It would seem that I am a police magnet, which is kind of strange as I left my wild days behind a while ago. The only other explanation would be that upright bicycles ridden by women in skirts are some kind of threat that needs to be addressed in the penal code.
This is a picture of San Jose Ave, the section known as the Bernal Cut. It is to friendly, usable roadway what Wild Irish Rose is to a fine Bordeaux- both will get you there, but one will make you hurt way more than the other. The problem is that despite the fact that the entrance to this bicycle lane forces riders to tangle with 50 MPH traffic exiting a freeway while trying to turn right, it is the only topographically reasonable way to get from my home to any part of the Mission or Downtown. The entrance to this street looks a lot like a freeway on-ramp, and is, in fact, right next to one. At the beginning of the ramp is a large "Bicyclists Allowed Use Of Full Lane" sign, complete with the California code number that makes this law.
Once I got used to using this route it wasn't a big deal to go this way. It requires being very alert and assertive, but over time drivers have become accustomed to seeing cyclists in this area and know to look out for us. There is also quite a lot of space to move around in before hitting the marked bicycle lane so it is not hard to find your spot to get through. I ride this route many, many times a week and, sometimes, several times a day. It is not unusual for me to have one or more kids with me.
Today, as with most days, I jumped on the Bat with Declan on the back, and headed to San Jose Ave. on my way to a meeting at City Hall (ironically, a meeting about traffic reduction and calming in this area). As soon as I hit the overpass, just after passing the big yellow advisory sign giving me the lane (one of two lanes, BTW), I found myself being shadowed by an SFPD cruiser with an officer yelling at me through the passenger window (as I was doing 20 MPH down a rather steep hill). The "conversation" went like this-
Officer- (in incredulous and annoyed voice) Hey! Do you know where you are going?
Me- Yes. I do.
O- You can't be here!
Me- Yes I can.
O- This is a highway! You can't be here!
Me- No it isn't. This is San Jose Ave. and I can ride here whenever I want.
O- Pull over!
I pull over, right at the busiest and most dangerous part of the avenue, before the bicycle lane begins and right where the worst speeders drive by. Not by choice. This is where I am forced to pull over. I say nothing about this because it is pointless and I know I am going to be fine.
O- You can't be here. This is considered a highway.
Me- No. It is San Jose Ave. and I can be here. The sign at the entrance lets you know that I get the full lane while I am here.
O- You can't ride here.
Me- Yes I can, and I do everyday along with a couple of hundred other people who use this official bicycle route.
O- I am just going to have to call this in and see.
Me- You have to call to find out that this is a city street and that I am allowed by law to ride here?
O- I am just concerned about your son's safety.
Me- If you are not used to driving through here I am sure seeing me here is a little unnerving.
O- Yes. It is!
Me- I can understand that, but I ride through here with my children almost everyday. It is the recognized bicycle route through this area as you can see by the bicycle lane and signage at the beginning of the ramp.
O- Just because you do it everyday doesn't make it right.
Me-I can understand why you feel that way, but the fact is I have the right to be here and am no less safe here than most parts of the City. I appreciate your concern, but we are fine as long as people like yourself keep your eyes open and allow us our right of way.
O- (starting to calm down)- OK. I just don't want you to get hurt.
Me- I appreciate that. We will be fine. Thank you for your concern.
With that, he got back in his cruiser and left me to my own devices. Part of me wanted to be annoyed with him. I hate it when police officers make crap up to get you to do something assuming you do not know your rights. I also really hate it when others try to protect my children from me, mostly because they give the most patently ridiculous reasons for doing so. The times that I have complained about the dangerous drivers on this route, I have been told by the SFPD that "you shouldn't be there anyway. It is way too dangerous and there is nothing we can do about it". In spite of these things, this encounter just left me sad.
Why do so many of the encounters that we have with police officers when we are riding have to be like this? Officers who either do not know the law or don't care and make things up. Officers who endanger my safety by driving too close to me while yelling out windows about how dangerous my riding is ( which in its self is pretty funny as I am a Grandma rider). Officers that threaten me and call me names they would never think of if I were not on a bicycle. Do they take a special class in this? When will it ever get better?
We can put in all the lanes and signs we want, but until we get our police departments better training in bicyclists and bicycle law we will all end up having these silly disruptions in our everyday transit. Until these departments are willing to learn the lessons (and there is a fair amount of evidence out there that this is not the case in departments all across the country), we will have to endure pointless lectures, unfair moving violations and discrimination in accidents that injure us .
At least I didn't get a stupid ticket for doing nothing wrong. For that I am grateful.