Police perspective on fixed-gear enforcement

Several cyclists out on the streets in the last few days have relayed their concerns to me about what they perceive as increased police enforcement of fixed-gear riders.

Given the recent court decision and heightened awareness of this issue, I asked Traffic Division Lieutenant Mark Kruger for an official stance on how the Portland Police Bureau are enforcing this.

Here’s his response:

From a command perspective in the Traffic Division we are not encouraging or discouraging any officer from stopping and citing a bicyclist for riding a bike w/o brakes. Officers are at their liberty and discretion to stop and cite any traffic violation that they observe. The work that we specifically encourage are DUII arrests, crash investigations and cites for moving violations. Officers, however, may choose to cite any violation that they happen across while out on patrol and I expect that is what is happening regarding these bikes.

We have not and will not be organizing any directed effort to locate and cite this violation. I’ve seen and heard lots of arguments for and against enforcing the violation in the last week (many on your web site) and my opinion is that requiring a mechanical brake on a bike is a reasonable and common sense safety consideration. I think that most of the officers in the Traffic Division share that opinion so from time to time officers may cite the violation when they see it in the normal course of their duties.

This sounds like a reasonable position given the current legal situation.

However, in situations like this, statements from high-ranking officers are only half the story. The important question is; how are the rank-and-file actually conducting themselves out on the streets?

I have heard from several sources that there has been a vast increase in the amount of fixed-gear riders pulled over in the last few days.

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dotRob
dotRob
16 years ago

This makes me wonder, how bike-savvy is the average “officer out on patrol”? I mean, most of my friends don’t understand what a fixed gear is or how to tell the difference between a fixie and a “normal” bike, at a glance. How likely are officers (even on cycles!) to be able to spot the difference?

Preston
Preston
16 years ago

Maybe they’re looking for bike messengers.

i.e. Ticketing fixies is a way of ticketing cyclists who track stand, sometimes run lights, etc.

Just a wild theory.

On a similar note, are we going to see enforcement for getting brakes put on skateboards? Those things are a menace on sidewalks.

dotRob
dotRob
16 years ago

Or (duh) I guess they could be looking for standard brake levers. 🙂

Preston
Preston
16 years ago

You miss the point. Why all of a sudden are fixies such a menace? Just conjecture on my part as to why suddenly the fixation on fixies.

Stewart
16 years ago

“ticketing cyclists who track stand…”

Is track-standing a violation? Geez, I do that with all my geared bikes as well.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
16 years ago

Stewart,
Track stands are not illegal. As long as you cease forward motion you are fine.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the skinny straight from the former Commander of the Traffic Division, Bill Sinnott.

magnum
magnum
16 years ago

If this were true then how do you account for the fact that suddenly out of the blue each individual traffic officer has just randomly started enforcing bicycle violations. And not just brake tickets. This started before the recent court case. Prior to 6 months ago I had never heard of a bicycle recieving a ticket for not signaling a lane change. In the past 6 months I know of several cyclists who have recieved tickets for such a petty violation. I have trouble believing that the traffic division is not encouraging officers to cite bicycles. In fact I would go so far as to call this an our right lie.

Tankagnolo Bob
Tankagnolo Bob
16 years ago

Again I join the wizzing contest. Lets get some brakes on our bike and use this energy to deal with the environment or stopping the war, getting Georgie out of office, anything that is actually worth fighting for.

Tankagnolo Bob

Randy
Randy
16 years ago

The PPD Traffic Division is out of control. This morning was the icing on the cake.

Jasun Wurster
16 years ago

If the officers are stopping all bicycles, including ones with mechanical breaks, and making the operator prove that they can skid on dry, level, clean pavement. Then I would have to say that this is not selective enforcement.

Somehow, I do not believe that this is the case, which is very disturbing for I suspect that many cyclists, including me with disk brakes, are operating bicycles with mechanical breaks that are adjusted so that they do not skid.

My thoughts are if the PPB is going to enforce this law, then they need to do it equally to all bicycles.

The reason for this is that if this were the case, i.e. Stopping a cyclists to ensure that they are in compliance with ORS 815.820(2)(a) would result in more tickets and more public questioning to city leaders that are along the lines of “what the fuck are you doing?”.

felix
16 years ago

I have been watching all of this unfold… Go buy a $15 dollar brake already and stop giving money to the police!

I know once you get the ticket you can take it to court but then they just get your money for the ticket and court costs. Going to court over a ticket is not the only way to change the law.

It just gives the PPD more reason to harass bikers. Whats next, tall bikes, then minis, then 20s, the 24s, the 26s till the police have what they want, less bikers…….

dee
16 years ago

How is a lock ring and cog any different than a lever and brake?

Steve
16 years ago

Our roads are unsafe because the police are busy riding bikes in downtown, are busy harassing cyclists, and are hiding in marked cop cars instead of mixing it up with traffic in unmarked cars so they can see the asshole drivers in action. Get rid of bike cops. Get rid of motorcycle cops. Get rid of cops in marked police cars. Put them ALL in cheap used small cars with environmentalist bumper stickers and let them see the assholes in SUV’s, monster trucks and runt-mobiles(little cars with illegal, loud exhausts driven by runts) in action, up close and personal just like I do every time I get in my car and go ANYWHERE in this area.

A policeman’s job can be hazardous when they are actually doing their job fighting criminals like asshole drivers that tailgate, speed and weave in and out of traffic. If you’re in a cop car you will not see it. Not even a SUV driving asshole is stupid enough to tailgate a cop car. Put that cop in a little Jap car so they can confront the criminals. The Portland cops should be able to write hundreds of tickets daily for unsafe driving and illegal equipment. It could make a difference. At the very least they should make a lot of money. It’s pretty safe to stop a female riding a bike and give a ticket for no brake. Could be more hazardous to stop a monster truck with floor boards at eye level. Might be a big dumbass with some warrants driving that thing. Might be a gun and some dope in those runt-mobiles. A girl on a bike is pretty easy prey.

If the police can’t do better than they are doing then at every opportunity we should vote NO MONEY for police.

pdxcommuter
pdxcommuter
16 years ago

Again, I’m not a lawyer.

Rather than reiterate what I and others have written, I’ll summarize by saying that in my opinion the judge’s decision was in error and should be appealed as soon as possible. The law may be wrong, or outdated, but the legislature is the group that gets to change it, not the judge.

If the decision is reversed on appeal, then I believe that all the tickets that PPB have written for this “violation” will be thrown out. The time and effort the police put into writing those tickets will be wasted. I would rather see the police doing something more effective to ensure public safety. So, a reasonable course of action would be for the PPB to not write any more tickets on this issue until the appeals process works itself out.

Mr. Ginsberg needs to make sure he wins that appeal. Failure to win that appeal will only encourage PPB to take additional actions to further erode bicyclists’ rights. If reports from this morning are accurate, the next tactic is to restrict bicyclists to bike lanes, regardless of the exceptions written into the law. The tactics after that _could_ be to restrict bicyclists to streets which only have bike lanes. And so on.

So, I have several suggestions for Mr. Ginsberg. The rest of this post is addressed to him.

One strategy might be to examine legislative intent. What’s the history of the skid standard in the statute? How long has the skid standard been on the books? What types of bicycles were being ridden when the legislature wrote that law? Did those bikes have what we would today call fixed gears? Did the legislature, police, and bicycle community of that time engage in a similar discussion to the one we are having today? In that case, the legislature really did have an opportunity to worry about chains breaking, or muscle cramps. They chose to go with the simple to understand skid standard, with full knowledge that it would apply to fixed gear bicycles.

I work as a software engineer on open source projects, so I’m used to being able to look up older revisions of computer code on-line. The ORS, however, does not come with a proper on-line revision history. If there is a paper archive of the ORS, it’s probably in Salem.

Suggestion: save yourself a trip or two. Ask members of the Salem Bicycle club to visit that ORS archive.

Is there other research that could be farmed out to the bicycling community, such as searching old copies of the _Oregonian_ for letters to the editor about bicycle brakes, at the time the original skid standard was written? Suggestion: make a list of that research. Post that list on Jonathon’s blog. See if anyone volunteers. If you can get it done by a volunteer, then that will save the cost of you or your paralegal having to do it.

Yes, by posting a list of items to research, there is a risk tipping your hand regarding legal strategy of an appeal. I suspect that they probably already anticipate what arguments you’ll use. So the benefit of spreading the work may outweigh the risk.

There will be other costs: fees to appeal, fees for research, and maybe costs to bring in League of American Bicyclist experts from out of town. Don’t ask me why but an out of town expert is always given more weight than the local expert. Will you or those who got tickets be able to fund these costs?

Suggestion: think about a legal defense fund. Maybe set that up through the BTA. Maybe set it up through your law firm. I’ve seen land use lawyers successfully use a client account (I may be mis-using the term) as a collection point for neighborhoods threatened by a development.

Dabby
Dabby
16 years ago

By the way, I must say that the officer you spoke to did his job in skirting the issue. It takes a very creative person to say nothing, whilst still saying alot, as Officer Kruger has done here.
There is no question that this is profiling.
Absolutely no question.
And there is no question that the last thing that the police are going to do is admit to it, especially to a journalist.
I see this mornings bridge sting as a attempt to draw attention away from targeting messengers, and make it look like a crackdown on bikes in general.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was making people believe he/she didn’t exist.
I am going to go way out on a limb here, but today, in discussing this, it was brought up that this increase has something to do with the new police chief, who’s name escapes me. (I really don’t care who it is to be honest).
It was pointed out to me, by a few diffrent people, that she was in control in the past, and at the same time, a bicycle crackdown such as this began to occur.
Please correct me if I am wrong, as I was not living here then, but I was assured this was the case then, as it is now.
Is it worse to be profiling and attacking groups because you misunderstand or dislike them, as our new chief appears to be? Or is it worse to come on to a woman you work with, as our last chief did?
My point is this:
I do not care who denies it. I do not care what the police are told to say.
This is a fact. It is going on. And it is a violation of our rights, and of the law.
The police are breaking the law in order to enforce it, in my personal opinion.
By the way, on tuesday, 4 messengers alone were ticketed, and obviously harrased by downtown police. I was told by one that she was referred to as MISSY, and the strength of her legs as a girl seemed to be in question. And monday, there were at least two more. This is only an account of the people I spoke to, so who knows the real numbers?
So, I ask you again, is this warranted?
We have messengers, whom this city doesn’t realize, but fully relies on to get shit done, worried.
And when you have a perfectly legal, hard working messengers riding around town, having to watch for police instead of spending all focus on traffic, let alone the heavy work load, someone is going to get killed. Are the police ready to take responsibility for this?
I am pissed. One of my favorite people, someone I have been friends with since high school or earlier(and I am 40), someone I would gladly give my life for, told me today he was almost scared to work. He rides a fixed gear, he has a family, and he cannot afford a irroneous ticket. And his bicycle, his only bicycle, does not have holes drilled for brakes.
He could not comply with this crap even if he wanted to.
If one of my friends ends up hurt because he was being harrased by a policeman/woman, this will never end.
I will make it my life misson to legally bring down the chain of command that makes up the Portland Police dept. Starting at the top.

And, PDX Commuter,
FYI, I amsure MR. Ginsberg has this locked up, as far as the skills to handle it.
But, in the future you may want to use a little couth, and not hand over your suppposed “legal secrets” on a public forum, where those who they may be used against can certainly also read them.

Brett
Brett
16 years ago

Dabby,
You really seem to be a true believer in what you say so I wont try to illuminate any other facets of humanity for you. I do, however, hope that sometime you will be able to be more empathetic towards all of your fellow humans, not just the ones that you agree with. Oh, and just to keep this on topic… what is happening is not a violation of the law, it is the reporting by the police of a percevied violation of the law (which is ALL policepersons do), and a ruling on the occurance by a judge based on the litigation of the lawyers. It is not a violation of the law… it IS the law. If you don’t like it then, perhaps, true change could come from getting the letter of the law changed, not to “… bring down the chain of command that makes up the Portland Police dept.”.

As evidenced by the HUGE amount of energy on this issue there IS a general belief (simply count the posts) that a front brake is not too much to ask. Also, and this is not lip service, If your friend is really in fear of losing his job, and all the strife that would cause his family- I will personally pay for a retrofit of a front brake on his bike. I think that he would place the welfare of his family above any crusade. He can get my email thru the web host.

Chakra Lu
Chakra Lu
16 years ago

why brake something that is fixed? isn’t that redundant? sure, we could put a lever on a bike to make it look like there is a brake…what’s next? then you can’t have this or you have to have a ridiculous one of those…either way, the fixed gear has a brake…she came to a stop…just because the idiot officer wanting a little extra dough said he doesn’t know how she stopped, SHE STILL STOPPED!!! and the fact that they are not allowing a demonstration is against what the judicial system is about (innocent until PROVEN guilty)…she proved she was innocent of violating the brake law when she stopped when “pulled” over…anyway, just another pissed person chipping in…

Sasha
Sasha
16 years ago

Dabby,

Your angst towards the police is completely misplaced, as is the general frustration with PPB on this board. The issues here surround the law not enforcement. People shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Police like their jobs, and they do their jobs. Right now, unfortunately, one of the tenets of their job is that riding a fixed gear bike without a brake is, at the moment, illegal and you can be cited.

It totally sucks. But it’s not their fault. If the law is appealed/clarified by a higher judge or fixed by the legislature, they will stop citing people immediately. That’s how it works, and they’re professionals and adhere to their role.

Ranting and raving at the police right now is, to be punny, just shooting the messenger.

S

Dabby
Dabby
16 years ago

By the way,
If you are pulling over and targeting certain types of people, it is called Racial profiling.
And, there is no way that you can tell me, your momma or anyone else that racial profiling, or targeting any selected group, for the purpose of harrasment, is legal, whether under the guise of a badly worded ordinace, or whether they just don’t like lincoln continental’s. If a officer does not like Lincoln Continentals, and therefore pulls someone over for driving them, this is harrasment and racial profiling.
This is why the police are able to do it, because your sedated asses let them.
WAKE UP and smell the cat food.

BLDZR
16 years ago

In response to posts 16 and 18.

While Dabby’s defensiveness may be a bit much at times, but I totally disagree that his frustration and anger toward the police is misplaced. This law has been on the books since 1983, but is only enforced “at the officer’s discretion.” according to Kruger’s own words. So he admits to selective enforcement. That is NOT what the law is for. The other point that I, and so many others have made, is that this particular law is unnecessary. It does nothing to protect the public. Those enforcing it do not even understand it well enough to tell you why a coaster brake and a fixed gear are practically different. The major point is that while getting this law off the books will not likely reduce the instances of police harrassment of cyclists, it removes a justification for it. And if you have some fool belief that Portland Police do not harass cyclists, then you have a lot to learn.

Again I say that of course having a front brake on your bike is a good idea, but that doesn’t require it to be law. As a free citizen, it is my right to act out bad ideas. If harm comes because of those ideas, it is THEN the responsibility of the law to do something about it. Preventative, or protective law a means to control the population. And yes, that’s a bad thing.

The passage of this law is not the fault of the police, but the means of enforcing it is. Lt. Kruger, Officer Barnum, and many others on the PPB force have no respect for cyclists, and this is how they demonstrate it.

I would be more likely to believe that this wasn’t just another example of convenient law enforcement if the PPB weren’t so eager to tase, shoot, and beat citizens.

It is naive to presume that because the cops are supposed to protect the public, that each and every one actually has an interest in doing so.

Brett
Brett
16 years ago

Wow

Qwendolyn
Qwendolyn
16 years ago

“…from time to time officers may cite the violation when they see it in the normal course of their duties.”

Translation:

“In between harrassing homeless people and shooting minorities, we will be f#cking with cyclists.”

Not encouraging or discouraging, eh? Hmmmmm.

SKiDmark
SKiDmark
16 years ago

Once again I will point out that a front brake on a fixed does not satify the law either because you can’t skid the front wheel. A rear brake on a fixed is redundant, because you can skid the rear wheel without a seperate mechanical brake. The law is badly written and needs to be revised. Whatever the outcome is, I can’t put a brake on my track bike, and neither can a lot of other people, because most track racing bikes do not have brake holes.

The Police should only be popping people for “no brake” when they DON’T STOP. To just pull someone up because they are riding a brakeless track bike and they are able to stop is harassment.

Jon
Jon
16 years ago

the Portland Police may not be encouraging or discouraging oficers to cite fixies, but that doesn’t mean that the rank and file don’t see it as something to look for. If there is precedent for a court upholding the concept that a fixie doesn’t have a “brake” then every cop in town who knows the court ruling is gonna be looking for bikes without brakes.

It seems obvious to me that control over ones vehicle is the key to safety regardless of the type of vehicle. A skid is not necessarily control and is subjective to observers (like police). If a car skids sideways in the street I bet any officer in town would ticket the driver for reckless driving or something, even if the driver meant to skid.

furthermore a bicycle stopping is determined by the contact between the bike tire and the road, regardless of how the tire is slowed, via a caliper “brake” on the rim or by a brake on the drive train (downshifting in a motor vehicle would be equivalent to applying back force on the pedals in a bicycle.) Either method is a controlled brake for the vehicle. both have limitations and stopping distances and neither will afford total control. If object jumps in front of a bike or a car the object will be struck. this object will also act as a “brake” on the vehicle. Results may vary depending on the size and mass of both the vehicle and the object.

kenichi-kun
16 years ago

portland police are awesome and you know it. quit your bitching and have a leg spasm!

dee, there’s no cable between the lock ring and the cog, though i’ve unintentionally made one out of spoke material before.

fight the real fight: get rid of parked pick-up trucks and brooklyn sidewalks should be made of nerf!

Dabby
Dabby
16 years ago
Sasha
Sasha
16 years ago

BLDZR,

You’re straight up wrong. Save killing people, there’s no law on the books that isn’t selectively enforced. The entire concept of law, policing, and public safety is about perceived enforcement and perceived punishment.

The law is there to facilitate this. The people make it (for better or worse) and then it is given credence by the level of enforcement it gets. This is not a black or white thing, and no law should be enforced 100% of the time. Indeed, if a law is over-enforced, or the penalty is publicly perceived as too harsh for the crime, the law will likely be undone. That may not actually be a good thing in some cases.

I’m no messenger, and I don’t claim to be an all-knowing rider. But I have been riding in traffic downtown for 6 or 7 years, and I have never once been harrassed by a cop. I’ve broken every bike/traffic law on the books at some point. In fact I’ve had many run-ins with the PPB in non biking situations, and you know what? They’re good people doing a thankless job. I’m sure there are some bad apples, but there are bad apples on bikes too.

The comments on racial profiling in the context of this conversation are also just plain silly. This is not about race at all. Profiling in policing is when an enforcement group acts in a concerted manner to gather, track, and target a specific group. That is not the same as recognizing something you know is citable and then citing it. Leaping to “oh no they’re profiling me” does a disservice to the situation.

Go do a ride-along (highly recommended) with them. See what they have to deal with all the time. Try some empathy.

And believe me, I agree with everyone. Writing tickets for no front brake is dumb, and the law is poorly written. But I find no fault in the PPB. Indeed if they write enough tickets and over-enforce the law, they’ll actually motivate people to change it. Which is exactly what I was highlighting above.

Pleading and hating on/with PPB for change is a band-aid, not a solution.

S

Brett
Brett
16 years ago

Sasha,
Right on, love the empathy remark.

Dan Kaufman
16 years ago

You can see Ayla coming to a skidding stop on dry pavement at http://www.pdxk.com/crankmychain

SKiDmark
SKiDmark
16 years ago

Downshifting a vehicle is NOT the same. If you downshift a vehicle to a stop you stall the engine and being that there is still power to the ignition, it is bound to buck forward a few times before coming to a halt. With a fixed you resist the forward motion of the pedals and slow down to stop, trackstand optional.Or you can lift the back end, stop pedaling, and drop the back wheel, stopping the bike. This is a skip stop, it is faster than skidding.

All you folks making assumptions about how a fixed gear works and how safe or unsafe they are should read this: Fixed Gear 101
http://www.63xc.com/gregg/101_1.htm

Patrick
Patrick
16 years ago

Keep in mind, we’re talking about TRAFFIC COPS here. The argument that cops should be cracking down on crack heads, child molesters and other more serious crimes is not relevant. Traffic Cops jobs are to do crack down on traffic stuff. Beat cops crack down on crack houses, etc. Traffic Cops look for violations in their own world, traffic related stuff, you get the idea….

Neonk
Neonk
16 years ago

Hey this made it to Australia:

See half way down or so:

http://cyclingnews.com.au/tech.php?id=tech/2006/news/08-04

Neon

BLDZR
16 years ago

re: Post 27

Privelege really is great, isn’t it? Maybe you are lucky enough to not have experienced police harassment, but not everyone is. Just because something hasn’t happened to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to other people.

more importantly, what is your point? Is it that the law is about perception of enforcement, so the cops have the right to enforce whatever laws they want, whenever they want? Is it that because they have “a thankless job” then I should give them an allowance to shake me down?

The police have always been a legalized gang. They look out for each other more than for you or me. They target members of the population that they think are weak. This includes cyclists. The particular cops involved in this fiasco are notoriously unfriendly to the public. I do not feel sorry for them in the least.

I agree that to say that this is the equivalent of racial profiling is asinine and unfair to those that have experienced racial profiling, but it is still a show of force by the police squarely aimed at cyclists. They are, indeed, targetting people on bicycles, pulling them over, and THEN deciding what to cite them for. That is not, by any definition, acceptable law enforcement. It is harassment, plain and simple. If you fail to see that, you are wearing blinders.

Dabby
Dabby
16 years ago

Hop Stop.

SKiDmark
SKiDmark
16 years ago

Thanks Dabby I think Hop Stop sounds better than skip stop.

Steve
16 years ago

Just a question, not an observation: Has there been any noticeable increase in police ticketing of cyclists since mayor Potter took command? Was it this bad under mayor Katz?

He was a cop at one time. Maybe he doesn’t like cyclists and is telling the cops to do this excessive policing of cyclists? Just a thought, not an observation.

Dabby
Dabby
16 years ago

It has been brought to my attention that people believe I am acting as the representative for PUMA.
I have never, and will never claim this to be the case.
My thoughts represent me.
While every messenger is a member of PUMA by default, since PUMA is meant to be for all messengers, we all have our own, personal voice.
This is my own personal voice. If you don’t like it, turn your computer off.
I also reccomend that any and all cyclists support PUMA, either verbally or financialy, as, once again, messengers are the true core of the cycling community.

Harry Hall
Harry Hall
15 years ago

Hey, I’ve ridden fixed on and off (currently off, building a new road single speed) since 1971 and except for some lame attempts at track racing have ALWAYS used brakes. By not using my knees as a braking system, I still have them. It’s just plain stupid to ride fixed with no brakes. Riding brakeless fixed in traffic puts one on the same intelligence level as Prez Bush.

jeff
jeff
15 years ago

“messengers are the true core of the cycling community.”

I still don’t buy that…

adam
adam
15 years ago

Sasha, I read that post 33 has asked you a few questions? care to respond? hello?