The Cost of Being Different
Fred’s troubles began in Port Orange in February 2009. Until then, he had been happily and legally traveling around the Space Coast without trouble from the police. Like many of us, Fred had studied the laws regarding bicycle operation and ensured that he was operating in accordance with the law. He uses lights at night, obeys traffic control devices and drives in the right lane on multi-lane roads. Because the roads he uses have lanes that are less than 14ft wide, he rides near the center of the lane as he is legally allowed by 316.2065(5)(a) exception paragraph (3).
When the Port Orange PD began stopping Fred, they were not interested in the exceptions. They wanted him to ride next to the curb. He refused to give up his legal right to the lane. They began a campaign of pulling him over and ticketing him every time he drove through town. Fred hired a lawyer ($400) to file a motion to dismiss. The tickets were dismissed without a hearing.
We thought the problem was solved, but early this year, Port Orange PD renewed their campaign of harassment. Fred received two more tickets and the threat that he would be pulled over every time he was seen. Through the pro bono efforts of attorney Jeffrey Lynne, president of the South Florida Bike Coalition, these citations were also dismissed… expedited by a nicely-worded letter to the Assistant City Attorney about Constitutional concerns and liability for the city.
Once again, all was well in Fredworld.
During the exchange, it was revealed that the triggers for police action were Fred’s “unusual vehicle” and “citizen calls.” It turns out, this was to become a recurring theme.
Until recently, Fred had experienced little trouble with other agencies and no trouble closest to home in Ormond Beach. But his freedom to travel hit a new snag at the beginning of September. First, he had a rather intimidating encounter with a hostile FHP officer. It didn’t result in a ticket, but ended in a threat: “…if I see you that way again, I’m gonna burn your butt.”
Two days later, trouble continued when Fred was pulled over by an officer of the Ormond Beach PD. Fred described the circumstances leading up to the officer pulling him over:
Ormond Beach, FL, Granada Blvd, Route 40, just east of the river, approaching A1A. Motorcycle patrolman well behind me in traffic, bus stopped in my lane. Turn signal, lane change, back into my lane. Less observant drivers back up behind the bus. Motorcycle cop pulls alongside me in left lane (not my lane) and shouts something. I waved, all fingers, of course.
He drops behind me, lights me up, no siren, I pull over.
The officer accused him of impeding traffic (solo bicyclists are not subject to the impeding law, it only applies to motor vehicles). I guess he didn’t notice the bus. Fred carries his dismissal paperwork for his 4 previous citations, along with a copy of the Florida statutes. The officer wasn’t interested. Told him he had to ride near the curb or he was going to get a 5th ticket, stating he was sure could get it through the judges because he doesn’t have a problem with them. So, is the law interpreted so arbitrarily the police think they can change the outcome by having a good relationship with the judges? A scary thought.
A week later, Ormond Beach PD made good on their threat. In one trip, Fred was stopped twice and received one citation. The following is a video of the traffic conditions before both stops.
It’s interesting that Fred was on the road by himself for over a minute (this is pretty typical), then the officer followed him on an empty road until a platoon of traffic caught up. The presence of the officer actually created a slow-down in the passing traffic. I’ve seen some of Fred’s other videos, there is a small curiosity factor from his “unusual vehicle,” but traffic typically flows around him faster than you see here.
After stopping at a red light, the officer pulled Fred over and gave him a citation for: 316.2065(a), “impeding traffic bicycle violation – not riding as close as practical to right curb.”
As you can see in the video, there is an undesignated area that is striped like a bike lane to the right of the travel lane. The officer correctly referred to the stripe as a “fog line” and did not call it a “bike lane.” But he still wanted Fred to drive his vehicle in that space. I have more to say about that and will get to it below.
When you’re a bicycle driver, it’s up to you to prove your right to drive defensively in court. And well, if that costs you hundreds of dollars in legal fees, then maybe you should consider driving a car like everyone else.
Again, there was no interest in the text of the law or the dismissed citations. Motorists get pulled over for speeding, running red lights and doing things that can cause bodily harm to others… violating actual laws. Bicyclists get pulled over for driving defensively in the way that is both legal and safe and the justification is that incompetent drivers might a) run over the cyclist or b) cause a crash while passing unsafely. Clearly, in the face of illegal or unsafe behavior by incompetent members of the majority, the solution is to remove the legally-operating minority.
After signing the citation, Fred took his measuring tape out to the street. He waited for a gap when there was no traffic and measured the lane width. The officer yelled at him to get out of the road and threatened to give him another ticket for blocking traffic, even though there was no traffic. Thou shalt not violate the hallowed ground of the culture of speed.
Not 20 minutes after resuming his travels, Fred was tailed again. This time an officer in an unmarked vehicle (not sure if it was a personal or official vehicle) saw Fred leave the bike lane on the downhill side of the SR40 bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway. Fred climbed the bridge in the bike lane, because he was going slower than traffic. On the downhill, an aerodynamic vehicle can easily outpace cars. The speed limit is 35. Fred was traveling, um, a bit faster, and pulling away from the cars in the lane behind him.
He was stopped on A1A after being tailed for four minutes by an unmarked car. The reason for the stop was that he wasn’t in the bike lane on the bridge.
This is a good example of how bias works. Because of the belief that bicyclists should not be allowed to operate as equal drivers, the police only read the part of the statute that confirms this belief and allows them to stop something that looks wrong in the context of the belief. Fred’s position was explicitly legal via the very first line in the statute: “A person operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic…”
After some heated discussion, they let him go with a warning. Most likely because they knew there was no basis for the stop, though they did try to change to focus to his lane position on A1A. And stated that he would be impeding the right lane even if traffic could easily pass in the left lane. A couple choice items came out of the discussion.
1) Irate motorists have been calling 911 to complain about him “impeding them.” Translation: making them change lanes and possibly wait 10 seconds for the opportunity because they were driving 10 feet in front of their noses until they encountered him.
2) If you want to ride like that you need to talk to your legislature and get the law changed because it’s not legal. Of course it is legal, but the problem is the way the law is written. It’s far too easy for an officer, and even some judges, to interpret it in favor of the cultural taboo against getting in the way.
The Tyranny of the Majority
For this, I will refer you to Wikipedia
The phrase tyranny of the majority (also: tyranny of the masses), used in discussing systems of democracy and majority rule, is a criticism of the scenario in which decisions made by a majority under that system would place that majority’s interests so far above a dissenting individual’s interest that the individual would be actively oppressed, just like the oppression by tyrants and despots.
The 911 theme was at the core of Chipseal’s problems and it was a theme in his recent trial. It’s distressing to me that motorists can call 911 to whine about having to change lanes to pass a bicyclist and that the police respond by harassing the bicyclist. Hello. We need you to uphold the law that protects our safety, not safeguard the tender convenience of a few crybaby motorists.
Another thing that has been said in nearly every encounter is that “all the other bicyclists” ride on the edge near the curb. Again, tyranny of the majority. If you are different, you must be wrong.
The muddy issue of practicability and undesignated gutter lanes
It is very clear leading up to the second stop that Fred was operating within the explicit exceptions of 316.2065(a). It is less clear in the first stop. The issue of roadway position and practicability become a bit more convoluted when a stripe is added to a road. Legally, a fog line demarcates the edge of the travel lane. Cyclists are not required to operate on the shoulder. But what happens when that stripe is to the left of curb and gutter and is broken at intersections to look like a bike lane? It is not designated as a bike lane, so it not subject to the new language requiring use of a “lane marked for bicycle use.”
Now, if we’re measuring from the lane line to the gutter seam (which marks the edge of roadway, gutter is not included), that space is 14’10.” If there was no stripe, it would not be explicitly exempt by sub-section 3 (substandard lane). However, it is not a single lane and the stripe changes the dynamic of the space in some fundamental ways:
- It is more likely to collect debris and broken glass due to the sweeping action of the cars tracking in the narrowed travel lane.
- Motorists tend to track the center of their defined lane space. They will move over if something is in that space (like a bicyclist in a wide curb lane), but are less likely to deflect for anything outside that space (like a bicyclist in a shoulder or bike lane).
- The stripe makes anything to the right of it irrelevant to a multi-tasking, distracted driver because it is outside his/her focus area. This exacerbates the problems with crossing and turning conflicts, as well as close passing.
Just because the definitions and exceptions are ambiguous, does not mean it is practicable to operate in that space. The definition of practicable is: feasible: capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are.
Personally, I don’t find it feasible to operate my single-track bicycle in 3’10″ of space next to a lane with a significant volume of truck traffic. But Fred’s vehicle has additional considerations which make operating in that space a serious detriment to his safety, ergo not practicable.
- Fred is not driving a single-track vehicle. He has 3 wheels that must miss debris or broken glass. An obstruction that might be avoided by minor deflection with a bicycle, could cause him to have to merge completely out of the lane. This increases workload, stress and can cause him to suddenly be where he’s not expected.
- Fred’s vehicle is much shorter than an upright bicycle. This makes him far more vulnerable to being overlooked by crossing and turning drivers, and more easily shielded by shrubbery and moving screens. When he is operating in the center of a travel lane, he is highly visible, but placed out of contention, he’s at an even bigger disadvantage than a two-wheeled bicycle driver.
- Because Fred’s vehicle is not readily identified as containing a human being, drivers seem to move over less when passing it in the shoulder. While they make complete lane changes when he operates in the travel lane, they barely deflect at all when he is to the right of the stripe. In my experience, at least half of drivers will deflect when passing me in a bike lane or shoulder (whether I’m riding or standing there), in the video below, you can see that far fewer deflect to pass the Velomobile. Quite a few of those passes are downright scary.
We need to take action
While Fred’s vehicle is different and adds additional safety concerns to the equation, none of us should be forced by law or misinterpretations of law to ride in a manner we know to be less safe and efficient than full lane use. It is ridiculous that we should be contained in a substandard, hazard-prone space in order to not be a bother of 10-30 seconds (for the 2 or 3 drivers who didn’t recognize the need to change lanes until the last minute).
Rather than being viewed as an affront to the majority, human powered vehicles need to be seen as a fact of life, like traffic lights and transit buses. Rather than reinforcing the tyranny of the majority, law enforcement needs to lead the way to a better, safer and more equitable traffic culture.
But we need help to get them there. One program in the process is the Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Toolkit. But we need more than that. The roadblock we constantly face is the unwillingness to accept an interpretation of the law that allows for full lane use. We’re up against a cultural norm and an entrenched belief system. I don’t think we will make real progress until the law itself is rewritten.
There is lots of talk about active transportation, alternative transportation, carbon footprints, obesity and how the bicycle fits perfectly into the solution… it’s become the hip thing. But if the legislature and community leaders want to make human-powered transportation truly viable, they have to remove a system of oppression whereby the drivers of human powered vehicles can be subject to harassment, delay, citations, anxiety and financial burden simply as a result of driving defensively. These are, in fact, the most proficient and engaged bicycle drivers and the best representatives of human powered transportation.
How can we build a sustainable and healthy bicycle culture on second-class citizenship?
If you live in Florida, tell the Florida Bicycle Association you want this to be a priority (and make sure you’re a member to support the organization). Tell your legislators you want transportation equity and an end to discriminatory laws that punish people who are trying to do something good for their community and the environment.
If you are a member of the League of American Bicyclists, please take a moment learn about three board candidates who will put your legal right to the road FIRST:
John Brooking (a regular reader and commenter)
Khal Spencer (a strong advocate for traffic justice)
Then please sign the petition to put them on the ballot for the next election. If you are not a League member but would like to help these fine gentlemen help us, you can join the league and then sign the petition.