Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nice Meeting You, Officer Watson

That is, if you are officer Watson. More about that later.

It was about 7:30 in the morning, Thursday, and I was traveling west on West Ennis Avenue after negotiating the angled parking area. Because of the dense traffic, I had to wait for a few automobiles to overtake me on the right before I could merge into the right lane. I was then the first person waiting at the light at Gaines Street.

I didn't notice that the car that pulled up next to me was a Ennis City patrol car.

The light turns green and I proceed through the intersection, and I then notice the patrol car because he has accelerated ahead of me. But he is obeying the speed limit, and that causes a larger than usual platoon of cars to form behind us. As we approach Clay Street the patrol car must come to a stop to yield to a vehicle waiting to turn left, and I zoom by him in the right lane. (This fact will be important.)

As West Ennis Avenue continues beyond Clay Street, the road's geometry abruptly changes. Both west-bound lanes make a ten foot jog to the right (In the intersection itself!) to make room for a suicide left turn lane that is created/terminated there. There is also the appearance of a varying width improved shoulder of between four and six feet that extends all the way to Waxahachi. The lane itself is about ten feet wide by my trained observation, but I will update this post with an actual measurement later.

I get about half way down that block before the first automobile overtakes me, and curiously, he honks. (Silly goose!) Then I hear the BLAAK of the police saxon, I do a head check and see flashing red lights behind me. Note to Steve: I moved to the right tire track, checked to see if the officer was on the shoulder, and then pulled onto the shoulder in front of him. I wanted to be sure he was pulling me over, not abusing his authority to get me out of the way.

As the Officer gets out of his patrol car, I put on my blogger journalist cap. I greet the officer with a question; "What time is it?"

He answers conversationally, checking his watch. I would like to note that this officers demeanor and tone was pleasant and un-confrontational through-out. He acted in every way professionally.

He asked me where I was going, and I foolishly answer, because I was so intent on reading his name tag for this post. I say foolish, because my purpose for traveling on that public road was none of his concern. Oh, there it is, above his right pocket, Officer Watson!

He says to me that I am impeding traffic. That back there (He must mean on the other side of Clay Street- he was pointing.) it is a 30 MPH zone and it changes up ahead there to a 45 MPH zone. I am not allowed to impede traffic at the slow speeds I am going.

I tell him it is doubtful that I would be able match the speed of the other traffic. But I am going to travel down the street in the travel lane. He is welcome to give me a ticket for any law he thinks I am breaking.

He says well, OK then. Can I see your drivers license? Any ID? (By Texas law, I am required to give any law enforcement officer my name and current address. I am not required to carry ID. An officer can, if he suspects that I am lying to him, detain me until my identity can be established.) He accepts my health insurance card and debit card, both without photos, as evidence enough, and goes to his patrol car to write the ticket.

I then remember my camera is in my bag, and so I haul it out to document the stop. Smile Officer Watson!

So he comes back and asks me to sign the ticket, and I ask what I am signing.

He says, for impeding traffic. I didn't impede traffic, I protest in a conversational tone.

"No, no", he says, "you are just promising to appear on that date." So I ask him what law I violated, and he blinks in surprise. (He thought he had just told me!) So I asked him what part of the law, could he cite it to me?

I figured he would have to cite the section of the transportation code he was accusing me of breaking in the process of writing the ticket, but apparently not. I am sure he is thinking of sec. 545.363 which applies to motor vehicles, not bicycles. But he missed that opportunity to avoid embarrassment. I tried Officer Watson. I am sure that there are many places in the Texas Transportation Code (TTC) that you know better than I do, but I am confident I know my way around the bicycle parts, and you clearly don't.

So we part ways without rancor, and I resume riding centered in the lane.

So I get home and examine the ticket.

I am again surprised that there is no section of the transportation code cited. Do officers just make up the laws they "enforce" as they go along? In this officer's defense, I think he is sincere in his understanding of the law, just sincerely wrong. He will be educated about it soon, it just would have been less expensive for him if he had a little more humility.

Under the heading "VIOLATIONS" it says "CITATION VIO 1: Impeding Traffic" That is all that it says.

Then I discover another surprise. It says "Issued by SGT PILLOW, Badge#620" Huh? Who is that? Does Sgt. Pillow put someone else's name tag on his uniform? I will have to investigate this.

Then, another surprise! The citation is for impeding traffic in the 300 block of West Ennis Avenue! Hah! How could I have been impeding traffic there, when traffic was passing me on the right?

Alright, some observations. This is an example of traffic flow maximization rather than safety promotion. When I see people on bicycles in town, they are invariably scofflaws. The ones who I see riding lawfully seem to me to just be riding that way by chance- should I observe them five minutes later they would be back to their scofflaw ways. Salmon, sidewalk, parking lot ninja and night ninja behavior is the order of the day. These are the practices that are far more hazardous than a cyclist following traffic rules. Yet that lawlessness not an issue for the Ennis police department. Safety is not a priority, smooth traffic flow is.

From the one hundred block of West Ennis Avenue to the end of the three hundred block, it is a very wide single lane road that automobiles routinely share side by side, making it a de-facto two lane road each way. This is to accommodate angled parking.

The rest of West Ennis Avenue is is made up of two narrow lanes in each direction, with the addition of a suicide center left turn lane from the five hundred block to the three thousand block. The question is, can a slow moving vehicle on a multi-lane road impede traffic? Further, the automobile that caused the patrol car to come to a complete stop when it was waiting for a gap in opposing traffic to turn left onto Clay Street, was it impeding traffic?

Yes, they were impeding traffic! In fact, we are "impeded" all the time! We are impeded by school buses loading and unloading children, trains, signal lights, folks preparing to parallel park... you get the drift. We are impeded all the time when we travel about on the public roads. The real question then is, are all those impediments to traffic illegal? Why not? What is illegal impediment of traffic?

TTC 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."

"Normal and reasonable movement of traffic." Each word drips with meaning. What is traffic anyway? The TTC defines traffic as: "Sec. 541.301. TRAFFIC. In this subtitle "traffic" means pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles and streetcars, singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel."

If the traffic this morning was a horse drawn carriage, and not a bicycle, would it be an illegal impedance? Obviously, to say that a vehicle traveling at a speed that is reasonable for that vehicle, but will cause other faster traffic to slow down is an illegal impedence would ban them from operating on public roads. This then would be the effect if the views of Officer Watson/Sgt. Pillow were the proper reflection of the law.

Furthermore, because I was traveling in the right lane, faster traffic was not impeded at all by me, because they had a dedicated passing lane next to the one I was using! Here is the reason I think the TTC is clear on this specific point. The whole of the statute regulating lane position and impeding other traffic is this:

"Sec. 551.101.  RIGHTS AND DUTIES.  (a)  A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle, unless:
(1) a provision of this chapter alters a right or duty; or a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.

Sec. 551.103. OPERATION ON ROADWAY. (a) a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:
(1)  the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;
(2)  the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
(3)  a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or
(4)  the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is: (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.
(c)  Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles."

So, 551.101 means that a cyclist is "by his nature" unable to keep up with a motor vehicle, so he has no duty to obey the slow vehicle statute when he is traveling at a speed that is reasonable for cyclist.

And in Sec. 551.103 (c) that says two cyclists riding two abreast can be in violation of impeding traffic, but only if a travel lane is wide enough to safely share side-by-side with motorists and a single cyclist. If it is too narrow for a single cyclist to share, then riding two abreast is just as much an impedance as a single cyclist.

So as it stands now, I am charged with impeding traffic. Perhaps they will change it to improper lane position, seeing how there was that lovely shoulder over there I was ignoring.

I must give credit to some folks whose clear thinking and discussions have shaped this blog entry. My thanks to Mighk Wilson, Herman May, Keri Caffrey, AndrewP and fred_dot_u.

***An update! I found Sgt Pillow! I always write the blog and add the photos later. As I was cropping and manipulating my pictures in Picasa 3, I can see there is a person I did not notice during the traffic stop sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car! Gee whiz!

I think my camera has distorted the features of Officer Watson. He seemed much leaner to me at the time of the stop. My apologies to him for any such distortion of his features.


  1. They DO have distinctive horns. Those photos may come in handy. I'd have cited you for having bad thoughts about the Ennis Traffic Dept. If making up rules, at least he could have chosen an amusing one. Do not feel shy if you feel a need for help. Laughs aside, this is important.

  2. Upon further reflection, the place of violation has me wondering. If they are claiming I blocking traffic where it is a "single lane", they overlooked a number of illegal overtake maneuvers.

    I will be seeking clarification from the city as to what statute I am accused of violating. If they can find one.

  3. Chip: Good job keeping it cool!

    Next: Get Selz vs Ohio (Ennis,TX is not Ohio but principles could help). Check if dashcam video is available, get copy.

    I wonder why the Sgt signed the ticket versus the Officer? Is that standard procedure? How often do traffic police car have two officers?

    Finally: Once again good job keeping it civil.

  4. I think the dual officers in a patrol car is unusual. I think perhaps it was a training exercise or something like that. A normal supervisory ride-a-long.

    The ticket was printed out from an electronic gadget that took my "signature" with a stylus on a screen- like a card swipe console or UPS delivery tablet. You can see it in Officer Watson's hand in the photograph.

    It may be that the officer that signs out the patrol car- the senior officer- is then also named on all the electronic tags. But this just my speculation.

    I am apparently shockingly un-observant about some things! I hope I "see" better during head checks!

  5. ChipSeal:

    Thought you might find this interest:

    "The Ennis Police Department utilizes Mobile Video Units in all of our first line patrol cars. This means that each of the cars that are normally driven during a shift have video systems installed. The video systems are Watchguard Video Systems model DV-1. These systems provide for greatly increased documentation on many cases. The video evidence obtained since the system has been in service has proven invaluable in the court cases in which the video evidence is submitted."

    OK, look at the first picture, to the left of the rear view mirror are two lights, probably LEDs! Let's see GREEN for power and RED for recording! OK now it gets interesting request a copy of the video, hopefully you have a minute or two of info before you where stopped. Request a standard operation policy for the mobile video system, when is it used, turned on, off to evaluate the recorded materials. Don't want any missing 18 seconds!

    Impeding traffic charge will go down the drain if traffic is moving around you on the multi-lane or if no other vehicle traffic.

  6. Wow! Good sleuthing, danc, thanks!

    My next step is to get clarification on what statute I am being accused of violating.

    There is also some confusion as to where the alleged violation occurred.

    I have a high degree of confidence that this will be dropped. It is hard to see how traffic (I am traffic) was impeded when there are two travel lanes in each direction.

  7. I can't wait for the court date post. As others have said, civil and pleasant is very good. The officers are likely to learn more this way than in some argument on the street.

  8. Wow, I would not have been able to keep my cool. That is insane.

  9. Supreme confidence that I am in the right gives me courage and calmness. (Or I am blind to my stupidity and I will make public fool of myself!)

    Heck, either way it will be a spectacle!

    Thanks for dropping by, Dottie. You are one of the rising stars of the cycling blogosphere! You have a blog that promotes cycling an a winsome low key way, and I admire your work. If my reader hasn't visited, he should give it a look-see

  10. Danc: there is lots of video and lots of audio! I have been told it is in everyone's interest to review them, and I expect it will happen soon as we try find an appropriate law to charge me with.

    Officer Watson was being evaluated by his superior officer, Sgt. Pillow. (A woman! And I didn't even notice her in the car! Now my male self-identity is in a crisis!) that means there is at least one more audio recording than normal!

    This was just a normal thing all the EPD officers are subject to, I was told. Saturday, I noticed a pair of officers in one patrol car and a solo officer in another.

  11. One good thing is - if it goes to court and Sgt Pillow shows up, she won't look much like the officer in your photo. If Officer Watson shows up, he won't be the one named on the ticket. Somewhat inconvenient for the prosecution...

  12. Adding to what others have said: great job handling this traffic stop! I have not been put to the text (thank goodness), but concur that confidence knowing the law really helps in staying cool.

    I'm looking forward to more reports on this... but sorry you have to deal with it. What a pain.

  13. ChipSeal, what ever happened in the case?

  14. Who was officer Pillow a woman or a man ? if I may ak