Monday Morning Rant: Is Defining Fault or Finding Solutions Our Goal?
Monday Morning Rant
A point not discussed at last week’s presentation & discussion about rules of the road for cyclists was the lack of education and perspective amongst law enforcement. The local media outlets were sure to print that “most crashes were caused by bicyclists” without challenging the presumptions by local officers or the magistrate. Solely from the briefs in the packet last week I saw two handfuls worth of cases that are deserving of at the least an eyebrow raise. As one reader commented in an email:
“Took a glance at the report. Too many bikes riding into sides of cars stopped at intersections or driveways. Cyclist always at fault.” How does that happen?
In my experience, and the reader’s, those cases are typically caused by drivers not knowing they needed to stop behind the sidewalk and be certain the crosswalk is clear before proceeding. And, why would they? Many intersections lack the design to encourage them to do so and many of them come complete with blind spots that may actually encourage them into dangerous behavior. That said, more people on bicycles need to not ride on the sidewalks (despite poor design that encourages them to do so…). It is statistically far more dangerous as the majority of conflicts occur at intersections and driveways; riding on the sidewalk naturally decreases your visibility.
Back to the police reports: there needs to be more scrutiny. Ideally, this occurs internally, but externally assistance may need to be considered. There are too many questionable cases.
We’ve covered one of the incidents here and the first person account is drastically different from the police report. Earlier in the summer, the Northern Express made some heads turn with an account of what many feel to be an unjust ticket to a bicyclist who was legally taking his lane. And, I recently spoke with a rider involved in a reported crash along State St. She described an asinine situation where she was deemed at fault for not stopping because she did not have both feet “firmly” on the ground. I haven’t seen that in the Michigan Vehicle Code as the definition for a stop, so it appears the officer determined it on his own. To top it off, he ended with a parting shot, “perhaps you should drive a car.”
Let me say that again, the officer actually said, “perhaps you should drive a car.”
I’ve heard that phrase from an officer before and it is infuriating. In this situation, after someone has been in a crash with a two-ton machine, it is insulting. What kind of response is that from a public servant? To create a place where active transportation is inviting and encouraged, we will need to do better as a community.
Despite the tone last week that enforcement is some sort of panacea for reducing conflicts, it remains a reactionary focus. Often coming in after the fact and often with questionable responses. I actually liked Mayor Pro-tem Ralph Sofferdine’s suggestion that bicyclists who get tickets be given a choice between paying the fine or taking a traffic safety class for substantially less cost, but bigger preventive payoff.
However, we need to be certain that the police force also knows the rules and, given the broad interpretation afforded them, do so in a way that aims to protect the most vulnerable uses of the roadway. It would be a wrong path to take if the direction is out of some motive for equal justice when we should know by now that many of our problem areas have more to do with poor design that naturally creates dangerous behavior. Currently, I’m less concerned about who is at fault, than I am about an incomplete transportation network that ignores the basic fact that people will be there.
People will be there, design for them. More on that to come….
Below, last week’s presentation on Bicycle Rules prepared and presented by City Planner Russ Soyring and Lee Maynard of TART Trails.