Cycling and Smart Enforcement in Arlington
Our roads are governed by rules and 'rules.' Getting enforcement right is an important part of keeping them safe.
When the League of American Bicyclists is evaluating a city as a Bicycle Friendly Community, it focuses on "The 5 E's" -- Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation and Planning.
As I wrote earlier this year, Arlington comes out pretty well on most of these points. Enforcement, however, has... well, let's just say that there are few people in Arlington who are satisfied with it. It must be improved.
At the outset – No, I'm not talking about strict enforcement of every law against cyclists (or motorists). As much as it seems to be the rallying cry for those who are curiously blind to their own transgressions, strict enforcement of our existing traffic laws is neither possible nor desirable.
Putting aside the kind of world we'd be living in if even the slightest infraction -- going 26 mph in a 25-mph zone, for instance -- resulted in a ticket, there simply aren't the resources to adopt such a strict approach. I regularly hear wailing about why we don't see enforcement in this or that particular low-traffic location (that they just happen to pass every day). The wailer never seems to take into account that if everyone's priorities were to be satisfied, we'd need a cop and/or camera on every single corner in Arlington.
And people thought the Artisphere was expensive.
Even assuming the resources to enforce the existing law to the letter, would we really want to? No, not really. As in so many other areas of our society, our laws don't exactly track our actual expectations. Jay Unfelder, a political scientist and local cyclist, recently wrote:
"If you tried to survive [riding on the street] by counting on people to follow the formal rules, you’d be toast. Some of this is just ignorance of the law, but some of it -– like speeding -– is the result of informal practices that dominate the formal rules. Some of those informal practices might be more efficient than their formal counterparts, but surely some are not. So, even in places where “rule of law” supposedly prevails, many of our daily practices are still built around shared expectations based on unwritten and sometimes inefficient rules, and these unwritten rules can be very hard to dislodge when they are widely followed."
People will always rush through yellow lights. Motorists mostly won't respect bike lanes at intersections and many cyclists will never come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign for the simple sake of the stop sign. So if we've generally accepted these practices, what's left to enforce? Behavior that poses an immediate danger to others.
Blowing red lights at high speed? Ticket. Riding recklessly on a crowded sidewalk? Ticket. While there are other things that deserve warnings, like riding without lights at night, these two dangerous behaviors can result in injury to others. They deserve enforcement priority, along with motorists that fail to yield the right of way at intersections or blow lights themselves.
The intersection of North Lynn Street and Lee Highway, near the Key Bridge, would be the perfect place to start such an enforcement campaign.
Enforcement only works when it's smart.
I know many readers were expecting a direct rebuttal to this ridiculous piece over at the Ballston-Virginia Square Patch. Honestly, WABA's executive director did a better job than I would have done, and you should go read it here. There will always be aggressively ignorant opinions on the Internet. While some can be constructively engaged, there's often little point to it, and I'm pretty much done with that one.
There's plenty of reasonable debate to be had about how to best accommodate the transportation needs for all users in Arlington.
But that piece? Has nothing to do with that debate.
Mark Blacknell is chairman of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.