You can be as defensive, cautious, and protected as possible, but that won't necessarily prevent a car from hitting you while you're riding your bike. That's why the San Francisco Bike Coalition has started offering classes teaching professional drivers how to drive.
The SFBC has been developing a curriculum to help drivers better handle streets populated by an increasing numbers of cyclists. What started as a class for Muni and taxi drivers only, is now being embraced by tech-shuttle operators, including Compass Travel, the company that runs buses for pharma giant Genentech. The classes teach drivers the best techniques for sharing the road with cyclists.
All along, SFBC has been advocating for more professional driver education. So Kristin Smith, of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, was pleased when Genentech and Compass Travel had reached out to the Bike Coalition hoping to get some driving classes for their 75 bus operators who shuttle tech workers between the company's South San Francisco headquarters and the rest of the Bay Area.
These tech shuttles are large vehicles that make frequent stops in congested areas -- and that can certainly make for a dangerous situation for cyclists. These classes teach drivers how to best handle their shuttles in a bike-friendly way, including how to make a right turn across a bike lane, how to navigate the new bicycle infrastructure and merging lanes, how to pick up passengers on a street with a bike lane present, and any other bike/shuttle safety issues.
The training program fits into the Vision Zero initiative that the SFMTA and the Mayor's Office has implemented after a slew of pedestrian deaths in the last year. Most of the cycling fatalities in the last few years have involved large trucks and buses. Thus, requiring professional drivers to have a little more hands-on training on how to safely drive in congested urban streets with pedestrians and cyclists seems reasonable.
"Genentech really wanted to be proactive about making streets safer," Smith told me. Genentech, like many huge South Bay companies, is rather bike friendly and offers a bike sharing system on its campus. While the SFBC has been developing a professional driver bike safety program, this current curriculum Genentech is using is specially designed for tech shuttle operators. The course covers how to safely turn across bike lanes, load and unload on streets with a bike lane, how to use mirrors, and more generally, how to navigate narrow streets safely with other road users.
I reached out to Genentech and Compass Travel, but couldn't get comment as of press time. However, from what we're hearing, tech drivers are glad to be learning more.
And hopefully, enlightened shuttle drivers will result in safer streets.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.