The truth about traffic enforcement — and those wacky cyclists — from a traffic enforcer

Few recent e-mails to city council have summarized drivers’ frustrations with cyclists as colourfully as the citizen whose e-mail triggered the following reply from VPD traffic officer Jeff Schwenneker.

Schwenneker’s answer, reprinted with his permission, summarizes the common sense approach adopted by Vancouver police. The original complaint follows Schwenneker’s note, but I have removed the writer’s name for reasons that will be obvious.

My name is Jeff Schwenneker and I have been a police officer for 26 years.  I have been assigned to the Traffic Section of the Vancouver Police Department for the last 19 years.  Your e mail has been sent to me for response.   I am not a cyclist.  However, cycling is an alternative form of inexpensive, non polluting transportation.  It is exercise and fitness does provide benefits both personally and to society.  Some cycle for the very reason that they can’t afford vehicles.

The administration costs of regulating the cycling world would be high and probably not be covered by the amount of cyclists out on the road.  Cyclists are already governed by the BC Motor Vehicle Act and City of Vancouver By-Law 2849.

A common view regarding compliance with traffic laws, which I agree with, is that there is a need for both education and enforcement.  There are cyclists who have been cycling for 20-25 years in Vancouver who have never been injured, or stopped by police.  We tend to overlook the good and concentrate on the bad behaviors that we observe.

While those of us who drive and share the road with hundreds of vehicles it is the one vehicle that exhibits some form of aggressive or dangerous behavior that stands out.

I spend a lot of time driving and like you, I observe various bad driving behavior.  It appears to me that the percentage of poor behavior is higher among cyclists than vehicle operators. In my view, educating cyclists first and then using appropriate enforcement to ensure compliance with traffic laws is the answer.

The Vancouver Police Department has conducted education campaigns in effort to ensure cyclists know the road rules.  Our Community Road Safety and Education Team lecturers to school children on road safety. Our Traffic Enforcement Officers issue traffic law offenders Violation Tickets in an effort to change behaviors.

Cyclists are vulnerable road users.  Over the last several years we have seen an increase the number of cyclists on the roads with an associated rise in the number of cyclists injured and killed in traffic collisions. Yet our enforcement efforts remained primarily on motor vehicle infractions.

As the result of this, and the large number of complaints related to cycling behaviors, in 2009 the Vancouver Police Department developed an bicycle education campaign which was followed by an increase in cycling related enforcement.

In 2010 there have been 2596 tickets issued to cyclists.  There have been 45,528 Violation Tickets issued so far this year for Motor Vehicle Act infractions.  There were 42,932 tickets issued to vehicular traffic.  Cyclists have received six percent of the total ticket number.

Cyclists are a very small percentage of the road users, they definitely get a higher percentage of tickets issued to them than vehicle operators on a per capita basis.  This is not reflective of an unbalanced enforcement effort but of the relative number of violations committed by cyclists.  While we see seat belt compliance rates between 95-98 percent, bicycle helmet compliance, by my observations is less than 50 percent.

It is the Vancouver Police Department’s goal to see that all road users comply with traffic laws and that one group is not over represented in the number of violations committed.   So far this year the Vancouver Police Department has issued 3,727 electronic device tickets. This is for people talking on hand held cell phones or texting while driving.

This is a substantial number of tickets considering the enforcement of the new law began in February. The VPD will continue its efforts to eliminate the use of hand held cell phone use during driving 40% of all collisions occur as the result of driver distraction.

Vancouver is a very large city with an increasing number of pedestrian and cyclists.  As well, we are seeing an increase alternate motorized vehicles on our roads and sidewalks related to an aging and infirmed population.  It is important that everyone obey all traffic laws and respect the right of others regardless of their elected mode of transportation.

From: [name deleted]
Sent: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 12:59 PM
To: Correspondence Group, City Clerk’s Office
Subject: Bike Lanes

As a tax paying voter I wonder why cyclists who are using the bike lanes can’t contribute to the cost of bike lanes.

If the city was to charge a CITY of VANCOUVER bike license fee of say $50 ($4.16/month) a year to cyclists and put that fee towards various costs and privilege of cycling in the city. This fee might exclude children up to and including the age of 16 and bike couriers who already have licenses. Also I would like to see the police start handing out fine to cyclists without lights and helmets.

Frankly I find cyclists for the most part a pain in the ass, I am constantly avoiding these idiots who don’t realize that, if they are on a city street that they must follow the same rules as a car. I have been hit several times by cyclists who run a stop sign and try to avoid my Jeep, I’m at the point where I’d love to just throw their damn bikes under my Jeep and crush them.

I realize that the police are extremely busy but when a cyclist passes them on the road and he or she doesn’t have a helmet on, fine them. Pull the offenders over and lay down the law and at night if the police see a cyclist with no lights FINE THEM, if they don’t have a Vancouver Cycling license, FINE THEM.

We have had bike routes in the city prior to the mayor’s crusade but if you take a look, there are more cyclist NOT using these routes than using them. I don’t like cyclist passing me when I’m driving say on Broadway and some idiot deems it necessary to pass me on the curb side and I’m in the curb lane. Correct me if I’m wrong but, that is against the law.

Like city buses that run red lights, cyclists are becoming more brazen about taking that risk. Have you ever driven up behind a cyclist who is plugged into their damn I pod and is just grooving their way along the street, hands off the handlebars totally oblivious to what the hell is going on around them, FINE THEM. If a driver has to take a test to have the privilege of driving a car then maybe cyclists should take some kind of test because if you watch them, they are breaking more road rules than most motorists.

Now just one more rant. Cell phone use and texting!! I drive a very tall but legal Jeep and I constantly see people texting from their laps when they are trying to drive. My Jeep is tall enough to look down into most vehicles. It burns me to no end seeing this. The numbers of people who still think they can talk on their phones and drive is off the wall.

If a police officer was to walk down the middle of a street when the light is RED they’d nail hundreds of idiots and most of these idiots are young women who seem to have a need to keep up with all the latest gossip. PLEASE FIX THIS! These texters are easy to spot, if they are looking up and down while driving, they are texting, it’s that simple. Hell, I see people pulling into the City Hall parkade texting.

Those are my rants and I hope that this e-mail gets to the right people.

Thank you.