Informal traffic stop leads to good discussion

Great story from Matthew’s bike commute this morning . . .

So, this morning I was cajoling fun out of Gabriel, who really wanted to take the car because it’s “not so fast.” (He’s decided that he doesn’t care for the faster downhills on the bike.  We keep taking them a bit slower, but he was pretty upset when we didn’t capitulate on his car request this morning.)

The houses decorated for Halloween helped; the bucket truck did too, but the jackhammer he didn’t get to see almost touched off world war three.  Anyway, we were doing fine again when I entered Brannon northbound after Fyler.  This is always a slightly tricky stretch as there is a very wide lane that is intended for parking and driving.  In the absence of parked cars, riding to the right is still unsafe due to the debris that collects there (particularly bad on that segment), and a too far right position, when I can’t be all the way over, typically gets very bad (i.e., too close, very unsafe) split lane or in-lane passes.

I actually did move right at one point and allowed one vehicle to pass, but after that there was a full-size black pickup.  Given the truck’s size, and the room required for a safe pass, encouraging lane sharing, even in a wide lane, just wasn’t smart.  To avoid a bad pass, I kept lane control position.  Since the oncoming travel lane was empty, I was actively encouraging the driver of the truck to change lanes to pass, but he remained behind me.

After the next stop sign, the driver finally did pass, but he slowed down and parked right before the next intersection.  I debated waiting or going by him as he completed his stop, but when he started opening his door I was thinking, “Oh boy, here we go.”  I prepared to steer wide of him with a friendly wave (as friendly as I can) and get us the heck out of there, when I noticed the driver had blues on.

He asked me to pull over for a moment, and I, of course, did so.  At that point, I was apprehensive, because I know how wrong things went in the Cherokee Schill case.  The officer expressed his concern that I was too far left and that me waving people around instead of getting right might make other drivers mad and create a bad situation.  He told me he was especially versed in bicycle law because he’d had extra training recently to deal with mopeds (and they’re to follow bicycle regulations), and he talked about as far to the right as is safe.

I told him I really appreciated his concern for our safety.  Then I talked a bit about getting safer passes when not too far right.  The officer talked about his appreciation for my hand signals and stopping at the stop sign.  Eventually, I talked about the passing distances study, and we kept getting less uncomfortable and more friendly as we communicated with each other for a while.

I talked about my wish that there were more police available to enforce traffic rules for everyone, and he agreed.   Gabriel was awesome in all of this, mostly being quiet, occasionally asking to get to school, and giving me the opportunity to tell him that we’d be going soon, but that it was important for us to stop and talk to the officer who was concerned about our safety.  I think that may have helped a lot.

I expressed my sincere appreciation for the difficult job our officers do day in and day out.  Toward the end he told me that with the new information about the study, and with our discussion, he agreed that I was within the law riding further left if I believed it to be the safest place.

After that, I owned up to being a CyclingSavvy instructor and invited him to come to our classes.  He seemed pretty interested in coming to one sometime.

On the extra awesome side, this police “officer” was actually a sergeant, and he said he likes to learn more so he has answers when he’s asked for information in the scope of his duties either from above or below in the chain of command.  I truly hope to see this friendly sergeant at a future CyclingSavvy class.

It’s a complicated and challenging world, but discussions like the one we had this morning keeps my optimism regarding the good hearts and good work of our law enforcement officials alive.


  1. EcoCatLady says:

    Pretty cool to see a police officer willing to engage in that manner – though I have to admit I was really confused at first. In my world “having blues on” means you’re playing blues music on the radio! I had to read it several times to figure that out, lol!

  2. A simple response coming from my not-always simple mind:

    “Oh, heck, yes!”

    Glad this went well.

    Would that more such interactions go well.

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