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.
People, not speed.