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Posted by on Apr 14, 2010 in Uncategorized | 18 comments

It’s hard not to argue when you know the law.

Ofc Bill Edgar rides next to Mighk Wilson on Robinson (video still)

The photo above shows legal riding. More on the law later. Yesterday, 3 of us were pulled over on Robinson for riding 2 abreast and “taking up the whole lane.”

As I mentioned in The Enforcement of Imaginary Laws, we do not have departmental bias problems in Orlando. I have been passed by dozens of OPD officers while riding assertively and while riding 2-abreast. In fact, the three of us were passed by 2 or 3 patrol cars while riding in the same configuration on Orange Avenue several minutes earlier.

Many of the OPD officers have been through the LEBA course, where they were taught the laws and got first-hand experience riding on the road. But there are still a few officers who have not had that training, so their knowledge of bicycle laws is fairly limited. In the gaps of actual knowledge, one usually finds “common knowledge” — in the case of bicycling, that would be culturally-biased misinformation.  Officers have a 2-inch-thick statute book, of which bicycle traffic law constitutes a page and a half. Officers who do not specialize in traffic enforcement can be forgiven for not having it memorized.

This is what a Lynx bus looks like in the 9ft lane on Robinson. When they pick up and discharge passengers, they stop right there in the lane. Hmmm.

Back to the stop

I was leading a little urban tour (and rolling brainstorming session) with Kathryn Moore, director of SF Bike Coalition and creator of Bike Miami Days, and Brad Kuhn, director of Bike/Walk Central Florida. We had looped through downtown (Orange, Anderson, Rosalind) and were riding east on Robinson. There was a Lynx bus stopped about 500 feet in front of us so I kinda dialed back the pace hoping it would move before we got to it. It moved, then stopped again. We moseyed, slowly closing on it. There wasn’t much other traffic. Then an OPD cruiser rolled past in the left lane. He slowed and hovered there ahead of us. Fortunately, there was no other traffic to be impeded by him. I guess he realized he couldn’t sit in the left lane and wait for us to catch up, so he moved to the right lane, then pulled into a parking space by Howard Middle School. He turned on his blue lights and stuck an arm out the window to motion us over.

First, he told us we can’t ride 3 abreast. Of course, we weren’t. Kathryn and I were riding 2 abreast and Brad was riding behind us. Then he told us we can’t ride 2 abreast unless we’re in a bike lane. “You can’t just take up the whole lane like that.” Of course, all three of us know the law. It’s very hard not to argue when you know an officer is flat wrong. The law regarding riding 2-abreast is as follows:

FS 316.2065 (6)

Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.  Persons riding two abreast may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing.

I guess you can see where he got the bike lane idea. And like a lot of people, he probably missed the “more than” part. Now let’s talk about impeding traffic: a) um, there kinda has to be traffic to impede; b) if there is another lane available for passing, traffic isn’t likely to be impeded; c) if the lane is too narrow to share, a solo cyclist is entitled to the full lane, therefore it makes no difference to add a second cyclist beside her. The impeding part only applies to lanes that can be shared. Geo has more.

Why I didn’t argue with him

I’ve learned a few things from several other local cases. OPD’s motorcycle units are the traffic division, they are more likely to be knowledgeable of obscure traffic statutes, like the ones pertaining to us. None of the recent imaginary law cases I’m aware of have involved motorcycle officers. Officers in patrol cars do enforce traffic laws, but it’s not their primary responsibility. The inside feedback I’ve heard when a patrol officer has pulled over a cyclist, is that they’re not really intending to write a citation. They see something that looks wrong, so they make an “educational” stop. But if the officer finds the cyclist argumentative or combative, he/she can easily have a change of mind and write a citation. You never know what might be construed as argumentative, some people have a low threshold for disagreement. And most people (cyclists, motorists, police officers) do not like to be wrong. It behooves us to be courteous and patient. In our case, he just wanted us to ride single file. Even though it was not legally required, there was no risk to us to ride single file, we just had to abandon our egos for the moment.

The stakes are a little higher if an officer is demanding you do something you know isn’t safe. How you handle that is a judgment call. Personally, I’d park my bike or look for an alternate route and call or text one of my OPD contacts as soon as I got away from the officer. In another jurisdiction, I’d call the non-emergency number and try to speak with a supervisor.

There is no reason to risk a citation for legal riding in Orlando. Keep a cool head, be friendly, get the officer’s name (and badge number) and part amicably, then contact the department and have the officer gently educated internally (that’s what we did and it worked). That’s a far better result than having to fight a ticket. Ultimately, it has greater potential to make that officer a future ally rather than an adversary. We do not have to prove our right to the road in court when we have a police department that is supportive of our right to the road, even if a few of its officers are unfamiliar with the statutes that pertain to us. Not only is going to court going to cost time and money, it is a potential crap-shoot. Cultural bias infiltrates all systems. See Geo’s post about 2 Florida cases with different outcomes.

Cultivating relationships

Cultivating a partnership with your local police department goes hand in hand with empowering cyclists. I am very grateful that the stage has been set by many years of officer training done by Ofc Edgar to support the work we’ve done in raising awareness within the cycling community over the past few years. It makes our work so much easier.

It’s become obvious just from seeing other cyclists, that more and more people are becoming empowered to ride assertively. While we’re still a small percentage, it’s no longer a complete oddity to see a cyclist claiming the lane in Orlando! That’s bound to get the attention of  people who don’t understand it. There have been calls to OPD by ignorant motorists complaining of cyclists in the lane. The dispatchers need to be educated to deal with those calls like any other bogus complaint (Ofc Edgar will initiate some training there and CSO Lyndy Moore deals with it when it comes up as well). We are fortunate to have proactive allies in the department!

Hopefully, this type of uninformed interaction with OPD will cease to be an issue. With Ofc Edgar’s help, I have written a piece for the OPD Bulletin (it gets delivered to all officers) about safe lane position for cyclists. We’re scheming a few more topics to make this a spring series, as more and more cyclists are taking to the road. The Bulletin piece will be the content of my next post… after dinner 🙂

18 Comments

  1. If you didn’t argue with him, how did it end?

    • I asked for his name, thanked him and we rode single file to the end of the block, turned right into the neighborhood (where I was planning to turn anyway) and went about our business. Today I spoke with contacts at OPD and ensured he will receive correct information.

      This is what happens when I write with low blood sugar. I forgot to add that part to the post 😉

  2. I don’t now if Mighk or FBA higher-ups are reading this, but:
    The dispatchers need to be educated to deal with those calls like any other bogus complaint

    I’d like to see something like this spread to law enforcement throughout the state. I think explaining it to 911 operators and dispatchers, not just the patrol officers, would be of great value. Perhaps even greater value than the patrol officers as it would then educate the person who called in the complaint.

    • Good advice, Keri!

      Yep, dispachers can reduce the wasted resources that are involved in dispaching a patrol unit to investigate legal behavior.

    • people call 911 to report people riding bikes? seriously?

      • >people call 911 to report people riding bikes?<

        Someone is IN MY WAY. It's an EMERGENCY!!!

        • It’s a preemptive call for when they rear-end you will talking on the cell phone. *facepalm*

          Also, I read “Officers have a 2-inch-thick statute BOOK…” as “Officers have a 2-inch-thick statute SKULL…”

          But seriously, this is a great post, and I enjoy reading about the OPD officer training you guys are doing. Keep it up!

      • What Eric said.

        Yeah, I thought this was just an Ennis, Tx problem, but a few weeks ago I was told that a call went out that some uppity bicyclist was riding in the “middle of the lane” on Michigan (a 4 lane rd) and wouldn’t “let motorists pass.”

        • >wouldn’t “let motorists pass.”<

          Translation: IGNORED me when I laid on the HORN!!!

        • A cyclist preventing passing on a four-lane road is quite a trick. I’d like to see that. 😉

    • That’s a good point Todd. Keri’s been working with George Martin, who heads up the development of our law enforcement curriculum, and he’s seen the OPD bulletin, and knows about the dispatcher strategy, too. But I’ll check to see if he’s considered it as a component of the LE program.

  3. “While we’re still a small percentage, it’s no longer a complete oddity to see a cyclist claiming the lane in Orlando! “

    I must be riding the wrong side of Orlando. One, maybe two are seen claiming the lane. The other 98 are sidewalk riders and gutter bunnies. Someone please take a picture…better yet, I would love to see this in person.

    Can’t wait to see the FBA LEO toolkit start working for all.

  4. Yes, a learning moment. Thanks for not going into detail about my initial reaction 🙂

  5. Rodney: I post Vehicular Cyclist sightings over in the Forum (haven’t posted there recently, actually). They used to be as scare as Nessie or Bigfoot sightings, but I think it really is getting better.

    Keri: I know you have contacts within OPD, and have a working knowledge of that Dept … would you hold this same advice for other Police Depts.? How do you ever know if something is truely followed up on without those inside contacts to confirm it?

  6. b) if there is another lane available for passing, traffic isn’t likely to be impeded

    I’m a little surprised Chipseal didn’t comment on that line. I think the Ennis officers feel differently.

    I wonder if I will ever get pulled over. There is a stretch of usually deserted two-lane… ummm…. chipseal road that I ride on every day I ride to work. (The only alternative to this “back way” is to ride on a very busy 4-lane.) Anyway, cars do approach from behind on that road sometimes. I typically ride the right tire track, toward the middle of the lane, and when the cars inevitably pass (sometimes by crossing the double yellow), I will drift right a bit to give them more room and me more clearance to their mirror.

    However, sometimes there is oncoming traffic. When a car begins to pass and there is traffic coming in the other lane, I maintain my lane position (or even drift left a bit) and hold my left arm out and down with my palm facing back and my fingers spread wide, sometimes waving it back at the driver behind me for emphasis. They usually figure it out and back off. As soon as the oncoming lane is clear, I move back to the right and if it is a passing zone I wave the driver around.

    I see this as self-preservation. This stretch of road has no shoulder whatsoever, so my only option is to control the lane. I try to cooperate with motorists as best I can, but you never know when someone is gonna get ticked off and call the local police.

  7. Oh, and here in Fort Worth, I’m beginning to see Yeti (Steve A’s word for the rarely seen, mythical vehicular cyclist) more often. I mean besides me. ;- )

  8. Keri, funny that you mention LYNX buses. I learned recently that they too will sometimes get harrassed by LE for picking up and dropping off passengers. It really slays me some days how crazy things are with respect to moving traffic at all costs.

    That picture really illustrates how tight things are for LYNX buses on Robinson. That’s an older style bus (96″ wide), LYNX’ newer BRT-style buses are a smidge wider at 102″ wide. I don’t think that includes their mirrors. Something to think about when narrowing lanes.

    • Are you serious? LE harasses the Lynx drivers? OMG!

      It’s no wonder car drivers have such a sense of entitlement. Everything in the culture supports it.

      I think most people don’t have any sense of the huge difference in width between a car and a bus or truck.

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