To Protect and Serve?

I thought you all might be interested in this Letter to the Editor I just submitted to my local newspaper, The Cape Breton Post:

From: John A. Ardelli
Subject: Misguided Law Enforcement
Date: November 11, 2007 1:35:33 PM AST
To: Cape Breton Post Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

“Bicyclists may occupy as much of a traffic lane as their safety warrants.” This is a direct quote from the Bicycle Safety brochure published by Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. It means, if there’s no room to share, cyclists have the right to take as much lane space as they need. Unfortunately, this fact does not appear to be a part of the training given to officers of the Cape Breton Regional Police.

Several weeks ago, a police constable in an unmarked cruiser squeezed by me within centimeters as I traveled east on Kings Road just past Kenwood Drive. When I honked my horn and yelled after him, he pulled me over and accused me of “impeding traffic” (all the while his cruiser, stopped on the road, was doing just that) and that I should be riding at the extreme right.

This past Friday, a police officer honked at me as I traveled west towards Kenwood Drive. I pointed to the lane next to me to signal him to go around me; he did. However, when I got to work, he caught up with me and told me the same fallacy about “impeding traffic” (and accused me of making a “left hand turn signal” when I pointed to the adjacent lane) and said I need to move over more. This officer, unlike the other, was at least polite about it and didn’t impede traffic himself.

In both cases, the officers claimed they were doing this for my “safety.”

I’ve only ever had one collision on Kings Road, with a cyclist riding on the sidewalk at the Kimberly Drive intersection.

If these police officers truly want to increase the safety of cyclists, it’s the cyclists on the sidewalks, not the law-abiding ones on the road, that they need to address.

That was as much as I could say within the Post’s 300 word limit. Here, I’d like to add a few additional details to the above story.

That first officer had a serious “attitude.” Not only did he tell me I was impeding traffic but he tried to intimidate me, looking at the back of my bike and asking me why I don’t have a license for it. My answer to that was simple: there is no bicycle licensing program in Nova Scotia; my guess is he knew that but was hoping I didn’t. I don’t appreciate people trying to manipulate me like that, particularly a public service official like a police officer.

I have been trying to file a formal complaint against that officer for some time now. I know what form I have to get and where to get it but, unfortunately, the administrative section of the police station where I get it is not open when I’m off work and, due to computer problems, they have so far been unable to E-mail me the appropriate form. Fortunately, I have the American Thanksgiving off and the station is open; I should be able to get it then.

As for the other officer, I hold no malice against him. Although his advice was misguided, he was professional and polite in the way he gave it. Still, he seemed to have stereotypical “the roads are for cars” attitude and the mistaken belief that a cyclist, traveling slower than the prevailing traffic, puts him or herself into some kind of extraordinary danger by trying to mingle with motorists on “their” road.

My biggest concern is that this attitude about cyclists seems to pervade all levels of the Cape Breton Regional Police, good and bad officers alike. If this is the advice they’re giving cyclists, some day someone’s going to get hurt following it. I believe it’s imperative that these officers receive some formal training in traffic cycling.

Police officers, because they are supposed to be the model we follow, cannot afford to be misinformed about safety issues like these.

14 Comments

  • Anonymous
    November 11, 2007 - 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Further proof that bike lanes and associated infrastructure are necessary. Not only for space, but as a means to educate and constantly remind law enforcement officials and the public of cyclists' rights.
    Thanks for making this obvious!

  • Anonymous
    November 11, 2007 - 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Further proof that bike lanes and associated infrastructure are necessary. Not only for space, but as a means to educate and constantly remind law enforcement officials and the public of cyclists' rights.Thanks for making this obvious!

  • cafiend
    November 11, 2007 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Bike lanes don't educate people. Education educates people.

    "Share the Road" signs do remind motorists that bikes are out there and have a legal place on the road. Driver education that includes the rights and responsibilities of cyclists will educate all road users about the cyclist's place among them.

    I have had numerous brushes with misinformed law enforcement officials, but have also had some wonderful support from others in that profession.

    A police officer once pulled me over on a state highway and told me I wasn't supposed to be on it because of its speed limit. He was wrong, but I didn't have time to argue, because it was also late in the day and I needed to get home before sunset. He grudgingly allowed me to continue, but only if I rode at the far edge of the debris-strewn shoulder. I did this until he was out of sight. Then I sprinted back up to 25+ mph at the right edge of the travel lane, as I had been before.

    After this incident I always carried at least one copy of the state laws pertaining to cyclists, so I could hand it to the next well-meaning but poorly-trained peace officer.

  • cafiend
    November 12, 2007 - 12:18 am | Permalink

    Bike lanes don't educate people. Education educates people."Share the Road" signs do remind motorists that bikes are out there and have a legal place on the road. Driver education that includes the rights and responsibilities of cyclists will educate all road users about the cyclist's place among them.I have had numerous brushes with misinformed law enforcement officials, but have also had some wonderful support from others in that profession.A police officer once pulled me over on a state highway and told me I wasn't supposed to be on it because of its speed limit. He was wrong, but I didn't have time to argue, because it was also late in the day and I needed to get home before sunset. He grudgingly allowed me to continue, but only if I rode at the far edge of the debris-strewn shoulder. I did this until he was out of sight. Then I sprinted back up to 25+ mph at the right edge of the travel lane, as I had been before.After this incident I always carried at least one copy of the state laws pertaining to cyclists, so I could hand it to the next well-meaning but poorly-trained peace officer.

  • Anonymous
    November 11, 2007 - 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Most cyclists know from experience that STR signs are a waste and ineffective.

  • Anonymous
    November 12, 2007 - 2:47 am | Permalink

    Most cyclists know from experience that STR signs are a waste and ineffective.

  • cafiend
    November 11, 2007 - 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I thought they were pretty much bullshit myself, but then I read something that made me think they might have some value. They don't really get people to share the road any more than people willingly floss their teeth or quit smoking, but at least the signs remind them that they SHOULD.

    I just forget what I read or where I read it. Anyway, they can't hurt…except when some redneck saws one down and drops it on you.

  • cafiend
    November 12, 2007 - 2:51 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I thought they were pretty much bullshit myself, but then I read something that made me think they might have some value. They don't really get people to share the road any more than people willingly floss their teeth or quit smoking, but at least the signs remind them that they SHOULD.I just forget what I read or where I read it. Anyway, they can't hurt…except when some redneck saws one down and drops it on you.

  • Illinoisfrank
    November 12, 2007 - 10:57 am | Permalink

    Ignorance about bicycling is rampant, as this letter to the editor demonstrates.

  • Illinoisfrank
    November 12, 2007 - 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Ignorance about bicycling is rampant, as this letter to the editor demonstrates.

  • gttim
    November 12, 2007 - 1:03 pm | Permalink

    There is an institutional bias against cyclists by almost all police departments and a social bias against cyclists by most of the public. Both of these need to be dealt with at the same time. Education is the cure, but remember, a lot of the public and far too many police officers are just imbecilic and will not benefit from any amount of education.

  • gttim
    November 12, 2007 - 8:03 pm | Permalink

    There is an institutional bias against cyclists by almost all police departments and a social bias against cyclists by most of the public. Both of these need to be dealt with at the same time. Education is the cure, but remember, a lot of the public and far too many police officers are just imbecilic and will not benefit from any amount of education.

  • cafiend
    November 12, 2007 - 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I guess that's why there are concealed carry permits…or Gandhi-esque passive resistance.

    All you can do is keep trying to teach. If we go to war, we lose automatically. Infuriating, sn't it? Especially when you hear from some cretinous moron spouting of about what a blight and a bother those damn bicyclists are.

  • cafiend
    November 12, 2007 - 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I guess that's why there are concealed carry permits…or Gandhi-esque passive resistance.All you can do is keep trying to teach. If we go to war, we lose automatically. Infuriating, sn't it? Especially when you hear from some cretinous moron spouting of about what a blight and a bother those damn bicyclists are.

  • Leave a Reply