As we debate stop signs, police enforcement, targeting of bicyclists (or not), and the definition of a brake, let’s clearly draw one distinction.
On the one hand, there is the idea, often brought out at times like this, that some (or most) bicyclists think they are above the law.
On the other hand, there is a growing upset in the bike community over particular laws, and the enforcement and interpretation of them in certain circumstances.
It’s important to untangle these two ideas if we’re going to move forward. The law, for most of us, isn’t an absolute that you can just accept or reject. Sure, you’ve got your libertarians, and you’ve got your anarchists. But the bicycling population for the most part are just ordinary citizens who want to get to work and to the grocery store without fear of being hit by a car or fined for something.
Our streets have recently been inundated with bicyclists, and we’re in an adjustment period — which may go on as long as more and more people get on bikes. In the face of the growing cycling population, behavioral approaches such as enforcements actions will have limited effect — we need both widespread education and community-building efforts (this site is a nice example) about the real issues facing cyclists, and an adjustment of actual infrastructure, signage, and habits that inform our moment-by-moment decisions about when to stop, when to pause, and when to get the hell out of the way.
The Police Bureau, too, is clearly in the midst of shifting its paradigm for bicycle traffic enforcement, as its awareness of cyclists, and the laws that pertain to us, increases. This has led to wonderful things, like the Bike Lights program and a generally improved knowledge among all parties of what’s legal and isn’t on a bike.
But it also may be why some enforcement decisions lately have been baffling. For instance the continual police escort of Critical Mass and the vendetta against fixed-gear bikes both seem to be informed by something well beyond the mandate of public safety.
Where do traffic stings fit into this spectrum?
“Let’s all be patient as we work on ways to understand, and channel, the forces that are currently shaping Portland into the first-ever world-class cycling city in the US. “
It is difficult to say that they are not objectively fair, but there are subjective factors here that pertain. Yes, most of us cyclists need to get better and more conscientious at wielding our machines. Enforcement, I have to reluctantly admit, is a good tool for this — among many. Many of us probably ride a little more carefully because of recent actions, and that’s a good thing.
But still, the formality of stopping completely at a stop sign, while desperately vital for a car driver, is often for a cyclist a futile meditation on the ironies of urban riding. Fines and stern lectures can only do so much good when we are going to get right back on our bikes and have to navigate areas, such as NE Broadway and Flint, that are designed for the primary purposes of getting cars onto the freeway as fast and seamlessly as possible, with bike lanes put in as an afterthought to shunt us between fast-moving lanes.
We don’t need traffic citations on Broadway for our safety, we need decreased traffic speeds and better enforcement of speed limits and turn signals. And we need a hug and a pat on the back for putting up with roads like this for so long.
Besides, the fact that you can currently get a $242 fine for proceeding at 2 mph (the speed of a slow amble) on vehicle that weighs less than a child’s wagon is inexcusable, and the police should in good conscience either stop ticketing cyclists or give pedestrian violation tickets to cyclists until the ticket fee schedule can be sorted out in the legislature.
Let’s all be patient as we work on ways to understand, and channel, the forces that are currently shaping Portland into the first-ever world-class cycling city in the US.
In the meantime, I invite anyone interested from the Portland Police Bureau, the courts, and the Mayor’s office, on a bike ride to demonstrate some of the most persistent grey areas that are lost in translation between the law, safety, and the mechanics of riding a bicycle.