Saturday, September 02, 2006

Sometimes you just have to take a stand!

We had a little confrontation with a cycling inept police officer today out on the Saturday ride.
He almost caused people to crash and was being overly demanding that a large group ride single file even after we allowed vehicles to pass.

Sometimes life presents opportunities to make changes/improvements in our community, and you have to willing to take a stand and read the moment as a catalyst to something much bigger.

Below is the email I sent to the Chief, and two lieutenants at Pleasanton PD.

Hello,
I am contacting you to in an attempt to reach out and resolve some issues that happened this morning (9-2-06) at about 9:30 AM on Vineyard Avenue with a large (40+) group of cyclists and one of your officers. I view this simply as an issue of education and understanding of the basics of cycling and pack riding.
While many people own and even ride quite a bit, there is an enormous gap of experience from the casual cyclist and the avid cyclist that races or spends many hours in the saddle, riding in groups and alone.
A couple of points that I will discuss below are:
1. Expecting a large pack of cyclist to behave/maneuver like an individual cyclist.
2. Giving instructions that are uninformed and puts riders in harms way,
3. Naively stepping directly in front of a Tandem Bicycle traveling at 20+ MPH and expecting it to stop on a dime. (Dangerous, for him and us).
4. The correct perception of a pack of cyclists vs. a small group or individual.
5. An obstacle is an obstacle.
6. Bike Lanes: Good for individuals, bad for groups.
7. Fixed Features
Discussion:
1. There are certain things one can and can't do when in a peleton, one of the basic rules that MUST be adhered to at ALL times is NO SUDDEN LATERAL MOVEMENTS. That means it takes time for a large peleton to go single file.
Yes, I know that the public perception and even the law may read that a group of cyclists are to ride single file. However, a LARGE group of cyclists will always be at least two wide unless the pace is so high that they are strung out. WHY? Because no one can pull the whole pack around all day. Cycling is a sport of energy conservation, and drafting is always a factor. A rider in a draft is working as much 60% less than the rider breaking the wind. That is why one line is moving forward while the other is moving backwards. There is always a rotation in place with riders sharing the work load. This is a basic fundamental of pack and group riding, it's as old as the hills and is governed by the laws of physics, not the cycling ignorant laws of the state.
As cyclists, we always do everything in our power to give way to autos, when safe. It is common place for cyclists at the rear to call out "Car Back" to inform the rider ahead that we need to go single file. This call out is then passed forward until it reaches the front. In a large pack this can take a little time. Typically until the whole pack knows what is happening and can respond, there really isn't anywhere for a cyclist in the middle of the pack to go. If he makes a sudden lateral movement he risks chopping the wheel behind him and causing serious injury to many riders.
2. A non-cyclist or even a relatively inexperienced cyclist (by cyclist's standards) may very likely not have pack skills or may have never ridden in a large group. Therefore is likely not aware of the protocol that has been developed over decades of cycling that are for everyone's safety. Giving a command and expecting immediate compliance without understanding the nuances of pack riding puts all of the riders in harms way. I have been racing and riding for over 10 years without serious injury, I know what I need to do to be safe. I am in control of my bike, and ONLY I know what I need to do to be safe. No cyclist is going to compromise his or her own safety because of the uninformed demands of a public servant.
3. Today my wife and I were on our tandem, with the two of us this vehicle ways over 275 lbs. It's easily a comparison of a car to a tractor trailer. Your officer stepped directly into our path while we were trying to slow down to speak with him. He was at a point in our line that was physically impossible for us to come to a safe stop by. I almost had to lay the bike down creating a very high likelihood of causing sever injury to my wife. I called to the officer several times during this event that he needed to move, he naively did not. With another cyclist on either side of me, I was barely able to find a safe path around him. This is a CLEAR indication that this officer is uneducated to the nuances of cycling and what is reasonable to request of riders to when it comes to making maneuvers. This is simply a laws of physics issue.
4. As I have pointed at, a peleton (large group) of cyclist maneuver much different than a single rider or small group. The example used is often that of a school of fish. Sudden individual lateral movements put everyone in danger, and is therefore not allowed and is policed by peer pressure. Bad pack skills will earn one quite a tongue lashing and public humiliation. With that in mind a peleton must be perceived as a large vehicle rather than a bunch of small individual ones. It is extremely important for officers to understand this, and to act accordingly when working with a group.
5. Drivers are often faced with many obstacles while traveling on the roadways. At any given time they may have to contend with farm equipment, construction equipment, wide loads in transport, roadway construction, railroad crossings, or even Grandma who drives 10 miles an hour under the speed limit. A pack of cyclists is NO different, it may cause a temporary delay, but usually not substantial enough to make a difference in the driver's overall travel time. It is unreasonable to expect a peleton of 40+ cyclists to instantaneously yield to one or two cars. In our society, majority rules, today we were the majority, not the two cars. We were in the process of getting them around us, but patience is not too much to ask...ON A SATURDAY.
Our group was traveling quite fast and was only mildly under the posted speed limit for the road.
6. Bike lanes are a short cited design feature that the cities seem to think help cyclists. I speak to this issue with two forms of authority: I am an avid competitive cyclist, and I am also a traffic signal and roadway designer who has worked on most of the roads in the Tri-Valley, including 4 signals on Vineyard.
While bike lanes do serve a purpose for the casual cyclist, Mom and Pop, and children going off to school, it is extremely inadequate for the avid and savvy cyclist. The bike lanes are seldom in a condition that is rideable, often filled with broken glass, rocks, and roadway debris. This means a road cyclist in order to avoid constant punctures must ride to the outside of, or even to the left of the bike lane. This level of hazard is NOT visible to the motorist, and is especially not visible to an officer seated in his car traveling on the outside of the peleton who are completely obstructing his clear view of the possible obstacles we must contend with.
Again I point out that demanding compliance to and instruction given is unreasonable and puts the cyclists in harms way.
7. Fixed Features are objects or items that are always in the same place at the same time. They are fixed, they will be there today, they will be there tomorrow. Most group rides while not technically being organized by any official group, are typically a fixed feature due to a tradition of the ride. The rides typically meet at the same times, at the same places, and ride the same routes. On Saturdays there are several group rides in our community, they WILL be on the roads. Drivers should expect them to be there, they should plan their trip accordingly, and consider the use of main roads rather than using cut-through routes. Typically cyclist numbers will be heavy on these roads that are supposed to have low travel volumes. It's an attempt to avoid cyclist/automobile conflicts. However, there are rude and selfish individuals in our community that feel they own all the roads and drive irresponsibly, and then proceed to file complaints about cyclists when the conflicts happen.
I would be happy to work with your department to develop cycling educational programs in order help your officers better work with the cycling community at large. I am willing to make myself available for discussions, Q & A sessions, or even a fundamentals of group riding class. The key to bridging the gap is education and understanding.
The cycling community in the Tri-Valley is very large, and growing. It is made up of financially prominent individuals and professionals in many high-end industries. It is important that our concerns and needs are incorporated into the communities we live, work, and ride in.
Please contact me after digesting this information.
(End Message)

If you don't ever say anything, things will never change, and someone has to be willing to say "NO, THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE". At the same time one also has to be willing to reach out and offer to work towards a resolution. Incidents like what happen today are catalysts for change and raising the awareness. It's not always easy, or comfortable, but if you back down before a shift happens, it was all for not.

I even spent some time on the phone with the Watch Commander. Awareness was raised, both sides contributed to trying to bridging the gap. He is going to take the time to speak with his officers and share some of my points.
In the worse case scenario, the Pleasanton officers will have a little more awareness before becoming belligerent, and jumping in front of a tandem.

6 Comments:

Blogger Ed W said...

First, know your state law concerning bicycling. See MassBike for its links to all states: http://massbike.org/bikelaw/statelaws.htm

For instance, here's the link for CA law:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=21001-22000&file=21200-21212

Sometimes local communities can have more restrictive laws than the state version. That's true here in OK, but may not be in CA.

Most police officers do not know much about bicycling law. It just doesn't come up very often. But as a general rule, if you disagree with an officer, do so respectfully and simply point out that he can call his dispatcher for clarification. It helps to have a small copy of the relevant laws for yourself. See the ACLU bust card for how to interact with police officers and what they can and cannot ask of you.

There's nothing in law that requires ANY road user to do something he knows to be dangerous. What is perceived as dangerous is quite different when you're protected by a thin layer of lycra and a styrofoam hat rather than a ton or more of steel and glass.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Gianni said...

Had your back from across the street, but I thought he was gonna cuff ya and stuff ya for a minute there!
It was kinda getting like the scene in Meet The Fockers when De Niro gets shot with the taser by the redneck.
I liked the VSRT approach- " ummmm, I'm not with him. "
Solidarity, Baby!

8:48 PM  
Blogger Nome Agusta said...

Ed,
Sometimes what is in black and white just doesn't take all things into consideration. Laws do not think, they do not discern, nor do they have common sense (assuming that people do).
In any case what we are after is not a change in the law, it's a change in the attitude and approach of how it is applied. Approach us with respect and an understanding that it may take a minute for us to comply.
Instead of coming on the loud speaker and giving orders, key and say something like "Hey guys, there are a couple of cars that need to get by, how about letting them through as soon as you can".

The goal of the officer was to get traffic flowing, a little respect, common sense, and a basic understanding of pack riding would have acheived that goal without causing anyone stress.

After all, we weren't robbing a 711. The nazi approach was overkill.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Nome Agusta said...

Gianni,
No doubt, that was pretty spineless of homeboy.

He did manage to inform the officer that there was glass and debri in the bike lane, then he quickly scurried away with his tail stuck firmly between his legs.

From where I was standing the officer was possibly thinking he might have gotten himself in a little over his head. He was shaking from adrenalin and called for backup. Not that anything would have happened, but 40 or more of society's fittest and one fat cop is not psychologically a ratio in his favor.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Gianni said...

Yah, when your whole notion of law enforcement is command and control, and somebody decides to argue, it threatens you pretty quick.
That is why I stayed across the street, or probably I would have gotten cuffed annd stuffed.
When I saw the car turned around in the road, I knew confrontation was not far away.
That guy played his last card first.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Nome Agusta said...

I suppose I had a little adrenalin flowing too. I gambled that it might not look to good to arrest someone of an arguement of the correct way to ride a bike. I was at all times mindful to be respectful and present the facts and nothing more.
The truth is always the truth, it can't be reasoned with, argued into something else, and all the ignorance in the world what change it.

2:35 PM  

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