Sunday, February 08, 2009

So what can be done? Solution #1 - Educating Enforcement

Earlier we talked about how bicyclists and pedestrians now account for nearly 27% of all fatalities, up from hovering around 23% for the previous 4 years. Well here is one idea to improve these statistics. I came across this while reading on the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) listserve and it really seems to have merit.

The story comes from Robert Johnson at a group called PedNet out of Missouri. Since I'm quoting him I'm purposely going to hide some names but the story is telling and his idea is something that should be given a try her in Jersey.

In September I had the opportunity to train all 150 (Blank) Police Department officers on bicycling law and issues. I went through the laws line by line, explained why the laws were written the way they were and gave them video examples what we were talking about.

This has made a tremendous difference in (Blank). Before the training the police department ignored bicyclists except for occasionally admonishing one for taking the lane even when the law allowed. They simply did not know the laws which led to their inactivity in enforcing laws for both motorists and bicyclists and led to some unfortunate remarks in local media outlets. The month after the training the PD made about 100 “contacts” with bicyclists who were breaking the law and one officer told that was about 100 more than ever before. Most of those were red light runners and riding at night without lights. That was 5 months ago and even now bike shop employees tell me story after story of a bicyclists coming into the shop, talking about getting pulled over and buying lights for their bicycle. They are also much more active when a bicyclist reports an incident of motorist harassment. It seems to me that every officer really believes that bicycles are vehicles which some clearly did not understand before the training.

The other thing I tried to convince them is that if a bicyclist is in a crash with an automobile then tell the media what led up to the crash. Most crashes in Columbia involve a bicyclist riding at night without lights or a sidewalk bicyclist. The newspaper articles typically state something like “bicyclist hit by suv” with no details as to why it was typically the bicyclists fault......or at least they were riding in a way that we teach not to. Since the training we have had three bike/car crashes severe enough to make the media and in all three the it clearly stated that the bicyclist was riding on the sidewalk and hit in the crosswalk. I think that is important because even though bicycling/car injuries happen much less frequently than auto/auto injuries in Columbia people tend to dwell on the bicycle injuries much longer and its a real detriment to people riding.

A personal failure of mine was the University of (Blank) Police Department. The chief just could not get past their ego’s to accept any training. They said that people already ridicule them and do not think of them as a “real police force.” Pulling over a bicyclist would only further that belief according to them. I have gently pushed as far as I can with them but they refuse and as a result we have 30,000 students in (Blank) who have no idea how to ride a bicycle. They sometimes find themselves under a automobile when they decide to leave campus and take a trip to Wal-Mart at 2 am, without lights and enter a crosswalk at 15 mph which is how they have ridden on campus and its the normal way to ride on campus.

So in my experience if you can get the Police Department to accept training that is well thought out, balanced on the issues of bicycle/auto and presses to them that bicyclists have RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES that it can go a long way towards safety and public relations.

If anyone has any specific questions about our training or how we made such an arrangement with our PD then just drop me a note.

This definitely seems like a great idea for New Brunswick and Rutgers University. With 40,000 college students and a large population of migrant workers in town, there is plenty of bike riding going on. Unfortunately 95% of riders I see usually violate at least one traffic law in a very flagrant manner. Many ride on the sidewalk (which is dangerous as well as being illegal in New Brunswick), ride with no lights at night, run red lights and ride against traffic just to name the most typical violations.

If we want cycling to be taken seriously and as a viable for of transportation just like motor vehicles then we must ride and act responsibly (I know most reading this blog already do). We must also expect the police to take our violations seriously and treat them with equal seriousness.

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