San Franciso: The Examiner
Local News
Stuck? Critical Mass strikes again

By Dan Evans
Of The Examiner Staff

Enraged over what they are calling the murder of cyclist Chris Robertson in November, some of the city's occasionally obstreperous bike riders have planned a double-whammy of protests today.

One, scheduled for noon outside City Hall, is well-organized. An agenda is set, speakers are planned and news releases have dutifully been faxed and e-mailed to the media. The other, coinciding with the Critical Mass ride at 6 p.m., is anything but organized.

Of course, disorganization is the point of Critical Mass, where bike messengers, cycling commuters and those who just plain don't like cars briefly take over San Francisco's streets the last Friday of each month at Justin Herman Plaza.

This makes the San Francisco Police Department nervous. Though there have been troubles in the past -- scores of bicyclists were jailed, though never convicted, for blocking traffic in 1997 -- department spokesman Dewayne Tully says no more police will be on hand than usual. But if things do get out of hand, Tully said, squads from the crime prevention and traffic divisions will be on call to sort things out.

Police are worried less about the orderly daytime protest, put on by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, if only because they know what to expect. Donning black armbands, members of the group are protesting not only the death of one of their own -- Robertson was run over and killed by trucker Rueben Espinoza last November -- but also the fact that Espinoza will be tried on relatively minor charges, not the felonies with which he was originally charged.

The San Francisco District Attorney's Office charged Espinoza with three felonies: vehicular manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and assault with intent to cause great bodily harm. But last week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Herbert Donaldson dismissed the manslaughter charge, ruling there was no evidence Espinoza was "grossly negligent." He also reduced the other charges to misdemeanors.

Leah Shahum, project director of the Bicycle Coalition, said this was the same as calling it an accident, when it was anything but. She said she hopes the injustice will raise awareness among drivers and goad politicians into making the streets safer for everyone.

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