noticed that too a few moments ago — corrected now.

  • Kit
    December 28, 2010 - 6:18 pm | Permalink

    You go, Katharine!

  • Ryan
    December 28, 2010 - 9:01 pm | Permalink

    But did she have to pay the ticket?

  • December 28, 2010 - 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Once the ticket is written, the police can’t just void it. Katherine plans
    to explain the situation to the judge. Captain O’ Leary said he thought her
    story is compelling.

    Sent from my Googaw

  • December 28, 2010 - 10:26 pm | Permalink

    What bullies… and they are supposed to help us!

    Well done, Katherine.

  • December 29, 2010 - 2:28 am | Permalink

    This overall is a positive story. Good for her. Now let’s hope she is not fined. Maybe the police will not appear in court and she “goes free.”

  • Phil
    December 29, 2010 - 4:53 am | Permalink

    You’d think SFPD would watch their own training videos:

  • December 30, 2010 - 5:20 am | Permalink

    I had to “re-educate” some cops on TX VC 551.103 b-h inclusive last month, so this isn’t restricted to CA.

  • Jjohns
    January 10, 2011 - 9:49 am | Permalink

    It’s amazing, how so many bicyclists think they are exempt from the rules. Bicyclist expect everyone else to follow them, but I see an incredible amount of violations by bicyclists. This ‘katherine’ got her feelings hurt, and she complained on someones career. I hope the cops show up to court, and she pays the fine she deserves.

  • Andy
    January 10, 2011 - 2:07 pm | Permalink

    It’s amazing, how so many drivers think they are exempt from the rules. Drivers expect everyone else to follow them, but I see an incredible amount of violations drivers. This ‘katherine’ got her feelings hurt, and she complained on someones career. I hope the cops show up to court, and she gets the apologies she deserves.

  • Scott
    February 15, 2011 - 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Great story. I ride around the SF Panhandle area quite frequently, and considering how “progressive” this city may be perceived as being, the blatant disregard for human safety by drivers is amazing.

    Give me a shout if you or Katherine could use a Road ID, if you don’t have one already.



  • Grrlfriday
    April 1, 2011 - 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to everyone for their positive & supportive responses. The trial has been set for April 12th — hopefully the cops don’t show up & the whole thing gets dismissed. But you know what they say, “The process is the punishment.” I’ll keep you all posted on what happens.


  • Anonymous
    April 12, 2011 - 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Hearing @ 1:30 today. Wish me luck!!! I’l post back when it’s over.

  • Anonymous
    April 12, 2011 - 10:20 pm | Permalink

    DIS-missed!! Officer Conway was a no-show. I’m pretty happy overall; I feel I was able to have a positive effect. But, what a lot of shit to drag me through. You’d think the SFPD would be able to find a better way to spend our hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars. Hopefully this incident was a tiny push in that direction.

  • April 12, 2011 - 10:34 pm | Permalink

    gah, no kidding about the hassle, I’m sure. Thanks for the updates, Katherine.

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