In NYC & Florida, Asking Police to Step Up for Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety

It’s been unsettling, to say the least, to read about the New York City Police Department’s sloppy investigation of the hit-and-run crash that killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre last fall. Today the New York City Council is holding a hearing that will examine NYPD’s practices when it comes to investigating pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

The parents of Mathieu Lefevre speak at a rally held recently at NYPD headquarters. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov http://gudphoto.com/bikenyc/2011/10/26/rally-for-traffic-justice/

The issue of police treatment of pedestrians and cyclists is one that safe streets advocates all over the country grapple with on a regular basis.

Bike advocate Dan Moser argued recently in Florida Weekly that many law enforcement officials still operate under the assumption that cyclists and pedestrians are at fault in collisions because they don’t belong on the roads. In his column, reprinted at Network blog WalkBikeLee, Moser says its time for greater understanding and change:

From the time I worked in the injury prevention program at a public health agency, where dissecting crash data in order to determine countermeasures to prevent future injury and death was among my duties, I became acutely aware of the second-class treatment non-motorists receive in crash investigations. Law enforcement agencies (some are worse offenders than others) seem to operate under the premise that our roadways and bridges are first and foremost for motor vehicles, thus nonmotorists have some degree of fault when a crash occurs simply by virtue of being where we don’t belong. This mindset must change or Florida’s dubious distinction of being the most dangerous state for cyclists and pedestrians in the country will continue.

Stating this, I’m risking my working relationship with some in law enforcement who will take it personally. But those of us who are striving to improve conditions for exposed road users (and there are many) aren’t looking to criticize for the sake of criticism, but rather offering our expertise and insight to help solve a chronic problem. I’d like to think anyone who’s truly committed to doing the same will look to us as a resource and take advantage of what we offer rather than consider us whiners and discontents who are only trying to justify the unpredictable behavior sometimes practiced by the vulnerable among us.

My plea is for our law enforcement agencies to take us up on our offer to assist them in doing their job. We’re not attempting to tell you how to do it, only to help you better understand our plight and the frustration we face so you can make our roads safer and easier for all users to navigate. Granted, law enforcement is only part of the solution, but it’s a vital element that clearly needs improvement.

How fairly would you say your local police department treats traffic crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists?

Elsewhere on the Network today: PubliCola asks whether 28 Seattle-area pedestrians would be alive today had the city taken advantage of existing opportunities for road diets. Bicyclelaw.com offers ten tips for drivers interacting with cyclists. And NRDC Switchboard compares the House transportation bill to the Titanic.