It was 8:40 a.m. on Friday October 18, 2013, when 78-year-old cyclist Cheng Jin Lai was crushed by a 27-Bryant Muni bus as it turned from 11th Street onto Bryant Street.
According to Ghost Bikes of San Francisco, the Vietnam native had moved to the US from China in 1996 at the age of 61, became a US citizen in 2003, and "found a sense of stability in his hobbies. Fishing at Fort Mason with his friends, cooking for his family, biking to the recycling facility." He was pursuing that latter interest when he was killed, struck by a 10-year Muni veteran behind the wheel of a bus that that SF Weekly discovered was missing "a safety device specifically designed to prevent cyclists or pedestrians from being crushed by a bus' back-right tire - and which is standard-issue on Muni vehicles."
Known as an "S-1 Gard," which is a sort of deflecting bumper, a Muni staffer that spoke with the Weekly said that the transit agency doesn't "keep enough in stock to reinstall them. There are a lot of coaches that do not have them." The Weekly's investigation into the missing safety device — which many said might have prevented Lai's death — was the first time Muni chief Ed Reiskin learned what an S-1 Gard was, they reported at the time. Reiskin subsequently called for a fleet-wide inspection of the agency's vehicles, which culminated in a memo saying that any bus found to be missing the device "will be grounded and is [out of service] until it has a guard. ... the bus is on hold and not to be in revenue service until repaired, NO exceptions, period. NONE."
As you'd expect, Lai's widow, Guang-Mei Qui, as well as his three kids who live in the US (four more of his children live in China) retained a lawyer and in July 2014 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The suit cited not only the missing Muni safety device but drubbed the Department of Public Works over the intersection, saying DPW "negligently failed to inspect, maintain, control and/or repair the subject roadway, lanes and intersection for motorists, bicyclist, and pedestrians in this area, so as to create this dangerous condition which caused and contributed to the death of the Decedent.”
And nearly three years after Lai's death, the city appears to tacitly concur with those claims. In a "closed session" during Thursday's SFMTA board meeting, the transit agency's board approved a $3.25 million settlement in Lai's death, SF Bay reports. An email to an SFMTA spokesperson for comment on the settlement was not returned at publication time.
"Mr. Lai was the fourth person this year to lose their life while biking on SoMa's fast moving and deadly streets," his attorney, B. Mark Fong, wrote shortly after Lai's death.
"In each of these deadly crashes, the rider was hit by a large vehicle. SoMa high-speed streets are also deadly for those walking. These deadly and serious crashes on SoMa streets are not one off 'accidents.' These deaths are preventable and within the power of the City to change immediately."