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Posted by on Mar 18, 2009 in Bicycle Culture, General | 17 comments

Strategy for a Cyclist Friendly Community — Our Law Departments can Help!!

Keri’s recent (most-excellent) post asked us to think about ways or means by which we can promote cycling by starting at the bottom of the pyramid.  We should be working on how to develop, as Keri put it: “Cultural Respect for the Bicycle as a Vehicle/Cyclist as a Driver”.  Just a short way down her article, she states: “It begins with the law …”

It begins with the law … and I think with our Law Departments.

Hypothetically-speaking

What if we had law departments put officers (perhaps in plain clothes) on bicycles and on the streets of Orlando?  I mean really on the streets, not on sidewalks or parked at intersections,  I mean patrolling on bikes on the street.  What do you think these officers would see, and what would happen to them?

I expect they would see pretty much what we commuters see on a daily basis.  They would see motorist behavior running the gamut from unintentional close passes to deliberate use of a vehicle as a weapon (bluff or not).   They would be subject to harassment via the horn as well as the mouth by not riding fast enough.  They would watch other cyclists ignorantly riding their bikes against traffic, and deliberately running red lights.  They would see, and feel, the lack of civility on the road.

Now, again hypothetically, what if these same plain-clothed officers started handing out warnings and/or tickets?   What effect would it have on motorists and cyclists?

Let’s say  that an education campaign could be combined with the enforcement aspect — that if you were pulled over and given a warning, that educational materials could be passed out.  If you were in a car, the materials would explain the issues confronting cyclists on the road, and the law.  If you were a cyclist, it would explain issues of the legal obligations of riding a bicycle as a vehicle as well as how this aids in gaining respect for cyclists.

More flagrant situations could be addressed via tickets.

What would happen, over time? …I believe good things.

Why Would They?

OK, OK, some are you are saying this is just pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.  What possible incentive would a Law Department have for trying something like this?  Well… how about:

  1. It wouldn’t cost a lot of money.  Bicycles are relatively inexpensive (compared to outfitted police cruisers) to purchase and maintain.  They could be carried on bike racks on the police cruisers in order to get longer distances away from the precinct headquarters.  It saves money on gas and wear and tear on vehicles.
  2. It gets law enforcement interacting with people, instead of cordoning them off behind their (imposing) vehicles.  This is something that most law departments want to do a better job with — interfacing with the public.
  3. Getting traffic to respect cyclists and getting cyclists to respect traffic laws would help reduce the potential for bicycle-vehicle accidents.
  4. It helps keep officers in shape!!  This could be part of their Health Benefits program — every organization that pays for Health Benefits for their employees is looking for ways to make their employees healthier, thus lowering their premiums.

How to Start?

I’m trying to think “out-of-the-box” here.   Law Enforcement has a critical role to play in helping shape the perceptions of people about what behaviors are allowed or not allowed in our society.  Having law enforcement see by experiencing will get them working with us to help promote cycling as a healthy and safe way to travel on our streets.

Do you have any ideas on how to approach Law Enforcement with these thoughts?

17 Comments

  1. Mighk and I did some brainstorming along these lines last spring. The problem we run into is lack of manpower in police departments. Cycling safety is a really low priority among all the other stuff they have to deal with. Traffic enforcement itself seems a pretty low priority, too—and that shows in the behavior: 3 or 4 cars turning left after the light is red; average traffic speeds of 10-15mph over the speed limit; rampant tailgating; aggressive weaving; no consciousness of pedestrians; etc.

    I think it will take a community-wide effort, beginning with political leadership, to make traffic safety and civility a priority.

  2. I imagine a two week roll out of “undercover bicycle enforcement” from bicycles, focusing on bicycle scofflaws. During this time, no doubt the officers understanding of the cyclists perspective would improve.

    Then, alert the media. It would be a perfect news story: “Bicycle patrol to target motorist behavior. Cops speak out.” Interviews with the police where they explain their methods and practices. Educational opportunity!

    Assign a patrol car to each undercover patrol bicycle to respond and stop motorists who need an education or a ticket.

    But who will explain to the bike patrol how ride in a safe and legal manner? Fred-Dot-U?

    I like the way you think, Andrewp!

  3. A curious development, this particular post. Today’s 40 mile commute allowed me to view three or four cycling scofflaws and certainly that many motorists. No interaction with law enforcement, however.

    I’m not sure of the tone of your suggestion, ChipSeal, but my thoughts today were right along this line. I hope and expect to become an LCI next month. I would like to see (a far-flung fantasy) civilian bike patrols authorized to cite bicycle operators for violators, with the requirement to attend a TS101 course with a passing grade. Even disregarding the civilian bike patrol concept, allow the cops to cite a bicycle operator and keep the TS101 requirement. Motor vehicle operators are given the chance to take a foolish online course (my opinion) in order to bypass license points.

    Today’s trip included at least two traffic light disregards (two different riders) and two wrong way riders.

    On a positive note, I passed, on a narrow two-lane road, a mom and two teen daughters on bicycles. I stopped and waved them over and suggested politely a new position on the roadway and also provided each rider with a copy of the FBA Florida Law Enforcement Guide. I recognize that these documents are aimed at Law Enforcement Officers (duh), but there’s useful information for riders within, and it’s all I had in the cargo bay. I gave the mom my card and suggested she call or email if she had any questions.

    One stop like that and it just makes the day all the better!

  4. I do think you’re on to something Andrew. I’m not certain it would work, but I think it’s worth a shot.

    Keri said bike safety is not a priority. Well, I’d go so far as to say TRAFFIC safety isn’t much of a priority these days.

    The real question is whether cops can figure out how to make plainclothes bike officers make an impact on crime. When the first bike cops started in Seattle (uniformed) they were laughed at by other officers until the bike cops started making more drug busts than the motor units. The bike cops were stealthier. Today people are used to seeing cops on bikes. I imagine that has cut down the stealthiness somewhat. Maybe plainclothes can bring some new advantages to the game. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll spend very much time writing citations to motorists, but word can get around quickly when cops start doing something new, like Santa alongside the road with a radar gun.

  5. Along the lines of Rodney’s idea, maybe we could get some friendly folks within the PD to “ride a mile in our shoes,” first. I think all of us are familiar with particular trouble-spots from our own travels. Those would be good places to start.

    Perhaps video could get someone interested.

    I have video of typical bad behavior in one of my trouble spots (South Ivanhoe wesbound)—motorists passing on the right in the gore area.

    Fellow BOBbie, Ellen, commutes on the west side of town and tells me she’s harassed every day, both ways. Knowing that Ellen is an accomplished vehicular cyclist, and having had my own negative experiences on the west side of town, that might be a good place to start. Brian is coming back to town at the end of the month, we’re going to try to film over there… and on University Blvd.

  6. Officers for the City of Springfield patrol the campus of MSU on bicycles. I don’t know if they do the same at Drury or Evangel. On campus they cruise the sidewalks (against university rules for the rest of us), the MSU Bikeway, and the roads around campus.

    I’ve never talked to these guys before about what they experience. But now that you’ve brought up the issue of police on bicycles, I intend to do so and report on Carbon Trace.

  7. In a recent post at BikeJax.org, Orlando is mentioned. Cops on bikes for “parking enforcement”. Seems like this is a downtown thing.

    http://tinyurl.com/bnyrl9

    I have seen a pack of “cycle cops” I assume where training in my area about two months ago. Haven’t seen then since. Nice to know they are out there though. Is this just a “parking enforcement” thing or are they actually on bike patrol as if in a cruiser?

  8. Thanks to Andrew for starting this discussion. Plainclothes cops on bikes – if I’d been one over the last year, most of the tickets would have been to cyclists for things like wrong-way riding, blowing signals, and riding at night without lights.

    HOWEVER, it’d be cheap and simple to incorporate bicycle road riding training into police academies, where future cops would learn by first-hand experience how cyclists should ride to be safe on the roads. The lesson could be reinforced by incorporating road cycling into PT tests. Publicity associated with the training would improve police image and rub off on the general non-cycling public. “Ride a mile in my shoes” is a solid principle…

  9. Huh. Around here in Winter Park the cops are very well trained as to the pedestrian and bicycle laws. In fact one was aghast tonight as a car turned into a street as I was trying to cross in an unmarked crosswalk and almost hit me.

    “He was supposed to give you the right of way” to which I shrugged and said, “But they never do.”

  10. From the article Eric posted… I learned about this at ProBike/ProWalk Florida:

    In St. Petersburg, Florida, the results were even more impressive. The percentage of motorists who yielded to pedestrians jumped from 2% in 2003 to 82% in 2007, after police began writing tickets, educating the public and installing flashing beacons.

    We sooooo need to do that here! That’s what REAL cities do. They enforce the law so a person can cross the #@$%& street!

    If they did it on Edgewater Dr., they could get a twofer — motorists blowing off pedestrians and wrong-way bikers… like shooting fish in a barrel.

  11. “I’m not sure of the tone of your suggestion, ChipSeal…”

    ChipSeal said: “But who will explain to the bike patrol how ride in a safe and legal manner? Fred_dot_u?”

    I meant it in a humorous way fred_dot_u. After all, haven’t you been spearheading a one on one bicycle law education effort with the police already?

    I am angered by the injustice inflicted on you and I am compensating with (probably lame) humor.

    Tailwinds to you.

  12. @Eric: “I was trying to cross in an unmarked crosswalk”

    You mean while walking, right?

  13. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has an education program specifically to teach bicycle-related law to police departments. We don’t get as many customers as we would like, but it’s been successful enough that we can point to it as an accomplishment. I don’t have any experience with it myself, but you can contact BCM directly ( http://www.bikemaine.org/ ) for details, or contact Jeff Miller of the Alliance for Biking and Walking ( http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org/ , formerly Thunderhead Alliance ), as he was our director up until last Spring.

  14. Thanks for the clarification, ChipSeal. It’s more amusing when you consider the lack of success I’ve had with one particular PD. They will be my first “target” for offering TS101 courses when I complete the LCI seminar. Oops, I mean first prospect.

  15. Yes, walking.

  16. Orlando bike cops are trained by an LCI, so most of them get it. Remember that they’re using bikes as patrol and community policing tools, not as vehicles or for traffic enforcement. I know quite a few of them ride recreationally, but probably not many for transportation.

    Orlando Parking Enforcement does indeed use bikes (as well as electric carts). I’ve done about a half dozen trainings (abbreviated Road Ones) for them over the years.