How Does the City Enforce ‘Complete Streets’?

bicycleThe Complete Streets Bill passed City Council unanimously last week—and that’s good. So long as Nutter signs it into law (he’s expressed support of the bill), it’ll mean no more cars parking or opening doors in your bike lanes and no more bikes blowing through red lights and stop signs (a $50-$75 fine all around). The legislation will also require that the city consider both bicycles and cars when designing or redesigning new streets, which means, essentially, more bike lanes.

“This bill is a victory for pretty much every conceivable Philadelphian. If you ride a bicycle, walk, take transit, drive a car, or use a wheelchair, this bill will have beneficial long-term impact on your ability to get around.,” Nicholas Mirra, communications coordinator at the Bicycle Coalition wrote on the group’s blog. “In the short term, the bill will clarify and modernize Philadelphia’s traffic code with respect to bicycles and bike lanes. This should mean better and equitable enforcement of infringement upon the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists, such as bicyclists riding on the sidewalk and drivers parking illegally in bike lanes.”

There are currently bans on lots of traffic issues throughout the city. Things like listening to music and talking on the phone while biking—banned. Riding on the sidewalk—banned. Yet, as of October 10th, it was reported by the Daily News, there were just 35 tickets handed out to bicyclists in 2012. Police note that as they learn more about the law over the coming months, there may be changes in the way Philadelphia Police interact with those moving throughout the city with wheels.

“There have not been any changes as a result of that bill, as of yet,” says Philadelphia Police Lt. John Stanford. “Our legal department will have to review everything and see what’s what, and what boundaries we have.”

Stanford notes it’s still early to change police policy, seeing as the bill was just passed last week and has yet to be signed by Mayor Nutter.

But a statewide bicycle-related law went into effect in April 2nd requires the following: “motorists must allow at least four feet between your vehicle and a bicycle for the vehicle to safely pass the bicycle, and motorists should pass at a careful and prudent reduced speed.”

According to a request by Philadelphia Weekly, police note that “There have been 0 (zero) Traffic Violation Reports,” of the rule, as of Nov. 16.

And if any actual progress is to be made concerning bicyclists in the city, enforcement is likely key. In a newsletter put together by the International Police Mountain Bike Association, it’s noted: “Increasing enforcement of traffic laws for bicyclists requires a change of attitude by police officers on the street as well as administrators.”

Police often find themselves not enforcing bicycle laws, for several reasons, but one obvious one: “Very few police officers receive training or encouragement to enforce bike laws,” notes Kirby Beck, the author of the report. “It typically is not part of the law enforcement paradigm.”

Though, according to the report, enforcement can result in several positives for a community, including a reduction in crashes and “reduction in the over $1,000 per year per person spent in the US as a result of these crashes.”

A quick non-scientific survey of five bicyclists in Center City found all admitting to going through red lights—though all expressed they do so with care. All noted that cars often give them less than four feet, as well.

“Maybe [I’ll get four feet] on streets like Market or Broad,” noted one bike messenger on Spruce Street. “But usually it’s a foot and a half, or less. Inches maybe.” The messenger also noted that he tries not to go through red lights, but if he does, “I’ll check it out, then go through.”

Another bicyclist in Center City noted he “very rarely” is given four feet, then recalled a story in which he was screamed at by a driver, called a “bitch,” then told that driver to get out of his car and say it to his face. Such occurrences, he said, are not anomalies. Regarding red lights, he said, if there’s no traffic, he’ll often go through. If there’s a child there, he said, he’ll follow the law so as to not set a bad example. “I’m conscious of things like that,” he said.

3 Responses to “ How Does the City Enforce ‘Complete Streets’? ”

  1. Stanley Bziukiewicz says:

    It’s about time that Philadelphia address this issue regarding cyclists and motorists alike. States on the West coast such as Washington State and Oregon have been using bike lanes and are very friendly. The atmosphere for cyclists there appears to be more congenial and pro bike oriented. I do ride a bike but am still very cautious when it comes to riding in the streets and in the City. The way I look at it is that the City definitely needs to improve the bike lanes and this is long overdue.

  2. Matt Hazz says:

    If cops are going to start enforcing the full stop at red light rule for cyclists I hope they follow it themselves. Seen many a bike copy just roll through red lights and stop signs just like the rest of us.

  3. Ray says:

    Lt. Stanford: So how is it that to this day Center City police patrols are not aware of the City Code concerning bicycle laws in a Business District? Citing police ignorance is not acceptable. Inconsistent, more like indifferent, police enforcement during the “Give Respect Get Respect” and similar targeted enforcement campaigns in Center City leads me to believe that nothing will change here and bicyclists will continue to ride on sidewalks, run redlights/stop signs, and go against traffic with impunity. The 5 bicyclists mentioned here as admitting to running redlights and the messenger whining about not getting his 4 feet as per the law but then breaking the law in running the redlight are the problem. This stuff happens everywhere all over Center City. For too long I have watched police do nothing when these behaviors occur right in front of them and that includes police on bicycles. Thanks Lt. Stanford! I know why the bike cop I saw last week on the Arch street sidewalk across from the Convention Center did nothing while the bicyclist whizzed by him on the sidewalk as he went back to something important: nose down in his smartphone.

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