Cyclist maced by motorist, amid rising road tensions

A cyclist was maced by a motorist in Mission Bay, Tuesday, according to the San Francisco police.

The alleged attack comes amid rising tensions between cyclists and motorists in San Francisco. Cyclists say this tension has increased especially as the public debated the recently passed Bike Yield Law, at the Board of Supervisors.

The bicyclist in question, Danica Ann Helb, was cycling in a shared car-bicycle lane on 16th street near Mississippi Street when a black Cadillac passed her by “unsafely,” leaving “only inches” between them, according to her statement to police.

Helb said she pulled up to the Cadillac’s window at a red light, “calmly,” to tell the driver to be more careful when passing cyclists.

The driver yelled at her to “go away,” according to the statement.

“She rolled down the window and took out a mace/pepper spray canister and told me ‘I was going to get it’,” Helb wrote in her statement. The driver yelled, and Helb yelled back, she said.

Helb then backed up 6 feet from the window to snap a photo of the driver’s license place. As she took the photo, the driver allegedly raised the canister and maced her.

The attack is being investigated as a battery, according to San Francisco Police Department spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi. The driver may also be charged with violating California’s 3-foot-law, which requires drivers give sufficient space to cyclists when passing them.

“She did the best thing,” Manfredi said, when Helb identified witnesses who may back up her claims, and took photos of the Cadillac’s license plate.

Still, Manfredi said, “I don’t recommend knocking on a window to advise a driver…you never know when the driver will interpret your actions as violent, even if you just want to say ‘hey’, you’re in violation.’”

Even from 6 feet away, “My throat and eyes were mildly burning for a couple hours,” Helb told the Examiner. “It was not bad at all, but I was mostly shaken up. I’m still a little shaken up.

She told the Examiner she’s been hit by a car at least once in the last year, and had “similar run-ins.”

Helb, 35, is a scientist at University of California San Francisco, and is part of its Malaria Elimination Initiative team, a worldwide effort to eradicate the disease. A San Francisco resident since 2009, she regularly commutes by bike to Mission Bay.

She said she’s seen relations between cyclists and motorists “getting worse” as more San Franciscans commute by bicycle.

“When you drive, you operate a weapon,” she said, “as a cyclist, we’re completely unprotected, and vulnerable on the road.”

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was critical of the SFPD’s efforts, alleging a lack of follow-through after a cyclist, Maxwell Wallace, was allegedly run down by a motorist who carried him on the car’s hood, last September.

“The SFPD’s leadership can find hundreds of officer hours for cracking down on people biking,” said Chris Cassidy, a bike coalition spokesman, “however, they can’t find the time to investigate allegations of assaults against SF Bicycle Coalition members like Danica Helb and Maxwell Wallace.”

Manfredi said an SFPD investigator will soon follow up with the driver.

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