An Open Letter to Captain John Sanford of SFPD Park Station
This is an open letter from our friends at the Wigg Party. We are publishing it because simply put…the Wigg Party is awesome, and this new cop…well, we will let you decide:
Dear Captain Sanford,
Hi. You’re new here. Welcome. We realize that you guys get moved around a lot and it takes a while to learn all the particular nuances of a new district once you arrive. It appears you’ve noticed that bicycling is a bit more relevant to our district than your previous post at Taraval Station. Good start! However, your chosen response to a handful of complaints about bicyclists – a high-profile education and enforcement crackdown designed to get every single bicyclist to stop at every single stop sign once and for all – feels a little bit off. Allow us to bring you up to speed.
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Here’s the thing: there is nothing that you can ever do to get bicyclists to stop at stop signs as a rule. Ever. It will never happen. In fact, your decision to use preciously scant police resources to try to achieve this effect will actually only end up incensing the bicycling community and inflaming the profoundly vile hatred routinely directed at bicyclists. That’s right, your “crackdown” is actually creating more unsafe conditions on our streets as anti-bike bigots now feel even more empowered to verbally and physically assault any bicyclist who doesn’t come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign. If you are unaware that any article regarding cyclists instantly fills up with hateful comments suggesting the world would be better off if they all died in the front grill of the nearest SUV or that all too often people actually act out this not-at-all-veiled fantasy by purposefully running over cyclists, then we suggest you enroll yourself in “Byclicing Dynamics 101.”
And about that stop sign law – what if we told you it didn’t actually make the streets any safer? What if you learned that the state of Idaho actually allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs resulting in a reduction in collisions? What if, and we don’t want to blow your mind too much here, there was actually a difference between a 3,000 lb. high-powered steel box with limited sight-lines and a twenty pound pedal powered bicycle with perfect sight-lines and astounding maneuverability? We’re suggesting that this stop sign law you are insisting be followed to the letter of the law for the sake of “protection of life” actually is a lazy and poorly-conceived law and that it really shouldn’t be your highest priority if you are indeed interested in safety and the “protection of life.”
Speaking of the protection of life, did you know ~1000 people are hit and injured by people driving motor vehicles on San Francisco streets every year? Did you know that ~20 people have already been killed on our streets by people driving moter vehicles in the first 7 months of this year? Did you know that there has never once been a recorded collision between bicyclists and pedestrians along the Wiggle? Are you aware that there are laws that are routinely broken by people driving motor vehicles that directly contribute to these ~1000 injuries every year? Laws like the speed limit law and even- that’s right- the stop sign law? Just like you, we’ve been out there observing the degree to which people follow the stop sign law in our fair city. According to our records, if you take out the drivers physically required to wait for an intersection to clear before proceeding, the number of drivers who actually follow the law requiring them to fully stop their momentum at a stop sign is close to 0%. That’s weird– I thought your policy was that there are rules of the road and everyone is required to follow them to a T??
The good news is that there are some things that you can do to actually increase safety on our streets and they require far less effort than you’ve already wasted on your impossible dream.
The first thing you can do is call off the crackdown on the bicyclists. Again, you’re only making things worse and, on top of that, we’re going to do our best to repeat this little stop-in technique every time you deploy that thin blue line.
The next thing you can do is use your position to advocate for the city to adopt the Idaho Stop Law. Yes, we realize it’s a state law but it’s also a federal law that we deport illegal immigrants but that hasn’t stopped our great city from being a proud Sanctuary City. Adopting the Idaho Stop Law would normalize and legalize the behavior that’s de facto law for bicyclists everywhere in the world and it would increase predictability of cyclists and decrease the deep, disturbing hatred for bicyclists.
Whether we officially adopt the Idaho Stop Law or not, we’d love to work with you to target the 5% of bicyclists who do in fact ride unsafely on our streets by violating other people’s rights of way. We’ve made this official offer multiple times in the past but have never been taken up on it. This was the aim of our recent “Referee the Wiggle” event we hosted and we’d love to continue to develop creative solutions for this problem.
We personally prodded the SFMTA to “daylight” – that is, prevent cars from parking directly abutting crosswalks thereby vastly increasing visibility – key intersections along the Wiggle for 3 years before they finally complied. We’re now working with the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee on getting the SFMTA to daylight every single intersection in the city. If you are truly concerned for the “protection of life” this would be a no-brainer and your support would be a huge boon.
We’ve also worked through the Bicycle Advisory Committee to guarantee an automatic joint effort between the SFMTA and the SFPD to fully assess any location where a pedestrian, bicyclist or driver is killed in traffic. Currently, there is no automatic review and our citizens are left to suffer the repeated threat of death and injury due to faulty design at key locations. You could be instrumental in making this a reality.
Finally, we’ve been working for years to clear up the Panhandle Mixed-Use path (we know you must get some complaints about this area) by getting the SFMTA to build separated bikeways along each side of the park. There’s a magical 4th lane of travel that appears on Fell and Oak between Baker and Stanyan that only serves to encourage speeding alongside the Panhandle (there’s that letter of the law thing again! How do we get you guys to act on that one? We have to send you 10 complaints before we can unlock the “police enforcement/crackdown” power?). We could take out that extra travel lane, move the parking off one lane, and have a separated bikeway to keep bicyclists and pedestrians separate in the increasingly congested Panhandle. This could happen next week if you wanted it to.
If you truly care about making our streets safer, any one of these actions would be a much better use of your attention and scant police resources. Or, you know, you could just keep banging your head against the wall by trying to ticket bicyclists into coming to complete stops at every stop sign, or even leading enforcement stings for vague, probably not illegal and certainly not unsafe actions by cyclists just trying to get to work in the morning.
One thing is for sure – unless you get up to speed quickly regarding the dynamics of your new district, you’ll likely be facing yet another move to another district that is more your pace. Because, for all the missteps Chief Greg Suhr has had to suffer on his watch lately, even he can plainly see that a Captain with a personal vendetta against bicyclists is simply not fit for service at the helm of Park Station.
–The Wigg Party is a community organization working to make the neighborhood surrounding the Wiggle a leader in the transformation to sustainability and resilience.