Educating the Enforcers

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The best solutions have a cascading effect. The ability to connect disparate parts into an even broader solution.  For me the solution to a long pondered question began with a previous blog about education, or rather, the lack of or incomplete education of users of the transportation system and the people who enforce the laws that enable it to function.

At the core of the idea is broadening the role of police as teachers. The extension of their duties would be to mentor motorized and non-motorized drivers and pedestrians under their jurisdiction with an on-going education about how the traffic system works, its rules and each participant’s responsibilities.

Why this approach and what it accomplishes:

-Motorized drivers get their biggest injection of education on how to use the transportation system when preparing for their license exam. The transportation system is dynamic and on-going education about new signs, rules, paint on the road and other users of the transportation system is needed to makes sure we are all on the same page and up to date. Failure to do so results in drivers assuming what something means or the role of other road users.

-Non-motorized drivers rarely receive any education about using the traffic system unless they search it out. This blends increasing numbers of active users with no clue about the the Rules of Movement, etc. into an organized traffic system. Equally as bad is bicycle drivers who know the rules but ignore them without fear of consequence…unless, of course, they crash. This rogue behavior helps perpetuate the “us” vs “them” culture.

-Tha vast majority of police officers are taught next to nothing about bike and pedestrian law unless a local effort like this 2011 program started by the Cary and Raleigh North Caroline Police departments is pursued or they complete IPMBA training. Even so, the minority of educated officers become islands of understand in a culture that does not recognize the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists and pedestrians enough to actively enforce violations as they routinely do with motorized drivers.

-Police are increasingly looking for natural and sustainable ways to connect with their communities regardless of age, ability or nationality. Extending the role of police to be teachers of the transportation system balances with their role as enforcers of the same. Like walking a beat, this heightened contact with the public polishes their role model image and makes them more familiar and approachable. Education is, after all,  the softer side of enforcement and teachers are known to play both roles.

-Rails to/with Trails, regional or state trails created specifically for non-motorized traffic are wonderful things. But the idea that we should automatically pursue the creation of a parallel system for bikes within the current road system needs to be evaluated. Pursuing a police-based, ongoing education-of-everyone approach will work to make the transportation system more inclusive. After all, it was designed over a century ago to accommodate many different forms of traffic.  Broader, more frequent use of our transportation infrastructure means a better ROI on what we have in place.

As any savvy bicyclist knows, being aware of her situation and following the rules makes her more relevant to other drivers and inherently safer. The users who need more isolated-from-traffic facilities are pedestrians, but similar facilities are not needed in most situations for bicyclists when everyone is educated. So before we spend countless billions on a parallel system for bikes that weaves in and out of the established traffic system,  we should spend many millions starting with the basics and ensure everyone knows their role, rights and responsibilities within the system we have in place. This balances the transportation system at a deeper level while highlighting for our DOT’s, County and local decision makers where tweaks in the infrastructure need to happen when they come up for reconstruction or maintenance.

Having a respected community group assume the role of enforcer and educator on a daily basis will, over time, redefine the meaning of “police” while providing “practicable” insight on how our future roads should be designed and rated for speed.

Education is Key to More Thoughtful Transportation System

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A baffling aspect of our ever-changing transportation system is the limited amount of formal education its users receive. Once someone gets their driver’s license there is no mandatory on-going education requirement for the majority of drivers who use our roads, yet we routinely encounter new users and have to quickly interpret new paint patterns and signs while driving.

I’m surprised law enforcement hasn’t picked up on this. Education is the soft side of enforcement and their participation in on-going educational classes would give them another community touch point with people of every age, color and nationality across the country.

Keeping up on rights and responsibilities, whether you are a motorized or non-motorized driver, that is, whether you drive a car or drive a bicycle or even a horse-drawn cart on Minnesota roads, is key to ensure we know how to interact with each other in those situations where we might rely on what we think is the law.

Below are two local examples where rights and responsibilities were assumed. One involves a guy in a truck and the other a police officer. Both involve Sunday mornings and a certified bicycle safety instructor, me.

Clear sunny Sunday in late September. I am riding my bicycle south on U.S. Highway 61 in the right lane. My lights are on and I am wearing bright clothing. At Shady Lane a person driving a pick-up truck rushes up behind me. He gets within a foot or two of my back wheel and then quickly passes (buzzes) me on the left. Neither of these two behaviors is news to anyone who rides a bike on our area roads. What does stand out is how close he passes me. If I had extended my left arm when he was next to me, half of it would have been inside his car. How he did not knock my mirror off I still don’t know. He yells something out his passenger window, cuts in front of me and speeds down the road. Message sent. Get outta that seat Rosa Parks. Bikes do not belong on Minnesota roads.

On the very next Sunday, at virtually the same place and time, a local police car rushes up on my left, though at a much safer distance. Passenger window down, the officer calmly tells me I cannot ride my bicycle on the highway because it is not legal. We pull over and talk. We exchange information. The officer believes there’s a statute that clearly says bicycles are not allowed on State Highways like U.S. Highway 61. We connect later and he corrects himself. I asked him if he could remember where he learned or read that bicycles could not be ridden on State Highways like U.S. Highway 61, but he could not pinpoint where, or why he thought that was the law.

Each situation involves two different people using the same road. One is trained to enforce traffic laws. The other created his own law while disregarding another driver’s safety. Giving you the license plate number of his truck or the officer’s name will not change how each reacted to my bicycle’s presence on U.S. Highway 61. They were both misinformed.

The U.S. Highway 61 corridor through town was designed by engineers for cars to travel quickly and safely through White Bear Lake. But, believe it or not, U.S. Highway 61 is on all of MnDOT’s state and regional maps as a designated bicycle route and has been for decades.

While we work to fit two quarts into our one-quart transportation infrastructure, let’s invest and make sure everyone understand how to use the transportation system we have. Broadening the minds of all users gets us a better ROI on our transportation dollar because we plant the seeds of tolerance that welcomes all levels of ability, age and speed to use Minnesota roads.

LCI # 5361

Scotty, Why Didn’t You Beam Me Up?

I am a bike advocate. This means I am used to going into meetings or sending emails with a strong argument and supporting data. It also means that the people on the other end  of the communication, who can make a difference in transportation infrastructure and approach, listen but rarely  act. I hear reservations about spending “political capital“.  Be patient. We have a plan but it takes a LONG time to get things in place. Point out that all of the routes on their network map are identified as proposed and they reiterate that they have done a lot of studies and  are committed to biking and walking….but it takes a LONG time to implement. I’m the problem. Everyone wants to be identified as all-in for safe biking and walking, but too few walk the walk or bike the bike.

Over time the continuous theme that, as an advocate,  you are not really relevant because there is no title or pay scale attached to you that we recognize in our system… so no threat here…it’s our choice when and how we respond to your request,  because frankly, you can’t do much about it.

Even advocates have to sleep. So you take daisy-chained days like this to bed with you and the mind does what the mind does, staging your day and reaching up into your head to find situations that can explain your feelings and make sense of what happened in the daylight hours.

Any surprise I have this recurring dream? Come with me…I am on a hostile planet with Captain Kirk of the Enterprise. We are surrounded by aliens. Kirk, sensing our impending doom, taps the communicator on his chest and tells Scotty he has to get us out of here now. Milliseconds later I see Kirk’s image digitize and disappear and I realize that I am alone on the planet. I can feel the hot alien breath my neck and as the dream plays out  I look at the coarse sandy ground and then stare into the red-purple sky of another world and plead, as if talking to a higher being, “Scotty, why didn’t you beam me up?”

What is my REM sleep telling me? I think Kirk is motorized transportation. I am non-motorized transportation. Scotty is all of the DOT’s and local and county governments who profess a passion for safe biking and walking but are loaded down with conflicting special interests. The Scotty’s of the world ultimately control the fate of the transportation system and though it would have been easy for Scotty to lock onto both of us, he was so concerned about Kirk that he didn’t recognize my presence.

We  need Scotty to think of bicyclists and pedestrians for who they are, another species, an alien in the transportation system who the Prime Directive says should be allowed to advance in its unique cultural evolution. That ought to get me and whole lotta others back on the ship ASAP.

Are USBR’s In MN Redirecting Our DOT’s Focus to Advance Bicycling

If you can remember my last post, I talked about the focused efforts to extend the long-stalled Bruce Vento Regional Trail. This is a rail-to-trail conversion, at least the part that is in place from Downtown St. Paul to Buerkle Road on the edges of White Bear Lake. BNSF did not abandon the corridor after Buerkle preventing an immediate extension of the same solution to the trail’s envisioned ending at the Ramsey-Washington County border.  Plan B is engineered, approved and out for Federal funding; at least a major part of it.

Regional trails like the Vento are one of the many layers that make local bicycle and walking connectivity really work. In this case, Ramsey County is working in concert with a range of stakeholders to provide a ribbon of walking and biking equity between Downtown and out-lying suburbs. The range of diversity, lifestyles and the like covered by this trail is immense. The Vento’s of the world become backbones to other local networks and when viewed in their totality a network for people of all abilities to use their bike for transportation and recreation or walk with friends in a secure place begins to take shape.

One more trip back to the previous post to make my point. The final line of my previous post offered to connect the regional trail above with the idea of walking or biking between St. Paul and the Canadian Border.  There is a connection. At the time I wrote that our state DOT was in hot pursuit of finalizing the initial alignment of USBR 41. US Bicycle Route 41 connects St. Paul with the Canadian border ( Grand Portage, to be exact). An earlier USBR, #45, follows the Mississippi, hence it’s marketing moniker Mississippi River Trail ( MRT). USBR 41 is being fast tracked. It’s initial alignment will be submitted to AASHTO in Washington DC this fall to acquire the official USBR 41 designation. The route will be added to the other 21+/- routes in the U.S. totaling over 11,000 miles in a network aiming to achieve 50,000 miles. All good, right?

Implementing a national highway for bikes is a big idea. Implementing federal and state non-motorized and equity laws at the project level state-by-state is an even bigger idea.  One has a lot of gloss, the other is a daily slog. But here’s the first twist, the glossy one can help the local one. By assigning the USBR designation to a local project like the Vento, efforts to fund its completion are enhanced. We will find out soon if the Vento, having been extended this designation, gets an advantage in the competitive world of bike/walk infrastructure funding. Why does this designation matter? Because the Adventure Cycling Association, the non-profit that manages the the USBR program, is a problem solver. The demographic for touring cyclists is a white guy 50+ who makes $75,000 or more a year. By extending the USBR designation to local projects to get needed federal funding, the ACA is increasing the odds that usable infrastructure for its national routes is built and these same routes will provide the training grounds for a more diverse demographic by providing a way to get to the store for milk, or ride a bike to a job. All good.

The other twist. The subtle shifting, or inclusion, of a  DOT’s focus to a state-based contribution for a national trails model might redirect state level bike and ped resources and slow a much more highly needed equity model to address infrastructure changes serving the requirements of diverse local populations. We’ve yet to see decades of painstakingly created federal and state laws, created to direct DOT’s in the building of an equitable and balanced transportation system, proactively used by them to shape our roads and intersections.

 

Bruce Vento Trail Alt Alignment Is a Good Start

The Bruce Vento Regional Trail has been collecting dust at Buerkle Road since the end of the 1990’s. It was part of a larger and very progressive vision for biking and walking in the northeast portion of the Metro called the Lake Links Trail.

From St. Paul up to Buerkle it primarily occupies an abandoned railroad corridor except for a short stint on Phalen Parkway. But cross Buerkle and the rails are still there to store train cars and further down live tracks feather in carrying infrequent loads  over the county line into the City of Hugo. For close to two decades Ramsey County waited to see if the railroad would abandon the remaining tracks or would allow a Rail with Trail. Finally, with demand rising for the trail to be completed, the County hired a civil engineering company a few years ago to create an alignment that did not require running the trail down the heart of the railroad right of way. I’ve had .pdf’s of the trail plan since March, but only recently saw the entire plan with callouts of details at Open House events. Even this alternative alignment uses the outer most edge of the railroad ROW for a good portion of the route and required negotiation and consensus from Burlington Northern Santa Fe ( BNSF). The final price tag for what has been laid out in detailed engineering drawings and elevations is not known. The project is to be costed out and appropriate grants…Federal or otherwise…..sought and applied for.

As grateful as I am for the work that has gone into preparing to get the trail into White Bear Lake, I’ve continued to advocate for a similar engineering analysis of the final few miles of county controlled roads to bring the trail to its envisioned completion at the line between Ramsey and Washington County. The reason is a few-fold.

First, the current trail extension is scheduled to dead-end at the intersection of a County Highway (#96) and a State Highway ( #61). The pent-up demand for this trail is great and its higher volumes of riders and walkers will come to an intersection with multiple turn lanes, multiple though lanes and 45+ MPH traffic and inadequate and unsafe ways to cross in any direction. It’s a situation ripe for someone to get frustrated and make a bad decision.

Second, there is no scheduled Phase Two and if we do not plan for completing the trail now we are merely resigning ourselves to making #96 the New Buerkle. Already Washington County and the city of Hugo have laid out a plan to pick up the trail at the county line and bring it to the established Hardwood Creek Trail and Sunrise Prairie Trail which run for miles up to North Branch, Minnesota.

Next post I will write about an opportunity for this same multiple trail alignment to get someone on their bike or wishing to go for a very long walk from St. Paul to the Canadian border.

 

Under the Guise Of Concern

I don’t know why I like the letter format so much for posting, but I do.

This letter below began life as a letter and not a blog post appearing to be a letter. It is about our friends at the one-car-fits-all agency pulling together like-minded people behind closed car doors to make a clever bicycle law decree that on its face sounds like it is a really good idea, but is not. In this case, their premise is that old laws need to be updated. Actually, once injected with a truth serum that would change to old laws that we never used because they made us do things we did not want to do….need to be eviscerated and set aside for the new model we have in mind. Yes, the shiny object approach!

Let’s see what my legislators respond with. They are great at sending a quick reply thanking me for whatever I’ve sent, but that’s typically where it stops. This letter was also sent to a number of people who are, or would appear to be, in positions or organizations  that might keep them from speaking up. I was hoping they might be able to help behind the scenes. Like the Legislators…let’s see what happens.

Dear Senator Chamberlain and Representative Dean,

A recent email blast to members from BikeMN tipped me off about the The Bicycle Law Advisory Task Force and their work to update key State bicycle laws.

Upon receiving this email I inquired about which laws and what changes were being suggested. BikeMN’s executive Director Dorian Grilley answered by email and forwarded to me the draft changes to 85.016 BICYCLE TRAIL PROGRAM and some other supporting information about the Task Force.The changes I read about would eliminate a key statute (160.265) and alter supporting rules (8810). Prior to receipt of the email I was unaware of the formation of the Task Force by MnDOT and its mission.

Having reviewed the Task Forces’ proposed changes and the language of the statues and rules being eliminated or altered, I am writing to ask that the State/Governor not accept these proposed bike law changes for several reasons.

1.The structure of the current Advisory Task Force does not adequately represent women / the female perspective on what makes bicycling safe and the related laws required. In short, the current advisory committee make-up, when compared to previous bicycling advisory committees, is going backward. For example:

Current Make-up of 2015 Task Force
18 Men
3 Women
0 Disabled, senior or people of color identified

1977 Advisory Committee for Bicycling
20 Men
9 Women
1 Disabled Person Identified
0 Seniors or people of color identified

I have to ask…how many of the people on the current Task Force are employees of MnDOT or are being compensated in some way by MnDOT?

2. There was a lack of transparency in the work of the Task Force. Minnesota Legislators have worked hard over the years to put on the books balanced laws to direct MnDOT and other agencies in the State’s pursuit to incrementally advance a more extensive alternative transportation infrastructure for everyone. These changes should be reflective of more public debate.

3. The Task Force is citing the age of the laws as a primary reason they need to be changed. It is difficult to trouble shoot or improve something that is not being used. Did MnDOT proactively apply 160.265 in 1977-78 when it became law? Did the agency integrate it into the planning of all of its projects? It would seem not. Because if it had, 39 years later we would be well on our way to a transportation system that routinely considered bicycles as an alternative means of transportation in its daily planning at the project level. The Human Element would have become part of the Transportation Department’s DNA decades ago starting the siphon ensuring consideration of non-motorized traffic in all state highway projects.

4. Regressive nature of the changes being suggested. Elimination of 160.265 and alteration of the 8810 rules erases huge strides made in State bicycling law and is actually counter productive to upholding and strengthening bike system development. Many of the Task Forces’ changes also do not not reflect the State of Minnesota’s values and mission of pursuing equal opportunity, open government, environmental stewardship and protection of vulnerable travelers in our state. Clearly, there is a reason that 160.265 is titled BIKEWAY PROGRAM. To remove this statute and substitute 160.266 MISSISSIPPI RIVER TRAIL is inconsistent with Complete Streets.

For the above reasons I ask that the State not pursue the current Task Force recommendations. If there is an argument for reviewing our current bicycles laws, do so with a new committee whose make-up reflects the demographics of the State and who are and are not current users of the bicycle system to better learn what is missing and how to build on successes. Measure the efficacy of the current laws against the needs in the market.

You may also wish to consider a different committee to take a different approach to the issue. A committee set up to review historical project records from the State Transportation Department detailing when and how the very laws cited for alteration or extinction were systematically integrated and applied to projects. From this data you should learn if the Task Forces’ suggestions are based on MnDOT’s experience and application of laws in question and why these laws are / are not accomplishing their objective of providing safe and more complete biking infrastructure in our increasingly diverse and very female state.

Respectfully,

Mike Brooks
NE Communities Bike Walk

PS A few links to background about the reality of bicycling.

Link: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2013/05/surprising-diversity-american-cycling-community/5737/

Excerpt: “We wanted to dispel one of the major misconceptions, which is that bicycling is just for young, white, urban professionals,” says Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications at LAB. “This report starts to shift that general misconception of who is riding.” ( LAB = League of American Bicyclists)

Link: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/09/women-cycling-infrastructure-cyclists-killed-female

Excerpt: Gil Penalosa, who runs Toronto-based consultancy 8-80 Cities, describes women cyclists as the “indicator species” for how bike-friendly a city is. “If there aren’t at least as many women as men, then usually it’s because cycling is not safe enough. It’s an indicator that you do not have good enough cycling infrastructure.”

Link: http://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/getting-around/info-2015/bicycles-bike-riding-older-adults.html

Excerpt: Bicyclists age 50 and over pedaled an estimated 2.6 billion miles on 830 million rides in 2009 (the latest figures available), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Household Travel Survey. That’s way up from 1995 when people in that age group covered less than 400 million miles on 175 million rides. Bicycle riders age 70 to 79 alone made 147 million trips in 2009; those 80 and over took 13 million trips by bike.

 

It’s All About Building Bridges

Dear Minnesota Legislature,

On March 8th, 2016 you will reconvene and the State Transportation Department will be smiling and pressing the flesh for more money. They will have statistics, stories and pictures of crumbling bridges. But they will not say a word about some of the most important bridges they are responsible for because they have not taken the time to build these bridges. These are the Civil Rights bridges to the diverse populations of Minnesota. And though MnDOT has been pre-paid by the Federal Government for decades to ensure that 50+ year old laws like Title VI and 25+ year-old laws like ADA are integrated into the state transportation plan at the project level, they can provide you no tangible, independently audited evidence of a high-level of compliance. Be prepared for something like this from the State Transportation Department:

We evaluated the agency’s compliance with Title VI, The Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as Complete Streets legislation and policy. The review of current policies, practices, state and federal law, and the case law affirmed for us this agency is in compliance or in substantial compliance with state and federal civil rights laws.

Sounds good, but you are smart people and you probably noticed they used the “we evaluated” line. Easy to get on the honor roll when you are grading your own work.

Pop quiz.

What agency in Minnesota is responsible for ensuring that MnDOT proactively pursues continuing education of communities on Civil Rights requirements. And, is it the same agency that we’ve appointed to make sure MnDOT understands and applies all applicable non-motorized laws to ensure every project has a human element and meets our professed vision of an inclusive multi-modal transportation system.   The answer is the same agency…MNDOT. Remember…they grade their own papers.

Don’t feel bad. Our state DOT spends something like 6-7 figures a year creating plans, studies, reports and staging public events to publicly build a good rep about how much a balanced transportation system and inclusivity means to them. With all the planning and publications I sometimes think they think they are Met Council, when in fact they are by law the State Transportation Authority, the Implementation Guys.

So don’t buy into the Powerpoint. When the lights come back on it is time to represent the people of Minnesota. Ask them about the $300 million  35E/Cayuga project. Tell them you know that this is a neighborhood with one of the highest incidents of poverty in the Metro. Explain that its homes and apartments are filled with people who speak one or more of over 12 languages. Then lean forward, maybe take your glasses off for effect, and ask how they did this without having a Limited English Proficiency Plan ( LEP). A way of communicating with the diverse people in the neighborhood about their lives so MnDOT would know what to build. How did you do that MnDOT? How did you complete such a large and expensive project without knowing what to build?  The room will be very quiet. It will be all yours when you say to the Commissioner of Transportation, Mr. Zelle, what are you doing with all of the money we already give to you? Get ready for a lot of extra words and more back peddling than a paddleboat about to go over the falls.

You can do this. It’s not like the Vikings Stadium. You have more money than they do this time.