Introducing: Wheel Talk for Wheel People

Advice for people living their lives one push of the pedals at a time

We’re launching a new monthly advice column written by Christopher White, our adult education program coordinator. The first column is premiering here in the Tube Times, but will also be available online. Though bikes, biking, and getting around SF is our area of expertise, feel free to ask anything!

Wheel Talk, I’ve noticed that more and more people are riding around with music playing from their bikes. Some people have small Bluetooth speakers, while others seem to have club-ready PA systems rigged to their frames. Call me a noise-pollution curmudgeon, but isn’t this just adding to the din of the city and intruding on the peace of others on the road? —Plugged Ears

Dear Plugged Ears: I hope you didn’t earn your sobriquet because you have rubber-tipped headphones permanently crammed in while you’re in the saddle. One of the aspects of this trend that I really appreciate is that many people are choosing Bluetooth speakers over headphones, which allows people to enjoy their tunes while still maintaining awareness of street sounds.

But as with so many things in life, the answer shifts with context and with scale. At big parades or marches, I love a booming subwoofer mounted on a bike trailer. The same subwoofer blasting down Valencia during rush hour, however, is at best disrespectful and at worst dangerous. In that context a Bluetooth speaker at a reasonable level is great, though. But for Pete’s sake, people: when entering an enclosed space such as a BART train, turn it off!

Wheel Talk, I just recently moved to the city. While biking near Mission Bay, I was pulled over by a cop and ticketed for running a flashing red light and having both earbuds in. The fine came to nearly $500! The cop told me not to worry — I could contact the SF Bicycle Coalition and take a class, which would get the ticket wiped away. Where do I sign up? —Lesson Learned

Dear Lesson Learned: Oh if only the left hand of the law would take a look at what the right hand is doing! I get this question frequently from people who have been misinformed by a police officer. Sadly, it’s not true, Lesson Learned.

Here’s how the confusion originated: in 2015, California passed a law that permits municipalities to institute a bike traffic ticket diversion program, such as what the officer described. However, municipalities must actively institute the program, which SF has not yet done. Why not? The law specifically states that the program must be sanctioned by local law enforcement agencies — as in, the SFPD. That has not yet happened.

But fear not! Your San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is working hard with various segments of the San Francisco government to get a program rolling, and we’re feeling hopeful. Stay tuned!

Wheel Talk, I get apoplectic when I see cars double parked in the bike lane. More often than not, they have telltale Uber and Lyft stickers in the window. Now, I’m no purist. Every so often, I take a Lyft home at the end of a night out. Last night I did so. When the driver dropped me off, she pulled over into the bike lane! I was appalled and gave the driver a mediocre review. Was that the right thing to do? —Heading Home

Dear Heading Home: Discussing the impact that so-called ridesharing companies have on biking can be like trying to untangle a hairball (or even the Hairball). Like many riders, I have a special forehead vein that pops out just for Uber and Lyft drivers in bike lanes. At the same time, this behavior is in many ways a down-lane effect of the “gig economy”, which relies on contractors instead of employees who can be required to attend comprehensive safety training. Actual taxi drivers, by contrast, must take a live training from yours truly before they are permitted by the SFMTA.

So is it fair to penalize your driver for this behavior by leaving a bad review? Maybe — every person behind the wheel should still know that pulling their car into a bike line is unacceptable and dangerous. But your driver is also trying to get by in a system that’s in many ways stacked against them. So here’s what you do next time, HH: first, use your words. Ask your driver not to pull over in the bike lane and explain why. And then send a message to the transportation network company, demanding that they take responsibility for training their drivers. Our safety depend on it. Try or Feel free to cc:

Become a member and you'll improve your commute and get discounts at shops across the city.