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.