“In closing, I want to dedicate this story to my late helmet. She died in heroic fashion today as my head slammed into the tarmac … may she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live and ride on. Can I get an ‘Amen’? Amen.”
– Bicyclist Chris Bucchere, on a cycling message board the same day he struck an elderly pedestrian who later died
On March 29, 71-year-old Sutchi Hui was in a crosswalk at Market and Castro streets with his wife of 50 years when he was struck by a bicyclist name Chris Bucchere. While Bucchere sustained minor injuries, Hui later died. Just hours after the crash, Bucchere was on the Mission Cycling A.M. Riders’ Google group message board, stating, “I was already way too committed to stop. … I couldn’t see a line through the crowd and I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk … .” He closed his post by lamenting his bike helmet that, in his words, “committed the ultimate sacrifice.” Seems to me it is Hui who committed the ultimate sacrifice, but that didn’t seem to concern Bucchere as much as his helmet.
This cavalier attitude infuriated many and caught the attention of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who in April said he was prepared to file felony vehicular manslaughter charges against Bucchere, which could result in a 16-month sentence if he is convicted.
This is the second time in a year that a bicyclist has struck and killed a pedestrian in San Francisco. Last summer, 23-year-old Randolph Ang struck a tourist as she was walking across Mission Street at the Embarcadero. Ang was charged with a misdemeanor at the urging of the victim’s family, but there is also one major difference between the cases: prosecutors believe Bucchere was grossly negligent and riding recklessly before hitting Hui. Witnesses reported seeing Bucchere fly through a number of red lights and stop signs along Divisadero leading up to the intersection where the collision took place. A GPS tracker on Bucchere’s bike allegedly showed he was riding more than 35 miles an hour in a 25-m.p.h. zone. Also, footage from a surveillance camera at 17th and Market streets reportedly shows Bucchere hunched over and speeding through the intersection without attempting to stop prior to crashing into Hui.
The GPS tracker attached to Bucchere’s bike presents another disturbing element; it was there because he used an app called Strava, which allows riders to track their performance and vie for prizes. In fact, three days before the accident, Bucchere posted to the Mission Cycling A.M. Riders’ group, “How long before winning a Strava segment equals getting a free coffee at Velo Rouge?” While Strava’s website stresses the app is for creating a “sense of camaraderie,” it also encourages “friendly competition” amongst cyclists. The Castro Street descent where Bucchere was riding was called “the Castro Street Bomb” (Strava has since removed that verbiage), and while I am sure Strava is a great app for riding in the mountains, it seems pretty stupid to actively encourage cyclists to compete against each other in a crowded city.
I wish I could say that Bucchere’s irresponsible riding was unique, but unfortunately it’s not. The majority of bicyclists in San Francisco don’t follow the laws. Nearly every bicyclist I see either runs red lights, cruises through stop signs, or is going too fast. In a very unscientific study, I counted 17 bicyclists in a 10-block radius during rush hour and only one stopped at a stop sign to wait their turn.
According to John Brazil, one of the authors of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s report on promoting bicycle safety, bicyclists are at fault in collisions nationwide a little more than half the time. “Bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians all need to put down their smartphones, slow down, and pay attention,” Brazil said in a phone interview with the Marina Times. The study also points out that in 2008, males accounted for 87 percent of fatalities. “The fact more males are killed could be because more cyclists are male,” Brazil said. While this is true, the study also concluded that women were more likely
to follow the laws.
I’m sure there are some bicyclists here who stop at every stop sign and red light, but I think most observers would agree they are the minority. In a city where two pedestrians have been killed in a year, it’s definitely time to crack down on rogue bicyclists like Bucchere. It’s also time to start educating all bicyclists in the city about following the rules of the road – and enforcing the laws when they don’t.