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Frustration grows over enforcement practices, policies

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“There just has to be some consequences for drivers who plow into cyclists.”
–Julie Rawls, a witness to yesterday’s collision.

The frustration of many people in the community has reached a boiling point. The well over one-hundred comments on this site (and others), emails and phone calls I’ve received, and messages on local email lists leave little doubt that many Portlanders are confused and concerned over how the police have responded to recent crashes.

Frustrations hinge on the policies and practices of the Police Bureau that have come to light following a string of recent bike/car collisions. Many people point out that in three recent collisions (two resulted in a fatality, one led to serious injuries) citations were not issued, even though a law (ORS 811.050; failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane) was violated.

Julie Rawls was driving a car directly behind Lisa Wheeler and watched as Wheeler turned her car into the bike lane and hit Siobhan Doyle yesterday. Here’s an excerpt from a comment she left this morning:

“The fact that there is no citation in this situation is just extremely frustrating. This driver was totally negligent and was not paying attention while driving. There just has to be some consequences for drivers who plow into cyclists. Also, I can corroborate the story that the driver was less than helpful. Maybe she was traumatized too…but she stood around and showed little to no emotion.”

Rawls is not the only one who has expressed frustration. City Council hopeful Chris Smith added his thoughts on his blog this morning:

“Wag of the Finger to the Portland Police Bureau who declined to issue a citation or conduct an investigation despite eyewitness accounts that would suggest the possibility of erratic driving by the operator of the car.”

Local author and nationally recognized bicycling personality Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie is fed up. In the comment he just left, he says he wants to launch a “Cyclist’s Civil Rights Movement” that addresses this and other issues:

“I’m spearheading a Cyclist’s Civil Right Movement so we can channel our frustrations into some directed sustained actions – that would include a large, legal and nonviolent bike ride protests starting next week (before the Thanksgiving Holidays date and time TBA) a press conference at the end or beginning of the ride to read a Cyclist Civil Rights and Responsibilites. and do a short state of the union.

We plan to demand enforcement, more education, more funding, a series of televised town halls on cyclist civil rights, a call to end the slogan Cars vs Bikes, an end to media outlets underreporting injuries and calling these collisons and crashes “accidents” a call for Officer Kruger’s transfer from traffic division….if it’s time to be the point person on rallying Portland to become a safer, stronger cycling friendly place, then so be it.”

Portland lawyer Chris Heaps is also not waiting around for something to be done. Heaps, who has enlisted the help of Kurmaskie and bike lawyer Ray Thomas, has already started a formal process to cite the driver in yesterday’s collision.

That process, known as “initiation of violation proceeding by private party”, was championed by Thomas and has been used successfully by several cyclists since Thomas worked to increase awareness of it back in 2006.

The process utilizes an existing law, ORS 153.058, and essentially allows any citizen to conduct an investigation, issue subpoenas for involved police officers to appear in court, and then make a presentation to a judge. From the ORS:

“A person other than an enforcement officer may commence a violation proceeding by filing a complaint with a court that has jurisdiction over the alleged violation.”

Heaps adds that,

“The PPB’s policy of not investigating or citing drivers who injure or kill cyclists is effectively sending the message that the City of Portland won’t punish traffic violations that make biking more dangerous in Portland. That’s totally inconsistent with the City’s stated policy of making Portland more bike-friendly.”

Following the two tragedies in October, the Police Bureau told the community that it is standard practice to not issue a moving violation citation when the collision involves a fatality (note that both cyclists were in the bike lane when hit). They said doing so would impede the District Attorney’s ongoing investigation.

Then, after yesterday’s non-fatal collision, the police also decided to not issue a citation.

Police Bureau spokesman Brian Schmautz said no citation was issued because the crash did not “meet the criteria for an investigation” and therefore no fault could be found (which means no citation). He also said that investigations are only performed (and citations issued) when the crash involves serious, trauma-level injuries.

Despite these statements from Schmautz, which have been repeated on this site and on TV and newspaper outlets, many people are not satisfied.

Clearly, based on how the community is responding, there seems to be an ongoing issue with how law enforcement personnel are handling these crashes (both in their communications to the media and their protocol).

The amount of anger, confusion, and frustration expressed by many Portlanders following these collisions is not a good thing for our city and it’s a barrier to moving forward that we simply cannot afford to leave as is.

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