Cyclist's Own Words
Pedal-pushers share tales of their run-ins with the law
Jason Abels, ATXBS.com
One of my concerns is with the number of cyclists [APD is] pulling over. The first person to e-mail me about the situation mentioned that in the 30 minutes he was pulled over, over a dozen other people were stopped and ticketed, as well. Though the website gets around, it's still only viewed by a small cross section of cyclists, so the responses we're seeing are only representative of a small sliver of the community. Talking to a couple guys who live on the Eastside and work in shops, they've also been mentioning an unannounced crackdown on bikers on the Eastside, as well as Downtown and campus, that the police have been harassing bikers over minor things, most of whom bike out of necessity for transportation, not as recreational cyclists or political radicals (aka students and trustifarians). That's the bit of the story I've found most disconcerting. The bikers I know are a relatively decently educated crew and know what to do when pulled over or how to fight a ticket. Some guy riding his Magna to his construction job on the Eastside, getting a ticket is gonna ruin his day. I'm curious to see the cop's enforcement numbers. When the helmet law was in effect, it was used primarily on the Eastside and primarily against minorities (4 to 1, I believe), so I'm curious to see if this crackdown is having a similar effect.
It was the morning of Oct. 10, and I was riding south on Congress to my office at Sixth & Congress as I do every day. When I was rolling up to the light at Sixth & Congress, a bicycle cop (on the sidewalk) motioned for me to pull over and join him. I did; he asked me if I knew why he was stopping me. I of course said no, and he said another officer up the street witnessed me running a red light at Eighth & Congress. He pulled out his ticket book and said I was going to get a different kind of ticket, one for civil court (I believe, might have that name wrong). He said it's for people who can't afford to pay tickets (not sure what that had to do with anything at this point, but I was happy to not be getting a normal ticket – this other kind sounded better). As he was filling out the ticket, he explained that this particular day was crack down on cyclists day "because of the messengers riding all over the place." I tried to explain that I'm not one of them and was just on my way to work, but that didn't help. In all fairness, I technically did run the light because it turned red as I was rolling through the intersection. For that reason, I didn't feel like I had much of a case with arguing with him (although I barely ran it and probably couldn't have stopped in time anyway with 23mm slicks). Then the obligatory "other cop" that always shows up when you get pulled over appeared (on bike also). Cop No. 1 asked cop No. 2 if he had heard about the fact that they're giving out these other kinds of tickets. Cop No. 2 said no, and for some reason, that made cop No. 1 tear up that ticket and then write me a normal ticket, the kind you get in a car. I asked if there was a way to find out what type of ticket I should be getting, perhaps by radioing in and asking, but cop No. 1 said that it didn't really matter and "whoever you deal with at the courthouse will change it if need be." The real reason was on his face and was clear to me: "I don't really know what I'm doing, but my cop ego won't allow me to ask."
I made the decision last year to sell my car and begin commuting via bicycle/bus. I absolutely love it. I understand if APD would target traffic violators, but targeting cyclists only does not seem fair. I ride Guadalupe almost every day, and it amazes me to see so many cars driving in our bicycle lane. Either they don't see it, or they are oblivious ... but it is extremely scary when you are riding and feel threatened by a passing car/truck.
On Sept. 28, 2008, three friends and I rode Downtown to see a show at Shakespeare's. That night, Sixth Street was completely dead. Nevertheless, the police barricaded the street between Neches and Brazos. My friends and I were riding, at a walking pace, trying to find a place to lock up our bicycles. A police officer shouts "hey you," and so my friend got off his bicycle to see what the police officer was yelling at us for. The officer says to us, "See, you heard me say hey and you knew you were doing something wrong, so you stopped. You must have been warned before about no riding in the barricades." None of us had been previously warned about the no-riding policy in the barricades, but he assumed otherwise. We told him we only stopped because an officer was yelling at us ... what else should we have done? He went on to give us all tickets under the assumption that we "had previously been warned" without ever checking their police records.
We should not have been riding in the barricade, no arguments about that. But the situation needs to be examined ... we were all first-time violators. The streets were empty of foot traffic. We were not going fast; in fact, we were practically crawling.
I feel that we were unfairly treated because for so long, the police allowed cyclists to ride through the barricades (as long as they weren't going too fast, which could cause harm to pedestrians). Then on this night, they decide that they are going to begin ticketing for this violation with no fair warnings.
Jennifer, of Austin Yellow Bike Project
This is in reference to Dan's story about the recent police crackdown on bicyclers in town. A bit of indirect evidence of police influence that I've seen is homeless and otherwise less financially secure folks from the neighborhood have been coming by the shop asking for lights. I've given away the ones I could and sold some others for cheap. I think it's a good thing that folks are getting lights, since I don't want them to be another statistic where a car driver didn't see them and hence gets away with killing another human being. But I don't know how much good it is for the cops to issue expensive tickets to guys with no money.
Maybe there's some funding out there, much like the free kids' helmet program that Austin Cycling Association has, to give lights away to folks who can't afford them. In my opinion, the lights are much more important for general safety and protection than the helmets. Hmmm, sounds like a good grant request for a bike organization to make. Sounds like something we at Yellow Bike might be able to do once we get our building costs out of the way ...
Just some thoughts. Thanks for all y'all do.
Honestly? I've been riding way less ever since I heard about the crackdown. UT Police sent an e-mail to everyone on campus who'd registered their bike saying they would start cracking down, and I just stopped riding ... started riding the bus instead. It totally took the joy out of cycling for me. The idea that they were out to get me? That they weren't on my side protecting me from the crazy drivers around town? That totally broke my spirit.
And the funny thing? I'm one of those cyclists who already stops at every stop sign and signals turns. Ain't that a kicker? I would just shake my head when I'd see others blowing stop signs or riding against traffic. I figured they'd either learn the hard way or have a bad scare and stop riding entirely. When they make a mistake, they're the ones who pay for it. Cars, on the other hand ...
I've been bike-commuting for over five years now. I started when I worked at a law firm Downtown, and I've kept it up, summer and winter, ever since ... through grad school and now post-school (I still work on campus and Downtown too ... and commute from around Cherrywood and Manor). I felt like I'd learned a lot about how to keep myself safe, how to predict the driving habits of cars to avoid collisions. I'd learned the back routes that put me on safer streets rather than awful thoroughfares. But now I feel like there's just one more obstacle to safe cycling out there ... that I have to worry about being unfairly targeted ... that there isn't an equal amount of crackdown on car-drivers who roll through stop signs ... what gives, APD?
I want more driver and cyclist education about how to share the road safely. I want drivers to be aware of us ... to give us a break. I know some of us do crazy things on bicycles, but you can't generalize and say all of us are doing that and so clearly are the party to blame. There are cars out there who do crazy things, too ... just in a one-ton steel box ... I'm not seeing the crackdown in that department at all. It makes me lose my faith in our system (and I'm a pretty optimistic, faithful girl!).
The last red light ticket I got was from a Travis Co. sheriff. Guy was professional but still gave me the ticket. I asked and he replied not to worry, it does not affect your driving record. Ok. So I go to pay the fine ($250, same as a car), and the clerk at the courthouse tells me that there is only one code they use to enter a red light infraction; it does not differentiate between auto or bicycle or anything else. We go around and around for a while, and they finally tell me that when DPS ultimately processes the ticket, they will somehow realize that it was a bicycle, and it won't affect my driving record. Ok. To make a long story short, it took me several trips to both that courthouse and DPS to figure this out. It was like I was the only person ever to get this ticket. Months go by, and I go check my driving record, and sure enough, I have a moving violation on my driving record. After more frustrating trips to DPS and multiple calls to my auto insurance company, I finally got the damn thing off my record, where it should never have been in the first place.
The point is, do not expect them to do what they tell you; you must follow up till the end.