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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.

7 Responses to “Berkeley’s Finest: Saving Us From The Nasty, Evil Bicycleses”

  1. Bill de Carion Says:

    Coda, last night I got my 5th $196 ticket in the last year for seat belt infraction. I was putting my seat belt on when I approached an officer stopped on my left on the corner of Bancroft and Bowdich.He saw me in the act of putting my belt on and gave me a ticket anyway. A previous infraction occurred while I was moving my car around the block. A friend of mine recently got a ticket for not ”fully stopping”
    on her bike at a stop sign when the officer stated that he observed her ”not putting one foot down” at the stop. These are just a few incidents that have reached my attention and I have come to believe that the current policy at the BPD is one of extreme inforcement of inconsequential traffic infractions that is designed to most likely increase the revenue stream into the City of Berkely treasury. I have lived in Berkeley for 42 years and I cannot remember a time when the Berkeley Police has targeted it’s law biding citizenry in this manner. Historically most inforcement has been, understandably, toward hard crime, drug, burglary, theft, domestic violence, etc. enforcement. The problem is there is just money out, not in, by doing only that. Most decent citizens prefer not to think there is a quota system, me included, until now. I believe this is real when I am afraid to drive my car or ride my bike in the city of Berkeley. Given my age I am an amateur at finding out through the computer who has had similar experiences like yours and mine. Can you make a suggestion on how I might access other complaints posted on the computer and how to solicit others? I intend to take this issue forward with testimony, public records statistics, interviews with the goal of changing this policy.
    Thanks, Bill in Berkeley

  2. Coda Says:

    Well, Bill, I don’t think the information will be readily accessible online. While the federal and state administrations are getting much better about publishing information online, I imagine that publishing this kind of data isn’t high on Berkeley’s priorities.

    As far as self-published stuff, Googling for Berkeley traffic tickets comes up with a few message board posts. A search would probably turn up a few blog posts like mine, but I think your best best would be to register and put up a message board or somesuch to solicit comments. A few posts, perhaps on Craigslist, would probably get a few visitors. Everyone wants to talk about their tickets. ;-)

    Your best friends for finding the governmental information, I’d imagine, would be one of the librarians at the Berkeley public library. They’re incredible guides for navigating the various mazes of governmental information, and they’d probably be able to help you plan out a good strategy for collecting other peoples’ stories.

    For starters, there’s an article on Berkeley’s traffic tickets from the East Bay Express, which mind you isn’t exactly known for its journalistic integrity.

    Feel free to use my post here in your work, and do let me know how your investigation progresses. It’d also be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between changes in federal or state funding and ticket revenue for cities. As you said, tickets are big business.

  3. Dave Steichen Says:

    I just got a ticket for not stopping at a Dwight and Ninth. I saw the officer as I was approaching the stop, so I’d have to be pretty dumb to run the stop. But evidently my “tires did not come to a complete stop behind the line.” At least the pimp and his who’s two blocks away will be busy tonight.

  4. Courtney Newbie Traffic Law Breaker Says:

    I just got done reading this blog and can totally relate to the frustration you have all described regarding the BPD. Tonight in a half daze I was driving with my kids to go pick up my husband from the Bart station and was pulled over at the intersection of 9th and Heinz streets for rolling a stop sign. I was not endangering other motorists because there were none. There was no one but me and the BPD at the intersection. I then asked the officer upon receiving my ticket “how much will it cost me?”. Surprise! -No really, IT IS A SURPRISE. So I am sitting here anxious and mad that I have no idea how much I am in for on this stupid ticket and yet hookers are wondering up and down my street as we speak… dropping used condoms in our bushes. I really wish the BPD would work on the people that are out there doing overtly illegal, potentially dangerous, or hurtful things versus pulling over the Moms of the world who are listening to their kids blab in the backseat, hurrying to pick up their husband who has been at work for 12 hours, and didn’t come to a complete stop during it all, GOD FORBID!

  5. nic Says:

    wow, i guess no one will read this, but being as someone who commutes with a bike, the infraction of “not coming to complete stop” only means trouble when I am on the other end (every day). There is a difference between san fransisco traffic and berkeley traffic… give me market steet and you’ll see a healthy rider…

    no one can stop at a berkeley stop sign. ever…
    Can noone be civil in their turn in society?
    i am not right but want to be heard. Thank you, nicole

  6. chris Says:

    In Berkeley half the time I drive, and half the time I ride my bike. In three years I have seen maybe a couple thousand bike riders but have ever seen only two (2!) of them stop at a stop sign during that time. This includes gray-headed grannies, moms or dads with kids on the back, professors, cops, students, kids, anyone. All roll right through usually without even looking for cross traffic!!! Don’t they know that stopping at stop signs is required by common sense? And the law? And is a courtesy to other drivers and bikers, so that they can anticipate what other users of the road will do (and so drivers will not have to hesitate and second-guess bicyclists all the time)? Not to mention all the riding on sidewalks or against the flow of traffic. Some bicyclists do stop at red lights, though–even when there’s no cross traffic! Chris

  7. Coda Says:

    I totally agree with you, Chris — and those bicyclists make it harder on me when I ride around Berkeley. Unless I put my foot down and stare intently at the car to my right at a stop sign, there’s the awkward you-no-you-no-you stutter effect. I work in Berkeley, so I get to see bicycles on sidewalks, going up one-way streets, rolling through stop lights on busy intersections, trying to weave through totally full cross-walks… and that’s the stuff I wish the Berkeley police would crack down on. But I’ve never seen a Berkeley police officer writing a ticket to a person on a bicycle anywhere near Telegraph.

    (That said, I do tend to roll through stop signs if no one’s around, but I slow way down to make sure that no one is indeed around, and I feel bad about doing it.)