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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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

Curbside Chat

On October 29 we are partnering with the City of White Bear Lake to bring Chuck Marohn to town to speak.Chuck is the president and co-founder of Strongtowns.org. His presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. and will take place at the Police training facility behind City Hall.

Strong Towns is a non-profit organization that supports a model for growth that allows America’s towns to become financially strong and self-sufficient. Strong Towns advocates a new approach to town planning that accounts for the full cost of growth—one that is needed to make our towns strong again.

Chuck is traveling across Minnesota to deliver his Curbside Chat to communities. His presentation was created for local officials and key community leaders and has five parts:

  1. Background on the current financial crisis.
  2. The triggers forcing changes in the way we inhabit the landscape.
  3. The “dead ideas” we need to overcome to renew prosperity in our towns and neighborhoods.
  4. What the coming new economy is likely to look like.
  5. What local leaders can do to position their communities for success in the new era.

Here is the flyer: Marohn Info 1029 presentation