Sunday, September 21, 2014

Building Relationships through Constructive Dialogues

Not too long ago I was nearly hit by a car on my morning commute to work. The most upsetting thing wasn't the near-accident, but rather a local law enforcement officer's inaction. By sharing my incident, I hope others can encourage their local law enforcement to become informed and be part of the active development of a better bike culture in the Upstate.

I was riding in what I call super nerd gear - yellow reflective safety vest, orange t-shirt, front and back lights flashing - making sure that I was doing my best to be visible. As I approached the intersection, I noticed a car approaching from the perpendicular side street. Watching the driver with a mindful eye, aware that he might either obey or disregard the stop sign, I continued to ride forward. I had the right of way, and the driver had a stop sign. As he initially stopped, I proceeded to make my way into the intersection. Then he started forward again...then stopped and then hit the gas to plow through the intersection, nearly hitting me, and took off.

Moments after the near-accident, I decided to let it go. I was shaken and upset, but I realized that chasing after the car would have accomplished nothing positive. However, I noticed a local police car parked nearby. Curious, I biked on over. Greeting the officer in the car, I asked if he had seen what had transpired. To my surprise, he replied that, though hadn't seen the car nearly hit me, he had heard me yell and saw the car driving away.

I paused in disbelief. Once I gathered my composure, I decided to take the opportunity to encourage him to consider taking action if he were to come upon a similar incident in the future. He didn't have much to say in reply, so I politely repeated my point and continued on my way.

It's important to remember that police officers have a tough job, and they take on a lot of stress in dealing with the public. However, part of their role in enforcing public safety also includes looking out for the safety of people on bikes. Acknowledging that it will take some time for police departments to to learn local and state bike laws, officers should determine how they contribute to a culture of bike safety and inclusion in their community.

There is a lot of education and culture change that is occurring in communities across the country. The infrastructure is beginning to appear, but we're in the midst of a messy, fun, necessary and slow learning process where we figure out how cars and bikes should co-exist. Leaders, decision makers and community members should foster opportunities where folks can be exposed to these kinds of new ideas in a non-threatening, fun way through public safety campaigns, events and other programs.

My hope is that the police officer I spoke that morning brought this challenging situation back to his department. Questioning the status quo and encouraging open, positive dialogue where people can learn is an important part of change. Public law enforcement officers are critical allies in creating better places to bike, and helping them find their role in addressing public safety will make better communities for all of us.

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