Park Station captain ends controversial bicycle crackdown

The San Francisco Police Department crackdown on stop-sign-slipping cyclists drew the ire of thousands of gearheads and cheers from thousands of motorists.

Now that crackdown is over, said SFPD Capt. John Sanford at a Park Station community meeting Tuesday night.

“It’s finished for now,” Sanford told the Examiner. “We can revisit it at any time, but we’re going to go back to trying to collaborate.”

In a tiny community room behind Park Station near Kezar Stadium, Capt. Sanford told a sparsely attended June neighborhood meeting that he planned strict enforcement against cyclists who were running stop signs.

That’s when the firestorm ensued.

The politically powerful San Francisco Bicycle Coalition accused Sanford of diverting resources from ticketing dangerous drivers. A citizen petition gathered more than 16,000 signatures against the crackdown. Hundreds of cyclists snarled commuter traffic in protest.

On Tuesday night, the cyclists and Sanford spoke face to face for the first time. He had to shout. The same small community room was packed.

“How can we send that message that we all must share the road, and we all must do it in a safe manner?” Sanford asked the crowd.

Nearly 100 angry cyclists stood bunched far behind the meeting room’s wide doors. Many wore neon yellow stickers, announcing, “I support SMART enforcement.” Many were vocally angry.

Sanford stood in the doorway to address those inside and out.

“Most of the motorists in this town are not the best drivers in the world,” Sanford said, which drew a cry from one cyclist.

“Then why aren’t you citing the drivers?” she shouted at Sanford.

Cyclists were ticketed heavily by Sanford’s officers last week, with at least six SFPD patrols “cracking down” on cyclists in earnest along Paige street.

A majority of the 204 traffic citations issued during Sanford’s controversial “crackdown” were to bikes running stop signs, he said.

Citizen complaints about lawbreaking cyclists spurred the crackdown. In response, his officers spent 40 days handing out brochures to cyclists running stop signs and warned them the law would soon be enforced in a big way.

SFPD Park Station Capt. John Sanford addresses a crowd of cyclists and community members Tuesday, August 11. Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/SF Examiner
SFPD Park Station Capt. John Sanford addresses a crowd of cyclists and community members Tuesday, August 11. Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/SF Examiner

“We expected to get the attention of the cyclists,” Sanford said, smiling. “I think we got the attention.”

The crowd laughed. But most of the night, folks were less than happy.

The cyclists said Sanford’s crackdown diverts officers from citing dangerous cars, part of The City’s Vision Zero goals.

Vision Zero is a Board of Supervisors-approved 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: speeding, red light running, failing to yield, unsafe turns and failing to stop at stop signs.

According to Sanford, about 26 percent of Park Station’s citations are now in those five categories, far short of its 50 percent goal.

Cyclists hotly shouted many questions at the meeting. Why did you divert resources away from Vision Zero? Why do you enforce against cyclists not putting feet down at stop signs? Don’t cars kill more people than cyclists? Why do you enforce traffic crime based on complaints, not statistics?

A small contingent of attendees against cyclists audibly groaned in unison at the questions.

Cutting through the noise of both sides, Sanford acknowledged a majority of deaths in traffic collisions are caused by motorists.

“I do not deny that. I agree with that one hundred percent,” Sanford said.

He denied that he diverted resources away from Vision Zero, and that Park Station will meet its citation goals soon.

Of complaint-based enforcement, he said, “We have an obligation to pay a level of attention to that.” He also said his officers were not instructed to ticket cyclists who don’t put their feet on the ground at a stop sign.

“If you look at our data, it shows we spend a majority of our time on motorist violations,” Sanford said. “I’m not naive.”

As the sun went down, Sanford’s patience gradually won over the crowd – and the shouting spun into constructive conversation.

Many riders encouraged Sanford to get out on a bike so he could see what they see. He said he liked the idea, and had just received a brand new helmet in the mail to do exactly that.

“I will be out there starting next week, but I haven’t rode since… I can’t even go back that far,” he said. “If any of you want to ride with me, I’m willing to do that.”

Embedded below are live tweets from the Park Station meeting.