On 1 of the biggest DUI days of the year, police stop Burke-Gilman cyclists for entering crosswalk during countdown

I received a discouraging email from a reader who says a motorcycle cop in Lake Forest Park spent his July 4 stopping cyclists who entered the trail crosswalks after the pedestrian signal countdown had started. Not because the light was red or the signal had a solid “Don’t Walk,” but because it was blinking when they entered. You know, the way any normal person would treat a crosswalk signal: If I can get across before the light changes, then it is ok.

Meanwhile, Independence Day is one of the biggest days for drunk driving and the most dangerous day of the year for teen drivers.

Here’s reader Steve’s note:

I had an experience today on the BG Trail that you guys might want to look into – a motorcycle cop stopping cyclists for crossing NE 171st Street and NE Ballinger Way during the countdown phase of the walk/don’t walk signal.

I’ve always understood the law to be that it’s legal to enter an intersection on the yellow phase of a signal if there’s sufficient time to clear the intersection, but the cop insisted that you cannot enter a crosswalk once the countdown has begun.

Either way, it seem like an odd thing to focus limited law enforcement resources on – especially with DUIs being a big problem on July 4.

From my understanding of the law (correct me if I’m wrong), the officer is technically correct. When you are biking in a crosswalk, you assume all rights and responsibilities of pedestrians in a crosswalk under Washington’s traffic laws. And the law states that it is illegal to begin crossing the street once the pedestrian signal has started blinking or counting down. Those already in the crosswalk should complete their journey, but no new crossings should start. So technically, this would also apply to someone on a bike.

But if this happened the way Steve describes it, this is ridiculous. So long as you complete your crossing before the lights change, it’s impossible to imagine how crossing during the countdown phase could ever harm anyone. The countdown is timed for people walking, not biking. And even most people walking will also enter the crosswalk once the signal starts blinking if they think they can make it across before the light changes.

But the real point is that it is crazy for any traffic enforcement to be wasted on something like this on a day when intoxicated driving poses a very real and deadly risk to every person on our roads.

Redmond officer reprimanded for telling cyclist he couldn’t video

In other area police/cycling news, Redmond Police Officer Bill Corson was reprimanded for telling a Seattle’s Stephen Kent he could be arrested for video recording their interaction during a traffic stop.

Redmond Patch reports that Kent was pulled over for “impeding traffic” while biking with a couple friends. When he started recording the incident, the officer threatened him with arrest if he continued.

Here’s the video:

Redmond police chief Ron Gibson explained the law to Patch:

“The Redmond Police Department recognizes that citizens may record or photograph police activities in public as long as they remain at a reasonable distance, don’t interfere with the employee’s duties and responsibilities, and do not create a safety concern for the employee, person detained, or other persons,” Gibson wrote. “The Redmond Police Department acknowledges the public has a right to record the activities of their police and that we are subject to public scrutiny as we carry out our duties to the citizens of Redmond.”

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35 Responses to On 1 of the biggest DUI days of the year, police stop Burke-Gilman cyclists for entering crosswalk during countdown

  1. Pingback: On 1 of the biggest DUI days of the year, police … – Seattle Bike Blog | Bicycle News

  2. charles says:

    I’m curious of the motorcycle cop’s name. I’ve heard there are a few police officers known for their harassment of cyclists.

  3. basketlover says:

    The seasoned users of the Burke jump onto the roadway at the swim club then right turn back onto the Burke at the intersection in question or use the lane to cross over into LFP mall. Well actually the seasoned ones avoid the Burke altogether this time of year but if you must remember LFP city hall needs your dollars more than the businesses, ride accordingly.

  4. Orv says:

    I always thought the reason for that law was to ensure drivers had a chance to complete turns. If the crosswalk is occupied during the entire green cycle, it becomes impossible for drivers to make legal turns across it.

    • Jeff Dubrule says:

      The point of the blinking ‘DON’T WALK’/red-hand is to indicate that a pedestrian proceeding a normal walking pace will not make it to the other side before the light changes. A cyclist can pretty much make it across any level intersection before the light changes if the

      Any other side-effects (easier for cars to turn, buses get warned of stale-green, etc.) are besides the point. If there’s enough pedestrians that it’s really a problem at a particular intersection, it can likely be solved in a more useful way: an all-way pedestrian cycle, eliminating right-turns at this spot, or closing the road to cars. If absolutely essential that vehicles get through, dedicated right-turn signals, would be a solution. This is used at 15th & Pacific in the U-district to deal with a busy B-G crossing.

      • Orv says:

        Why would buses need to be warned of stale greens? They just run the reds anyway.

      • SuperSteve says:

        These aren’t the generic “flashing red hand” signals that warn of an impending “Don’t Walk” – these are literally countdown timers that indicate how many seconds you have before the signal changes to “Don’t Walk.”

        A pedestrian proceeding at a normal pace when the timer starts at “20” can easily make it across these intersections with plenty of time to spare. Most cyclists would easily clear it with as little as 5 seconds.

      • Al Dimond says:

        An all-way walk would be disastrous — it would mean far less time available for cyclists and pedestrians to cross in a longer light cycle. A separate right-turn phase only makes sense in conjunction with left-arrows on the cross streets, and there’s no cause for that here.

        That said, these (newly-refurbished!) intersections are an absolute travesty. What can be done? Take a lesson from the Europeans.

        1. Remove the twisting of the trail and the bollards — allow the trail to proceed straight through from one side to the other.

        2. This would push the stop line for cross traffic so far back that right-on-red is inconceivable. So ban it — right-on-red and cycle tracks don’t mix.

        3. Improve visibility between the trail and same-direction turning traffic; reduce the radius of the right turn to force drivers to slow down and begin to turn at a more favorable angle for visibility.

        4. HAVE A BIKE LIGHT ALONGSIDE THE WALK LIGHT, TIMED FOR CYCLISTS. DUH! Cyclists and fast runners can obey this light.

        5. Fire everyone responsible for the crosswalk sting immediately.

  5. no traffic lights says:

    There is a motorcycle cop that usually hangs around the I.D. and I used to watch him ticket jaywalkers and cyclists all day from my office on the corner of 5th and Jackson. I imagine they are pulling a lot of revenue but when it comes to jaywalking, the statistics are interesting. It’s a little off topic but it shows the general attitude of the SPD towards vulnerable infrastructure users.

    In 2010 the SPD cited 1500 pedestrian jaywalkers but only 200 motorists for failure to yield at a crosswalk. Between 2007 and 2010, 1000 car vs. pedestrian collisions were caused by the motorist’s failure to yield at a crosswalk but only 200 pedestrians were hit because of failure to use a crosswalk (the most common form of jaywalking). I think I saw the chart on this site and it’s an interesting visual. Tom, you should provide a link to it.

    I’ve always had a fantasy to outrun one of those cops on bicycles. Those sweet kickstands and handwarmers probably will slow them down quite a bit and I guess I’m assuming they won’t shoot me because I’m white.

    • Orv says:

      You can outrun them but probably not their radio signal. ;)

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I would highly suggest not trying to outrun them for several reasons. Ignoring all the laws requiring you to stop for police, etc., another big reason: They are on their bikes all day, going up and down Seattle hills. Some of them do long-distance cycling/triathalon stuff. Even loaded down, many could probably catch you (I know they could catch me).

    • Erik says:

      Your statistic is amazing and should be grounds for evening out the enforcement of the law. I know it is only my personal experience but often when waiting to enter a crosswalk cars just blow through almost forcing you to step into their path in order to get them to stop.

    • Andres says:

      Yeah, uh, don’t do this. You’d be likely to end up like this guy – http://somerville.patch.com/articles/police-cruisers-chase-bicyclist-make-first-bicycle-violation-arrest

      • no traffic lights says:

        hahahaha yes! That is exactly what I’m talking about but it’s really more of a fantasy. Imagine having to explain that at a job interview?

  6. Law Abider says:

    If you ask me, a law is, well, the law. The officer is obviously focusing on a trivial issue, when he should be focused on bigger issues, like cyclists not wearing helmets or riding with headphones. If you want to change the law, gather up groups of like minded people, petition city hall and bring attention to your cause.

    Breaking the law won’t change the law and will only lower people’s opinions of us cyclists.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I feel like most people don’t even know this particular law is written the way it is. Common sense says: If you can cross before the light changes, then you’re fine. And that’s what people do whether they are walking, biking or driving (almost everyone guns it to make the yellow).

      Fortunately, 99 percent of police officers treat the law reasonably and don’t bother ticketing people unless they have impeded traffic or actually run a light. They have discretion, and police leadership can guide their decisions about what is worth pursuing or not. So while we could change this law, I bet it’s easier just to get the departments to send a memo to officers to spend their time on more important stuff. In a perfect world, changing silly laws would be easy. But it’s actually surprisingly difficult (see: http://seattlebikeblog.com/2012/03/02/neighborhood-safe-speeds-bill-misses-cutoff-as-senate-devolves-into-standstill/ )

  7. “So long as you complete your crossing before the lights change, it’s impossible to imagine how crossing during the countdown phase could ever harm anyone”

    When I drove downtown I got a lot of people dashing in front of me when I was trying to turn right onto Pike St from 3rd. It really gums things up downtown when pedestrians ignore this law. So, from a bus passenger’s perspective, yes, it does harm them, as well as traffic in general downtown.

    There may be a legitimate traffic and/or safety issue that they are trying to mitigate. For example: Drivers coming down Lake City Way may have to stop and wait for pedestrians walking during a flashing “don’t walk” that may increase the potential for rear-end collisions and/or cause unnecessary backups.

    That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just an easy ticket to write but don’t assume that’s the case. Also: Towns really don’t use tickets for revenue except in extreme cases (think of the classic speed trap on a remote stretch of interstate highway). By the time you pay for the cop’s time, prosecutor, potentially a public defender, and court costs, cities really don’t net that much from one-off tickets like these. Camera enforcement on the other hand….

    • Let me add this: Getting pedestrians to adhere to this law at 3rd & Pike St downtown would improve traffic flow, including for bicyclists using 3rd Ave northbound, during the afternoon rush hours.

      Frankly, switching that intersection to an all direction walk might be a better move but that’s a whole separate discussion.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      It seems like that Pike/3rd example is a good argument for a dedicated turn phase. I’ve never heard of that being the reason for the countdown law (but that doesn’t mean anything, I’m not a traffic lawyer). If that is a reason for it, it is not very effective (as you point out).

      That said, I would argue that a right-turn-on-red is a low priority in a traffic system. Hell, we’re one of the only western nations that even allows them. I would love to see them abolished in all busy pedestrian intersections, but that’s a whole other argument…

      • Orv says:

        Even right-turn-on-green is often difficult in pedestrian-heavy areas, like the U-District. It can really back up traffic, especially since once a group of pedestrians starts moving across a crosswalk they don’t tend to stop even when the signal turns red. They know traffic will have to wait because of safety in numbers, much like why Critical Mass rallies can ignore traffic signals and block intersections.

      • “I would love to see [right turns on red] abolished in all busy pedestrian intersections…”

        I completely agree and for Metro buses they are. We are not allowed to turn right on red in roughly the current ride free area plus a couple of other intersections outside the RFA. Even when allowed, Metro puts a pretty heavy burden on us with policy language (that I don’t have in front of me) that basically (and rightly) implies that if we hit something/someone, it’s our fault. I only wish the law was as strict as the rules we operate under.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        That’s a goal worth working toward :-)

  8. Breadbaker says:

    I’m just going to guess there were a few violators of the Lake Forest Park fireworks ban that weren’t getting tickets as a result of this choice to enforce this particular law in this particular place. Notwithstanding that I suspect 99% of the violations of the fireworks ban were occurring within earshot of this particular cop.

  9. Edmonds cyclist says:

    I understood exactly what was going on here once i read the words “Lake Forest Park.” Been biking and driving through this little suburb for years, and the cops there seem to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to traffic law enforcement, compared to all the surrounding cities. I always assumed it was because there was nothing more important for a cop to be doing in LFP anyway. While it may be technically the law (and I must admit, I did not know this before reading), this is pretty much a waste of time unless they dedicate a lot of hours daily to enforcing it at those two intersections (which don’t really get a significant amount of traffic either compared to BGT crossings in Seattle). Sitting there and targeting a few unlucky offenders over one afternoon seems cruel and arbitrary to me.

  10. Erik says:

    A police officer who writes tickets such as this or jaywalking, whether for pedestrians or cyclists, is wasting their community’s resources. I’m not even sure I would call an individual writing such tickets a police officer, more like a meter maid.

  11. ODB says:

    Evidence of judgment this poor in terms of allocation of police resources or of prejudice this virulent against bicyclists (or any group) should be disqualifying for continued employment in a position of public trust.

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  13. Todd says:

    While this is annoying, did it ever occur to anybody that perhaps there have been some issues here and they want to start sending a message for a reason? On the outside it seems incredibly random and stupid but there may actually be a good reason for it. Just don’t ask me because I have no idea.

  14. John M says:

    I noticed LFP cops on BG trail on several occasions. I think this is ridiculous waste of taxpayers money – or a way to fulfill LFP budget. At the same people are driving aggressively on 522 all the time particularly during rush hours and LFP police does not seem to address this problem.

  15. What the... says:

    Wait a sec. I’m afraid lots of comments are jumping to a conclusion that the original post doesn’t state. I don’t see where it said tickets were issued. I saw that the bicyclists were stopped. Nothing about tickets. Perhaps the bicyclists were just given warnings?

  16. Motorcycle cops are a waste of space. They serve no public safety purpose, they can’t arrest people(no room), and they’re too vulnerable to stop acute dangerous situations. They simply exist to write traffic tickets, and cork intersections when VIP motorcades roll through town.

    • What the... says:

      And BAM!!! Didn’t take long to bring up tickets again.

      What tickets? Did I miss something in the original post?

  17. Spiffy says:

    the reason the timer is there is so that people can start to cross while it’s counting down… there’s no other reason for it at all…

    if it’s illegal to start across while it’s counting down then they wasted a lot of money on these things for absolutely no gain…

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