Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In the face of a $106 ticket, my advice to you is to remain calm.

For those not in "the know", in late June I was pulled over by a motorcycle cop while on my bicycle. I wish I could say it was dramatic, but I got nothin'. No lights, no sirens, just a mustachioed officer yelling at me over the rumble of his motor to pull over.

I complied, and unlike my youthful days, remained quiet and polite as he issued me a $106 ticket for running a red light. After issuing the ticket, the cop looked bummed. "Bicyclists must usually give him a lot of shit," I thought.

Before getting back on his hog, he flipped the ticket over and suggested I send in for a mitigation hearing. I figured he felt bad because I was so compliant, either that or he was embarrassed by the foot traffic laughing at him for pulling over a bike commuter.

I sent in the ticket and waited for my court date to arrive. As it turns out, the courts are backed up in a big way. They offered an adjudication by mail. Now, anyone who knows me a lick, knows I have some finesse with words. So after a week of stewing, I wrote this:

Dear Sir or Madam:

I do not own a car. Since moving to Seattle over a year ago, I have either walked or commuted by bike every workday. I walk or ride the same route from Beacon Hill, down Holgate, to 1st Ave South in SoDo. Walking/cycling the same route to and from work - the potholes and unused tracks, the signals and traffic patterns - became like the back of my hand, familiar and predictable, that is until 2 weeks ago.

On the day of the incident, I was cycling to work and was stopped by a red light at the SODO busway and Holgate. The new Light Rail was running, and all traffic was stopped heading East and West. After the Light Rail coach passed and the gates raised, the busway lights for traffic heading North and South turned red. I started to peddle toward the intersection in anticipation of the light change. The Eastbound traffic had started moving, and until this day the green light had never been staggered at this intersection. That is to say, lights had always changed at the same time. This day, however, the lights were staggered. The Westbound lanes weren’t getting the green light that the Eastbound had. By the time I realized this, and uttered a confused expletive under my breath, I was already a few feet into the intersection. I also want to mention that there were no public transit vehicles present in the bus way, only eastbound traffic, continuing east. As I was already in the intersection, I continued through instead of awkwardly stopping and walking my bike back. I realize that this is why I was issued the ticket.

I am asking for fine forgiveness or leniency based on the fact that I have never had a traffic citation in a year and a half of alternative commuting, and that I have never seen the lights staggered at the Holgate bus way intersection before the day of the incident or any day since. I am also uncertain as to whether this light may be an inductive one. If this is the case, the cars traveling Westbound with me that day were giving generous space, so perhaps no one was positioned correctly to change the light. Maybe it was an experiment to change traffic flow with the introduction of the new Light Rail. Whatever the cause of the sudden & brief change in light programming, I assure you that I have continued my commute with a renewed sense of vigilance, and would like to reiterate my plea for fine forgiveness based on the information above.

Thank you very much for your time.
Sincerely yours,
Audrey P.
Beacon Hill, Seattle

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Two weeks later, I received notice that my fine had been completely forgiven. Needless to say, I'm glad my letter found the right judge. But what I'm really glad for, is that I kept my mouth shut throughout the entire episode.

Author Audrey: 1
Issues w/Authority Audrey: 0