Former state Senator John Burton is known for his colorful language and his progressive leadership but when it comes to San Francisco’s consideration of a policy to allow cyclists to roll through stop signs, the former stands out.
Burton sent a recent letter to the Board of Supervisors calling progressive Supervisor John Avalos’ proposal to make cyclists rolling through stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority “about the craziest thing I ever heard of” and said it should be sent to the “legislative trash can.”
A recent police crackdown of bicyclists running stop signs in the Haight prompted Avalos to introduce legislation modeled after a 1982 law adopted in the state of Idaho that allows bicyclists to treat stops signs as yield signs.
Upon receiving Burton’s Oct. 5 letter, Avalos gave him a call last week.
“It was classic John Burton,” Avalos told the San Francisco Examiner on Monday of the conversation, “with very subjective arguments and expletive filled speech.” Avalos said that Burton called him “crazy” and “told a story about how [Burton himself] was crazy and then we talked about sitting down together for lunch.”
Avalos and Burton are willing to break bread together, despite Burton writing in the letter, “I have the greatest respect for Supervisor Avalos but I do believe he is missing the boat on this one.” He writes that, “I would think in the name of sanity and public safety for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists the supervisors would relegate this idea to the legislative trash can.”
Burton’s letter likely won’t help Avalos’ effort to secure enough votes at the Board of Supervisors to pass the law and have it withstand a veto by Mayor Ed Lee. The mayor took a pre-emptive strike at the proposal by announcing in September he would veto the law for safety reasons.
“The letter doesn’t hurt my chances as much as Ed Lee’s foretold veto,” Avalos said. “I’m still hoping to get to eight though.”
With the backing of Supervisors London Breed, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and Scott Wiener, Avalos needs two more votes to override a mayoral veto.
A debate over the proposal is expected next month at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, after the Nov. 3 election.
Avalos and his supporters argue that the law would actually make the streets safer. A bicyclist would have to yield the right-of-way to any other vehicle or pedestrian in the intersection.
Supporters point to a study found that found Boise, Idaho had much lower injury rates than comparable cities such as Sacramento and Bakersfield.
Current law, according to legislation, takes “scarce enforcement resources away from more dangerous violations,” is “contrary to the way most bicyclists and drivers currently navigate intersections.” Stop enforcement also could “discourage people from bicycling because of the added exertion required to fully stop at every stop sign,” and “can slow down traffic patterns and increase congestion.”
Perhaps Burton’s opinion is to be expected from someone who just had a highway named after him. In August, Mayor Ed Lee and others were on hand to dedicate Sloat Boulevard, from the Great Highway to just after 19th Avenue, the “John Burton Highway.”
“John Burton is our modern day St. Francis of Assisi. He is a fearless and compassionate warrior for California’s poorest, sickest and most vulnerable,” State Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma said in a statement at the time.