Interview with We Bike, etc., President and Enforcement Guru, Peter FluckeInterview with We Bike, etc., President and Enforcement Guru, Peter Flucke

Peter Flucke is President of WE BIKE, a consulting company in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that specializes in engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement for walking, bicycling and healthy communities.

A former law enforcement officer with the state of Minnesota, Peter is a certified Police (Public Safety) Cyclist with the International Police Mountain Bike Association, a League Cycling Instructor/Trainer with the League of American Bicyclists (#327 C/K), and a Pedestrian Safety Roadshow Facilitator with US Department of Transportation.

Joan Pasiuk, director of Bike Walk Twin Cities, interviewed Peter during his visit to the Twin Cities on February 22-23, 2010.

Joan: What is the role of enforcement in creating livable cities?

Peter: In our society, rules are pretty liberal --there are a lot of things that you can do as long as you're not hurting someone else, yourself, or damaging property. To this end, there are rules that regulate the behavior of bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists and improve their ability to function in traffic. It is important to understand that law enforcement officers are trained to use the lowest amount of enforcement necessary to effectuate the desired change. Very few citations are actually written in the normal course of a day. Without enforcement, even the best engineered road and the best education in the world won't create the environment we need to encourage bicyclists and pedestrians to be out there doing their thing and creating more livable communities.

What do you think of the Minnesota laws; do we have what we need to protect all road users?

There are always tweaks that can be made; society changes and that is why we should look at our laws on a regular basis. But, the point is not so much changing existing laws, as doing a better job of using the ones that we already have.

If an officer doesn't know a law, it isn't going to be enforced. If we aren't educating motorists and bicyclists on why those laws exist and how they apply to their safety, we can change all the laws we want and it won't make much difference.

If you had the opportunity to win the lottery and dedicate the money to doing the education you think is necessary, what would it look like? What do people need to know that they don't know now?

Those of us who research bicycle and pedestrian crashes have a pretty good idea what the traffic conflicts are on any given day. At this point, we can predict fairly accurately how many bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists are going to be killed or injured each year, how many are going to be male, female, the time of day, etc. We know this information but don't do a good job communicating it to the users, the people who are biking and walking. Without this information, people can't do a good job of assessing risk.

We are often afraid of things that aren't going to hurt us or aren't likely to happen. We can do a better job of letting people know what is out there, what the relative risks are, so they can make better choices. This applies not only to the bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists, but also to the professionals engineering the roads, the educators, and certainly law enforcement.

What one action would make a difference for pedestrian and bicyclist safety?

Your question makes me think in terms of the highway safety triangle -the triangle being: engineering better facilities, education on how to use them, and enforcement of laws. We built the roads we have -if we don't like them, we can re-build them, it just takes time. Education is a slow and steady process; it's very hard to educate motorists because we have almost no contact with them after drivers' education. How do we reach the bicyclists?

Still, we have to try. If I had to find a magic bullet, right now, it would be better law enforcement. Educating law enforcement officers about how crashes happen and which laws to enforce to prevent them can have an immediate effect on the safety of everyone using our transportation system. But there isn't a magic bullet, enforcement is just one part -we need all three.

Are officers eager for this information or do you face resistance?

If you ask most officers why they got into law enforcement, it is because they want to help people. The problem is that most of law enforcement is reactionary. You get a call about a bike crash, you show up and there is an injured bicyclist - you arrive on the scene after the problem has occurred. The neat thing about the stuff we're talking about here is that we know how crashes happen. We can give officers the information they need to literally stop crashes before they happen - and help people.

Help me think about an on-the-street situation. I have been in many situations where I'm angry at a motorist. Anyone who bikes or walks would say the same. So what do we do when we've been put in that vulnerable situation?

The single best thing I did to help myself with this situation was to become a League Cycling Instructor --take the highest level of training I could.

Now, when a conflict has occurred, I know that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing. I know how to ride safely, I know the laws, and I know the causes of crashes. I even know how to position myself to help keep motorists from making mistakes that will frustrate them and endanger me.

I would say that because of my training 75% of my bad interactions have been eliminated.

Motorists are afraid for cyclists -- they think that because you're on a bike, you are going to get in a crash ,and they don't want it to be with them.

People who are afraid often get angry. I've discovered that if I'm out there wearing bright, retro-reflective clothing, signaling, using good lane positioning, and wearing a helmet, then motorists' anxiety goes way down. That's me taking responsibility.

But you do have situations where other people make mistakes. Cyclists or pedestrians who are verbally or physically assaulted by a motorist should try to get a license number and identify the driver, then communicate that information to law enforcement. At the very least, officers can contact the driver and let them know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable in our community - This does happen, really and wow! Isn't that empowering! It makes me feel less frustrated, that I'm doing my part, and knowing that someone, the police, is watching my back.

As a cyclist or pedestrian, I try to acknowledge my mistakes - I wave and apologize, I appreciate it when others do it for me - No one is perfect.

Help us think about the big picture -- state and local policy and police department policy.

We're starting to realize how important policies and procedures are to pedestrians and bicyclists, especially in law enforcement. It's a question of how much time and effort we are willing to put into integrating bicyclists and pedestrians into our transportation system. There are models out there and we can incorporate them, if we choose to.

No one likes to spend their day reading policy, but policies can send a clear message as to how a public safety department, or any organization, looks at bicyclists and pedestrians. Are they valued as the lowest common denominator in a transportation system that need to be protected or are they just ignored and disregarded and seen as a nuisance?

Cops on bikes have been very helpful --patrol officers with cars hear stories that bike cops tell about getting from point A to point B. This creates empathy.

Often, pedestrians and bicyclists will scream at cops, asking for more enforcement, but then they don't want enforcement to hold them accountable to laws governing biking and walking (i.e. red lights). It needs to be balanced --you can't ask officers to enforce one law and not another.

What about the courts? Are officers supported?

Well, not enough. Here's a scenario --a police officer gets trained, goes out and writes a motorist a ticket for failing to yield and a bicyclist a citation for running a red light. Both situations go to court, but the judge has a jammed calendar and isn't used to seeing pedestrian or bicyclist violations, so the tickets are dismissed. Most judges have never received information about pedestrian and bicyclist laws, yet they need the same information as everyone else or the system breaks down.

Without support from the judiciary there is no incentive for officers to write citations. Judges and officers don't always agree, but we can fix a lot of this if we get the judiciary on board with the policies, procedures, laws and why they exist.

Talk about a model enforcement program. In times of economic stress on police departments, how do we best get this implemented and what would it look like?

We've started talking about complete streets--where streets are for everyone. Why should that be any different for law enforcement?

We train officers about parts of society that we need to protect and maintain. If law enforcement officers are trained to see bicyclists and pedestrians as legitimate and valuable parts of the transportation system that need to be provided safe and secure mobility and access, then officers have to have information to do their job well.

When we create societies where people can bike and walk safely, we create better societies. We can do a better job of explaining the type of society we want to our law enforcement officers and give them the tools they need to help create it.

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