Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cycles, Cars and Cops

Just as Boston's mayor and bicycle czarina are working at reducing cars with their pollution, street clogging, noise and mayhem, bike hate seems never to have been stronger. Moreover, after almost being hit a couple of times by clueless cops by BPD HQ, I sent a letter about it to the commissioner. It's more business as usual all around.

Today's Globe op-ed is a poorly executed (pardon the pun) humor piece on terrorizing and maybe murdering cyclists. They deserve such treatment because they, each and all, are reckless scofflaws. Moreover, biker riders dare to follow the laws and regulations in taking a lane as needed for safety, thus making the writer slow down before passing. The noive, as Bugs Bunny would have said.

If you haven't noticed the pattern on our shrinking broadsheet, the op-ed editors have enjoyed printing what they seem to see as provocative commentary. These tend to be socially conservative and contrarian. A little out of the mainstream, a little rude, and a bit apart from the stereotype of the editorial writers' alleged liberal work make a good column candidate. The combo seems to be intended to spark reaction and thus readership.

Well, traffic enforcement and driving etiquette are light and vague here. The police seem to follow the no-blood/no-ticket guideline. Feigning that they are solving or ready to prevent murder and other major crimes, the police watch countless drivers and many cyclists do as they will.

There's little point to the moot and pissant arguments about whether car/truck/bus operators or cyclists are more likely per capita to run a red light or do something else dangerous. We can read the hundreds or thousands of comments whenever there's an article about cycling. We do know a couple of results though: 1) death and injury by motor vehicle are extremely common and by cycle extremely rare; 2) many motorists are furious that the laws provide the same rights and responsibilities for cyclists as drivers.

It's the old somebody is going to get something I don't syndrome. I anticipated that early this year when I asked one of my legislators, Rep. Willie Mae Allen, to introduce a bill letting cyclists slow down at stop signs instead of necessarily stopping. Several states do this and it gets the cyclist out in front of the driver, so the latter can pass safely and confidently. The literal and simple minded invariably respond that if cars can't, why should cyclists, even when they hear the reasons.

Another aspect that shouldn't startle anyone is that there are different rules for bikes and motor vehicles. For example, cars aren't legal on bike/pedestrian paths and bikes (along with horses and pedestrians) may not use limited-access highways. Most motor vehicles require licenses to own and operate. They also have highly variable possible penalties for moving violations, while cyclists face $20 fines for almost any infraction. Cars and cycles are the same but different.

As a regular cyclist and pedestrian and driver, I have the same moot experiential tales as bike haters and bike lovers out there. I am bike friendly though.

I do figure that we should at the very least expect our law-enforcement officers to set an example for us, certainly in marked and stealth police cars. They don't. They are terrible almost to a one. They tend to be Boston drivers, but Boston drivers who set the pattern for other Boston drivers. Why stop at that red light or before the crosswalk then the LEO doesn't?

no-blood/no-ticket


I gave up a long time ago on bike cops though. I shared the block for a long time with the original Boston bike cop of the modern era, Sgt. Mike O'Connor. In his family car and blue-and-white alike, he obeys the laws and regulations, even doing the unknown to other cops — signaling right turns. Yet when he was on a bike, he rode on sidewalks in business districts, went the wrong way down streets and more. He was always alert for crime prevention and I watched him in action. He had no qualms about pulling over a truck or bus and enforcing the law as he had none about chasing bad guys by cycle. I ended up coming to terms that he was a highly skilled bike cop who showed good judgment in his abuses on two wheels.

I'm not at all forgiving of a cop in a two-ton Crown Vic running lights, failing to yield to pedestrians or cyclists, or tail gating. They have lights and sirens that they are required to use in the rare instances when they must hie to help. Being a plain old Boston driver should be forbidden when they are in a police vehicle.

I wrote as much to Commissioner Edward Davis. He responded with what appears to be a form letter. Mine was likely not the first complaint he received about his officers on driving. His letter reads:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your recent letter expressing your concerns over driving habits by Boston Police Officers.

I regret that you have had any unpleasant encounters, relative to traffic laws, with members of the Boston Police Department while travelling in the city. Certainly, all officers should obey the traffic laws, unless they have activated themselves for a public safety reason. This should be the case across the board. They all receive yearly mandatory training at the Boston Police Academy, in which motor vehicle issues are clearly addressed. In addition, we have increased our focus on accidents involving a department vehicle and have a review board in place to monitor driving.

Again, I regret your experience and hope that the actions of a few do not reflect so poorly on the entire agency and its members; most doing a great job and serving the city and its residents well.

Thanks very much for bringing your concerns to my attention.
In other words (nicely), buzz off.

He did not address my principle point that appeared twice in my letter. That is, the police set the tone for other drivers, so they should model proper behavior and set those expectations.

That honestly isn't that hard. Friends and relatives have chuckled at me for such habits as signaling turns, lane changes and exits from rotaries. Davis would have it that his team of crime preventers and solvers hear annually about doing just such things. Those behaviors are common sense, they are safety, they are courtesy, they are the law.

In various article and blog comments, I see some complaints about Boston cops as Boston drivers. I urge you to jot down dangerous driving by them and let the concerned commissioner know. There is a feedback page on the city site. However, a note or letter would be more effective to:
Commissioner Edward F. Davis
Boston Police Department
1 Schroeder Plaza
Boston, MA 02120-2014
I'm sure he'd love to know the date and time, the car number or license plate, the location and the infraction. If you deliver it by hand to the HQ, be very careful. The cops going in and out of the BPD lot are Boston drivers.

By the bye, the RMV used to have an online and a mail-in version of complaint forms for dangerous drivers. These could lead to hearing and resulting tickets or even court appearances.

When my bookmarked link to that was dead, I asked the RMV through the state site about it. The response was:
Hello, Unfortunately, the RMV no longer holds improper operation hearings unless they are specifically requested by law enforcement. Thank you for using mass.gov/ Will
So, it is all the more important that the head BPD guy get a better picture of the example his men and women set. He thinks that all but a few are model drivers. Is that so?

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