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An interview with Portland’s most ticketed cyclist

Posted by on December 6th, 2007 at 9:09 am

Bike Master Plan Ride #4

(Photos © Jonathan Maus)

The other day I met someone who claimed to have gotten more tickets while on their bicycle than anyone else in town. While I don’t think that’s anything to be proud of, I did think it was an interesting story and I was curious to know more.

I asked the person, who asked to remain anonymous, a few questions:

How many outstanding tickets do you currently have?

“I’ve gotten around 10 tickets, with the average being a “failure to yield to a traffic control device” at $242. My total bill is somewhere around $2000, which is more than any other biker that I know of. A few of these tickets have been issued while I was riding through a yellow light. How? Turns out that in Oregon law, a yellow is to be treated the same as a red light. Obviously cops never enforce this one, save for special occasions like Critical Mass or Driving While Black. I’ve also gotten one for “improper lane change” even while signaling my turn. But my favorite was “improper use of the road” for standing by the side of the road and questioning a cops legal basis for issuing another cyclist a citation.”

Why do you think you’ve gotten so many?

Tour de Fat '06

“Well, I was one of the few cyclists who didn’t immediately quit CM [Critical Mass] when they turned the heat up, a few years ago. As such, I had a lot of experience dealing with police tactics in this new, beaten down version of CM. Most of the riders at this point were first time CM’ers, since the old ones had been scared off. As new riders, they had no idea how to deal with the police, like which streets to avoid during the ride (for instance, streets with bike lanes allowed the cops to ticket everyone outside of the bike lane, so it’s best to avoid those streets), basically myself and a few others to be unnamed, had to guide the ride to the safest routes, and teach people how to avoid being arrested/pepper-sprayed.

For the record, I was never arrested, because I know exactly how far my legal rights extend and what police can arrest you for, and what they can’t. The cops apparently saw me as a “leader” -a ridiculous term when talking about CM, but one they used. And the first thing a cop is trained to do in crowd control is take out the person who the most people are listening to, or just the loudest one, I guess I qualified as both. So, every time I rode, I got ticketed.”

What’s the status of these tickets?

“Unpaid, every one of them.”

Why?

“The first two tickets I received, I went to court to fight them. That’s when the judge informed me that the burden of proof for a violation (i.e. traffic violations) rests on the defendant. In short, for violations, you are considered guilty until you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are innocent.

Misdemeanors and felonies are different, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. But, in traffic situations, a judge will always side with the cops. Even if you bring witnesses. So, after that, I just stopped worrying about paying them for a few reasons. One, I didn’t and still don’t have $2000 to throw away. At the time, I was unemployed, and even now, I’m marginally employed. Two, these tickets were all given out of harassment. It’s pretty hard for me to stomach paying the police money for the privilege of being harassed. I’ve never received a single ticket, outside of CM. I’m a very safe biker.”

Do you have a lawyer?

“No, I can’t afford one. Money will solve all your legal problems I discovered. If you have it, you can hire a good lawyer to get you out of any problem, and at worse, even if convicted, you can still pay the court fees. It’s hard to have faith in a legal system in which money plays such a huge part. I think the only two people who believe in the legal system anymore are the naïve ones, and the ones who profit off of it.”

Are you worried about bounty hunters and warrants?

“Nope. Why? Well, after doing some research, I discovered that in the state of Oregon, an officer cannot arrest someone for a violation. As such, no bench warrant can be issued for unpaid traffic tickets in Oregon. The worst they can do is suspend your driver’s license. And they did. So, my license to drive a car is now suspended because I ride my bike. Make sense? Didn’t think so. However, I’ve been car-free for around seven years, so not being able to drive a car is sort of irrelevant to me. Ideally, it would be nice if my license was reinstated so I could help my friends with the driving on long distance road trips, and the occasional FlexCar rental.”

Have the tickets changed your behavior?

“Not really. I did give up on attending CM though. Not because of the tickets, but because it just got so tiresome dealing with police harassment every two blocks.”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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a.O
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a.O

Well, after doing some research, I discovered that in the state of Oregon, an officer cannot arrest someone for a violation. As such, no bench warrant can be issued for unpaid traffic tickets in Oregon.

Better leave that research to the professionals. ORS 153.064 reads \”[A] warrant for arrest may be issued against a person who fails to make a first appearance on a citation for a violation, or fails to appear at any other subsequent time set for trial or other appearance\” if that person is charged with failure to appear in a violation proceeding [a class A misdemeanor].

But don\’t worry, based on prior experience it seems that the PPB is not sufficiently competent to engage in harassment of cyclists beyond the street thug level.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Money will solve all your legal problems I discovered. If you have it, you can hire a good lawyer to get you out of any problem, and at worse, even if convicted, you can still pay the court fees. It’s hard to have faith in a legal system in which money plays such a huge part. I think the only two people who believe in the legal system anymore are the naïve ones, and the ones who profit off of it.

Despite the OJ trial, it\’s obviously not quite this bad. See Michael Vick. He can\’t make his legal problems go away, and I\’m sure being able to pay his lawyers is small consolation to him as he sits in federal prison.

But as a member of the Bar, it is clear to me that it is extremely difficult to assert one\’s legal rights without money, and that this is a problem for our legal system and our society. We know that the poor in Oregon (and elsewhere) have huge unmet legal needs.

Please remember that our legal system is a function of our society and our democracy, such as it is. It reflects the values that we hold. As such, it isn\’t really any different than any other social institution. Like the rest of them, it needs fixing.

But throwing up your hands and giving in to the apathy like our anonymous friend never changed anything.

Here are two simple things you can do today that will improve our legal system:

1. Join me in donating to those lawyers who provide free legal services to the poor:

http://www.cej-oregon.org/

2. Write the Oregon State Bar or the Oregon Supreme Court and request that it show its commitment to pro bono publico work by making such work mandatory for members of the Oregon State Bar.

joel
Guest

10 tickets? im reasonably certain theres members of a certain highly-targeted cycling demographic downtown that can at least give him a run for his money, if not beat him.

agreed, its not really anything to celebrate, but frankly, with the ringling brothers (as im fond of calling barnum and whats-his-face) still going through fits of selective enforcement, a messenger on a \”brakeless\” fixie downtown can rack up 10 tickets pretty quick if cop enthusiasm is high enough…

as for officers not being able to arrest you for a violation, ill let your anonymous interviewee test that himself, thank you – experience has shown me that a cop can arrest someone for anything they damn well please, and leave them to sort out the legality of it later.

Paul Tay
Guest

I can relate.

Moo
Guest
Moo

Sounds like avoiding the tickets altogether will only come back to bite anon. in the butt when least expected. Go see the tellers at the courthouse and they\’ll work a payment plan out with you. Otherwise cross your fingers when your cruising to your next grown-up job interview.

BURR
Guest
BURR

then there is the person who recieved $1086 dollars worth of bicycle tickets in just one traffic stop

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

So, essentially, anonymous gets these tickets because this person is identifiable by the police as someone they particularly don\’t like, and whose actions with his bike on the street fits the criteria for having violated various laws related to use of the road. This tells us something about what can happen to certain activists, but the kind of thing the police have done in regards to anonymous probably won\’t have much impact on the average person that rides a bike downtown.

Scott
Guest
Scott

It is not true that the judge will always side with the cop in traffic court. I just this week had a ticket discharged in Tigard where I had received a ticket on my bike back in August for failure to obey a traffic control device (I crept into the intersection a second or two before the light turned green). I did not have a lawyer, nor any witnesses. Maybe it is different in the city of Portland. This ticket did not change my riding habits at all. I just make sure now that I look for cops a little closer before doing something I shouldn\’t. Cops should use their time a little more constructively and catch the real bad people out there instead of hassling bike riders just trying not to get hit by bad drivers.

xor b.
Guest
xor b.

\”But my favorite was \’improper use of the road” for standing by the side of the road and questioning a cops legal basis for issuing another cyclist a citation.\’\”

omg! i got this *exact* same thing many years ago at critical mass. i was standing between two parked cars (so close to the curb i was holding my bike up against my back, and it was on the sidewalk), filming cops give out tickets, and i got approached and given this exact ticket.

they even debated in front of me what to give me before deciding on that. i went to court and basically wasted my time to get the fine cut in half. what a complete joke… fairness and justice, right.

brian
Guest
brian

Break the rule = get a ticket.

Please can we get ALOT more of that.

I don\’t care who you are, or what you are doing. If you can\’t be bothered to follow traffic law, you should get a ticket.

Carl
Guest
Carl

Read the article = understand the article.

Please can we get ALOT more of that.

I don\’t care who you are or what you are doing. If you can\’t be bothered to stop for yellow lights or never stand between parked cars…you should get a ticket.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Gosh anon ticket-getter, way to stick it to the man! Marginally employed eh? I can only begin to wonder why.

Brian (#10), Amen.

Matt Picio
Guest

Wow – lots of shooting the messenger here. I think what we as a society have forgotten is that laws are meant to be guidelines – they cannot be rigidly applied unless we write a legal code which provides for every possible situation. Such a code would be so large and comprehensive that no one could possibly know it all. (some say this has already happened) We used to give a lot of latitude to judges to interpret the law and to police to enforce it. Unfortunately, this latitude means the system can be (and has been) abused.

The problem as I see it is that there is no real mechanism to remove police and judges who routinely abuse their authority or produce biased judgements, citations and charges. I mean, we *do* have a system, but I think many would agree it doesn\’t work.

I don\’t know what the solution is, but I do know that neither complete lawlessness nor complete compliance is going to work, and it\’s interesting to see how many people advocate \”if you break the law, you get a ticket – always\” or the polar opposite, \”there should be no laws of any kind\”

I think Einstein\’s quote to \”Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler\” applies here – we need to create a society where we have a minimal number of laws, and a maximal amount of flexibility in enforcing those laws, coupled with a system of accountability for the gatekeepers that allows for their removal when they are abusing their authority. How do we get there? I\’d love to know. Maybe it lies in creating more community – because when you personally know the guy you\’re enforcing the law against (or that you\’ve cut off, run into, or run over), you\’re more inclined to be helpful, sympathetic, apologetic or contrite to them. We treat people better when we deal with them daily, and we as a people have created a society that minimizes those connections. Portland is better off than most areas – the problem here is nowhere near as severe as, say… Detroit, or Atlanta, or L.A.

There\’s no such thing as \”one size fits all\” – while the law is usually right, it isn\’t ALWAYS right, nor is it always safe.

That said, please everyone – if you\’re not going to STOP for the stop sign, at least slow down enough that you can come to a stop before you reach the middle of the intersection if someone\’s coming. Sure, we have better visibility and better manueverability than the cars, but we\’re not immortal, invulnerable nor omniscient.

In the immortal words of Bill & Ted, \”Be excellent to each other\” (yes, I *did* just use a cheesey late 80\’s pop-culture reference)

Zed
Guest

In Salt Lake City, Utah they have been issuing a reduced fine or waived fine to bicyclist that break Bicycle Traffic Laws if they go and take a Saturday to attend the Road 1 Course, an official class offered by the League of American Bicyclists. Maybe an idea like that would make more sense for individuals that break Bicycle Traffic Laws in Portland?

GEEZER-guy
Guest
GEEZER-guy

H-E-L-L-O Police are trained/paid/required to win. They have all the tools necessary to do so. You are going after the wrong group–the lawmakers need the attention/education.

Blurt
Guest
Blurt

From Bob Mionske\’s article in Velonews Dec 6, 2007.

\”a person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.\”

So with the rights comes the duty to obey the law.

solid gold
Guest
solid gold

yes, i agree, every single law should be followed to the T. People should be arrested for committing sodomy! people should be arrested for spitting! people should be arrested for jaywalking! people should be arrested for driving 56mph in a 55mph zone!

i\’m so sick of hearing this tired holier than thou rhetoric by people who claim to follow every single law on the books. you don\’t, stop being a hypocrite.

this is all just about selective law enforcement, a totally illegal manuever for police, yet one that happens daily to many minorities, whether they be a racial or social minority, like cyclists.

DP
Guest
DP

\”A few of these tickets have been issued while I was riding through a yellow light. How? Turns out that in Oregon law, a yellow is to be treated the same as a red light.\”

I don\’t guess anyone has a cite handy for this? It seems pretty ridiculous both for bikes and cars — if they\’re the same, why bother having a yellow at all? Save $X million on those pesky third lights 😛

Pretty heinous either way — I\’m both a driver and a cyclist (regular on both) and I \”drive\” my bike just like I do my car. Usually that involves following laws to a point of fussiness that my friends make fun of me for. I go out of my way to be nice to bikes when in my car, and I go out of my way to be nice to cars when on my bike. But occasionally if it\’s more dangerous to stop for a yellow than to go through it.. I\’m going to do that.

I sort of agree with some of the others\’ sentiments on here though, the real problem is that we have a byzantine set of laws that no one can possibly hope to follow all of, a profit-center ticketing department, and a byzantine legal system that no one short of a lawyer or a very lucky person could hope to navigate to any success. All the wrong motivations in all the wrong places.

yeah
Guest
yeah

I really don\’t care who you are, but if you break the law it\’s all good in my book! If you break fabricated ideas on how the world works RIGHT ON. god I hate liberals and there \”oh but if we work hard, and follow the rules, then maybe we can change something\” attitude. They only change you\’ll get with that is that loose change you\’re to stingy to give to people begging on the street.

burglar
Guest
burglar

I just found this website. Very interesting…..

When I spent a few weeks in jail, I discovered that the inmates were making fun of the PPB cops for harassing bicyclists while they (the criminals) were out making a living at being criminals. They\’d say stuff like: \”I walked out of an apartment building with a backpack full of stolen electronics and there\’d be a cop giving a ticket to a woman on a bike for some minor traffic violation\”. Then they\’d all roll on the floor laughing!

blurt
Guest
blurt

Solid Gold,

Everyone makes mistakes and will break the law at sometime. But to brag about knowingly breaking the law is the problem. This person takes pride in ignoring laws that protect both himself and the general public.

This person can jump up and down all they want about their rights to the road, but they don\’t have any credibility when they get called on the carpet for not living up to their responsibility to adhere to the rules of the road.

The fact that this person is proud of their achievements yet wants to remain anonymous speak volumes.

I quoted Bob Mionske, because he is well respected in the cycling community and that this specific quote summed up a major issue in some sectors of the cycling community.

With rights comes responsibility.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Well i made it threw a yellow not by choice, but what was worse was the yelling and harassment by a car driver..
\” you f\’n ahole f\’n this and that \”loser
he was about to snap.. * ticket the right
people please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not saying all riders are above the law..
Joe

Jasun Wurster
Guest
Jasun Wurster

How about we stop making this a \’Us vs. Them\’ issued that divides us. No one follows the law 100% of the time.

The reason for the story is to highlight that the PPB has an internal culture of enforcing obscure and antiquated laws against citizens riding bicycles. This is especially true during times of public demonstrations (Critical Mass and Civil Protest) or even peaceful non political group rides (MMR and ZooBomb). These laws are also used to harass the homeless and people that \’Fit the Profile\’.

Anyhow for those ultra law abider\’s out there (and any cops that are tired of harassing cyclists):

http://www.portlandonline.com/TRANSPORTATION/index.cfm?a=fjjcg&c=dehjd

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

There are messengers out there with more than ten. Thing is, they get pulled over so often that the have to go to court, or they\’d get pulled in on a warrant the next time they were stopped for no reason (no handbrake) and then they\’d miss work, and someone else would fill their shoes.

From past experience not paying tickets is not \”sticking it to the man\” You will eventually get plowed for it. How stupid is it to have your day or your weekend ruined over a Failure To Appear? The only way to stick it to the man is to see him first and ride accordingly.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

\”….And the first thing a cop is trained to do in crowd control is take out the person who the most people are listening to, or just the loudest one, I guess I qualified as both. So, every time I rode, I got ticketed.” anonymous cyclist fined a total of approx $2000 in 10 citations.

Yup. The person that\’s not content to just ride a long, minding their own business, observing traffic regulations, but who insists on being, paraphrasing singer Carly Simon if you\’ll beg pardon, \”…a legend in his own time…a hero in the spotlight…\”. Well, so now you are.

Diogo
Guest
Diogo

\”Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.\”
\”Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.\”

Diogo
Guest
Diogo

\”Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?\”

My answer: we transgress them at once.

steve
Guest
steve

Thoreau won\’t get you far in this crowd, I\’m afraid..

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Comparing Thoreau\’s acts of civil disobedience in response to the travesty of war, to anonymous\’ unwillingness to observe basic traffic regulations designed to provide for the safety of everyone?

Tiago
Guest
Tiago

\”Comparing Thoreau\’s acts of civil disobedience in response to the travesty of war, to anonymous\’ unwillingness to observe basic traffic regulations designed to provide for the safety of everyone?\”…
Yeah, if it happened more than a few decades ago, then it has a value, if the same logic is applied to contemporary examples, then it\’s against public safety…
Rosa Parks sat wherever she felt, and she\’s a hero, because that was forty years ago.
Dude gets a ticket for riding his bike the way he feels, and he\’s a menacing moron, because we all know you should wait until the law changes before you act accordingly to logic and dignity.

solid gold
Guest
solid gold

wsbob, the only human on earth to follow 100% of the laws, 100% of the time. keep up the good fight, noble soldier!

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

You think so? Perhaps you\’re satisfied with your own self justifying delusions.

Rosa Parks was a hero, not simply because what she did occurred 40 years ago. She is a hero, because, unlike the piddling negligence and irresponsibility of the interviewed cyclist, \’anonymous\’, the act of defiance she chose to take was a direct response to a gross, nationally ingrained state of injustice imposed by much of the U.S. population upon a particular segment of the overall U.S. population.

Tiago
Guest
Tiago

Very differently from the injustice imposed by much of the U.S. population that drives upon a particular segment of the overall U.S. population that don\’t.

Your views are severely fogged by school books and other media written and distributed by the ever dominating class: \”Christ-loving\”, \”law-abiding\”, \”patriots\” hypocrites(take notice on all the quotations).

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

“The first two tickets I received, I went to court to fight them. That’s when the judge informed me that the burden of proof for a violation (i.e. traffic violations) rests on the defendant. In short, for violations, you are considered guilty until you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are innocent.

I call BS.

I knew it was BS when I first read it, but didn\’t have time to find the statute.

Until today:

153.076 Conduct of trial. (1) Violation proceedings shall be tried to the court sitting without jury … (2) The state, municipality or political subdivision shall have the burden of proving the charged violation by a preponderance of the evidence.