Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fines Fines Everywhere a Fine

Two Bills Introduced By Councilman Kenney lists some pretty stiff penalties ($300) for riding on the sidewalk or wearing headphones. If you are caught operating a bicycle "without brakes" the bicycle would be subject to confiscation. But an analysis of similar code violations shows that these "crimes don't fit the time".

Let's examine the case of $300 for wearing headphones. The assumption here is that the bicyclist is distracted by wearing them. They could be listening to music, a podcast etc. The current law is quite simple and does not distinguish between noise canceling headphones, dollar store earbuds and bluetooth headsets.

Philadelphia recently passed an ordinance for talking on cell phones, a rampant distraction for pedestrians, bicyclists and especially motorists. The National Highway Safety Administration accounts that cell phone usage contributes to more than 2,600 traffic deaths annually, and if you are pulled over in Philadelphia for using a cell phone you will be fined a whopping $150. So theoretically your hands free bluetooth will cost more than riding with one hand stuck to your ear or texting about the latest gossip about "Twilight New Moon" to your friend Brittany.

Now what about bicycling on the sidewalk? In June 2009 Mayor Nutter signed a new law that raised the fines for bicycling on the sidewalk from $10 to $50 (In fact the Police charge $54, go figure). Compare that fine to Red Light Running, responsible for 900 traffic deaths and 153,000 injuries. Running a Red Light in Philadelphia will set you back $119. So if you need to use Roosevelt Boulevard you should really weigh the option of bicycling on the highway rather than on the sidewalk.

The proposed confiscation of bicycles without brakes is perhaps the most misunderstood concept of all. It appears that City Council does not understand the technology of fixed gear bicycles. Isaiah Thompson does a good job explaining this issue on the CityPaper's Clog. When are motor vehicles subject to confiscation? Well apparently if you are cited for Driving Under the Influence your vehicle could be confiscated. DUI contributes to 12,000 traffic deaths per year.

The oddities of Philadelphia's Bicycle Regulations raises the question as to why most of them are needed at all? The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania already has a good set of laws on the books pertaining to bicycles that conform with Chapter 11 of the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) which is a set of model traffic laws for states and local governments to adopt.

The Bicycle Coalition is involved in a deliberate process that will make recommendations to reform Bicycle regulations in the Philadelphia Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. But we may have an opportunity now to begin the discussion of fair and just bicycle laws with City Council.


Unknown said...

I guess I have to tell my 9 year boy that we have to ride our bikes in the street now. Or should I ride on the sidewalk with him and risk a ticket? How will I explain to him that the police are just doing their job and that I am not a 'real' criminal? I guess we'll take or chances with the motor vehicles that don't stop at stop signs, run read lights, turn on 'no turn on read' signs, and don't share the read. Remember Tony Jr.,, daddy loves you but our City Council doesn't.

barryg said...

Points mostly well taken, but are you suggesting that $50 (or $54) is too steep for riding on the sidewalk? I don't think so--this really needs to end as it is really dangerous. $300 is steep but this should be a highly discouraged activity.

WTF Matt? Riding on the sidewalk is really dangerous and INCREASES your chances of being in an accident. If you live in some sleepy residential neighborhood where this is safe, I don't think the cops are going to be beating down your door if you and your son ride on the sidewalk. Everyone needs to ease up on the hyperbole.

I don't agree with all the new proposed ordinances and stepped up enforcement but riding on the sidewalk, especially downtown, has GOT to stop.

David said...

All I know is that if I'm going to be treated the same as a motorist while riding my bike then I'm riding down the center of the lane so I don't get side-swiped or run off the road by SEPTA busses any more.

Seriously, if they want to treat us like cars, we should get all the same rights as cars.

Sorry this is 16th St. in the middle of rush hour officer... but I just can't pedal any faster!

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