This blog has lamented the area’s safety record for pedestrians and bicyclists many times. There is another problem which gets less attention, but may be related: unfair treatment of walkers and riders by police officers and judges.

I was reminded of this while sitting at a traffic court hearing last week. As I was waiting and watching other hearings, I saw a case where a driver had received a ticket for hitting a man on a bicycle. According to the testimony, the man on the bike was riding down the sidewalk when a car pulled out of a business driveway and blocked the sidewalk in front of him. The man on the bike tried to go around the front of the car and continue on his way.

Unfortunately, the car’s driver apparently lost track of where the bike was and pulled forward. He hit the bicyclist crossing in front of his car, knocking him from his bike and throwing him into the street.

The driver got a ticket for violating the bicyclist’s right of way. The police officer rightly gave this ticket because the driver pulled forward and blocked the sidewalk rather than letting the bicyclist pass. While this happens far too often, it is still an improper driving action on the part of the driver, and the officer was simply enforcing the traffic code when he wrote the ticket.

Sitting as an observer, I figured the traffic court judge would uphold the ticket. Instead, the judge fired a series of questions at the bicyclist, asking him why he went around the front of the car, why he didn’t just stop and let the car pull out into the street, and so on. When it was over, the judge dismissed the ticket, even though there was no question that the car had blocked the bicyclist’s path along the sidewalk as originally charged.

There are stories from around the country far more depressing than this one. One which was captured on video a few years ago showed a woman in Arizona trying to cross an intersection with a stroller. The intersection was several lanes wide, and the woman simply did not make it all the way across before the light changed.

An SUV pulled forward while the lady and stroller were still in the crosswalk and ran right over the stroller. Miraculously, the young child in the stroller was not killed. But the SUV’s driver wasn’t even charged, presumably because the woman pushing the stroller failed to get all the way across before the light changed. The general rule that one should enter an intersectionafter ensuring that the intersection is clear seems not to have made a difference. This bizarre interpretation of traffic rules essentially makes it open season on pedestrians who can’t move fast enough to get all the way across an intersection on the “walk” signal.

Deaths and injuries to pedestrians andbicyclists present a multi-faceted problem. Solving it will require multiple changes in design, “car culture,” and other things. However, one thing we could start on right now is better education for police officers and traffic court judges. We need consistent and accurate interpretation of the traffic laws to make roadways safe for our most vulnerable users.

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