San Francisco is a strange place- a liberal city that tries reeeeeeeaaaaalllly hard to not show its conservative underbelly. However, this is a city that was founded by two institutions, the Catholic church and the military. While time has brought us so many of the things by which our City by the Bay is now known, our underpinnings are still quite authoritarian. One of the areas where this dichotomy can be easily seen is in the relationship between the San Francisco Police Department and the bicycle riders of the City.
SFPD has a long history of difficulty with "fringe" groups, be they hippies or gays or protesters against the 1980's war in Nicaragua or, currently, bicyclists. I frequently think it must be difficult to be an authority figure in a city that is not known for its respect of authority, but I have also thought that these are issues that both sides have contributed to equally. With the newish Chief of Police, Chief Gascón, talking about "cracking down" on Critical Mass (I wonder if he knows the history of the protest and how ineffective it has been to try and stop it), many cyclists here have had further cause to feel that the SFPD has no desire to understand our needs and challenges.
Now we have a film of the Chief out on a ride with the Editor of SF Streetsblog, Bryan Goebel and Andy Thornley, Assistant Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. I am hoping this means that Chief Gascón is starting to understand that the issue in SF is not that cyclists are outlaws, but that the situation that stands in SF, and has for over 20 years, is one where cyclists feel little allegiance to the law because we have been shown repeatedly that the law of SF has shown little allegiance to us. Hopefully, this ride is a beginning of a discussion that does not rely on the assumption that there is no way to make cycling, and protection of cyclists, a normal and safe reality in San Francisco.