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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Board of Supervisors Passes Bike Yield Law, But it Fails Anyway

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:56 AM

click to enlarge MARK NYE/FLICKR
  • Mark Nye/Flickr

Nothing on two wheels in San Francisco is fast enough to escape controversy.

Odd as it sounds, city government ended up divided on ideological grounds Tuesday over the question of whether or not bikes should have to heed stop signs.

Supervisor John Avalos’ bill granting cyclists leeway to ignore stop signs under some circumstances garnered just enough votes to pass but not yet enough to overcome a promised mayoral veto. In the midst of the debate, the 11 supervisors managed to field roughly 13 or 14 distinct arguments on the topic.

The proposal would allow cyclists to roll through stops, provided the cyclists are traveling less than 6 miles an hour, there are no pedestrians within 6 feet, and they at least slow down a bit. City Hall has taken to calling this an “Idaho Stop,” which is ironic given that the same maneuver in a car is known as a California Stop.

Surely it undermines the entire concept of a stop sign if not everybody has to stop, right?

But the argument goes (pay attention, because this is about to get highly technical) that bicycles are not as fast as cars, and stop signs are placed with car traffic in mind. Asking a cyclist to come to a complete stop as often as a driver is like asking a little league team to submit to MLB-style drug testing.

That‘s the Avalos position, anyway.

Cyclists get annoyed at the constant stops and disregard the signs anyway. When they get ticketed, it leads to angry recriminations that surely there are greater menaces to law and order that require cops’ attention?

Given all that, the proposal to let people on bikes do what they’re going to do anyway starts to make sense to some, at least in a Stockholm Syndrome kind of way. But here’s the amazing thing: The supes managed to work virtually every single possible San Francisco cause célèbre into this debate Tuesday night.

Are you passionate about climate change? Supervisor Eric Mar (voting in favor) points out that cyclists who can’t get across town on bikes are more likely to resort to burning fossil fuels.

Are you up in arms about traffic? Avalos wants you to know that the Idaho Stop is a traffic buster, noting that streets “flow better when we give cyclists special consideration.”

If you’re a gadfly for mass transit reform, Supervisor Mark Farrell (voting against) is in your corner, arguing that giving special treatment to bikes will only foment more commute chaos.

“The streets right now are the worst they’ve ever been, and until we start seriously discussing a citywide subway it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

Malia Cohen (against) worries that non-English speakers won’t get word about the new rules and will be endangered by oncoming bikes.

Katy Tang (against) worries that the board oversteps its boundaries if it starts ordering cops what to bother enforcing— and Avalos counters that it’s the cops who are abusing their power by wasting time on petty bike violations.

Safety for the disabled also came up. So did worries about dealing special favors to the bike lobby. Or are cyclists a persecuted party, at the mercy of power-mad cops, as some suggested?

The bike yield is the Rorschach blot of San Francisco politics: You can see virtually anything in it.

Unless you’re Aaron Peskin, who barely seemed to give a damn long enough to nonchalantly vote “no.“ (He previously told the Chronicle that he has bigger things on his mind.)

Keep in mind that this is the same body that only an hour before unanimously batted down a request for funds to build a new city jail. That vote involved hundreds of millions of dollars, political pressure from law enforcement, a community’s rage over police violence and institutional racism, and the combative relationship between Sacramento and City Hall’s far left. But it went down 11-0 with hardly a peep of contention.

Meanwhile, bike yields proved an intractable legal snarl, at least for this calendar year. The board will vote again on the proposal in January. Assuming it’s even possible to say anything more?

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