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longbeachcyclists.com » 2009 » May » 06

Open Letter to Chief Batts

I received an email from Chief Batts to call the office and describe the incident. After doing so, I wrote this email to the Chief:

Dear Chief Batts,
I called and spoke with a Sergeant regarding the citation and he is looking into it. With regards to your incident, I don’t think that is the same “gentleman” we’re talking about. This incident occurred on Anaheim as he was commuting to work. He is also a trained cycling safety instructor.

What I hope to come from all this is the start of a dialogue between the bicycle community and the police. I know that there are many lawless cyclists out there and they SHOULD be ticketed. Cyclists riding the wrong way. Cyclists blowing through red lights. Cyclists on the sidewalk. Cyclists under 18 riding with no brakes and a helmet. They should be ticketed. I think we have so many with an utter disregard of the law because there is NOT ENOUGH enforcement.

That said, the police should also be sensitized to identify what is lawful and safe riding. Riding as far to the right as you can is NOT safe. Riding closer to the middle of the lane IS safe, it increases visibility, lets the rider avoid the door zone, etc., The phrasing in 21202 allows for this, cyclists only have to ride to the right as long as it is “practicable” (a big difference from “possible”). “Practicable” allows us to claim the lane when we deem it unsafe to ride to the right. Many cities make this point clear with signs that say “BIcyclists allowed full use of the lane.”

I believe that the police is one of the most important keys to making Long Beach bicycle friendly. Without proper enforcement we will just see a rise in unlawful cyclists and more hostile interactions between motorists and cyclists that will escalate into violence (there are many incidents of this happening in Los Angeles right now). That is why it is paramount that officers on your force that work in areas with a high concentration of cyclists (downtown, Belmont Shore, CSULB) should receive training to differentiate when a cyclist is lawfully riding in the street (claiming the middle of the lane when need be) and when they are putting themselves and others in danger. Further, I would also like to see the bicycle mounted police follow the CVC. It is very difficult for me to defend my rights to a motorist who is yelling at me to “get on the sidewalk” or “you don’t belong here”, when the bicycle mounted police can often be seen riding on the sidewalk, against traffic or in the door zone.

If you are willing, the bicycle advocacy group I work with, The Long Beach Cyclists, has trained bicycle safety educators from the League of American Bicyclists. We would very much like to set up a program with the police department to slowly train the force with issues regards to bicycles in traffic. The League offers a curriculum specially tailored to law enforcement. I think this would more quickly and efficiently make Long Beach more bicycle friendly than any thing else we can do.

Thank you once again for responding to me personally. I hope you will seriously consider bicycle training for some of your force.

Sincerely,
Russ Roca

Storm City Hall?

The photo is from “Storm the Bastille” when cyclists went to Van Nuys City Hall to voice their discontent over how police officers treated an incident where a Hummer hit a cyclist then fled the scene, but not before running over the bikes of several others. The police were on the scene, but then let the Hummer driver GO and berated the cyclists.

Is this what we’re going to have to do to make Long Beach truly bicycle friendly by educating our police officers? It isn’t a new idea. In fact it was published in the Press Telegram many weeks ago.

I applaud the city’s interest in making Long Beach bicycle friendly, but there are also lots of very simple, inexpensive ways in which this could be quickly accomplished that I think are being overlooked.

It is no mystery that a lot of conflict that occurs between cyclists and motorists stem from a misunderstanding of where it is bikes belong. Hence motorists incorrectly yelling at cyclists to “get on the sidewalk” and that “roads are for cars.” In the California Vehicle Code, it is stated that bicycles have all the rights and responsibilities of other roadway users.

Simply put: Bicycles have the right to be on the road.

Truly bicycle friendly cities support this basic right from the TOP down and make it clear in unequivocal terms that bicycles are an accepted and valued roadway users.

What does this mean for Long Beach? I would like a statement from Chief Batts that he has his officers understand and will help protect this right of cyclists. I would like to see similar statements from other community leaders and this newspaper that bikes unequivocally have rights to the road that should be respected.

Why is this important?

While the occasional new bicycle lane or bicycle facility when well designed is welcomed, that improvement affects only that very specific area. It does nothing for the cyclists in other parts of the city who may never encounter the new improvements. However, a powerful blanket statement from our top brass and an aggressive bicycles belong campaign makes every mile of Long Beach more bicycle friendly, not just those select few blocks.

The challenge of making a city bicycle friendly is not just an infrastructure one, but also a cultural one. In this way, bicycle rights parallel civil rights. Though cyclists have all the rights of other roadway users, they are marginalized and treated as 2nd class citizens. They are verbally harassed and threatened everyday on the streets, yet there are no actions to stymie this sort of behavior.

My fear is that if the city promotes these separated facilities, WITHOUT simultaneously asserting the rights of cyclists on ALL streets, it will give the impression that cyclists must only use these facilities and are not legitimate roadway users. This happens now at Hartwell Park where there is a cycle path near a roadway. I have ridden there and have been harassed and told to use the path, even though it doesn’t serve where I want to go.

I’d like to challenge the city to not only look in terms of infrastructure but roadway culture as well, when they take on the task of making Long Beach cyclist friendly.