Keeping an eye on the streets

Crosswalk, schmosswalk

I’ve become more interested in traffic the more I ride my bike. As a pedestrian the only thing I really cared about was how many cars were inching into the crosswalk. Too many, is the consistent answer. I really resent this, given that even on the day after Thanksgiving I was 30-40 times lighter than a compact car, and I am soft and squishy rather than protected by a steel exoskeleton. Would it kill you to leave me some space to cross the street when the walking man says go? By comparison, riding the bike feels at least as safe and much faster.

As an occasional driver, I primarily notice traffic; it’s always brutal. My mom, who lives in a much smaller town, won’t drive in the city at all, not even during hours that I consider sedate. Driving also involves looking for parking, an endeavor that typically makes me wish that traffic was still my biggest problem.

There is a bike light at this intersection, thank goodness, but I still hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns

I never noticed until fairly recently, when I started thinking about traffic laws and noticing traffic as I rode, what total irreverent scofflaws San Francisco drivers are when it comes to red lights. They’ve never put me in any danger personally (yet?), so it’s more a point of interest, but I did for a couple of days keep a running tally of road users I observed treating traffic laws as optional.


  • Cars running red lights: 2
  • Bicycles running red lights: 1 (also: no helmet, riding after dark without lights, and crossing Masonic –a street notorious for probably half the “car-hits-bicycle” incidents in the entire city–this rider is unlikely to survive the winter)
  • Bicycle riding on the sidewalk: 1 (also pulling one of the few trailers I’ve ever seen outside of Golden Gate Park with kids inside; I sympathize with the problem—the trailer won’t fit in the bike lane!—but maybe better to put those kids on the bike, take an alternate route, whatever)


  • Cars running red lights: 3
  • Bicycles running red lights: 0
  • Bicycles riding on the sidewalk: 0

Etc. While this is totally unscientific, my sense is that cyclists running red lights may not be as epidemic as advertised, although I am not exactly haunting hipster hotspots. I find it interesting that I never noticed cars running red lights as a walker and occasional driver, although I do notice it now, whatever form of transportation I’m using.

I find the San Francisco attitude toward running red lights novel, as I wasn’t counting gunning for the yellow and continuing through the intersection even after the light turned red. Short of having spikes pop up from the crosswalk when the light turns red, those seem inevitable. What I counted was stopping at a red light for a while and then, I don’t know, getting bored or something? At which point cars just headed off into the intersection, in a couple of cases into oncoming traffic. In one case the car made a left turn into cross traffic. “I’ve waited long enough, dammit!” The first time I just stared in disbelief—I was at the same light, and although I decided to wait for the green, because I am boring like that, I still caught up to this adventurous driver a block later, waiting behind someone who had apparently not yet lost patience with his own red light. After the second time I started keeping count. The other weekend while we were on our way to the North Bay, a driver started honking wildly and flipping us off as we drove through a green light, because in doing so we’d prevented him from making a left turn on the red. It’s still hard for me to think about this without breaking out into nervous laughter. Really, crazy left-turn guy? REALLY?

I’m on the road maybe an hour or two a day, yet my sense already is that traffic cameras could earn the City and County of San Francisco a non-trivial amount of cash.

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Filed under San Francisco, traffic

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