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road sage

Sometimes an idea comes along that is so wrong, so misguided and so deficient in the properties that comprise a good idea, that all you can do is stand in slack-jawed wonder. These ideas often originate in the Washington, D.C. area.

Take, for example, the omnibus Vision Zero bill introduced in May by Charles Allen, a council member for one of the District of Columbia’s eight wards. The bill is designed to reduce pedestrian and cyclist accidents and includes many ideas that make sense, such as lowering speed limits on residential streets. According to a report by NBC Washington, a “pilot program, called the Citizen Safety Enforcement Pilot Program, would allow up to 10 people per ward to dole out citations after receiving some training. If more than 10 people per ward apply for the position, participants in the program would be chosen by lottery.”

So, a total of 80 neighbours anonymously snitching on neighbours by issuing parking tickets.

I challenge you to come up with a worse solution. It is the equivalent of curing a headache by pounding a seven-inch nail into your skull. The only way that I could hope to get a metaphor that would encapsulate the true magnitude of the dumbness of this idea would be to travel back in time, kidnap Shakespeare and force him at gunpoint to write one.

Let’s revel in the myriad of ways this misses the mark.

What sort of person volunteers to be an unpaid parking officer charged with policing their neighbours?

How about the kind of person who gets off on the idea of doling out parking tickets to nearby residents? The sort of person who has so many disputes with those who live around them that they need a proprietary software program to keep track of them. In other words, exactly the wrong type of person to be a volunteer parking officer.

Being a parking enforcement officer is a tough job that requires extensive training, particularly in conflict resolution. They take a lot of abuse. I’m not sure how fun it is. Put it this way: I’ve never seen a parking officer moonwalking down the sidewalk. The only person who would volunteer for such a job is a person with scores to settle and time on their hands. What’s to stop them abusing their power? According to the bill, those found to have issued false tickets will get a $100-dollar fine. Maybe they can form a volunteer citizen’s group to police the volunteer parking enforcers.

But wait, there’s more!

These “citizen enforcers” will rat out their neighbours using the power of technology. NBC Washington reports, “the people selected would use an app that allows them to take a picture of an infraction, post it and then issue a citation.” Sounds amazing. With a swipe of your finger you can give that guy who plays his music too loud a fine. Sadly, it’s not clear what the app would be called. My votes would be for “Salem” or “McCarthy.”

Road safety is a serious problem that must be addressed. Councilman Allen’s omnibus bill contains some worthwhile initiatives. He’s proposing ending right turns on red lights. Such a move would be unpopular with motorists, but it would likely help alleviate fatalities among people crossing the road or cyclists navigating intersections. A study published in 2011 by McGill professor Luis Miranda-Moreno found that “bicycle safety at signalized intersections is significantly affected by the amount of right-turn motor vehicle movements or right-turn conflicts.”

Bicycle safety depends of the number of interactions and conflicts with vehicles,” says Miranda-Moreno. “The more vehicles conflicting with bikes at intersections, higher the chance of collision.”

Sadly, the proposed Citizen Safety Enforcement Pilot Program has received most of the attention. Sad, perhaps, but not surprising. When elected officials propose creating citizen groups to police other citizens, these officials deserve to be chastised. Leave parking tickets to trained professionals. Leave the would-be Citizen Safety Enforcement enforcers where they are – muttering under their breath as they peer suspiciously through the curtains, incensed that someone had the temerity to walk by with a smile on their face.

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