Bicycle enforcement campaign launched by Philadelphia police

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Update 11/22/09 @ 12:06 p.m.: Signs of this enforcement from Philebrity and the Inquirer.

Philadelphia police are introducing a bicycle enforcement campaign beginning tomorrow in Center City.

Forgive the lack of a direct focus on journalism, the future of news and my clips on this, but, as someone who uses bicycling transport fairly regularly (to save money and get exercise, something any freelancer would understand the value of making habit), it’s an issue I take seriously.

If you’re down, read some of my perspective and watch a video about police officers in another city using “discretion” with such bicycle street-law enforcement.

Anyone with any interest in urban dynamic will dig the debate, at least. The short of it is that there’s an increasing dependence on the bicycle to commute in Philadelphia — a walkable city and much maligned mass transit agency perhaps adding to the push grown out of other elements — and that’s putting bicyclists at odds with what had been for the past half-century a very dominant car culture of suburban commuters driving into Center City and driving home.

Now, with this new campaign, enforcement of myriad of driving code violations — from running a red light to traveling on a sidewalk or rolling through a stop sign — would ostensibly be taken as seriously with bicyclists as they are with car drivers.

On the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition blog post about the new campaign, I read a few great points with which I agreed and synthesized, so I thought I’d share them.

  1. Motorized vehicles and man-powered bicycles are very different. It seems outrageous that the negative externalities of motorized transport will be ignored in so that bicyclists will be penalized the same as a car driver breaking code.
  2. There are absolutely roadways that are unfriendly to bicyclists but have large yet unsused sidewalks — take a trip down Roosevelt Blvd. and much of Frankford Avenue north of Fishtown. Does that not seem outrageous to be fined? If every road has a bike path, then fine, but they don’t. (This campaign mentions a focus on Center City but is it wrong to think it will extend elsewhere if a cop wants to do so?)
  3. Let’s reemphasize the difference between a one ton piece of steel that goes no less than 25 mph on city roads and all of 150-200 pounds that can’t exceed 7 mph.
  4. What is the enforcement like, as Brendan said. Am I going to be arrested for not having ID and then feeling less than enthused about being forced to give out my name. [Update: City Council man Frank DiCicco has introduced legislation to require a one-time $20 registration fee for bicycle plates.]

Are those totally bogus?

I take seriously giving the right of way, but I absolutely cross red lights and stop signs, something that as a bicyclist I feel more able to do because of my far slower rate of speed. Stop signs and stop lights and the roadway system has been developed over the last 50 years for cars. That doesn’t make sense for a bicyclist, so isn’t there room to let some of this go?

Now, if this is just meant to be an enforcement campaign on the books so that those who drive or ride dangerously can be penalized, then sure, I have nothing to fight about that. But I can’t say that in my four years of riding pretty heavily in Philadelphia that I have too often seen bicylist behavior that warranted $120 fines.

Below watch a video made for Portland, Oregon police department to talk about using “discretion” in enforcing its code.