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Carr: Better for Bikers than Holmes?

By Erica C. Barnett October 16, 2009

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I'm a civil-rights advocate who believes a vibrant nightlife is important to a city's culture and economy.

I'm also an avid biker who believes even more strongly that cyclists need more bike facilities, better laws, and more respect from drivers and public officials.

So who should I vote for for city attorney?

It's well established that current city attorney Tom Carr has a lousy record on nightlife. (See: Operation Sobering Thought, the poster ban, all-ages shows, good neighbor agreements, etc.)

What's less well-known is that he has an awesome record on bike issues. For example, he's consistently opposed police harassment of cyclists, intervened when cops have refused to take accident reports from people who were hit by cars on their bikes, and been a staunch advocate for the so-called "vulnerable user" law, which would make it a crime, not just a traffic infraction, to seriously injure or kill someone with your car.

Currrently, unless you're drunk or driving in a manner that's willfully reckless (a very high bar to pass), you can hit and kill a cyclist and drive away with nothing more than—at most—a traffic infraction. The new law—which failed to make it out of committee last session, despite advocacy by Carr and others including the Cascade Bicycle Club—would make severely injuring or killing a cyclist or pedestrian while committing a traffic infraction a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

[caption id="attachment_16355" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="City Attorney Tom Carr and State Sen. Adam Kline"]City Attorney Tom Carr and State Sen. Adam Kline[/caption]

Carr's advocacy for the law is one reason Cascade has endorsed Carr, who also happens to be an avid cyclist; the group's advocacy director, David Hiller, says the group has consistently "been able to deal with [cyclists'] issues quickly and conclusively thanks to Tom's help. He's one call away for me, literally." Hiller adds, "His advocacy on behalf of the injured and killed has been invaluable."

Carr's opponent Pete Holmes, in contrast, says he would not favor making assault by vehicle a misdemeanor. "It's trying to again criminalize traffic infractions without showing how it’s going to improve public safety," Holmes says. "What does a criminal prosecution accomplish? It’s not going to bring back the bicyclist. It's not going to improve public safety. The money that we have spent unnecessarily prosecuting [drivers] could have been better spent on driver and bicyclist education. ... Do we want to terrify drivers" by making them fear criminal prosecution, he asks.

Holmes says he would prefer an approach more like Oregon's, where drivers who injure or kill cyclists while breaking traffic laws get their licenses suspended and are subject to heavy fines and retraining.

As for the other issues Hiller mentions, Holmes says they aren't the city attorney's responsibility.

If police are harassing cyclists, he says, "I would hope that people would file complaints with [the Office of Professional Accountability, an arm of the police department when that happens. And if they aren't taking reports? "That's another example where something is already required by law," he says.
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