I was sucked in. My previous blog entry, Cycling Responsibly, is about a clash between cyclist Stephan Orsak and the law. He was stopped while riding out of the airport. That encounter eventually led to Stephan being tasered, arrested, and detained. He is shortly to face a jury trial on five misdemeanor changes and one gross misdemeanor. You can read his account at greencycles.
Initially, I was angry at his treatment, and put up the previous blog article to help bring attention to his treatment. I called it Standing up for responsible cycling. Then, after reviewing some of the details more carefully, I felt that he had left out some important details, and I modified my blog article accordingly, and retitled it Cycling Responsibly.
Now, I've come around almost full circle. I think the police actions were understandable and for the most part well justified, though I deplore unnecessary use of the taser. It looks as if Stephan was in the wrong, probably from even before he was stopped right up until the present when he is trumpeting a self-serving and misleading account all over the web. Some of the police actions may have been excessive, or not. I can't tell, and at this point I don't trust Stephan's account as a reliable guide. I was an idiot to blog too quickly; my bad. But having blogged, I'm going to finish the story as best I can.
Also, I have found it interesting the information one can obtain on-line; this blog is intended also to demonstrate that.
A couple of provisos to bear in mind.
I was accosted, assaulted with battery, and tased at Minneapolis St Paul USA international airport by Airport Police, simply for choosing to leave the airport by bicycle.With all that in mind… It is a fundamental starting premise of Stephan's account that he broke no laws, and that the initial stop was unjustified police harassment of an innocent cyclist using his bicycle legally and responsibly. Stephan compares it to road rage against a cyclist; something any regular bicycle commuter will empathize with. Is this really true?
I had broken no laws.
It's going to help to understand where all this occurred. I used Google maps and Google Earth, together with the detailed information Stephan made available at this site. You can click on images to see them in a larger size.
By his own account and by police statements, Stephan was stopped while riding outbound on Glumack Drive, the main exit from Lindbergh terminal of the Minneapolis St Paul airport. Northwest Drive is a service road that runs along side. It is (at this point) one way, heading back in towards the terminal. At his site, there is video of a car driver's view of driving down Glumack Drive, and photos of two signs. He was stopped east of the post office and west of the highway.
Here is a satellite view of the airport area, from Google Earth. The location is 44.88 degrees North; 93.2 degrees West. (44.88, -93.2).
Here is the same region, with Google Maps, showing the relevant roads.
Here I have marked in yellow the route shown on Stephan's video, and also the locations of the two signs. The "Authorized Vehicles Only" sign is north of the road; the "No Pedestrian Crossing" sign is south. The region where Stephan was stopped must have been somewhere along the stretch marked in magenta.
It seems strange: the road Stephan was on can only lead on to the freeway. Yet on his page, he insists that he had a legal route to Fort Snelling Park. It seems impossible. However, I saw on a different site a description of where Stephan was planning to ride.
But by bike, one takes Outbound Road toward the highway (15mph to 30mph max, same as residential MPLS), then begin to take the ‘return to terminal’ ramp, but immediately get off the road and cross over the median to Northwest Dr, the parallel service road, ‘walk’ a few hundred feet as it is one-way, then ride the rest as it becomes two way traffic. It is very lightly travelled. From there, Post Road, crossing over the highway and to the Fort Snelling trails. Very nice once you’re there.
-- Stephan Orsak, in this comment, at star tribune blogs
Here is an expanded view of his planned route, with the portion he would have to walk in green, until North West Drive becomes two way again. Very neat! It provides a convenient way to leave a very bicycle unfriendly airport terminal, as long as you are willing to brave the heavy traffic on Glumack Drive, and to walk a bit where there is no legal road access.
On the face of it, this is a legal route; though not one any road planner would anticipate. The roads are such that I would normally expect cycling traffic to be prohibited, and signs have been added since this incident to make explicit that bicycles are not allowed. I am sure that Stephan's normal use of this route involves riding illegally along a short section of NorthWest Drive, especially given his comments on the relative safety of riding and walking the bike. Even if not riding illegally when stopped, I guess that was part of his intent and that the police were correct to perceive a potential problem. There seems to be a viable and inexpensive way for the airport to add a safe bicycle path feeding onto NorthWest Drive leading to Post Road.
All did not go to plan; somewhere along Glumack Drive Stephan was stopped by police. This stop was entirely proper. Even if we admit the legality of Stephan's plan, it is not one that fits with the roads. Glumack Drive was at that point a road going exclusively to places where a bicycle is illegal. That's a good reason for police to stop you.
The police were at the time on a call to lookout for a missing fifteen year old girl. By their account, they did not want to waste time dealing with the cyclist; they just wanted to resolve his position quickly and be on their way to a more important matter.
Stephan treated the matter as if it was police harassment from the start. By his own account, he failed to stop when initially asked, because there were no lights and no siren, and the actions of police were equivalent to shouted insults from another driver.
… It was indistinguishable from what regular cyclists occasionally experience as road rage. I was not stopped in a normal way with siren and/or flashing lights for any kind of violation, but was being distractedly yelled at while traveling down the road. …Things were off to a bad start. Already, Stephan had shown himself slow to follow instructions. (I think a siren or lights is used to get your attention; not as a required signal for when police are giving you an instruction.) Already, the police were in a hurry and were abrupt and abrasive.
It went down hill. Stephan accused the police of being overbearing and abusing their authority. The police told him the bicycle was dangerous on Glumack Drive and that he should walk his bike along Northwest Drive instead, towards the point where he could proceed to Post Rd. He was roughly 400 meters from the point where NorthWest Drive would have allowed two way traffic again. Stephan continued to argue the legalities of this with them.
At this point, Stephan decided to leave. By his own account, he "took the initiative" to leave, and also to ride rather than walk his bike on NorthWest Drive, since in his own judgment this was a safer than walking.
Everyone was plainly angry, but here a line was crossed, and Stephan was the one who crossed it. He decided on his own behalf to terminate the discussion, and to ride the wrong way up a one way street rather than to walk as instructed.
Up until this point, we could debate endlessly about politeness and wisdom of either party. When Stephan rode away, however, it was plainly illegal, directly disregarding instructions, and a cyclist leaving police who were on foot. That's not going to end gently. The exact details of warnings and so on from police and from Stephan are inconsistent, but in the end a taser was used.
Stephan's accounts of this always have as the byline that he was tasered "simply for leaving the airport by bicycle".
That's flatly false. Leaving the airport by bicycle resulted in being stopped and challenged. What lead to the taser was illegal riding on a one way street, and worse, doing it against explicit instructions and as a way of leaving the argument with police "on your own initiative". That sounds a lot like fleeing; you don't leave an argument with police "on your own initiative".
I'm not a lawyer; neither is Stephan. But he decided to argue the law with police (a very bad idea, regardless of any issues of fairness or actual legalities) and his web page tries to suggest that police actions were unconstitutional, and inconsistent with the regulations. He links to the list of airport bylaws and ordinances and cites "ordinance 58", of dubious relevance. It says no person shall be stopped "except as otherwise restricted by other ordinances". I followed his link, and I think he'd do better to look at the other ordinances, in particular ordinance 100 (on driving; effective June 2004). There are clauses there about signs, and bicycles, and driving in unsafe conditions, and appeals process, and so on; which may or may not apply. Ask a lawyer about that.
But it seems to me that one crucial bit is section 4.6 on traffic control. It says:
Section 4.6: Traffic Control. Drivers shall obey all posted regulatory markings, Traffic signals, and all instructions of a MAC representative, the Airport Traffic Control Tower, or an officer charged with Traffic control and enforcement.
That's not a police state clause; it's pretty much common sense. You argue or appeal the legalities and the manner of instructions later, with their superiors and with the benefit of proper legal advice. But at the time of an encounter, you recognize that police do actually have the authority to decide what is safe or not and to instruct you accordingly. Even if you personally disagree with what is safe, at the time you follow instructions, which in this case involved only a minor inconvenience of a 400 meter walk.
I'm a bit cheesed off about this. I used to be a daily bicycle commuter in heavy central city traffic. I know about harassment from those who cannot accept a bicycle as a legitimate road user, and I know about riding responsibly. I've participated in bicycle advocacy actions, and I've observed the cavalier disregard for safety and road laws by many of my fellow cyclists.
I feel Stephan let us down. His account was incomplete, inaccurate in some crucial ways, and unfair on the police involved. I think they could have handled it much better, but that the lion's share of the blame belongs to Stephan. I come to this conclusion very reluctantly. Having joined in rather too hastily in Stephan's ill considered broadcasting of events all over the net, I now have to backtrack and 'fess up to having changed my mind.
Friday, 22 June 2007
-- Stephan Orsak
-- Duae Quartunciae