The July version of bicyclists' "Critical Mass" ride exposed a long-time problem that SF's political glitterati have steadfastly, adamantly, religiously, unrelentingly, and without exception refused to respond to: hazards to pedestrians. At the July Critical Mass demonstration, a blind pedestrian who uses a white cane was walking along the south side of Union Square after work. This ped. was stopped, for minutes and minutes and minutes, by the circling swarm of cyclists. Here's where it gets interesting. Those who are blind or low-vision often use the sounds of passing vehicles to detect which way vehicular traffic is flowing. But, since the SFPD and the DPT traffic control officers were allowing the Critical Mass bicyclists to continuously circle through all the intersections around Union Square, without stopping for any traffic lights, there wasn't the normal and expected sounds to guide the blind pedestrian.
What to do? After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for a break in traffic--or even for some acknowledgement from the flow of bicyclists, the blind ped. took fate in hand and stepped off the curb into the crosswalk, waving the white cane as a visual cue to the oncoming cyclists.
Cyclists stopped--albeit with cursing, epithets, and angry voices. The blind ped., who DID have the legal right-of-way, was verbally assaulted by those cyclists who stopped but made sure to express their anger at being thwarted in their non-stop circuit of Union Square. Other cyclists continued to ride and maneuvered around this latter-day Moses.
Here's where it gets REALLY interesting. An able-bodied friend of the blind ped. was halfway back on the same side of the block when he noticed the patient blind ped. waiting at the corner crosswalk. The able-bodied person ran to catch up with the blind ped.
He did so, not to assist, but to be able to cross the street by using the moving gap in bike traffic created by the blind ped. After getting across, he confided he didn't feel he would have been safe trying to cross on his own but felt his blind friend created a cocoon of safety through use of the waving white cane. The blind leading the able-bodied to safety?
There's even a SECOND twist to this. When safely across, a family of tourists with a very young child asked the blind ped. what was happening, since they had never seen anything like this in their country or their travels. After being told, the family of tourists expressed concern for getting their child across safely.
?Fully able-bodied adults fear for the safety of their child when viewing the unrelenting passage of bicyclists in a Critical Mass ride? The able-bodied friend seeking the protection of the blind ped. to cross safely?
What's going on here?
Partly, it's a failure by both the SFPD officers and by DPT's parking control officers to stop traffic for peds. The blind ped. heard police whistles and later was told police were in the vicinity, watching the movement of "Critical Mass".
Yet, even when wading through the sea of cyclists while waving the white cane, no SFPD officer made any audible or physical attempt to intervene so the blind pedestrian could exercise the legal right to cross.
It's also another example of how SF hasn't followed through with installing accessible traffic signals. Accessible pedestrian signals provide audible and tactile information to help inform blind and low-vision pedestrians when it's safe to cross.
BUT, if there had been audible traffic signals at Union Square, that would have alerted both the cyclists and the police of the need to take peds. into account.
City silence on these signals allowed for an unnecessary hazard, risking injury to the disabled and to young children.
At what point does the City Attorney step in:
* to instruct SFPD and DPT about the needs to protect the rights of pedestrians during a Critical Mass ride; and, * to address the litigation liability risks to the city for failure to install accessible pedestrian signals?