Red & Blue In The Rear View... Again??


On the morning of Sunday, January 24, 2010, at about 06:55, I was riding south on 19th Avenue in Phoenix on my way to meet up with the Arizona Bicycle Club's Granada Chapter for the weekly breakfast ride (I lead one of the groups). 19th Avenue is a typical Phoenix arterial street - six 10-11 ft wide lanes (3 NB, 2 SB, one turn lane), and no bike lane or shoulder. As is typically the case on an early Sunday morning, I had the street almost to myself due the low traffic volume. Since an 11 ft outside lane is too narrow for a motor vehicle to pass me legally in the same lane, I was riding near the center of the outside lane - a riding position fully supported by ARS 28-815.A.4, 28-735, and other laws.

Unfortunately, someone else didn't see it that way. As I was approaching Mountain View, the street was illuminated from behind much brighter than my halogen headlight, as a Phoenix Police Tahoe had all its red, blue, and white flashers & spotlights lit up behind me.

OK - signal right turn, execute turn, signal stop, stop, step off pedals, keep hands fully visible, no sudden moves. Check.

Two Phoenix Police officers stepped out of the vehicle and approached me. The first started explaining why he initiated the stop. He apparently patrols this area frequently, and is concerned about the high numbers of impaired drivers out and about early on Sundays. He stated that my riding position was not safe given the conditions existing at that time, and that state law required me to ride either 18 inches from the curb face (right on the gutter seam) or preferably on the sidewalk. His expression and tone seemed to me of sincere (if slightly misguided) concern.

I asked him very clearly if he was officially requesting that I ride on the sidewalk. His answer: "Yes".

I have learned from the misfortunes of others that attempting to engage the officers in a discussion of the finer points of Arizona Revised Statutes at this point typically gets one a paper souvenir and a response of "tell it to the judge". I then only asked the officer for his name and his badge number, and he in turn thought it would only be fair that I also reciprocate and provide ID - which I did.

As they returned to the Tahoe to confirm my disappointing absence of an extensive criminal record, I took the opportunity to (slowly and carefully) pull out my hard copy of Arizona Bicycling Street Smarts from my bag and open it to the section on Arizona bicycle laws (just to be sure I'd read 'em right earlier).

When the officers (who were professional throughout the contact) returned to me. they asked me to explain why I might be riding in the manner I chose. I then did a polite yet brief 3-minute overview of the following points:

After this, the officer stated he'd learned a bit, and agreed that no action would be taken - although it seemed clear that he wasn't entirely convinced that "riding in the middle of the road" could be the safest practice. They departed, I looked at my watch - and then rode at a very brisk pace to meet up with the group (got there with a minute to spare!)

So, in hindsight, some lessons from this contact:

  1. It would seem the City of Phoenix Police care about their citizens, but have very little training in proper bicycle law & operation - and this type of "teachable moment" isn't very efficient for anyone involved.
  2. It would seem a positive approach by all involved saved some aggravation and court dates (and motions for dismissal based on recent cases, etc.), and allowed for a useful dialogue.
  3. My biggest concern was the officer's repeated assertion that I was failing to "share the road" in my style of riding. It seems clear that the officer's interpretation of "share" was that I was compelled to share _that_ lane at all times, regardless of width or other conditions. As many of you know, I have never been much of a fan of the "share the road" signing concept since its imposition in 1997, and this incident doesn't make me any happier. It should also be noted that the City of Phoenix has installed non-standard "Share The Road" signs on many arterials since 1998 - but these signs depict a bicycle to far right of motor vehicles, implying that the default definition of "share" is the same as the officers' (if you're not over to the far right, you're not "sharing").

Looks like I'll need to write a few polite letters...


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Updated 25 January 2010

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