How Does the City Enforce ‘Complete Streets’?
The 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.