This blog has lamented the area's safety record for pedestrians and
bicyclists many times. There is another problem which gets less attention,
but may be related: unfair treatment of walkers and riders by police officers
I was reminded of this while sitting at a traffic court hearing last week.
As I was waiting and watching other hearings, I saw a case where a driver
had received a ticket for hitting a man on a bicycle. According to the
testimony, the man on the bike was riding down the sidewalk when a car
pulled out of a business driveway and blocked the sidewalk in front of
him. The man on the bike tried to go around the front of the car and continue
on his way.
Unfortunately, the car's driver apparently lost track of where the
bike was and pulled forward. He hit the bicyclist crossing in front of
his car, knocking him from his bike and throwing him into the street.
The driver got a ticket for violating the bicyclist's right of way.
The police officer rightly gave this ticket because the driver pulled
forward and blocked the sidewalk rather than letting the bicyclist pass.
While this happens far too often, it is still an improper driving action
on the part of the driver, and the officer was simply enforcing the traffic
code when he wrote the ticket.
Sitting as an observer, I figured the traffic court judge would uphold
the ticket. Instead, the judge fired a series of questions at the bicyclist,
asking him why he went around the front of the car, why he didn't
just stop and let the car pull out into the street, and so on. When it
was over, the judge dismissed the ticket, even though there was no question
that the car had blocked the bicyclist's path along the sidewalk as
There are stories from around the country far more depressing than this
one. One which was captured on video a few years ago showed a woman in
Arizona trying to cross an intersection with a stroller. The intersection
was several lanes wide, and the woman simply did not make it all the way
across before the light changed.
An SUV pulled forward while the lady and stroller were still in the crosswalk
and ran right over the stroller. Miraculously, the young child in the
stroller was not killed. But the SUV's driver wasn't even charged,
presumably because the woman pushing the stroller failed to get all the
way across before the light changed. The general rule that one should
enter an intersection
after ensuring that the intersection is clear seems not to have made a difference. This bizarre interpretation of traffic
rules essentially makes it open season on pedestrians who can't move
fast enough to get all the way across an intersection on the "walk" signal.
Deaths and injuries to pedestrians and
bicyclists present a multi-faceted problem. Solving it will require multiple changes
in design, "car culture," and other things. However, one thing
we could start on right now is better education for police officers and
traffic court judges. We need consistent and accurate interpretation of
the traffic laws to make roadways safe for our most vulnerable users.