In August, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee after attempting to stop him for “riding a bicycle in violation of vehicle codes.” According to the family’s attorney, deputies “shot him in the back (16) times, then left him for hours.”
Earlier that same month, a Vancouver police officer intentionally struck a rider with his vehicle after the cyclist attempted to flee from an attempted traffic stop. The Los Angeles Times also discovered 16 cases in the last 15 years where an attempted bike violation in Los Angeles County alone resulted in a police shooting. According to the article, in 11 of those incidents, the cyclists—all male and Black or Latino—were killed.
The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement has helped heighten awareness of cases like these, raising questions of systemic racism and police brutality in society. And bike advocates are listening, with many seeking new solutions for safer streets that don’t always include the police. A host of white papers and informal conversations among advocates have created a great deal of momentum across the country for these new ideas.
Marco Conner DiAquoi, deputy director at New York City’s Transportation Alternatives, argues that many policies long supported by bicycle advocates, such as stricter traffic-violation enforcement for vehicles, “aren’t equitable and are overly reliant on police traffic enforcement” that can lead to tragic consequences for minority riders.
That’s why some advocates, including Ride Illinois Executive Director Dave Simmons, are, at least temporarily, halting their legislation pushes for vulnerable road user or 3-foot passing laws. They’re also discussing eliminating enforcement as a priority, in part because they know police involvement can oftentimes effect minority communities unfairly.
Other advocates are shifting their legislative priorities to bills that would decrease the policing of cyclists, such as legalizing the Idaho Stop, where cyclists can legally yield at stop signs instead of having to come to a full stop. Another potential solution is shifting focus to “self-enforcing streets,” which would include safer, better-designed infrastructure, as well as automated traffic cameras.
Technology could eliminate potential bias and be more efficient, said Conner DiAquoi. In New York City, for example, 135,000 people were cited for speeding by police officers in 2017. During that same time period, 200 traffic cameras in school zones did a better job at catching speeding, citing 1.3 million drivers that year.
Although many European countries have had great success with automated speed cameras, some Americans continue to fight against them because they’re too good at catching speeding drivers, Conner DiAquoi said. Seven states have imposed at least partial bans on speed or red-light cameras after ticket-receiving constituents lobbied their legislators.
Camera enforcement for more complicated traffic violations, such as 3-foot passing distance or failure to yield at an intersection, continues to evolve and needs to be fine-tuned before all traffic enforcement can be automated.
“Automated technology can negate discriminatory policing and racial disparities and avoids the risk of unnecessary or excessive use of force,” Conner DiAquoi said, adding that technology itself isn’t an all-encompassing solution.
Cameras can be used in negative ways, especially depending on where they’re placed, he said.
“Solely based on crash data, you’re likely to see a disproportionate number of cameras in Black communities, where there’s a higher number of pedestrian crashes due to lack of sidewalks and higher speeds coming off highways,” Conner DiAquoi said. “Statistically, drivers are also less likely to stop for Black pedestrians.”
Conner DiAquoi suggests authorities can negate questions of technological bias by being upfront with the criteria and data used to locate the cameras. He dismissed concerns about traffic cameras being used by authorities to spy on the surrounding neighborhood. The cameras aren’t constantly recording, he says, only snapping on when detecting an infraction, then recording the license plate.
Nearly all advocates agree that until technology improves, there’s still a need for human enforcement. Bike Law’s Peter Wilborn, a self-described Black Lives Matter supporter, warns against doing away with police involvement entirely, particularly when it comes to drivers acting recklessly on the road. Of the more than 750 cases he’s handled involving vehicle-bicycle crashes, zero have involved a negative interaction with police.
“It’s not the laws that are the problem, but rather (bad police officers),” Wilborn said. “We still need 3-foot passing and vulnerable road user laws… to reinforce (in drivers’ minds) that cyclists deserve protection.”
Conner DiAquoi suggests unarmed civilian employees conduct any in-person traffic enforcement.
“It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition,” Conner DiAquoi said. “(Trying to solve) racial disparities doesn’t mean we should have no penalties for someone driving a multi-ton vehicle negligently.”
You Might Also Like