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Guest Opinion: Why won’t TPD protect bicyclists?

As a lawyer for Tucson cyclists who have been injured or assaulted by motorists, I have unfortunate experiences with the Tucson Police Department that make me question Tucson's commitment to our bicycling community.

As a lawyer for Tucson cyclists who have been injured or assaulted by motorists, I have unfortunate experiences with the Tucson Police Department that make me question Tucson's commitment to our bicycling community.

The Tucson Citizen was right to champion Tucson’s efforts to create new bike lanes (July 31 editorial “Pedaling away: new bike lanes”), but the Citizen missed the mark on Tucson’s “bike-friendly” status.

Tucson currently has a “gold” designation from the League of American Bicyclists for its bicycle-friendly infrastructure, and it hopes to upgrade to “platinum,” a status so far achieved only by Davis, Calif.

But many local cyclists wonder if Tucson’s status is deserved.

As a lawyer for Tucson cyclists who have been injured or assaulted by motorists, I have unfortunate experiences with the Tucson Police Department that make me question Tucson’s commitment to our bicycling community.

For example, one client fell at an intersection while attempting to avoid a motorist who drove through a stop sign.

My client lay in the intersection injured while the driver called 911. But after making the call, the driver thought twice and fled the scene.

When my client got out of the hospital, she asked police to trace the call and cite the driver, but they would not do so, and the city will not reveal the caller’s identity to us without a subpoena.

Another client was struck while she was riding to work in a bike lane. A witness told police the driver turned abruptly into her without signaling or slowing.

She was struck by the car and flew over the hood, landing in the intersection, injured.

Despite the witness’s account, the driver was not cited. I have placed nine telephone calls over the course of three weeks to the officer to ask him about this decision, but he has not returned my calls.

In front of me now is a police report of a woman who was slapped by the passenger of a car that had driven up alongside her as she rode her bicycle on Campbell Avenue.

She got the license number at the next light, but police refused to track the driver down and cite him.

One final example: Another client was cycling with a friend when a passenger leaned out a truck window and threw a soft drink at him, striking him in the head. The pair caught up with the pickup at the light and were calling 911 when the driver charged them in his vehicle.

They were able to leap out of the way, but the truck ran over both bicycles and dragged them for several blocks.

A good Samaritan followed the truck, got the license number and retrieved the destroyed bicycles. Again the police refused to cite the driver!

Only after we filed a complaint and pressured police to cite this man did they act, but at his trial the police failed to show, and the city attorney settled the case without a trial.

The driver received no fine or jail time and only a few points off his license. This slap on the wrist angered many people in Tucson’s cycling community.

I cannot explain the police reluctance to protect bicyclists.

I do not understand why they will not track 911 calls by people who flee accident scenes while their victims lie bleeding.

I cannot explain why they hold harmless a driver who abruptly charges into and injures a cyclist in a bike lane or one who assaults cyclists with thrown objects.

But until something changes at the Tucson Police Department, Tucson will never deserve the cherished “platinum” status.

On the contrary, a downgrade is in order.

Erik Ryberg is a Tucson lawyer who represents bicyclists who have been injured or assaulted by motorists.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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