Sergeant William Fraass Get A Real Job: Part II
I put up a post a couple of months ago when I received a ticket from a useless policeman in Sausalito while cycling home from work on my bike. I decided to contest the $233.00 fine for avoiding a slow moving car on a narrow street. The other day I received my adjudication: guilty as charged. Of course I’m disappointed – I really don’t think cyclists should be able to be given traffic tickets in the first place – but I can’t complain because I had my day in court and justice was served (I guess…). I can say it’s been interesting to receive a few emails since I posted my initial rant on February 5, 2001 from random cyclists also ticketed by Fraass. One unfortunate cyclist even attested to seeing Fraass pumping his fist as he was pulling over a weekend cyclist on Broadway! So my initial suggestion to you remains, Sergeant William Fraass: start spending your time and my tax dollars on dealing with issues that are pertinent to the community rather than targeting innocent cyclists who are simply concerned with their safety. The mind boggles at just how much money cyclists – especially cyclists on rented bikes from San Francisco – bring into the Sausalito community each year.
In case anyone’s interested or in need of a structure to contest a similar violation, the letter I used to contest my ticket is below. It was formulated with the help of a good mate of mine who is a professor of law at UC Davis. But do note: I didn’t succeed in beating my ticket with this, so use at your own risk!
Marin County Superior Court
3501 Civic Center Drive
PO Box 4988
San Rafael CA 94913-4988
May 21, 2011
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing in regard to my trial by written declaration for citation number AB1234567 case number CT09876543. The bail amount of $233.00 has already been received by the Marin County Superior Court.
In brief, I did not violate CVC Section 21202 because I was legally and safely passing another vehicle that had slowed to less than walking speed in a narrow lane when I crossed the center dividing line for less than a second. CVC 21202(a) (1) and (3) specifically permit my action. While I did violate CVC 21460 (a) when passing the vehicle obstructing the lane, the lack of any explicit exceptions to CVC 21460 (a) and allowances made by CVC 21202(a) (1) and (3) should be considered when assessing this violation.
For the purpose of the following discussion the court may find it helpful to refer to ‘Exhibit A’ that I have submitted as evidence along with this letter. Exhibit A depicts a map of the location where the citation was issued and details events surrounding the infraction.
I Encounter an Erratically Moving Car That Mounts the Curb, Cutting Me Off
On the afternoon of February 4, 2011 I was riding my bicycle north along Alexander Avenue and west onto South Street when I encountered a blue Honda Fit vehicle traveling slowly in my lane. When I encountered the vehicle it was already holding up a number of vehicles and – as the section of South Street where I encountered the vehicle has a pullout on the right side – I was safely able to pass the vehicles being held up and approach the Honda Fit from the rear passenger side. Upon finding myself in close proximity to the vehicle I was able to see through the rear window that the driver was looking back and forth between the passenger seat and houses to the left; while I cannot be certain, I assume the driver was looking at a map and attempting to determine his location by searching the roadside for a street sign or house numbers. As I was readying to pass the vehicle on the left side, the driver’s erratic focusing between the passenger seat and surrounding houses resulted in the vehicle mounting the northern curb of South Street, blocking my path and causing me to back off from the vehicle out of concern for my safety.
The Erratically Moving Car Slows to a Crawl for No Reason
As the vehicle and I rounded the corner of South Street and began to move north on 2nd Street we came into view of Sergeant Fraass as he sat in his police cruiser in a pullout near the intersection of 2nd and Main Streets. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the fact that Sergeant Fraass could not have witnessed the Honda Fit mount the curb on South Street nor did he have time to observe the driver erratically focusing between the passenger seat and surrounding houses. Shortly after rounding the corner onto 2nd Street the driver of the Honda Fit slowed his vehicle to an almost complete stop. While the vehicle did not actually come to a stop, it was moving at a speed less than walking pace. Form my vantage point I could not see any reason for the sudden reduction in speed: there was nothing impeding the vehicle’s forward motion, no driveways or streets crossing with 2nd Street at the location where he slowed and no road signs signaling to stop.
I Pass the Car on a Narrow Street, Crossing the Center Line for Less than a Second
As a regular cyclist through Sausalito I am aware that the City of Sausalito has a number of signs explicitly prohibiting the use of bicycles on the sidewalks in downtown Sausalito, so I could not make my way around the Honda Fit via use of the sidewalk. From my position on my bicycle behind the slowed Honda Fit I could see north along 2nd Street that there was no immediate oncoming traffic, so at this point I chose to pass the Honda Fit on its left side. Given my observation of the Honda Fit driver’s erratic behavior and the fact that it led to him mount the curb on South Street, coupled with the fact that I could see no oncoming traffic on 2nd Street at the time of passing, out of concern for my safety I chose to give the Honda Fit a wide berth as I passed. The narrow width of the right lane of 2nd Street at the location of passing – which I later measured to be 9’6” wide – necessitated that in passing I cross the center dividing line for less than a second.
Section 21202 (a) of the California Vehicle Code states as follows:
Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
4. When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
As detailed above, in passing the slowed Honda Fit along 2nd Street I was within the limits of CVC Section 21202 (a) (1). As I was also moving to the left to avoid a vehicle that made it “unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge” of 2nd Street, I was also within the limits of CVC Section 21202 (a) (3). While the California Vehicle Code does not make any explicit measurements associated with its definition of a "substandard width lane", I would like to highlight Index 301.1 – Traveled Way Width of the California Department of Transportation’s Highway Design Manual:
The basic lane width for new construction on two-lane and multilane highways, ramps, collector roads, and other appurtenant roadways shall be 12 feet.
While the width of the lane where I passed the Honda Fit – at 9’6” wide – undoubtedly falls within the definition of a "substandard width lane" as defined by the California Vehicle Code – a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane – I would also like to highlight the fact that the lane is 2’6” narrower than the minimum lane width mandated for new road construction by the California Department of Transportation.
Unlike CVC 21202 (a), CVC 21460 (a) – the code I was charged with breaking – does not allow for any exceptions based on roadblocks, exceptionally slow moving traffic, or avoidance of an impending accident. Without explicit exceptions akin to those provided as part of CVC 21202 it is reasonable to assume that avoidance of an accident or a maneuver to ensure a driver’s safety – as was the case in my situation – should be permitted as an exception to CVC 21460 (a). The absence of an express exception to 21460 (a) covering evasive maneuvers undoubtedly implies exception for personal safety or emergencies.
Taking into consideration the situation surrounding the incident: the Honda Fit was moving at a slower-than-walking pace; the City of Sausalito’s explicit prohibition of riding bicycles on sidewalks in central Sausalito; the substandard width lane where the infraction occurred; Sergeant Fraass’ inability to view the erratic behavior of the Honda Fit’s driver along South Street; my maneuver across the double lines to avoid an accident and ensure my safe passage along the roadway; and the allowances made by items (1) and (3) of CVC Section 21202 (a) I trust that the court will realize the way in which I passed the Honda Fit was the only safe option available to me at the time of the incident irrespective of the explicit rules outlined by CVC 21460 (a).
I declare under penalty of perjury that this statement is true and correct.
Defendant in Pro Per
Map detailing location of infraction and events referenced in main declaration.