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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pull Over

Last Friday I was caught in a speed trap on Main Street in Ottawa. Unfortunately, I was going 58 in a 50 zone. I was also taking up the full lane so that I could not be passed. That's right, I was pulled over while cycling. Although I've been pulled over before, it's always been in a car. So this was really something new - and a real lesson in how law enforcement view cyclists.

When I came to the speed trap, I was ordered to the side of the road by the officer. He asked me why I was taking up the whole lane. I told him that one of the safest practices on a road for a cyclist is to take as much room as you need so that if you get into a tricky situation, you have somewhere to go other than an endo. He didn't really appreciate my response and said that motorist find it annoying when they can't pass a slow cyclist. My response was that I was speeding, so I should hope that nobody aimed to be passing me. Moreover, the road has two lanes in either direction, giving virtually any vehicle plenty of room to pass.

What I found most unfortunate about this encounter was the attitude which the officer took. He felt as though he should be lecturing me as a cyclist, and he framed everything from the point of safety. As much as I can appreciate that concern, there is nobody on the road more aware of my safety than I am.

He also didn't seem to mind applying some misguided stereotypes. He asked me if I was a "professional", to which I replied that I compete. Then he told me that we think we "rule the road" and that we are a "nuisance". While I will agree that many professionals are not good ambassadors for cyclists, there is no group that is any better or worse than others. I have seen cyclists from many groups - couriers, professionals, commuters, recreationers - who respect the rules of the road and share the space allotted to them. Naturally, I have seen people from all of these groups act in ways that are dangerous and disrespectful.

He told me that he was not going to fine me, but he did tell me that the Ottawa Police Service does routinely hand out infractions. We had a positive discussion at that point agreeing that cyclists should be given tickets for disobeying the rules of the road. Common infractions include biking on the sidewalk, failing to stop for a traffic light or stop sign, and cutting other vehicles off. We both agreed at that point that I may have been speeding, but not enough to warrant a ticket. And since I certainly wasn't blocking traffic, there was no need for me to be penalised.

I think that one of the major points on which the officer and I agreed was that we both felt that many cyclists take both their safety and their place on the road for granted. As a cyclist, you may feel that you are in the right sometimes, but remember that in a collision, your chances of survival are significantly lesser than someone in a vehicle. With respect to our place on the road, I'm of the opinion that we must earn it, just like someone driving a car. Licences and registrations for cyclists should be introduced, with the money that is collected going toward maintaining and expanding infrastructure. Remember, cyclists only fund the roads they ride if they have a car.

When all was said and done, I think I may have changed his perspective slightly. And that is all due to the fact that I showed the officer respect so that he may also respect me. I hope that everyone out there - pedestrian, motorist, or cyclist - knows that the road must be shared. Let's work together to keep them safe through respect and awareness.


  1. Only you could have a rational conversation with an asshole like that, lol. The police officer oubviously has a vendetta against cyclists. I should hope you were in the middle of the road doing 58. You had every right to be there. It would not be safe for a car to pass you unless in the other lane... Not to mention all the crap that builds up at the side of the road would have been hazerdous at that speed.

    The concept of licencing cyclists is impractical and is in the completely opposite direction of where we should be going.
    1. Bikes provide almost no wear and tear on infrastructure compared to cars.
    2. There are very few instances of cyclists injuring other people and when collisions happen, the only damage to a car will be a scratch. If there is more damage to the car then it's because the cyclist hit the car. The cyclist therefore won't be going anywhere.
    3. If you're implying that cyclists should have to pass a test to ride, that's a little like passing a test to walk. People generally value their lives and ride accordingly. Rolling through a stop sign on a bike at 20 kph isn't endangering anyone. It's like how it's "ok" for drivers to go 10kph over the speed limit. Nearly everyone does. I'm sure your police officer speeds a lot more than that every day

  2. Quinn - those are all great comments. I think that one of the major themes that comes out of your writing is the even application of the law. I honestly don't have a problem being ticketed as a cyclist - so long as it is something that a motorist would be penalised for as well. I was speeding - 10 over - and no officer would ever award an infraction for that. However, for people that blow through red lights or ride erratically, there needs to be enforcement. They are no different than a car.

    As for the licensing issue, I know that there are many drawbacks, not to mention that the wear and tear caused by bikes is minimal. However, I'm not suggesting that it would be expensive - nor would have to purchase insurance. Ideally, it would be a small cost (maybe 20 dollars per year). Payment should reflect maintenance costs.

    Lastly, I would be very pleased to see an effort going into teaching motorists to share the road. I still maintain that the best drivers out there are truckers, who have always respected me on the road. The reason: they have an acute awareness of who is around them and respect everyone regardless of size. Let's get this mindset into motorists and cyclists.

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  4. Ha ha Speeding on your bike. Thats awesome. You must have monster legs now Bott!

    I really liked this prose. We need to share our bicycle-ride experiences. I wrote something last year about a run in I had with someone.

    You really are at risk every time you ride near cars. At least you have more trails!

    I don't know why that previous post deleted....

  5. There are a few states that allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs providing there is no traffic. Statistics from these states do not show any difference in accident rates. I'm not saying that people should break the law, I'm just saying that there is some unspoken flexibility when it comes to the law and cyclists.

    Have you ever noticed that most things that require a license are inherently dangerous to other people? Cars, trucks, most heavy machinery, doctors and engineers, guns etc. So until bicycles come standard with a front mounted chainsaw, no one is going to license something so harmless as a bicycle.

    Oh, and cyclists already subsidize car infrastructure. It's called property tax, provincial tax and federal tax. Although we're slowly getting more money for transit, so maybe one day it will be the other way around.

  6. Great points, Quinn. I think that rolling through stop signs is totally practical and safe on a bike - I do it every single time I ride. I like your phrasing as well: "unspoken flexibility".

    However, I do maintain that licensing is key to cycling. I'm of the opinion that if cyclists want to be viewed by everyone as equal to vehicles, with equal rights and privileges, then we should move toward equal responsibility, and that means having licences.

    I'm not saying let's have expensive regimes: as I said, 20 dollars per year is totally affordable. For me the focus is not the cost or the subsidies, it's about regulation of biking. Although you pointed out that licenses are generally for dangerous things, there are plenty of examples of licenses for the sake of regulation: fishing, copyrights, marriage, teaching and MANY more.....

    In these examples, the purpose of the license is to authorise someone to be able to do something, and then to be able to protect or penalise them. As I stated, I think that cyclists who are doing something that a motorist would be ticketed for, should be punished. In other words, even application of the law.

    At any rate, although we may not agree about regulation, I think we agree about the infrastructure. Anyone who doesn't drive is still paying money to all levels of government But I would posit that money pooled from cyclist registration would go a long way toward a strong lobby for building bike-friendly roads and pathways.

  7. In regards to licensing to aid infrastructure, we should not forget that Ottawa is already a very bike-friendly city. We have many kilometers of bike paths to help us get around the city, as well as numerous bike lanes on downtown streets. That said, those paths and lanes do need to be maintained. I would argue that introducing a licensing program would do more to raise awareness for cyclists, as well as provide the image of greater responsibility. I think a lot of what drivers have against cyclists is the idea that the cyclist will always be right, and the perception of sympathy towards them from the general public, and the idea that cyclists think they are invincible in the eyes of the law.

    With that in mind, I think its great that the city is handing out infractions to cyclists. We use the road too, and therefore must follow the same rules.

    When I am out in Ottawa, my biggest concern is that I am not entirely sure of all the rules and regulations concerning cyclists in cities. I am a little ashamed to admit that after 20 years on a bike, I have only recently learned the arm signals for turning left and right. I am still unsure the rules regarding cyclists on one-way streets. Must we go only in the same direction as the cars, or may we go in the opposite direction, like a pedestrian on the sidewalk? This is among the most basic of bike knowledge, and I would not be surprised if there are many others out there who are also lacking this knowledge.

    Not only cyclists, but drivers as well. It must be kept in mind that if only the cyclists know the rules there will still be problems. If a licensing and registration program is not feasible than perhaps a large public education program could be an alternative.

    And great blog James, good work!!

  8. Sarah, you have made a really great argument here.

    I think that a majority of cyclists are misinformed or uniformed about the rules of the road. And it obviously is not their fault, as driver's education doesn't really mention cyclists. The solution is, as you mentioned, some type of programme geared at EVERYONE on the road, not just cyclists.

    And as important as awareness of laws is, it doesn't erase the social factors that contribute to cyclists not wanting to ride on the road. I cannot tell you how many times I've been told to get off the road by passersby. Combine that with fear, and there are some pretty significant deterrents out there.

    And thanks for reading, Sarah. Have a great Canada Day in Russia!!