Houston needs to bike more, but maybe not like this.
Arnoldo Peña II pedaled down U.S. 59 on a bicycle last week as a Houston police officer wailed his siren in an apparent attempt to pull him over. It’s quite the sight:
In a way, Peña lived the collective fantasy of bicyclists everywhere by trekking on a busy highway with a police escort. Seen on a viral video smiling, the bleach blonde bicyclist later said he was on his way to a friend’s house when he decided the highway stretch near Montrose and the Museum District was the easiest path across town.
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A week later, three things have changed. His hair is blue, he has a pending misdemeanor charge and he’s singing a different tune on highway cycling.
“Don’t ride your bike on the freeway, kids,” Peña, in an exclusive interview with Chron, said.
Remember that video of the guy riding his bike down U.S. 59 with police close behind? I tracked him down, and here’s what he had to say: “Don’t ride your bike on the freeway, kids” https://t.co/7kzHcpDR8l pic.twitter.com/dcWSJ9bKRX
— Jay R. Jordan (@jayrjordan) March 31, 2021
Peña walked to the interview and left on foot because police confiscated his bike and hadn’t returned it as of Tuesday.
“I originally cut through downtown,” Peña said. “It would have taken me way longer to go not on the freeway than to be on the freeway. Plus the hills help me get speed. That was my idea. I didn’t even know that would have happened, like I was going to be arrested or anything.”
‘I’m not picking up speed’
Police radio traffic indicates that a HPD sergeant spotted Peña cycling the highway around 1:50 p.m. March 23 and asked for backup.
“I’m not going to approach him unless I got somebody behind me,” the sergeant could be heard saying.
Police spokesperson Victor Senties said the sergeant tried to pull Peña over, but he didn’t stop. He biked to take the exit for Shepherd Drive but double-backed and biked up the off ramp.
Peña said he returned to the highway because he didn’t understand what the sergeant wanted him to do. According to police, the sergeant at one point pulled up alongside Peña, rolled down the window and yelled after him to stop.
Peña said he heard no such thing as cars whizzed by.
“Immediately what was going through my head was, I guess he just wants me to exit the freeway, not to like stop or anything,” Peña said. “I know they have the intercom, and he didn’t say anything on the intercom. He just had his lights flashing. I was kind of confused, not sure to stop or not stop or to get off. I was like, let me continue on the path and he’ll say something if he needs me to do anything or he’ll get out. I’m not picking up speed.”
Within 10 minutes, backup arrived and officers took Peña into custody.
Police are pointing to those 10 minutes of Peña’s confusion as evidence that he evaded arrest.
“I was definitely not evading the cops,” Peña said. “I couldn’t evade the cops if I wanted to. He was in a car, so I don’t know why.”
Highways, bikes and the law
The Texas Transportation Commission can ban bicycles on any stretch of state-run highway, but none are on the books.
When asked if it was illegal, Senties deferred to the Texas Transportation Code (which gives the commission their authority) and any city ordinance saying so.
That started a 24-hour rabbit hole of phone calls, emails and confusion that still didn’t turn up any answers.
Houston’s ordinance on bicycles says the city’s traffic engineer can “erect signs on any roadway prohibiting the riding of bicycles.”
Erin Jones, Houston Public Works spokesperson, said the traffic engineer does not make rules on a state or federal highway, and that there are no bicycle bans on any street in Houston.
A highway bicycle ban would fall under TxDOT’s jurisdiction, she said.
She referred back to the Texas Transportation Code, which states the Texas Highway Commission can ban bicycles on any stretch of state-run highway … wait, I’ve written this before.
Regardless of the legality of riding on the freeway, bicycle riders are still beholden to the rules of the road – which include pulling over for police.
When a driver takes off and leads police on a pursuit, they are typically slapped with a felony charge called evading in a motor vehicle. Peña was charged with misdemeanor evading since he was on a bike, despite the fact that he was accused of refusing to pull over.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had something like this happen,” Peña said. “I’ve had a speeding ticket before, but that was much different than how it’s been going right now.”
He contends he was simply trying to enjoy the weather and go to his friend’s house on the opposite side of town when police interjected.
Still, a judge found probable cause that he evaded the cops, meaning he could go to trial where he faces up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
“I was on my bike because I like biking,” Peña said. “I was like, why not be on the freeway? It’ll be quick and easy. Apparently not. It was the opposite of quick and easy, a terrible idea, terrible decision.”
What do you make of the situation? Let me know on Twitter: @jayrjordan.
Source : chron.com