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Bicycles and the Community

The police are not the problem for cyclists because police too little power intellectually or politically to be a problem. In fact, the only true function of the police, aside from protecting and serving, is to respond to external stimuli with force upon the command of some greater authority. When there is no greater authority to direct their activities then civil anarchy rises and Kendra Jackson or some other poor soul dies. Police harrassment is a symptom of the problem but the problem of cyclist safety lies with the reluctanceof politicians and the community in general to recognize bicycles as traffic. As riders, especially as commuters, we are a minority and we need to recognize the basis of the problem and attack that. Yelling at the police makes great television footage but alienates the public from our message. Getting shot by the police makes great television footage and gains sympathy for our cause but it is life threatening. Reaching out to the public, addressing the political forums, and pressing city planning for access can achieve positive change to protect the safety and welfare of cyclists.

See also follow-up article: "Responsibility"

Following the Memorial Mass (6/27) many riders have expressed a disappointment for police insensitivity because they employed typically heavy-handed tactics harassing riders rather than backing off in respect of the dead and the loss felt by the cycling community. This disappointment by cyclists reflects an intrinsic regard for social civility and demonstrates higher cultural standard of social respect and human compassion. It is simply inconceivable to the minds and hearts of CM participants to entertain notions of disrupting a memorial motorcade of any kind including a fallen police officer, the notion itself could only bubble forth as methane from below the surface of a cesspool. Interrupting a memorial of any kind demonstrates a hostile disregard not only for a community but also demonstrates a disregard for social and humanistic rights. This simple fact notwithstanding, there is ample evidence that the police possess a care-not attitude for cyclists in general. Consider, for instance, how often you have seen or even heard a second or even third-hand... urban legend... account of a motorist receiving a ticket for an infraction that impeded or inconvenienced or endangered a cyclist. Nearly every spring there is a well publicized push for pedestrian awareness with "sting" operations at cross walks. The police with great fanfare and great expense install automated cameras to deter red-lights violations; however, none of these public awareness campaigns seek to advance the safety of the cyclist in traffic. The rights and safety of cyclists on the road are a low priority for the police, politician, and for traffic engineers because they have no incentive to recognize the bicycle as transportation. Representing a small constituency places anyone, excluding those with wealth, in poor standing with politicians (social trustees) and, ultimately, places that population in danger. It is self-evident that politicians generally curry favor with either the largest population or wealthiest clientele, sadly, cyclists are typically elite and fit, especially, those who actually ride, but, does that mean that we are alone in protecting our safety on the street? Bicycle education in the community focuses its efforts on children by providing free or low-cost helmets, bicycle education classes, and classroom lectures. These authoritarian presentations directed at children in controlled environments reinforce the image of police as protector and authority figure to an intellectually vulnerable audience. Further, the education provided emphasizes the responsibilities of the cyclist reinforcing a notion of the cyclist as a guest of the motorist upon the road. There is no police enforcement detail to protect the rights of the cyclist or to ensure her safety. There is no bicycle safety campaign designed to raise public awareness and acceptance of bicycles as traffic. There has never been a media campaign designed to alert motorists to the rights of cyclists on the roadway. Traffic fines never double in areas where cyclists are particularly vulnerable and motorist is invariably impatient, like crossing the Steel Bridge. There is no community forum in which cyclists sit among police as community peers to discuss the needs of the rapidly growing cycling community to protect their safety in traffic. All of these failures to socially recognize the rights of the cyclist as traffic needlessly place the cyclist in greater danger. It is easy to conclude, given police efforts to educate the public regarding bicycle safety, that the police with the quiet encouragement of the political community, disregard the rights bicycles as traffic. Frequently, it appears that the police by their tactics during various CM rides actually work to disrupt the efforts of cyclists to assert their rights on the roads by limiting their freedom to move legally on the road and baiting them into arrest or fraudulent ticketing. Further, the police make great efforts to keep CM from organizing in any meaningful way issuing orders to disperse and preventing free assembly. Is it that the police just don't care about cyclists, or do they hate cyclists, or is there some interest that they have to disrupt the efforts of cyclists to organize? Just as they did last Friday the police continue to demonstrate everyday their careless attitude toward cyclists preferring a policy of harassment rather than honest recognition. In April, 2003 the police arbitrarily outlawed bike lifts stating that: "any bicycle raised above the riders head would be considered a weapon". This is an absurd declaration by the gun-toting, flack-jacket wearing, pepper-spraying, Para-military police force that they felt threatened by a community act that exalts the bicycle. It is laughable and tragic: laughable because of the stupidity of the statement and tragic because the declaration suppressed bike lifts and the free speech of CM from April until nearly July. Did you hear the one about the guy who brought a bicycle to a gun-fight... ...? Police harassment is the tip of the iceberg but the greatest marginalization of cyclists comes from below the surface. It is all about money and how it is allocated. Allocating money to create greater safety and access for the cycling community by effective foresight, planning, and community involvement costs money, not too much money but some small amount of money, to which mainstream civic leaders object. Consider the cost to the city to actually have a contiguous bicycle path around the city with clearly defined lanes, crossings, and lights where necessary. What if covered bicycle parking were required at every business and government office. What if the trolley cars were on the left side of S.W. 11th so the bike lane didn't have to complete with the trolley and the danger of the parallel tracks. All of this could be done for less than a baseball team and improve the livability of the city for a wider population. The police have no incentive to encourage cycling and, frequently, the bicycle represents an alternative lifestyle choice by the cyclist that is patronized, prejudiced, and, too frequently, profiled by the police as miscreants. Subsequently, with the quiet acceptance of the political community, the police treat bicycles as something less than traffic "toys in the street" reserving whatever modicum of respect that hasn't been eaten away by the acrid cynical self-righteous perspective reinforced by their closed society and protected by the Police union for motor traffic. Further, they characterize and profile cyclists and CM as political anarchists, or hippies or another "childlike" sub-culture unworthy of respect or protection. The social state of mind regarding bicycles as traffic must change and as a growing community we have the ability to make that change happen. As Yoda would say; "Together we must work". So I wrote the long piece that appears above as a "think piece"... read it and, hopefully, something in it will resonate with you so that you can start a conversation about it with someone else. This is the hundredth monkey principle at work, pass information and ideas until everyone gets it. We can improve the state of our growing community by demanding the recognition that we deserve. Although cyclists are widely considered the bastard child of the roads there is great strength and support among our community and we must seek the camaraderie of like-minded people to find and protect our safety. The police are not the problem for cyclists because police too little power intellectually or politically to be a problem. In fact, the only true function of the police, aside from protecting and serving, are to respond to external stimuli with force upon the command of some greater authority. When there is no greater authority to direct their activities then civil anarchy rises and Kendra Jackson or some other poor soul dies. Police harassment is a symptom of the problem but the problem of cyclist safety lies with the reluctance of politicians and the community in general to recognize bicycles as traffic. As riders, especially as commuters, we are a minority and we need to recognize the basis of the problem and attack that. Yelling at the police makes great television footage but alienates the public from our message. Getting shot by the police makes great television footage and gains sympathy for our cause but it is life threatening. Reaching out to the public, addressing the political forums, and pressing city planning for access can achieve positive change to protect the safety and welfare of cyclists. The following are big questions that need to be addressed by our whole community but nobody is asking the questions: How does the city have the time and money to harass CM when there are people who the police have identified as chronic alcoholics, abusers of automobiles, and who have failed to show-up for court mandated alcohol diversion. The $50,000 spent by the city to harass the Memorial Mass would have been better spent seeking and arresting all of the people in Multnomah County who have failed violated court orders to attend alcohol diversion. Align cyclist issues with community issues: that drunk could have killed anyone... how does the city have $50,000 to spend harassing bicyclists when they can't protect the streets from chronic alcoholics known to drive drunk and in violation of court orders to seek treatment. Is $50,000 spent to harass CM a good value in protecting the safety of the community? Is the on going cost of CM harassment a good investment compared to improving the access in the city? How much money and how many lives will be lost before cyclists are granted equal rights and protections as automobile drivers? How many other drunks known to the police are in violation of court ordered treatment are out on the street? This accident really had less to do with bicycle safety than it had to do with community safety and police responsibility. The drunk driver of that automobile could have killed anybody anywhere. Why is there not community outrage because the police failed to protect the community? Why is it not standard policy that that failure to complete court ordered alcohol diversion results in an immediate arrest warrant and pick-up and incarceration for evaluation? Critical Mass has never killed anyone it has caused some inconvenience and possibly concerned the business community with lost profits. In the balance it seems to me that the priorities of the police and the political community are way out of whack on this one. Two people died on 39th at the hands of a chronic drunk, known to the police and to the District Attorney. It was know that this man was a drunk who failed to attend a court ordered alcohol diversion program, however, nobody seemed to care to find out what kept him away and the oversight contributed significantly to killing two people, maiming one, and altering the lives of many. Please write more. Please talk more. Please ring your bells at and for other riders. Go to address the City council. Write a letter to Vera. Go ride your bike in public. Call a reporter and ask questions to lead a story. Do whatever it is that you feel that you can do to gain the recognition and respect socially and politically that everyone who rides a bike deserves as contributing members of society. If everyone made a couple of phone calls or wrote a letter or spoke before council or demanded a meeting with metro planning or demanded an explanation then the message would get out. Remember, it matters not that you are old or young or ride often or not much because if we do not fight for an open society that protects the rights of everyone equally then we choose to accept inequality.
Well Spoken!! 30.Jun.2003 20:00

BURR

Ross--I commend you for your excellent review and analysis!! All cyclists would do well to heed your advice and speak out, loudly, for cyclists' rights. It is extremely unfortunate that the Mayor, with ultimate responsibility for the Police Bureau, is so short-sighted that she accepts awards naming Portland as the 'Best City to Bicycle In', yet authorizes the absurd police responses to Critical Mass and the cyclists' rights movement in general...and that the rest of the self-important political and business 'establishment' in this two-bit town are so self-absorbed that they can't see beyond the tip of their own sexual organ to recognize that bicycling is a good thing for the health and future of this community.

With regard to the tragedy on Belmont last week, I only have this to add:

There are plenty of motorists that threaten, endanger and kill bicyclists rather than driving with caution and giving cyclists the right of way when appropriate or civil, and they do it stone cold sober, on a daily basis. This issue goes much deeper than drunk driving, and the focus of any response to this tragedy should, also.

Peace in the Streets! Ride On!

get it right, white boy 30.Jun.2003 22:13

u.g.

do you think for a moment that the completely stupid, non-productive act of intentionally blocking traffic (crtitical mess) is not going to produce police action? pdx police love critical mess for all of the overtime that they earn whenever these privaleged cyclists get a silver spoon up their asses and decide to do an "action."

the cyclists that were killed: were they wearing helmets? reflectors? had any been drinking? smoked out? choking on overwhelming whiffs of patchouli oil?

and , who the hell is kendra "jackson"?

Police on take? 01.Jul.2003 00:51

Male

After one critical mass I was stopped by police on false pretenses cuz I was following them in my vehicle for a couple blocks, and I was just trying to get home! They were absolutely furious! They thought I was part of the critical mass! I couldnt believe it. Is it possible they are on the take from one or some of the big car dealers in town? Wow!

Stop blaming the victim. 01.Jul.2003 03:07

Nate

U.G. , I undertand the disdain for Critical Mass (or what it has become anyways, cops vs. cyclists rather than the intended "hey look at us, we're on bikes, we're having fun, please let us ride on the road safely" fun ride it used to be years ago.

My problems with your response to the original post is that you ask if the cyclists were wearing helmets or reflectors and such and then make some lame "hippie" reference (I didn't know Angela but Orion was and Caroline and Larry are punk through and through). It wouldn't matter if they had helmets made of the most advanced space-aged polymers and 3.2 billion candlepower light cannons mounted on their bikes. The driver was wasted and driving 70 MILES AN HOUR on residential Belmont.

The true issue right now isn't the PPD's heavy-handedness or hippies without helmets. The issue is drunk driving. Please, never drive drunk or let anyone drive after drinking.

get a grip UG 01.Jul.2003 11:30

Duncan

hey UG:
The driver was going 70MPH on Belmont! One of the byclists was thrown 390 FEET! What the fuck do you think a helmet would have done!?!

my letter to the Mayor 01.Jul.2003 11:32

Duncan

Below is a letter that I just sent to the Mayors office. I am emailing all of you, as Portland residents in the hopes that you will send a similar letter to either of these adresses. I think that our city officials need to get the message that this needs to be a city priority, and the more people who say something the better the chances are that we will be heard.

The email adresses:
 mayorkatz@ci.portland.or.us


Mayor Katz,
I am deeply saddened by the recent tragedy in my neighborhood involving three bicyclists and a drunk driver. I believe that this is just the latest in an alarming trend that has been getting steadily worse in SE Portland for at least the last year and a half. While living in SE Portland for the last two years, I have been the victim of a hit and run on SE 62nd and Division, my ex wife was the victim of a hit and run on SE 12th and Stephens, I have witnessed two other hit and runs and numerous act of negligent driving in my neighborhood, people driving twice the speed limit on neighborhood streets, stumbling out of bars and into cars, racing on surface streets. It has come to the point that I worry about the safety of my son every time he rides out of sight on his bike. I am also worried about my own safety and they safety of my friends. I am also worried about the long term livability of my community. Portland's greatest asset is the livability of its neighborhoods, and the aggressive and frequently intoxicated driving on surface streets amounts to an assault on that livability.

I am sure that the Portland Police Department is aware of this trend, and simply chooses to ignore this problem in favor of the more pressing needs of escorting en-masse every critical mass ride and rallying the riot police to every protest. This is understandable given the nature of police work. They view the critical mass bike riders as law breakers, who announce the time and place they intend to challenge the laws. Aggressive and drunken drivers do not announce their intention to break the law ahead of time. Catching them requires having police out on patrol. Police time, as I am sure you are aware, is a finite and expensive resource. Every time the Police Dept. allocates police time to a protest, that time can not be spent elsewhere. As a city resident, I pay the taxes for that service, and I am asking you, as the my representative to the city bureaucracy, to make sure that my concerns are addressed, and that the safety of my family and my community is protected .

My own street, SE 62 (3100 Block) takes on the appearance of a freeway during commuting times with people driving in excess of 15MPH over the posted speed limit, yet I have never seen any police presence on my street, moreover a sign prohibiting left turns onto Powell Blvd has been missing for some time. How can the city find money for so many things, but they cant even replace a missing sign that would reduce the traffic flow on a street whose residents have regularly complained about the problem of speeding on that street? State law is clear that driving a vehicle is a privilege, not a right. There is obviously a noticeable percentage of drivers who are unaware of this fact, and I believe that a city-wide educational and enforcement campaign would be an investment that would pay dividends in improved safety. I also believe that the city should pressure that District Attorney's Office to aggressively prosecute chronic DUI drivers, as well as repeat Driving License Suspended drivers, as statistically these are the drivers who are most likely to be the cause of fatal accidents.

My son is eight, he should be able to ride his bike around the block safely. I believe that the City of Portland needs to be proactive in addressing this issue. I believe that it is your job, as Police Commissioner, and as Mayor of Portland, to refocus the police department on issues that effect the health safety and welfare of the residents of our city.

thanks, nate!! PLEASE RESPOND! 01.Jul.2003 11:34

u.g.

yes, i am aware with and agree with your thesis!! i wrote what i did to get exactly what you gave: some thought. i think that in our euro-centric political correctness we have been conditioned to gloss over logic and respond from points of privalege(my smart assed hippy reference.)

i pose another question that i hope will bring response: would the white leftists have come out en masse after this tragedy if the victims had not been anglo? would the media cover it?

my answer: hell no! there are tragedies in the hood every day? where the hell is critical mess (yeah, mass, whatever) THEN?

My appologies to U.G. 01.Jul.2003 11:43

Ross

My congratulations go out to U.G., is that short for something, who was able to find the glaring errors in my errantly submitted draft as ably as my 16 year old Niece found Waldo in a book I gave her eight years ago. Surly, U.G. has demonstrated a real gift of talent, good job. In the past eight years my niece has advanced her reading skills to the level of reading for meaning and she engages the ideas of the larger world by seeking out greater understanding of diverse perspectives. Perhaps one day after much patient effort you will achieve her level of reading comprehension and involve yourself in the thoughtful engagement of alternative perspectives rather than lashing out against other viewpoints that you fail to comprehend.

It is quite true that this drunk could have killed anyone because he was driving irrationally. The matter of bicycle safety is a moot point in these circumstances the larger question is public safety. Why was there no warrant issued for his immediate arrest? The police, courts, and district attorney knew he was a chronic alcoholic with a history of drunk driving. Where in the world did all of these public trustees believe that he was when he did not show up for his court ordered alcohol treatment?

The simple fact remains that this man was known to represent a clear danger to the community, however, our public trustees; police, courts, and district attorney's failed to address the issue. The death of these people signals a breakdown in a system created at great expense to protect the public. Helmets and lights or even body armor can't stop a speeding car driven by a chronic drunk but, in this case, the police, courts and district attorney could have stopped him by taking responsible action to pick him up when he was in violation of a court order to seek treatment.

Allow me to summarize the major points of this very long piece. The laws of physics determine that the cyclist will always take responsibility for every crash with an automobile because of the differential of mass between the two vehicles. Whatever a cyclist does to protect his safety is good but as long as politicians, police, and the public view bicycles as interlopers in traffic rather than as an integral part of our urban transportation system the cyclist is placed at greater risk. The only way for cyclists to achieve social recognition as viable transportation and achieve parity of rights with autos on the roads is by strengthening their community through dialogue and organizing to demand recognition.

Every effort of cyclists to achieve parity on the roads is important and valuable. Critical Mass is an important tool to gain that recognition. Bicycle Transportation Alliance is an important tool to gain that recognition. Everything and anything that a cyclist does to advance cycling awareness including writing a letter, making a phone call, just taking a bike ride is valuable. Following this tragic accident the media has chosen to spin the tragedy about bicycle safety and drunk driving, in my opinion, the story is the failure of public trustees to ensure public safety because this man was a chronic alcoholic known within the system to drive drunk and he was in violation of court orders to seek mandated treatment. The system lost him and he killed two people, they happened to be cyclists.

The death of the cyclists is a touchstone for the cycling community, however, the issues of drunk driving, the failure of public trustees to protect the public, and the recognition of bicycles as traffic are only related by this accident. They are separate things that come together in this tragic case. However, the senseless death and injuries of these people can bring us together as a cycling community to demand recognition of Bicycles as traffic.

The media coverage and police response to this event demonstrates social acceptance of the blatant marginalization of bicycles as traffic. The police have the responsibility to protect the rights of everyone equally but they choose to ignore the rights of bicycles on the roadways and practice various tactics of suppression as cyclist speak publicly to gain recognition for the rights guaranteed to them as citizens. The police fail their responsibility to the public and it is permitted with the quiet acceptance of mainstream media and the public. Similarly, this chronic alcoholic who represented a significant risk to the community was permitted to blow-off court ordered treatment, obtain alcohol and a car which resulted in two dead people. These two issues are related by the fact that in both cases public trustees failed to address their sworn civic responsibility. This story has been spun by the media to revolve around bicycle safety and drunk driving but the real central issue is; where the responsibility for public safety lies and holding public trustees accountable. I would suggest to that it lies squarely on the shoulders of the public.

Cyclists have rights, cyclists are citizens, and cyclists are traffic. The police fail to protect those rights because they have no compelling interest to do so. In fact, police demonstrate hostility toward cyclists as they exercise their first amendment rights to speak, demonstrate, and organized for equal treatment. Compelling interest comes to police from politicians and as cyclists we must lobby politicians to gain our rights. It is important for every cyclist to consider these issues because the failure of the system to compel police, civil authority, to protect the rights of cyclists puts the lives of cyclist at risk. Similarly, the failure of the system to compel the chronic alcoholic into treatment or to incarcerate him for violating a court order killed two. As a public we must hold our civil servants accountable for executing their duty to the public or we deserve the social environment that devolves from that failure.

If our public trustees would have spent $50,000 dollars picking up all the people in the county who violated court orders to seek alcohol treatment it is very likely these three people would be alive and healthy today. Rather our public trustees spent $50,000 harassing and controlling1,500 cyclists participating in a memorial mass for people needlessly killed by a drunk driver who "slipped" through the system. Where is the public out-cry in recognition that it could have been anybody. Where is the public outcry for parity on the roads? Where is the public out-crying for civic responsibility?

Recall Mayor Katz for ignoring letters from cycling constituents 01.Jul.2003 16:12

Marvin recallverakatz@yahoo.com

Yes, please write to Mayor Katz about the waste of our tax dollars on police overkill harassing Critical Mass and cyclists throughout the city.

But whereas Charlie Hales was a supportive angel, Katz has ignored our letters time and time again, and it does not bother her to waste our tax dollars on 50 or more cops for two hours at something like $20 or $25 per hour (she refuses to tell me how much) all in order to write a few harassment citations. This waste is malfeasance, and in combination with other heavy-handed police tactics against activists and African-Americans, this is why we formed the Recall Vera Katz Committee and filed a recall petition. See the indy postings (in two parts because of some indy computer glitch) or visit www.recallvera.org.

We need more volunteer petitioners. Every signature is a vote against police violence. Thanks.