Wednesday San Francisco News Roundup
Sheriff Reports Issues With Driver’s License Resolved
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi Tuesday said a problem that led to his driver’s license being suspended has been resolved.
Mirkarimi said in a statement that he had only learned on Monday that his driver’s license had been suspended for alleged failure to properly report an accident that occurred in October.
“I used the public phone number for the DMV and traversed their process,” he said in a statement. “I found them to be efficient and helpful, and after explaining the matter and filing the proper paperwork the matter has been resolved.”
Mirkarimi said he reported the collision, which occurred on Oct. 2, 2014, to his insurance company and to San Francisco Sheriff’s Department personnel, and understood that the insurer would take care of the required DMV report. However the insurer apparently did not file the report.
The incident in question reportedly occurred while Mirkarimi was driving a city-owned vehicle. No one was injured and the city’s car wasn’t damaged, but Mirkarimi gave his personal insurance information to the other driver.
Mirkarimi said his insurance coverage has remained in effect the entire time. Neither he nor his insurance company received any notification of his license being suspended, he said.
In June, a San Francisco police officer issued Mirkarimi a traffic citation. That’s been resolved, but the sheriff was not advised of any problems with his driver’s license during that process, sheriff’s department officials said.
SF State Professor on NASA Team Behind New Planet’s Discovery
A San Francisco State University professor was part of a team that discovered a new planet orbiting around two stars as part of NASA’s Kepler Mission, university officials said this week.
It’s not the first time Stephen Kane, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University and chair of NASA’s Kepler Habitable Zone Working Group, has been involved in the discovery of an exoplanet, or a planet outside our solar system.
“I’ve been doing this for two decades now and I actually haven’t kept track,” Kane said. “I think at this point it’s more than 150.”
The planet announced this week, dubbed Kepler-453b, is special because it is only the tenth “circumbinary” planet discovered by the Kepler Mission, meaning it orbits around two stars rather than one.
Scientists weren’t even certain if such systems existed until Kepler, a space telescope launched into orbit around the sun in 2009, confirmed their existence in 2011.
“One of the fascinating things about this is we’re gradually learning about how common this is,” Kane said. “This mission has shown that not only is it possible, but those planets are actually pretty plentiful.”
While comparisons to the fictional planet of Tatooine in Star Wars are perhaps inevitable, Kane noted that the host stars for Kepler-453b are significantly different from each other in size, with one around 94 percent of the size of our sun and the other around 20 percent. So unlike on Tatooine, anyone on the surface of Kepler-453b would not see two suns in the sky but one bright sun and one much dimmer light.
A gas giant around 60 percent larger than Neptune and with a radius 6.2 times that of Earth, Kepler-453b could not support life as we know it on its own, but it is located in the “habitable zone” around its host stars that could potentially support life. This means that any rocky moons orbiting the planet could potentially support life, Kane said.
The Kepler mission detects planets by watching stars for signs of orbiting bodies moving between them and the Earth, causing their light to dim.
Kane said scientists were lucky to detect Kepler-453b, however, because it hadn’t shown up on an earlier check of the host star.
It turns out the planet’s orbit is erratic due to the pull of the two host stars, so not all of its transits will occur at an angle that is detectable by astronomers. The next such transit after the one detected by the Kepler Mission is not expected to occur until 2066.
“We got really lucky,” Kane said. “It also means there are probably more of these planets out there that we’re missing.”
Kane said the search for planets in the habitable zones around stars will help answer fundamental questions about how unique or common the conditions in our own solar system really are in the rest of the universe.
Scientists are learning that planets can exist under a wider range of circumstances and in different types of systems than was previously thought possible, and that will ultimately help answer questions about the conditions needed to support life, Kane said.
The discovery of Kepler-453b will be formally announced Friday by San Diego State University Professor William Welsh at the International Astronomical Union meeting in Honolulu. The article detailing its discovery has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
Recent Cable Car Operator Injuries Prompt Crackdown on Illegal Passing
After two San Francisco cable car operators were seriously injured recently by motorists who illegally passed stopped cable cars, San Francisco police will be cracking down on motorists who flout the law.
San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said 15 citations have already been issued this week to drivers who ignore the city’s “Do Not Pass” law. He said anyone who passes the stopped cable cars can expect to be issued a $238 ticket.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Francisco Police Department, and Transport Workers Union Local 250-A announced key steps they are supporting to help keep operators and riders of the cable cars safe.
California law requires drivers to stop a safe distance behind any trolley or streetcar and remain stopped for the duration of passenger boarding and exiting.
Suhr said that no one would ever think of passing a school bus for fear of injuring children and that motorists need to adopt that same mindset when approaching cable cars on the road.
Cheryl Brinkman, vice-chairman of the SFMTA’s board of directors, said it is important to remember that not only are the cable cars one of the city’s most famous tourist attractions, but the operators are “beloved icons” as well, and need to be cherished.
Chee Freeman, a cable car operator of 15 years who has worked for the SFMTA for 31 years and was manning his post on the California cable car line, said the disregard for pedestrians exhibited by some motorists can be “disturbing.”
He said a lot of motorists seem to forget that pedestrians come first.
“People come first, always,” Freeman said.
He notes, however, that since the cable cars began operation in 1873, people’s concept of time has changed and the roads are not designed with cable car safety in mind.
He said that while he loves his job, roughly five to 10 times a day he sees drivers dangerously passing his cable car and is constantly worrying about the safety of his passengers.
Freeman said he was given a stop sign to hold and wave from the side of the cable car when passengers are loading and unloading, but that sometimes the cable car is so crowded it is difficult to hold out the stop sign before passengers start disembarking.
He said it would be great if the cable cars had a similar mechanism to school buses, with the automated stop signs and lights.
Eric Williams, president of TWU Local 250-A, said his office is working to educate the tourist industry about the rules of the road and wants the city to go further than just its Vision Zero commitment to eliminate traffic deaths in the city over the next decade.
Williams said on roads where the cable cars run, the city should consider diverting private vehicles or lowering speed limits.
“Let’s stop being reactive, let’s be proactive,” Williams said.
Williams said that unfortunately, the cable cars aren’t designed to pull up to the sidewalk, so people are sometimes forced to enter and exit the cable cars in the middle of the road.
He said there almost no pedestrian islands, bulbouts or loading zones to protect employees or pedestrians.
The two cable car workers who were struck by motorists on the Powell Street cable car line survived, but were critically injured, Williams said.
An allegedly drunk motorcyclist struck one of the operators in June, while a man driving a minivan in April struck the other.
SFMTA director of transportation Ed Reiskin said that those two incidents this year have “doubled our resolve” to get the public to understand that this law is “a matter of life and death” and that violations will not be tolerated.