I am part of a group trying to raise funds for a worthy cause, a fight against an injustice done to a Texas cyclist. Some of you may know him. His name is Reed Bates. Until recently, he penned the ChipSeal blog.
The police have stopped Bates numerous times in and around Ennis, Texas. Most notably, he was arrested and jailed for the ‘crime’ of riding a bicycle on the road. He was riding on the roadway, not the shoulder, so the county sheriff’s department decided he had to be taught a lesson.
Like most states, Texas forbids motor vehicles from using the shoulder. Cyclists are permitted to do so, but they are not legally obligated to ride there. Rather than charge Bates with violating a non-existent law, the police charged him with impeding traffic – on a four lane road.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but when there are two lanes in the same direction, isn’t one of them often called the ‘slow lane’ and the other the ‘passing lane’? Motorists pass slower traffic all the time, yet when Reed Bates rode his bicycle in that slow lane, somehow it became a crime. On January 23rd, the Ennis County Sheriff’s Department arrested and jailed him on an initial charge of “riding a bicycle in the roadway” which was later amended to the impeding charge.
You can make a strong argument about whether cyclists have a right to use the public road if they don’t actually exercise that right. Bates was riding on the road in right hand lane, not on the shoulder. Yet to the Ennis County Sheriff’s department, his mere presence on the road was impeding traffic. That was sufficient justification for citing and jailing him. They couldn’t legally forbid his use of that public roadway as there’s no law requiring a cyclist to use the shoulder, so the impeding traffic charge served the same purpose.
But think about that for a moment. If the mere presence of a bicyclist impedes traffic, then police anywhere would have ample justification to order us off the road. In effect, that is a defacto ban on bicycling, something that the state legislatures obviously did not intend or they would have adopted specific language barring bicycle travel. Instead, cyclists are expected to share the roads lawfully, as most states say we have all the rights and all the duties of any other road user. We have ALL the rights, not an abbreviated set, or a subset of rights to be determined by the whim of a passing county sheriff’s deputy.
Answer this question. Do you have the right to use any public road that does not prohibit bicycle travel? This is not the same as asking if you’re comfortable or you feel safe on a particular road. Do you have the right to use that road? If the answer is ‘yes’ – even if you’d never dream of actually riding there – you understand the importance of our individual right to use the that public space, and use it regardless of our choice of transportation mode.
Bates was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers – not a cyclist in the bunch, obviously – and his case is now on appeal. That is, his case will be appealed if we can raise enough money to contest this unfair treatment. Please, please, please, visit this website and make a donation however small and do something to stand up for a cyclist’s right to use the public roadways. Reliable estimates say Bates will need about five thousand dollars for his appeal, less if he’s acquitted quickly. Anything above the required amount will be donated to bicycling education.
And where are LAB and the Texas Bicycle Coalition in all this? The sound you hear is crickets chirping. But that’s a story for another time.
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