I’m proud to introduce this guest post by my classmate Nate Seeskin. Nate, thanks for writing up your experience and sharing it with the blog!
I never thought I’d see the day: a cop pulled me over while I was on my bicycle. It was around 1:30 PM on a sunny Tuesday, August 30th of this year. Ironically, I had just left a group meeting for my Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Planning class (Katy is in this class with me). I was biking on Cameron Avenue toward Columbia Street on UNC’s campus, heading home for an afternoon’s rest.
For anyone who doesn’t know this stretch of Cameron Avenue well, let’s just say that biking, driving, and walking on it is incredibly frustrating; during the morning and afternoon, students zig-zag across the street left and right as they head to classes, sometimes on the designated crosswalks and sometimes not. Cars and bicycles weave around each other make limited-visibility turns on tiny side streets. The intersection at Columbia and Cameron also has a “scramble” signal that allows pedestrians to cross the whole intersection diagonally to make their way onto campus, which can be a new and confusing experience for drivers and cyclists alike.
So how did I get pulled over? I was biking westward on the on-campus stretch of Cameron when two cars in front of me stopped for pedestrians in a crosswalk. Being somewhat impatient and seeing that many more pedestrians would cross before the cars could begin to move, I decided to pass these cars on the left and go through the crosswalk. All of a sudden I heard it: the blast of a cop’s siren. I pulled over to find that on a motorcycle was a Chapel Hill Police officer, not UNC Public Safety, ready to berate me. DRAT! After taking my ID, the cop luckily decided not to ticket me, framing this as an educational opportunity (which I learned the day before is one of the 5 E’s of bicycle planning: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation. Many add Equity as the 6th “E”). The officer reminded me that when I’m on the road, I must follow the rules of all other vehicles and that any violation would receive the same penalty as an automobile.
At the time, my heart was racing, but after the incident I tried to find some humor in it. How often are we cyclists and pedestrians legally penalized for breaking street rules? That being said, I think there are some valuable reflections. First, I want to acknowledge that yes, I did commit a street violation and the cop was right in pulling me over. That being said, my breaking the law at that moment fits into a much greater picture of street behavior on UNC’s campus, in Chapel Hill, and all throughout North Carolina and the US at large. Roads in Chapel Hill and throughout the Research Triangle are generally not bike-friendly and are designed for the uninhibited movement of cars (surprised? If you read CarfreeinCarrboro regularly, probably not). When I shared this story with my classmates in my graduate program, numerous individuals expressed how stressful biking on Cameron Avenue can be.
I try my best to follow all street rules, especially when riding my bicycle. I usually stop at traffic lights, use hand signals to communicate with pedestrians, drivers, and other cyclists, and always wear my helmet. Not only does it ensure my and everybody else’s safety, but it builds goodwill toward other users of the road. That being said, I have broken rules and made mistakes like all other road users do.
Many of you reading this post who do not bike routinely might still think “Gosh bikers break the rules all the time and are the worst”. If you think that, I urge you to continue reflecting about our roles on the road. In order to ensure our safety, as pedestrians, drivers, public transit users, and cyclists, we must all come to see each other as equals on the road with needs that are different from one another. What those needs are can lead into another blog post if not many more. For now, I’ll just say this: in a world with better infrastructure for all users of the road, I, as a cyclist should not have to instinctively resort to moving past two stopped cars. We need designated places on the road. I wouldn’t have been pulled over if there was a less frustrating area to bike through.