Law Enforcement FAIL: Red Light, Green Light

17 Dec

An incident this weekend reminded me of this letter I drafted last year but never sent. I really wish I had.

Dear City of Palo Alto,

I am angry that a Palo Alto police officer did not cite the driver who ran a red light and nearly hit me on my bike. I appreciate that the officer lectured her, but that’s not enough. We need law enforcement to crack down on careless drivers that threaten others, especially vulnerable people who are walking or bicycling.

I was on West Bayshore waiting to cross Oregon Expressway in the left traffic lane. When the signal turned green, I starting crossing. I saw that a driver approaching from my left was rolling through slowly instead of stopping, so I put a foot down and yelled: “What are you doing!! You have a red light!” and pointed at the signal.

She was halfway into the intersection and less than five feet from me when she stopped. As I rolled away, I saw a police car behind her and thought: “For once they’re here to see it.” I smiled when I saw his lights come on.


From the bottom of the bike bridge I saw that the cop had pulled her over. She gave him something, probably her license and registration. He talked to her. I waited and watched for almost 10 minutes. He didn’t write a citation or warning, and she drove away. I shook my head and pedaled to work.

What’s your experience with your local law enforcement as a bicycle rider? Have they been helpful in protecting you from aggressive or careless drivers? Or do they seem to have more sympathy for the drivers?

Location: Oregon Expressway at West Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, California. Streetview from my vantage point.


Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL, Issues & Infrastructure


12 responses to “Law Enforcement FAIL: Red Light, Green Light

  1. Thomas

    December 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    My experience with police over the past 30 years of cycling has been that they have almost always favored the motorist. Even in situations where it was obviously the motorists fault.

    About 6 years ago in Santa Cruz a teenage girl was driving past me (I was in the bike lane) and she spotted her friends on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road (to her left). Without even looking to her right she suddenly turned right into a driveway and slammed into me.

    As I was lying on the ground bleeding and being attended to by paramedics I overheard the cop telling the driver to be certain I get several estimates on bike repairs so she didn’t get ripped off, and that if she needed anything, had any questions, or needed help with her case to call his cell number.

    The only thing the cop asked me was if I needed an ambulance. He later gave me his card with the case number on it and walked away. I never uttered a single aggressive word to anyone the entire time, yet the cop’s tone of voice, body language, and attitude treated me as if I was an adversary.

    This is just one of about 6 examples in the past 5-6 years I’ve been in CA where cops treated me like an unimportant circumstance and showed an obvious bias toward the motorist, or at least a bias against cyclists. I’ve had some even more extreme examples where motorists were intentionally aggressive toward me and the police that investigated felt it more necessary to lecture me on how I need to “stay out of the way of cars” than showing an interest in protecting my rights to ride on public roads.

  2. missgeorgieo

    December 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Almost every set of lights I pass I see at least one person run a red. If they installed automatic cameras and sent fines for every light run – the cameras would probably pay for themselves within a day. I’ve never seen anyone stopped for it. It’s just one thing of many that the mass of reckless drivers get away with.

    • ladyfleur

      December 17, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      There’s a lot of resistance to red light cameras in the US. People cry that they’re simply moneymakers for the cities and the politicians fold.

      This case was unusual because the driver wasn’t doing the usual “rush for the yellow light.” She was going slowly and just rolled right into the intersection well after my light turned green.

  3. humofthecity

    December 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    That is appalling. I have never been in a situation where there was a police officer around to cite someone for running a red light. However the general reports from people who have is that officers claim they have “more important things to do.”

    I often see drivers stop at red lights, then decide they’ve waited long enough and just go through the red. Sometimes they even drive into oncoming traffic. I would love red light cameras at every intersection. They could put the money into a trust fund for people hit by reckless drivers!

    • ladyfleur

      December 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      I’m not sure why the driver rolled through. She was going really slowly. Maybe she was looking in her rear view at the cop and freaked out. Maybe she was elderly and not fully aware of her surroundings.

      All I know is that she wasn’t rushing to beat the yellow and she wasn’t trying to sneak past. She was distracted in some way.

  4. Brian

    December 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    When I was hit by a drunk driver on my bike riding up Old La Honda (just a minor scratch and I didn’t fall off my bike), the San Mateo sheriff’s deputies who showed up were very helpful. Although there was no arrest in that case because it’s not illegal to be home drunk and since I didn’t have a cell phone, they couldn’t catch him while he was still driving.

    I got out of a speeding ticket on San Antonio in Palo Alto years ago because the officer was called to something else while he was talking to me. So maybe it’s not a big deal in Palo Alto.

    Redwood City police ticketed me for rolling a stop in a residential neighborhood where there was no other traffic. (It was a weird intersection where you really have to stop twice to see, and I merely slowed.)

    In San Carlos (San Car Lots, monster truck capital of the Bay Area), you can drive on the sidewalk honking your horn and nobody seems to care. (I watched this happen yesterday from my living room window.)

    • Brian

      December 17, 2012 at 10:47 pm

      …and the sidewalk driver was less than a block from City Hall and the police department.

    • ladyfleur

      December 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      I remember the drunk driver story but not all the details. Were you hurt? Regardless, I’m surprised and pleased that the sheriff deputies did as much as they did.

      When you were ticketed in Redwood City were you on a bike or in a car? Seems lame if on a bike and you weren’t cutting in front of someone else.

  5. BR

    December 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    This didn’t involve law enforcement but I was on my daily commute an in a bike lane on a right curve when a VTA bus passed me @35+mph and came within 2′ of me as it made the bend. I could have touched the bus with my left hand. The bus came into the bike lane far enough where it covered the lane ~15′ after it passed me. Clearly the driver felt comfortable with that slim clearance or he/she never saw me. Both unacceptable. There is a 600′ view of me approaching the curve from a 4 way stop. It was dusk, I was fully illuminated and wearing a day-glo vest. The air movement from the moving bus moved me out of the bike lane over to the sidewalk. I logged a case with VTA that included the bus & line number, the exact time, location etc and I got voice mail from a supervisor acknowledging the complaint and a commitment that the supervisor would visit the section of road with the driver and that there would be “retraining.”

    My only rant on law enforcement is that I see SJPD ignore illegal and really unsafe cycling moves by some cyclists. If the laws were enforced the rider behavior and quality would increase. More drivers may then have a better opinion about more cyclists.

    Brian – It is illegal to be drunk in your home if you are a threat to yourself or the public. I am really surprised and disappointed that the officer didn’t pursue that one.

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Bad bus drivers are really dangerous. I was waiting at Cahill to cross Santa Clara St and saw a bus coming up from the underpass blow through a red light. I saw him and stopped, but he had to blow his horn to keep the pedestrians in the crosswalk from stepping in front of him. The light was way beyond the yellow. Scary.

  6. #HashishTag (@M4NH0)

    January 2, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I’m surprised the police didn’t investigate Brian’s incident as a hit and run…

    • ladyfleur

      January 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      In an ideal world… But I’m surprised they even investigated given Brian wasn’t hurt. My guess is the guy was someone that was already on their watch list.


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