Publisher’s View – Driving Rules

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Anyone who has spent anytime walking, bicycling, or driving in San Francisco lately knows that it’s a chaotic mess out there.  Vehicles – Ubers; Lyfts – pullover abruptly to disgorge passengers, eyes leashed to their Smart Phones, in oblivious selfy-ness, appearing to believe that the zombie-apocalypse has left them alone in the world, except for the bartender at their favorite mixed drink emporium at which they’ve been delivered.  Luxury buses – Chariots; Bauer – careen down two-lane streets as if they own both of them, intermittently stopping mid-road like mules insisting on their mandatory 15-minute carrot break.  Regular folk treat stop signs as suggestions, and left turn onto oncoming traffic in an unexpected game of chicken.  Bikes buzz along like mosquitos, everywhere at once.

No doubt today’s traffic travesty is a commentary on the state of politics:  abrupt, self-absorbed, in a hurry to a future which must – by vaunt of the intensity with which we travel to it – be way better than the present. 

Still, there are rules, however loosely honored or enforced, some of which deserve a redo, all of which merit a mini-refresher course.

It’s against local laws to “double-park.”  However, under state code commercial vehicles can do the double when “reasonably necessary to accomplish the loading or unloading of merchandise or passengers.” While this loophole doesn’t apply on San Francisco thoroughfares with major transit lines – such as Mission Street – the rubber hits the road on double-parking when it comes to the definition of “commercial” and “reasonably necessary.”  According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), “Any passenger vehicle used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation, or profit is a commercial vehicle.”  That, in turn, requires the vehicle be registered commercially.  Taxis definitely do so; Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services, not so much.  Which is to say, an Uber that isn’t registered commercially cannot legally double-park, ever.

Then there’s “reasonable.” Lyfts and the like regularly disgorge their passengers in the middle of the street, when just a few yards away the driver could’ve reasonably pulled closer to the curb.  The solution to this behavior might be the very technology that gave us ride sharing:  authorities should enthusiastically enforce the commercial vehicle requirement, track the spatial location of these transport pods, and automatically fine them when they unreasonably double-park.

Making a left turn in San Francisco can feel like a visit to the dentist:  necessary but sometimes painful.  Left turners are supposed to yield to oncoming traffic, as well as those turning right.  Traffic flows best when the lefty carefully creeps out to the middle of the intersection, enabling those behind to continue straight, if that’s what they want to do, while increasing the chances that other left turners will make it through a greenlight.  Unfortunately, this isn’t what the DMV stipulates.  Instead, that venerable institution instructs that to make a left turn one should “…stop behind the limit line. Look left, then right, then left again, and make the turn when it is safe.”  This approach may work on a rural road, but in the City its practice unnecessarily slows circulation, and should be replaced with the careful-creeping method, which those of us in our 50s were taught.

At a four-way stop, if two vehicles reach the intersection simultaneously, the vehicle on the left yields to the one on the right.  Vehicles should concede to traffic and pedestrians already in or just entering an intersection, as well as to a vehicle or bicycle that arrives first.  While a U-Turn in the middle of the street can be forgiven in no traffic conditions to grab a parking space, pretty much anywhere else in San Francisco it’s DMV-forbidden.  Go around the block.

When a car pulls out of a parking space, while all vehicles are responsible for their actions, the driver in the traffic lane has the right of way. The de-parker is responsible for waiting until it’s safe to hit the road.

Bicycle lanes, like the prominent ones on Valencia Street, while sometimes narrow, should be treated similarly to other lanes.  For instance, if a vehicle wants to turn right when there’s a bike lane on the right side of the road, it should signal right to change lanes, look to ensure there are no bicyclists in the lane, then move into the lane anywhere on the turn block. The vehicle will block the bike lane, frustrating cyclists, perhaps, but legally doing so.   

And, by the way, no tweeting in traffic!