11 November 2010

Danish Police Ignorance About Cycling


Found this mad little clip over at the On Our Own Two Wheels blog. Classic Danish satire from a kids programme on TV2 Zulu. "Crime Riders". Livin' life on the edge. They poke fun at over-regulation, cycling sub-cultures, Culture of Fear and about 42 other things. It's in Danish and English.

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Last week I attended the National Cycling Conference in Fredericia. To my surprise, I discovered that the town was in Jutland, the Danish mainland. I thought it was on the island of Funen. So I got a geography lesson, too. I was invited by the Road Directorate and the Danish Cyclists Federation to take part in a debate with sociologist Anette Jerup Jørgensen and Mogens Knudsen, police officer and Superintendent in Copenhagen's Police Traffic Unit. Journalist Adam Hannestad from the newspaper Politiken was the moderator.

Anette started by discussing some her findings regarding the behavour of cycling citizens. In the blue corner, Mogens was representing the police's tradtionally staunch conservative line that cyclists should just obey every single rule. Period. I have since learned that this is perhaps more Mogens' personal line rather than the entire Danish police.

In the red corner, yours truly. I was on the other side of the scales, saying that traffic laws should be adjusted according to the needs and behaviour of our Citizen Cyclists. It was Fight Night in Fredericia! Although it was a light-hearted affair. I started my bit by revealing that in the week up to the debate I had recorded every traffic violation I had committed.

I had turned right at red lights 15 times. I rolled past the stop line at red lights 19 times. I started rolling before the light turned green 9 times. I forgot my lights twice. I rode down one-way streets 8 times. All in all the police missed out on fines totalling 26,500 kroner [€3530]. All these infractions were done at low speeds and without bothering any other cyclists or pedestrians and at no danger to myself. I'm a Crime Rider! Crazy!

Anette had some results showing that cyclists responded in a survey thus: 51.6% said they always obeyed the traffic laws. 46% said that they did most of the time 2.3% said that they never do.

This was a different picture to the one that the police (and media) like to paint. One that would give you the impression that cyclists are lawless rogues. I'll admit that it was a tough crowd for Mogens. A room filled with participants at the national cycling conference. But he took it with good humour.

I argued that in order to understand cyclists, it's important to look at pedestrians and their behaviour. To understand the human desire to get from A to B on the route with least resistance. Like on busy pedestrian streets. I highlighted that if cyclists and pedestrians bend the rules it is probably because they are merely reacting to an environment that isn't designed properly for them or their needs.

Mogens admitted that the Danish police never go on any study trips to other cities to speak with colleagues about their experience. They don't do any research and have little experience with keeping up to speed with traffic safety developments.

This entire discussion, I pointed out, was really a bit silly. It's a discussion that has taken place for 125 years. I drew their attention to the satirical piece written in 1934 by Robert Storm Petersen which mocks the perception of cyclists as lawless rogues and, ironically, mirrors the current climate if reading comments on newspaper articles is any indication.

Basically, if "clamping down on cyclists" hasn't worked for the past 125 years, it's quite silly to think that it's going to change.

There was no knockout on Fight Night in Fredericia, but the discussion and many points made by the crowd were hopefully beneficial in changing if not police behaviour then police perceptions about cyclists.

The Danish police are extraordinally influential regarding traffic laws. Even just lowering speed limits in cities is near impossible because the police will invariably reject most applications or proposals.

A more bicycle-friendly attitude from the Danish police would do wonders for improving the image of cycling and promoting the bicycle as transport.

7 comments:

mikey2gorgeous said...

Hi Mikael, great video!

Interesting you should be discussing this issue, in my local paper we've had a bit of 'argy-bargy' over the way the Police here handle cyclists without lights...

http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/8624487.Riders_without_lights_putting_lives_at_risk_in_New_Forest/

Check out the forum comments at the end. Usually I'm the only one posting pro-cycling but in an article a couple of days later, even pro-car posters were supportive of our viewpoint...

http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/8629398.___Tackle_poor_driving_not_cyclists____call/

I'm going to try and become president of our local cycling forum that advises the council - shake things up a bit!!!

Keep up the good fight!

Mike

kfg said...

Riding a bicycle no hands is safer than riding a unicycle. There is no reason for riding a bi no hands to be an infraction where unis aren't outright banned. No, wait! Forget I said that, they might get ideas.

Seems to me this is an example of laws written for cyclists BY drivers. There's an awful lot of that going around.

"the human desire to get from A to B on the route with least resistance."

My favorite example of this, which I may have mentioned here before, is the case of an architect who submitted a plan for a new college campus and was set upon by the board for not having included sidewalks.

His response, "Wait a few years and then put the sidewalks where the grass is worn out." So simple. So effective. So hated by the planned order types whose only joy in life seems to come from telling other people where to go.

Perhaps they should be told where to go now and then.

Lasse said...

"I highlighted that if cyclists and pedestrians bend the rules it is probably because they are merely reacting to an environment that isn't designed properly for them or their needs." -

Copenhagenize Vs. Police 1-0

...and Jan Gehl would be proud, he also has numerous examples of this kind of stupid design!

Green Idea Factory said...

I actually saw the link to Crime Riders on the Bike Snob blog a couple of weeks ago and found it very amusing even without understanding all the dialogue.

However, I do think that cyclist annoyance of pedestrians needs to be better studied and quantified. As we know it gets... run over by the "cars are 1000 times worse" argument (which is essentially correct).

kstrygg said...

Then you get this kind of coverage, which is clearly not tongue in cheek:

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/special_segments&id=7757396

Is there any middle ground?

Yokota Fritz said...

Bwah ha ha!!

Anonymous said...

http://www.rasmusriemann.dk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/381537-politiet-trkker-i-cykeltjet-.jpg

Politiet bruger nu også cykler!