Friday, May 08, 2009

The Indignity of Bike Commuting in Long Beach...

Just received in my email a photo from an anonymous source (to be known as "Deep Vs"), a photo of myself getting the ticket! The wonders of the internets never cease to impress. After applying some CSI magic, it is pretty clear that the bike I was riding 1) had fenders 2) had a transverse bag and red Ortlieb on the right. I'm not sure of how many brakeless riders ride with fenders or like to put English bike luggage on their bikes in Long Beach, my guess would be none.

This would be the bike in question. My touring bike and yes, it has brakes, two of them in fact.

I have to admit, my first reaction when I got the photo was a real sense of humiliation and frustration. I was doing nothing wrong and got pulled over and taught my lesson in public. I have more sympathy now and will make less assumptions of others that I see that are getting pulled over.

I'm also frustrated at the message this public dressing down gives to motorists. I'm sure quite a few drivers and people at the restaurant were thinking, "oh finally, those crazy bicyclists riding on the street are getting what they deserve...they shouldn't be in the street anyway" Hey, it's a fair assumption. We all think these things to greater or lesser degrees.

When those in the position of authority don't know the laws, it becomes pretty much impossible for any lawful cyclist to defend their rights. We depend on those in authority to KNOW what is right and to be the just arbiter in a dispute.

Let's complicate the situation a little further. Let's say my incident involved a motor vehicle. I was riding lawfully in the street and there was some sort of accident. The motorist keeps shouting "he was riding in the middle of the lane, he can't do that, it was HIS fault!" If I get stuck with an officer or a judge that knows nothing about the laws and bikes, then I would be as they - S.O.L. I would have no one to appeal to without going through the hassle and expense of hiring a lawyer.

I have no doubt that this happens more often than we suspect. It is critical that law enforcement be involved in creating a bicycle friendly community. ABSOLUTELY critical! It makes no difference if Long Beach has 10 or 10,000 miles of bike lanes if the most basic and fundamental rights we have as cyclists aren't respected or understood. What good are all the stripes, if you turn down a street without one and are automatically put in the position when your rights are questioned, where you are treated like a 2nd class road user, where you are ticketed and ridiculed for doing nothing than lawfully riding your bike in the middle of a day trying to do some shopping?


Jamie Fellrath said...

GREAT post, Russ. Your problem is shared by people all over the country.

I don't mean to pull people away from your post, but I wrote some commentary on an article by Bob Mionske in Bicycling magazine about a similar case here in Ohio where an officer didn't know the law and the cyclists did, but the officer got out of hand. We have the right to ignore unlawful orders from police, but do it at your own risk, obviously.

In our case, we have a legal precedent that I mentioned in my commentary. Perhaps California has a similar legal precedent. A good bike-knowledgeable attorney could probably find it, or perhaps one of your local advocacy groups knows about the precedent.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right. Unless and until we have the support of an educated law enforcement, we can't be safe on the roads or secure in our right to ride.

When a group of riders stormed the L.A. City Council meeting recently, one of the things I asked for — and the council introduced a resolution to look into — was a training program for police officers on cycling law and safety. I strongly believe the LACBC needs to work with local law enforcement agencies to set up such a program, and take it into every police agency in the area. And if they can't or won't, we need to do it ourselves.

FYI, great work on this story. I've added you to my list of recommended blogs; and while my last post does have blind links back to your first three posts on this, I didn't call attention to it — I'll make a more direct reference to them in my next post.

Anonymous said...

In the 70s, they used to call that a shake down. This happened several times to me -- a cop pulled me over on a bogus violation then made an obvious error writing up the ticket. As a former bike and car messenger who has traveled in every one of the lower forty eight states, I only received three moving violations in my car and one on my bike in over ten years. I was pulled over and cited by cops who wanted to arbitrarily check inside my camper van or run the license of some long haired hippy freak for wants and warrants.

You, my friend, are a bit too brown, doing something a bit too weird in a place dominated by people not at all like you. You will never win the battle, so be safe, take the lane and smile.

BTW, stop blowing smoke up the ass of the police. All the law enforcement in the world isn't going to get people to respect each other. It's up to each of us to act kindly, gently and abide by the law. The police are just the government's judicial messengers sent out to round up people they think are violators.

I think you would enjoy life in Holland a bit more than L.A. You could concentrate on something you enjoy more than trying to save a place that doesn't want to be saved.

byron said...

bacon farmers think that ruling by intimidation will overrule the law. listen up Rosco, you are not above the law!