Background, The city of Tempe was elevated to LAB’s Bicycle Friendly Community ‘Gold’ status in 2015; it had been ‘Silver’ for many years before
I guess their rating is up for reconsideration (every 4 years, maybe?)
[UPDATE: see below for 2019 outcome]
My input for Tempe BFC Survey
“Enforcement; Promoting safety and protecting bicyclists’ rights”
I’ve identified a handful of issues that should be addressed that revolve around enforcement, police, and (a local) law, numbered for convenience:
- Tempe has a bad local law
- Tempe has a culture of sidewalk riding
- Police misunderstanding of AFRAP law
- Police Training
- Police failure to investigate
- Police Claim 3-foot rule doesn’t apply in Bike Lanes
- Targeting Bicyclists for Enforcement(?)
1. Tempe has a Bad Local Law
This law, on the books since 1988, requires cyclists to yield the right of way before entering or crossing any roadway. This can be construed as changing normal rules of the road, and as such is dangerous and unfair to bicyclists. Two things must happen to make this acceptable:
- Parts of the law which could apply to bicyclists on roadways (most ‘bikeways’ are bike lanes) must be repealed; state regulation of right-of-way rules are already in place and correct for all users (bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians).
- It is the unfortunate situation that Arizona does not regulate bicyclists on sidewalks, necessitating local laws in that regard. That being said, the law needs to be updated to fairly regulate sidewalk cycling; as well as police interpretation. Police current say that “Please keep in mind that bicycles are not afforded any legal protection by a crosswalk or a walk sign because they are not pedestrians.”
The law is Tempe City Code Sec. 7-52. Riding on sidewalks or bicycle lanes and is fully documented here:
2. Tempe has a culture of sidewalk riding
I know this has a lot to do with facilities; but not necessarily as much as one might guess. I did a crash analysis for a segment of University Drive for 5 years of data. This segment has and had a bike lane, the large majority of crashes involved sidewalk cyclists. (see topic below about enforcement of traffic laws against bicyclists).
The trouble is, with regards to the Enforcement ‘E’ is that police behavior towards bicyclists feels like they are actively discouraging (or worse) bicyclists from using the road…
3. Police misunderstanding of AFRAP / Narrow Lane
The unjust ticket that a cyclist fought, is important and enlightening because it’s both fully documented, including the written opinion dismissing the ticket through appeal in Superior court, and a full trial audio. In the audio the Tempe PD officer brings up all the tropes (excerpts transcribed here) indicating that he was not trained in bicycling traffic law, nor in cycling best practices, or possibly is simply biased against cyclists.
Full documentation is at Arizona v. Goren.
I’ll also include one anecdote here because it happened to me: I was riding well-away from the right edge along a mult-laned arterial road. I was purposely riding away from the edge because I knew just ahead was a large drainage grate at the right. A police officer overtook me in-lane too closely (i reached out and tapped the vehicle). He pulled over and we had a chat. I told him he overtook me too closely to which he replied that i must ride as far right as practicable. I mentioned the grate; and he explained that it wasn’t his problem. He also mentioned off-hand the he thinks there might be a bike lane there (there isn’t , nor has there ever been), but that the stripe maybe was worn away. I thought that last statement was odd but it occurred to me later he might have been referring to #6 below.
4. Police Training
in 2016 I was very overjoyed to find an IPMBA Police Cyclist Instructor (PCI) listed for Tempe PD. I know that the IPMBA training is in itself thorough and rigorous, and instructor training must be more so. PCIs are thoroughly trained in among other things bicycle traffic safety, lane positioning, etc. and how it interacts with the law. I spoke to the named officer on the phone, at first he didn’t remember anything about bikes, or IPMBA or any such thing. Eventually he hazily allowed that maybe he did attend something (he apparently did, in Oct 2013). His knowledge of traffic law as it affects bikes was rudimentary, his knowledge of lane positioning was non-existent, suggesting bicyclists should (or perhaps are required to) use the sidewalk. His name soon after disappeared from IPMBA’s list, I have no idea what’s what.
On the LAB side; I’m not sure if there are any Tempe PD officers who are LCI, I’m not aware of any.
For a model, please see the training co-developed by the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists and the City of Glendale Police Department
I’ll mention here that Tempe PD has some sort of bike squad which is good, of course. However they only ever seem to be used in crowd control type situations (during events, street fairs, that type of thing), typically on the sidewalk; i mean i never see them out riding around town in normal transportation/patrol.
edit/addendum: the ASU Police Department (an independent agency) has multiple IPMBA certified instructors, which is, of course, great, particularly given the tiny size of their force compared with Tempe PD; their jurisdiction is only the campus of Arizona State University, and not city street per se.
5. Police Failure to Investigate
I became aware of an incident between a transit bus driver, and a cyclist, I encouraged those involved to file police reports as well as notify the transit operator; especially since there was likely surveillance video available on the bus. Two cyclists ultimately filed police reports on the incident; as well as notified the bus company in a very timely manner.
What is described in the report based on the cyclist(s) statements are not just harassment, not just endangerment, but aggravated assault by the driver. Police did not contact the driver, police did not view the video, police did not contact the bus company; police did not contact witnesses; they simply closed the case.
The full story, including the formal police report, is this-happened-one-day-in-tempe.
6. Police Claim 3-foot rule doesn’t apply in Bike Lanes
In other words, they claim there is no minimum passing clearance when a bicyclist is in a bike lane.
I have no idea where this comes from, it’s not in the plain language of the law, but official sources (this was the Lt. in charge of traffic operations) have told me:
Lastly, where does / doesn’t the 3 foot apply, specifically does a motor vehicle need to give 3 foot when overtaking and passing a bicyclist when they are fully in a designated bicycle lane. ARS 28-735 is applicable in a shared lane situations; if the bicycle is occupying / traveling in the bicycle lane and a motor vehicle is occupying / traveling in the adjacent lane there is no “shared lane” so the motor vehicles overtaking and passing obligation is to do it safely but not by 3 foot. Bicycle lanes and the other lanes of travel are typically wide enough to accommodate this “overtaking and passing” safely and depending on the type of vehicle and lane width, sometimes at more than 3 foot. I also contacted our court for their input, their opinion is consistence with the above explanations.
Tempe Police Department
The law is here: overtaking-bicycles-and-arizonas-three-foot-law the concept that it only applies to shared lanes is made up out of whole cloth.
The same claim was made by Flagstaff PD and the 3-foot law several years ago; they eventually admitted the law does require a minimum of 3-foot clearance regardless of whether or not there is a bike lane.
7. Targeting Bicyclists for Enforcement?
This one is hard to get to the bottom of, because to truly understand it the police would need to reveal internal policies; and or stats (stats they might not even collect?) Police anywhere have every right to issue traffic citations. The trouble comes when it’s selective; and further problematical when it’s disconnected from unsafe behaviors.
I’ve heard (sorry, it’s 2nd hand) several instances of police setting up near low (vehicle) volume, low speed intersections frequented by bicyclists and writing one-after-another ticket against bicyclists who do a slow roll rather than a “full stop”; with no one’s right-of-way violated, i.e. no vehicles or peds nearby. In one particular instance checking crash reports reveal it was at an intersection there have been ZERO reported bike-MV crashes in the prior 8 years, because it’s along a traffic-calmed street leading to the university at the intersection of another low-speed collector street, a large number of bicyclists pass through daily. Slow-rolls by bicyclists here is clearly not where the danger is coming from. You can also find at that same link a detailed list of the eight bicyclist fatalities in Tempe since 2009; none of which had anything to do with a stop sign, or a low speed street for that matter.
As mentioned above, Tempe for whatever reason has a culture of sidewalk riding; and wrong-way cycling is involved in a disproportionate amount of the reported crashes; it also happens to be illegal in the City (local law), and seems other than a few “sweeps” to have become largely unenforced, and may be in effect unenforceable.
Here’s the Survey announcement:
As part of our review process of each applicant community, we are collecting input from local bicyclists and bike advocates about their experiences and perceptions of biking conditions in Tempe through the survey linked below. These survey responses are used both to inform the League’s BFC award decision, as well as to provide (anonymous) local feedback to the applicant community about how they can improve conditions for bicyclists.
As someone directly involved in making your community more bicycle-friendly, we would love your input, as well as your help distributing the survey to other bicyclists in the area.
Please complete the following survey by March 24 to provide your input on Tempe …Again, the survey will close on Sunday, March 24. We plan to make BFC award announcements in May… Thank you for your help and valuable input! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Tempe’s 2019 Application / Result (#2019)
was raised from ‘silver’ to maintained ‘gold’. The city has since officially explored plans to pursue “platinum” (see Nov ’19 Transpo Commission packet)
There are a number of statements/answers in the application that I was surprised by. Here is what struck me, as well as some responses I received promptly from CoT staff (full response in comment below).
Question from Application in bold italics
Answer from application in normal font.
[response/additional info from Sue’s email bracketed in sea-green](my commentary in parenthetical red)
E1. How does your police department interact with the local cycling community
Identified law-enforcement point person to interact with bicyclists…
[Lieutenant Jim Peterson] (I am unaware there is someone in this role, but looking forward to learning details of how TPD actually trains their officers)
E6. Do any local ordinances in your community place restrictions on bicyclists? Check all that apply.
Local law requires that bicyclists are required to ride as far to the right of the road as practicable without exceptions
[The email explains it’s more or less a misunderstanding] (It’s troubling something this fundamental could get screwed up; and it’s troubling that LAB would bestow ‘gold’ status on a place that had a no-exceptions law)
F1. Is there a bike program manager or primary point of contact for bicycling issues at your local government?
There is a full-time, paid bike program manager (or similar role) whose primary focus is on bicycle-related projects.
[Chase Walman] (I am surprised that Tempe says they actually have someone in this role, at this point I guess we have to take them at their word)
F3. How many paid government employees (including the Bicycle Program Manager and the Safe Routes to Schools Coordinator), expressed in full-time equivalents (FTE), work on bicycle issues in your community?
[5.5] (again, I guess we have to take them at their word, but sounds a bit high; what do all those other people do?)
F5. Does your community have an officially-recognized Bicycle Advisory Committee?
[The Bike Advisory Committee was rolled into the Transportation Commission allowing for one citizen review body to review all modes…] (I find this a stretch)
The answer about police training, E4, where the answer quite literally appears to have simply “checked boxes” bears much deeper understanding, and needs to be followed up on.
E4. What kind of bicycle-related training is offered to police officers?
Basic academy training, International Police Mountain Bike Association training, Presentation/Training by League Cycling Instructor or local bicycle advocate, Training on bicycle crash types, numbers and locations
(this appears to be a poorly worded question, “offered”? Still, I’d be curious to know if or who/what LCI or local advocate is offering training to police? and of course, it needs to actually happen, not just be “offered”)
Regarding the “report card” — it appears none of the feedback I submitted, (a copy of which is above in this article listed items 1 through 7), nor any of similar feedback related to me by two other cyclists who also completed the survey made it into LAB’s findings. Why not? No one can say. LAB’s process is opaque. Was it received and ignored?
Thus i find it particularly galling that the LAB category score for Enforcement was rated 6 out of 10.
The City told me that the sole feedback they receive from LAB as a result of the BFC process is contained in the report card. I would have expected a more detailed feedback document be written by LAB, including if nothing else a synopsis of all feedback received. As it is it appears LAB just accepts whatever is on the application at face value.
A quick mention of a few items in the application that seem to me to be dubious but I haven’t delved into:
E11, the 5yr average number of bicyclist fatalities is answered as 0.4 (implying 2 fatalities in 5 years) is incorrect there were three in the period 2014-2018, and also three in 2013-2017 (this excludes the one 2014 fatal that was coded as occurring in Guadalupe); so the answer should be 0.6. This would presumably make the report card line item of fatalities /10K bike commuters significantly worse. Going forward the period 2015-2019 there were 4 (and 2019 is incomplete), in other words the answer to this question going forward for the next two years is at least 0.8
E10a, on the other hand, at 189 reported crashes/year sounds a bit high. I see 163 for 2013-2017; and 14-18 would be a bit lower (see here for why the official figures are suspect in the first place)
F3, the number of paid-full-time working on bicycling at 5.5 sounds high. Who are all these people?
F10, the percent of total transpo budget spent on bicycling was answered as 25%. That sounds really really high.
Tempe’s 2011 Application (#2011)
The 2011 is the most recent application I have on hand. There must have been one in 2015. The result of 2011 was either that LAB maintained or awarded an increase to Silver. (Gold was awarded in 2015).
Some of these answers don’t sound realistic or plausible; here are those Q/As extracts (in italics) along with some of my commentary (in regular typeface):
Twenty-five city employees working full time on bicycle issues doesn’t sound plausible
13. How many government employees, expressed in full-time equivalents, work on bicycle issues in your community?
I assume this was true at the time; the BAC has since been disbanded but I don’t really follow how or why:
14. Do you have a Bicycle Advisory Committee — yes
This would be good, who is this designated person?:
64. How does your police department interact with the local cycling community?
A police officer is an active member of bicycle advisory committee
Identified law-enforcement point person to interact with cyclists
If every Tempe Police officer really receives a 20 hour of specific bicycle training (assuming it includes actual traffic law and safety training, including best practices) that would be great, but alas sounds implausible:
65. What kind of training is offered to police officers regarding traffic law as it applies to bicyclists? Basic academy training
(box checked) International Police Mountain Bike Association or Law Enforcement Bicycle Association training
(box checked) Presentation by League Cycling Instructor or local cyclist
Other: Tempe mandates a 20 hour certification class related to bicycle training for its officers.
True then, not anymore:
(box checked) The community uses photo enforcement for red lights and/or speed