A bike rider crosses the intersection of Oak and Stanyan Street in San Francisco on Thursday, July 16, 2015. (Michael Ares/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Clamping down on cyclists: Police and bike riders clash over new enforcement near Panhandle

Park Station’s newest police captain discovered one thing on the job right away: cyclists really grind his gears.

Capt. John Sanford Jr. has only been top cop at Park Station for a few months, which is the station overseeing the Haight Ashbury, Cole Valley, and the Fillmore, among other areas.

In Park Station’s June neighborhood meeting, Sanford called out scofflaw cyclists: Red-light runners, stop sign slippers, and roll-and-go rapscallions.

Law-breaking cyclists are his newest top enforcement priority, he told the gathered neighbors. Now neighborhood groups and the politically powerful San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are red in the face at the boys in blue.

The bicycle coalition Thursday launched a signature campaign to drum up its 11,000 members to openly denounce Sanford’s tactics.

“The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is shocked to see SFPD shifting resources away from enforcing against the deadliest traffic behaviors,” the bicycle coalition said, in a statement. “SFPD has a long way to go towards fulfilling their own promises to make our roads safer for everyone who bikes, walks and drives.”

The City’s Vision Zero goal is a pledge to reduce the number of annual deaths in traffic collisions to zero by the year 2024. To that end, SFPD promised to increase enforcement against the five most dangerous and illegal behaviors by auto drivers — what SFPD calls the “Focus on Five.”

Cyclist supporters say Park Station isn’t yet ticketing drivers enough, and ticketing cyclists would distract from that goal.

According to SFPD, 28 percent of Park Station’s citations are now in “Focus on Five” categories: speeding, red light running, failing to yield, unsafe turns, and failing to stop at stop signs. This falls short of its goal of 50 percent.

“Any shift of SFPD resources away from these deadliest traffic violations,” the bicycle coalition wrote, “is dangerous and unacceptable.”

The Examiner’s media partner “Hoodline,” a neighborhood news blog, covered the first meeting where Sanford addressed why he would crack down on cyclists.

“I’m in an unmarked black police car, and they’re just zipping past,” Sanford said at the June 6 meeting, according to Hoodline. “There’s a thing called a stop sign that bicycles are supposed to stop at.”

Sanford said he’ll deploy traffic bicycle officers and marked police vehicles to ticket cyclists. Between January and May Park Station officers cited cyclists 38 times, he said.

Tim Hickey, board president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, wrote a sternly worded letter to Sanford decrying the citations.

Vision Zero is important to enforce because of “severe injury and deaths in our neighborhood,” Hickey wrote. He continued, “We are concerned that putting a focus on cyclists will detract from the ‘Focus on the Five’ goals.”

Officers at Park Station said Sanford is on vacation and unavailable for comment. Cmdr. Ann Mannix, who oversees traffic enforcement, said there are safety issues with cyclists citywide.

“I know Park has focused on cars pretty heavily, and pedestrian operations (cars failing to yield to pedestrians), and now they want to focus some enforcement on bicyclists,” she wrote to the Examiner, in an email. “We issued a mere 1 percent of all citations last year to bicyclists, five percent to pedestrians, and the rest to cars.”

Back at the panhandle on Thursday, cyclists navigated a dangerous route: rolling from the relatively traffic-less Golden Gate Park to a narrow bike lane leading to the traffic-heavy intersection of Stanyan and Oak.

One cyclist, Steve McClure, said he’s concerned to see cyclist citations rise because “you’re much more vulnerable on a bike, than in a car. The streets aren’t safe.”

A bike messenger, Santiago Campos, told the Examiner that he can’t afford a car, and ticketing cyclists is an economic issue. “You’re keeping the poor, poor,” he said.

“I’m a bike messenger,” he said, “I’m not out here making payment on my Bentley.”

After the interview, Campos took a quick look over his shoulder up Stanyan street, which was momentarily free of cars.

Seizing his moment, he zipped on his bike down Stanyan Street — right through a red light.

Below are tweets from a day of reporting near Park Station, at Golden Gate Park’s panhandle.

bicyclesbikesCommander Ann MannixCrimeSan Francisco Bicycle CoalitionSFMTASFPD

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