On a rainy December 29, advocate Stacey Randecker was out riding on 7th Street just north of Townsend when she came across the fifth motorist parked in the bike lane during her half-mile ride. It was an ambulance–which was not responding to an obvious emergency–blocking a protected bike lane.
The bike lane’s plastic “protection” failed to keep this motorist out, but, when the lane is blocked, it does force cyclists to either dismount and walk around the lane-markers or risk a crash trying to ride over them. Randecker was at the end of her proverbial rope after encountering so many drivers in the bike lane, and really let the driver know it. The driver did move the ambulance, and Randecker posted video about the incident, which got picked up by right-wing media outlets.
They dubbed her an ‘entitled cyclist of San Francisco’ (for the record, a cyclist actually is entitled to use bike lanes. A motorist is not).
Randecker decided to bring the matter to the fire commission, the board that’s supposed to oversee the fire department, during public comment at its January 11 regular meeting.
Streetsblog watched the meeting. Randecker was the only person to address the commission during public comment. And she brought a perfectly legitimate complaint about 1) a city employee who put the public at risk and 2) a fire department public information officer who lied, claiming that the EMTs in question were dealing with an emergency when they were not.
In Streetsblog’s experience, to the extent that it’s possible, most city councils, county supervisors, and local commissions try to address public complaints and comments during these oversight meetings, even if it’s sometimes perfunctory. But the fire commission ignored Randecker’s testimony.
The fire commission is kind of an obscure board that doesn’t get as much attention as other governmental bodies such as the SFMTA board. That’s why Streetsblog thought it in the interest of readers–especially lawmakers–to hear about this incident, because it’s illustrative of a city department that seems to have decided that the law doesn’t apply to them.
Here is a trimmed version of Randecker’s comments to the commissioners about the incident:
I was biking to a meeting (~11:30am) when I came across SFFD ambulance 50 parked in the bike lane on 7th Street. This was the FIFTH vehicle blocking the bike lane in just FIVE minutes of riding. I was incensed at the constant obstructions and their obvious lack of concern.
Randecker gave the only public comment during the commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 11. Image from GovTV
I could not “just bike around them,” as I had the previous offenders, due to the delineators SFMTA used. Those delineators have sent people to the hospital riding over them in dry weather. No sane San Francisco bike rider would tackle them in rain, which means you must get off your bike–which we all do during an emergency, which this was not.
They could have parked in:
the empty motorcycle parking
the nearly empty Room & Board parking lot
any one of THREE main travel lanes
or on the opposite side of the street as they did after I demanded they move.
No. They chose to block the bike lane.
I filmed this encounter because I have had enough of SFFD vetoing all manner of traffic calming measures. It’s been almost nine years since this city committed to Vision Zero. The SFFD begrudgingly signed on, but their veto power shows deaths from traffic violence have RISEN by one-third since 2013. The death count is FOUR times what it should be if we were on track to eliminate traffic deaths.
The fire department uses the bogeyman of “your house burning down” as a reason to block safer streets, but structure fires are down 56 percent over the past twenty years. They used to be nearly 1/5 of emergency calls. Today they represent just six percent of calls. What portion is the response to car crashes? How much could that go down if we had safer streets?
I complain about how unsafe it is to bike our streets often. I had no reason to think this would get any attention. But it did, because @SFFD PIO Jonathan Baxter retweeted my video of the incident with this:
Their prior call was 35 minutes earlier to an address a quarter mile away and that person declined medical transport.
Jonathan Baxter could have said nothing. Instead he lied and essentially said, “we can block a bike lane for any reason. Deal with it.” He has since deleted the tweet.
This is systemic. Discredit, deny, dismiss–and we’ll park wherever we damn well please. I am thankful for our first responders. They have difficult jobs. But their job is to help people, not endanger them.
For readers unfamiliar with the history of San Francisco’s fire department and its behind-the-scenes fight against Vision Zero, check out this Q&A from 2018.