On Friday, December 15, 2017, Dan Masterson accomplished something few cyclists have ever achieved. He made two noteworthy and significant contributions to the Michigan Bicycling Community. To understand these contributions, one needs to first understand a little about Dan and the circumstances that placed him in a position to make a positive impact for cyclists last Friday.
Dan the Man
Photo Credit: Tim Potter
Dan is a UAW member and works at Chrysler’s Warren Stamping Plant. For nine years, Dan has ridden his bicycle to work. In fact, on a cold, single-digit winter day, with over six inches of snow on the ground, he logged his 1000th consecutive day on the bike. So it’s fair to say that Dan spends a lot of time in the saddle.
The Warren Stamping Plant sits on the corner of Mound Road and Nine Mile Road. To get to and from work, Dan takes Nine Mile Road, which is a five-lane road with a 35 mph speed limit. Most cyclists wouldn’t consider Nine Mile to be an ideal road for bikes, but in Warren, Nine Mile is about as good as it gets for cyclists.
Warren Michigan – A Motor City
Warren is clearly an auto-centric city. It is the home of the General Motors Tech Center (a facility with 28 buildings where more than 20,000 GM employees work), Chrysler’s Stamping Plant, GM’s Transmission Plant, and UAW Locals 140, 155, 160, 869, 889, and 1248. Warren’s emphasis on the auto industry is exemplified by its infrastructure, which makes it clear that city planners didn’t consider any other means of transportation aside from the automobile.
The Disagreement Over A Cyclist’s Rights Develops
Many of the roads in Warren have a 50 mph speed limit. Accordingly, with a speed limit of only 35 mph, Nine Mile is a road where police can routinely catch motorists speeding. Unfortunately, one officer, who routinely looks for speeders on Nine Mile, has stopped Dan on more than one occasion. On numerous instances, the officer directed Dan to “get out of the road,” via his vehicle PA system. This set in motion an ongoing disagreement between Dan and the officer as to the correct manner for a cyclist to use the road. Things seemed to come to a head on February 23, 2017, when the officer gave Dan a ticket for “impeding traffic” after the officer observed Dan riding in the center turn lane, preparing to make a left turn into the parking lot of the Warren Stamping Plant. After being ticketed, Dan represented himself at a hearing in order to contest the charge. Without an attorney, Dan felt like he was “railroaded.” The magistrate quickly sided with the police officer. She made Dan feel as if he didn’t have a chance to explain his side of things. Ultimately, he was held responsible and ordered to pay a fine of $175 prior to leaving the courthouse.
Eight months later, on October 24, 2017, the same officer issued Dan a ticket for “improper lane use.” However, this time, Dan went to court with the assistance of Bike Law Michigan.
“ Improper” Use of Traffic Lanes
On the day at issue, Dan left work at approximately 3:15 p.m. and was traveling eastbound on Nine Mile Road. Before crossing a railroad track, he looked to see if it was safe to move from the right edge of the roadway to the center turn lane. He then moved into the center lane, both to avoid the roughest section of the railroad crossing and to prepare for a left turn into a driveway on the north side of Nine Mile, which would allow him to ride on a relatively safe stretch of sidewalk. (Note: Bike Law, the League of American Bicyclists, and many other advocacy groups recommend riding on the road because it is generally safer than riding on the sidewalk. However, with Warren’s infrastructure, we concede that it is sometimes safer for cyclists to be on the sidewalk)
After traveling a short distance in the center lane, the officer (who was sitting in a patrol car that was parked on the tracks south of Nine Mile), got on his PA system and told Dan to “get off the road.” (the officer denies he told Dan to get out of the road and instead claims he told Dan to get out of the center of the road) Dan ignored the officer’s statement, proceeded to the driveway in the center lane, and made his left turn. He then got off his bike, walked across the street to the police officer and asked the officer how the officer expected him to safely turn left if he can’t use the center lane. At that point, the officer issued Dan a citation for “improper lane use.”
Another Day in Court = Another Victory for Cyclists
The morning of the hearing, Dan rode to the 37th District Court on his Detroit Bikes C-Type, with a custom Faygo Red paint job. (for you non-Detroiters, Faygo is a local soda company and one of its most popular flavors is Redpop).
Prior to the hearing, the officer offered Dan an opportunity to enter a plea from “improper lane use” to a lesser charge of “impeding traffic.” There were a few problems with the plea deal offered to Dan. First, Dan didn’t break the law or do anything wrong. He was simply trying to get home from work. Second, the fine for improper lane use is $155 and the fine for impeding traffic is $175. The officer was under the impression this was still a good deal for Dan because improper lane use adds two points to a person’s driving record, and impeding traffic carries no points. However, the officer didn’t understand there is a law that prevents anyone found guilty of a bicycle (or pedestrian) violation from receiving points on their driving record. Accordingly, the officer was essentially telling Dan he had three choices: (1) admit he violated the laws regarding the use of traffic lanes and pay $150, (2) admit he impeded traffic and pay $175, or (3) go before the judge for a formal hearing. In his first bicycle advocacy move of the day, Dan decided for option #3, the formal hearing.
The hearing was relatively short. The City Attorney called the officer as his only witness, and Dan was given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. As in past bicycle citation cases that we have defended, it became clear that the ticketing officer relied on a Michigan statute that requires cyclists to ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway,” but in doing so failed to read beyond the first sentence of the statute and recognize there are numerous circumstances where it is appropriate for a cyclist to move to the left, including “when preparing to turn left,” “surface hazards,” and “uneven roadway surfaces.”
After the hearing, Judge Matthew P. Sabaugh, asked the district attorney to articulate why he thought Dan violated the law and it was clear there was no reasonable answer to this basic question. The judge commented that he thought it would be helpful if the officer and Dan could simply work out some type of understanding regarding how he is going to ride his bike to work, and found Dan “not responsible” (not guilty) of any violations of the traffic laws.
Dan Still Accepts the Officer’s Offer to Pay $175
At the conclusion of the hearing, Dan achieved “double bicycle advocacy status” for the day. He decided that he would still take the officer up on the idea that he pay $175, or $20 more than the fine associated with the traffic violation he was wrongfully accused of committing. However, instead of writing a check to the City of Warren, Dan decided he was writing his check to the League of Michigan Bicyclists, to help the LMB with its mission of making Michigan a better place for all people who ride a bike.
Make a Difference in Cycling by Donating
We hope others won’t need to be wrongfully accused and go to court in order to stand up for the rights of cyclists. However, we do encourage all to make a contribution to the League of Michigan Bicyclists, or your local bicycle advocacy groups. With the year coming to a close, there is no better time to make a contribution.
A few of our favorite bicycle advocacy organizations: