20 April 2010

Mercer Island City Council=oblivious

What more is there to say…? Maybe just this. A few years ago five friends and I were pulled over by a Mercer Island police officer and ticketed. The officer was very apologetic while writing us up and when pressed (politely of course), admitted that he and his fellow officers had been mandated to ticket as many cyclists as possible. He was not in favor of this and considered it a waste of time. Our offense was not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. If memory serves me, we did slow down to less than five mph and looked both ways; unfortunately (for us) the police car was hidden behind some bushes. We were told the letter of the law required us to put a foot down which we did not do. When done handing out the tickets the officer even suggested that we request a hearing to get the citation expunged from our record. We all successfully did this. At our and the island's expense of course. This is another case of the aggressive panhandling law that Tim Burgess is trying to pass in Seattle. Even IF you concede that it's well intentioned, there are already laws on the books to address this issue, we don't have the funds and officers to enforce it and there is no clearly defined problem or public support. It's simply being rammed down our throats. With so many things crying out for funding in these dire economic times this kind of behavior seems unconscionable. And really dumb. It pisses me off.

As just reported by good friend Hank K, "Incredibly, the Mercer Island City Council voted (4-3) to continue developing their anti cycling ordinances. Below is a report from the city council meeting last night [provided by Jim Stanton]."

Just back from the City Council meeting. The best thing to do is to watch the meeting on MI TV channel on Comcast (Channel 26?) if you want to see city government in action. Here's my off-the-cuff take but I'm sure others will offer amendments or corrections.

About 10-12 people thanked the Council for improving the PBF but were critical of the draft ordnances for safety reasons. Mark Clausen and Wally Boos had prepared statements which were very well done. Bob Olson, Dave Schiffrin, and I also spoke, as did several other Island residents and a couple speakers from Bellevue who commute across the Island. One speaker was an attorney who litigates bike injury cases who testified that making cyclists ride single file is more dangerous than riding two abreast. A boy scout troop was there, and many of the scouts also spoke about their concerns about the ordnance. No one spoke in favor of the ordnance.

The city's attorney presented the ordnance noting that he was very hard pressed to come up something that didn't conflict with state law. The ordnances were presented as 'clarifications' of state law which would enable the police to enforce Mercer Island's particular interpretation of state law. When asked what problem he was solving with the ordnances, he had no clear answer. Council members agreed that they had not given very clear direction to staff. Not defining the problem was a recurrent theme.

The MI police testified that they receive more complaints from cyclists about cars than they do from automobile drivers about cyclists. They also confirmed that while several cyclists had been injured by cars this year, they couldn't recall an automobile driver ever being harmed by a bicycle. The officer offered no data on cycling injuries or accidents. In the officer's opinion the proposed ordnance gave police no additional powers or authority. In short if the ordnances were passed, MI police wouldn't do anything different than they do now.

A long discussion followed that included the following:

1) Mike Grady opposed the ordnance and asserted they were so flawed that they should not be discussed. His motion to send them back for rework went nowhere. He also observed that passage would make MI look bike unfriendly.

2) Bruce Basset also opposed the ordnance, cited the wide opposition to it (120 emails opposed vs. 1 in support) and later offered a motion for the city staff to create an education program as an alternative. Only Grady supported the motion.

3) Mike Cero expressed concern that the ordnances only restated state law, and he proposed modifications as a cure. When that failed, he supported revising the ordnances. He was pleased that the city attorney interpreted state law to mean that bicycles had to ride to the far right when a car wanted to pass, and not several feet out from the edge of the road.

4) El Jahncke asserted he was motivated by undefined safety concerns. While he recognized the ordnances were somewhat flawed, he supported using them to extent possible.

5) Mayor Jim Pearman took a few minutes to sternly lecture the cyclists in the room. In his view cyclists are the root cause of this (undefined) problem. As evidence, he asserted that for many years cyclist have prevented residents living on East and West Mercer from entering or exiting their driveways. He insisted the cycling community had to take leadership in solving the situation.
(Ironically, Mark Clausen had made the same suggestion in his opening
statement, and Mark, Cliff, and I had offered to do just that to several council members over the past several months.)

6) Dan Grausz was insistent that ordnances not be dropped, because this problem (undefined) had been going too long. He particularly wanted cyclists to ride single file when cars or bikes wanted to pass. He also pushed for a new requirement for cyclists to warn when were passing. Dan also emphasized the necessity of improving the shoulders on East and West Mercer.

7) Steve Litzow opposed the ordnances and any further work on them as a waste of time/money because they were just a restatement of state law, didn't give the police any more authority or guidance, and were likely to have little, if any effect.

Although Grady, Basset, and Litzow voted to drop the ordnances completely, they were outvoted by Grausz, Cero, Jahncke, and Pearman who instructed the city attorney to take another shot at new language that would require cyclists to ride single file if a car or another cyclist wanted to pass, but that did not restate or conflict with state law. I can't remember if Grausz's desire for cyclists to create an audible signal when passing was also included. At least there was recognition--influenced by Mark Clausen's emailed legal analysis--that much of the ordnances was beyond revision.

We left about 9:15 wrung out by the circular discussions about an undefined problem and disappointed with the assumption that these municipal ordnances would make cycling safer. On the other hand I was buoyed by the number of people on the Island who cared about bicycle safety and who hopefully will continue to work for safer cycling conditions on the Island.

As we left, the city council was about to spend another couple hours on city business. It's a thankless job. We should at least be appreciative that the City Council corrected some of the problems with the Pedestrian Bicycle Facilities plan that came out of the Planning Commission.

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