Thursday, October 7, 2010

"I'll Never Do That Again," Bicyclist Tells SFPD After Trying to Beat Signal, Colliding with SUV Driver in NOPA

Scene of bicycle and BMW crash at Baker and Fulton streets Photo: Jignesh Desai

Trying to beat the light in the North Panhandle is obviously just as risky as many other parts of the city. Yesterday morning a bicyclist spinning southbound in the bike lane down Baker Street from McAllister thought he could clear the intersection at Fulton before the signal changed. Instead, he mis-timed his approach, entered the intersection against the light, and collided with a motorist driving a BMW on Fulton. SFPD and the Fire Department arrived soon after. According to NOPA neighbors Jignesh Desai and Leela Gill who happened on the scene independently after the crash, the cyclist appeared OK even if his bike was badly twisted.

Lt. Mark Solomon, Acting Captain of SFPD Park Station, told BIKE NOPA that the investigation of the collision was straightforward and easier than most. "The bicyclist admitted he was at fault," Solomon explained. "He told us, 'I'll never do that again.'" Solomon said he was uncertain if the cyclist was taken to the hospital. Another officer had already filed the collision report downtown.

In an earlier conversation Solomon said a different bicyclist involved in a collision at Fell and Masonic on September 21 was also found at fault. In that incident a motorist travelling southbound on Masonic entered the intersection at Fell and then stopped before the crosswalk linking the east and west ends of the Panhandle's multi-use path. Pedestrians had already entered the crosswalk with the green light and the right-of-way. Apparently, when the driver noticed a lull, she proceeded to cross the sidewalk. In those few seconds a bicyclist entered the crosswalk with the green bike light and collided with the vehicle.

Two independent witnesses, one of whom was a cyclist, gave statements during the investigation. They both stated that the motorist stopped in the intersection and proceeded when the crosswalk seemed clear. Both asserted that the cyclist was travelling at "high speed," perhaps 15 mph or more on Panhandle Path when he hit the vehicle. Solomon cited the California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21451 (b), for determining the cyclist's fault. He explained that the cyclist (or any "driver") should have yielded to the motorist who was lawfully within the crosswalk. Had the motorist tried to "beat the light" but got stuck in the intersection when pedestrians were already in the crosswalk? Solomon said the CVC considers the driver legally waiting for the crosswalk to clear. "It's looking for the lull that's important," Solomon concluded.

In the earlier report of this September collision, it appeared that the motorist may have been turning left from Fell onto Masonic against the light. The SFPD investigation found that was not the case: the motorist was travelling southbound on Masonic.

In other SFPD Park Station news:
  • Lt. Solomon confirmed that officers continue to ticket motorists for speeding on Masonic Avenue and making illegal left turns onto side streets. "Five days a week officers are out there on motorcycles, the other two days they're in cars."
  • The one-year federal allocation that financed pedestrian sting operations in the city expired September 30th.
  • Solomon will conclude his position as Acting Captain of Park Station on Sunday, October 10th. Captain Dennis O'Leary will take command of Park Station early next week.


  1. Put safety and courtesy ahead of making good time and you will have a more enjoyable ride and still make better time. (Having to apologize to the police and clean up the twisted carcass of your bike kills your average.)

  2. It seems to me in the Sept 21 incident that (CVC) 21451 (c) not (b) applies more. But it also seems that the driver entered the intersection at a vary late yellow and/or very slowly. Unfortunately, the cyclist had no common sense 1) to enter the intersection cautiously and 2) ride 15 mph on a multi-use path shared with pedestrians, children, animals and other riders.

    Both incidents prove at least three things: 1) speed can kill, 2) many cyclists habitual ride fast whether or not they are in a hurry, and 3) too many cyclists demand right-of-way under harmful or lethal consequences.

  3. Both these incidents highlight that accidents are not always the fault of the motorist. Having lived in NoPa for the past 10 years, I have observed many aggressive cyclists and it would be nice to have speed limits enforced for cyclists on the shared pedestrian and bike paths along the Panhandle.

  4. Joey: I'm concerned about cyclists who assume that right-of-way will keep them safe in crossing streets (and especially that the bike light at Fell and Masonic will be observed by motorists). Also concerned that some bike too fast to make needed last-minute adjustments to protect themselves and others.

    VillageMom: Agreed that safer use of the multi-use path in the Panhandle is definitely needed, but determining a cyclist speed limit in mph for the path would be difficult. In the near term, cyclists need to share safely (and walkers need to allow space for cyclists to pass safely). In the long-term, a separated bicycle track on Fell Street would leave the Panhandle to strollers and casual bikers.

  5. The next stop for the ghost bike is 6th Avenue.