Welcome to a city nightmare 

One result of the recent Critical Mass bikers-vs.-van incident is indisputable: The Redwood City family that drove into San Francisco on March 30 with five kids to celebrate an 11-year-old’s birthday unwittingly rolled into an urban visitor’s nightmare.

After shopping in Japantown and enjoying the cherry blossoms, the Ferrando family was returning to the Peninsula around 9 p.m. when they reportedly found themselves surrounded by dozens of angry bicyclists at the intersection of Post and Gough streets. Bikers were riding into the van, the Ferrandos say, pounding on its windows and sides. A thrown bicycle shattered the van’s rear window, terrifying the two Ferrando children and their three invited friends.

Motorcycle police assigned to monitor the monthly Critical Mass downtown ride arrived just minutes after Susan Ferrando frantically cell-phoned 911. Bicyclists demanded that she be arrested on hit-and-run charges for allegedly knocking a rider off his bike and running over his bicycle without stopping. But according to police, the alleged victim denied being injured, refused to identify himself and pedaled away on his supposedly damaged bicycle.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s response after the story broke big was to call for San Francisco’s bicycling community to crack down on its "bad actors" that use the two-wheeled crowds of Critical Mass riders to flout traffic laws, taunt motorists and endanger pedestrians. He promised a police investigation and said any attackers found would be fully prosecuted.

We support the mayor’s view. Even though San Francisco’s "transit first" policy and its history of encouraging bicycle use is a good one, it is imperative that bicyclists behave responsibly even while making their monthly statement about the importance of sharing the roads.

Meanwhile, it is questionable how much any standard investigation will discover about such a chaotic scene as that of March 30, so all the facts might never be known. But several reasonable conclusions are worth making early.

Admittedly, Critical Mass has been comparatively tame in recent years, which might have lulled the San Francisco police into watching less alertly for potential trouble than they would have during the near-riots of the ’90s.

The Japantown confrontation was a frightening example of mob psychology. If one person in a crowd angrily bangs on a car window, then the next person somehow feels permitted to kick the side of the vehicle four times, and the person after that has no qualms about throwing a bicycle through the rear window. San Francisco is a compact city with crowded streets, and hostility between motorists and bicyclists easily escalates into a nasty turf war that harms everybody.

The out-of-town Ferrando family had no idea they were driving into the middle of Critical Mass with hundreds of bicycles. In a city that prides itself on welcoming visitors, their experience is one that should bring a sense of regret from all who love San Francisco.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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