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Reducing the law to mere suggestion

Robert Reid, Portland Oregonian
There have been two cyclist homicides in recent weeks, and nothing has been done about them. That’s right — homicides, defined by law as causing the death of another human being. Under Oregon law, all homicides are felonies if committed without justification or excuse.

The Multnomah County district attorney’s office and the Portland police have apparently decided that killing cyclists is either justified or it is excusable. The Portland Police Bureau, through its Traffic Division spokesman, Mark Kruger, went so far as to blame the cyclists for not yielding their rights. And the DA’s office isn’t likely to do anything about the homicides either. But when one officer stated to the press that there was no negligence or recklessness in young Tracey Sparling’s death, he was more than just incorrect; he was giving voice to the law enforcement community’s view that cyclists’ lives are not worth protecting.

We are all equal users of the road in the eyes of the law. The vast majority of drivers are safe, courteous and respectful. Most cyclists have learned that they, too, must respect the law if they are to remain safe, even yielding their right of way on many occasions merely to stay alive. Drivers proceed through a green light with the expectation that the logging truck approaching the opposing red light will honor the law and stop, rather than rolling on through and crushing their car. Likewise, cyclists ride in the bicycle lane with the expectation that drivers will honor their right of way at intersections. The law is supposed to protect the vulnerable.

But failure to enforce cyclists’ rights increases their risk of dying on the road, by sending a clear message that drivers do not have to look out for the more vulnerable among us. And the more dangerous the vehicle you drive, the less responsibility will be expected of you. Too big to see clearly? Inadequate mirrors? In a hurry? No problem. Turn blindly across a traffic lane that has a right of way superior to yours — even if your vehicle weighs as much as a house. You won’t get even a traffic citation, much less be held criminally responsible.

Robert Reid is a Portland criminal attorney.
(8 November 2007)

Athens – asserting the right to walk in an auto-cracy

Original: Running Out of Space to Park, and Places to Walk
Anthee Crassava, New York Times
Wandering along a walkway in central Athens, Tassos Pouliasis found a sport utility vehicle blocking his path.

The vehicle — parked illegally with its boxy body positioned squarely across the pavement — left no space for pedestrians to squeeze past, and like most Athenians who face the same predicament daily, Mr. Pouliasis was about to step into the street to go around it.

But then, he thought, why not go over it?

On the spur of the moment he decided to engage in a form of activism, popular elsewhere in Europe, called car vaulting. No one saw this protest, and perhaps nothing would have happened, but Mr. Pouliasis’ stunt — unusual even for this city’s agitated pedestrians — backfired. Mr. Pouliasis, 29, was accused of vandalism. He was locked up in a detention center then released pending trial next year on a string of offenses that could send him to prison for four years.

…In many other countries, Mr. Pouliasis, a graphic designer, might have found some sympathy from the authorities, and the car’s owner would have received a ticket for parking illegally.

But in Greece, the concerns and rights of pedestrians are widely disregarded.

“Step on a sidewalk or try crossing any street here, and chances are you’ll instantly feel like the prey of a safari hunt,” said Vassilis Theodorou of the Hellenic Association of Road Traffic Victim Support. “This is the only place in Europe where the golden traffic rule — that pedestrians have the unconditional right of way — is so brazenly disrespected.”
(9 November 2007)

Auto Workers, Dealers Break From Industry Over CAFE
An auto-industry based sign-on campaign is urging for passage of a 35 mile-per-gallon fuel economy standard by 2020. The Auto Lobby Doesn’t Speak For Us website ( goes live today to enlist maverick industry workers who believe the domestic auto makers not only can, but must, build more fuel-efficient cars if the industry is to survive.

Breaking ranks with their own automobile industry, Adam Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls in Maine, Gary Muenzhuber, representing Autoworkers of Minnesota, Inc, Chicago-based Chuck Frank, owner of one of the nation’s largest Chevy dealerships and Wisconsin-based Karen Bowen, a former Ford manager, have already signed on.

Third generation autodealer, Adam Lee, who is leading this effort and owns eleven dealerships, makes a personal plea on the website to others whose livelihoods are dependent upon the domestic auto manufacturers.
(8 November 2007)
Related from Sustainable Business: Clinton Calls for 55 Mpg.