Do Cyclists Really Need To Be Reminded To Obey Stop Signs?

Summary

Background Reading:

Springwater Enforcement Area

Springwater Enforcement Area

A recent story in BikePortland begins this way:

In response to multiple citizen complaints, the Portland Police Bureau says they plan to begin a series of enforcement actions on the Springwater Corridor Trail near Sellwood Riverfront Park.

BikePortland was contacted by Sgt. Ty Engstrom of the PPB Traffic Division on December 14th in hopes we could spread awareness about this intersection (Engstrom has been the bicycle liaison officer but was just recently transferred to Central Precinct). Sgt. Engstrom said, “I wanted to let you know about this issue to see if you could help spread the word to local cyclists of a complaint we’ve received multiple times. We will be starting some enforcement in the area.”

According to the complaint, some people who are riding on the Springwater headed southbound are not obeying a stop sign at the intersections of SE Spokane. It’s a tricky intersection with people in cars coming through at three directions. People on bikes either continue straight (south) on the Springwater path or turn left (up the hill) on Spokane to enter the Sellwood neighborhood.

Sgt. Engstrom says he has passed the complaint on to another officer to observe the area in advance of doing some focused enforcement missions.

For more on how the PPB handles bike-focused enforcement missions, I asked Sgt. Engstrom to provide some context. He said the bike-focused missions are “few and far between.” The Traffic Division does enforcement missions about once or twice a week that focus on high crash corridors or in response to citizen complaints. Sgt. Engstrom says typical hot-spots are major streets and highways like I-205, I-5, the downtown core, Sandy Blvd, 82nd Ave., and so on.

In the case of the Springwater/Spokane complaint, Engstrom said he responds by assigning one of his officers to the area to write citations and/or warn people as appropriate. Most of the people who are stopped are given the option to attend the Share the Road Safety Class in lieu of the fine and ticket.

The Traffic Division has five different sergeants and each one has about 5-10 officers at their disposal. Each sergeant does enforcement missions about once or twice a week. “Other than that,” Sgt. Engstrom says, ” Officers are free to work the areas they feel need attention.”

Whenever one of the enforcement missions involves bicycling, the Traffic Division’s bicycle liaison officer passes along the location and the issue to BikePortland and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in hopes of spreading the word prior to the mission.

To give you an idea of how infrequently bike-specific issues are targeted with enforcement, Sgt. Engstrom checked his database and found that in 2012 the Traffic Division wrote 29,263 citations. Of those, 28,779 were written to people driving motor vehicles and just 484 went to people on bicycles. Put another way, about 1.6% of all the citations written by the Traffic Division in 2012 were issued to people riding bicycles. “That’s very low,” added Sgt. Engstrom.

If you ride through this intersection, don’t forget to stop!

UPDATE: Many of you are rightfully pointing out that this intersection has some design issues and that many users — including people in cars — do not always comply with the stop signs. I’ll make sure to forward this story and your comments to the PPB Traffic Division so they are aware of this feedback. Thanks. — Jonathan.

TakeAways

Okay, before you start foaming at the mouth and complaining about “police harassment” and how unfair it is for cyclists to be “singled out” let’s ask two things:

  1. Do adults really need to be reminded to use stop signs? And if you answer is “yes“, then ask yourself, “why“?
  2. If you dislike this sort of “crack down“, then why would cyclists ever consider the same approach to motorists who “park in the bike lane“?

What often happens in these instances is that cyclists begin to deflect criticism of their bad behavior by “blaming the intersection“. That of course is supposed to make their non-compliance more understandable and if not they fall back on that old favorite “motorists do it too“. Lame, very lame.

So the next question is whether trying to create your own style of “crack down” is justifiable. ChainLinkers have decided to discuss the usefulness of photographing drivers who violate the legitimate use of the bike lane. It’s a good idea and is justifiable. But when I admit that am I not also admitting that police crackdowns on scofflaw cyclists is not less justifiable. Does that not also mean that the cycling community should be as zealous in reporting cycling abusers as they are motor vehicle scofflaws?