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.

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.