Sunday, May 16, 2010

"A Clear Case of the Bicyclist At Fault": SFPD on Recent Masonic/Fell Collision

The bicyclist was riding a red Cannondale fixie. Photo: Jim Herd

The motorist was driving a Ford Focus XZW station wagon. Photo: Jim Herd

The bicyclist injured in a collision with a motorist at Fell and Masonic Streets last week was travelling against the light and without the right of way, according to a police report filed by the SFPD officer who inspected the scene and spoke with witnesses. "This was a clear case of the bicyclist at fault," Lt. Lawrence Ramlan of SFPD Park Station told BIKE NOPA in a telephone conversation early this morning.

Ramlan was not at the scene nor did he file the report, but he reviewed the account that has since been filed with the Traffic Division for possible investigation. "The bicyclist was travelling westbound on Fell Street in the left-side traffic lane," Ramlan said. "He then made an abrupt left turn from Fell onto the northbound lanes of Masonic; he didn't turn with the light." According to Ramlan, the officer who filed the report obtained testimony from a number of "uninvolved witnesses" who indicated that the collision resulted from the cyclist's turning against the light. The injured cyclist's brother who was biking nearby corroborated this account, according to Ramlan. The lieutenant did not say whether any other uninvolved witnesses reported a different set of circumstances.

During the brief conversation this morning, Lt. Ramlan added that the cyclist was also riding a fixed speed bike with limited means of braking. When BIKE NOPA inquired if use of a "fixie" was a factor in determining responsibility for a collision, Ramlan replied, "If you don't have any brakes or means of stopping, then it becomes an issue." He added, "For anyone who uses the road -- whether a motorist, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- if you don't have the means to control your speed adequately, there can be a problem."

Ramlan stated that there has not been a determination of whether the cyclist will receive a citation. "The matter is with Traffic now." Asked about the bicyclist's condition, the lieutenant said he had been unable to obtain that information. The rest of the details about the cyclist and the driver was in the police report, he added. Ramlan then ended the conversation, explaining that officers at the station were very busy that morning with the Bay to Breakers race about to begin. An earlier report in the San Francisco Examiner indicated that the bicyclist was in his early twenties, that his injuries were minor, and that the driver stopped at the scene. Where the collision occurred and when in the signal period it happened are factors presumably included in the police report that has yet to be released to the public. The first report of Friday's collision appeared in the blog San Francisco Citizen.

When BIKE NOPA tracked the outcome of a February 14th collision involving a taxi driver and a bicyclist at Fell and Masonic, we found what appeared to be a lack of clarity and transparency in the handling of non-fatal traffic collisions. The officer at the scene of that incident told BIKE NOPA that his job was to collect the facts, including witnesses' testimony, but not to recommend whether a citation should be issued to either party. His responsibility he said was to file the incident report with the Traffic Division for investigation and determination about citations. Yet an officer at Traffic explained that the unit is so overwhelmed with the daily number of traffic incidents and reports, that they usually do not investigate a case or issue a citation unless the reporting officer suggests it. If that's the rule-of-thumb, then the reporting officer who believes it is not his duty to recommend a citation guarantees that neither a citation or further investigation will occur. In the February 14th case the officer at the scene determined there were conflicting statements among the witnesses, although an uninvolved witness clearly stated that the bicyclist was using the crosswalk during the green right-of-way period. No citation was issued.

*The earlier BIKE NOPA story about this collision, filed May 14th, stated in its sub- headline that the driver hit the cyclist. A more accurate reflection of events and an account more in line with the circumstances stated today by Lt. Ramlan indicate a better choice would have been to have used only the headline: "Another collision at Fell and Masonic."


  1. "21201. (a) No person shall operate a bicycle on a roadway unless it is equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement."

    The officer's assessment that a lack of a hand-operated brake lever is the same as 'don't have any brakes' is inaccurate.

    And, it doesn't sound like braking or speed control had any part in the incident-- sounds like the guy turned without signaling, against the flow of traffic; so why are we talking about brakes? It'd be like saying 'well, clearly that car driver had a V8 engine and it was the sporty model...'

  2. i don't get this. what does 'onto the northbound lanes of Masonic' mean?

    i mean, i do that a lot -- not at that intersection -- but i do it on one way streets, and i do it on two ways when i'm trying to cut corners, etc., but it's almost completely inconceivable that a head-on collision could occur because the cyclist has great vision at that point.

    i can only imagine that the officer's statements are misleading.

    sooo....what actually happened?

  3. mcas and peter: The descriptions used by the officer were not completely clear to me either. He did not have the report with him and said he had no time to get it due to prep for Bay to Breakers. He emphasized "abrupt left hand turn". He didn't say the cyclist cut across the north bound lane; he said "onto" which is hard to imagine. I will try to get a copy of the police report.

  4. If the cyclist ran the light it's possible that he simply never made it past the NB lane.

  5. So it looks like a person on the road made a stupid move. Bikes/cars, brakes/no-brakes does not matter. The drivers/riders/MUNI drivers of this city constantly display a blatant disregard for the traffic laws and signals. It doesn't matter what we do. People don't even stop at red lights for f##k's sake, so you can forget about turn signals! I've seen people run red lights right in front of cops with no consequense. This city is ruined by the amount of distracted, entitled, uncoordinated and impatient motorists of all types. This is just another instance of the way people use the streets in SF. Nothing more, nothing less. The real solution is to have a massive crackdown on traffic infractions, particularly the running of red lights.