Monday, November 24, 2008

Bike Safety vs. Safety Officers

Which is safer? A) A bicycle parade that stops at every red light, thereby breaking up into smaller and smaller segments, leaving open spaces for cars to get stuck in between? Or b) a bicycle parade that stays together by temporarily blocking an intersection and moves past as quickly as possible? Give up? Here’s a hint, if you answered a, you’re most likely a cop or a traffic light. If you answered b, you’re most likely a reasonable and intelligent person.

Such are my thoughts after Sunday’s People Power and Greenways sponsored King Street Bike Parade. Organized in response to the spate of bicycle deaths on Mission Street, the parade was a wonderful and worthwhile event - From the families decked out in a multitude of colors that would make a Mormon faint, to People Power’s Micah Posner ox-hauling the Santa Cruz high ukulele club on a bike trailer float as they belted out Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” and of course, the message of creating a safe corridor for bicyclists riding near Mission Street. It was almost the perfect group ride, that is, if it weren't for the presence of police officers intimidating riders and inhibiting public safety.

(Parade organizers trying to communicate with policebot)

How else can one describe the actions of Santa Cruz’s PD, who among other things, went out of their way to constantly photograph the 100% peaceful ride and interfere with “corking” safety efforts by parade volunteers? Anyone familiar with group bike rides knows that the best interests of drivers and bicyclists are served when the bicyclists move past whatever intersection they’re using as quickly as possible. “Corking” - the process where a bicyclist pulls up in front of cars and holds the space until all the bicyclists have passed accomplishes just that.

The utter silliness of the PD’s insistence that bicyclists blindly obey the two traffic lights the parade passed through came to a head as riders entered the intersection of Bay and King. As instructed by the organizers in an effort to comply with the policeman, the 100-plus strong bike parade stopped for each time the light turned red. The problem was of course, the parade being big and slow, had to stop 4 times, and each time bike volunteers had to block access to King St anyway lest a car get sandwiched in between the parade. In other words, rather than take the initiative to block one green light on Bay so as to allow a group of bicyclists to pass as one, the officer-on-a-motorcycle remained idle as volunteers ended up having to hold the space through four green lights, redirecting cars onto Escalona, and dragging the entire process out an extra 10 minutes. This only served to break up the ride into smaller and smaller segments, thereby endangering the slower riders and causing more car traffic congestion.

As the ride continued south towards Walnut, officer-on-a-motorcycle sped around to various volunteer corkers, instructing them to not block traffic if there were no cars present, and to not block traffic if there were cars present. When asked if he could do it for us, he replied, “This isn’t a permitted parade.”

Let me get this straight – Because the parade organizers did not go through the hassle of asking the city for permission to ride half a mile, down a residential street, for maybe a half hour, on a Sunday, officer-on-a-motorcycle was not only unwilling to ensure the safety of the families riding (and there were a lot of children in the parade) by temporarily stopping car traffic, but was in the same breath more than willing to stop those of us who were.

You know, a cynical person might get to thinking that perhaps the Police Department is less concerned about public safety and more concerned about maintaining a monopoly of power. After all, if average citizens started organizing in order to take responsibility for their own safety (at least for benign things like bicycle parades), police departments might be put out of business.

And that’s the crux of the issue – the state insisting we need permission to be free. Had the parade organizers not shown such good intentions by approaching the watchful cops at the beginning of the parade, it’s debatable whether the latter would have started issuing tickets and arresting people once we reached the intersection in question. This is not to argue that walking up to the PD and saying, “We’re gonna blow throw these red lights whether you like it or not” would have been any better but rather, to say that perhaps it’s best to leave well enough alone and ignore the cops unless they approach you. After all, it is only by our acknowledgment of their control over us do they derive their authority; if we do not acknowledge them, then they’re just as likely to leave us alone and not assert control over us. And that’s an idea I don’t need permission to express.

1 comment:

Yokota Fritz said...

Occasionally people do "Totally Legal" group rides to get the point across that totally legal often is more disruptive. For many motorists, breaking the rules is taboo because they just can't get the concept of working in cooperation with others.