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Berkeley’s Finest: Saving Us From The Nasty, Evil Bicycleses

So, I got pulled over. Not sure why, but I did. I was coming down Bancroft after meeting with my friend Matthew when a cop (behind me, to my left) yelled at me on his loudspeaker to “pick a lane.” I was slowing down anyways (red light, don’tcha know), so I turned to him as best I could and said “But I’m going straight!” To which he replied, “How about you pull over and I cite you?” Whee!

The cop was a total dick about it, natch. When I tried to explain what I had been attempting to do, he started yelling at me, so I figured I may as well cut my losses, said “cite me,” and tried to keep my trap shut. I don’t know why he was so irritated; he may have to deal with Telegraph-street fixie hipsters all day, I don’t know. We did the license-and-current-address dance, and he handed me a citation. Mmm… moving violations.

From what I could tell (him yelling at me to get in the left lane, I couldn’t ride in the center), he wanted to to cite me for a violation of VC Section 21202. While he may have had a case, there were several exceptions to this law: the bicycle must be traveling slower than normal traffic (I had been suppressing the urge to pass cars all the way down Bancroft), and riding in the left lane must be safe. (Bancroft is a one-way street, which means in California, at least, you can ride on either the right-most or the left-most side of the street.)

For those of you following along at home, just crack open Google Earth and search for “Bancroft and Ellsworth, Berkeley, CA”, zoom in a whole bunch, and rotate the view until north is to the left. Bancroft is the three-lane street running top/bottom(east/west), and Ellsworth is to the right (south). I was in the left-most lane on Bancroft until it closed to two lanes, right before Ellsworth. You can see the arrows and lines of paint indicating that. It opens back up to three lanes right after Ellsworth, but I didn’t merge into the left lane for two reasons:

  1. There was a car behind me in that lane. Bicycles which cut off cars which are potentially travelling much faster don’t fare too well. It’s not a habit I’ve accquired over the years, and it’s not one I intend to pick up.
  2. If you look a bit farther down Bancroft, the right lane splits off into a dedicated turning lane, at which point I would have been in a legal position again. I had the option of making an un-safe and possibly illegal lane change, or sticking it out for another 5 seconds and being back in what this officer considered to be the good graces of the law.

The total amount of space in which I could have possibly been in violation of that statute was 400ft., the last 200 of which I had spent trying to figure out what the cop behind and to the left of me wanted. Yes, he wanted me to cut him off, I suppose; I’m still unsure. It’s the end of the month, and it’s entirely possible that the Berkeley PD is expecting quotas to be met–I know if I were on the South Side beat, I’d probably spend most of my time checking out girls, not writing tickets.

I have to say, the vast majority of interactions with the police anywhere have been negative, regardless of whether or not I was a victim, suspect, or bystander. I think it’s something about the job which structures most of your interactions with others in an antagonistic framework, and makes every perceived infraction of the law seem like a personal rebuke. The amount of power a police officer wields kind of lends itself to condescension and paternalist anger. If there’s any good cops out there, keep your heads up.

There’re two punchlines to this story. First, he listed my speed on the citation as 7mph; frankly, I’m insulted. I push 5mph when I track stand (ask Peter–I’m horrible at it).

Second, he cited me for a violation of VC Section 21650.1, when I think he meant to cite me for a violation of VC Section 21202. 21650.1 says that “a bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.” And if he thinks what I did do was worth citing, I’d hate to imagine his reaction if I actually had ridden at 7mph up the center lane of a one-way street in the wrong direction. Traffic court will most certainly be entertaining, and may involve discussions as the feasibility of time travel.

Thank you, Berkeley’s Finest, for keeping the streets safe from us evil, bastard cyclists.

Update (Dec. 2nd 2005):

Well, it turns out that police officers get a mulligan when it comes to tickets. He sent me a form in the mail saying he really meant to cite me for violating CVC 21202(a), but was so shaken by my disregard for the sacrosanct laws of traffic (as interpreted by the One True Prophet, Ofc. Bartalini [Turn Signals Be Upon His Name], who happened to be waxing a bit wroth that day) that he stacked it on the first try. Gold star for effort, but he’s gonna lose this one.