In the East Bay, Advocates Partner with Alameda Police to Educate Ticketed Cyclists
By Mary Lauran Hall on February 06, 2013
Editor’s note: Advocates at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition have found a great way to offer bicycle education to more people: by partnering with police to offer ticketed cyclists traffic classes in exchanged for a reduced fine. The initiative has garnered some media coverage and has caught advocates’ attention as an example of a program to encourage safe bicycling and collaborate with local police.
In this guest blog post, EBBC Education Coordinator Robert Prinz explains how his organization implemented the Bike Traffic School program.
There seem to be more and more stories popping up in the news these days about police departments “cracking down” on law-breaking bicyclists (like this recent one in New York), responding to community complaints and handing out expensive tickets for what in many cases appear to be minor and inconsequential offenses.
How should an advocacy organization respond when police departments step up traffic enforcement for bicyclists? roland/Flickr
As a bike safety professional, I can appreciate the concerns and probably notice even more dangerous behavior, both legal and illegal, than the average observer. Too many times, I have just finished teaching a great bike safety workshop to a group of interested participants, but on my ride home notice a cyclist taking some serious risks and wonder “Why couldn’t he have come to my class?”
On the other hand, while the aggressive cyclists I encounter certainly annoy me, they don’t typically make me fear for my life like the aggressive drivers I cross paths with just as regularly. Why shouldn’t there be a distinction in the penalties to reflect the distinction in potential consequences, allowing us to encourage safe behavior without discouraging bicycling altogether?
Creating a “Bike Traffic School”
With this in mind, we here at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition (a 4,000 member nonprofit that works for safe, convenient and enjoyable bicycling for all people in the two counties east of San Francisco) got to work on our “Bike Traffic School” initiative. We proposed offering a two-hour bicycle safety classroom workshop to any adult cyclist who receives a moving violation ticket, allowing them to have their fine reduced or removed.
We were no stranger to teaching bicycle education: the material for classes aimed at ticketed cyclists would be taken from our already well-established Urban Cycling 101 workshops, based on League of American Bicyclists’ safety education material. Our new classes would be taught by the same local, LAB-certified instructors we use to host all of our other safety classes.
We felt that keeping our bicycle coalition responsible for the Bike Traffic School curriculum and instruction was important to ensure a cyclist-friendly program, and to prevent it from becoming unnecessarily punitive or heavy-handed. We would also make these classes open for free to the general public, as having more people there voluntarily would help create a better environment for learning.
Testing it Out on Campus
We first implemented this type of class with the UC Berkeley Police Department. Campus police regularly issued $220 tickets to cyclists caught riding through “walk zone” areas on campus. In response to student outcry over the high price of violations, the department had already initiated their own ticket diversion program.
With support from the UC Berkeley Police, our instructors began teaching Bike Traffic School classes at the university. Through the program, students who completed the class could bring a certificate of completion to the police office to have the ticket excused and their fine reduced to $50. This fee went straight into the police department’s budget to help pay for the class itself, so the program itself became virtually self-sustainable if even just a few people took advantage of it. Ticketed cyclists had 60 days from the date of the citation to take the class and pay the ticket, but after that the police would send the citation to the county court to go through the standard process.
Scaling Up in Alameda
Next, we approached the City of Alameda with an almost identical proposal. In contrast to the campus program, any moving violation infraction would be eligible for a fee reduction — not just pedestrian zone violations. We were anxious before our first meeting with Alameda Police Chief Mike Noonan, but our fears were abated when, after being seeing the proposed class cost, he said, “Well, that’s a lot cheaper than I expected!”
Soon, we had negotiated a one-year contract with his department to teach a monthly series of classes at the same day, time, and location each month, both to make them easier to program and to enable the police to print class information directly onto a sticker which was affixed to every cycling traffic ticket they would hand out.
Before implementation, we gave Chief Noonan a chance to review our class presentation to suggest additions or changes to reflect local concerns. We also provided his officers with general guidance on what violations create the biggest impact on safety and to dispel a few of the common myths about bike law that we find are sometimes held even by enforcement professionals.
To help police incentivize safe behavior, we also facilitated collaboration between the Alameda PD and the local Tucker’s Ice Cream shop. Now, officers who see youth bicyclists displaying safe, independent behavior can offer them a certificate for a free cone. The officers appreciated this opportunity to have positive interactions with the community, helping to build rapport and trust.
The first class was hosted in Alameda this past December, and we have already received a fantastic response — both from voluntary attendees and from ticketed cyclists who tell us they appreciate the opportunity and even enjoy the instruction.
Our next step is to contact more police departments to promote our success and convince them of how easy and inexpensive it would be to replicate it in their jurisdiction as well (easier said than done!).
Eventually we want our Bike Traffic School to go county-wide, but the California Vehicle Code (sections 42005 and 42005.3) currently restricts such programs to infractions committed by licensed motor vehicle operators. For the time being, we are working with our advocacy partners on the state level to request an amendment.
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