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.

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