Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 7th, 2006 at 9:07 am
“These trials really drove the larger point of all of this home to me. These officers hide behind the shield of “safety,” but in many cases, their real goal is to protect the interests of motor vehicle operators. They clearly see bikes as a threat to the flow of traffic and deal with them accordingly.”
The case of Nerf (nickname of a Portland cyclist):
Nerf was going north on the sidewalk in front of the Marriot Hotel on SW Broadway. He pled no contest to the sidewalk charge, but Barnum milked the fact that he was on the sidewalk as best as he could. If I heard correctly, though, he actually pursued Nerf by riding his motorcycle on the sidewalk! Insane.
According to Barnum’s testimony, he asks Nerf where his brake is, and Nerf produces his stick (slung under his bag). The judge asks for exact dimensions of the stick (1″ x 12″). Ginsberg actually let Nerf seriously defend the stick as a means of stopping, even going so far as to point, on a diagram of a bike, to where he would jam it against his wheel.
Barnum actually tried to submit as evidence a bunch of stuff he’d printed from Wikipedia. The judge put him in his place about the reliability of Wikipedia and its uselessness in a court of law. They probably won’t make that mistake again.
Barnum on fixed gear bikes:
Barnum was totally open about the fact that fixed gears can skid, saying that he sees it all the time and has no doubt that Nerf could skid his. He just will not accept that the mechanism being used to skid is a true “brake.”
He went so far as to show a diagram of a fixed gear bike and ask why the brake(s) wasn’t labelled. Thankfully, that got thrown out.
What upsets me most about this is that, having admitted that this bike can skid, the officer is nitpicking about what makes it skid, suggesting that it doesn’t matter that you can stop your bicycle…the real issue is what you name the thing that stops your bike.
That doesn’t sound like a safety concern to me. That sounds like semantics.
Barnum also threw in the ever popular, “what if your chain breaks?” question. I don’t know how to begin to express what a silly and irrelevant question that is. Mark didn’t touch it either. All I can say is, don’t get too excited about that new Electra Amsterdam. As far as Balzer’s logic is concerned, that bike, with its coaster brake, is illegal.
Barnum’s terminology was sad and worrisome. Fixed gear, single speed, and single gear were used as interchangable terms. Tires and wheels were the same thing. At one point he said that Nerf’s bike wasn’t legal because with its freewheeling front sprocket, there were no cogs or discs designed to stop the front wheel. I still don’t know what that means.
He also kept pushing the notion that both wheels must be braked and able to skid.
More thoughts on brakes, skidding and front wheels:
An excellent argument could be made saying that the only legal bikes on the road are those with just a coaster brake, just a rear brake, or a fixed gear. Any bike with a front brake (the common solution to fixed gear citations) is technically illegal.
Why? Because the law requires that a rider be able to skid braked wheels on flat, dry pavement. If there’s a brake on the front wheel, it is a “braked wheel’ and must, therefore, be able to skid. Your head will be skidding on the pavement before you skid a front wheel.
The case of Wayne McCabe:
McCabe had the line of the day, but it didn’t get him anywhere.
He explained that the reason he was riding in the middle lane of SW Broadway when he was cited for not using the bike lane was that safety is his top priority and experience tells him that the middle lane is the safest lane to be in. He emphasized that he rides for a living and has a young daughter. In order to work and father another day, safety is clearly his top concern.
He brought up a friend, Kristine Okins, who was killed on that block while riding in the bike lane. His argument was that the bike lane was inherently unsafe and that he took that as license to avoid it as provided in ORS. The judge disagreed, saying that the law provides for actual threats, not hypothetical or historical ones.
The judge’s response here was predictable and, I think given the law, just. But it was still a disappointment.
The stay-in-your-bike-line! law needs to be loosened up, at least in downtown Portland. I ride that stretch of road every day and Wayne is absolutely correct: the safest thing to do is take the lane.
Perspective and thoughts on the day:
This trial really drove the larger point of all of this home to me. These officers hide behind the shield of “safety,” but in many cases, their real goal is to protect the interests of motor vehicle operators. They clearly see bikes as a threat to the flow of traffic and deal with them accordingly.
“So rather than face the fact that their mode of choice is inferior for getting around a dense downtown, motorists scrutinize every move of their faster, cheaper, mostly-younger, healthier foe.”
Safety concerns justify citing cyclists who run red lights, don’t use lights, or ride on the sidewalk. Safety concerns do not justify giving cyclists $242 tickets for riding safely in traffic lanes. The thinly masked concern there is for the poor motorist who is forced to drive BEHIND a bicyclist.
The irony here is that the true source of motorist rage downtown is not, I would argue, getting stuck behind bicyclists, but rather, getting passed by bicyclists. It’s an assault on a motorist’s sense of entitlement to recognize the fact that a kid on a single speed bike is making better time than you are in that expensive machine that’s capable of going 100+ mph.
I think this is why messengers and fast, assertive, urban cyclists fall under such scrutiny. They’re not hurting people and they’re certainly not holding up traffic. If anything, they’re very visibly leaving motor vehicle traffic in their dust…and that makes motorists very very angry. “Not fair!”
So rather than face the fact that their mode of choice is inferior for getting around a dense downtown, motorists scrutinize every move of their faster, cheaper, mostly-younger, healthier foe. Luckily for them, messengers, already fed up with profiling and having chips on their shoulders, break plenty of laws and just happen to favor a type of bicycle that some judges are willing to label as illegal based on a technicality.
I don’t hear motorists complain much about about tweakers and security officers weaving their mountain bikes down sidewalks, but when messengers step out of line, Barnum and Balzer step in to put them back in their place, back in their margin, back in their lane, back where it’s “safe.” As such, the Portland Police Bureau, under the flag of safety, serve as protectors of the motorists throne.
At this point in Portland’s bikey history, the police know just enough to make a mess of things. Police officers from many other cities would be intrigued to see a bicycle downtown. Portland police note which lane you choose to ride in and can identify a fixed-gear bike on sight. We’ve got a ways to go, but that’s a start.
Thank you Carl for this report and your thoughts. I think you bring up some very important issues that the community must deal with in the very near future.
There was a lot more that happened yesterday and I hope to bring you more details and reports ASAP. For now, check out the Oregonian’s coverage.