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Motorist Assaults Bicycle Rider in San Francisco

1:27 PM PDT on May 9, 2022

Evan Witt was biking home from work Thursday evening around 5 p.m. The recent transplant from New York normally takes Arguello, but, still getting familiar with the city, he decided to try the bike lane on Polk.

As he rode south near Broadway, he came upon the parklet for Nick's Crispy Tacos. A black Prius was blocking the lane. "I felt uncomfortable veering into traffic to get around," Witt told Streetsblog. Instead, he tried to squeeze between the Prius and the parklet. Frustrated, he said "get out of the bike lane" as he passed the car. Witt misjudged the space slightly and his handlebars brushed against the driver's passenger-side mirror.

The driver jumped out of the car. "He ran after me screaming 'hey! hey!' and yanked me off my bike," said Witt, who was knocked down and driven into the asphalt.

Bruise from where the driver grabbed Witt. Photo by Witt.
Bruise from where the driver grabbed Witt. Photo by Witt.

He sustained scrapes and a large bruise on his knee. In addition, Witt's arm was injured (seen to the right) when he was grabbed by the driver. "I got a picture of him getting back into his car after he was done with me."

But then Witt realized a driver who was willing to get so violent might take things further and try to run him down. "It’s clear he’s willing to use his car and endanger cyclists, so I didn’t want to see what else he would do." Fortunately, the driver just drove off, leaving the scene.

Witt's knee where it struck the asphalt. Photo: Witt
Witt's knee where it struck the asphalt. Photo: Witt

Witt went home to drop off his bike--which he reports is making strange sounds now from hitting the pavement--and headed to the local police station. "The officer was attentive, asked good questions, was thorough with details," said Witt. "I felt respected in this encounter. He didn’t try to imply it was my fault as a cyclist."

Witt is currently looking for a lawyer and deciding what to do next. He recalls a similarly terrifying incident in Manhattan when he had to jump out of the way of a motorist driving down the bike lane against the flow of traffic. "I’m used to drivers putting me in danger every day with their cars, but escalating it to a direct physical attack is really frightening," he said of Thursday's incident on Polk. He stressed that "Polk deserves a real bike lane; clearly the situation is pretty unsafe, where any driver can just decide to sabotage the bike lane to go get a coffee."

Polk was supposed to have protected bike lanes along its entire length as part of a multi-million dollar upgrade done years ago, but the effort, as reported by Streetsblog at the time, was blocked by merchants and Supervisor Aaron Peskin in 2015. So many "compromises" were made to preserve street parking that nearly all of the planned protected lanes were eliminated in favor of conventional, paint-only lanes, forcing cyclists to ride between parked cars and moving traffic.

The watering down of that project has proven deadly. A woman was killed last year crossing Polk when a motorist shot around a line of stopped cars and, driving in the unprotected bike lane, ran a red light. Protected infrastructure would have made the tragedy unlikely if not impossible.

As mentioned in the tweet above, Huira Optometrists at 1418 Polk Street helped lead the effort to kill the plan for protected bike lanes on Polk. And although the blame for Thursday's assault is primarily on the driver, if a protected bike lane had been installed, the conflict would likely have never happened.

"There’s fast-moving traffic and there’s no psychical protection to the bike lanes. It doesn’t feel comfortable that you’ll have to veer into fast-moving traffic at any second. Or some ass hole will get out of their car and attack you," said Witt, still audibly shook up from the incident. "We share a city with some true maniacs who should not be allowed to drive."

Streetsblog will continue to follow this story. If you witnessed the crash or can provide further information, please email us at tips. Relevant info will be forwarded to the SFPD.

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