Wednesday, January 13, 2010


one of the items on the agenda at the bicycle advisory committee meeting last night was a report from lieutenant bryan parman of the portland police bureau traffic division on the fallout from the "disappearing bike lane" decision a few weeks ago.

as noted here in "hey, thanks for the paint," in december a traffic court judge tossed a ticket for failure yield to a cyclist in a bike lane because the crash occurred in an intersection, where the lane is not striped.

parman wanted to reassure the BAC that this was no big deal, not likely to happen again, the other three pro tem traffic court judges would probably not follow the ruling, maybe judge zusman himself would rule differently next time around, etc.

he acknowledged that another charge might have stuck, such as making an unlawful or unsignaled turn (which is actually a much less serious offense), or careless driving (which is considerably more serious), but he said the officer at the scene had discretion to issue what he thought was the appropriate ticket, and "we don't want to be piling on" the poor beleaguered motorist (his words in quotes, mine outside).

which is an interesting insight all by itself.

i asked parman whether there was any mechanism for review of these things before they go before the judge, maybe add in other charges to be sure something would stick, and he said no -- in fact, the city attorney's office is rarely involved in these matters at all: the officer who issued the ticket functions in effect as the prosecutor, on his own.

this tells me that there is a need for bike advocates to get in and provide some education to the traffic patrol. it is only slightly reassuring that the officer here knew there was some kind of statute involving failure to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane, but actually this may have blinded him to the idea that these other offenses could also have been charged. what tickets would he have written if another motor vehicle had been struck.

to bolster his case that the BAC need not concern itself with this quirk, parman mentioned that he and/or people from his department have had conversations with at least the other three traffic judges, specifically with reference to this case. and he mentioned that, y'know, charges can be amended up to the date of trial, and, um, we sometimes talk with the judge in advance of the hearing and kinda get a heads up if there is going to be a problem.

if the BAC took reassurance from this, all i can say is i found it disturbing. it sounds like parman is talking about a routine practice of ex parte contacts with the traffic court judges -- which, if it is going on, ought to be a scandal.

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