Friday, July 30, 2010

Scofflaw bicyclist!

Let me first say that I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the police and law enforcement. In addition to the reasons everyone has -- they have a crappy, thankless job, filled with stringent requirements, vast bureaucracy, mindless tedium, and the occasional wild danger -- there's also the fact that my family was active in the volunteer fire department so we knew a lot of them personally and my parents worked with them.

This has been slightly strained by my recent brush with injustice, in which I got a $173 ticket for being the only car not speeding. It seems like Vermont's troopers are on a mission to further erode my appreciation for them. Or maybe they're just bored and need some real crime.

Every day at work, twice a day, I do a bikeride along the bike path on which my office sits. I ride to one end (through Peace Park, coming out by the water treatment plant), then turn around and ride to the other end (near the Taylor Street bridge), then ride back to my office. Round trip is about 15 minutes and about two and a half miles. At one point, the bike path crosses Bailey Avenue, passing through a clearly demarcated pedestrian crosswalk.

As one approaches that crosswalk, a bicyclist on the path can easily see the oncoming traffic despite a line of trees because there's enough gaps in the trees, and the bicyclist has the time to focus on them. A driver on that road, however, probably won't see the bicyclist approaching at all through the trees; they have little reason to be looking that way, and bicyclists don't make so visible a target. So if a bicyclist gauges the traffic and zooms across the road through a gap, a driver might find his sudden appearance a surprise.

I did that on yesterday morning's ride, entering the gap with plenty of time; I was across the road and into the bike path on the other side before the car even got to the crosswalk. That car was a state trooper's car.

Apparently they had nothing better to do than chase me around town for the next ten minutes. Not easy since I was on the bike path which doesn't particularly well parallel the roads they can travel on, but they were really determined. I was on my way back when they caught up with me. And stopped their trooper car so it blocked traffic on the most major road in the area, the one leading right to the Interstate, so they could come across the bike path to yell at me.

They not only threatened me with a $156 (or something like that) ticket, for not coming to a full stop before entering the crosswalk on the bike path, they (yes, it took two of them) also insisted that since they couldn't see me, I couldn't see them, so therefore I was driving recklessly. (The Bugblatter Beast of Traal's got nothing on these guys.)

Frankly, I think that a lot of it was a face-saving emotional reaction. To them, I suddenly came out of nowhere. When I pointed out that I could see them even if they couldn't see me, rather than recognizing that they were wrong, the guy I was speaking with dug in his heels and deflected, and got more confrontational. That's a classic response to being shown to be wrong. My reaction was just to back down and say it doesn't matter, if you say I have to do this then I have to do it. And in hindsight I think that was the right response.

Of course, technically there is a stop sign, and technically bikes do have to obey all such signs, and while it's also technically true that cars (like that trooper's car) are supposed to stop for traffic in the crosswalk but never do and the troopers didn't bother to say anything to anyone (including themselves) about that, technically, they could have given me the ticket. I think I would have contested that one. But I still can't flout the law. If I want to cross there I need to stop, as much of a pain as that would be.

But I'm not actually doing it. Instead, I've changed my route to avoid the intersection in question. It was always a pain in the butt to have to deal with traffic there. If I have to come to a complete stop even when there's no traffic, it's just not worth it. So instead, I'll treat it like it ends at that crosswalk, and instead of doing one "round trip" (the whole length twice), I'll do a round trip and a half (the whole length three times), by going to the Peace Park end twice. It's about the same distance and time. Unfortunately, it means more time on the worst part of the bike path, poorly maintained and hilly, but that's still better than dealing with traffic and bored cops bent on making me dislike them the way most people do.

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