Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bike Cops Take Subculture Sensitivity Training

They are among us.
Nearly a decade into Budapest’s bicycling revolution, the police are at last rolling out a cycling patrol squad in the capital. An article in both stokes and allays my misgivings about it.

The worrisome part is that they'll be patrolling precisely those areas where cyclists are apt to be drinking adult beverages and are therefore liable for drunk-driving citations. On the bright side, the patrols have taken some sensitivity training on the local cycling subculture, including the part about why lightly-buzzed bikers are not the biggest menace to society.

Bicycle patrols are not new to Hungary, but to date they have been confined mainly to the countryside, where cycling has historically been much more common. Now that cycling has also caught on in Budapest, the National Police have decided to urbanise the concept.

As in the countryside, the new bike patrols in the city will cover popular summer recreation routes. These include Budapest’s two largest public parks (Margit Island and City Park in Pest), the connecting routes in between and the shared bike and foot paths on both banks of the Danube River.

The new scheme includes just 10 bicycles – mountain bikes painted in the blue and white colours of the National Police Force. They're equipped pretty much the same as any bike, with the exception of a special compartment for handcuffs just below the rear carrying rack. A squad of 40 officers has been selected for the detail, working in shifts from the early morning until 9 p.m. everyday.

According to the index article, the new squad is not meant as a crackdown on scofflaw cyclists. The officers say they will look to maintain order amongst all traffic regardless of mode.

In a sign of good will toward the cycling community, the new patrols were sat down for a presentation about the city’s cycling subculture by Károly Sinka ("Sinya"), co-director of a local bike-courier business and a leader of Budapest’s Critical Mass movement. During his talk, Sinka told the officers that parts of Hungary’s traffic code just don’t make sense from a cyclist’s point of view. A prime example is the prohibition on cyclists riding in certain priority bus lanes -- including Fő utca on the Buda side, Sinka said. If a cyclist follows the rule and instead rides in the next lane over – in the middle of the carriageway -- he or she becomes much more of an obstruction to motor traffic, he said.

Sinka also mentioned the zero-tolerance drink-driving rule. It’s clear that a significant portion of those riding bikes during Budapest evenings are drinking alcohol and police could bring charges against everyone of them, he conceded. "However, it’s not certain if it’d be worth it,” Sinka said, adding that the police in many large cities are expressly asked not to perform blood-alcohol tests on cyclists. “Most such cyclists, as long as they’re not staggering, do not pose any danger to traffic.”

No comments: