6 min read

Bicycle Advocacy - Spokane Police Stop Signal Incident

I was cited proceeding through an intersection on a bicycle after traffic cleared in Spokane while a police officer sitting at the intersection popped a u-turn and pulled me over. Ironically, the Washington Senate Bill 6208 "Safety Stop bill" was passed 3/18/20 -literally the day before.
Bicycle Advocacy - Spokane Police Stop Signal Incident

I was cited not for 'rolling through' a stop signal as I came to an intersection on a bicycle back in March, but for having sat at the light for like ninety seconds and when there was no traffic going the only direction it can go against a one-way road - I launched off the line and was beginning to build momentum so I could take the lane through the intersection and be safely visible to any potential motorists...

as motorists do, they expressed disdain and gesticulated wildly in mock outrage like 'oh those jerks on bikes just do whatever they want' indignantly while waiting for a motorcar to take them to their destination five whole minutes away which, in turn, would take forty-five minutes on a bike. A police officer sitting at the intersection pulled a u-turn and pulled me over to issue a citation.  

Ironically, the Washington Senate Bill 6208 "Safety Stop bill" was passed 3/18/20 -literally the day before this police officer listened to me citing the same reasons State Senator Andy Billig describes in the legislative session that results in the passage of this bill. Check out his testimony below or directly from the leg.wa.gov website. Emphasis mine:

Staff Summary of Public Testimony: PRO: There is a lot to like in this bill, but what made me like it even more was the very different states that have all adopted this policy. Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, and Oregon do not usually align on state policy, but they did see the merit of the policy for bicyclists being proposed in this bill.
This really is an intuitive change. Allowing cyclists to keep some of their momentum increases safety and traffic flow. Bicyclists usually stop off to the right at a stop sign, which puts them in a blind spot for some motorists. It is the bicyclist's responsibility to yield if a vehicle is in the intersection or fast approaching the intersection, and this bill will not change that responsibility. The advocates worked hard over the interim, engaging the State Patrol and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
Biking is a regular form of transportation for me. The safety stop proposed in the bill is important for me because it is safer and more intuitive. Stopping and starting is the hardest and most vulnerable time for bicyclists. This helps reduce the speed difference between me and the cars around me, and when the car does overtake me, I am out of the intersection which removes some unpredictability and traffic. I prefer to plan my routes so I travel in protected bike lanes or on roads with less vehicle traffic. We have also learned a great deal from other state experiences. Bicyclist's injuries declined in Idaho after passage of this law.
This legalizes typical behavior.

The Incident

Phillip Hocking pulled over by Officer Erhart of the Spokane Police Department on his bicycle.

This testimony given by the Honorable Senator Billig is essentially literally the same thing that I said to the police officer

I directly recall when Officer Erhart asked me what I thought I was doing, why didn't I see him there, etc... my reply was "Well of course I saw you there, we are in the middle of a pandemic and I'm sure you have something better to do than bother some guy riding home on his bike." He implied that while what I did was not unsafe as you can see for two-hundred yards down that hill, he said that I didn't have a healthy respect or appreciation for the law. When he went further and used the term 'scofflaw,' I recall being particularly incensed about that  as there was a time in my life where I was a scofflaw but I no longer resemble that man after many years of hard-won lessons and work. I know without even the slightest doubt that I am not only a responsible, productive, and taxpaying citizen - but a courteous and judicious one. He told me that his primary reason for pulling me over was because so many motorists saw me 'just blow through that signal' and make angry gestures towards him pointing at me like 'why don't you do something!?'

When I asked Officer Erhart if he believed what I was doing was unsafe as the only possibility for oncoming traffic was northbound traffic (I was in the southmost [right] lane facing east so oncoming traffic [as Maple is only a one-way] would only be coming from my right. Garland is at the top of a hill that allows for completely unobstructed view down this hill for at least 200 yards. In the embedded image below (or a link if you prefer) you can see the exact perspective I am describing here. While I was on my way home at like 3pm, there was absolutely no northbound traffic towards the end of the cycle of the light. The question for me was never "Do I see the Spokane Police officer directly across the street from me" because of course I did - the thought was just 'oh, intersection is clear, get moving before the light changes and one of these impatient jerks behind you tries to run you over or pass you even though you are taking the lane.

I realize that he isn't a bad dude and feels like he is just doing his job, however, this is the very thing that is wrong with the practicalities of actually commuting in a very, well, not progressive area of Eastern Washington. There is a very small community of cyclists, and even among those - the people who are like me and choose to commute via bicycle even as often as they drive are even more rare. Because cycling is not even 5% as prevalent in Spokane as in more metropolitan areas that struggle with traffic and have greater social and economic diversity, it doesn't really take much imagination to see that the officer is just making sure that the law is applied 'equally' to everyone who is sitting and waiting at that light, because just like the British 'queue' - Americans sit in traffic.

My response, while attempting to remain as polite as I possibly could, was that after over ten thousand miles on bicycles that I probably was more of an expert as to what was safe versus unsafe regardless of the letter of the law. I said if he followed me around in his cruiser all day every day that I would have done the exact same thing without question, and I probably do things dozens of times a day I could technically be cited for because as a subject matter expert on bicycle safety I have a firsthand lived experience that exceeds the knowledge of legislators and policemen alike, unless, the specific policeman or legislator is also a cyclist. I further stated that if he was to ride a road bike and keep up with me every week for a few hours a month, he wouldn't even be able to fathom the idea of citing me, because he would know first-hand the experiences of almost being hit by inattentive drivers, motorists trying to crowd you into the shoulder even when you are taking a lane, and revving behind you with hostility while it takes time for you to build up momentum and launch to what ends up being fifteen miles-per-hour under the posted speed limit when the car is trying to go ten over. This I believe is where Officer Erhart felt it necessary to cite me is that I wasn't even repentant or accepting of his authority - not because he was not possesed of authority - but because it was not merited for him to utilize his authority in that manner.

Spokane Police Ethical Standard 1.5: Officers of the Spokane Police Department shall endeavor to uphold the spirit of the law, as opposed to enforcing merely the letter of the law.

I wasn't scoffing at the law, I was doing what I know from firsthand experience of riding surreptitiously out of the way of traffic - that it is potentially fatal and certainly injurious. I learned this being hit by a car requiring surgery when I didn't have any money or insurance; I still have derogatory marks on my credit from that encounter nearly 10y ago. I would do it again, and that is why I am going to file a subpoena to have an infraction hearing and state my case before a judge. I am less concerned about not paying the fine than I am about making a good impression on everyone involved about cycling and safety, and I hope that Officer Erhart can normalize the idea of changing his opinion when confronted with new data, like, quite literally the state law changed the day before because a senator said exactly what I had just said to him.

Fat guy on a bike wearing a shirt about a fat guy on a bike.

There probably will be some folks who read this that say 'the law changed but isn't effective until OCTOBER and the law says stop SIGNS not stop LIGHTS and to you folks, all I can say is that I hope God blesses and preserves you today.