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Bike advocates reeling from cyclist deaths in SF

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Police investigate the scene where a bicyclist was fatally struck by a driver in Golden Gate Park on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (Courtesy Bryan Carmody)

Bicyclist advocates Thursday were reeling from the loss of two cyclists killed within several hours of each other in separate hit-and-run collisions in San Francisco.

The first incident was reported at 30th Avenue and John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park around 6 p.m. Wednesday, in which a white Honda that was speeding on the wrong side of the road struck San Francisco resident Heather Miller, 41, who later died.

While investigators were still at the scene of that crash, a second fatal hit-and-run collision was reported in the South of Market neighborhood near the intersection of Seventh and Howard streets around 8:30 p.m.

The suspected driver of that crash allegedly ran a red light before fatally striking 26-year-old Katherine Slattery, also a San Francisco resident, and fleeing the scene. Officers apprehended the alleged driver, later identified as Farrukh Mushtaq, 32, a few blocks away.

Mushtaq was booked into San Francisco County Jail on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Mayor Ed Lee cited the drivers’ “irresponsible speeds” in both cases as factors in the deaths of the bicyclists.

“We’re saddened and outraged [by their deaths],” Lee said.

Mayor Ed Lee speaks while standing with police and SFMTA officials during a press conference held at SFMTA Headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, June 23, 2016 after two cyclists were killed in separate hit-and-runs within hours of each other the evening of Wednesday, June 22. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor Ed Lee speaks while standing with police and SFMTA officials during a press conference held at SFMTA Headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, June 23, 2016 after two cyclists were killed in separate hit-and-runs within hours of each other the evening of Wednesday, June 22. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

But the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on Thursday asserted that safety infrastructure and enhanced police enforcement could have prevented the speeding-related fatalities.

The argument that traffic deaths can be prevented by engineering and enforcement is the crux of the Vision Zero policy adopted by San Francisco in 2014, which tasks The City with eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024.

As part of that policy, the San Francisco Police Department has a self-stated goal called “Focus on Five,” which means each station should make 50 percent of its citations for the five most dangerous driving behaviors, like speeding.

Just three of the department’s 10 stations are meeting that goal, according to the latest data provided by police.

Chris Cassidy, a spokesperson for the bicycle coalition, said it’s problematic that the San Francisco Police Department is failing to cite more drivers who speed.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also has not built enough infrastructure to protect cyclists, Cassidy said.

The bicycle coalition, in conjunction with the Department of Public Health and other agencies, has previously released a list of 60 streets all deemed “high injury corridors” that are most likely to see collisions.

None of the streets, Cassidy said, are slated for bicycle safety improvements this year — including John F. Kennedy Drive, the location of the first fatal collision Wednesday.

But Cmdr. Robert O’Sullivan of the SFPD’s Traffic Company emphasized both crashes Wednesday involved “criminal behavior.”

“With regards to Focus on the Five, there’s always room for improvement,” O’Sullivan said.

When asked if these deaths signal a need to build more protected bike lanes, Lee said, “We have to prioritize where” we build them, but, “we’re willing to spend.”

The street where Miller was killed in Golden Gate Park doesn’t have protected bike lanes, nor does it have “sharrows” to indicate a lane shared between autos and bikes, Cassidy said.

Cassidy said The City’s top elected official needs to bolster traffic safety efforts by the SFPD and SFMTA.

“Instead of transformative leadership, we have Mayor Ed Lee,” he said, “It’s unprecedented to have two fatalities in one night.”

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the SFMTA, disagreed street safety changes would’ve helped.

“The best bike infrastructure in the world would not have prevented these collisions,” he told the San Francisco Examiner.

Meanwhile, cyclists who witnessed the crash in Golden Gate Park were horrified by the scene.

SFPD Municipal Transportation Commander Robert O'Sullivan speaks during a press conference held at SFMTA Headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, June 23, 2016 after two cyclists were killed in separate hit-and-runs within hours of each other the evening of Wednesday, June 22. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SFPD Municipal Transportation Commander Robert O’Sullivan speaks during a press conference held at SFMTA Headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, June 23, 2016 after two cyclists were killed in separate hit-and-runs within hours of each other the evening of Wednesday, June 22. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Timmory Johnson was riding a bicycle in the park with her boyfriend Wednesday evening when she heard the impact of the crash and saw the driver flee the scene.

The windshield of the car was “completely” caved in, Johnson said.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s horrible to see somebody get hurt like that in front of you, and horrible to see somebody take off and not take responsibility or help.”

While the suspect in the SoMa crash was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter, the driver of the Golden Gate Park crash remained at large Thursday.

The Honda from that crash was later recovered near the Angler’s Lodge, but the driver had fled the scene apparently on foot.

O’Sullivan implored the driver to surrender to authorities at Thursday’s news conference, and urged the public to come forward with information.

“No tip is too small,” O’Sullivan said.

The SFPD’s anonymous tip line is 415-575-4444.

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  • Unfortunately given the risks, punctuated by the death of a friends brother hit by racing motorcycles a few years back, we have given up cycling completely. In fact even dog walking in the East Bay Hills is dangerous given the cocooned high-speed driving going on up here. The “cars” have won. We still stick to low risk activities like downhill skiing or parachuting.

  • sffoghorn

    Why has the SFBC not made a play for a Police Commission appointment who could rewrite departmental policy and general orders to get the cops to give a damn about cyclists and peds before the injuries and deaths?

  • For once I agree with Ed Reiskin. No “infrastructure” can protect us from motorists running red lights. It’s crude opportunism by the Bicycle Coalition to try to use these accidents to push its agenda.

  • GStorm

    They have the car but no info on the driver? Something is missing in the article.

  • sfparkripoff

    Two bicyclists were killed because of hit-and-run crashes. Under California law, A driver who leaves the scene of an accident is already subject to charges
    such as “felony hit and run” so someone please tell me how “Vision Zero
    initiative” is going to stop ANYONE from leaving the scene of an

    Shall we also charge the drivers with Felony Vision Zero? The goal of Vision Zero is to bring society to a virtual stop. What I fail to see is how that’s a positive for anyone. Vision Zero ignores the reality of how this city runs and attempts to force residents into a “bicycling utopia” that does not exist.

    We do not live in utopia and the city cannot legislate a “Vision Zero” future. Society moves because of the automobile. It has for over 100 years. And no matter how much the ‘bicycle advocates” might like that to change, it won’t.

    No wishing and hoping from City Hall will change that. And try as they might,
    “Bike advocates reeling from cyclist deaths” won’t change it either.

  • playerzero

    “Society moves because of the automobile. It has for over 100 years.” Wow, don’t get out of the US much i take it.

  • Claire Fox Hofbauer

    @ Rob –

    The definition of infrastructure is: the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, and power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.

    I don’t agree that the coalition’s statements were disrespectful, crude or opportunistic. These accidents are exactly when the coalition should speak up and, using your words, “push their agenda”. Said agenda is to enhance the safety of cyclists, which requires changes to infrastructure in every case – all initiatives to keep cyclists separated from drivers, make drivers aware of a cyclist’s right to use part or all of a lane, and to simply to improve the movement of traffic, improve the visibility of traffic to cyclists, etc. all have resulted from changes to infrastructure. Changing the infrastructure of traffic movement can spread the burden of cyclist/motorist safety evenly on everyone, and it should constantly be improved because drivers and cyclists cannot be aware of everything around them all the time and both are subject to the laws of physics.

    There is always more that can be done and creative ways to achieve those goals. For example, simply delaying the time between when a light turns red and when the cross traffic light turns green. I have noticed a big improvement at intersections where this has been implemented – such as on Broadway and Polk. Even when the light runners speed through, cross traffic is still stopped and first pedestrians, then motorists gradually begin the flow of traffic into the intersection. The change in infrastructure is merely a few seconds of traffic pause, and those few seconds could have saved that girl’s life.

    Other more tangible examples include physical markers between a bike lane and the street, such as the white sticks along the wiggle as it leads into Golden Gate Park, and the same sticks that are placed on the northbound side of Lincoln Avenue under the overpass near Crissy field. Physical separation using cheap materials serves to protect cyclists from motorist driving unsafely or distractedly because the driver sees the physical sticks and naturally avoids them. I believe that there should be more small cones/sticks placed around the city so that it is difficult for commercial and non-commercial motorists to double park in the bike lane as it would lower the incidence of cyclists being forced to merge into high-traffic areas where the motorists expect them to be in the separate bike lane (like on Market street and along the Embarcadero).

    Another helpful mechanism would be installing curved mirrors on blind corners of a winding road or in places like Golden Gate park where there are so many different kinds of traffic coming from different directions at once. Curved mirrors help drivers and cyclists know when it is safe to pass or turn and helps all pedestrians/cyclists/motorists become aware of each other’s movements. Improved street lighting would reflect off of a car’s paint at night and make the car visible even if it didn’t have it’s lights turned on.

    In sum, all these suggested changes in infrastructure can save lives and can protect us from motorists running red lights. To say no infrastructure can protect us from distracted/unsafe driving is untrue. Infrastructure can help cyclists protect themselves from those drivers. And in so far as infrastructure can be changed in that way, it should be.

  • sfparkripoff

    The “bicycle advocates” lobbied to close Market Street to cars and within weeks of the car ban cyclists were getting into collisions with Muni buses and pedestrians. Notice how the “advocates” NEVER say a word and Muni kills someone? No because they would then be biting the hand that feeds them.

    The “bicycle advocates” pick and choose what they support based on their own self interest. Look no further than the former head of the Bicycle Coalition who lobbied for the city to implement Vision Zero in spite of knowing NOTHING about the program. She then takes a 9 month sabbatical to Sweden to learn how the program works and then returns to SF and is hired by the city to implement it here. Some people might call that a conflict of interest but in San Francisco it’s called pay to play politics! Vision Zero has yielded zero tangible results and no one in City Hall or the SFMTA has been held accountable.

    At the end of the day Vision Zero has not made a dent in traffic collisions or deaths obu you can bet the “advocates” will continue to cash their SFMTA funded “advocacy” checks in the pursuit of their “vision zero” utopia.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    A driver speeding through a red light killed a person because he, like so many other drivers in this city, believe that traffic laws don’t apply to them. For months the SFPD squandered its enforcement on crackdowns against bicyclists for failing to put their foot on the ground at every 4 way stop sign throughout the Wiggle, and by doing so they neglected to focus on the five violations that were mandated as the highest priority by our elected leaders. If Farrukh Mushtaq received citations every time he drove dangerously, Katherine would probably be alive today.

    The weak and ineffective bicycle infrastructure along JFK in Golden Gate Park inexplicably ends east of where Heather was killed. If there was a protected bike lane throughout Golden Gate Park that physically separated cars from vehicles, Heather would absolutely be alive today.

    Today’s tragedies were not accidents. They were deliberate decisions to prioritize the convenience of people driving their cars over the lives and safety of people riding their bicycles. Until we make our streets safer by enforcing traffic laws and building protected bike lanes, drivers will continue to have their convenience subsidized by blood of others.

  • Tyler Ingolia

    While bicycling on JFK Dr. in G.G. park to a friends Memorial in the AIDS Grove, I was recently nearly killed 3 times on a Sunday afternoon. All within a 15 minute period of time, by heinously, un-urbane, motorists. It is appalling. People are so out of it & unaware. It is seriously an this dangerous on any street in S.F. at any time. No one knows how to drive/ rides defensively here, incl. most other people on bikes. So oblivious, floating around here like no one exists except them & their damn mobile “Hall of Mirrors/ looking Glass” device-“reality.” Many of us who ride a bike carry heavy u-locks/ chains, etc. to lock-up. I and many others, will not hesitate to use these defensively when threatened with death by cars turning left on to me, edging people on bikes out of a lane, of a lane, laissez faire pedestrians bumbling into the streets without looking either way @ any given moment. It is as if they have some undiagnosed, tragic, retardation problem of all senses. Nouveaux San Francisco denizens have their heads up their hyper-privillaged little tech-bubble asses hermetically, self-absorbed & addicted to their omnipotent, entitled, impervious reality. They cannot conceive of being self-protective enough to: “STOP LOOK AND LISTEN, BEFORE YOU CROSS THE STREET.”