Etiquette for Policing Bicycle Riders?

RECEIVED Mon., March 30, 2009

Hi Louis,
    I wanted to start by saying that South by Southwest was one of the reasons I moved to Austin a few months ago, so thanks. It also brought me a good bit of work, which has been scarce these days. I have been hearing rumors of hostility from the SXSW organizers toward concurrent nonofficial events, and I hope they aren't true, because I believe that every well-organized event that happens here during that time only ends up benefiting everyone (other than the usual resenters). Using legal channels to unfairly destroy business competition (which really isn't competing that much anyway) would be truly despicable, so I hope that the rumors I've heard are merely that.
    I am mostly writing because Daniel Mottola's mention of the Safe Passing Bill [“Cyclists Hope for Safe Passage,” News, March 27] reminded me of a little scrape (which may have been harassment) I had a week ago with a member of Austin's finest while riding my bicycle. I wonder what the local ordinances are in regard to this:
    I was riding my bicycle at about 10pm in the evening, sometime last week, on the stretch of Oltorf between Lamar and South First, heading to the coffee shop. I had just finished a steep uphill and was readjusting a sketchbook in my jacket pocket so that it wouldn't fall out, thus I wasn't exactly speeding and was riding one-handed. Nor was I trudging at a brisk crawl. Traffic was almost nonexistent, but pedestrians abounded on the narrow, walled, and very difficult sidewalk along that section of street. I was riding in the street, since the sidewalk was more or less a waste of time. One police car passed by me in a hurry, and then another police car silently pulled up behind and to the left of me and abruptly shouted in the loudspeaker, "Get off the road if you don't know how to ride your bicycle!" The speaker was practically right in my ear and startled me so much that I almost crashed. He then turned off into one of the neighborhoods, and I nervously negotiated the sidewalk for a while, until I could no longer stand the snail's pace. Was I in the wrong for riding on the street? I was under the impression that I had a legal right to do so and that riding on the sidewalk is generally discouraged. If I was indeed within my rights, then I would like to air a complaint and ask the police to be a bit more understanding toward those of us who don't always favor the "more power" approach.
Michael Reust
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