Thursday, February 18, 2010

Safe Routes to School according to the Santa Monica Police Department

Santa Monica High School, 17 February 2010, 3:20 pm

After school students find the police in front of the Michigan Gate, right next to the bike parking. It is Wednesday, school started late, a good day to go by bike and not use the car. In the course of the police operation against cyclists three tickets are being issued to student cyclists for not wearing helmets. Is that a way to encourage kids to ride the bike?

Students riding the bike to school do the right thing. They support the environment. They reduce traffic congestion. They improve their health through active transportation. They reduce the carbon footprint. They live in a Bicycle Friendly Community (Bronze). Students under 18 who do not wear a helmet break the law.

Those who use a car to drive or be driven to school increase pollution, traffic, obesity. If they use a hand-held phone while driving they break the law.

If you want to support your young cyclists in a bicycle friendly city you reach out to them. With information. With warnings. By applying for grants to offer free helmets to the kids who cannot afford one. Or by rewarding those who wear a helmet. You go out and partner with the school, with student groups, with the PTSA and offer bike safety classes. Stay tuned. Continue the conversation that the local bicycle advocacy group has started with the police in May 2009. This is work and it takes time. Ticketing a few kids is easy. But it does not bring you respect. It brings contempt. In the process the police loses community which is the worst thing that can happen to a police force. If you speak to a child who knows about the environmental impact of fossil fuels, it may be a good idea to turn off the motor of your vehicle. Kids take note of these things. In this process kids have to learn the law, and the police has an equal responsibility to learn how to deal with kids and cyclists.

Indeed, on the basis of a sustained educational effort, especially if it is embedded in a diversion program, which removed the fine when the student attends a safe cycling class, a ticket does have its value. But probably not every officer is suited to this delicate work with children. Some forget to take off their dark reflective sunglasses when talking to a child. Some have never received special training for dealing with adolescents and children, and are more suited to work with hardened criminals. Some have never ridden a bike on city streets, and confuse the public by cycling on the extended sidewalk which is Third Street Promenade. Why not ride your bike while interacting with students? Would it not be a good idea to coordinate with the school or the school district in order to develop a comprehensive educational program for young cyclists? To support them and to make them safe? And to acknowledge that the helmet by itself does not make you safe, that only safe cycling education offers you the tools to stay safe on city streets. Without a sustained educational program, ticketing works as bicycle discouragement. If DUI checkpoints are being announced in advance, why not announce a helmet checkpoint?

Speaking about helmets is only half the story at this school. This school is located close to Lincoln Boulevard, and many students will have to use or cross Lincoln Blvd to get to school. This being Santa Monica, the police may well give you another ticket if they see you cycling on the sidewalk on Lincoln. It sounds unbelievable, but I have seen it happen more than once. More bicycle discouragement from the SMPD? Sure, in this city it  it is not legal to cycle on the sidewalk, and for many well documented reasons, the sidewalk is an unsafe place for cyclists, but Lincoln is a really horrible street, for children and adults, to share with cars. This community deserves better solutions than tickets.

So if you are a cyclist, or a parent, or a student, and you think the SMPD does not do enough to encourage cycling in this Bicycle Friendly Community (Bronze), or if you want to support the police action, please leave your comments below, and come to the next City Council Meeting on February 23, and offer you opinion during the public comment period. 

Police deputy chief Sanchez is so kind to meet concerned cyclists on Wednesday 24th Feb, 2010 at 3:30. Please let me know if you want to attend so that we can prepare the meeting. We are specially interested to strengthen our "legal department", and concerned citizens with expertise in civil liberties and equity issues are encouraged to get in touch with velocipedus at gmail dot com. We also warmly welcome highschool and middle school students to get in touch.

1 comment:

jericho1ne said...

I cannot wrap my head around how such a small beach town can come to such draconic conclusions - in this case, that city police officers, in full gear w/ squad car are necessary to "educate" our future cyclists.

I could keep bringing up the differences between LA (yes, Santa Monica gets lumped in with the megalopolis of LA) and other cities where cycling is king, but then people would get offended. America is car centric, and this kind of action from SMPD just shows how that affects one's judgement.

Why doesn't SMPD post squad cars all over Santa Monica near grocery stores and question every single motorist "Sir/Madam, did you _really_ need to drive to the store today? Do you live within 1-2 miles of this store?"

This could also make it safer for our kids to cycle by ensuring their lazy asses leave their car at home.