Ask a Cop

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Illustration by Sean Hennefer

 Dear Cop,

I ride my bicycle as a means of transportation. I learned early on that law enforcement views bicycles as another vehicle—I’ve been ticketed for riding on the sidewalk, and I’ve seen one or two cyclists at midnight get pulled over and ticketed for running red lights. While I’m fine being treated as a motorized vehicle and being subject to the same ramifications as such—and following the same traffic laws as cars, too—it seems like there is a disconnect in how the Salt Lake City ordinances privilege automobiles and leave bicycles lacking any “oomph,” as it were, before traffic light sensors that detect whether or not there is a waiting vehicle at a red light. During the day, it seems like many major lights are timed, but come nightfall, many lights will only go green (400 East and South Temple; 800 East and 800 South; 900 South and 900 West; 300 East and 400 South) if there’s a large vehicle behind somebody on a bike. So, a couple questions:
1. How do lights like these work, and how can we find out which thoroughfares take precedence over minor streets (if that’s how it works)?
2. What can cyclists do/whom can we petition/patronize to install more high-powered sensors at traffic lights that detect people on bikes in order to obey traffic laws? Or, is there a reason that the technology is so limited in a city with a mayor who pushes for more bicycle lanes and more bicycle activity?
3. It seems clear that the police cite cyclists who run red lights out of interest of protecting the offenders and drivers as well. What are the chances, though, that cops will give cyclists a break in this situation?
–Rootbeer Rick
 
Dear R2,
 
I’m no bike expert, so here’s my opinion related to bike riding in SLC and your issues. Although SLC seems favorable to, and verbally promotes bike riding in downtown, it still seems very dangerous to me. You bring up lighting and bike thoroughfare precedence, and those are still bike issues unanswered. However, I still notice how dangerous it is just to walk across a SLC street, let alone bike. Go to 200 South between 400 and 500 West. They have an unprotected crosswalk that crosses four very busy lanes, AND THE TRAIN TRACKS! And, many of the people who use that crosswalk are some of our most vulnerable in terms of their mental or physical states. It’s a crosswalk that guarantees people are going to get hit and so is the CIty––with a lawsuit. I worry the new bike initiative might get the same safety emphasis as crosswalk safety. I know the City wants to make positive changes, and maybe this time they’ll tackle the safety aspect of foot and bike traffic on our streets.
As it stands now, and keeping safety in mind, I think you’re nuts to ride your bike in the downtown area. Ninety-nine percent of downtown drivers (including bus operators) have their collective heads so far up their asses, or their phones’ asses, that you’re a pending speed bump.
Downtown bike riding cops are nuts, too. I’ve done this job long enough that I knew a cop on a bike who was murdered on a downtown street by a drug-dealing illegal driving a car. Believe me, the bike cops ticket a lot more cars than bike riders, which is the way it should be. Who has the potential to cause more destruction and damage?
I think we can all agree that any cop who writes a bike rider a ticket because the sensor wouldn’t trip, or because they’re calmly riding on the sidewalk at midnight due to shit and garbage or dangerous drivers on the road, is just a dick. Most cops will make sure you’re not drunk or an asshole, tell you to be careful, and send you on your way.
Here’s to hoping that SLC’s new bike initiative will make thoroughfares and bike lanes easier to recognize and travel, and improve bike travel technology. If so, bike tickets will be a thing of the past, and you’ll have an easily accessible forum to get future issues addressed. Oh yeah, an ordinance banning cell use while driving in the downtown area wouldn’t hurt, too. Bike cops could write tickets to those idiots instead of you.
 
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