Thursday, October 9, 2008

Open Letter to Mayor Coleman

Here is the text of a letter I've written to the mayor regarding the hiring of a new police chief.
Dear Mayor Michael Coleman,

On behalf of the cycling community of Columbus, Ohio, thank you very much for all the hard work you are doing to improve the city for all forms of transportation, and most especially bicycles. It's regarding this very topic that I wish to make a request.

The retirement of Chief of Police James Jackson brings the possibility of a change in the way the city handles traffic code. Too often on my website, I find myself asking the city's police to simply enforce the law as it exists now, and especially so every time I read a report of a cyclist being killed, injured, harassed, or endangered in any way. In almost every case, the problem has been uninformed drivers and cyclists.

The problem of uninformed road users is one that is plaguing not only our city, but the entire country. Till recently, the results of this problem have been incidents of inconvenience as they seldom result in more than a simple fender-bender.

But with the increase in citizens using their bicycles for transportation on our city's streets, the problem becomes more deadly. What is a simple fender-bender for a pair of cars in an accident can become crippling when one of the vehicles is a bicycle. I don't need to belabor this point as it's a matter of simple physics. But as the city increases the amenities and infrastructure to favor cyclists, pedestrians, and transit, it also needs to increase traffic enforcement to make sure these forms of transportation are protected properly and adequately.

The search for a new police chief, then, must look at an officer who has such issues in mind when he mandates goals for the division of police. We need a chief who will look past the traditional role of cars as our primary transportation concern and will adopt a "Complete Streets" mentality. We need a chief who will present police academy trainees with increased coursework on handling bicycle traffic along with car traffic. And one who will enforce traffic law equally between cars and bikes.

Frequently you hear claims that cyclists don't obey the law when riding, and to an extent this is true. But there are two issues here. One is that road users of all types don't always know the law as it exists for bicycles, and the other is that police don't enforce traffic code as it is written.

So cyclists who do obey the law are frequently harassed by motorists who think cyclists must give way to cars, no matter what. Cyclists who don't know the rules get themselves into trouble by riding on the sidewalk, on the wrong side of the road, without proper lighting, etc. And motorists who don't obey the law are ignored by police as they do things like roll through stop signs, force cyclists to unsafely hug the side of the road by passing too closely, and try to pass cyclists in intersections. The list goes on and on.

So my request to you is to keep these sorts of issues in mind when choosing the next chief. We need a chief who will mandate consistent enforcement of all traffic laws, mandate safety on the roads over speed, and educate officers on how to properly enforce traffic code equally.

Columbus is well on its way to being one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, but we can't do it through infrastructure alone. We must also look to education and enforcement, and the proper choice for police chief can go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Sincerely,
James Fellrath


People, not speed.

10 comments:

  1. Excellent letter. I suggest others use this as a template for similar hirings/situations in other cities.

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  2. Kudos to you. Articulate, respectful, and purposeful. Thank you.

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  3. Thanks for this - I've been lurking on your blog for some time. I am seeing a gradual improvement among drivers - a minivan actually slowed down and motioned me on ahead instead of turning right into me as I was in the Schrock Rd. bike lane today.

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  4. Thanks, all. Don, I've noticed some of the same - drivers are much better at seeing cyclists. I guess they're getting more accustomed to us being there. On the other hand, I've noticed more cyclists who need some remedial education on how to ride the road...

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  5. Nice job Jeff!
    You, my friend, have just raised your hand to be involved in the feedback process of the "Traffic Code re-write" project that is currently underway. I'll e-mail off-line to solicit your much-needed input.

    Funny, I was in a group of 20+ cycling advocates from around state last week at an ODOT meeting...and, one of our big wishes...was that police would start enforcing the law :)

    Jeff Stephens, Executive Director
    Consider Biking

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  6. James,
    I'm a doufus. Why did I call you Jeff? That's the kind of mind-mush that develops when you're on the front lines of the bike advocacy battle every day. ha ha :)

    I'm Jeff (Stephens)
    Keep up the great work James!

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  7. Thanks, Jeff, I'd be glad to help out with that. Sounds like it's right up my alley. Now that my job search is over I'll have more time for this sort of stuff!

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  8. Beautiful letter.
    & your efforts are inspiring.

    Cheers,
    Kalib

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  9. Thanks, Kalib! I appreciate the comments.

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  10. Police Chief Kim Jacobs is a bicyclist herself. I am pleased with the selection.

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