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Car-Free Austin
alternative transportation news & views

March 4, 2001
Email | BicycleAustin.info
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Editor: Michael Bluejay   Contributors: ACLU of TX  Research/Tips: Scott Henson, Kathryn Otto


From the Editor

Contest Results. I can't figure you folks out. Over 100 of you participated in the December contest, keeping me busy processing entries for a whole day. This time, a whopping EIGHT of you entered (making the odds pretty good for those who did). The winner of the random drawing for a $25 gift certificate to a local bike shop is Mike Librik, which is pretty ironic when you consider that Mike owns a local bike shop.

New Newsletter Name: I wound up using my own idea for a new newsletter name, but hey, I didn't get many entries. Car-Free Austin reflects that the scope of this newsletter has grown beyond bikes, often covering alternative transportation in general -- bikes just happening to be a large part of that topic.

Let's get something straight so there aren't misunderstandings: I have nothing against cars. My problem is with the car-culture. Some of my best friends drive cars. :)   But some of my best friends have also been hit by them, and all of us have suffered from America's obsession with them -- dirty air, dangerous streets, energy crises, and land-use policies which destroy the community character of cities by striving to accommodate cars instead of people. You don't have to be "car-free" to read this newsletter; most people who ride bikes also have a car. The new title simply reflects a desire to see Austin provide transportation choices other than cars, and for the city to regain some of its personal, human-scale character.

Volatility. I remind you that the newsletter is published only sporadically, and may cease publication without notice....

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Police association tries to gut review board

Cyclists have a keen interest in police oversight since many of us know cyclists who have been arrested and jailed for such crimes as riding on the sidewalk, not wearing a helmet, or asking an officer for his badge number. (examples Part of the problem is that nobody oversees the police, giving them no incentive to avoid abusing their power. If you have a complaint about the police, who do you have to take it to? The police! This works just about as well as you might expect. A Florida organization called the Police Complaint Center, run by a former cop, secretly videotapes what happens when citizens ask for complaint forms at police stations across the country. Not only are the police often uncooperative, they sometimes threaten or arrest the person asking for the complaint form. (You can watch the video on their website, though it's bogged down with a lot of Java gadgetry and loads slowly.)

For years now, citizens have been calling for Austin to set up a civilian review board for the police department which would investigate cases of police abuse, but the City Council historically has had little interest in doing so. A break came last year, when the council set up a Police Oversight Focus Group, made up of representatives from the community and from the police department, to come up with a proposal for a review board. They did so. It looked as though a decent review board might finally become reality. But then the police association and the city manager rewrote the review board proposal, gutting it of its most important elements. Here's how the ACLU of TX puts it:

The most important reforms, negotiated over many months, gave limited access (for complainants and the oversight board) to information about investigations of complaints against officers. In return, police officers would get a large pay raise. [But] the police association abandoned the public agreement and gutted the POFG deal in closed door labor negotiations with City Manager Jesus Garza. Under the new deal, all information has been restricted from complainants, the proposed oversight board, and the public. The proposed system is just as closed and just as accountable as the current system -- that is to say, it is completely closed and not accountable to anyone at all. The pay raise, you may imagine, was left intact.

The City Council is set to decide whether to accept the police-revised proposal this week. We're urging Austinites to ask the council to REJECT the police-revised proposal, and instead to approve the original proposal authored by the focus group (which the police association signed off on). Here's what you can do:

  1. Sign the letter that citizens are submitting to the council and to the Austin Chronicle, urging the council to reject the police version of the proposal. To have your name added as a signer, email Scott Henson by Monday (3-5-01).

  2. Call or write the city council to ask them to reject the police version of the proposal. Contact information for councilmembers is available on BicycleAustin.info.

  3. Go to the city council meeting to express your concern directly. The meeting is this Thursday, 3-8, at the LCRA (3700 Lake Austin Blvd., Hancock Building Boardroom). It's not clear yet at what time this agenda item will be considered; call the City Clerk at 499-2306 for an update on the hearing time.

  4. If you can help flier or phone bank, call Karen Heikkala at 462-1486.

For more information on this issue, visit the ACLU of Texas website.

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Statesman screws cyclists, again

Last month the Austin American-Statesman printed a flurry of letters about SB238 (which would ban bikes on Texas roadways in certain conditions), many of them supporting the bill. One reader wrote to complain that motorists shouldn't be held accountable when they accidentally hit reckless cyclists. This prompted me to submit the following letter:

Bud Lawson wrote, "Motorists and their insurance companies should not be held responsible for illegal or irresponsible actions taken by cyclists on public roadways." Don't worry, Bud, motorists are not held responsible even when they're the ones at fault. Half the cases of drivers hitting cyclists that I know of are hit-and-runs, and motorists who can't be found face no consequences (such as the ones who hit Keith Hailey, Mark Bennett Brooks, Jennifer Schaeffer, and Thomas Linsley). Heck, even when there are witnesses and the license plate is known, the police may take no action against a hit-and-run driver (such as the one who hit Jay Williams). When motorists do bother to stick around after they hit one of us, they're still unlikely to face penalties, even if they were clearly at fault (such as the ones who hit Janne Osborne, Devorah Feldman, and Tom Churchill) -- even if they were well beyond legally drunk when they killed the cyclist (such as the one who killed Andrew Turner).
More information about these cases is available at BicycleAustin.info/justice
Michael Bluejay

But that's not how the Statesman ran it. Among other edits, they removed all the named examples AND the website address! Thus Statesman readers can go on believing that the kind of injustice I described doesn't really exist, for if it did, why wouldn't I list any evidence? The Statesman also deliberately denied their readers the opportunity to read about these cases elsewhere, effectively sweeping this issue under the rug.

There's more to this story. Read about it at BicycleAustin.info.

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Planning begins for Austin Bike Month (May)

In the mid-90's, Austin started having a Bike Week to promote cycling, with bike fairs, discounts at local stores for people who biked there, and a Corporate Challenge to see which business could get the highest percentage of its employees to bike to work on the designated day. By the end of the 90's, Bike Week had grown into Bike Month. Two of the biggest events of Bike Month are Bike to Work Day and the Political Pedal (which gives cyclists an opportunity to ride through downtown with elected officials).

Cyclists are beginning to plan this year's Bike Month activities. A new email list for planning Bike to Work Day has just been set up, which you can read or subscribe to. [Ed. note: Years later, I see this list no longer exists so I removed the link.]

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Publication / Subscription Info

General Info: Car-Free Austin covers alternative transportation, especially bicycling. We're not opposed to cars, we're opposed to the car culture. CFA is published sporadically, and may be discontinued at any time without notice. We currently have 615 subscribers.

Contact info & author/research credits are here. Articles are by the editor if uncredited. Articles by others may have been edited for grammar, clarity, conciseness, superstition, or just for the hell of it.

Back Issues are here.

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Thanks for reading this far. Ride safely! :) -MBJ-

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I've tried without success to get local groups to add their events to this calendar (Bike Texas, the Yellow Bike Project, City's Bicycle Program, Bike Austin, etc.)
If you'd like to help edit the calendar, or at least add your group's events to it, then please let me know!

Another site by Michael Bluejay...

Saving Electricity. Find out how much juice your stuff uses, and how to save money and energy. As seen in Newsweek.

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