If a bicycle rider makes a left-hand turn from a left-turn "jog" lane, is it illegal? Of course not! Let's try a harder question: If a motorist "cuts off" a bicycle operator, without contacting the bicycle operator, but does so knowing the car was close enough to the cyclist to present a hazard, has a crime occurred? That question is more difficult, but thanks to new training being put in place by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), every officer on the force will be able to answer confidently that a crime has occurred.
These are just a couple of the scenarios discussed as part of the 10-minute roll-call training session that has been put together by the training officers at the San Francisco Police Academy. But it's not only new recruits who will get the training - every officer on the force will participate as part of the weekly roll-call sessions where officers are kept current on police policy and procedures. In addition to a scripted lesson, a five-minute training video is also in the works to show officers how bicycles function in city traffic.
This new training is the result of a stronger working relationship between the SFBC and the SFPD. In recent meetings with the police, the Bicycle Coalition has expressed concern that officers on the street don't always seem to be aware of all the rights cyclists have under California law. The SFBC relayed several unrelated reports of cyclists being told by officers to clear the lane by moving into the door zone - the most dangerous place to ride a bike! In other instances, officers responding to bike/car accidents seemed unaware that bikes had a complete right to take the lane and drivers who share the lane dangerously are guilty of an infraction - unsafe passage under CVC21750.
The laws that govern our streets are surprisingly good; read for yourself how the California Vehicle Code grants cyclists all the rights they need to claim their safe space. Go to www.dmv.ca.gov/ pubs/vctop/vc/vctoc.htm and look up CVC sections 21200 - 21211, 22517, and 21750.
The problem is that people don't always know how the laws work - and a few of those people are police officers. San Francisco streets become a mixing bowl for conflict when seasoned cyclists know that the safest place to ride a bike is often the middle of the street, and lots of motorists view this same practice as dangerous and illegal. It's essential that any officer observing this conflict, or responding to an accident caused by this conflict, know how to apply the law.
The SFPD and the SFBC have agreed that every police officer can benefit from brushing up on the law. Coalition members hope that the discussions sparked in training will give officers a more insightful look at how narrow city streets, slower traffic speeds, and continuous on-street parking often put bikes right in the middle of traffic - precisely where bikes belong under the law.