html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I'll post any responses I get.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'll post any responses I get.

Last night, I sent this to my councilmember, my mayor, the bike activists in town, and the alternative transportation modes coordinator for the city of Sacramento:

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2006 22:29:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: Megan
Subject: strange police behavior

Hello,
I ride my bicycle everywhere and tonight as I was riding west on W St, a police car pulled over to within a half-foot of me, slowed to my speed and drove parallel to me for two or three seconds. It was very peculiar and felt somewhat menacing. I wouldn't write you for such a small matter, except that this is the second time a police car has buzzed me like this.

I have always had pleasant, professional interactions with the Sacramento police. Since I am entirely bland-looking and ride sedately, I can't imagine what professional purpose is served by driving so close to me for so long. Perhaps there is a good reason for the officer to do that, and I would love to know what it is. Without knowing a good reason, it feels like the officer is just bullying a cyclist by edging her back into door range.

I know that the city of Sacramento believes in alternate modes of transportation and wants to support her cyclists. Is there a way to remind our police force that cyclists are not secondary users of our roads and that their purpose includes supporting bike riders?

Thanks for your attention,

Megan Lastname


I don't expect anything to come of it. My councilman will write me back, because he is conscientious like that. The other three? Don't know. Can't think what they could really do about it either, except maybe a one-liner in whatever internal newsletter the police department puts out, saying 'be nice to cyclists!'.

I guess I just have two more thoughts. My sympathies have always been with bike activists, because it is an environmentally kind mode of transportation. But riding my bike exclusively for two months gives me a whole new understanding of the fervency behind bike activism. It genuinely feels like people driving cars are willing to be careless with our lives. It is hard not to get angry and strident over that.

Second, I am the fortunate of society that this is the type of complaint that I have about our police force. I usually like and trust authority. I want it to live up to its privilege.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

M, I know this off-topic and I guess you didn't like my labrador-centric view of the world, but since she's from your hometown I know you won't mind too much:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19376

billo.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Ennis said...

They were filling out a survey:

a) White and Nerdy ?
b) Ridin' Dirty ?

11:16 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Maybe this can be a step towards your learning to hate and distrust authority more.

Whenever I see a police officer, I cringe. The further away from him I am, the better, which means: car, bike, foot in order of increasing discomfort.

I don't blame the police for who they are, but they have definitely been conditioned to be something unpleasant to people like me. They are used to dealing with the exceptionally bad in society. They look for the square pegs and too often find that they are up to no good. Seeing the worst from society, the tend to expect the worst from everyone they meet who doesn't fit their mold of what good citizenry look like.

Learn to hate The Man, Megan!

11:33 AM  
Anonymous UnderwearNinja said...

Maybe you could try exerting a little bit more over your right as a motorist. Instead of riding on the right of the lane, just get out in the middle (assuming you're visible!). You have every right to be in the middle of a lane!

If a cop did that to me, I'd probably break and get behind him, right in the middle of the lane, because really, that's bullshit.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

But I am their mold of what the good citizenry should look like*. They work for me, the white woman! That's why I am so indignant over such a small offense.


*except for my lawn.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Megan, don't think that the speed with which you fled your honorary Asian-ness has not been noted.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

UnderwearNinja:
I ride far enough away from the curb to avoid hazards (like car doors) and will claim the lane if there isn't enough room remaining for a car to drive next to me. Both times the cops have buzzed me I was too startled and too worried about not crashing my bike to have a reaction. It is scary to have a car come up under your elbow like that.

Bob V.:
Well, when you're dealing with cops, who would want to be brown?

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't a bicyclist thing, it's a cop thing. The cops have done this to me while I was on foot several times.

Once, it was followed by an actual conversation, in which I learned that there was a good reason - they were looking for some kids who were paintballing houses in the neighborhood that night, and my friend and I fit part of the description they had. I found this out by talking to the second cop who stopped; the first one was just being a bully and an asshole, and refused to tell me what was going on.

On every other occasion, they've eventually given up interest and pulled away. I don't know if in those cases, they also had some reason to be suspicious, or if they were just patroling.

Either way, I'm with bob v. I will detour considerably out of my way in order to avoid proximity to the police, despite the fact that I'm never hurting anyone and despite being white. The police make a living by sticking their noses where they're not wanted and pushing people around; I don't need that around me.

1:29 PM  
Blogger ScottM said...

While I've been slacking lately, I know what you mean about the different viewpoint that comes with bicycling regularly. Unfortunately, I know I contribute to the bad image of cyclists too... it's too tempting to coast, saving the energy loss from a complete stop & start.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

We've got this one friend here in DC who has met lots of nice strangers. She's only had a few bad interactions with rude people... all cops.

She's decided to make it her mission to sow good will between the public and the police during her daily run. (Where she probably runs past 20 or 30 of them in an hour. It's like that here.)

So the other day when a cop yelled, "Hey! YOU! Get back here! You need to go around, this road is closed!"

She began her detour, but then circled back around. "Hi there. You know... I'm not trying to talk back or anything, but I really don't appreciate being spoken to like that."

"Well, yes ma'am, but this road is closed right now."

"I understand that, and I'm happy to take another route, but I think you could have gotten my attention and made that same point using a more polite tone."

(Note: she's very sweet and calm, so I'm certain this was all said with NO sarcasm.)

"Hmmm... yeah, you're right. I'll think about that, and I'm sorry."

Wow! Nice work boys in blue! Let's work on our manners, especially with the cute girls jogging or on their bikes. And just because Megan's got a hot ass, doesn't mean she'll be flattered by you driving up on her all slow-like!

2:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

It's a dark day when the cops are hassling the white women. Are we not their raison d'ĂȘtre?

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

I've been bicycle commuting for the two years I've lived in Los Angeles, and I'd say that being a motorist is far more predictive for menace to cyclists than being a cop. I've found pedestrian cops to range from benign disinterest to outright friendliness, even when my own behavior has been of ambiguous legality. Coffin-riders are coffin-riders, whether they're white, black, or blue. If a civilian car pulls within 6 inches and stays there for no obvious reason, I'll whack the roof with my palm if I can reach it, or at least punch the side window (friends have suggested that bike locks work better for these purposes). With a cop, I'd probably just "accidentally" bash the side window with my bar-end, as if I were dodging road debris, if only to avoid getting shot.

Perhaps I'm too combative for my health, but you have to ride as though you own the road. This isn't rudeness, this is just operating a vehicle like any other, except that a bicycle won't kill people in an accident. The more feedback you provide to drivers, the more quickly they will learn that bicycles are vehicles. Cops are the same. As Dennis's friend found, immediate interaction with morons in the public employ has better results than writing to higher authorities. Interaction with authorities is valuable for the larger-scale changes that are possible, like bike lanes.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

She began her detour, but then circled back around. "Hi there. You know... I'm not trying to talk back or anything, but I really don't appreciate being spoken to like that."

"Well, yes ma'am, but this road is closed right now."


They would so throw my ass is Guantanamo for that. Actually, as soon as I started to circle back, he'd be deciding whether to pistol-whip or taser-whip me.

(Can you tell I had a childhood where authority blamed me for everything rather than protect me from all those vicious white girls?)

3:42 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

"It genuinely feels like people driving cars are willing to be careless with our lives."

Yup. For most it only feels like it, but it doesn't take many drivers actually being careless with our lives to give us bikers very bad days. The jerks.


Megan, my guess is that you just don't look innocuous enough. I look Mormon in a Mormon city and pass hassle free.

So my advice is to ditch the pigtails, adopt 7 kids, and move here.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Motorists are really bad about not looking at crosswalks before barrelling through... makes me ohsohappy.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Tom, it's funny you mention that. I bike more often than I drive, but I definitely do both.

I don't stop for bikers at crosswalks.

People aren't supposed to be riding bicycles on the sidewalk or using crosswalks without dismounting from their bicycles. In my view, we as bicyclists have to either decide that we are vehicles and accept the responsibilities that entails or decide that we are pedestrians on wheels. The fact that we expect others to respect us (vehicle) and also defer to us like children (pedestrian) is why motorists don't take us seriously. Accordingly, I will stop for every pedestrian and blow through a crosswalk even if I see someone on a bicycle approaching it (assuming I see them looking).

9:09 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Tom's a pedestrian.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

bob v,

I walk my bike through the big dangerous intersections near the freeway on-ramps.

So, thanks.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Actually, I do both ;)

But I don't _really_ complain about cars unless I'm not, you know, breakin' the law... usually.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Sorry if I overreacted there, Tom. I didn't mean to hate.

I will graciously come to complete halt 20 yards from the crosswalk when you are walking.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Bob v.,

That's okay.

Besides, consciously forcing scofflaw bikers (indeed, sometimes that would be me) to make a choice-as you put it-is okay, I guess.

But the incredibly dangerous activity (to even the most conscientious pedestrian) of not looking at all when pulling through a crosswalk should be deplored by all right-thinking people. Much like counter-clockwise laps.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Agreed. One should not drive blind to crosswalks. I live in a midwestern state. Virtually every crosswalk on my college campus has a yield-to-pedestrians sign, but the cars whiz by even when I stand almost into their lane communicating that I wish to cross. They just edge over and speed up.

To justify myself a bit more on the bicyclists on crosswalks thing, let me give my take on the social contracts that are out there:

Cars:
Rights: They can take up a whole lane by themselves.
Responsibilites: They must give the right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks.

Pedestrians:
Rights: They get the right of way at crosswalks.
Responsibilities: They have no right to the lanes of a road--certainly not the right to a whole lane by themselves anyway.

Some bicyclists seem to want to pick and choose. They want the rights of both of the above contracts and none of the responsibilities. That's just not how life works. (As I mentioned though drivers in my area take the rights of the "cars" contract but do not fulfill their responsibilities. I hate them too.

I am definitely down with being safe ultimately though. If I think there is going to be an accident, I don't care who is responsible. I'm yielding.

5:46 PM  

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