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Letter to the Editor: Police Don't Know Cycling Laws

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While riding my bicycle on Benton Street on Sunday morning, September 2 around 9:45 a.m., I was passed by an Iowa City Police officer who told me "that lane's for you my 'friend'."

While there is a white line painted on the street to delineate between the main part of the road and the poorly maintained, littered, potholed and cracked shoulder (re: not suitable for riding by cyclists) there is no such indication that this is a bike lane. There is also no such municipal code requiring a cyclist to use the bike lane if there was one. Now I usually ride directly on that white line which keeps me far enough away from the curb that I actually have safe options should I encounter glass, litter, potholes or pavement irregularities.

How is "bicycle friendly" status for the City of Iowa City maintained when the police not only don't know what the law is, but use what they think the law is, or vague statute (for instance the "as far to the right as practicable" ordinance) to harass cyclists? Will we maintain this status if police are allowed to create conditions for cyclists that are specifically cyclist-hostile? The ICPD may be many things to many people. They are not our 'friend.'

Sincerely,

Donald Baxter

Michael Graham September 05, 2012 at 06:32 PM
This is a pretty broad generalization of all police. But the author has a noted bias against the Iowa City police force, so I'm not surprised by the tone of his letter.
B.A. Morelli September 05, 2012 at 06:48 PM
People in general - not just police - should better understand bike laws. They are not clear. That said, I haven't had any negative cycling-related encounters with police in the time I've been here.
Donald Baxter September 06, 2012 at 12:01 AM
The bike law is actually pretty clear, if one knows the definition of the word "practicable." It's four syllables, but it's googlable. Here's my take on it. A cyclist needs to have the reasonable presumption of being able to occupy enough of the lane to make himself safe. If this lane isn't wide enough for drivers to pass safely without using the oncoming or adjacent lane to pass, the cyclists should "take" that lane. To facilitate left turns, left lanes or left turn lanes should be utilized. I have had one officer (and he said this in traffic court) tell me that to turn left on a six lane arterial, his solution was to proceed on the right to the intersection and then turn left across six lanes. I think most cyclists wouldn't find this a "practicable" use of the road. It comes down to this, if an officer is going to comment on a cyclist use of the road, he or she should be prepared to write a ticket. In the case of this incident on Benton Street, the officer behaved as any other irate driver. When a comment like this comes from a driver in a private car, it's called harassment. What should we call it when it comes from a police officer?

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