Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on April 4th, 2007 at 9:12 am
I have covered bicycle-related law enforcement issues extensively on this site.
My coverage has mirrored changes in my personal understanding and experience of the complex relationship between police officers and bicyclists in Portland.
In the past few years, I’ve had many experiences with the Police Bureau. Back in August of 2005, I questioned their presence at Critical Mass (after an argument with an officer during the ride), I’ve joined officers on ride-alongs in patrol cars and on bikes, I’ve interviewed a Commander, worked with the Traffic Division on bike theft issues, and have had contact with officers on numerous issues from bike crash investigations, to neighborhood safety.
As editor of this site, I am in the challenging position of trying to facilitate this relationship while maintaining credibility and respect from both sides.
My awareness of the issues and my sense of purpose has evolved considerably since that Critical Mass skirmish in August of ’05, but covering this issue is still not easy.
Most people appreciate my efforts, but others have labeled me an apologist and a “mouthpiece” for the Police Bureau. On the other side, I shudder to think what the officers are saying as they read stories and comments down at the station.
At this point in time, I’m concerned that there is an ongoing issue around the enforcement practices of some Traffic Division officers. There have been many comments and stories posted here about confusion and frustration about how bicycle laws are being enforced.
There have been controversial “enforcement actions” or “stings”, suspect application of bicycle-related laws — including the right to leave the bike lane to make a turn, and the right to ride a fixed-gear bicycle — and there have been so many bicycle cases at the County courthouse they had to schedule a special, full day of trials to hear them all.
Last week we had an interesting discussion about enforcement practices at a construction zone that sits in the middle of a very popular bikeway.
There were also reports that (despite a divided legal system and pending legislation in Salem) some Portland police officers continue to cite bicyclists for riding fixed gear bicycles even though it is arguably 100% legal to do so.
So what does this all add up to? Is this an issue that needs to be addressed? I’m not sure (that’s why I’m writing this article), but I am sure that if we do nothing, the potential for further confusion, frustration, and divisiveness will remain.
That being said, there are bright spots. One of them is Officer Robert Pickett from Southeast Precinct. He has already made a large effort to facilitate a more cooperative and understanding relationship between cyclists and cops. He has contributed both content and comments to this site and just last night he joined cyclists on the Bicycle Master Plan ride.
We’re grateful that Officer Pickett is taking on this role and this is a very positive and important step, but the issues here have more to do with the Traffic Division (especially since they write write the vast majority of citations).
So, what else can/should we do?
Here are some ideas:
- get on the agenda of the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee and seek their advice,
- write a letter the Mayor outlining points of concern,
- organize a meeting to bring everyone to the table and discuss the issues.
mini-summit at Traffic Division headquarters in 2005.
File photo: 10/27/05.
Or, do you think this is a non-issue? I’m sure some people will think I’m just whining because I feel cyclists should be above the law. That is far from the situation here. I’m writing this to figure out where the community stands on this issue and to hopefully spur some discussion and take action (if necessary).
I am interested in your thoughts.