When Chris Delucchi flipped over his bike's handlebars and crashed on Market Street after a taxicab hit him last month, he said he was heartened by how quickly police responded. However, he said his outlook changed when he realized the officer did not take the collision seriously enough to fill out an incident report. Delucchi said the officer told him he had to be injured enough to go to the hospital, or there had to be $500 worth of damage to warrant a report. "I was like, 'Officer, he broke the law, he hit me!' " said Delucchi, who has commuted by wheels into the city for 20 years. "If you don't make a report, it won't even be written down anywhere. It won't be official. I wouldn't even be a statistic."
As the number of bicyclists in the city continues to climb, while more people drive, fatal confrontations between cars and bikes are becoming more frequent. One example: the November killing of bicyclist Chris Robertson, apparently by an enraged truck driver. Accordingly, the city's policies toward cyclists involved in collisions with motorists are coming under more scrutiny.
Delucchi was among about 50 bicyclists who on Monday gathered at City Hall for a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition rally to demand a stop to what they say is law enforcement's cavalier treatment of bicyclists -- from the not taking of incident reports by police to not prosecuting irresponsible drivers by the district attorney. The coalition also released Monday a study that seems to show that in almost one-third of collisions where a cyclist is hurt, police officers did not file incident reports -- apparently in violation of department policy. A bulletin issued last March by Chief of Police Fred Lau regarding traffic accidents or incidents involving bikes says that police are required to file a report whenever anyone involved is injured or complains of pain, regardless of the severity of the injury.
"In a systematic way, we're underreporting the number of bike cases out there," said Leah Shahum, the coalition's program director. "And we think our decision makers need accurate information." The police department maintains that its officers are making proper reports. "I don't believe that it's a wholesale problem," said Sgt. Ray Shine, who works in the police department's traffic company, of the coalition's claim. "And I don't think that their data is reliable." The coalition based its study on 14 months' worth of phone calls to its Bicyclists' Rights Hotline.
Willing to work together
Shine said he is ready to work with the coalition and that the department has agreed to make and show a training video to officers on how to handle bicycle collisions. Shahum said the video is a good first step, but urges the police department to collect more comprehensive data on bicycle incidents, and for the Board of Supervisors to hold hearings on the department's progress in formulating more sophisticated bicycle policies -- something it mandated in 1999 but never pursued. Delucchi said the city and public need to shift their car-centric mental gears in making policy about bicyclists. "See, in accidents between cars and cars, the cars get hurt," he said. "In accidents between cars and bicyclists and pedestrians, we're the ones who get crushed. When the officer didn't want to write the report for me, it felt like it just didn't count."
E-mail Lucia Hwang at firstname.lastname@example.org
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