Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Stop and frisk on wheels

Uptown Swingers

This weekend we walked for a few blocks with the Uptown Swingers parade and second line. It was very hot out. Luckily there were some guys in the crowd pulling coolers of water and other beverages for sale. Nobody asked if they had permits to do that. Nobody called the police. Maybe it would have been different if they were on bikes.

That is very nearly a $1,000 ticket just because a cop decided to check and see if the dude had a $3 to $35 tag on his bike. Is that real? Jules is reliable source and all but, geeze, is that real?

It's real.
So, there Louis was in the empty pre-dawn, riding that raggedy bike in a striped bike lane, only now he was pedaling against the ghosts of would-be traffic. That is technically a violation, though one every cyclist in the city can attest to breaking. Louis himself has done it plenty of times before because he feels safer knowing cars aren't coming at his back.

That's when two New Orleans Police Department cars rolled up on him, lights flashing.

"I immediately went to the 'don't shoot' position," Louis said.

An officer ran the driver's license Louis handed over while Louis called his father, and he sat on the curb, thinking it all over.

He did not, Louis reasoned, look like somebody out to commit a crime.

So the local bicycle wars have been a subject of some interest here on the ol' Yellow Blog over the years so I feel obliged to say a few words about the political background to these rather expensive citations.

As bicycling has become more popular over the past decade or so, authorities in city government and law enforcement have sought to exert more control over it for various purposes most of which are bad. The city is interested in new ways to shake down residents for fees and fines . Politicians and real estate people like to cultivate at least the appearance.. often only the appearance.. of "bike friendly infrastructure." And, of course, law enforcement is always looking for new pretexts to do stop and frisk.

Here is a Gambit article from 2010 about a proposal to "reinstate a bicycle registration program that hasn't been enforced since before Hurricane Katrina." The fees it proposed were ridiculous, as you can see in the section below, but the reason the measure ended up getting tabled was because it was clear NOPD couldn't be trusted with it.
Jatres says the MBC's biggest concern is the fee hike — a 500 percent increase for non-commercial registration. As for the "commercial" fee, the ordinance does not make clear who would need the $75 license.

"A lot of people bicycle for economic reasons, that's their form of transportation. Having low income people (pay) a $15 fee can be a significant burden," Jatres says. "The $75 fee for commercial use — it's left fairly vague. Could be couriers, bike rentals, anything. If you use a bicycle as transportation for work, could that be broadly defined as commercial? It left it vague enough where that line between commercial and personal could be blurry."

The ordinance does not spell out how NOPD would enforce registration, which Jatres and other cyclists fear could result in potential harassment. The MBC says it's received complaints from cyclists saying NOPD officers have stopped them and told them to ride on the sidewalk or to wear a helmet, neither of which are laws in Louisiana.

"There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding among at least some officers within the department, which leads to the concern — here's one more tool that can be interpreted or misused, either out of ignorance of the law or intentions to harass cyclists," Jatres says. "That was what hit Councilman Carter, 'OK, we really need to get everyone in a room to talk about this.'"

Every now and then a new NOPD initiative proposes to crack down on existing but dormant regulations.  Last year City Council passed an ordinance presented as "protection" for bicyclists but really it just created new ways to bring them under the enforcement regime.  Jared Brossett's quote tips it.  The primary purpose of this was to crack down on cyclists. 
The new rules, recommended by the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee, explicitly prohibit motorists from driving in designated bike lanes or harassing cyclists, clarify that pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks and require that bikes must be equipped with lights or reflectors plus bells or other devices that can provide an audible signal to those nearby in emergency situations.

“All roadway users have a responsibility to use roads safely,” said Councilman Jared Brossett, who sponsored the ordinances.

At the same time, the city has heralded its placement of bike lanes all over town as a signal of its progressive orientation.  But cycling advocates have complained the painted lanes are more ornamental than useful and often are safety hazards themselves.  This suggests our new bike centered infrastructure, including the recently launched for-profit bike share program, isn't designed to meet transit needs as much as it is to boost real estate values.
Those bike-docking stations, however, also give Fleming pause. He resists using the term "bike share" to describe them. Instead, they are "bike rental kiosks," he said.

His reasoning is economic. He worries that a kiosk in a low-income neighborhood would give landlords with properties nearby license to label that block "up-and-coming" and raise rents.

In other words, he sees a bike-sharing program as a harbinger of gentrification and its unsavory cousin: the displacement of the poor.
Blue Bikes downtown

Over the weekend, I heard a few stories about bikes tied up near the convention center receiving warning stickers that they had been improperly parked. In recent years, new prohibitions against parking bikes in what one would think are harmless places have sprung up in an ad-hoc fashion all over town. We've documented some of these. It's probably a coincidence that we're being made to feel less free about riding our own bikes in downtown neighborhoods at the same time that the Blue Bikes monopoly is spreading out over the same area. But the lifestyle is becoming more regimented in any case. A thousand dollar ticket for not being "registered" is sure to make anyone more wary.
"That's more than my rent. That's more than a number of different things," Louis said.

"I think the police has a lot of discretion in terms of issuing a citation," Charlie Thomas, Louis' attorney said.

Thomas works with the firm Huber, Thomas and Marcelle. They are statewide attorneys for bike law. He is calling the prices for these citations outrageous and believes there is no use registration ordinance in the city.

"Even though NOPD might have your bicycle information on file, we're unaware of any circumstance where this has led to the recovery of a stolen bike or really any sort of benefit," Thomas said.
The benefit to NOPD doesn't have anything to do with solving bike thefts, though. It's just a tool for city officials to use as they continue to embrace widely discredited "broken windows" policing techniques. LaToya's recently expressed enthusiasm for surveillance "Quality and Neighborhood Safety" cameras indicates that's not going to change any time soon.

On the other hand, that WWLTV story does say that the mayor personally emailed Louis about his ticket this afternoon and is "willing to work with him," whatever that means. So the lesson here for cyclists is, if you get stopped and harassed by a cop, (and manage to avoid getting shot, of course) make sure you get yourself on the news.  This mayor seems to respond if the uptick is big enough. Not sure if that really scales up as a citywide policy but, to be fair, I have not yet fully grasped the #CityOfYes ethos. Maybe it has something to do with being intentional.

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