I had a great time celebrating the election at the Citizens for a Responsive Local Government party tonight: more about that later. Right now I want to share an interesting bicycling related interaction that I had on my way home.
The following story is made all the more interesting because of a conversation about bicycling I had at the Election Party. The person I was listening to had just returned from a visit to Europe, and she told a wonderful story about the friendliness toward bicycles in the area she visited. She told of not riding in a car for the whole duration of her stay. She said that car drivers customarily expressed an attitude and behavior of respect toward bicyclists. It sounded to me like car-drivers made a general point to give bicyclists the right of way.
Now, what a contrast that is to here in Olympia, where every time I get on my bicycle I feel like I have to fend for my life. And I worry about those cyclists amongst us who are less defensively minded. And I really strongly wish we had a safe environment to ride bikes around here.
After having a delicious cup of Sleeping Universe at SIZIZIS ($1 off tea on Tuesdays...) I stopped by the new City Hall in order to graph some photons (pictured). After that, la-dee-dah, I got on my bike and started riding East on 4th Ave toward home. I was on the left side of the street, and since I turn left off of 4th Avenue, I stayed in the left hand lane the whole way from Cherry Street until my turn-off. One-half block from where I turn off 4th (on Quince) I heard a loud voice behind me saying "Get in the bike lane." So I yelled back, "what am I supposed to do if I am turning left?"
Turns out the loud-voice was that of an Olympia Police Officer.
I was pissed. I mean I could understand it if was a private citizen. Someone just trying to give a guy a hard time - after all people do need ego reinforcement, and our society doesn't provide a whole lot of healthy ways for people to boost their self-esteem. But this was a cop.
So I stopped. I wasn't being pulled over, but I wanted to ask what's the deal, and share a piece of my mind. When the officer pulled up I said, "What am I supposed to do if I am turning left?" The officer said something like, "Well you weren't turning left three blocks ago. There's a bike lane - and it's the law that you have to use it."
So why should I have to change lanes, and cross traffic, just to ride in the bike lane for two blocks before turning left?
I told the officer that I didn't think it was true, and the officer opened the door of the squad car, and halfway started to get out saying, "maybe I should just write you a ticket." I said, yea, maybe you should (because, after all, I would look forward to having my day in court.) The officer said, do you want me to write you a ticket? I said, of course not.
I said that I still didn't believe it - that I thought there is no such law. The officer said that it is the law - and also the officer stated, "I wouldn't lie to you." The officer told me to look it up in the RCW. I didn't say what I thought of that (- a bunch of baloney.) Like I should be expected to go out of my way to look it up! The officer knew nothing of my personal circumstances, or how difficult it might be for me to look up a law like that! If the officer is such an expert, why couldn't the officer pull it up on the handy-dandy tax-payer-funded in-car-laptop-computer - or alternately, call into dispatch to have someone there look it up.
So, it just so happens that I do have the time and the ability to look up the RCW. And so, in almost no time at all, I found this handy-dandy website that has bicycle relevant RCW referenced and laid out plain (reference: Bicycle Alliance of Washington RCW - you can also reference the RCW here: apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/).
So, thanks to a two-minute search on the Internet, it just so turns out that it is actually perfectly and completely legal for a bicyclist to occupy the left hand lane, while traveling with flow, on a one-way street. There is no requirement for a bicyclist to use the bicycle lane. None. Nada. Zilch. Nadisimo. That's it. Very plain. And simple.
So, either 1) the police officer lied to me. Or 2) the police officer doesn't know bike laws, and the officer likes to act otherwise. Or 3) the police officer likes to make up laws to suit the officer's particular fancy. Or some combination of any of those three. That's all I can deduce. I didn't get the officer's badge number.
What a sad state of affairs.
Maybe I will report this incident. Do you think that is a good idea? Would it be good to report? Would it help? I can find out who the officer was if I decide to file a report. Heck, maybe I should sue for emotional damages. I have a lot of emotional damages over the years relating to treatment by abusive cops. The abuse stretches back for years now. Certainly it goes back to when I started actively protesting this dirty rotten system that we live in.
I believe that nobody should be subjected to abuse by cops, and I believe that we need a way to hold police officers accountable for their behavior.
I sincerely dislike being harassed. Cops shouldn't ever harass people - even when people have done something against the law. But when cops harass people who aren't even breaking the law, then it's an even more serious matter - because a seriously important trust has been broken. Cops are supposed to protect people! Not abuse and harass them!
I sincerely and very deeply dislike being threatened - especially when it's by cops. Tacoma has a Citizens Review Panel. I am not sure if it works very well. But I think that it is time for Olympia to figure out a way to hold members of the police department accountable for harmful and abusive behavior.
I wish that Olympia was a City where everyone could feel comfortable bicycling. I have heard many people comment that they would like to ride a bike - but don't feel safe on the roads. It's a real shame. It is sad that people don't feel safe on bikes around here.
And it's all the more sad, additionally - it's a serious societal problem - when people are made to feel unsafe by police officers. Police officers, after all, are sworn to protect and serve.
I find it really interesting that the officer took the time to say, "I wouldn't lie to you." The officer made this statement twice. There must be something in a police officer's training that leads them to behave as if they are superior to other people. Whatever the reason - I believe lying like this is wrong, and that it is worse when people in positions of power lie, people like cops or politicians.
So in retrospect, maybe I should have said, "yes, I want a ticket." I would like to have seen a ticket for "failure to ride in the bike lane". But who knows, maybe saying yes would have put me in danger. What might have saying yes to wanting a ticket have led to... It might have been interpreted as a challenge to the police officer's power. It might have been interpreted as an insult. And who knows what would have happened then.
Who knows what is going on in the mind of this police officer, what is happening in the personal life of this officer.
Perhaps challenging the authority of this officer would have resulted in my being physically attacked. It's possible. It happens all too often. Police officers are known to commit physical assault against people who stand up for themselves under the threat of police power. So I probably made the right choice. But oh, am I pissed.
So, what do I want? I want an apology. And seeing as this is not an isolated incident (speaking of my own personal experience, this was not the first time I have been harassed by a cop while riding my bicycle,) I want an official written apology from the Olympia Police Department. In fact, I think the OPD owes the whole City an apology - for harassing people - and for acting to create an environment where so many people do not feel safe bicycling.
...People are driving around on the roads like we're in some sort of a war-zone (and thinking about it, well, maybe we are.) — Speeding is the norm, not the exception. It seems like so many people are in a rush - and it's all the time. I think that it's terrible, rotten, and no good. So, please people, slow down. You maybe taking your rate of motion for granted. But please, wake up! And slow down!
And while you're at it, please, why don't you show some respect for cyclists. Share the road, especially you police officers! After all, we're all human!