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More details on police bike lights program

Posted by on November 3rd, 2005 at 8:37 am

[UPDATE: Don't miss this very informative comment by Greg Raisman from PDOT.]

As I first reported back in September, Portland traffic cops are embarking on a new program to install free lights on bikes. This morning, the Oregonian has a more in-depth story that lays it all out.

Making appearances in the article are traffic safety specialist for PDOT, Mark Lear, traffic cop Mark Kruger, and “Get Lit” program founder and Shift volunteer, Jeff Bernards.

A few observations:

  • I think it’s funny how Lt. Kruger has to cover his butt with the anti-bike crowd and mention how the cops might still issue $94 tickets for riding without a light (moral: be very nice to them when they stop you!).
  • Biggest shocker in that article? Jeff Bernards, cyclist to the core, suggests the cops should “hand out more tickets” to bikers without lights to send a strong message. Now there’s a guy who cares deeply about keeping us safe.
  • And I wonder what ever became of the bike safety brochure? I heard the cops would hand out literature along with the lights but didn’t read about that in the Oregonian article. [update: Just heard from PDOT: It's at the printer!]
  • There seems to be some confusion about the genesis of the cops involvement with this program. I assumed they got the idea from Shift’s highly successful “Get Lit” program. But, in today’s article, Boaz Herzog says Mark Lear from PDOT gave them the idea. And I heard from a reliable source that Commander Bill Sinnott (head of Traffic division) came up with the idea on his own.
  • The Police need a better PR strategy. They should give this program a catchy name like Shift did with “Get Lit”.

All gossip and peanut gallery observations aside, this is an amazing testament to the kind of culture of bike friendliness that resides in our current Police administration. This is happening because people from the community, the city and law enforcement only care about one thing; keeping cyclists alive. And for that I give kudos all around!

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Comments
  • dayaram November 3, 2005 at 11:09 am

    Good news about the lights. I agree with Jeff Bernard about the issuing of tickets to biker riders who are ” scofflaws”. I’ve been a regular rider/commuter for over 20 years and I’m amazed at the dangerous stunts I’ve seen from some riders from running stoplights to zooming past on either the left or right of other bikes. I don’t buy the argument that some make that the only people who need to be responsible are the car drivers. If tickets are what it takes then go for it!

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  • Tony November 3, 2005 at 11:19 am

    Being fairly politically involved, and read-up on local affairs, I find it interesting that Mark Kruger is involved with this outreach program. This is a cop who has single-handedly been responsible for Portland having to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement costs due to his heavy-handed tactics at peaceful protests. Google him and seek out some of the vieos. It’ll make you ill. He is well beyond the point where we might all benefit from increased interaction and “getting to know one another.” This guy should have long ago been fired and arguably should be in jail.
    Why am I bringing this up? I am not anti-cop. I am anti-Mark Kruger.
    This guy should be beyond any PR use for the Portland Police. He ia a liability. We should make it too uncomfortable for the city to retain a guy like this. Riding a bike teaches one a great deal of power and how it is wielded. Biking is a political act. This guy is not on our side.

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  • Elly November 3, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    Suspected origin of this awesome program: Commander Sinnott and Portland “bike lawyer” Mark Ginsberg were spotted brainstorming about such a program at a Critical Mass/Police talk session this summer.

    Talk about the benefits of pursuing diplomatic solutions.

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  • Mark Lear November 3, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks for posting the link to the bike light story.

    I, too, regret that Commander Sinnot was not given the credit for being in the lead in developing this partnership.

    I was asked by the reporter to describe who was reponsible. I told the reporter that the initial credit should go to the Get Lit Program. However, I also made it really clear that Commander Sinnott was the lead in getting this project off the ground. I told him, as I have told you many times, that Commandeer Sinnot is an incredible resource in our three E (Engineering, Education, and Enforcemetnt) efforts to improve bike safety.

    PS With respect to praise let us not forget Greg Raisman, PDOT Bike Safety Specialist, who desrves tons of credit for moving this project forward.

    thanks again for your great website

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  • Greg Raisman November 4, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    The bike light program is turning into a surprising experience. Let me share my perspective on how it’s developed and what program goals are. I was not a part of the Oregonian article and have not responded to this conversation earlier because I am actually on vacation as I write this post.

    I believe that we are experiencing an historic opportunity in terms of strengthening relationships and partnerships between Police and the bicycle community. Tension between police and cyclists is not unique to Portland. What does seem unusual to me is the level of outreach our police are doing to improve the relationship. It’s also very nice to see long-time cycling advocates step up to foster the dialogue.

    When I talk about Police in the context of this story, I am largely talking about the Police Traffic Division. The Portland Police Bureau has several Precincts and Divisions. The Traffic Division is responsible for traffic safety related law enforcement citywide. 15 years ago, the Traffic Division had twice as many officers. During the past 15 years, population has gone up substantially, east Portland was annexed which increased the amount of roads that need service, and the number of people on bikes and walking has grown. Police have an organizational commitment to multi-modal safety, but really do need more resources from our community in order to provide basic safety services that we need.

    Commander Bill Sinnott came on board at the Traffic Division less than a year ago. He’s had a huge impact. He is vocal about recognizing that Portland will enjoy more and more cyclists as time goes on, that it’s imperitive that we share the road, and that multi-modal enforcement is one tool that can make our streets safer. He’s by no means alone in the Division, this commitment exists throughout the organization. However, having such as strong voice in command is definitely making a huge impact.

    To give a few examples of the efforts that I’ve seen:

    1) Last year, the BTA, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, and PDOT sat down for a 1.5 day facilitated conversation about how to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety through more effective enforcement. Police had more representatives there than any other organization. The product of that work was a pedetrian and bicycle opportunity analysis that I will ask Jonathan to post to this site when I am back in the office.

    2) PDOT recently held Bicycle Safety Leadership Workshops in each neighborhood district coalition in the city. Police, Neighborhoods, PDOT, the BTA, Bicycle Advisory Committee, BikePortland, and members of Shift participated. These were half-day Workshops. Again, Police participated at a higher level than any other organization. Officers from every precinct in the city, as well as the commander, leutenant, several sergants and officers from the Traffic Division participated.

    3) The commander and leutenant of the Traffic Division meet monthly with Critical Mass to develop strategies to ease tensions. It seems to be working. The post on this web site about the Halloween Critical Mass is one of the most promising stories I’ve read in some time. If you haven’t read it, check out http://bikeportland.org/2005/11/01/report-halloween-critical-mass/.

    4) Last Wednesday, the Traffic Division organized a meeting at their headquarters with the BTA Crash Team. Anyone could have come and a reasonably diverse contingent of cyclists did. This will not be the last opportunity for a discussion like the one that occurred. The meeting lasted three hours and included:

    a) A discussion about what happens when there’s a crash, how it’s investigated, and how decisions are made about pursuing charges

    b) The District Attorney in charge of traffic crimes then described how the DA’s office decides whether to pursue the case and what happens when they do (I hear there is a follow-up meeting at the DA’s office in the works).

    c) A crash reconstruction presentation that got into the deep details about how the crash is investigated

    d) A one-hour conversation about how to improve relationships between Police and the cycling community.

    5) Police have begun running enforcement actions geared towards enforcing against motorists who violate cyclists rights. To do this, a plain clothes officer rides on a stretch of street with safety issues. When their rights are violated, the motorist is pulled over by another officer.

    6) Police are also gearing up to conduct multi-modal Intersection Safety Enforcement Actions. These will be held at intersections with known safety concerns and will be conducted in an equitable manner. Jaywalkers, drivers and cyclists who don’t stop as signals or stop signs, drivers who don’t stop and stay stopped, speeders, etc, will all get Police attention during these operations.

    7) The bicycle light program. Here’s my perspective:

    A couple of months ago, Commander Sinnott called me because he wanted to find a way to distribute lights to cyclists. I told him about the Get Lit effort (he hadn’t heard of it until then) and I told him that they had a great effort and were purchasing really nice lights at a deep discount from Planet Bike.

    I contacted Jeff Bernards to get information about Get Lit and to find a contact at Planet Bike. Jeff gave me the information as well as his opinion that the Police shouldn’t worry about people without lights. That it was a waste of tax payer money. He’s entitled to his opinion, but it doesn’t stop the Police mission which thankfully includes working to improve safety for cyclists.

    The general idea is that if officers (largely from the Traffic Division) see a cyclist without lights, they will:

    a) pull them over because riding without lights is against state law and there is a long history of lack of lights leading to serious crashes in the City of Portland.

    b) the officer will install a free set of front and read lights on the bicycle- each light with three LEDs

    c) the officer will provide a handout of bicycle safety

    d) depending on the circumstance and officer discetion, either a warning or citation will be given.

    Parts a-c are fairly straight forward. Part d is where the conversation really lied in terms of developing the program. Riding without lights is against the law and is a ticketable offence. However, if you go to court and have lights on your bike, the judge will throw the citation out.

    By giving lights, the police are giving what it will take to get out of the citation. By presenting a citation, the person will have to spend about a 1/2 day in court (instead of at work or doing something else more useful than sitting around the courthouse) and extra officer time will be used.

    It begs the question: Which is most cost-effective?

    a) Not doing anything about the situation? This seems unacceptable in light of the fact that resources exist to help and cyclists have been hurt and killed in our city because they were invisible.

    b) Just giving citations? We have specific traffic safety funds that can purchase lights. The lights that are worth more than $35 are being sold to the city for $9.90 (at manufacturer cost). Why wouldn’t we get bike lights out there while we can?

    c) Giving lights and a citation? If the only infraction is lack of lights, why would we want to use officer time as well as drag the person through the system if we know their use of lights will make the citation go away?

    d) Giving the lights and warnings? Our community gets lights on bikes. We get positive outreach from Police to the cycling community. A direct conversation about bicycle safety with a safety handout. We spend $9.90 in grant funds ($10.00 counting the .10 safety handout).

    This does not mean that no citations will be given out. Officers can give citations at their discetion. Officers likely will give citations if there are additional infractions (for example, run a red light or stop sign or ride the wrong way down the street without lights and you’ll likely get a citation).

    I can say that I’ve spent a lot of time researching crash data in the City. In terms of bike crashes, fault remains about 50-50 (same goes for ped crashes). So motorists are at fault and bicyclists are at fault about half the time. It just goes to show that regardless of how we chose to get around, we’re all human.

    Lack of lights, running stops, and riding against traffic are very common errors that cyclists make that lead to crashes. These are outlined in the Opportunity Analysis I will ask Jonathan to post when I get back to work.

    When these discussions happen, the question often arises about the numbers of citations to cyclists. Here it is: Last year the Police gave 120,000 citations. 500 were to cyclists and about half of those were for riding on the transit mall.

    If anyone would like to discuss any of these efforts, please call. My contact is (503) 823-1052. Commander Sinnott can be reached at (503) 823-2247.

    Thank you for making our city a better place because you ride your bicycle. Please ride safely.

    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Office of Transportation
    (503) 823-1052

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  • Portland Transport November 15, 2005 at 7:01 am

    Licht aan! (Get Lit!)

    Sometimes the parallels are just eerie. In the Netherlands a major safety campaign was under way to get cyclists to have proper lights. They even had cops handing out lights. Sound familiar?

    The difference I noticed with a lot of ‘programs’ like thi…

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