Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Repercussions

The Ennis police have given me a ticket for “impeding traffic”, and a ticket for “park bicycle on sidewalk/impede traffic”, and they have arrested me and thrown me in jail for “impeding traffic”.


A Ellis County deputy has arrested me and thrown me in jail for “Operating a bicycle on the roadway”.


All of these “violations” occurred on four lane highways. Besides being absurd on the face of it, what does that mean for operating a slow vehicle on a two lane road without shoulders?
I have seen the freeway at rush hour. It looked like a whole passel of impeding was going on then!


They have convinced themselves they are right


As I mentioned before, the Ennis police have a fancy electronic citation system. You can enter suspect data on a wireless hand-held device from at least 20 yards away from the patrol car. It has a menu of violation titles. It accepts an electronic signature with stylus on its screen. There is a printer to provide the suspect with a copy. Very high tech. You can see one in Officer Hudson’s hand in his picture.


When I was given a ticket last October, they had no bicycle specific entries on their menu, to their frustration. Other than the general description of my crime, (Impeding traffic) I do not actually know what particular statute I am supposedly in violation of.


But last Wednesday, they seem to have added the curious hybrid crime description of "park bicycle on sidewalk/impede traffic". [1] If this means that they think I am guilty of violating the law under TTC Sec. 551 then they are laughably misapplying the law.


But even more troubling is that this new entry on their menu may signal that this pernicious idea has been institutionalized across the Ennis police force. (That a bicycle may only operate on roads where they can keep up with powerful modern automobiles.)


A 911 plebiscite?


I also find it disturbing that anonymous complaints can result in the harassment of a law abiding citizen, even to the point of having him arrested. Again and again officers who have made a traffic stop on me have explained that they had been getting a lot of complaints. And this concerns me how? Dispatchers are getting annoyed, therefore my right to freely and lawfully travel on the public road is to be suspended? Really? (Is there a prize for being the most annoying cyclist?)



An opportunity to inform the general public of basic traffic law is being squandered. It may really be true that the most powerful force in the universe is apathy.



Why are 911 operators not telling complainers that in Texas, bicycles have as much right to be on the road as anyone else, and they have the obligation to be alert and to avoid them? How hard is that? They could write it out on a little card and just read it to them. Heck, if they ask me to do it, I’ll write out the cards for them.



They seem to have determined that I am the problem, and that if they can keep me from using the public road, they won’t have to field all the complaints from those with a windshield view of the world immersed in their culture of speed.



Considering all the resources deployed to make the phone calls stop, wouldn’t assigning a single police unit to escort a bicyclist be a better solution? I don’t think it is necessary, but my rights wouldn’t be violated and the phone calls would stop.



Using the law to enforce their opinion



Police officers may believe that I am exercising poor judgment, but what they are doing is accusing me of a crime.



Are they twisting the law to enforce their opinion of what they think would be a wiser choice on my part?They can’t understand why I won’t use, what to them from their view through a windshield, is a perfectly good place to drive: On the shoulder.



I do not have to justify my refusal to drive on the shoulder to anyone. Use of the shoulder is optional for bicycle drivers under Texas law. Use of the public roadway is an explicit right. It is none of their concern where I drive as long as my actions are lawful.



They implore me to drive on the shoulder, but during both of my arrests, officers commented that I ought to get in and out of police cars on the passenger side because it is “safer”. They don’t really think the shoulder is a haven either. But such absurdities are what we must put up with when we tolerate and enable incompetent motoring.



Was I really released from jail?



As it stands now, I am in under threat of arrest any time I travel, for slow vehicles like bicycles will, by their nature and in the strictest sense of the word, impede all other more powerful vehicles. How can I get to work? The grocer? Make appointments? Make any plans considering I could be jailed simply for using the public road? For leaving my driveway on a bicycle?Am I being subjected to a de-facto house arrest?



Don’t be alarmed



There is nothing for you to fear. Ennis is a long way from where you live. None of this trouble would befall you even here, if you were careful to keep off the roadway. You would only be relinquishing your right to operate your bicycle on a public road. You’ll probably never even miss it when it’s gone!



The City of Manor kicked bicycles off of their local road. It is best that you keep quiet about it, you wouldn’t want your local community to get a similar idea! You never ride in Manor anyway.The city of Anna Texas successfully met all legal challenges when they banned bicycles on a local road. The prospect of bicycles not being allowed on any road in Texas is not that far distant into the future anymore. That future is here now. What are we going to do about it?



Perhaps we ought to spend our energy on passing a three foot law! That sounds like a productive use of our time and resources! It hasn’t helped cyclists a lick in any state that has passed one to date, but we can do it better, right? If that dastardly governor hadn’t vetoed it, why none of this would’ve happened to me. Let’s spend the next six years trying to pass that worthless tripe.



A general education campaign would be a waste of time. There is no evidence that Texans are ignorant of basic traffic law. It is so much more productive to enlighten a Texas legislator than it is to enlighten a Texas driver lost in a culture of speed. I encounter the latter far more often in my travels than the former.



If your notion of what bicycle advocacy is cannot see opportunities outside of legislative offices in the state capitol, then tear down the laws that are so easily twisted by those with a windshield view of the road. Work to remove language that micro-manages lane position.


Clarify that impedance is a crime only if four conditions can be proved: The vehicle in question is reasonably capable of traveling faster. The operator has the skill necessary to operate the vehicle at a faster speed.Conditions are such at that time and place that it would safely permit a faster speed. Faster traffic was unable to overtake the slow vehicle safely.
If any one of those conditions cannot be proved, the impedance is legal.


Demand that the Texas Maximum Speed law (TTC Sec. 545.351) be vigorously enforced.



Demand that the Prima Facie Speed Limits (TTC Sec. 545.352) be enforced.


What I will do


I am going to continue to operate my bicycle in a legal manner.


I will write critical phone numbers on my arm with indelible ink.


Before I leave my home, I will alert the police to expect a load of 911 calls because I will be traveling in the area.


I will vigorously defend myself against the scurrilous charges in court.


I will continue to seek channels and lines of communication with the local authorities to improve their understanding of the rights that slow moving vehicles enjoy under Texas state law.


I will continue to impugn the best of intentions and motivations to my local police officers. I will not presume that it is a personal vendetta against me. I am committed to the belief that they are diligently performing their duties and doing what they sincerely believe is the right thing to do.


[1] I wasn’t aware that parking one’s bicycle on the sidewalk in Ennis was illegal. I suppose I’ll just have to take my bicycle inside with me.

16 comments:

  1. Well said!

    As I was writing my post about imaginary laws last night, Eli Damon wrote a similar quote about being under house arrest. I added in your quote and link to this post. Most of us would just drive our cars if this was the environment we faced. You and Eli don't have that option.

    I share your frustration with advocates who are frittering away resources on populist, meaningless, symbolic nonsense.

    The cycling community owes you a debt of gratitude for standing up for us by standing up for yourself. Please let me know how I can help you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Chip! I just got caught up on your plight. I don't know how you handled all this with such calm and good humor. Please let me know how I can help as well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Texas, like CA, OH, MI and NH are the only 5 states that either use the word "vehicle" instead of "motor vehicle" in their impeding traffic law or use "person" or "operator", but do not limit the driver to the set of motor vehicle drivers. The Ohio, Trotwood vs. Selz case would never have arisen in the vast majority of US states, because their impeding traffic laws are not hostile like the 5 states cited above.

    Thus the Texas law reads:

    Texas Statutes - Section 545.363: MINIMUM SPEED REGULATIONS
    (a) An operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.
    (b) When the Texas Transportation Commission, the Texas Turnpike Authority, the commissioners court of a county, or the governing body of a municipality, within the jurisdiction of each, as applicable, as specified in Sections 545.353 to 545.357, determines from the results of an engineering and traffic investigation that slow speeds on a part of a highway consistently impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, the commission, authority, county commissioners court, or governing body may determine and declare a minimum speed limit on the highway.
    (c) If appropriate signs are erected giving notice of a minimum speed limit adopted under this section, an operator may not drive a vehicle more slowly than that limit except as necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.
    Section 541.001: PERSONS In this subtitle:
    (1) "Operator" means, as used in reference to a vehicle, a person who drives or has physical control of a vehicle.

    And a bicycle is defined as a vehicle:
    Section 541.201: VEHICLES
    (23) "Vehicle" means a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway...

    So the problem here is that 545.363 could be used agasint a bicyclist if the police and courts want to restrict your right to use any road at just about any time.

    This is why I have been saying for some time that we need to fix bad/discriminatory laws. The impeding traffic (AKA minimum speed law) is a motor vehicle law, not a bicycle law, and 45 states have seen fit to write the law this way.

    ReplyDelete
  4. After reading through the whole saga, I have the urge to come ride some of your routes with you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Do you have or can you get a "slow moving vehicle" reflective triangle to hang from your bike?
    That should cover you with the "impeding traffic" bit even though the law sys that if you are traveling at a reasonably expected speed for your vehicle (bike) you are within the law.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh yeah!
    I'd ride with you too...but you would drop me like a stone.
    Maybe we need to organize a large group ride out your way......

    hmm....

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yeah jtgyk! Critical Manners on HWY 287!

    I'll bring the video camera

    ReplyDelete
  8. ChipSeal wrote "Again and again officers who have made a traffice stop on me have explained that they have explained that they had been getting a lot of complaints."

    Last fall I was stopped by a police officer who said the same thing, he didn't see any problem with my riding but thought I should know about the calls.

    I sure the Ennis/Ellis PD will be glad to provide details of the calls, How many, who, when, etc?

    911 Plebiscie? Concern of cyclist on the road is not an emergency in my humble opoinion.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Are they twisting the law to enforce their opinion of what they think would be a wiser choice on my part?"

    Yep.

    I wrote a post about you... check it out if you can stay out of jail long enough; I'm eager to know what you think of it, or would correct in it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've noticed that they only seem to word the laws to include cyclists is when they're looking for some excuse to punish one for choosing to not use a car.

    ReplyDelete
  11. There needs to be a "Solidarity Ride" through Ennis, Manor, etc in which cyclists can actively show their support for you and for our right to the road. Of course I propose this from snow covered Montana, so practically I will not be attending.

    But could you imagine thousands of cyclists riding your same route (in a lawful manner of course) creating thousands of "Traffic Impediments"

    I think that might fit in to your idea of real activism that steps outside the halls of government.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dan G: Trotwood v. Selz, a bicycle case, is based on precedent set in a motor vehicle case. That precedent is that even a driver of a motor vehicle who is impeding traffic cannot be in violation of the "impeding traffic" law if that vehicle is being operated as fast as it can reasonably go. If the law applied in such a situation, that would effectively violate the right to travel.

    Now, as the court noted in Trotwood, the case could be made that the cyclist was not riding far enough right, but since that's not the charge (there or here) that point is irrelevant.

    The only issue is whether he was in violation of the impeding traffic law. Now, Trotwood does not establish legal precedent in Texas that must be followed, but it certainly can be referenced, and the court can choose to apply the same reasoning, or explain why it thinks that reasoning does not apply here.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Given your arrests and that tickets have been issued, I would suggest that an alternative avenue would to find a high-quality civil rights attorney who could weave what on the face seems to be a dilberative attempt to violate your civil rights. I do not live in Texas, but I assume that there is in fact specific state civil rights. Sounds to me that the local bike advocacy groups should investigate that angle not merely more legisaltion.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Bates and only rides a bicycle...did you ever work at a med lab in Dallas?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Maybe find a sympathetic officer or two and invite them to ride with you?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Dan -- can you safely pedal your bike at 55 mph? If not, then "except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law" should give you an out there.

    Personally, trying to pedal that fast would probably give me a heart attack, or I'd be exhausted in a few seconds and fall over -- I'd call that unsafe.

    The law doesn't say "if you can't go that fast, you can't go on the road" ... it says "you can't impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless you need to do so for safety reasons".

    Give 'em Hell, ChipSeal!

    ReplyDelete