A San Francisco bicyclist who was killed in a crash with a MUNI bus earlier this month has been recently identified by the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office (information on the name and identification of this man can be found here). First, I want to extend my condolences to the family of this stricken cyclist and say that I am not only saddened but also a bit outraged that this needless tragedy has occurred.
“It’s a tragic situation, someone did die at the scene today” said Paul Rose, spokesman for SF MUNI. I am sorry, but that statement does not include any acceptance of responsibility by the MUNI, or by the City in any way.
According to the City of San Francisco police, who share investigation for this collision with the MUNI’s own investigators, the bicycle rider killed was not in either of the two marked bike lanes, but was instead riding in the middle of Market Street between two MUNI buses. Along this specific section of Market Street there are actually two lanes with “share-ows” indicating that cars buses and bikes are all welcome to travel together, but in this case the cyclist chose to ride in neither, taking the more dangerous approach of riding alongside the buses. Many cyclists choose this route because the bike lanes run along the side of the road where people are attempting to park, cross the street, and get in and out of their cars. Cyclists are actually encouraged to ride wide and to not get “doored” by riding too close to the parked and parking vehicles. And the sharrows run right in the same path as the MUNI buses, and bicyclists are wise not to trust the MUNI drivers too much.
The MUNI public relations man said “It’s never safe to ride along the trackway between two vehicles”, continuing to describe the cyclist as “stuck” between the two buses, falling from his bike when his wheel became stuck in the track.
“My understanding from the investigation is that the bike wheel was caught in the center trackway and he fell under the MUNI vehicle”. According to the MUNI, this death is all the bicyclist’s fault. This may not be the whole truth.
Rose added that “…If you do that you better know where the buses are, where they’re turning, and where they’re going…plus traffic is ahead and behind. You’ve got to be aware at all times in every direction.” Well, shouldn’t the MUNI drivers also be aware of bicycles on the most popular bicycle street in the whole City?
Cyclists who stopped were saddened at the events, but none seemed too surprised…
“Market Street is very dangerous, and it’s sad to see a biker, especially since just last week, I also fell on Market Street” – Cleofe Morales, a fellow cyclist.
“Bicyclists are supposed to travel in the bike lane…we have video from the coaches and from businesses since it’s an extremely busy area, and we’ll look at the witness statements, videos, and talk to anyone who was on the bus” – SFPD Officer Grace Gatpandan, commenting on the situation.
As a cyclist and a San Francisco bicycle lawyer myself, I know the dangers of riding in the City, and as a bicycle accident attorney, I know just how many of these dangerous and sometimes deadly collisions happen every year, if not almost every day. Just last year I went to trial for a man named Roy Brubaker who also was riding his bicycle West on Market in the sharrow lane, when he was forced out of the lane by a MUNI driver, who claimed not to have ever seen Roy riding along-side the bus or in front of the bus. When Roy was forced over to the center lane, where the MUNI tracks are, his front tire got stuck in the track and Roy fell under the left rear wheel of the bus. The bus ran over and broke Roy’s leg and he needed surgery and will always suffer from leg pain and disability. When we took the statement of the MUNI driver under oath, he testified that he never drove over 5mph and that he was always within six inches to a foot from the curb, and that he NEVER SAW the bicyclist. Roy’s blood stain from his compound fracture was right on the “sharrow” stencil, right where Roy was supposed to be. The multiple videos that are supposed to be on every MUNI bus miraculously disappeared, as is so often the case when the video is likely to show the MUNI driver’s fault. And the SFPD did not gather a single eye witness, not one, despite the fact that the bus was full of passengers at the time of the collision. The City denied having any video at all pertaining to this crash. Luckily, we had already obtained the video from the bus following the one that ran over Roy. And that bus video showed the MUNI driver going about 20mph and traveling many feet from the curb and right over the sharrow lane. The similarities are eerie. The most similar part of this story this month is that the rider who was killed lost control on the tracks and then fell under the wheels of the bus. That is what happened to Roy, and luckily he was able to tell us how he was forced onto the tracks and then fell. So, I am very curious to learn what if any video will be produced by the MUNI or if it will be “lost”. I am also very curious to learn if this time the MUNI or the SFPD will find any witnesses. A friend of mine also has a case where the MUNI bus made a sudden stop when another bicyclist fell on the track and rolled in front of the bus. So now, I know of three accidents where people have been hurt or killed when the track has caused them to lose control and where they have fallen under or in front of a bus. What is the common denominator here? The TRACKS.
We know that the City cannot just up and move tracks and change a multi-billion dollar system on Market Street. But why is the City designating this street as an official approved bicycle pathway? Shouldn’t cyclists be directed to Mission Street or somewhere they will not encounter tracks running in the same direction as the roadway? We all know that no bicyclist can safely cross tracks that are parallel to his or her direction of travel. If the angle is too oblique, the tracks pose a terrible danger, and the City must know this. Market Street is a mess for bicyclists and the City needs to improve its infrastructure to more safely handle the high numbers of riders who are encouraged to ride here. I am no Civil Engineer but I can recognize a dangerous street when I see one.
The family of this rider who has been killed should contact an attorney who knows about bicycle accidents and also about dangerous conditions of public property.
Claude A. Wyle is a partner of Choulos Choulos, and Wyle, a San Francisco based law firm dedicated to representing clients who have been injured by the wrongful conduct of individuals, corporations, public entities, and businesses. Mr. Wyle also frequently sits as a Judge Pro Tem for the city and county of San Francisco.